Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Project H2Olds

For years I wanted a drag race or street/strip type of car, but there are just no more decent 1/4 mile race tracks around in Southern California anymore. There is one local track... but it is a dump and is so overcrowded you are lucky to get 2 or 3 runs in MAX if you are patient and wait at least 8 hours! The legendary Pomona Raceway only has 3 major events per year, other then that the track remains unused, unless you can cough up enough money to rent the track. Given the limited amount of events held there, decreased attendance and sky rocketing insurance premiums, this venue is pushing up daiseys and I wouldn't be suprised to see it bulldozed in a few years just like OCIR. LACR (Palmdale) closed it's doors in '07 and Drag City in Banning never materialized, much to the disappointment of investors and race fans alike. If you like shortened tracks there is one lone Southern California 1/8 mile race track located in Irwindale. Toyota Drag Strip at Irwindale, billed as "the fastest 1/8 mile dragstrip in the country", is open to all types of racing and street legal vehicles. You are allowed to run approved racing slicks but no "dragster type vehicles" are allowed.

The number of motorsport activities that a person can do with their car around So Cal is pretty limited. Basically, the way I see it there are 3 choices: Drag Race, Drifting, or Autocross. Anything else, like dirt track or paved oval, requires a dedicated race car and an even more dedicated racing budget. Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside features weekly drifting competitions and Willow Springs out in Rosemond also has club sanctioned drifting events. That's all great if you like drifting but I've never seen very many muscle cars at these events, as it seems to be geared toward the imports. I want to be able to have a car that not only looks good but can perform as well, and a venue to bring it to that caters to that type of "show and go".

Good Guys Rod and Custom Association have been putting on car shows for years but recently have started to feature autocross events at their shows that really draw in the Pro-Touring cars. They have a couple of events in So Cal at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the Orange County Fairgrounds and seem to be adding more venues every year. These guys have their act together and know how to put on an event. I checked out a few of the autocross events and they are pretty cool. The Pro-Touring cars remind me of what I use to refer to back in High School as the "NASCAR look". Big, huge meats on all four corners and slightly lowered. Of course now-a-days everything is high tech with four piston calipers, drilled and slotted rotors, tubular control arms and four link rear suspensions.

I was thinking it would be cool to put either a truck-arm type suspension on the rear of my Olds or an independent rear, aka Corvette, along with an updated front suspension and huge binders on all four wheels. What I can't decide is the wheels. The trend is huge rim sizes, like 20" rear and 18" front, or just 17's all the way around. I never really liked the look of those big ass rims. To me they make the car look like a life-sized Hot Wheels or something. I am leaning towards 15" rims - 10" wide rear and 8" wide front, with huge rubber. Wide-5 rims would look sweet but I don't think they are DOT legal. I have a 403 that would make for a decent powerplant and either a 5-speed manual trans or a overdrive automatic. If I go automatic I was thinking of a TH400 with a Gear Vendors over/under drive, basically a 6-speed automatic. I didn't want to start on my Olds without a plan, but I never knew planning would be so hard!

That being said, my project needed a name, so I came up with "Project H2Olds". The plans are not final yet, but I'm thinking of a twist on a Hurst theme, hence the "H2", that and the car is a '72 model. With the project name decided and plans under way, all I need to do now is come up with some money! Hey, at least I got it in the garage...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Giving Up The Ghost

I have come to the sad conclusion that my '72 Cutlass, Number 1, will not run forever. So what if the engine has over 360 thousand original miles? I have heard stories of Olds-mo-bubble engines living to half a million miles or more. I guess it's more the body and interior that is giving out then the actual engine, as it does still run pretty good. Although I have noticed a deep knock down in her bowels when she first fires up in the morning, but it only lasts a second. Still not a trace of smoke and she only uses about a half quart of oil every 4 thousand miles or so, but all the tell-tail signs are there. More oil leaks - check. More squeaks and rattles - check. More random problems - check. Getting uglier by the day - check. Basically Number 1 is giving up the ghost, throwing in the towel, cashing in her chips, heading out to pasture... I think you get what I'm trying to say.

Of course all of this just did not happen at once, it has been building up over the last couple of decades or so, and has been steadily getting worse. I guess my plan of using an original 37 year old car as a daily driver is coming to an end. I have been down this path before, as I tried to retire Number 1 about 3 years ago. Back then I had plenty of cars to drive so I stopped using the Cutlass as my daily driver and just let it sit. Big mistake. It rotted outside for about two years when all of a sudden I found myself out of cars, cash, and a daily driver. You can find the story of Number 1's resurrection here. There is even a video I made of me firing it up after sitting all that time.

This go around I have a plan. First, I had to find a new daily driver. This was no easy task as my budget to buy another car was almost non-existent. I also wanted to find something that got half way decent gas mileage because we all know that the slightest hiccup in our world (like a hurricane, stock market slump or swine flu) will cause the price of gas to go through the roof again. I can't afford a new vehicle and really don't care for any of the cookie cutter cars (Honda, Toyota, etc), I just can't see myself in them. So I found myself gravitating toward older makes, only the prices of any decent older ride was still out of my league. Although I am a big fan of the carburetor era, I love the reliability of fuel injected vehicles. I really like the late '80s to early '90s GM trucks because they are easy to work on, fuel injected, and last for hundreds of thousands of miles. I also discovered that they are dirt cheap, which is the category where my budget is located.

So what did this finite category lead me to? I found a super clean, single family owned '87 GMC S-15. It is equipped with the "4Tech" fuel injected four cylinder engine and a 4-speed trans. Great gas mileage? Yes. Stump-pulling torque? No. Nice, clean daily driver? Yes. Turns heads wherever it goes? No, unless I filled the bed with bikini clad women in an effort to re-create that famous 80's poster "Haulin' Ass"! As for the rest of the plan that includes my Cutlass, as usual, I don't have a plan. I really like the look of the pro-touring cars, but I also like street/strip cars. Do I build a track car or a drag car? Drifting or drag racing? Ovals or quarter miles? Maybe I should just do a concours level restoration, complete with assembly line chalk marks. Yea right, how much fun would that be to drive? I know, how about a retro NASCAR look, complete with 10 inch wide steelies on all four corners and flared fenders? A low rider with tru spokes and hydraulics? A sled with satin paint, white walls, and an air ride system that can lay the car on it's frame? Decisions, decisions, decisions! I did manage to actually put Number 1 in my garage, and I even disconnected the battery! Damn, I must be getting serious...