Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pushing Ahead

I'm really trying to maintain some forward progress on the '94 Miata refurb. It's way too easy for these kinds of projects to fade into the background and the next thing you know there's a car in your garage with crap piled on top of it and it hasn't moved in five years. So this weekend I'm getting into the engine compartment. I've removed the radiator and disconnected all the wiring harness connections to the engine. I'm starting to remove accessories and ancillaries in preparation for painting the engine compartment. Today I had planned to remove the cylinder head and intake manifold. I didn't quite get there, though, because the EGR tube fitting on the exhaust header was BEEYOTCH to get off and I didn't have enough steam left in me to get the head off. I also realized that the header is going to have to come loose from the cat so I can get it out of the way, so I decided to stop for today and continue later in the week. I'm really interested to see the condition of the cylinders and the valves, so that will be exciting.
When I pulled the cam cover yesterday, I was pleased to see how clean the top of the engine is. It's got a nice bronze coloration to it, but no sludge or varnish whatsoever. Just goes to show the benefit of running synthetic oil for the last 130,000 miles. It may be a different story inside the combustion chambers, though. This engine was supercharged for 10,000 miles a few years ago and it's been beat to hell on the track and on the street for 18 years now. Recently I had a lot of pinging caused by a dirty AFM so I would not but surprised to find the valves in poor condition. We'll see. Also, I didn't get a picture of it yet, but there is a pretty massive oil leak from the front main seal. This concerns me because I think it's my fault and I think it may be really hard to fix. When I did the timing belt last, about 35,000 miles ago, I replaced that seal but I had a REALLY hard time getting the old seal out. I pried at it with some rather unsophisticated instruments before I really learned the trick to getting stubborn seals out and I think may have scored the side of the recess. If that's the case, I may have an engine that's going to leak for the rest of its service life, and that's a shame because it's a solid bottom end with a lot of life left in it. It sure has made a mess of the front and bottom of my engine, though.
I also started the repairs to the cracks on the dashboard. Using some Permatex PermaPoxy Plastic Weld epoxy (available at your Friendly Local Auto Parts Store (FLAPS)) I welded some small strips of plastic to the underside of the dash, spanning both sides of the three biggest cracks. I also smeared some along some smaller cracks that radiated out from the big ones. There are a couple more I need to get to but I ran out of plastic scraps to weld on. I also ordered a plastic repair kit from Eastwood. My plan is to use this kit to tackle the top side of these cracks because the Eastwood kit can be had in black, clear, or white. Of course my dash is black so my hope is that I can effect a top-side repair that blends in. Already, though, the leading edge of the dash is FAR more sturdy and solid. I have high hopes that this will be a good repair.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back on track at Sebring

After a long hiatus, I got back to the track this weekend. I co-drove with my buddy Mark in his '91 VW GTi at a Chin Motorsports track event at Sebring International Raceway. Compared to the absurdly fast cars that have become typical at these track events, our GTi was slow as molasses, but it was still a hoot to drive. Our day ended a bit early when the oil pressure sensor fitting sprung a leak and spewed oil all over the front of the engine and the right front tire, but disaster was averted and we didn't have an engine fire or a wreck. We don't think the engine was damaged so it should be a $5 repair.

Bare floors

So today I didn't feel like doing anything big, so I tackled a few small jobs. I drained the radiator so I could disconnect the heater core and pull the air handler box off the dash, which makes getting the carpet out in one piece a bit easier. So the carpet is all out. It left a bunch of old nasty insulation halfway stuck to the floor so I scraped that up and got the floor really clean. There were a few minor spots of surface rust where the carpet had got a bit wet a few times, so I used the wire brush to clean that up. I also spent some time cleaning parts and polishing up a few metal parts. I spent an hour sanding the raised DOT lettering off of the tail lights and then wet sanding them with 1000 and 2000 grit sandpaper. I saved the final polishing for later when I machine polish the whole car. The carpet is in decent shape. I'll clean it up and reuse it.

Pretty soon I have to start making decisions about how much work I want to do on the engine, what aftermarket parts I want to fit, what color to paint, etc. My objective is to keep the scope of the project achievable while still accomplishing a sufficient level of improvement on the car.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A little progress

Not a whole lot to report this week. I've just progressed deeper into stripping the car. I put the car on wheel dollies so I can move it around in the garage as needed, which is a huge help. I can get the car out in the middle where I can work on it, and then get it back in place so I can continue to use the garage for my other car. I even spun the car around so the front is facing out. The soft top is now out completely and I plan to just run with the hardtop from here on. It would need a new soft top for sure if I wanted to keep it. I ripped the crap out of it when removing it and the rain rail is shredded. I got 10 years out of it so I guess I can't complain. I have been using a die grinder with a brass wire wheel to clean up the chassis. I'm surprised by the amount of grunge I'm encountering in all the nooks and crannies of this car, and the beginnings of corrosion here and there on fasteners and brackets. I've not found any on the actual chassis of the car, but I'm glad to nip it in the bud here and now. It's just the natural aging of the car, and most cars have rotted away to nothing by the time they are as old as this car is now, but I aim to stop it and preserve this car for some more years to come.
As I'm taking things apart, I'm finding plenty of seals and gaskets that are shot and need to be replaced. So I placed an order at Rosenthal Mazda for the seals around the tail lights, the beltline moldings on the doors, and a couple other odds and ends. The costs add up quickly but it's cheaper than buying a new car!

I spent quite a bit of time cleaning up the trunk of the car. A leaky rain rail deposits quite a bit of dirt in the nether regions of the trunk. I plan to respray the inside of the trunk so it needs to be clean. I removed the rear fascia, the battery, all the hardware inside the trunk, the center brake light, the trunk lid seal, the frankenstein bolts with the chrome hardtop mount trim plates, and the radio antenna mount. I pretty much had to destroy the frankenstein bolts to get them out. The head of the bolt came out but left the stud in place. I had to twist the stud out with vice grips. I'll just install new bolts.

Here's a goodie. A perfect, new HVAC control panel faceplate. The original one has become very yellowed and shabby looking. This piece was just over $20 from Mazda Motorsports and replaces the entire front face of the HVAC control panel. The part number is NA01-61-C04A.

I also got a new windshield molding, so I can take the old one off when I paint. That will make masking a lot easier and allow me to paint right up to the glass and have a much nicer edge. Part number is NA01-50-601A (MLDG UP, FRT WNDW) (LOL @ their part names).

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Reconstruction Has Begun - Spider 2.0

At long last I've returned from the United Kingdom, land of small cars and narrow but wonderfully curvy roads. Upon my return I have immediately undertaken the biggest project I've ever done on my venerable old '94 Miata, "Spider". I've talked about it in previous blog posts but basically this car has been rode hard and put away wet for the last 14 years and a bit neglected on and off during those years when other things took precedence in my life. So in the interest of keeping this car for another 10 years and not being ashamed to drive it (aside from the whole Man Driving a Miata stigma), I've decided to just take it completely apart and put it back together with new parts.

So the plan is to take the interior apart, seats and dash out, with the goal of fixing the cracks in the dash, replacing the heater core (a leak is an eventual certainty), refurb the gauges and switchgear, do something about the seats (the leatherette covers are not holding up well) and yank the soft top out permanently and generally just clean everything up.

Then, the engine is coming out so that I can work on it easier. The goal is to replace the clutch/flywheel with a lightweight flywheel, fix the BIG oil leaks the car has had for the last few years, clean everything up, install a refreshed cylinder head, and while the engine is out, paint and recondition the engine compartment.

Meanwhile, in what is probably going to be the largest part of the job, the exterior is going to get painted. I have some small dents to fill, and I'm going to eliminate the badging on the car. I have not yet decided on a color but I do think I will be changing the color from the factory red. Finally, when it all goes back together, new wheels and tires will complete the package.

Fortunately, the suspension, exhaust, and electrical in the car do not need much if any work. Just a general cleaning up. I've also got a Flyin' Miata frame rail reinforcement brace kit on order, to restore some of the stiffness the car has lost over the years.

As you can see from the photos, the dis-assembly of the car is well under way. The seats and dash are out and almost all of the exterior trim is off.