Thursday, August 30, 2012

“Keep it Simple, Stupid” Leads to Blackhawk Succes

There’s a very basic message in figuring out what is going wrong in a vintage race car. Actually, probably more than one. And it follows the KISS principle: “Keep it Simple, Stupid.”
In April we installed a brand new engine and have had nothing but overheating problems since day one. Head gaskets have been blamed. Compression ratio has been blamed. But what really was the fault was something so simple that it is really embarrassing to even tell the world in this blog: the darn timing was way to far advanced! The result was excessively high combustion chamber pressures under racing conditions, i.e. RPMs in the sustained 6000-7000 range.
Not to look like complete idiots, we had timed the engine, but had done that at about 3000 RPM and never checked to see what it was like at much higher, when the distributor was fully advanced. When we finally put a timing light on it – prior to pulling the head once again while the car was at Competition Specialists -- lo and behold we found it at least 10 degrees beyond what it should have been.
Steve Blom nearly turned ashen when he saw where we were. He was rightfully concerned that the bearings had taken such a beating that we could be in deep doo-doo. So I changed the oil and we cut open the filter and found – GASP! – no evidence of bearing flaking.
Once the timing was where it should be all that was left to do was a test before the next race. But where? Our buddy Denny Lamers from Lamer Racing suggested we try the local ½ mile circle track, Wisconsin International Raceway. A quick call found the track available for a very nominal fee, so Crew Chief Dave Buettner and I spend a couple hours playing NASCAR.

Not exactly the high banks of Daytona, but it sure was handy ...

.. and those concrete walls are awfully close! (Dave Buettner photos)
The outstanding news is that the car ran a constant 160 degrees. I must say I have no desire to get on that half mile oval with other cars, because we’re accustomed to run-offs and not concrete walls that are at the edge of the asphalt, nor turns that come up so quickly that the wheel always seems to be cranked left. But the day was a success and we packed up thinking we had the issue solved and were ready to go racing again.
I made a quick decision to register for Midwestern Councils’ Race 7 on Sunday, 26 August. Dave and I climbed into the truck at 4:50 a.m. for the 2:47 drive to South Beloit, IL. (When I mentioned tent camping Dave’s response was, “Uh, been there, done that, had enough.”)
We returned Sunday night, soaked and happy, despite a slight catastrophe with the EZ Up. The real test, under real racing conditions was an unmitigated success.

“EZ Up does not warrant under conditions of rain or wind”
I got drivin’ in the rain experience for sure. And the field was plenty small as a lot of folks decided to sit this one out. Rain tires and suspension adjustments kept us going in the right direction for the most part, albeit at somewhat of a snail’s pace compared to dry conditions. I saw about 95 mph one time down the front straight but spent a lot of time easy on the brakes and off the dry line. It was fun. And we even came home with some metal.
In fact I was leading the race for the first half but superior driving experience and a better car overtook me and we ended up second.
There is still a slight stumbling issue in the 4800-5200 RPM range, but we think perhaps that’s an electrical issue, so we’re going to work on that. But the bottom line is that the car is now more ready for Road America and the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival than it has been all year.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Midwestern Council Double Race Weekend-Return to Road America

How long can one chase a problem and not find the solution? This is not rocket science! Nothing as complex as landing Curiosity on Mars. But it might as well be.
The 2012 season has been plagued with overheating issues that just will not go away. And the August 11-12 “Midwestern Council Double Race Weekend” was no exception.
In preparation for the “Return to Road America” event I had put the Sellholm transmission back in the car (nothing amiss after hearing all sorts of noise coming from it in Portland) and installed the more favorable 4.1 new limited slip differential rear end. I ran it Thursday night on the lift and there was way too much noise. Dave Buettner and I decided that two alternatives would be more prudent than running (and possibly runining) it: 1) skip the event, or 2) put the 4.56 back in. So Friday morning at 7:30 I was out in the shop doing the rear axle transplant yet again, only to have the same noise with the 4.56! So, I did a little test drive and the noise was gone.
Lesson: Don’t run the drive line on the lift and expect it to sound like what it would on the road.
Competition Specialists also trued the head because we were pushing water into the catch tank in Portland. I checked the block to make sure its surface was flat, and got some very expensive Cometic head gaskets to see if we could not seal this darn thing up.
Saturday morning dawned 54o and beautiful. We were the first group out at 8:30. The rest of the Swedish Pavilion included Jeff Babcock (122, No. 122), Alex Christopher (1800, No. 92), Ray Freiwald (1800, No. 93) and cousin Mark School (Saab Sonnet). Support staff included Doug and Mike Senk, and Britanny Maule.  
The field is a lot smaller than the “major” events, but there were still more than 30 cars in our Group
I had also changed back to 195 main jets in the Weber carbs. That proved to be a big mistake. The car ran about as poorly as one could imagine. Felt like I was dragging an anchor on the bottom of a new flowage. Alex walked up after the run and said he wanted to confirm what I knew – the car “sounded like crap.” And it got hot.
I went down to 175 main jets and retorqued the head. In the 11:30 race the running problem was solved but not the overheating.  So I had the afternoon to think about it and confer with Crew Chief Buettner by phone, who was visiting son Mike and family in Phoenix. We decided that we would not remove the head because now it is time to let our friends at Competition Specialists have a go at solving this long-standing issue.
I refilled the system with water, started the car with the radiator cap off and watched the water rise and eventually come out of the expansion tank. Ray and I discovered that the top return port in the top of the radiator coming from the expansion tank was plugged. We removed the radiator, cleaned out that port, took off the water pump to make sure it had no issues, and reinstalled.
“Joy, just move the thing-a ma-jig a little bit and I think we'll have it" (Phil Koller photo and caption. Car number had to be changed because a car that was NOT there has the permanent number "1." Go figure.)
Logic would suggest that if water from the expansion tank could not return to the radiator the water would end up out of the system and in the catch tank. That removes a couple quarts of water from the cooling system and … overheating results! Took the car for a ride around the perimeter roads of Road America and the temp never went above 160. Hot diggity dog, we’re in business!
Midwestern Council had its Saturday evening event at Elkhart Lake’s iconic racing watering hole, Siebkins Resort. It was a gorgeous evening, and the Swedish Pavilion crowd had a great time on the deck. Ray Freiwald even had his annual bottle of beer. (Seriously!) We were joined by Dennis Birkholtz, who is babying his Sonnet until the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival but who had served as a corner worker all day.

Fun at Siebkins. Left to right: Trevor School, Trevor’s fiancĂ© Andrea, Jeff Babcock, Alex Christopher, Ray Freiwald, Dennis Birkholtz, Mark School, Doug Senk and Joy Perry. Missing: Sally Enfield and Buddy Palumbo. Maybe they’re down at the lake ...

We get to see this once a year! (But that "Lite" stuff is hardly real beer, Ray.)
As I crawled into the tent I was genuinely excited to think I had the problems solved and really looked forward to our qualifying run on Sunday morning. But as I came out of Turn 14 I smelled water and the rear wheels slipped in something greasy. I looked down to see the temperature spiking and knew that we were back to old tricks started in May. Sure enough, we had lost a freeze plug.
They don’t run so well with gaping holes like this.
As soon as the car cooled down we were back at work taking off the carbs and intake manifold. The stock of 45 mm freeze plugs was located and we pounded one in place. That was followed by JB Weld, and all that was left was left was to wait until our last race of the weekend came around at 12:55.
Things started off well. Alex, Ray and I had a great time running together for several laps. Coming out of the carousel I overtook Alex, as did Ray.  But then the temperature started rising again and I had to call it quits. Alex was experiencing power loss and some ugly noises coming from his engine.
Nice sight – three 1800s running together. (Phil Koller photo)
So that was our weekend. You might call it a bust. But things could always be worse …
Jeff’s weekend disappointment – the driver’s right wall out of the carousel took its toll when Jeff lost traction on exit
Post Script: Often big problems have simple causes and solutions. On Tuesday Dave Buettner and I determined that the timing was way too far advanced at racing rpm’s, causing excessive cylinder pressures, and overheating. That’s been corrected and I am now hoping for a little circle track test time in order to push the car. Stay tuned …

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Portland Historics 2012

On January 1, 2012, 1800ES buddy Dean Koehler received a message from me that said “What kind of drugs are you guys on out there?” Dean had just informed me that the local Portland Volvo group “PDX Volvos” was going to help bring us from northeastern WI us to Portland 6 months hence. Well … the 36th Annual Portland Historics are history and we were really privileged to be part of it thanks to Dean and buddies’ generosity. I start this post then by saying a special thank you to Dean Koehler, Ian Crisp, Colin Roberts and Peter Eulau.
 Lolo Pass, at the Montana-Idaho border -- that Titan really hauls
2137.5 miles, Wisconsin door to Oregon door -- just a short jaunt
PDX is the Portland International Airport FAA designator. Nearby is the 1.97 mile Portland International Raceway (PIR). Owned by the City of Portland, the sound meter located at the Start/Finish line is piped directly to City Hall, and that ain’t good. HMSA took a novel (and controversial) approach to this little problem by moving the start line to just before Turn 1! It worked but oh, were the spectators treated to some interesting starts.
12 turns, many tight, with lots of drifting opportunity
In many respects PIR was the event made for us because our crew, absent Dave Buettner, consisted of regulars David Farrington who flew out from Rhode Island and Joy Perry, plus Volvo gurus Cameron (Cam) Louvre (Portland) and Phil Singher (Whidbey Island, Washington). We’re blessed to have really knowledgeable high quality help at home. Here we had the best of the best in vintage Volvo expertise in one place at one time. Our Chief Transportation Coordinator also flew out from Milwaukee. Moreover, another major sponsor, Mike Dudek of iRoll Motors was able to drive up from Central California to join the fun.
Enough Vintage Volvo brain-trust to undertake any task. Back to Front: Dean Koehler, Sam Seward, Colin Roberts, Mike Dudek, Jayne Koehler, Ray Shutrop, Phil Singher (in hat), Cameron Louvre, Joy Perry, Jim Perry, David Farrington.
Phil Singher (L) and Mike Dudek. All of us Volvo guys have long locks, or at least wish we did.

In preparation for the trip we had some [re]work done on the Sellholm transmission and changed to a higher ratio differential more suited for a shorter track. So we decided to test out the car in the Thursday practice session. Halfway through the first lap there was a big bang below my feet. Before Phil ever got to the track we had transmission problems again. Up on jack stands, I could not get the car to go through the gears. So it did not take long for Cam to get his hands dirty removing the Sellholm. 
Once again upon opening the top of the tranny we could see nothing wrong. A little consultation with Crew Chief Dave back in Wisconsin convinced us that it was highly unlikely that the tranny was going to heal itself. Phil arrived and he and Cam installed the spare Volvo stock M47 that I had wisely included in the spares. Phil replaced the old pressure plate and found the pilot bearing loose in his hand. A quick call to  Peter Eulau brought him to the track with a retainer ring in hand to replace that one MIA.
We were ready to go for Friday! Race Engineer David was working furiously on getting the data acquisition up and running again so we had so performance data to look at.
The Historics were definitely a fun run, as the large Group 6 was not broken into classes.  A small block Chevron V8 made most of us look like we were standing still. A Datsun 240Z was the only car in the field to even remotely keep up with him. There were also some very fast Lotus 7’s.
Friday was a day of becoming accustomed to the track. There is virtually no elevation change, but the turns are quite tight and the chicane is an adventure in itself. The crowd sits at the chicane watching for things to happen.
The grid workers were fun. This woman had a reason for the pink wig – celebrating the end of breast cancer chemotherapy, and with a great outlook (David Farrington photo)
Phil did a fair amount of experimenting with jetting and emulsion tubes to see if we could get rid of the stumble that has plagued us all season. Still we were definitely in the back of the pack after the first qualifying session.
In Saturday’s Qualifying Race the water temperature went up, and the overflow bottle filled to the extent that water was spraying on the windshield going through the chicane. And speaking of the chicane, well, I’ll lead you on and suggest that you look at the video to see the excitement that took place there!
Time to change head gaskets. When the head came off there were definite signs of a leak – minor but perceptible. So we went with a Cometic head gasket to replace the Elring.  That solved the issue and our times continued to improve.
Surgical team at work (Dean Koehler photo)
The Portland Historics includes a nice show of vintage street cars. PDX Volvos was one of a number of clubs at the event. The car that attracted more attention than any of the other good lookin’ Volvos was Daria Loi’s Duett. Daria is Cam’s spouse. What a classic! Open the hood and you find a beautiful power plant. Open the doors and you see a beautiful interior complete with heated seats! Look at the body and you wonder how long ago it came out of the barn. When they were talking restoration Daria decided she liked it that way.
Daria’s Duett. Has a nice ring to it, no? (That's Phil's Amazon in the background) 
Don’t mess with this lady at a stoplight!
Daria Loi trys out Mobil 1 for fitment. At about 5’1” we’ll need to add blocks to the pedals!
And the same goes for Jayne Koehler (taking a break with the Chief Torque Wrencher, Joy Perry)
Alas, while Daria got the attention, Jayne Koehler took home the trophy as Best of Corral among the Volvos.
 Jayne’s ’72 1800E took the prize (Dean Koehler photos)
This beautiful 142 was an IPD experimental car at one time
Sunday started out with a “heat race” that was so darn short that it took me more time to get dressed in preparation for it than to run it. Sort of left me shaking my head wondering why we had bothered. The feature for Group 6 was the last race of the day to complete the weekend, and it was a good one for us. Even though we were once again bumping up against the danger zone of water temperature we were able to complete the race with a dandy drag to the finish line between us and a nice Porsche and a Volvo-powered Marcos. For several laps late in the race I was able to hold them off until the Porsche squeezed by coming out of the back straight and into Turn 7. As we headed to the finish line it was the Porsche, me and the Marcos, and it seemed our Mobil 1 was running out of steam even under full throttle – or maybe it was that we were too full of steam -- and the Marco pulled alongside. Take a look at the video for the excitement!
Mobil 1 leading the Porsche and Marcos, at least temporarily (David Farrington photo)
This little three week road trip was outstanding. Not only did we have a great time on the track we met some wonderful Volvophiles and got to see some great country both out and back. We burned about 478 gallons of fuel in the Nissan pulling the windbreak, er, car trailer. Had it not been for PDX Volvos I don’t think we could have done it.
Home after three weeks, 4792 mile, 478 gallon road trip

Complete video will be posted soon. In the meantime, here's a teaser:

Next up, Double Race Weekend at Road America.