Stripping the Donor Part 2 — June 9, 2015

Stripping the Donor Part 2

Time to get on to the parts of the donor strip that are potentially more dangerous. Namely;

  • Draining the fuel tank – It still has around 25 liters of unleaded in it
  • Safely getting the compression out of the suspension – Wherever you read up on this you find something to the effect of “Danger! Risk of death!!”
  • Removing the body from the power-plant frame – I had to do this on my own then safely get it down a sloped driveway for collection

Embarrassingly, I made a real pig’s ear of draining the fuel tank. With hindsight I should have done something similar to the following

  1. Open the filler cap and leave it a little to ensure there isn’t too much pressure in the system (check… did this)
  2. Open the doors to the garage to get a breeze through and let any fumes dissipate (check… did this)
  3. Get a 20L jerry can (or two), a funnel and 2 old roasting trays (sort of check…)
  4. In front of the back right wheel, disconnect the fuel line before the fuel filter
  5. Drain fuel into a tray then swap for an empty one
  6. Use the funnel to decant into the jerry can.

You follow these instructions at your own risk!

fuel drain

The suspension went a little better and wasn’t as scary as I had expected. Anything I read told me to be very wary when undoing the top bolt on the suspension. The springs are compressed between the lower suspension arm and the body shell. I ended up taking the top bolt off while the car was sat firmly on the ground. The weight of the shell then keeps the springs compressed. It’s only when you go on to the next step and lift the body off the power-plant frame that the compression is gradually taken out of them.

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In the picture above, you can see the rear sub-frame separated from the bodywork with clear air in the middle of the picture. These bolts were a bugger on my donor! It took a fair bit of sitting on the floor and sweating with an impact bar to get them off. For the rears in particular one of the three nuts has a fixed head attached to the bodywork. Leave that one until last and it makes life so much easier. I did this wrong on the first corner and ended up angle grinding through a bolt.

Once you’ve worked round all the bolts connecting the front and rear sub-frames to the body work, it’s time for the fun bit! For this I bought a length of 6mm bright steel chain and cut a couple of lengths. Each length ran to form a cross between seat belt bolt-holes (see the photo)

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I knew I was going to be doing this as a one man job, so I wanted the shell as stable as possible when it came off the power-plant frame. This is one thing that worked really quite well 🙂 The only last minute change I needed to make to get the shell off was undoing one side of the strut at the front of the engine bay.

The end result is we then have a separated shell and power plant frame! I properly enjoyed stripping down the donor and would happily do it again.

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Over the next couple of weeks I’ve then spent time stripping down the remaining power-plant frame so that I have a pile of pieces I want and some spares for sale. I also had a bit of fun putting the shell on a piece of wood and towing it out of the garage using my wife’s Ford Focus C-Max. Just as the neighbours were heading out on a Sunday morning… I think they wondered what the hell I was doing!

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Stripping the Donor Part 1 — March 26, 2015

Stripping the Donor Part 1

Recently I took a few days off to start stripping down the donor mx5. I was a bit scared but also a quite excited to get started. In terms of preparation, the things I found most valuable were;

  • A decent socket set (metric)
  • A good quality pair of needle nose pliers
  • An impact bar with and adapter to fit the sockets
  • A few torx sockets for bits on the roof / interior
  • A couple of good quality Philips screwdrivers
  • A big cheap flat head screwdriver for “persuading” uncooperative trim
  • A couple of sharpies
  • A roll of white sticky labels

Roughly following the MEV guide for stripping down a Miata, I decided to get the roof off and start tackling the interior first. Give me some room to work and warm up on some low value parts.

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The roof is pretty easy to get off with a torx key here and there. The seats needed an impact bar to get the bolts moving. While getting the wiring loom out of the door, the needle nose pliers worked really well for pinching the release on the plugs at the same time as pulling straight out. One thing I wish I’d know at the time is that the door wiring loom has a plug between the dash and outer shell. It’s easy to unplug and get it out of the way.

It’s mentioned in the MEV page but I’ll re-iterate it… Label absolutely every plug on the loom!! You will forget where they came from within 30 mins

Something else that would have been useful to know from the Haynes manual.

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When you take this pin out from the retaining thingy on the door… It needs to go up and not down!! It’s basically a bit of a cone shape and just needs a couple of gentle taps upward with a hammer.

Et voila!!

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By this point I’m just beginning to uncover the tips of the wiring loom, so figure it’s probably best to tackle the dashboard. The idea being I can get it stripped back to bare bulkhead and carry on practising with bits I don’t need… Before going on to the engine bay.

With hindsight there is a good methodical way to strip out the wiring loom. The hub for all wires focuses around the fusebox in the driver’s foot well and the engine bay fuse box on the opposite side of the bulkhead. From there the loom forms a big H terminating in the light at each corner of the car (plus wrapping around front right a bit to connect to the engine)

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The best way to tackle it is to start from each corner light and trace in toward the fuse boxes. That plus following the instructions on the MEV site around removing the dash and a liberal sprinkling of Haynes manual gets me to this.

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That’s the wiring loom coiled up in the passenger foot well. I’ve still not decided if I’m going to try and re-use it or go straight for the megasquirt loom sold by RoadRunner. If I don’t dick around with it, it’s worth around £200 as long as someone buys it. If I do decide to reuse it I need to be careful to keep;

  • ECU – From the passenger foot well (in some awkward to access) metal casing
  • Immobiliser – Can’t remember where this was actually. Think it was in behind the steering column. It’s a 2″ square plastic box and about 1″ deep
  • Ignition barrel – Attached to the steering column with some shear bolts. Not worked out how to disconnect this without damaging it yet

From here I stripped down enough of the engine to be able to lift the body up and over.

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As well as removing most parts that I think might have value. In all this has been around 2 days work as a 1 man job so far. Main things left to do are

  • Fuel tank drain
  • Brake lines
  • Suspension top bolts
  • Sub frame bolts
  • Lift the body off
Prepping The Garage — January 24, 2015

Prepping The Garage

While preparing the garage I’ve had 3 goals in mind;

  • Make it more secure
  • Upgrade my tool set a bit
  • Have a general clear out and make some space

Here’s a wide shot of the garage after I’d finished today. As much as it’s possible to love a room, I love this garage.

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We only moved into the house in October 2013. When we were looking at different places, the garage and outdoor space of this house stood out for me. The inside is nice too of course 😁

One of the killer selling points was the inspection pit!

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Now I’ve used it a few times, it’s a bit close for comfort to the left hand wall. It’d have been much better slap bang in the middle of the garage.

As I started using the garage, I had to add a whiteboard to one of the walls. I know it’s a bit sad but it’s surprisingly useful. It tends to just end up as a shopping list for various little projects at the moment.

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The area I’ve probably put the most work into is the workbenches. The tool rack reflect the things I use pretty well. So far this has been all about DIY jobs round the house, so it may change with time.

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In the drawers I then have areas for

  • Metalwork – measuring equipment, scribe, centre punch, tin snips, engineer’s blue etc
  • Electrics – Wirestrippers, plier set, screwdrivers, cutters etc
  • Drawer of shit – This one needs sorting out ☺
  • Rags – lots of them

On the shelves I’ve also got 3 socket sets, a torque wrench, impact bar and a gear splitter. I’m not sure the scenarios in which I should use the last one yet. It was a Christmas present from my brother after saying “please get me the one useful tool you think I won’t have”. It seems like it’d be useful where I need to pull something straight off a shaft?

The vice is also a new addition. I’ve never had one before and I’m loving it. Super useful…

I just need to clear some more space on the shelves for parts and I’m good to go. I want to sell as much as I can from the donor and I’m also hoping to re-use the loom. So I have lots of sealy bags, stickers, sharpies and a Haynes manual… plus a number of mazda mx5 PDF downloads and a link to this page on stripping a miata)

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I’m a little scared of starting, but I think I’ll take a few days off work, cancel the insurance and start with the interior.

Sourcing a Donor Car — January 21, 2015

Sourcing a Donor Car

As I’ve said in a previous post, one appeal of building an SR2 Roadrunner is the fact that it uses an MX5 donor. These are currently abundant in the UK, plentiful under £1,000 and by all accounts a decent car in their own right.

So… How do I get the right one?

Which type of MX5 do I want / need?

Taking it one version at a time:

  • Mark 1 (NA) – Ran from 1989 to 1997 and stands out with it’s combination of stubby nose & pop-up headlights. These were available in 1.6L or 1.8L with a 5 speed manual box. It’s also possible to find imports with an optional LSD (Viscous LSD on the 1.6L and Torsen LSD on the 1.8L). Having looked around at a few, it’s possible to find a cheap mk1 that has been much loved with a number of uprated parts e.g. turbo! 😀
  • Mark 2 (NB) – Was available from 1998 to 2005. There are still quite a few of the older ones available for under £1k. The NB was offered with either a 1.6L or 1.8L engine and LSD on some imports much the same as the NA. This was a new iteration on the engines, but I won’t go into details as I don’t understand the ins and outs yet 🙂 Some additions to the UK NB were an optional 6 speed box and / or LSD. I struggled to find clear information on if these were offered as straight forward options. A guaranteed way to get a Torsen LSD though is to find a “1.8i S” rather than the standard “1.8i”. This difference in model shows in the log book if you’re unsure
  • Mark 3 (NC) – Has been available from 2005 to the present day. These have been outside the price range in which I’ve been hunting for a donor, so I’ve looked into them very little. I guess it’d be possible to source one if you looked for a Cat D/C/B salvage but I have no way to transport something like this.

Where do I find it?

My method for searching was pretty simple. I set-up email alerts on the following;

Anyone else have a suggestion for other places to hunt?

What am I looking for when I buy it?

The following was the checklist I was working to. I don’t claim it to be comprehensive as I’m far from an expert;

  • Ask the guy to tell you the story of the car. How long has he had it? What’s he had done? What does it need doing? Why is he selling?
  • What are the panel gaps like? Has it had a bump?
  • Can you feel a lip on the brake discs?
  • How much tread is on the tires?
  • Are there any signs of leaks in the engine bay? Or from underneath?
  • Is the engine warm? i.e. did he warm it up in advance?
  • What is the oil level like? i.e. does he look after it
  • Is there any mayonnaise under the oil cap?
  • Get him to start it while you watch the exhaust. Watch out for blue smoke
  • Does the cam-belt shimmy?
  • Do all the lights work as they should? (don’t want to get stopped on the way home)
  • Test Drive – Assuming you’re not driving, get him to let you shift through some of the more common gear changes. Do they feel nice and smooth?
  • Test Drive – Listen listen listen…
  • Log Book – Is it really a “1.8i s”?
  • Service History – How much money has been spent on it in the past couple of years? What was the work?

If you want something a little more thorough then here is a good guide on pistonheads http://www.pistonheads.com/gAssing/topic.asp?h=0&t=803271&mid=0&nmt=Common+MX5+Faults+%2F+Buying+Guide.

To be honest though, I was looking for “good enough”… At the right price… And near enough to home that it’s practical.

What did you end up getting?

So… After looking around for a month or two, I found a 1.8i S NB in Edgeware for £750. This was a 2 hour train journey for me the day before New Year’s Eve (my wife refused to drive on the motorway to take me to buy a banger she didn’t want around). With this much of a round trip I was crossing my fingers it was good enough to buy!

From the advert it sounded work a punt. It had 116k miles with a recent timing belt change, only 3 owners, new rear tires and rotting bodywork. One guy had owned it for most of its life and maintained it well. The most recent owner was selling up to move up to Manchester with his girlfriend.

Inside the engine bay had no sign of leaks or a mess, brake disks weren’t pitted and the tires turned out to be good all round. The only off-putting thing was a rotten heat shield at the bottom of the manifold rattling around and making it hard to listen out for anything else.

I ended up paying him asking price (as it was priced fairly in the first place) and have enjoyed driving it around for the past few weeks. All I’ve done since is give it a good clean (my daughter washed her hands after getting out of it for the first time), changed the coolant / oil and removed that rattly heat-shield.

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Next thing to do is secure the garage properly and clean it up a little before cancelling the insurance and getting to work on stripping the donor!

Which Kit Car? — January 15, 2015

Which Kit Car?

I knew I wanted to have a go at building a car… And I knew that I wanted it to be a car I love driving when I’m finished. This left me with a few questions to try and answer before I spent any money.

What is important in the kit and the finished car?

There were a few things I wanted to consider, in the following rough order

  • I’ve got to like how it looks. Straight off, see a picture and if it’s ugly it’s ruled out.
  • What is the rough cost for a starter kit and subsequent stages. Much as I love the look, this ruled out a lot of the cobra replicas instantly.
  • How it will drive when it’s done.
  • What is the donor car. I was looking that needs a relatively cheap, simple and modern donor in plentiful supply.
  • What do other people think of the kit quality and build support
  • How transparent is the pricing for the kit and extras. If your pricing on your website is either obtuse or nonexistent I ruled you out here.

What kit cars can I choose from?

Going through this set of questions with google and a copy of “what kit car” left me with a google spreadsheet of strong possibilities. From these, the ones I seriously considered were

  • Dax Cobra / http://www.daxcars.co.uk/ – These are unarguably beautiful cars and the temptation is there to break the bank on a rumbling V8. The cost and handling are the only things that stopped me here.
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  • Locost Haynes Roadster / http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haynes_Roadster – In my braver [sic. more stupid] moments I considered buying a MIG welder, building a jig and letting loose on building my own chassis. I then came to my senses and thought about the consequences of driving this car round a track. May be the next one 😉
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  • Formula Vee / http://www.veecentre.com – I think if I were to ever be able to afford a 2nd toy or I had confidence in my welding, this’d be it. As far as affordable racing goes this looks pretty good. I like the thought of playing around with an air cooled flat four too

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  • Caterham Academy / http://uk.caterhamcars.com/motorsport/academy – The first thought everyone has when looking at 7 replica kit cars is “what about a caterham?”… Then your friend says ” they have great residual value!”. The simple fact is though that I just don’t think I can afford one. If I won the lottery I’d definitely buy a caterham academy package 😁
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  • MEVabusa / http://www.roadtrackrace.co.uk/mevabusa.html – Now I’m down to the two that I really struggled to choose between! This thing looks properly scary… At 430bhp/tonne it’s got a much higher power / weight ratio than the Porsche had. I also really like the aesthetic of it if you catch it from the right angle. Looking around I struggled to find a Hayabusa donor for a good price though.
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  • SR2 RoadRunner / http://www.roadrunnerracing.net/index.php/the-sr2 – There were a number of reasons I opted for a roadrunner. First and foremost it is a seven replica with an MX5 donor. In the UK you can easily get a good MX5 for under £1k right now. Secondly I have read nothing but good things on the build quality and customer service around the SR2. Lots of mentions of a very sorted chassis and zero fettling when fitting the bodywork. Finally, inboard pushrod suspension is offered as an option on the front. I can’t pretend to understand all the physics around this, but my brother tells me it gets more mass away from the wheels and into the middle of the car.
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    What do I think my budget is?

    I was going to go into a decent amount of detail at this stage, but I think I’ll save it for a later post.

    The short version is that after selling the Porsche and paying off the bank loan I had £13k left.

    Pay off credit card, tile the kitchen and get blinds in the lounge I have £10k left.

    With this I need I have allocated

    • £1000 – Donor car
    • £250 – Upgrade my toolset
    • £8750 – Everything for the actual kit car

    I don’t doubt that this will be a long way off and I am expecting I will need to save some as I go. Only hindsight will tell how far off I am.

    Where to Start —

    Where to Start

    The same as most other blokes, I’ve been a bit of a petrolhead since I was a little boy. Throughout my adult life a chunk of my disposable income has ended up going on cars. In chronological order my history is as follows;

    • Mini City 998cc – Had no carpets and you could see tarmac through the floorpan. Taught me how to change a head gasket though and the joys of the A series engine.
    • Renault Clio 1.8 16v – This one was a proper love / hate relationship. To be fair, I abused her and she abused my wallet. I consistently pushed it too hard and ended up blowing another head gasket. Assuming it couldn’t be much harder than the A Series I set to it with my brother. Due to the joys of Renault engineering and an engine too small for the bay we had to winch it out just to get the timing belt cover off!
    • Skoda Favorit 1.3 glx – This thing was a beast. Having cost £275 from an old couple near Bury St Edmonds, it just kept going. I lost the radiator cap… It didn’t care. It chugged along just a little warmer but no water in. Someone tried stealing it (twice)… It didn’t care. The lock on the steering column held firm and the steering wheel just bent. Handled like a boat and probably the scariest car I’ve had. Also the one I’m most nostalgic about though.
    • Skoda Fabia 1.9 TDI – This one was another workhorse. A £900 hand me down from my brother, it had been well maintained. This was the most luxurious interior I’d ever had in a car to this point. The diesel torque was pretty good on the motorway too.
    • Audi TT 225bhp – Compared to the rest, this felt like a rocket ship at the time. It’s hard to pick many faults with it as a day to day car. Really quite a nice interior and a surprisingly large boot. That big single turbo was brilliant too. The only quibble is the sluggish handling and it was a bit unsteady at speed.
    • Porsche 996 Turbo – This… Has been my baby for the past 18 months. I’ve never driven anything quite like it. The speed just keeps coming and the grip / handling are immense. The thing I’m missing most though, is cleaning and polishing it.

    996 turbo

    As I’ve gone through these cars I’ve been less and less inclined to work on them, for fear of making an expensive mistake (or leaving myself off the road). We now have a budding family though (8yr old daughter and 1yr old son), we’ve finished renovating downstairs in the house , I commute by pushbike & train and we own a 1.6 Ford Focus.

    It’s time to do what I’ve wanted to for a number of years. Build and enjoy a kit car!

    Over the coming months (and possibly years) I intend to keep a record of the challenges, joys and pitfalls of building my own SR2 RoadRunner. I’ve put the deposit down on a kit a couple of days ago. Before getting down to it, I’ll put together a few posts on

    • What made me choose a SR2 RoadRunner specifically
    • Sourcing the donor car
    • Getting ready to build
    • Stripping down the donor

    Some of the jobs I mentioned above (head gasket) and a few services are about as sophisticated as I’ve ever gotten. This means that even stripping down the donor car will be a challenge

    Should be fun!! 🙂