Friday, June 19, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

I did it to myself, really.

Some background is needed.

Before I got the sturdy and reliable and FAST corvette, I owned a 1992 Dodge Stealth ES. This was a six cylinder normally aspirated car, with great looks (for 1992) that could not get out of its own way. 180 horses, perhaps, in a 3400 pound platform. I traded it in for the Corvette, and honestly never locked back.


Our friend Linda had her summer car for sale. It was a 1993 Stealth Twin Turbo. She was the only owner, and it had all the proper maintenance done, by the local Mitsu dealer. It was cheap, and my Corvette was turning into a race car. So I bought it.

Oh, my God.

I've got a pretty good handle on the Corvette, C5 generation. I'm not a master mechanic by any means, but I've been places on that car that most folks will never go. I understand how hard it can run, and what are serious issues and what are simple ones. I know the quirks.

When I had the Stealth, I was not working on cars. I had work done on cars. Now, I decided to look into what it takes to work on the Stealth, as I had done with the Corvette.

When I recovered my sight, I went back to the website for another round. Then some drinks, of whiskey.

This is one of the most complex cars ever made. Let's tote up:
Twin turbo: Two insane heat generating, bazillion-RPM spinning points of failure. And the plumbing associated with them would make a superb Habitrail for an entire family of gerbils.

All Wheel Drive: Yes, all four. The propeller shaft (Dodge's word) is FOUR PIECES with three U-joints. How is that blaanced? IT'S NOT! *sigh*

Viscous Coupler: I almost didn't want to know, but it's the heart of the system, so I had to look. I almost turned to salt. It's like a flux capacator, but worse.

Gauges: The boost gauge is a guess. It doesn't actually measure boost, but reads out what the computer THINKS the boost is. The water temp reads habitualy low, but not in a linear fashion, forcing you to do logarithmic math in your head as you drive. The oil pressure too is a fable, reading dead low, until you actually get to 2000 RPM when it goes into the normal range (yes I checked the oil, and it has some).

All Wheel Steering: yep, the back wheels turn 1.5 degrees in phase when the car turns at 45 MPH and over. Neat eh? Yes, but something else to break, and what the HELL will that do to the alignment in a hard corner? I have no idea, and want to pass out.

Brakes: They are great from high speed to dead slow, once. Then they are shot. They are about half the surface area of the Corvette brakes, but stopping a vehicle that weighs 400 pounds more. I think that if you slowed down from 130 to 50 fast, you might generate a fusion reaction in the right wheel well.

Remember, I bought this car to be a daily driver, reliable, town sort of car. Yeah. May have missed the mark on this one.

So I look to the forums for inspiration. I find a VERY dedicated and insane bunch of car guys. They love these cars beyond most other worldly stuff. There's a huge trading and classified section, so parts are not an issue, even for a 15 year old car. There are several mechanics that work on the cars right in Austin, and were willing to talk to me. There are speed junkies and waxers, just like the Corvette community, just a bit lower budget. In short, it's the Amiga computer community, but transposed to cars. That was a dose of good news. The bad news is that a normal problem takes at least four hours to fix. Most things take a weekend, or longer. Many of the guys that drive these cars have to hitch rides to the local get together because their cars are down, and this is normal.

So I'm moving cautiously. The car is running great, even in the heat of summer. It's easy to drive, and despite the complexity, if you don't ask it to do insane things, it's comfy and well-mannered. It does have around 300 HP to work with too, so it'll move.

And all in all, I still really like these cars. They are big inside, with loads of cargo room. The air conditioner blows cold. They have no blind spots. I did it to myself, but perhaps it's not too bad.

Monday, June 15, 2009


This is the hottest June Austin has seen in a while. We've already had several days over 100 F. Race events are sparsely attended in this sort of weather. On a day when it's 100 ambient, it's easily 120 F in the cockpit. You consume water at furious rate. The rule is if you are not pissing every 45 minutes, you're not drinking enough.

I had to install a transmission cooler to cope with the heat. The car was just overheating too fast on short tracks. I was short shifting a bit to allow for full sessions, but that's a fool's way to do.

I got the cooler plumbed in behind the driver's side rear brake duct, along with the pump that drives it and the switch in the cockpit that I use to turn it on and off. As with the oil cooler install, I covered the braided steel hoses with heater hose and zip ties to keep it from rubbing anything. It makes it a bit harder to fill the car up with transmission fluid, but overall it's a good sacrifice.

It's noisy. With the pump on, there's a constant drone coming from behind the driver. I don't care.

I took the car out to Harris Hill Road to test. Bo and Kevin were gracious enough to let me come out and test on their track. I ran for 25 minutes, and the trans didn't overheat. The car was overheating the coolant, but the trans and oil stayed within normal parameters. I used my coolshirt and it was still a struggle to run for 25 minutes in that heat.

I need to get more heat tolerant. Exercise is the answer, but I need to find time to do that, and find something that does not injure my knee further. It puffed up again on Monday, proving that it's not right just yet.

So, the most counter-intuitive thing to do for a hot summer would be to get a forced induction car. So I did. I'm now the proud owner of a 1993 Dodge Stealth RT/TT. Yep, twin turbo baby! It was inexpensive and now I can make the Z into a full race vehicle. The Stealth will be my daily driver and also a platform for Sheri to learn a manual trans again. I really like this car, and it gave me another thing to tinker with. Very fun.