Yesterday afternoon I had such a “duh” moment. I realized that I can use a Megasquirt system on the Saab engine I was originally planning on using. So now the plan is to get myself a 2004-2011 Saab 9-3 2.0T with the B207R engine. 2003 and 2008-11 all wheel drive models had secondary air injection which is stupid. I can remove it, but it’s just easier to not have it in the first place. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use the car’s original computer to run things, but if that’s not possible I can always go with Megasquirt. This engine would be easier to run with Megasquirt than the LE5 anyways because the B207 doesn’t have variable valve timing.

Engine Height Troubles

I took a look at the LTG engine dimensions on the GM crate engine site earlier today. At about 27.3 inches tall according to GM, the LTG is probably too tall to use in a Locost, at least easily. The Locost forums say that the Miata 1.8 liter engine, a popular choice, is fairly tall at around 23 inches and requires the oil pan to sit below the frame rails. Clearly then, the LTG is too tall. Turns out it’s tricky to find dimensions (overall length, width, height) on most engines, unless they’re offered as a crate engine or are very popular in standalone applications, so I’m not totally if an LHU or LNF would fit either. I’m not totally sure if any Ecotec engine would fit, but I think I’ve found a decent option.

Obviously, buying a whole car to extract the engine, accessories and wiring from would be ideal, but I’m not sure it’s going to be possible for a low enough amount of money. The cars containing the LNF and LHU engines are still fairly new, and in the case of the LNF, rare. It’s pretty unlikely I’m going to find a rusted out 2013 Buick Regal Turbo. So a more common and older engine would be easier to work with.

I think I’ll be setting my sights on an LE5, a 2.4 liter naturally aspirated four cylinder found in a bunch of shitty, uninspiring GM cars from 2006 to 2012. In the form I’m most likely to find, it puts out 169 horsepower and 162 ft-lbs of torque. That should be totally fine for a 1500 or 1600 pound car, even though it’s not the 260 horsepower of the turbo engines. I think I’d probably run the engine with a Megasquirt 3 system, which should be able to deal with the engine’s variable valve timing and avoid the headache of using the GM ECU without the rest of the car. The Megasquirt is also infinitely tuneable, so with some effort I might be able to eke out a little more power. And if I want a lot more power, the turbo from the Saab 9-3 bolts on with some effort. I’m looking into grafting on the individual throttle bodies from a motorcycle for this engine. I might even be able to

So that’s where the project stands for now. Today and tomorrow are going to be pretty warm, and hopefully it stays that way. I need to get the garage in ship shape before I start building anything.

Locost Concept Update

The Suspension

Last week we got a Saturn Sky in at my work. Since they came out, I’ve always thought they were a great looking car, maybe even a work of art. The interior, it turns out, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s everything terrible about GM from 10-15 years ago, but I suppose it was a pretty inexpensive car when it was new.

2009 Saturn Sky Redline Ruby Red Limited Edition.jpg
By ReedredOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Sky/Solstice was built on the GM Kappa platform, a brand new design for a two seat convertible similar to a Miata. Knowing this, I was interested to inspect the suspension design on this car. The Miata, at least the NA and NB generations I’ve looked into, have simple front and rear spindles that are easy to adapt the the Locost design. It turns out the Sky might be even better.

The front and rear spindles appear very similar (I suspect they may even be identical). They’re made of aluminum, which is appealing due to its lighter weight than the Miata’s iron spindles. Both front and rear take ball joints top and bottom, with a tie rod in the middle. This is the same as the Miata in the front, but different in the back. The Miata does not use ball joints in the back, just a simple clevis. The ball joints and tie rod on the Sky allow the toe to be adjustable in addition to camber. The only thing I don’t really care for is that the wheel speed sensor is integrated in the wheel hub/bearing assembly. They’re a lot more expensive than a press in bearing and I’m not sure yet if I can make use of the sensor.

They didn’t make a ton of Solstices and Skies, so finding a reasonably priced parts car a reasonable distance from me would be tricky. Luckily the parts I need are available for an okay price on eBay. On a whim, I cruised around and ended up with a set of four brake calipers with bolts and hoses, and both rear spindles. The calipers were $120, and the spindles $112. I think those are pretty tough prices to beat. If I decide not to build the car, I can always clean up the parts and sell them for a bit more than I paid.

The Drivetrain

My original plan was to use the B207R/Lk9 out of a Saab 9-3 2.0T. They’re very easy to find for cheap in my area. I’m also a Saab mechanic, so I can get any parts I need to refresh the engine and I have easy access to parts and electrical diagrams. I’ve decided not to use this engine though. While it’s a GM engine, there are a few proprietary Saab parts, the ECU among them. At work, we replace ECUs on 9-3s very frequently. The “new” ones aren’t new anymore, they’re rebuilt and have a high failure rate. The parts company has introduced another ECU part number, but using it requires modification to the wiring harness, and I suspect it won’t be any more reliable than what we already have.

With that in mind, I decided to look for new engine options. If money was no object, I’d probably go for an aluminum block GM V8. But money is an object, so I’ll have to go for something less expensive. I think a four cylinder of 2 liters or less is more in the spirit of the Lotus 7 anyways. I took a look at GM’s current crate engine offerings. Their four cylinder option, the LTG, looks like just the ticket. Of course a new engine would be way too expensive, but the LTG is available in several production cars in both front and rear wheel drive configurations (I’m not sure what the difference is and whether it’s important to me though). It puts out up to 272 horsepower and 295 ft-lbs of torque, depending on the car. The LTG can be found without too much trouble in the Cadillac ATS, Buick Regal and Chevrolet Malibu. It seems to be fairly inexpensive to get a wrecked Regal, so I’ll probably try to take that route. The LHU, as installed in the Regal GS or Buick Verano Turbo, would be a fine alternative to the LTG. The LNF, in the Solstice GXP and Sky Red Line would also get the job done, but would probably be tougher to track down.

Any of those engine options should mate easily with the AR5 transmission I’ve been planning on using. I’m not totally sure about options for a flywheel and clutch, but it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to figure out. I hope.

With all this GM stuff, it makes sense to use a GM differential. My ideal choice would be the 3.73 limited slip unit out of a Sky Red Line or Solstice GXP. Those seem a tad expensive for me, so another option could be the 3.42 limited slip differential from a Cadillac CTS. I’ve read they’re the same basic thing, but I’m unsure if the Solstice/Sky axles would fit right into the CTS differential. I’m also concerned about having to have the axles shortened or lengthened because I suspect (but don’t know) that it might be expensive.

So that’s where the concept for this project is at the moment. I’m still not totally sure if it’s going to happen, mostly because my garage needs to get into decent shape before I build anything. The majority of the work shouldn’t be very expensive, but getting someone to add a few electrical circuits to the house might be. I’ll have to call some places and get estimates. After that’s done, the holes in the siding need to be fixed, new overhead doors need to be installed and lighting and electrical outlets need to be added, all of which I can probably handle myself. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Maybe Building a Car

So I’ve rediscovered the homebuilt Lotus 7 style car called the Locost. I think the first time I read about this car was in the August 2006 issue of Car and Driver. I thought it was really neat back then, and I still think it is. I think this kind of car is the perfect thing for someone like me who enjoys driving and modifying cars because of its infinite customizability. Builder usually start with a basic steel space frame, plans for which can be found in several books, and then add adapt it to use just about any components they want.

The three major books on building a Locost from start to finish are:

  • The original: Ron Champion’s How to Build a Sports Car for as Little as £250.
  • How to Build a Cheap Sports Car by Keith Tanner.
  • How to Build Your Own Sports Car: On a Budget by Chris Gibbs.

They all cover similar the same basic information with very similar frame designs, but they each bring something different to the table.

I’d really like to build one of these. I’m currently employed as a car mechanic, and have been for several years, so I have the knowledge and experience to put together the mechanical pieces of the project. I don’t have much practice in metal fabrication or welding, but neither is terribly difficult to learn.

I’ve got a basic plan in my head for the drivetrain and other components that generally aren’t buildable in a garage. The engine will be from a 2003-2011 Saab 9-3 2.0T for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, being a Saab mechanic, I know a lot about the engine already. Almost as importantly, the engine has great power density; it puts out 210 horsepower and 220 ft-lbs of torque (lots more with a tune) in a fairly compact and lightweight package. Saabs are also not worth that much money anymore, so finding a cheap car to extract the engine from shouldn’t be too difficult. Conveniently, this engine should bolt right up to the AR5 5-speed manual transmission found the the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon and the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky. It’s a pretty inexpensive transmission. I’m still undecided about the rear differential, other than I know I want independent rear suspension. The easiest choice would probably be the Ford 8.8″, which is found in the Explorer and should be pretty cheap and have some options for limited slip capability.

The front and rear spindles and brake calipers will probably come from a Mazda Miata because they’re really simple. The front ones just need top and bottom ball joints and tie rod ends and the rears only need top and bottom control arms. I’m thinking a Triumph TR6 steering rack should work reasonably well. Axles to join the Ford differential to the Miata hubs might be a tad tricky, but people stuff V8s into Miatas without too much trouble, so I’ll have to check out their solutions.

On the face of it, this project seems pretty doable. I’m capable of doing each thing that needs to be done. I think it’s probably similar to removing the engine from a car though. To remove an engine, in principle, all you have to do is disconnect everything from the engine that’s connected to the body of the car and the lift it out. This project has many stages which sound easy on the surface, but probably require lots of attention to small details. This kind of car would be perfect for me though. The endless customizability would mean I could have this car for going fast and tinkering with, and I could get a boring car for the daily grind and stop having to compromise.

I’ll have to get the homemade vehicle registration packet from the DMV and see what the legal requirements are for this sort of thing, but I don’t expect them to be onerous. I’ll also have to buy a few new tools and fix up my garage a bit, but new tools and an improved garage would be a good idea anyways. This has to potential to be a very rewarding project.

Sunday in the Park 2018

Today I took a trip to Lime Rock Park in Connecticut for their annual Sunday in the park car show. I suppose it’s actually called a concours d’elegance, but to me it’s just a big car show with a few extra-fancy cars. Every labor day they make a whole long weekend of events featuring classic, vintage and antique cars at the track, with racing on Friday, Saturday and Monday. Racing is not allowed at Lime Rock on Sundays, so they have a huge car show, with cars lined up all around the track.

The highlight this year were the 50 or so pre-war Bugattis. They’re not really my kind of car, but it is really neat to be able to walk right up to these cars, which are probably one of only a handful of their type in the world and are worth millions of dollars.

Anyways, here are the decent pictures I was able to take. It’s tough getting a nice picture of a car at an event where there are thousands of people milling about. The cars were a little more spread out than they are at the Hemmings events, so that was nice. The pictures are in a Flickr album, so if buttons to scroll through don’t show up, just click the image to see everything on Flickr.

Lime Rock Sunday in the Park 2018

So I discovered another capital region car show the other day, and just in time. For this season, I’ve been trying to attend as many car gatherings as possible. I’ve probably spent most of my car show time at the Hemming’s Cruise-Ins in Bennington, Vermont. The last one of those was Thursday, so I was looking for other shows to attend around the area. Luckily, I stumbled upon a Cars and Coffee type event dubbed Cars and Caffeine just a couple days before it was scheduled.

I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of this event before, because it’s pretty large. A couple of blocks of River Street in Troy are closed down and there is a diverse collection of cars displayed on the street. I believe this event is hosted by a custom shop on River Street called 1945 Speed and Custom. They had their shop open and it seems that, like the show, they work on a diverse array of cars.

I only got a couple digital pictures worth sharing, but I went through a roll of Fuji Superia too, so I’ll have to see how those came out later this week.

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