Let the Build Begin

Below originally written by Darren Darby, December 7 through December 30, 2010

The last few weeks have been spent focusing on getting weight out the car. We first turned our attention to the dash, removing it, the A/C blower, heater core and a metric ton of sound deadening.







We plan on putting part of the dash back in to give us a good place to mount gauges, control switches, etc. It will be cut down to about 1/2 the stock size. We also plan to utilize the defrost vent and the heater blower to keep the windshield clear during any possible rain events and to move air around in the cockpit during summer races.

After the dash, we went after all the sound deadening on the floor. Learning from the experience of others, we used about 15lbs of dry ice and went at it with a couple of pairs of Harbor Freight gloves, a small sledge hammer and a few scrapers. Benson did most of this work with the help of Ed and Mickey Rushing.









The weight loss from the floor product was about 30lbs alone.

Next, the car is off to Chris Carver Motorsports to have the cage re-done. Once it is returned from CCM, we will work on getting the interior back together and focus mainly on all the safety equipment and ensuring she will pass safety tech inspection.


Spent Sunday, December 19th at Chris Carver Motorsports helping with the cage. Looks like the cage is a complete re-do. Chris has plasma cut the old cage out and Benson worked on grinding down the remaining studs so Chris can install a safe and legal cage.

Part of the cage removed


Benson working on the cage (note that safety is first!!)




Below originally written by Benson Young on January 1, 2011

I cleaned up the holes in the metal a bit to get rid of all the sharp edges and get the fit a little better. Looks great, so I went ahead and prepped the hood for paint. I had to remove the number 85 in vinyl but couldn’t find my heat gun. A propane torch proved just as affective. A sanding wheel on a drill scuffed up the OEM paint, which was in terrible shape. I tried to smooth out some of the rock chips a bit, but decided it wasn’t worth spending too much time with because my method of painting probably wouldn’t make it worthwhile. My main concern was getting a good bite on the paint because I know I’ll have to change our vinyl numbers from time to time, and I don’t want the vinyl to pick up large swatches of paint.

After much thought, we settled on using canned enamel paint with a roller. Canned paint is much cheaper than spray cans, but doesn’t look nearly as good. However, in Lemons, you can look TOO good, so hit the hood with a household paint roller. A can of Rustoleum is $9 and should cover the whole car once thinned to the recommended 2:1, but aerosol paint is $3/can and we’d need a dozen. Vinyl work will be minimal, mainly the big numbers and the smaller artwork. The large areas of red, white, and blue will be rolled on (we will mask for the red and blue areas).

I decided to wait until getting the base white paint down before attaching the vents. I wanted to seal up the cut metal with some paint before I couldn’t reach those areas when the vents are in place. A tube of silicone adhesive will bond the vents in place, while the threaded parts of the vents will be secured with nuts and leftover hood sheetmetal bent into retainers.

So, painting with a roller looked horrible. Calling it “orange peel” would be an understatement. This was more like “cellulite”. Bubbles were rampant, but after a while they popped and the surface somewhat smoothed out. Getting the right paint consistency was very difficult: I think I need to thin out the paint a lot more. Regardless, the hood has a lumpy coat that will probably need some smoothing out with sandpaper before applying the blue.

I have a love-hate relationship with Rustoleum. It takes forever to dry: after 9 hours it’s still tacky and I won’t be able to sand until tomorrow at the earliest. It also tends to have compatibility problems with other paints. I often get wrinkling and tiny bubbles that push through days later, even if I carefully fog the underlying paint. The solvents in Rustoleum is very strong, and putting it over Duplicolor or Krylon can get you a big, useless mess. On bare material, it seems great, and I haven’t seen any wrinkling yet on the OEM hood paint (still too early though). It also takes a day to dry before you can handle it, and many days to cure. Krylon goes on MUCH faster and smoother with no incompatibility, and it’s workable in less than an hour.

The pros of Rustoleum are that it’s *much* more durable than Krylon. Whatever hot solvents are in Rustoleum work well because they work deep and cure slowly. The end result is a much longer lasting finish, but it’s much more difficult to handle. Time is a big factor here too: we only have 6 weekends before the race, and waiting a day or two between handling will undoubtedly slow our project schedule. Slow drying time also limits how much cutting/sanding/grinding we can do nearby.

Below originally written by Benson Young, January  1 through January 29, 2011

Big update. We spent a couple weekends over at Chris Carver Motorsport, helping out with the cage. His fabrication and welding skills are incredible, and we learned a lot just giving him a hand.

Rear downtubes were completely replaced because the original ones had bends in them, which isn’t allowed. Carver put in some new tubes going down to L-shaped spreader plates that both connected the shock towers and rear floorpan.


Carver also flipped the main hoop’s diagonal to protect the driver instead of a non-existant passenger.


Boxed spreader plates were created to provide ample load surface while making full 360* welding easier.


Carver fabbed up new NASCAR-style door bars to provide more safety for us.


We put the stock dash bar back in because it was an easy way to hold up the existing steering column and dash components. Carver tied them into the cage, so now the unibody’s firewall is braced to the cage.



Meanwhile, back at home I finished painting the hood, though rather poorly. The cold weather wasn’t making it easy: paint wasn’t curing well, bondo didn’t set, and even masking tape wouldn’t stick during the 20*F evenings.


The front bumper came out a lot better, but it’s still awful up close.


also cut up the dash. It doesn’t weigh much at all, but I cut it to provide easy access to the extra gauges and electrical, but will provide a way to hold up the stock instrument panel. The center console will get simple plates to put things in easy reach of the driver, without putting a lot of weight back in the car. A cutting wheel on an angle grinder cut the plastic easily.


The January 15-16 weekend was a big build push. Brett hauled the 240 from Chris Carver Motorsport to Darren’s, where Doug, Robert, and myself joined in.

I brought in my cut up dash and installed it. As it turned out, things were a bit crowded with our taller drivers, so I cut the lower sections of the instrument panel out. That cleared another 4 inches of knee room and made entry-exit easier. We also removed the turn-signal/headlight switch, because it was just going to get snagged and broken off. We didn’t have headlights or turn signals anyway. We’ll install manual switches to control those when we get closer to night events, which should be around August 2011. I left the wiper stalk because we are keeping them installed. Since driver information aids are not part of the $500 budget according to Lemons rules, we added a few gauges to help keep tabs on the car’s health. We haven’t hooked them up yet, but the panels have been cut and fitted to them. Oil pressure, Oil temp, and Water temp. A redundant kill switch is on the center console. The panels will be painted flat black after we are a bit closer to finishing.



The seat proved to be a big problem. We wanted to use a slider to make the seat adjustable for the range of drivers. Doug is like 6-foot-15 or so, and I’m asian. We swapped the aluminum seat for an old Corbeau that Darren had (Lemons rules allows safety equipment outside the $500 budget, and that includes the seat). I ordered a double-locking slider assembly, but when we installed it, the entire seat was too high.


We kicked around a few ideas, and decided to mount the sliders directly to the floor. Problem is, there is a lateral rail in the cabin in the way, and a lumpy floor from the catalytic converter. That problem was solved with an angle grinder, a blow torch, and big hammer. Unfortunately, it didn’t make for a very smooth floor. Brett and I put the seat in a couple hundred times while trying to hammer it smooth. We got the seat in, but the sliders were binding. I came up with a solution with some beefy 2×2 angle irons.



drilled them to matched the sliders, so I’d have a perfect template to punch holes in the floor. I bolted the angle irons above and below the floor pan, and used a monster impact gun (I call her “Vera”) to flatten out the metal. I broke a couple bolts, but it did flatten the floor. After some tweaking, we got full range from the slider, and dropped the seat bottom a full 4 inches from when we started.


We removed the roof panel and cut us some sheet aluminum

Silicone adhesive provided some weather sealing, while rivets kept the panel secure.

Wheels are in. New Rota RB’s in 15×8+14 for 4×114.3. The RB is a modern, cheap imitation of the vintage Panasports and Minilites.

The wheel was based on tire selection. We tossed around a lot of different options, and went with the Dunlop Direzza Star Spec in 205/50-15. The tire is a favorite in Lemons for being grippy and still reasonably durable. They aren’t expensive in this size, and we had to have a tire with 190 treadwear or higher. We threw out taller and heavier tires (16″+) because of cost, weight, and height. The 205/50-15 is a full 1.5 inches shorter than the stock size, so we’d get a good 3/4″ drop from the tires alone. We’d also be able to find Spec Miata RA1 take-offs easily, for track days and Solo.

The 8″ wheel is very wide for a 205, but that is quite intentional. There isn’t a 225mm wide Star Spec, but we’d put down more of the 205 tread with the 8″ wheel than the same tire on a 6″ or even 7″. We will also have a nice rounded tire shoulder, which will make the car more progressive. Being easier to drive is more important to us than outright grip. We have a lot of drivers with various levels of experience, so we wanted the car to be predictable. Rota RB’s aren’t light, but they are dirt cheap. Using the +14 offset meant the wheel actually had the same inner clearance as the OEM wheel, while sticking out a couple more inches towards the fenders. With a drop and fender roll, we’d have no problems clearing it because of the short diameter and rounded profile.

I couldn’t find gold ones in this size, so we masked them and threw on some gold paint, to look more like the classic Panasports that Bob Sharp ran back in the day.


Another build day down. We’ve had a few snags, largely in the electrical department. Most of those issues are really just incomplete planning and research. We’ve had strong success so far, which I credit to very detailed planning to make the most of our time while working on the car. The gauges and kill switch have been slow in implementing for us, largely because of our inexperience. However, we’ve learned a lot about a car’s electrical system, so it’s still a good day when you know something you didn’t yesterday.

We realized that taking oil temperature and pressure is a whole lot easier with a sandwich plate. I figured this was out of the Lemons budget, but after regrouping from a failed install, Darren discovered sandwich plates were only $8 on eBay. An oil filter sandwich plate is a hunk of metal that goes in between the oil filter and engine block. It intercepts the oil going into and out of the oil filter. You can hook up an oil cooler to the pre-drilled holes this way, or use it as a source for oil to an aftermarket turbo. They also feature pre-drilled ports to attach sensors, like the Oil Temperature and Oil Pressure sending units we had. This greatly simplified our gauge install, and we’re categorizing this under the Lemons allowance for “driver information”, where gauges, radios, mirrors, etc were not under the $500 general build budget. However, if the judges don’t agree, we can claim the $8 outright anyway.

We needed a source of 12V power for the gauges. A voltmeter is a critical instrument for this kind of job. Testing various orphaned wires in the cabin, we were able to find several sources of switched 12v power.

We also overestimated how much battery cable we had, so wound up making a couple trips to the auto parts store to get enough cable for our particular setup. After doing a lot of research, I found that getting a good kill switch could reduce alternator failures, which are quite common in Lemon races. Besides being under great strain and heat, alternators in Lemons cars also tend to be rather ancient. Our alternator is of unknown vintage and didn’t have any room in the budget for a replacement. Instead, we tackled what could be a common source of alternator damage in race cars: the kill switch itself.

There are quite a few threads on this in the Lemons forums, but the gist is that killing a running engine by interrupting battery power might not stop the alternator, which can continue to create electricity. That electricity has nowhere to go, and will eventually drain out through diodes in the alternator. Repeated use of the kill switch could shorten the alternator’s life (using the key to stop the engine doesn’t do this, because the battery is always connected and grounded). I found a really nice kill switch from Pegasus that, upon disconnecting the battery, would open a path (via extra wires and ceramic resistor) to the car’s ground, thus saving stress on the alternator. It also interrupts the ignition circuit, providing a safe, reliable kill for the engine. Maybe this is excessive, but the kill switch was a safety item (unrestricted budget) and because of how frequent Lemons racers eat their alternators, we thought this was an easy way to increase reliability without impacting the $500 Lemons budget. We also wanted to mount two switches, one on the hood near the driver (Lemons recommended) and another in the cabin on the center console (Chump Car recommended). Wiring the positive battery cable in series required more cable than we expected, and with six electrical connections on the switch, it’s much more complex than a simple battery cutoff. Good planning, poor execution, more lessons learned.

We redid the Kill Switch today. We had a lot of trouble with blown fuses, so we eliminated the second kill switch and started simpler. For the record, battery cable from Lowes is cheaper than auto parts stores or audio shops. We got tired of paying more and found 4 gauge cable for $0.75 a foot, or about half what other places charge. Using lugs make things a lot easier, and we learned a couple tricks for getting a good solder joint.

First, don’t bother with a soldering gun. There’s too much copper to heat up: you need a propane torch. The solder will melt before you can even get it into the cable, so just turn the lug upside down and heat it from the outside. You can put it into a vice or hold them with pliers for this. Put solder directly into the lug and let it melt: use a lot.

After you have a lot of liquid solder in the lug, jam the battery cable into it and let it cool.

You can do this in the car as well, by putting the torch on the ground and holding the lug with pliers in one hand and the solder in the other. Once you have the lug filled with liquid solder, take it over to the can and jam the cable down into it.

If you need deeper solder penetration, you can invert the lug (pointed up) while it’s still on the cable, and apply some heat to the lug. Gravity will help wick the solder into the cable. Be wary of where solder drips.

We got it all working but there’s some things we want to improve. In particular, the movement of the hood made routing the cable tricky. We will revisit it once we get a few other things done.

So, right now, the car runs. The only critical things left to do in order to pass tech are padding the roll cage, attaching a rear tow hook, put numbers on the car and attach the transponder. Of course, there’s a million other things left to do, but that’s all the critical things left.

We started working on the car on 9 weekends ago, and the car was getting the cage done over three of those weekends. Even though we started from a existing race car, most of it had to be redone, and we have no doubt we’d be even further along if we started with a complete, stock car. During that time, we never worked on the car indoors, never put it on a lift, nor used anything other than simple hand and power tools. Labor-wise, we hand some help from friends, but total there is about 200 man-hours invested (excluding the cage). So, it can be done.

We also started on paint today. Using a paint roller is just too slow and messy in this cold weather. Instead, I took an old paint gun and dumped in the white Rustoleum enamel with a lot of paint thinner (4 parts thinner to 1 part paint). It was *really* thin, but allowed us to put down super-thin coats that dried quickly. It was like shooting milk onto the car. Waiting 30 minutes between each mist of paint let us build up the color much quicker than with a roller. The volume of thinner we used let the enamel tack up fast. Darren’s air compressor is rather wimpy too, so we really couldn’t put much paint down at a time anyway.

We have about half the white paint on. It looks great at a distance, but not so good up close. Darren will spray more during the week.

Meanwhile, we took the tape off the Rotas and mocked it up on the car. We didn’t grab a pic, but it’s perfect for our vintage look.

Next weekend is our last big build before running the car at the local autocross. Some old Azenis will go on the Rotas for abuse, as we are saving the Dunlops for the Feb 26th race.

Darren’s been throwing thin coats of paint on this week.
More paint work done. I cut vinyl to mask the number panels. I tried to line them up with the body, but the upper-lower door creases aren’t parallel. So the number panel is parallel with the window opening but not the bottom of the door. It was a trade off. The 88 and CANON is in vinyl. I haven’t cut the rest yet because I didn’t know where the number panel would wind up. The 240SX and 240ZX have different proportions.

It looks great in the photos, but standing close, it looks like crap. There are runs, overspray of every color, wrinkles, drips, and obviously signs of hurried work by amateurs. Unskilled amateurs.
The left side doesn’t match the right: the Canon art doesn’t fit as well. Not worth repainting for.

Our method of painting is not very durable at all. Blue masking tape easily pulls it up. We might touch this up with brushes. Or maybe not.

I still have to paint the roof and blue stripe on the rear quarter panel. That won’t happen for a few weeks: we’ve got a lot of local events happening.

Still the car definitely has the likeness of the old Bob Sharp livery.

We still have a ton of little things to do. There are 4 weeks until the race, and we will only be able to work on the car on two of those weekends.

Below originally written by Darren Darby, February 8, 2011
After the Delta Novice School on February 5, 2011, the car got it’s first runs at “speed”. During this time, we realized that no one had driven the car more than on and off a trailer since the used motor was installed. We were nervously optomistic about the outcome. Good news: NOTHING BLEW UP smile.gif.

While Benson and I were instructing at the school, Doug Narby pulled the exhaust and wrapped the section directly below the driver. 240s are infamous for making heat there and we want to maximize driver comfort. We also installed a new 5-point cam-lock harness and test fitted suited drivers from the two extremes of our team. Doug (the tallest) and Robert (the skinniest) both fit without issue thanks to the seat slider previously installed.

Each driver took runs on the Solo Novice course to “shake” the car down. A few small issues showed up, but nothing show stopping and nothing major. The next two weeks will involve knocking out the punch list and preparing our spares for the trip to Houston.

From these pictures, you can better see the peeling paint and the overall crap can it is. Still, from 60ft at 60MPH, she looks AWESOME.

A short video is attached.

LeMons 240SX

Below originally written by Benson Young, January 11, 2011
The car is in Ocean Springs with me, so I can work on the detail stuff. The major items are done, but there’s a lot of little details to knock out. I’ve continued on the theme work with vinyl I’ve cut.

My life as a vinyl cutter has been transformed by this little gizmo:

It’s a fingertip holder for a standard xacto blade, and it’s so cool that I don’t know why someone didn’t think of it before. It makes working with vinyl much more comfortable, and cutting the tape on the car was a breeze. Yes, I cut stuff directly on the car. It’s a Lemons car.

I mounted the fire extinguisher in the car. This goes under the category of “things I never want to need.”

I removed the side marker lights too. They are getting covered with vinyl. Nothing fancy here.

The battery cable routing hasn’t been ideal. Too much binding, too much routing. I bought some junction blocks from Fastronix. These have greatly simplified out kill switch setup. 

Mounting the kill switch to the hood hasn’t been smooth. Using the junction blocks will greatly reduce the amount of binding we have.

I also wanted to replace the seat mounting hardware. “Class 8” bolts from Autozone are not the same as “Grade 8” bolts from Home Depot.

More updates as this weekend progresses.


We are at the tail end of the build. In other words, we’re just running out of time.
Roll bar padding went on. I used a mix of SFI-rated foam padding and single-sided high density. The foam’s open area is off-center, which is nice because we can direct the padding towards the driver.

I’ve found that an electric knife makes this job a breeze. You can make amazingly precise cuts. It’s actually kinda fun. I used the softer foam for areas the softer parts of the driver can contact: arms and legs.

The single-sided padding is much higher density. I put in the halo, where the driver’s helmet rests. The hard helmet needs more resistance, in my opinion.

Cutting reliefs into the single-sided stuff makes it easier to bend, and therefore stay in place.

I cleaned up the battery cable wiring, and put in retainers to keep it from moving around and possibly chaffing.

The kill switch got an extra loop to provide some flexibility. The junction blocks made this a lot easier. I used a more flexible cable for the short segments to the hood. Rotating the switch 90* also put the posts in better spots.

I also painted the roof blue and the stripe. The paint doesn’t stick to the aluminum roof panel at all.

Below originally written by Darren Darby, February 20, 2011

The last weekend of work is behind us. Benson, Robert, and Darren went over the car with a fine-toothed comb, checking and re-checking everything we could think of. We also finished up the radio install, tested it with Robert’s helmet, installed the remainder of the vinyl, went through the tech checklist and got everything ready. Lastly we cleaned the glass in and out. She is now on the trailer and ready for her trip to Houston!!!!

Wish us luck.