Gauges and heater

I’ve continued my streak of working a lot in the garage lately, and have made a pretty exciting addition to the car: I finished the gauge cluster! It makes a dramatic visual difference in the way the car looks. I wound up deciding to have the gauge cluster panel screw in with 4 screws from the front, rather than try to go for some fancy hidden fastener approach like I was originally contemplating. I first made a steel frame that just outlined the shape of the gauge cluster panel, and welded that on to the chassis; this serves as the bracket that the gauge cluster panel actually mounts to. After this point, it was just a matter of lining up all the gauges correctly, drilling the holes, grinding/fitting the panel, and mounting it. I haven’t done the other two dashboard panels yet but they will be done in a similar fashion after the car has been driven.

Another exciting development is that I mounted the heater, and in doing so finished the mounting for the firewall aluminum. I created a vertical hoop using 3/4″ tubing that serves to support the aluminum and also to provide support for the brackets which the heater mounts to. On the aluminum side, this makes the firewall nice and sturdy should I decide to mount the car’s computer on this panel. The most challenging part in all of this was cutting the firewall correctly for the heater, as it is a two piece arrangement with one piece on the inner side of the firewall, and the other piece (the fan) on the engine side of the firewall. The pictures speak for themselves.

Lastly I mounted the brake bias adjuster and also created/mounted the center console panel. Both items will be removable with screws. Originally I was planning on having the brake bias adjuster mounted on the center console panel, but my dad made the suggestion to mount it in such a way that removing the center console aluminum panel would not necessitate bothering with the bias adjuster knob.. After some head-scratching I figured out a way to do this that wouldn’t interfere with the transmission below. For my non-gear-head audience, a bias adjuster lets you control how much force is applied to the brakes on the front relative to the rear and visa versa. Ideally it would be adjusted such that all four tires lock up (if at all) at the same time, rather than the front tires locking up while the rears still have plenty of room for more braking force.

The next order of business is to do the brake and fuel lines, and complete those systems 100%. Next time I post I’ll likely have bled the clutch and brake lines and have actual use of those pedals.

Pictures below. Enjoy.


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Starting out 2012 right — with a blog post

Well once again I am quite delinquent in my blog updates. The past several months since graduation have been much busier than I anticipated, but I guess thats life for you. There was a surprisingly large amount of things I had to take care of as a result of not being a student anymore, along with lots of traveling to visit people I hadn’t seen for a while, and so on. Fortunately, things have been settling down and I really am getting into the swing of things. Also, even though I haven’t been blogging I’ve been working on the car since graduating, so I have quite a bit of updates to report!

First of all I’m happy to report that back in July I moved (yet again). This served as another delay to build progress, but it has been well worthwhile since I upsized. I’m back in a 2 car garage, and have all of the space to myself which has been terrific. Its amazing how cramped it can be to work on a car project with a 1 car garage, plus its really nice to be able to pull in a second car for service. There are a handful of photos showing off the new digs.

On to the build updates. When I last wrote I had just finished up the scuttle frame and mounted the nosecone. Soon after that I received my 5 sheets of 4′x8′ 16 gauge aluminum. I expect to have some left over but thats fine. I’ll be using it for the floor in addition to various other body panels, including the scuttle. I also managed to mount the honda civic radiator successfully, and gave the car headlights to boot. I’m really happy with the way the radiator mount turned out, and the radiator itself fits nicely within the nosecone.

Around this point I moved into the bigger space and there was a fair amount of time where my work in the garage was related to setting up the workspace. Eventually I got back to the car though and decided to build the firewall aluminum piece that sits between the scuttle and the engine bay. For this I decided to make my own sheet metal brake out of 1/4″ thick 4″x4″ angle iron (two 4′ long sections held together with a piano hinge). That was a fun experiment and it worked reasonably well for this piece, though I probably won’t be using it again soon.

One thing the photos show off a bit is the supercharger mounted; this was the first time I put the supercharger on with the nosecone and the scuttle frame both mounted to the car.. it became obvious to me that I am going to have serious fitment issues with the supercharger.. The handful of supercharger shots are from a garage session wherein I simply stared at the car for a couple of hours trying to figure out what to do. In the end I think I will build the car without the supercharger for now, and possibly re-add it or a turbo later on. I’m just trying to make steady progress and not get too bogged down in that kind of thing until the car is driving.

A couple months of this past fall were dedicated to finishing the frame. Up to this point I had final welded the frame enough to roughly assemble the car and have it support its own weight, but not complete enough to be drive-ready. I was getting to the point where I wanted to start moving the car towards its first drive, so I stripped all the parts off, and finished the frame 100%. This entailed all the diagonal reinforcement tubes, a handful of remaining tubes for the dashboard, and the roll bar. There were a handful of other panels I had to make and weld in to call the frame complete, but thats the gist of it. Also, I ground down most of the external welds where body panels were to be applied. This process took much longer than I would have thought.. it was tedious and repetitive work for the most part.

One thing I’d like to give a little more detail to is the roll bar.. I wound up using 1.5″ DOM tubing for the roll bar, and for now I’m just going with a single hoop and two supporting braces that come to the bottom of the frame. They’re all welded to the frame at 1/8″ thick plates. I may eventually add on to the roll bar with side-impact bars, and/or a diagonal, but I decided to hold off on that decision. Making the roll bar hoop was lots of fun with the JD2 tube bender, even if my setup for it was a bit ghetto.

Another fun item in the finishing of the frame was the seat belt mounts. I made these out of 1/4″ thick steel with weld nuts for everything but the shoulder belts; those are bolted to heavy duty 1.5″ inner diameter tubes that are welded onto the frame.

A couple other minor details worth mentioning..

  • I had the drive shaft shortened at a small expense of around $100.
  • I got an original 1990 Mazda Miata service manual (thats super tiny!). At $100 on ebay it wasn’t cheap, but it will come in handy when I’m doing the wiring harness.
  • I picked up a harbor freight 12-ton shop press. Its already come in handy a number of times for various stuff I’ve done with bearings and bushings
  • One of the engine bay reinforcement tubes is now removable so that I will be able to pull the exhaust from the car without taking out the engine
  • I got a chair on wheels, it saves my back and knees on a regular basis
  • I ordered the rear fenders from Kinetic Vehicles, and promptly devised a clever ceiling storage solution for both fenders + the nosecone so that they’re out of the way. They just clear my head by about 1.5″
As of writing I have the car on its way back to being assembled. The suspension is fully bolted on, shims and all, for the first time (it was only loosely installed before.. definitely not well enough for driving). The brake calipers are installed on all four wheels, and the pedals/master cylinders are all installed also. Some of the more exciting things from my lengthy todo list for the car are:
  • Build and mount 3 dash panels, including holes for gauges
  • build 3/4″ tube firewall supporting hoop+clecos
  • Center console panel + clecos
  • prep engine (clutch, clean, alternator) + install in car
  • Install fuel tank, mount fuel filters + pump
  • Mount heater
  • Order all remaining brake hardware + Stainless Steel lines, run brake lines
  • run fuel lines
  • Run coolant lines
  • Finalize and install steering rack (close holes, new rubber and hardware)
  • Order brake lights, reverse lights, all turn signals
That is all for now. Hopefully I’ll get better about posting more regular updates. We’ll see.


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Scuttle and nosecone updates

Continuing on with my progress from last week I ended up finishing the frame for the scuttle.  I used 16ga steel and an electric nibbler to cut it.  The plasma cutter is super cool, but it seemed like a nibbler would be more useful eventually for cutting out non-circular holes in the aluminum, so I decided to pick one up on amazon and it turns out to be really efficient at cutting 16ga steel too!  Best of all there’s no heat distortion, which I sometimes found happened with the thinner steel with the plasma cutter.  I ended up semi-boxing the frame so its fairly rigid, and it will bolt to the frame of the car under the dash.  I’m still waiting on the aluminum that I ordered to arrive to totally finish it off, but I need to order rivets and clecos still anyway.

With the scuttle worked out I decided to take on the radiator, but first I needed to mount the nosecone.  I got my first experience with dremeling fiberglass.  Definitely use a facemask!  It produces lots of nasty dust that I’m sure is bad for you to inhale.  After about 5 minutes of making a mess I also started using the shop vac to suck up the dust immediately as I sand/dremel away bits of the fiberglass nosecone, that worked superbly well.  I wound up finishing mounting the nosecone as well (though I haven’t started on the radiator yet, that’s next) and playing around with what the hood + scuttle would look like thanks to some construction paper.  The scuttle isn’t quite perfect or symmetric; the problem lies with the “caterham-csr-style” tube that I bent and welded to the frame.. it slopes down a bit too far towards the sides of the car and it does so more on the passenger than on the driver side by about a 1/4″.  I’m trying to decide whether I want to take a stab at fixing this somehow (adding filler material, redoing the tubing, etc..) or just continue on with the thought that I can always fix it later if it really bothers me that much.  For now I think I’m going with the latter decision in the name of continued progress.

Next on my list are the radiator, mounting the headlights, finishing the tubing (4 more tubes left) on the csr dash, building the roll bar, and perhaps getting started with some aluminum work for the firewall and scuttle skin.

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Steering, gas pedal, and dashboard/scuttle

I’ve worked on the locost for 4 days in a row.  That is some kind of record for me.  Yesterday I got up around 8am and was in the garage by 9, and worked all day.  Today I spent a lot of time just staring at it, coming inside and researching, and repeating.  Also I’ve been ordering a lot of parts lately.  It feels great to get to work on the car so much, and also knowing that I’ll get to continue working on it at this pace for the foreseeable is thrilling.  Anyway, on to the updates.

One exciting thing I completed last week was the steering.  Previously I had shortened the rack and extended the tie rods, but last week I lengthened the steering column and came up with a Keith Tanner-esque mid-steering column support using a teflon pillow block.  I then completed the final brackets for the steering column, and voila!  I can turn the wheels.  After that I decided it was finally time to mount the gas pedal as well.  I came up with a simple bracket for this and played around with the positioning a bit.. there’s not much room in my pedal box since the engine is positioned so far back.  I’m pretty happy with what I settled on, but I definitely won’t be driving this thing with boots on!

With the steering and gas pedal behind me, I decided to take all the parts out of the car and do some final welding on suspension related and other brackets, and also to spend some time figuring out what to work on next.  I spent quite a while revisiting whether or not I wanted to do a full roll cage, or just a roll bar.  At the moment I’ve settled on doing a roll bar with side impact bars, inspired by this stalker:

I think this will be a fair combination of enhanced crash protection and streetability.  I wound up ordering 50 feet of 1.5″ .095″ wall DOM tubing to make up the roll bar.  While I was at it, I ordered 5 sheets of 4′ x 8′ aluminum sheet.  Its 3003-H14, which I hear is fairly maleable but still strong, at 0.063″ (1/16″) thick.  This will be used on the floor, the body panels, and any other aluminum items I might need to build.  Oh and in case that sounds like a lot more metal than I need, it is!  I just like collecting steel of various types and sizes for future projects, this practice of mine has already come in handy a number of times.

Besides the body work and the roll bar, I hemmed and hawed a lot about the dashboard and the scuttle.  It was a little tempting to me at this point to give up on my caterham CSR style dash, due to the increased difficulty of construction over a fiberglass dash from Kinetic Vehicles, but in the end I decided to stick with it.  I decided to forgo using the miata gauge cluster, and use aftermarket ones instead.  Additionally, I chose to try out a GPS based speedometer to avoid dealing with mating the mechanical speedo cable from the transmission to an aftermarket gauge (based on my research this did not sound very easy with the miata transmission).  Other than a speedometer and a tachometer, I will have oil and water temp, oil pressure, and intake manifold pressure gauges.  I mocked up with cardboard what it will all look like and ordered all the mentioned gauges from .

I’ve decided that my next sub project will be to finish the scuttle.  I’m going to build a lightweight frame out of 16ga steel and have an aluminum skin rivited to it – this assembly will be removable for easy access to the area between the dash and the firewall.  I’m looking forward to getting that all built.

Without further ado, here are the pictures for this post.

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Graduation: the end of an era

Nearly 4 weeks ago I walked across the stage at the Georgia Dome and received my pretend diploma.  I graduated, after 6 grueling years, from Georgia Tech.  This past year has been the most intense one yet, though its also been one of my best.  Unfortunately, due to working full time while doing full time classes, I didn’t manage to get much done on the locost.  Now that school is out of the picture, I have considerable free time at my disposal that will continue for the next several months at least.  Finally, I can work on and maybe even finish this thing.

Items on my immediate todo list, in no particular order:

  • Build a portable stand for my JD2 tube bender I got last fall (this will get a separate post)
  • Finally get around to doing all the reinforcements on the frame, i.e. diagonal tubing and gussets
  • Finish the steering, which at this point entails finalizing the steering column mounting
  • Finish the dashboard tubing

From my post over at locostusa forums:

“Well, now that my last post was made over a year ago, I feel its time to provide an update finally. For the last 6 ( :shock: ) years I’ve been working on my undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech in computer science. Happily, I can announce that I graduated almost 4 weeks ago! :cheers: The short story is that I now am going to be working on the locost quite steadily (as of this week) until its completion, so I ought to be posting updates here at least once every couple weeks.

The slightly longer story:

I started the locost project during my 3rd year, almost 3.5 years ago now. I was using my mom’s garage at the time, and didn’t have any serious obligations besides school. Eventually, I moved into a townhouse with another locost builder who I happened to know through our non-locost social network, and began to make some decent progress on the car. Then about 2 years ago I became heavily interested in tech startups, and tried to pursue one myself. That crashed and burned after about 6 months, and took my studies with it for the time being.

That was about 18 months ago. By this point I moved out of the 2 bedroom townhouse and into a 1br 1 car garage by myself, and decided to figure out some things – namely how to finish school. I was on the co-op program which is a 5 year program, and as it was I was looking to seriously overshoot that mark, and my grades had been somewhat scatter shot. Around December 2009 I decided to just work for the spring (of 2010) and not take classes; this allowed me to get my wits about me, as well as focus on the Locost a decent bit. I also decided to hold off on doing a startup (my ultimate career goal) until after I had finished college, since it was too distracting from my studies (and way more fun!).

Due to finances, and the expense of renting a 1 car garage townhouse by myself, I ended up continuing to work after I started back with classes last May. In fact, between May 2010 and May 2011, I maintained a full time load of classes, as well as averaging nearly 40 hours a week writing software to pay the bills. Needless to say I had very little free time this past year for the locost. Most recently I had another opportunity with a startup that I worked on with another guy for the last few months, and it was looking like after graduation the locost was going to have to continue to wait, but that didn’t end up panning out either for various reasons, so now I’m back to my original plan of working on the car a ton post-graduation.

I can’t express enough how elated I am to finally have the ability to work on this project again. The past couple years have taught me some serious lessons about the value of not focusing on too many projects at once, and I’ll admit that once or twice when things were really hard the thought crossed my mind to sell my project and get rid of the garage dependency. I always knew in my heart of hearts that I would regret bailing on finishing this car for the rest of my life though, so I’m glad I was able to pull through and now I can finally get back to it.

I’m sure anyone who’s taken a long hiatus from working on their car can relate, but I feel like I have to relearn a lot of things! I know it will all come back quickly, but I barely even remember where I was heading and what needs to be done now. I’ve spent a couple nights in the garage this week just staring at the car and scribbling notes on paper about what I need to do next and what I need to research. Boy how I’ve missed doing that!

I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone else’s progress too, and seeing all the newcomers since I last spent much time on this forum. Seems like its grown quite a bit!


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Steering rack and e-brake updates

Well, I’ve been bad at posting again, its been a busy summer.  I managed to get the steering wheel mounted finally (had to modify the hub adapter for the Momo steering wheel).  I also mounted the e-brake lever, and routed the e-brake cable.  I need to install a pulley for the cable coming out of the lever, but its basically done.

In other news, I finally tackled the steering rack.  It was kind of scary at first but ended up not being too bad.. Just had to disassemble it, cut 6 inches out, reweld it, and reassemble.  I had to repeat the procedure once because the first time I welded the rack together it wasn’t quite straight.. but the second time I got it spot on.

Next I’ll be modifying the steering column and tie rods, at which point steering will work (woohoo!).  From there, I believe I’m done with all the big “scary” things.. I’ll probably be moving on to fuel or electrical next.

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Officially a roller, steering rack mount and e-brake cable

Well I ended up final welding the suspension stuff this weekend.  I kept on running into situations where it would be useful to have the car on the ground with the engine installed and whatnot, so I finally broke down and spent a while welding today.  By “situations”, I mean things like wanting to mount the ebrake lever, but really I need the driveshaft and the shifter in place to do so.  Things like wanting to do the steering column, but I need the engine in place so I make sure I don’t interfere with the engine placement or exhaust.  Etc.  Anyways, it was pretty gratifying to have the car supporting its own weight, and bouncing up and down on it for a good while was fun too!

In other news, I figured out how to route the e-brake cable without hitting the frame or re-doing the caliper e-brake brackets or swapping RH and LH rear uprights and upper control arms.  Unfortunately, I think I messed up the passenger side e-brake by messing with it (trying to disassemble it) last week.. the lever pulls freely without engaging the brake, so I’ll have to take care of that at some point.

I also spent some time figuring out the mounting for the steering rack.  The solution I came up with is really simple, though not the prettiest I’ve seen.  I’m using some angle iron to support a rectangular frame which the steering rack bolts to.  I need to cut the rack down to 18″ (from approximately 24.5″), so I’ll be ordering the factory service manual soon so I can make sure I disassemble the rack correctly.  I’m also going to wait till I’ve cut the rack to the right length before I weld in the rack mount/bracket.

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Suspension is done!

The control arms and shock mounts are all fabricated finally! They’re just tac-welded at the moment but I like to leave final-welding for days when I don’t feel like doing anything that requires design/engineering.  I also got in some more parts, including the passenger seat, steering wheel, nose cone, and others that are less picture-worthy.

Tonight I started on the parking brake and discovered that the cable is wanting to go into my frame at the moment due to my rear wheels being so far forward.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do to fix this, but I have a feeling it will involve disassembling the rear brakes and fabricating a new set of e-brake brackets for the rear calipers.

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Redone rear upper control arms

Pics as described in the previous post.

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Quick update on suspension

As another locost builder once said, my favorite color is UPS brown. I got a bunch of parts last week and more coming this week.. Shocks/springs are in, as well as the radiator. Also on order are the steering wheel/hub, passenger seat/cover, heater, fuel system fittings/lines, brake lines, wheel spacers, and some other things I might be forgetting. I’m also getting tires installed today at Gran Turismo East.

I ran into a snag with the rear suspension; the shock body hits the rear upper control arms when its installed. I’ll upload pictures of this issue but I’ve already come up with a fix, and have one of the two RUCAs re-done already. Also, tapping tubes is a huge PITA! I spent a whole evening just tapping two tubes for M16 threads.. I didn’t have a 14.5mm drill bit, just a 9/16″, so the hole was a bit too small but only by a tiny bit.. I guess it makes a huge difference because I had to work up quite a sweat to tap those things! At any rate they’re done so the front upper control arms ought to be done in the next couple days. I think I’ve said this a couple times lately, but I ought to have a roller soon :)

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