Rear control arms done, front soon to follow

I haven’t posted for a few days but I’ve been busy working in the garage nonetheless.  I managed to finish the rear control arms and shock mounts this weekend, and set about finishing the front control arms.  I started with the lower ones since they’re harder than the tops.  I was a little dismayed to realize that the lower ball joint that the miata uses has an M12 (12 mm) bolt, and the closest drill size I have is 1/2″.. I could order a 12mm bolt, and also a metric step bit (what I use instead of a reamer), but I ended up deciding to go with the 1/2″ bit, as 12mm is 0.472″, so less than 0.015″ space on either side of the bolt.  The hole in the stock control arms is roughly 0.485″ anyways, and also the ball joint is statically mounted, i.e. the bolts don’t move at all (as with a shock mount, for example), and I believe the main if not only force applied to the bolts will be tension, not shear stress.  If I change my mind about it I could always drill out the ball joint to 1/2″ and use SAE bolts.. we’ll see.

Oh, and on a side note, I ordered a bunch of parts last night.  I had to restrain myself from ordering more, but I need to pace myself in that regard.

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Picture update on suspension and garage

I’ve been a bit behind on my pictures, so here is the latest progress.  Both rear lower control arms are done, the rear uppers are coming along (just have a pic of the jig, but the steel is cut and they’re ready for welding), and also I’ve got pictures of the completed garage upgrades.. cabinets, drawers, sliding doors, etc.

I also want to mention that lately I’ve been receiving good help from my dad and my cousin Shane, they’ve both helped with working on the control arms in the past few days or so and its made things go a lot faster.

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First control arm is done!

I know I just posted yesterday, and no I still don’t have any pictures, but I just wanted to post that I completed one of the eight control arms last night. I’ve been building this car off and on, mostly off, for a little over two years now, and its been a while since I’ve made decent progress on it, so working on the car 4 days in a row, and no break in that trend in sight, is extremely exciting to me. In the past I’ve usually managed to get a couple weeks of solid work in and then go for a couple months without touching it, but that’s usually because something comes up, like my on the side jobs get really hectic, or school gets crazy, etc. Right now I’m just working this semester until May, and have no other obligations, so in theory I ought to be able to get 12 or so more solid weeks of work in on the car. Fingers crossed, anyways. Okay I’m going to really try to get some pics this weekend, I promise. And I need to update my “Garage” page too, now that my shop is finally done! So much to do, so little time..

-Jeff “Making good progress again” Tougas

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Suspension coming along

Quick update sans pics (sorry!). This weekend I finished the garage, meaning I now have cabinet doors under the workbench, on the shelving on the side of the workbench, and sliding doors covering the shelves on the side of the garage. I also have more drawers installed in the drilling station. This is a fantastic development because it means I can start spending all my garage time on the car!

Sunday I managed to re-visit my rear suspension geometry, finalize it, and design the upper and lower control arms. Then Monday and last night I worked on building jigs and started actually constructing the control arms. With any luck, I’ll have all of the rear control arms built and installed on the car by end of Saturday, and with another week I’ll have the front suspension done as well. I’m so excited at the thought of actually bolting a wheel onto the car, and making such good progress.. Hopefully I can keep up this pace for the next several weeks.

Pics to follow in the coming days.

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Moved, new garage setup, brake and clutch pedals mounted

Well its been a little while, that’s mostly because I moved in December to a new townhouse (across the street).  Went from a 2-bedroom, 2-car garage (and sharing with one other person) to a 1-bedroom, 1-car garage, but the garage situation is definitely a step up space-wize, since I’m not sharing half of it and yet the garage is a bit larger than just half the old one.  Anyways, I’ve been going all out on the setup of my workshop, partly since its 100% my space now and also partly because I really need to make as efficient use of the area as possible.

The pictures mostly speak for themselves, and I’ll do a more complete write-up on my Garage page once everything is complete. But basically I have a pretty similar setup to the last shop, + the following upgrades:

  • Folding workbench/welding table
  • Tire rack
  • TONS more shelving
  • TONS more sockets wired up to a 20 amp circuit
  • Harbor freight band saw is now on casters (should have done this a looong time ago)
  • Added a platform on my welding cart for the plasma cutter
  • Lots of pegboard
  • Todo still: drawers, more shelving, and cabinet doors on all open shelving

And hey, I even managed to fit a ping pong table in there with no problem!

As far as the pedals go, it was pretty simple.. just had to drill the holes for mounting, create a jig for cutting larger holes with the plasma cutter, cut larger holes, screw together and voila!  I have to say I think this plasma cutter is my favorite tool by far.. Its so useful and it makes cutting any sheet metal far easier and far quicker (with lots less noise and mess too!) than with a cutting wheel.  Anywho, here are the pics.

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HOWTO: Caterham CSR style dashboard

Caterham CSR DashboardI had a number of responses on my build thread about my dashboard, mostly praise and inquiries as to how specifically I’ve created what I’ve got so far.  To answer those questions and provide a resource for those in the future who may be interested in doing a similar dashboard, I’ll try to document my dash fabrication here.  I will update this post accordingly as my dashboard progresses to completion.

Background: What and why?

Caterham FrameThe Caterham 7 is the direct descendant of Colin Chapman’s original Lotus 7.  Caterham Cars was a major dealer of 7′s in the 1960′s, and when Lotus announced its intention to discontinue the 7, Caterham bought the rights to continue manufacturing the 7 from Chapman.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Caterham now produces some of the fastest machines on four wheels in the world, despite their most expensive car coming in at just over $60k.  The referenced vehicle, the Superlight R500, holds the rank of 5th fastest on top gear’s powerboard at the time of this writing (which places it ahead of the bugatti veyron, the ferrari enzo, and many other supercars).

Dashboard Shot 2Anyways, long story short, Caterham 7′s are extremely nice, in every way imaginable.  Inside and out, they are very well done, and are some of the best looking 7′s out there, in my humble opinion.  One Caterham 7 in particular has an interior that is totally kickass, the CSR.  The dashboard pictured above is from one.  The dash structure and the frame are apparently seamless and the dash structure is totally exposed, giving it a skeletal yet sexy look.  In between the spaces created by the dash frame are three panels, a cubby hole, the shifter, a few gauges and a couple of heater vents.  My goal for my locost is to emulate this look as closely as possible; I want my 7 to look factory-built.. I don’t want people who come up to me on the street to be able to guess that I built it in my garage from scratch.

The Good Stuff: How

IMG_5614Lets get down to business.  I’m assuming that you already know roughly how tall and wide you want your dash to be.  Mine is about 12″ tall at the tallest point, and it extends the width of my frame (42″).  Secondly, you need to decide how you want your dash attached to the frame.  My own dash frame is welded directly onto the frame of the car.  This ought to increase the torsional rigidity of the frame a decent amount, since the open passenger compartment is one of the main weaknesses in the 7′s frame.  I’m planning on making a dash cover out of aluminum with a light-weight steel frame riveted to it, which will in turn bolt to the frame of the car in order to fasten it in place.

IMG_5615First of all you have to have a way to bend your tubes.  Mine is less than sophisticated but surprisingly effective.  I took a 2×4 that I had laying around that’s a couple feet long, and with my band saw I rounded one of the corners to a fairly large-radius curve.  I took that one and 2 more 2×4′s and screwed them to the side of my build table in such a way that I can put a tube in between them.

Mocking up the dashboardOne other thing that I found helpful before I actually started bending real tubes was mocking up the dashboard with tig welding rod.  If you don’t have any on hand, coat hangers will work just as well.  I started out with the top rail, then I did the tubes that go from the transmission tunnel to the top rail, then the round tubes that cross over the passenger compartments, and lastly I did the “tubes” that cross between the two vertical ones.

If you look at the caterham pictures you’ll notice that the upper dash rail is bend in multiple planes.  It arches over the car but it also arches away from the driver compartment.  I modeled my mockup and my final rail after this.

IMG_5600In order to begin bending the top rail, I first began with one of the corners.  I took one of my 12′ sections of round tubing and hammered it my tube bender, with as much of it hanging out on the bending end as possible.  I then grabbed the tube and pulled up, bending the tube.. I bent it to about 70 degrees or so.  I then took the tube and compared it against my mock-up (I did this a lot, another reason why a mock-up is useful).  Making sure that the bend was how I wanted it, I proceeded to start working on the bends across the top rail.  Not counting the corners, my top rail has a total of 4 very slight bends in it…  Using the picture of the caterham frame for referenced, I first placed one close-ish to the corner, then I placed one closer to the center of the rail, about where the vertical tube attaches to it.  At this point I did the other corner (measuring to approximately where I thought it should be), and after that was done I did the last two bends just like the first two.  Finally, to make sure everything was symmetrical, I drew out a 42″ x 12″ rectangle on my build table (sliding the frame back to make room) and positioned the dash rail on it.  I measured the angles of the side tubes, distances and lengths, etc, and also checked to see that the vertical tubes were in the same plane (not twisted relative to each other).  I kept making adjustments by bending slightly until everything was symmetric to my satisfaction.  Finally I chopped off the excess steel from the vertical tubes so that my dash wasn’t 20″ high, and tac welded it to my frame.

In NeutralThe next order of business is the tubes that go from the transmission tunnel to the top rail.  Mine are actually 3 separate bends each..  They were pretty simple to make with my bender, the main thing was to make sure that I made the bends in the exact same place on the second tube so that they would be symmetric.  Note that you have to make sure the tubes extend down past where your shifter is, and also that the inclination of the tubes along the shifter has to be such that you can actually shift into 1st/3rd/5th as well as 2nd/4th/reverse.  Here are some more pictures to show what I mean:

Neutral 24th gear3rd gear

To Be Continued…

That’s about all I’ve done so far on my dash.  As I said before, I’ll update this post as I make more progress, and of course I’ll include up-to-date pictures as well.  The next orders of business are the tubes that go over the passenger compartments, the tubes that go in between the two center tubes, and the actual cover/removable section (this will probably come much later).

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Seat mounted, dashboard started, pedals coming along

I seem to be subconsciously avoiding working on the suspension. I have my rear suspension geometry finalized, I just need to go ahead and mount the brackets on to the frame and start making the control arms.. I guess I still have a couple of things left to figure out before I can build the control arms though, like where exactly I want to have the shock mount.  That’s one of the beautiful things about building a car from scratch though, there’s no specific order you have to do it in, only a set of tasks that must be finished at some point, with a relative few number of interdependencies.

I started working on the dashboard, which I’ve decided to model after the Caterham CSR’s tubular exo-skeleton dashboard.

I’m using .84″ round tubing, bending it with a super fancy (2×4′s screwed into the side of my build table) setup, and welding the tubes directly to the frame.  The hope is to increase the torsional rigidity of the frame since a lot of rigidity is lost due to the large open box area that is the passenger compartment.  Additionally, I began working on the steering column mount.  The mount closer to the steering wheel is done, but I need to still make the mount for the bracket closer to the firewall.  Note that in these pictures the dash tubing is not yet complete.


I also began working on the pedals.  The first order of business was to cut out the top and rear sides of the tube going across the bottom of the driver footwell, since my bottom-mount pedals need to occupy that space.  Previously I had been planning on cutting out the tube altogether and replacing it with angle iron but thanks to my plasma cutter, cutting out what I didn’t need was a piece of cake.  I also cut out a panel for the bottom mount, and for the vertical wall of the driver footwell (which was super easy/quick thanks to the plasma cutter), tac welded them on, and drilled the mounting holes for the clutch pedal.  Brake pedal and finally the gas pedal will be next, then I’ll cut out the holes for the master cylinders to go through.


A couple of other notes.  I finally got the seat mounted, it ended up being really easy.  I’m using the summit racing universal sliders.  I also finished the diff mount 100%, as in I drilled the holes and welded the nuts onto the backside so that I can actually bolt the diff in.


Maybe one of these days I’ll actually hunker down and get past whatever is blocking me from fabricating the suspension.  Until then, I’ll just continue to work on other stuff.

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New Blog Theme!

I’m excited, and so should you be.  Tonight I decided to separate my blog into a couple different sites so as not to clutter it with unrelated topics.  Also, I’ve updated the theme and overall functionality a bit to make it much nicer to use both from my perspective as the writer and yours as the reader.  I hope to write a detailed “about” page soon, as well as begin populating the “garage” and “resources” sections.  I’ll be adding my favorite build logs to my links section as well.  Be sure to check back for updates.

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New fuel tank, plasma cutter

A couple of quick updates.. Haven’t worked on the car much lately but hope to this weekend. Finally got my new fuel tank in and man am I happy with it.. its so beautiful, super super light weight, and very nice construction. I ended up getting a 10″ diameter 33″ wide spun fuel tank that is often used by dune-buggy people, but I found a guy who modifies them (tons of options available)..

Had a sump, internal baffels, an extra outlet, and larger bung sizes added to mine. The seller is a guy named Bill Hower, his website is here: I’m very pleased with his responsiveness and customer service overall, and as I said, with the craftsmanship on the tank. Best of all, it fits perfectly in my car. I’ll have plenty of room to remove the diff from the top of the car and room for a trunk even if I decide to make one.

Secondly, I ended up ordering a longevity plasma cutter after my “potential group buy” thread sorta died. I have to say I’m pretty pleased/excited with it. Ended up costing me $375, and I also got a bunch of consumables that ought to last me a good while for another $135, with free shipping. I’ve heard several people say that easily 30% of the time they spent building their locost was on making brackets.. My hope is that this thing oughta make fabrication a bit quicker and easier. Time will tell, of course.

I’m going to write a more thorough review after I’ve had some more time with it, but when I got it I hooked it all up and tried it out on some 1/4″ thick angle iron (way thicker than I’ll probably ever cut for the locost mind you!).. WOW! I mean, I’ve watched videos of plasma cutters but it is bizarre to slice through that thick of steel like its butter.. As I said, more pics and details will come later but for now here you go:

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Rear end complete, diff mounting, wheels

Alright, so its been quite a while since I’ve updated. Life got a little crazy for a bit (as it does for anyone), then I went and spent 3 months in europe, but I’m back and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been making good progress. Hopefully I can keep this up!

In summary, I finished the transmission tunnel, mounted the engine/trans, and final welded the frame back in the spring.. the car sat untouched all summer, and since 2-3 weeks ago I’ve done the following:

- Finalize front and rear suspension geometry. Ordered a bunch of AN 8 bolts from aircraft spruce for the inboard mounts, which got here the next day thanks to them being about 20 miles away. Also ordered a bunch of brackets from Jack at kinetic since making 20+ brackets for control arms and shocks didn’t sound like my idea of time well spent.
- Finished building the rear end
- Spec’d out the fuel system (tank, lines, pump, fittings, etc), and ordered the tank. Ended up changing my mind on the tank (summit racing 15 gallon) due to clearance issues and lack of sump/baffling. I ordered a 10″ diameter cylindrical tank instead that will hold 11 gallons, and has a sump + internal baffles. Hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ll post pics and more info of it when it does.
- Ordered brake/clutch pedals and master cylinders. Decided to go with wilwood bottom mount, same bore sizes as used on Keith’s car. I need to cut out the tube at the end of the driver footwell and replace it with 16 gauge sheet on the vertical and horizontal right there.. I’ll also re-inforce it with another 3/4″ square tube close to the driver’s heel.
- Ordered/decided on hardware.. got a huge assortment of grade 8 SAE bolts/nuts/washers from mcmaster carr. Shiny! They’re all cadmium plated.
- Made the mounts for the diff carrier and snout. I spent a lot of time considering the best way to mount the snout on the diff, and looking at other folks’ solutions.. I think mine is somewhat of a hybrid between Keith’s and Nathan’s (SteyrTMP) solutions. Weldnuts will be placed on the top of the snout mount and the bolts that go through the diff will enter from below. The mount attaches to the car in the rear corner of the passenger’s compartment, and will be reinforced with gussets and some x bracing. Weldnuts will be attached on the inner part of the mount and the bolts will be removable from the passenger compartment. I’m planning on replacing the diff carrier mount bushings with solid mounts when the car is nearer to completion.

By the way, drilling through mig weld material is really tough! I spent wayyy too long wednesday evening trying to drill through one of the carrier mounts.. the hole happened to fall near the weld seam where I had attached 1/8″ plate to angle iron. That night I ordered a set of high speed steel drill bits from mcmaster carr (its awesome having them be so close) and the next day I drilled through the other carrier mount in about 30 seconds!

- Ordered wheels and tires for final measurements on the suspension geometry. The wheels came in and the tires were taking forever.. I decided the wheels were sufficient for the measurements and cancelled the order on the tires. I’ll keep my $600 for another day, thank you very much! Wheels are TRMotorsports C1 15×7.5.. 13.2 pounds and only $99 each! tires I’m gonna use are Toyo R888 225/45R15, normally $169 a piece but I found them for $139 a piece with cheap shipping from I’ve heard good things about them, I guess they don’t stock the size I wanted though so if you order from them don’t expect it to be there by the end of the week! I’ll be using them once I finally do order tires.

- Did some more thinking on the rollbar stuff and the interior in general. I think I’m going to end up doing a cage for several reasons.. safety, chassis rigidity, and the possibility of adding a hard top and delorean style doors in the future (don’t worry, I won’t delay the completion of the build for things like that.. this would be projects to do after the car is done :) ) After test fitting the seat and pedals I think I’m also going to remove about 5 inches from the length of the frame in the passenger area. It’ll only require cutting and rewelding a handful of tubes and will go a long way towards the look I’m going for.

- Friday I realized that I’m going to end up spending many many hours fabricating brackets for this car, and decided to think of a way to make myself more efficient in this vain. Ended up researching plasma cutters a ton and decided to buy a Longevity 40 amp cutter, which cuts up to 3/4″ thick steel, and slice right through 1/8″. See my potential group buy thread here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=7534

- Lastly (I’m sure I’m missing something!) I’ve decided on the color scheme and I think I’m going to mimic my last 4-wheeled true love, which I sold 2 years ago because I decided that I wanted to build a locost and needed the funds. It was an awesome car.. but about 1500 pounds too heavy! 1986 944 Turbo. Pics at the bottom.

Since I’ve been away from working on this thing for so long its been difficult to not obsess over it in this “getting back into it” period.. I think about it constantly and have trouble falling asleep at night because I’m fantasizing/deciding on certain things with it. I’m getting control of it though thankfully.. Here are the pics related to all of the above bullet points.

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