The trip to Arizona went more or less as planned, and my friend and co-driver Nick and I successfully trailered the Corrado rally car to San Jose over the February 12-13 weekend… Not a bad road trip though driving the U-Haul truck was something of an experience; I now have a small measure of appreciation for what truckers are up against, driving their huge big-rigs around.
In the weeks since, we’ve been busy getting the car up to shape again. The car has about 48 thousand miles on it, and while a thousand or so out of those may have been rally stages, the engine should otherwise be in relatively good condition for a fifteen-year-old car. When I first got it, the car ran very rough, needing about ten attempts to start up, stalling very easily, and producing exceptionally noxious exhaust fumes. Nick tried to drive it around the block and barely managed as the engine was running badly and stalled so easily.
The first week, Nick and I poked and prodded a bit at the engine as we worked to learn about how this car had been modified from its original stock form. We tested the sparkplugs, did a compression test on the cylinders—all good, it seemed. The muffler that was on the car was in visibly bad shape—squashed tip and a big gash in the muffler body—so we cut it off and put on another “muffler” that came with the car, popularly known as a “fart can” for the poor sound and high noise level that it produces (but at least it’s free-flowing). This created something of a problem as the muffler tip no longer lined up with the gap in the bumper; I later used two five-inch-diameter steel elbow dryer duct joints riveted together to better deflect the exhaust through the gap and out of my garage.
By the end of the first week, things were not much better. In fact, I was no longer able to start the car at all. Friends Sarah (a self-styled Corrado expert) and her new husband Josh (a professional Porsche/Audi/VW mechanic) came over and helped out. Per Sarah’s advice, we replaced the sparkplugs—even though by all appearances they appeared to be working just fine—and sure enough, the car now starts in one or two tries and runs much more smoothly. Sarah took it for a rather energetic drive around the block, much to the alarm of many of my neighbours, no doubt.
Another problem was the strong smell of gasoline despite no obvious leak in the fuel system. The car has a racing fuel cell in the trunk to replace the factory fuel tank—a fuel container filled with a highly porous foam material that prevents the fuel from sloshing around. Braided metal lines connect the fuel cell to a fuel pump and then run forward inside the car, underneath the co-driver’s seat, through the firewall and into the engine compartment. Sarah identified the fuel lines as the source of the smell; after almost nine years fuel had leached through the inner rubber part of the line. The following week Nick and I replaced the fuel line and the smell of fuel went away almost completely.
Around the same time, I replaced the Sabelt harness belts with (more inexpensive) five-point camlock G-Force harnesses. Racing belts are made of nylon and the material degrades much faster than factory seatbelts; as such, they are required to be replaced every two (SFI-certified belts) or five (FIA-certified belts) years. I also decided to replace the seats, as they had a fair amount of wear and tear and the steel-framed driver’s seat was not as comfortable as I would have liked. I purchased matching Momo Start seats but as they did not have the same mounting bolt pattern as the Sparco seats that were in the car, was not able to install them right away; in any case the existing seat mounts and rails were slightly bent from the action they’d seen and I wanted to replace them—no need to compromise on safety.
I used a material called TirePlast—made of recycled tire rubber and plastic—to fabricate new mudflaps. I also had new rear quarter windows made from polycarbonate plastic (commonly known under the “Lexan” brand name); after installing them we were able to finally apply our driver/co-driver identification lettering and flags:
I changed the oil in the car and was surprised to find that the oil that came out was thin and smelled very strongly of gasoline. I suspect that until I changed the sparkplugs, not all cylinders were firing (or not all the time), resulting in the extremely rough running that we saw and unburned fuel going into the oil. We installed an air-fuel ratio gauge to begin tuning the engine and figure out why it’s running so rich (too much fuel in the mixture). Without the catalytic converter, an overly rich mixture causes fairly spectacular “fireballs” occasionally shooting out the tailpipe, fouling of the sparkplugs, and very noxious exhaust fumes. Running rich for long periods of time will also damage the catalytic converter, which we need to have installed in order to have any hope of passing smog tests (required to register the car).
After obtaining a temporary operating permit (valid through the end of April) for the car, I drove it over to Bugformance a few miles away to have a new exhaust system built and installed, the new seats installed, and a new skidplate (a large aluminum plate bolted to the underside of the front of the car to protect it from rocks and other such hazards typically encountered on a rally course) fabricated. It’s been there since, a bit over two weeks now; longer than I would have liked, but I’m at least satisfied with the quality of work that they’re putting into the car.
Once I get the car back, it will need some alignment done; the drive to Bugformance was a bit “exciting” as the car had a way of unpredictably wanting to dart left or right at freeway speeds. I’ve also purchased a set of aftermarket wheels and Falken Azenis Sports tires for the car for better performance on the street and on tarmac rally stages.
The car will need more tuning but this should be easier now that we have a functional exhaust and muffler system; before, the car was so loud that I would not work on it after 10 at night to avoid disturbing the neighbours. This didn’t mesh very well with Nick and I’s schedules as we are both something of night owls—the net result of which was that we would only get one to two hours to work on the car on a given weeknight.
I’ve gotten word that the rollcage needs a few minor modifications to conform to new safety rules that were instituted recently. Finally, we’ll need to check out the intercom system and Terratrip rally computer; the wiring for the latter seems a bit flakey and probably needs to be re-done. At this point it seems unlikely we’ll be ready in time for next weekend’s Desert Storm Rally in Arizona which I’d really been hoping to attend, given how much more work still needs to be done. We need time to do testing and just to familiarize ourselves with the car; rushing things along seems like a good way to waste money (and absorbing the costs of all this fun over such a short period of time isn’t exactly trivial either) and put the car and ourselves at greater risk. In short, we’ll rally when we’re ready!