And so our story begins. Patrick Manzi was not a racer. He is a big guy at 6 feet, 2 inches tall and an ex-Marine. At 30 years old he is no stranger to hard work, yet his job in marketing for Stock Car Racing requires him to spend a lot of time behind a desk. The appendage growing on the right side of his face is commonly known as a telephone.
Patrick wanted more. His visit to a short track brought with it the intimacy of man and machine. He could feel the close competition, and could even see the drivers' eyes from only a few feet away. Sitting or standing on the front row of bleachers at Auburndale (Florida) Speedway, he knew he had to do this. Patrick began planning his transformation into a racer. (Note: Auburndale is a quarter-mile, paved low-banked oval. There is little difference between a dirt car and an asphalt car in an entry-level class such as this.)
Which class? Which car? Would Sleepy Gomez come down and help with the project? Of course! I am always a sucker for a free meal and a chance to work on a race car. (Patrick didn't tell me about the flying alligators, i.e. mosquitoes.)
Picking A Car
A look at the rules and a glance around the track indicated a 108-inch car would be necessary. The General Motors "metric" was the car of choice. The GM metric car is the mid-size Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, and Oldsmobile built from 1979 to 1986. It was so named because many of the components (nuts, bolts, etc.) were made to metric rather than inch dimensions. Some of the '79 models had smaller front-wheel bearings (not good) than the '80-and-up cars. The rest of the suspension components are OK, but the spindle with the small bearings may be a problem. Certainly they will be if you need to interchange parts. So an '80s car was chosen.
Admittedly, Patrick knew which way to turn a wrench. Yet, he has had no experience working on cars, much less race cars. This whole project was educational for him. By the time we finished the car he wouldn't be able to build another by himself, but he would have a working knowledge of why and how it should go together. We located an '83 Pontiac. It had been left at a dealership because the cost to repair it was too high. So, for the price of towing, we had the beginnings of a race car. The wrecker driver deposited the car at the magazine's office in Lakeland, Florida. Soon I showed up driving my Cadillac hearse containing the tools and equipment, less welder, needed to build a race car.
Now, just so you don't get the idea that we had a wonderful shop at the magazine office in which to work, let me describe it for you. Our area was a designated spot of uncovered concrete complete with a high dosage of Florida sun. The nearest electrical outlets were 50 feet away, and compressed air was non-existent. Had we been able to save the day's glare from the adjacent white metal building, there would have been no shortage of light during the night shift. Nighttime work saw us using two mosquito beacons, otherwise known as drop lights.
Stripping 'Er Down
The first step in a project of this type should be to remove the fuel tank. Obviously, don't cut the straps with a torch; this could leave you red-faced or worse. Remove the rubber hoses from the tank to the metal fuel line. The smaller steel line is the vapor return; it will be discarded. The larger line will be used for the fuel line in the finished car. It is quite adequate in size for gasoline and a motor less than 400 hp.
Once the tank is removed, set it aside, far aside. Now work with a torch can commence with a greater degree of safety. Remember, there may still be some old fuel in the lines. Since rear weight is a plus to this project we won't cut any metal out of this area unless it interferes with some of the bracing or fuel cell mounts.
Move around to the other end of the car and stare at the engine. I hope you had the foresight to take the car by a car wash before bringing it home. Remove all front bodywork, the radiator, and engine/transmission unit. Easy, right? Now you will begin to understand the metric car. Judicious use of a cutting torch can speed up the procedure. The front fenders with their core support can be removed in one section. This section can be disassembled later.
At the front, Patrick begins his lessons in body panel removal. The front fenders are held to the body with four bolts on each side. The front core support has two bolts. There are seemingly hundreds of other small bolts and screws to remove. It was here that Patrick earned his nickname, "The Torch." Once I showed him how to use the cutting torch, the only way I could get him to put it down was to turn off the bottles. At least he did make short work of any fastener that didn't have to be re-used. The use of gloves and goggles is strongly recommended during cutting torch operations. There is a lot of splatter, popping, and back flashing when doing this rough work.
The front assembly was carried off to one side so one or more of our younger helpers could learn the nuances of removing small fasteners. A handful of nut drivers and Torx head screwdrivers kept them busy. All we want to keep is the exterior fender sheetmetal and the front core support itself.
The Parts Pile Up
The engine should be exposed now. You did take the car to the car wash, didn't you? Patrick didn't. He borrowed a pressure washer from a friend. We spent as much time cleaning the concrete as we did cleaning the car. A good suggestion would be to have the car up on four jackstands by now. Jackstands are safer than working with only a jack, plus with four of them you can control leveling of the chassis.
With working room underneath, remove the rear transmission mount bolts, the driveshaft, and anything else hanging on the transmission. On top again, use an engine hoist, attaching the chain about two-thirds of the way toward the back of the engine. With all the mounts loose, the engine/transmission will come out as a unit, forward and up. Now you can wash the car again!
Since our car came with a V-6 and a TH200 transmission, we kept neither. Stashed out of the way, a salvage operator will soon be made the proud owner of our grease pile, which will also include things such as the stock steering column.
Auburndale Speedway's rules say: "If it burns, take it out." Seats, door panels, and the headliner are the easy parts. A factor here is that even with a minimum weight rule, lighten the car as much as possible in order to place weight where it is needed. All plastic, fabric, and wiring must be removed. Some of these items can be removed with a torch; sometimes the torch makes a mess. Little of the body sheetmetal can be removed. Only if the metal is in the way of the rollcage can it be torched out, so be careful. We even saved a few pieces that could be questioned by tech later on.
The dirtiest part of a project of this nature is stripping out everything not necessary to the race car. Tar-like adhesives used for sealants and rubber parts are the most difficult parts. Rubber parts are a good source of acrid black smoke when using the torch. An air chisel (we didn't have one, remember: no air compressor) will work on some of these, or take the time to unbolt everything. Alas, the torch is faster but messier; still Patrick loved it.
During this process, we found a glass man who likes race cars. Rather than knock out the glass like I have done, and pick up the pieces for a month, Tim Johnson of Highland City Glass Co. came to the rescue. He brought a few tools made for glass removal in these cars. The glass came loose in one piece. Even the tar-like adhesive was left smooth. We will be able to paint right on over it. Having used several methods to remove glass from cars I've built, this is by far the best. Tools are available to do this job, but they often require a bit of practice.
There is one last thing to do to the car at this time: Remove the body mounting bolts. It is a bit of work but it will add some necessary stiffness to the chassis. Not counting the ones under the front core support, there are six rubber mounting biscuits on each side, each with a bolt in its center. Remove these bolts and biscuits.
This done, get two 2x4-inch boards about 6 feet long. Using an engine hoist, lift the body one end at a time. Place the boards between the body and frame. With the body in the air, use the torch to make a large hole (11/2x3 inches) through the body where each biscuit was located. This will allow welding the body back on to the frame. Brush the frame clean. Lower the body onto the frame and push it rearward as far as possible. Don't weld the body on yet. That comes next month with some oldie but goodie tricks.
Note: Go to www.auburndalespeedway.com to get a copy of the rules for the V-8 Bomber class. You can e-mail Sleepy at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PROJECT MINI STOCK UPDATE
We're still putting the finishing touches on our Project Mini Stock, so look for that buildup to continue in the next issue. We'll show you what it took to wrap up work on our marvelous Mustang. Stay tuned!
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The stripped-out front end. Fenders and the front core support were removed as a unit for