11/07/06 Well, Bikini is ready for pickup in Ashland....

Looking closely, you'll notice a few things. First, of course, is that I ended up going with standard colors. Looks sharp! The second is the track tires, reflecting its nature as a track car (yes, it will almost certainly need a lot more rear tire but this will do to start). And finally, the real reason for the name - the powertrain. I'll explain. Aside from being the name of a skimpy bathing suit (quite fitting to the scantily-clad Atom), Bikini is the name of an atoll in the Pacific where atomic tests were conducted. In particular, the test of a Hydrogen bomb which is a more powerful version of the Atom bomb. It so happens that this Atom is at least in part a testbed for the V8 that will eventually go into the dp1. And purely coincidentally the model designation for the motor is H1, from Hartley Enterprises. Yep, 2.8L, 375 naturally aspirated horsepower at 10K rpm, 210 lb-ft torque at 6.5K rpm. A more powerful version of the Atom! :) It is considerably lower and 100 lbs lighter than the Ecotec so it will both drop the CG and reduce overall weight. Should make for a fun car. Now you know.

This project is the result of a few happy coincidences. One is that since the V8 is still unproven (mine is only the second motor in existense) I was looking for a way to test it and shake out whatever bugs we find in a proven chassis before doing all the re-engineering to fit it into the dp1. The engine has been in development for over 4 years and a prototype has been running for over a year, so the confidence is high enough for me to spend my own money on it, but I'd like to separate engine testing and chassis testing. It would also be nice to be able to demonstrate to prospective buyers what the engine will be like (and then imagine 30% less weight and AWD), so a two seater would be good. About the same time I took my first trip down to Ashland and decided to order an Atom. It was also then that the M5 convinced me that the more power, the better. It was quite obvious what needed to happen. In talking to Brammo it came out that they have a potential interest in offering a V8 of this type but that reliability was a concern. They were (and are) quite busy with ongoing projects and adding another one was not something they wanted to do. So I offered to take it on, along with assuming the risk in case things did not work out. Brammo's involvement would basically be limited to letting me do it and providing the necessary information (subject to the contractual limitations of their Ariel license). I'm always up for a challenge. Jumping in I had no idea what it was going to take or even how much it would cost (I assumed 'a lot' and I was right) but I never let such things stop me. Original target, as you may recall, was to have the car ready in June. Needless to say it took a bit longer. Not a big surprise. And it's not quite done yet (see below). I'll spare you all the twists, turns, trials and tribulations of the development process to date. Let's just say it hasn't been easy. Many would have given up by now. I had also briefly discussed some chassis changes with Brammo but basically that idea got shot down so aside from the powerplant my car is standard. I may do something with that later on, on my own. Ditto for aerodynamic tweaks for which I have some ideas. But first things first.

One of the challenges was getting a proper exhaust to fit in the available space. I had received a CAD model of the engine from Hartley. Ford were kind enough to supply CAD for their MTX75 gearbox which I'm using with custom Quaife gearset and diff (many thanks go to Kip for facilitating this!). The box was put together by Terry Haines at Haines Motorsport - he is THE expert on the MTX. A major hurdle was the fact that Brammo were unable to supply me with CAD for the chassis due to license restrictions so we had to find a way to work which would keep everything kosher and still let me do my part. We managed although not without some snags and setbacks. The headers are 4:2:1 with 25" primaries and 9" secondaries. All primaries are equal to 0.1". It took some doing! Fabrication is also an issue but after a couple false starts I was able to design and build a fixture and get the build process going (hopefully should be done in a week or less). Mufflers are carbon cans for a Ducati 996. Since the motor is really two Hayabusas and I'm already running one Hayabusa with a Ducati can in the dp1 I think the sound should be awesome and not too loud.

Engine mounts took a few tries, especially after building the first set and traveling to Ashland for a test-fit I discovered that the engine CAD model had an error in the location of the mounting studs. OOOPS. Well, if it were easy, anyone could do it - right? As it is it takes a nut like myself :)

The pictures from the test-fit a couple months ago show just how tight the packaging is. There are several places where clearances between drivetrain and frame rails are just 1/4". But fit it does.

Once I pick up the car, the list of things remaining to be done is quite substantial. Reminds me a lot of the dp1 list of not so long ago....

- Design, build and install the shift linkage. Requires custom bellcranks, rods and mounting brackets.

- Design, build and install the drysump system. Tank, hoses, fittings, remote filter. Pump and cooler are already in place.

- Design, build and install wiring harness. Need to interface engine to the DTA programmable ECU and then interface that to the car's wiring harness and dash.

- Fabricate and install the exhaust. In progress. Will require some creative shielding due to proximity to fuel tank, shocks and a number of other parts. Ceramic coating, definitely, but that alone won't be enough.

- Route coolant hoses. Buy and install electric water pump.

- Design, build and install airbox and filter.

- Hook up the clutch (which may be trivial or not, depending on how well the master cylinder in the Atom plays with the slave in the MTX).

- Hook up throttle cable. Again, may be trivial. Or not.

Of course all this is in parallel with the ongoing work on the dp1. Because of the V8 link this is really a part of the dp1 project so I don't consider them separate. Just part of what it takes. Fun, ain't it?

Anyone interested in getting a V8 in their Atom must keep in mind that Brammo have not made any commitment to using this motor. They are waiting to see if and how well it works (can't blame them, their reputation with customers is on the line). They are also waiting to assess customer interest. Obviously pricing has not been set but I would say that this powertrain package would add roughly $45K to the cost of an Atom, give or take a few. And no, it won't pass emissions so this is track only (can't use 375hp in an Atom on the street anyway). If, knowing the above, the package is of genuine interest to you then by all means let Craig know. I too am curious to see how many people would find it appealing given the limitations and cost, so drop me a line as well. And stay tuned for the development updates.

11/07/14 Have yet to pick up the car - a bit of trouble lining up a tow vehicle for the trailer. Checked into shipping it and it's too much money for what is just a 300 mile straight shot up I-5 (quotes ranged from $600 open to $1500 enclosed). But hopefully in a couple of days. In the meantime, exhaust is nearly done.

The fixture really helps. Many thanks go to George Dean at Seattle Cycle Service for lending me the Hayabusa head for the purpose. And of course to Dave Levy of TI Cycles Fabrication for the excellent work in putting the exhaust together. Can't wait to see it all together and running!

11/17/06 Yesterday, after much uncertainty about weather, the tow vehicle and just about everything else, I finally went and got Bikini. We've been having one storm after another and the truck I wanted to borrow was unavailable. But in the end it all finally came together. Borrowed Satya's Jeep (after he kindly installed the seatbelt, just for me :) and drove there and back in one day. On the way down there were still some leftover sprinkles but the return trip was under clear skies. Just as well, since the car cover I was planning to use turned into a wildly bouncing parachute at 40 mph despite being tied and taped in a zillion directions - so I had to remove it. Uneventful drive. Long and boring (even the scenic parts for the southernmost 100 miles of Oregon aren't much fun when towing a trailer). Picked up a small bottle of something called '5 Hour Energy' at a gas station convenience store, thinking I'd try it - for three bucks, why not. Amazingly it worked exactly as advertised. Drank it before starting the retun trip, felt noticeably more alert in minutes and it lasted for the duration - just a bit over 5 hours. No caffeine jitters, no issues. Neat. The wonders of modern chemistry. With trip completed, car unloaded and 5 hour thing timed out I was too tired to contemplate an update.

First thing this morning went and picked up the just-completed exhaust (good timing!), then headed over to the shop for some initial tinkering.

Bikini looks small next to normal cars but it's huge next to the dp1... It is somewhat scary to think how much I have invested in these two devices - money, time, energy. Self. They're both unique in the world.

When people see the Atom, first reaction is almost invariably 'WOW! This is totally unlike any other car I've ever seen!' - which really brings home just how much of an achievement the design is. These days it's so hard to come up with something that hasn't been done - and works. The basic frame design is very elegant and clean. It is structural and aesthetic at the same time. It is a look I love on Ducatis but the Atom makes it its own. I think (actually, I know) this design is going to be much-imitated. It is truly a modern replacement of the iconic Lotus 7. Not a variation on the original theme, as countless others have done, but a true spiritual replacement. My hat is off to Simon, the car's designer. Equally impressive is the attention to detail that Brammo have shown in making the car. From various engineering improvements which actually matter to little things like quality of the welds, it is obvious a lot has gone into this car far beyond just taking an existing design and cranking it out. Is the car perfect? That's a subjective call and in my view no, it isn't (a number of things that I would change, some I definitely will) - but I am VERY impressed overall. This is FUN :)

One of the first things I did was pop Bikini on the scales. Keep in mind that some major pieces are still missing (exhaust, for one) so the overall weight will go up. Likewise, no attempt has been made to set the corner weights (that I know of anyway). I think it's going to end up right around 1,200 lbs - exactly in line with expectations. With 375 hp it ought to move. Just for fun I did some digging around and found that the Lotus 78 F1 car from the late 70's weighed 1,310 lbs and had 480 hp. Not too far off then.

After the weigh-in, some disassembly and a quick test fit of one side of the exhaust. So far so good. This is a car of many tight clearances. The powertrain has a few spots that are 1/8" from the frame tubes. Even brake calipers clear the wheels by a mere 0.1". But clear they do and that's what matters. A huge amount of work remains. Target first drive is mid-March. We'll see...

Tomorrow I test fit the other side of the exhaust and some brackets, then make a plan for moving forward. Quite a few unknowns still remain but in time all the questions will be answered. Can't wait!

11/18/06 The only thing I did on the car today is try the forward side exhaust. It's a tight fit, as expected. I am contemplating modifying the gas tank a bit for more clearance. We'll see.

I will need some very serious shielding on the gas tank - something like space shuttle tiles? I'm half serious actually. If anyone knows of an effective shielding material, drop me a line. Of course the headers will be ceramic coated and I might also put sleeves on a couple of them on top of that, but I'd still want more. And most likely the starter solenoid should be relocated. I doubt I can shield it well enough considering its proximity to the header. The clearance to the shocks is also pretty tight, again as expected.

And of course since the rollbar was not taken into consideration when routing the exhaust, the bracing tube will interfere with the lower end pipe. So now I have to decide what to do about that.

But, at least in general the stuff fits. It will take a lot of tinkering and creative heat management to get it working reliably though. Never a shortage of challenges.