12/13/04 Just came back from a visit to California where the frame is being built. The progress was very satisfying to see. Phil Burke did an excellent job - everything is straight, square, the welds are clean and he obviously knows what he's doing with regards to little details that matter. He did what he said he'd do, on time - a rarity in this business in my experience. When questions arose he actually asked instead of making assumptions (should be an obvious thing but again in my experience it isn't). If anyone needs fabrication done I can highly recommend Phil's services. You can reach him at (760)742-0094. He doesn't have a website yet.
At this stage of completion the frame should be 66.5 lbs according to SolidWorks. Phil guessed 65 lbs and the scale said 62 - not bad at all! Very happy with progress on this item. Supposedly the body and floor molds should be done in a couple of weeks, so with luck I'll be able to say the same about those - if a few months later than hoped for.
A few car friends are down in San Diego so I used the occasion to catch up with some of them. Shinoo dropped by with his week-old Elise (already with titanium exhaust and carbon diffuser - sounds sweet!). Also, Scott, the guy who bought my Westie, had just recently relocated to the area so he came up as well. It was very cool to see (and hear!) the car again, now with some 8,000 more miles on it just 4 months later. This is compared to 800 miles that I put on it in two years of ownership. Scott is a REALLY hardcore enthusiast. From Portland he drove the Beast to Seattle, then down the coast to San Diego, then to Phoenix, then Little Rock, then back to SD. Wow.
The following day finally got to meet Kurt, the builder of Kimini, whom I'd been corresponding with for a couple of years over the Internet. It's a real pleasure to sit down and talk with like-minded people who not only understand but share the madness :)
On a whole different but somewhat related subject, I stopped by the Body Worlds exhibit at the California Science Center in LA. It is a controversial and somewhat disturbing presentation of plasticised human cadavers, opened up in a great number of ways so that the various inner structures of the body can be seen up-close. The reason I mention it here is that I came away from it with a new appreciation of how well-engineered we humans are. The packaging job is amazing, as is the functionality of the various components. Da Vinci, as I recall reading, was a fan of dissecting corpses and I can clearly see how he may have been inspired by what he saw. The exhibit runs through January 23 and for anyone in LA area it might be a worthwhile thing to check out. Yes, at first it's a bit of a shock but once past that I found it fascinating in a rather profound way. It is not morbid but ultimately enlightening. Not an experience that would be easily forgotten.
12/23/04 Dropped by the Composites shop to check on the progress of the tooling. Things are moving, although not as quickly as hoped for. No parts for me this year but hopefully mid-January I'll have bodywork and a floor. The body molds are still on the plug but a good deal of the support framing has been completed. The red-painted spots are where the alignment bushings are to make sure the molds go together precisely every time.
The floor mold, sitting in another building, is also coming along but isn't quite done yet.
In other news, a few days ago I got pictures of some of the diff mounting brackets before they go out for anodize. I'm eager to see how they turn out because I'm trying out a new vendor and the pricing is very attractive. Hopefully this will be a good vendor to work with in the future (I'll post the particulars if I like the results).
01/14/05 Received the parts from MRC Manufacturing. I had them make some bearing inserts for the bellcrank pivots and some diff/caliper carriers. Very happy with the results - this is the best quality I've gotten yet and the pricing is great. Everything fits perfectly. Highly recommended.
Also spent some time doing more detail work on the frame, like floor standoffs, rollcage bracing, various brackets and the like. Still some to go but at least it'll keep my frame guy busy for a bit.
The floor mold is finally done and the first floor is being laid up today (I had to document core and hardpoint placement and overall layup schedule - more busywork). Should be done some time next week at which point they'll start on the first bodywork. Supposedly the body molds came off the plug today, we'll see. So things are moving forward...
01/21/05 The floor is finally almost done. At least I have a part (still needs some trimming and tweaks). It's a bit flexier than I anticipated but it'll do for a first try. The complete floor weighs 34 lbs which is right in line with expectations. Right now I'm finalizing the brackets and such for the frame so the timing is good. The MDF mold is pretty much a failed experiment - wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Supposedly there's hi-temp foam that would work better for a couple hundred bucks more (out of $10K or so). Maybe I'll try that later on a smaller part. In the meantime, it'll be interesting to see how well the dual-phase diffuser works, if at all.
Also the bodywork molds are off the plug. Guess I got all the drafts right and surface prep was sufficient because the molds separated very cleanly. The plug came out none the worse for wear in fact. It's been a while since I've seen it last. From some angles I rather like it, actually :) Now I need to find a place to store it.
There is a bit of an issue with mold sections aligning properly. The misalignment is less than 1/8" but that's a lot. We'll see how the vendor handles this. In theory, first body could be ready next week. But then I've learned to take projections with a grain or two of salt...
01/24/05 Got the suspension bellcranks in (8 of them, enough for 2 cars as I've done with many parts). These came from MetalCraft. Quality is excellent although there were considerable delays in getting the parts made. The tolerances on some aspects are pretty tight, +/-0.0005". Lo and behold, after heating the parts to 300F in a toaster oven, the bearings push right in - just as designed. Nice. Snap rings fit just right (0.005" clearance) and everything stacks up just so. Gotta love SolidWorks, it makes this stuff so much easier to design and document.
One thing I learned is that if you're going to press seals into the bores it really would help to chamfer the edges of the bores just a bit (maybe 0.025"). As it is, seal installation is quite a chore. Live and learn I guess. Later this week I'll pick up the plug and the floor from Composites. And maybe the first article bodywork soon after that. That will be a BIG step.
01/27/05 A lot of detail work is taking place, most of it on the frame. Engine mount, brackets and the like. Some are not readily visible in the picture, but trust me - it's a lot of work. There are now over 60 pages of production drawings for the various custom-made parts.
Also, stared at the suspension arms for a while and decided that I need to add some reinforcements (shown in black below). I'm having the gussets laser cut and CNC bent, then I'll have someone weld those on for me. The joints are highly stressed and a failure would be catastrophic, so this is one of those 'safe vs sorry' deals.
Sometimes it's a good thing that the project is taking so long. Gives me plenty of opportunity to think things through and change them if need be.