08/20/02 Finally finished installing the wide track suspension. This will stop the front wheels from hitting the headlights when turning.

It looks cool, but certainly was (and may yet be) more trouble than anticipated. Aside from the whole story with bushings, I found that the steering tie rod extenders are too wide. An e-mail to the vendor resulted in instructions (couldn't they have been included in the first place?). Which call for cutting 10mm off each rod end. Cast iron rod end of about 1" diameter, that is. Nevermind the fact that I don't have the tools to remove them from the hubs. So plan B had to be developed - a shortening of steering rack tie rods themselves. Much less to cut and tidier, too. With the rods cut back as far as practical the whole assembly almost fits. I now have a little more toe out than I'd like, but I'm just going to try it and see how it works. The dremel tool got quite a workout since I had to shorten the antiroll bar drop links as well to keep the bar from hittng the suspension arms...

Also had to adjust ride height. Good thing I have adjustable shock absorbers - this mod is not for people with non-adjustable ones as it drops the front end about an inch. Also the brake lines are a bit short for the suspension. I bent the mounting brackets and think that they will work now, but I have to keep an eye on them. The instructions say 'check the brake line length and fit longer ones if necessary'. Oh, nice to know. What's another $100, right? Well, hope all this is worth the trouble. In other news I'm still waiting for a fix to the rollbar issues - might be done tomorrow. But since my insurance is in limbo anyway and I'm still waiting for the cam chain tensioner parts to come in, it's not like I can drive the Beast just now...

09/13/02 For a while I've had a hunch that the ominous ticking noise from the motor might in fact be caused by the emission control air pump, which is driven by a vacuum line from one of the intakes and therefore pulses in time with engine RPM. To that end I had ordered some block off plates, which had arrived a little while back. Today I finally got around to installing them and removing the air pump and its plumbing. As expected (well, hoped anyway) the ticking noise went away! Whew. I'm still going to install the new chain tensioner once it arrives (the Suzuki dealership seems to have lost the package and are reordering the parts). But I think I can drive it as is - which I'm going to do tomorrow. The rollbar is back from powdercoaters, too. Just need to finish installing it and modifying the bodywork to fit around the brace tubes.

09/14/02 Took the Westie out for a quick run. This thing is RAW, I had forgotten that. Just tooling around it really wears on you fast. The couple spots where I was able to open it up, blast through a few gears and get the tail out in some corners it instantly transformed and became intoxicatingly satisfying. Then back down to pedestrian pace with neither the car nor the driver too happy to just plod along. This is definitely a track car.

The new rollbar still requires some fitting, and I will have to fabricate a rear deck cover because the original package tray does not fit around the bar and I'd really have to hack it up to the point where it would be rather unattractive. No big loss, since I wouldn't dream of carrying anything back there anyway.

The toe out is a bit much and the car is a bit too eager to change direction. I'll need to figure out what to cut and how to get that adjusted. And of course the reversing box is still barfing up oil. So, I've got my work cut out for me on this car. Doubt that it will run any more track days this year. In fact it's looking like I'm pretty much done with track days till spring, except for a few possible kart outings. Just as well - it's been a summer of much fun and quite a few 'learning opportunities' :) I'm ready to take a break.

11/25/02 In the last couple of days I tinkered with the Westie a bit more. Took the steering tie rod extenders down to a machine shop and had them cut by 0.2". Then dremeled the tie rods themselves a bit, reinstalled and thereby fixed my toe-out problem. Also, in light of the coming cold weather, I replaced the distilled water in the cooling system with actual antifreeze (conveniently recycled from the Hayabusa I took apart - how's THAT for environmentally friendly! :). And, today being an increasingly rare cloudless day, took the Beast out for a quick run. FUN. The trip even started on an exotic note as I had to wait for my neighbor to pull out of his garage in his Ferrari 360 Spyder. While I sat there I did wish I had brought a camera along - but also realized that I felt not a bit of envy of any kind. My car is more fun and faster, too (at least up to 120 mph or so). Of course the fact that I have my own 360 on order may be a factor as well... Anyway, the Westie really liked the cold air and somehow sounded even better than usual. At some point I was rolling along behind another car in 1st gear, dropped back a bit and at about 15 mph pushed the throttle down (not flooring it). TONS of wheelspin from my 225-section racing slicks, limited slip diff and all. Neat.

Took it relatively 'easy' on my favorite stretch of nearby twisty road. Never over 8K RPM, honest! Then back home before the chilly air caught up with me. A very surreal punctuation to an otherwise routine day. Which is what this car does really well. Hopefully there'll be a few more sunny days this winter so I can stretch its legs (and practice my diabolical grin) every now and then. The new steering settings are working quite well, too, though the real test for that will come at the track next year. A number of maintenance items remain in the meantime which I hope to take care of soon.

01/02/03 Ok, things have been really slow on the car front lately. Several weeks of steady rain outside may have something to do with it. All the more frustrating given the fact that I generally have the time - just not the energy. The list of things to do on the Westie is daunting, which I suppose is part of the issue (matched by an even more daunting list for the Elise, which makes me almost dread going into the garage). The items are:

- Fabricate rear deck shelf (select and procure materials then do it)

- Finish installation of rollbar braces (need to get rear deck done)

- Replace split outboard CV joint boots (just ordered from England). This is a PAIN as it will require major disassembly and nasty grease everywhere

- Pull off oil filter and remove blocking screw behind it. Sounds simple until one realizes that a new filter must be ordered from England, and along with the filter the oil cooler sandwich plate has to come off - all in very cramped quarters. And the small issue of dealing with 7 quarts of oil, too.

- Find and order seat heater pads

- Upholster the seats

- Solve the issue with reversing box. This may require pulling the thing out (another PAIN) or trying to do it in situ. At least I got some useful suggestions from an internet bulletin board. Still, the dash and the cowling will most likely have to come off to gain sufficient access.

- Line the inside of the fenders with something to prevent rocks thrown up by tires from making spider-shaped cracks in the fiberglass. A few have appeared already.

- And of course the biggie, installing the cam chain tensioner recall kit. This will most likely require pulling the engine and at least partially removing the dry sump drive. Ugh.

To some it may seem like having a bunch of weird cars is glamorous or something. While it certainly has its moments there are definite costs, too. Ah well, I chose this, so I must deal with it. Some day.

03/18/03 Finally picked up the upholstered seats. It was supposed to take two weeks and took six. Not unexpected, unfortunately. I had the upholstery shop put heater pads in the seats, so once I hook them up hopefully I'll have some heat. Took the seats to the storage place and installed them in the car so it is now driveable.

The workmanship is pretty good, although the center section of the seats surprisingly was not glued down. Since the buckets are so deep it doesn't really matter functionally, just somewhat surprising.

The car, while sitting in storage, has been leaking a lot of oil and some antifreeze. The oil seems to be coming from the dry sump tank fitting. I'll have to figure out why it's doing that once I get it back to the garage. So now I have to wait for a sunny day or at least a break in the rain so the Elise can go in storage and the westie can come back up to the house to be worked on. Kinda hoping to get it up here and sorted by the 28th, when the next track day is - but does not seem too likely at the moment. No big deal, since I was already planning on running the M Coupe that day anyhow. Gotta test its new brakes.

04/11/03 Finally got around to fabricating the carbon panel for the back. What a mess! I can't say that I enjoy working with the material all that much (or fiberglass, for that matter). But in the end it came out pretty cool.

The panel is very light and stiff. It is not nearly as shiny in real life as it is in pictures above, because the carbon catches the light of the flash. It looks pretty much black in normal lighting. Hopefully I'll gather the energy to address the remaining issues with the car, which are numerous. One item at a time, I guess. At least the seats, the rollbar and the rear cover are all done (still need to wire the seat heaters but it's about to get warmer anyway).

05/23/03 An interesting day today. Started with running the Elise at PIR for the Lotus track day, for the first three sessions. Then the Elise needed fuel, so I figured might as well grab another car. So I went home and got the Westie (helps to live 15 minutes from the track). What a difference. With the Elise, most of the car is behind your shoulders. With the Westie the whole car is way ahead of you. Very different feel. And while the Elise is far from dull, the Westie is just a whole different world... See video for an illustration.

As usual, the Lotus track day draws a small number of cars - but most of them are not what you'd see at an average track day...

Lots of fun sharing the track with neat vintage machinery. Especially when you're passing all of them, as I did in later sessions. The Westie just rocks. It is insanely fun. Of course there is a price to pay, highlighted by the coolant spraying in my face at the end of the day. Oh well, my own fault for under-engineering a block-off for disused heater hose. Fixed it well enough to get it home. Having built the thing it's hard to lay blame on anyone else - not that I'd want to. It is a very fun car. Did I say that already? ;)

Although I ran out of tape early in the day and don't have any video of the later sessions, I am pretty sure I ran at least a couple of laps somewhere in the 1:27 range, which if true would be a new personal best. It is just so fun to go fast in this machine....