My Summer Was Ate By A Locost

Remember me?  In the past I’d write automotive stories to keep random online individuals entertained with my amateur efforts at car restoration and sports car competition.  My last posting regaled the Russian bots infiltrating American internet with the Spring start of the automotive sporting season; a trip to a local autocross with my father.

Then my blog feed went dead.


Well, because I wasn’t exciting this summer.  If I’d have had a story, I would have shared it.  I am American, and this is 2017, I must overshare.  

But instead I spent most of my summer cursing at cars and motorcycles, not using them.

I’ve had friends mention, “Well, you like working on cars…”, normally followed by a dialogue about how they’d like to replace their wife’s minivan’s shocks and, more importantly, how they could use my help… after all “you like working on cars”.

The truth is, I don’t.  Motorcyclists hold dear the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Mustering the curiosity of a lemming, I tried the book and found it was an effective sleeping tonic, although a little uncomfortable as a pillow and drool collector. I don’t know what Zen is, perhaps sleep is Zen and that’s why the book is such a success; a wonderful gift for insomniacs and motorcyclists.

I work on cars because I can’t afford what I want to own, so I work to make it happen.  I’ve got $2k cash into a BMW M3 because I fixed up two other cars to pay for the rest of it.  I’m also building a Lotus Locost (cigar body, open wheel style car) because I’d never drop $20k on a finished one.  That’s an American trait I am proud of, we work to achieve.

My pre-school age girls watch old Top Gear episodes with me at lunch and I find they’ve inherited my tastes.  As soon as Slappy, Hamster or Captain Slow stop driving and start talking my girls yell at me, “Skip it, we don’t like the talking!”


I don’t like the talking, specifications and maintenance either. I want to be hanging the rear end out and smiling, just like old-grumpy Clarkson.

Which I can finally do thanks to all of the maintenance I did this summer. 

My M3 (it’s an overly large BMW, with little things constantly breaking, that has an awesome motor), had an obnoxious habit of not turning for corners.  It was mildly entertaining watching autocross corner workers run for their lives in disbelief as they watched a car with the tires fully turned defy physics and the operator’s instructions and instead choose to threaten their existence; I brought a touch of Christine like horror to any sporting event I entered.

To counter the dully noted lack of turning, this summer I bought a pair of wider wheels and put more tire width on the front to help encourage the M3 to turn.  In order to fit the wider tires, I had to angle the tires inward at the top to fit inside the fenders; this affects the steering by making the car very twitchy. I can now go around corners, but I drive straight highways like a drunk returning from the Ambivalent Water Buffalo’s meeting at two in the morning.

New Tires Tucked In

But, oh man, does it go around corners now.  There’s a road nearby with some infamy as the road the professional with the Ferrari powered Toyota drift car crashed on (Youtube video).  

A buddy and I took that road earlier this month and the BMW turned.  

It sounds so simple, “it turned”, but sometimes it’s just that simple to have fun.  Combine a car that’ll turn with a 330 h.p. motor that red lines at 8,000 RPM with paddle shifters and you’ve got the makings of fun.  I had fun.  Enough fun that several times I had to think, “You’ve got a wife and three kids at home, press the brake pedal stupid”.

The View Chasing Friend’s WRX
I’m hoping the Locost will also turn and have a strong power to weight ratio.  We shall see.  I finally got it sitting on four wheels and now I’m collecting parts to put the rest of it together.  But, there may be another step back; I don’t like the A-arms, which are too short and supposedly adjustable but triangular (which nixes said adjustment because as they get longer they get wider but the mounts stay the same).

I wanted to use a 1990’s Camaro five speed transmission, not the 1970’s Pinto four speed transmission, which are the two choices for the motor I bought.  Only the V8 Camaro’s had a transmission worth using (better bushings, etc.), and everyone wants one for their rat rod project, so their price range is around $1,000 dollars on

Thinking I was smart, I put an ad on stating that I’d like to buy a V8 Camaro tranny for $500 cash, and I wouldn’t be annoying when I came to buy it; that was my pitch, and on Craigslist it’s surprisingly effective.

I got an offer from a guy saying he had a V8 transmission he’d sell me for $350 because it didn’t have the bell housing. We both drove an hour and met in the middle.  When I was inspecting the tranny I asked what it was out of.  He said, “A 1984 Pontiac Firebird”.

Because he’d driven an hour, and because I’d promised not to be annoying, I swallowed and paid the money while being very disappointed.  In 1984 the V8 transmission bushings hadn’t been upgraded yet and the transmissions were prone to failure.  I drove home in a funk of frickin’ failure.

But, when I got home I ran the numbers on the transmission and it turned out it was the transmission I was looking for, the newer one with the better bushings.  My guess is that the Firebird’s tranny had went out and was replaced at some point.

Then I found out that the bell housing is made of Unobtainium, but that’s also a boring story and I’ll spare you.

If my girls could read, they would yell at me now, “We don’t like the talking!”

So, back to using the equipment.  After all, that’s what they were made for.

With my dad’s help we got my XR-400 motorcycle to start with only 20 kicks, not 200.  I think we replaced some black box off the stator.  Seems to start better, or it was a good placebo.

I took the XR out for its first ride in years (I’ve just rebuilt it from an exploded piston).

About halfway up a nearby mountain range a bee flew in my helmet and lodged itself between my ear and the foam.  Miraculously it didn’t sting, but I could hear the drone of its wings furiously revving to get free.  Testing the XR’s ability to stop I flung the helmet from my head.
The bee was free, and so was I (from the eminent threat to my ear).

That’s when a new drone filled my ears.  Although I’d stopped the bike, it wasn’t idling.  And it was smoking… and dripping.  The entire rear half of the bike was coated in oil.  It was leaking hard from the single screw I’d stripped on the cam chain tensioner cover. 

I remembered, with disappointment, my thought at the moment of stripping the screw, which was “Oh well, shouldn’t cause much problem if the end of the tensioner doesn’t have a dust cover”.

It turns out the single screw on the end of the cam chain tensioner holds the oil in, not the dust out.

On viewing the revving, dripping, smoking scene from my new location off the motorcycle, I decided to get the bike home in a hurry before it lost too much oil.

That’s when I discovered that rear brakes covered in oil have no ability to brake on my twisty, quick descent of said mountain range.

Coming into the small, tourist filled, wine town of Carlton on a busy weekend Saturday, I noticed that my fog of smoke was causing concerned stares.

It didn’t bother me though.  For years I had a big-block Ford that smoked like that whenever you drove it.  I’d take it to work in downtown Portland Oregon and they’d flip me off because, by driving that truck, I was personally killing baby seals.  Since then I’ve become rather numb to the looks caused by smoking vehicles. Portland makes normal people numb or angry towards liberal causes.

Anyways, I got the bike home without blowing it up.  In an hour ride it’d lost about half a quart of oil.

I threw another cam chain adjustor on it from my “spare” motor.  Then I adjusted the jets richer to counter the revs.  I took the XR out the next weekend and made it into the mountains.

And I remembered why I love that bike.  I rode for an hour in the Tillamook mountains and it was awesome.  With its fresh rebuild the bike feels torquey, I’ve rode that version of the bike for so many years now that it feels like home (I’ve been riding variants of it since 2001), the suspension sucks up forest service potholes without the need to even stand up and it’ll pull the front wheel right off the ground if you don’t want to get wet in the mud holes.  Great bike.

The Mountains I Was Riding
Except the top speed is about 60 m.p.h. without revving it hard (and blowing the piston to smithereens, I know), and getting to the mountains consisted of a number of BMWs two inches off my rear tire on the way to vineyards.  That’s not so fun.  Too many buttheads drive BMWs.

Let’s see how long my half-hearted rebuild of the XR lasts.  You should see the oil screen after that first ride!

Remember earlier when I said that I don’t really like working on cars/bikes?

When I was rebuilding the XR it was common for the book to say, “use a dial and check the specs to make sure they are within tolerances and if not, replace the part”.  Yeah, I didn’t do any of that.  I just slapped the still functional parts of my engine onto a Craigslist sourced spare I’d bought and between the two I found enough parts to make it run.  Probably not the basis for a long-lasting bike.  We shall see.  It is a Honda.  But that’s what people said before I blew it up rather spectacularly.

But this summer I spent too much time getting the Locost up on wheels, sourcing parts, getting the motorcycle running and working on the BMW. Oh, and that thing called “work” needed a bunch of overtime. The car drive and motorcycle ride both happened in October.

And now it’s wet and miserable again in Oregon.  Life is going by too fast.  I’m hoping to be better prepared for next summer.  I want the fun to start earlier than October.  I’ve already adjusted the valves on the M3, and it’s still up on blocks waiting for a few other maintenance items (where the heck is that stupid rattle?!).  Not only do I want to have more fun next summer, I need to have more fun.  Ask my wife.  I’m kind of a grumpy cuss this November; that’s what happens when you miss your summer maintaining and building vehicles.  Zen and the Art of Maintenance my butt.
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