Thursday, August 14, 2014

X-11 Progress!

It's been about 4 weeks since I dropped a different distributor into the X.

Holy crap, what an improvement.

It could just be a matter of ignition timing. I was never able to turn the other distributor far enough either way to get better timing. It turns out there was a metal vacuum line in the way in one direction, but I couldn't find an obstruction that would keep it from turning the other way.

Could have just pulled that distributor out, turned the case 60 degrees, adjusted the rotor back the other way--all to make what was the #6 spark tower #1. Just swap the plug wires accordingly.

But then, I wouldn't have been able to use this other one I had, would I? =)

The replacement item came with a box of goodies shipped from a guy down near Orlando, Florida. He had a little Holley 4160 4-barrel carb, an Edelbrock intake manifold to fit the X-11's 2.8L V-6, and some miscellaneous bits to make it almost a drop-in weekend project. I paid him $300 and waited. He had the parts in his barn and needed some time to get them together, box them up, etc.

I didn't sweat it. But it did take nearly 2 years.

I could have gassed up the Tracker and taken another road trip...

Nah. No way. According to the Google, the drive down and back would have been even longer than 10 hours there/ten hours back.

No. Way. I don't think the Tracker could make the run, with its engine so close to overhaul time. The little guy deserves a rest.

Fed-Ex did the work instead. The carb turned out to be from a 1972 or so Ford 302 marine engine. It's a little larger than I'd like; the 2.8L V-6 calls for about 350 cfm of air flow. The smallest Holley 4-barrel flows 390 cfm, which is fine. My Holley pulls 450 cfm. That shouldn't be an issue, really.

The intake is Edelbrock's aluminum 2-piece--the manifold itself plus an adapter casting to match a 4-barrel carb. There's also a 2-barrel adapter which would let me either go back to the existing Rochester 2SE carb I'm running or to a Holley alternative. For that matter, with the 4-barrel adapter in place, I could even install one of the all-in-one fuel injection systems from Holley or elsewhere. All it takes is a thousand bucks or so. (heh)

Both the carb and the intake are just going to stay in the box for the time being. To swap it all in will take some planning and some parts I don't have yet. Because the intake was intended for rear-wheel-drive vehicles like the Camaro and S-10/Blazer, the coolant outlet will end up on the passenger-side end of my front-wheel-drive car, so I'll have to work up a long, long, long top radiator hose. I'll also have to design a different air intake. The Holley is huge compared to the little Rochester 2-barrel. There's not a lot of room between the top of the engine and the underside of the hood, so the existing air cleaner would have to go.

The distributor is a mechanical and vacuum advance version of the 2.8's all-electronic item. The car's existing power and tach connectors plug right in, so I went from this:
...with the coil mounted on an ugly homemade bracket and the wiring spliced to plug into the X-11's factory this:
...a factory installation that looks like what the car came with. Except for the computer-controlled stuff.

The past 4 weeks have been amazing. I've gone from a struggling starter to an enthusiastic one for the first time since I got the car in 2009. I'm still getting a little hard-starting trouble when the engine's hot, but I haven't been stranded so far.

Next project is to dial it all in: get the timing set, get the carb adjusted, and hopefully get a little more power out of the thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
-- Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. Yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
- David Foster Wallace

I'd usually add my usual Rush song, "Afterimage," which is my go-to song for someone dying. It's appropriate, given the opening lines--"Suddenly you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon."

But they have a much more powerful song, 'The Pass,' on the "Presto" disc that hits pretty hard, the way news of Robin Williams' death did:

Here's a link to the Songfacts page for "The Pass," in which Neil Peart says of suicide that "I just can't relate to it at all, but I wanted to write about it. And the facet that I most wanted to write about was to demythologize it - the same as with 'Manhattan Project' - it demythologized the nuclear age, and it's the same thing with this facet - of taking the nobility out of it and saying that yes, it's sad, it's a horrible, tragic thing if someone takes their own life, but let's not pretend it's a hero's end. It's not a triumph. It's not a heroic epic. It's a tragedy, and it's a personal tragedy for them, but much more so for the people left behind, and I really started to get offended by the samurai kind of values that were attached to it, like here's a warrior that felt it was better to die with honor, and all of that kind of offended me. I can understand someone making the choice; it's their choice to make. I can't relate to it, and I could never imagine it, for myself, but still I thought it's a really important thing to try to get down."

I like Peart's modification of an Oscar Wilde quote in the chorus:

 All of us get lost in the darkness
 Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
 All of us do time in the gutter
 Dreamers turn to look at the cars

...but I disagree that there's some heroic battle here. Depression is a pain unlike anything physical. When it combines with despair, nothing else in life matters. It all goes away--family, friends, accomplishments. Dawn Summers posted this on Twitter--"How depression makes suicide look:"

 I haven't been this close to it, but I've seen the view. It fucking sucks. There aren't many famous people I care that much about, but only three make me choke up when I think of them, for the way they touched so many people's lives: Johnny Carson, Carl Sagan, and now Robin Williams.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Twenty Years Gone: Jim Barrett and Dr. John Britton

Twenty years ago today, Jim Barrett and Dr. John Britton were murdered by a religious terrorist.

The clinic where they died was firebombed January 1, 2012 by some homeless jackwagon who'd been watching the weekly terrorist "protests."

The clinic reopened in a different location, in the same shopping center as a Hobby Lobby.

A repost of my 2009 write-up:

On this day in 1994, Paul Hill walked up to a pickup truck in the driveway of a Pensacola clinic and killed Jim Barrett and Dr. John Britton with a shotgun.

I stood in a parking lot across the street with some of the other clinic escorts (Jim was one of ours) for a few hours. The bodies were laid out and covered with sheets while the crime scene guys did their thing.

I never met Dr. Britton; he was one of the volunteers who stepped up when David Gunn was murdered barely a year before.

Jim was a good guy, a sort of grandfather figure. He's buried at Arlington:

I'm gonna hoist a drink in his honor sometime today and hope that someday crazy religious douchebags will no longer exist.

And for the rest of us, if you know a guy like Jim, buy him a drink.

Friday, July 18, 2014

X-11: Progress?

Tentatively optimistic in the wake of Tuesday's distributor swap. I've made one adjustment so far, turning the distributor a bit clockwise after the starter struggled to spin the engine over.

This has been a consistent issue for most of the last five years and I'd always it was a starter issue. Especially when the engine was warmed up, the starter was working as hard as it could. I'm not a great mechanic, and I never thought that maybe the distributor was a bit too advanced or retarded, perhaps causing a buildup of cylinder pressure keeping the engine from spinning easily. Certainly sounded like it, especially Wednesday morning when I tried to fire it up. This time, the starter was dragged to a standstill, pushing hard against the crank--even worse than ever before.

After that little adjustment, though, the engine spins over at least twice as fast as before--strongly, no hesitations. Unheard-of in 5 years of tinkering!

This is all the same issue I've been trying to work out for a while, especially after getting stranded a few times in the last year. It seemed for a month or so that I made things better with the exhaust work I did in November, but that's also when the weather started getting cold.

As soon as things warmed up again, the drivability troubles started again--starter having trouble turning the engine, getting worse as the engine warmed up, dragging the battery charge down (and looking for all the world like a bad starter). Once the engine started (IF it started), it ran fine. Idle was a little ragged. Hard to judge gas mileage, since I hardly go anywhere lately. Haven't been to Fort Pickens since my back-to-back day trips in February of 2011 (here and here). Haven't been back to Fort Pike since my time and gas-wasting road trip out there in 2011. Power? Hard to tell there, yet, but if the starting issue is solved now, I'm up for a Pickens trip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

X-11: Smoke Test!

Dropping the replacement distributor into the car took less time than finding the cap and rotor I needed from storage.

It only took a few bumps of the case counterclockwise and clockwise to get the engine started, then a smaller bit of turning it to find the sweet spot--well, the temporary sweet spot. As soon as I got the thing locked down for a test drive, it started raining. Drove it anyway. Seems smoother, can't smell it dumping raw fuel into the exhaust.

Next up is another round of tuning and tweaking that should take care of all the drivability issues I've been having for a few years--hard starting when it's hot, which gets me stranded and makes a-holes unhappy; rough idle, dumping fuel, impressive clouds of gray smoke that fumigate the area if I coast in third at highway speeds...poor car.

Assuming that's taken care of, all that's left is the leaking sunroof, rusted-out rear hatch, clutch, power steering, rear tires...radiator...air conditioning...stereo (still uninstalled more than a year later)...getting the dash back together...bodywork...muffler...

Friday, July 11, 2014

X-11: Spark Test

The X-11's been running poorly lately, especially since the beginning of summer. I'm currently running a distributor and coil from an '85 S-10 Blazer. It works well enough, making a really nice, fat white spark, but I've never been happy with the installation. I had to make a bracket to mount the coil and wire up connectors for power and tachometer feed. None of it looks good. It seems to have a block of some sort on the casting restricting how far it can be turned (probably for emissions purposes), but all I'd need to do is loosen the hold-down, pull the distributor, turn the shaft just a little, and put it back. It's been a guessing game trying to get the engine timing dialed in ever since I put this distributor into it. It's really happy in winter, but I start having drivability issues once the weather warms up.

The distributor I'm testing in this video is identical to the X-11's original item, aside from being non-computer controlled. It's an all-in-one style with the coil built into the cap. Very clean installation, no external coil and wire, and the car's original wiring just plugs right in. There's nothing to keep it from being turned for more advance, either, so maybe the engine will have better hot-weather manners.

My test rig was powered by an old PC supply. I originally intended to run jumper wires to each of the distributor cap "towers" (where the plug wires connect) and even started making up some jumpers for the second half of the video, but at this point I was satisfied that it'll work, since I could hear a "chirp" from internal sparking where there wasn't a jumper and could see a good spark in the tester for those that were jumped.

I could have used a lab assistant, though, to see just how good that spark was. The last time I rigged up a test like this was for the distributor that I'm about to swap out of the car. My lab rat then was a co-worker who just couldn't resist the urge to touch the pretty white fire--and BAP!!. He jumped a couple of feet in the air. He didn't think the thing was going to work. Heheheh.

I still need to check out the vacuum advance and replace the cap and rotor, but now it's ready to drop in.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pic of the Day: Chevy V6 Power Wheel

Taking a break from the Lincoln/"The Car" project. But I had this idea for what was going to be a table showing how the four engine cycles (Intake / Compression / Combustion / Exhaust) overlap in the GM 2.8 Liter V6.

Exciting, huh? Gearhead stuff ahead!

In one of my old auto mechanic books, there's a simple illustration of the overlap in a V8. I'd been meaning to do something similar to that for years just out of curiosity. I did scribble a table in my notebook last night, but when it came to copying that to a CAD drawing, I decided on a diagram instead. Think of it as a map of how the engine runs.

For the car-guys-in-training:
Each ring is a cylinder, #1 on the outside, #6 on the inside. This follows this engine's 1-2-3-4-5-6 firing order.

Red represents the combustion cycle (or "stroke"), where power is generated.
Gray is exhaust.
Blue is intake.
Orange is compression.

Each cylinder follows these four cycles (hence "four-cycle" or "four-stroke" engine). Technically, the intake cycle should be first, since everything else depends on that: air and fuel are drawn into a cylinder, the mixture is compressed, then it's ignited, and finally the burnt gases are pushed out of the cylinder.

I put the combustion cycle first on cylinder #1 (closest to 0 degrees) because getting all those things to happen properly depends on getting that cylinder set up properly (Top Dead Center) while the engine is being put together.

The wheel represents two full turns of the crankshaft, since it takes that long for a single cylinder to go through all four cycles--intake and compression in one, combustion and exhaust in the next.

Looking at how the circular markers line up, you can see which pairs of cylinders are moving together: 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6.
While Cylinder 1 is burning fuel, #4 is breathing in--and both pistons are moving downward.
As #1 breathes out, #4 is compressing its air-fuel charge--both pistons moving upward.
As #1 breathes in, #4 burns its fuel--both pistons moving down.
As #1 compresses, #4 blows its exhaust--both pistons moving up.

The other pairs perform the same way, but overlap the rest in such a way that there's always one cylinder firing for every third of a rotation, or 120 degrees.