Nut Driver: The Wheels Haven’t Fallen Off Yet, So I Took It Out For More Autocross Action


Nut Driver: The Wheels Haven’t Fallen Off Yet, So I Took It Out For More Autocross Action

[“Nut Driver” features updates on Dave Nutting’s attempts to daily drive his 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in Massachusetts 365 days a year]
Before continuing on, if you want to catch up on the other installments, click HERE.

 

What’s this? Two updates on a BangShift project car in less than a month? Unheard of! (Bryan, you get a pass since you just introduced yours, but Buford is more attention-starved than a puppy left alone for a long weekend and Craig’s Blazer has been in bodywork purgatory for months. Meanwhile, the $200 hauler is, well, I don’t know where it is. Maybe it was stolen again?)

Gentle ribbing of my fellow BangShifters aside, today’s update is further continuing my autocross adventures, this time at a normal SCCA points event with the New England Region (NER). The majority of SOLO events for NER are held at Devens-Moore Airfield, which is a pretty nice setup compared to some of the parking lots that other clubs have to make due with.

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All in all about 130 drivers signed up for the event, and before I move on with the story I want to give credit where credit is due and thank all of the people that set up and ran this event, which in reality is everyone that showed up. What I really dig about grassroots racing is that it’s 100% volunteer based, with the racers themselves doing the hard work of keeping everything on the up and up so that they can continue using the site. I have a hard enough time getting 4-5 guys to show up for a garage night without trashing the place, let alone 100+ people and cars for 8-10 hours.

Where to begin with today’s journey? Let’s start with the results from the previous event, along with my preparing for this last event.

results

Out of 150 registered for the prior event, you might say I’m pretty far down the list. That statement would be mighty generous, as the person above me was driving a shifter kart. On the plus side, last time I looked those karts sold for more used than I paid for ye olde G-body. Then again, the “JB” class is for 8-11 year olds. So, there you have it, I was slower than an elementary school child. Totally not bitter about that.

 

Not to be discouraged by being beaten by a human being who has not yet discovered algebra, I focused on the fact that I had managed to pick up 15 seconds from my first to last run, and that I was really competing within the other drivers in the Classic American Muscle class. Sure, I was 12 seconds off the pace of the leader, but that gave me a goal for the season, which is to narrow the gap between myself and everyone else.

So, how to go about that? Throw the latest and greatest Pro-Touring parts at the car? Yank out the 160 horsepower boat anchor (Of which, I must admit that more than one horse has escaped from the ranch over the last 27 years) for a more modern powerplant? Nah, that’s too easy and ruins the whole point of buying a cheap car and keeping to a budget. Keep in mind that even with the purchase price of the car and the new springs, shocks, wheels, tires, and brakes, I’m still into the car for less than $4k. So, let’s throw on some used parts and get some more seat time.

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Much as I know that improving the driver is going to net the largest gains, I couldn’t go without a few small upgrades. Seeing as my car came out of the factory minus the F41 handling package, there was no rear sway bar to be found. To the rescue came my buddy Steve, who for $25 hooked me up with a rear bar from an SS, along with the oh-so-crucial spacers that are needed to keep the lower control arms from crushing when bolting on the bar. I also sprang for $8 worth of new hardware from the parts store. Sometimes you have to splurge a little.

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Here we have the aforementioned stock lower control arms, which luckily came predrilled for a rear sway bar. The bar itself isn’t very effective compared to a rear sway bar that is bolted directly to the frame, but I’m making incremental upgrades before spending $$$ on an aftermarket piece that may end up being too much bar.On a side note: As crappy as the rubber bushings are, unless you’re going to invest in a set of upper and lower rear control arms that fully articulate using a sealed helm joint or similar, I’d avoid “upgrading” to poly bushings. Poly will bind, and binding is bad for any sort of handling application that involves a four-link. 

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10 minutes of work later, and BAM: Rear sway bar. Guaranteed to help lower my lap times or put me off in the woods. Either one is equally likely.

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Keeping my modifications limited to things that I knew (Well, hoped) would only benefit the car, I also sprung for a modified Chevy Astro van steering shaft to replace the worn out rag joint-equipped steering shaft that came on the car. Nearly a bolt-in as-is, the Astro van shaft have a U-joint at either end, the top one needing to be pulled and rotated 90 degrees before being welded back in place. Being a factory part, it’s also designed to collapse in an impact, which saves me from any painful Steve Irwin impressions. These can be picked up in most junk yards for short money, but given that I was in a time crunch I paid $70 shipped for one that was fully prepped and painted.

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Similar to the Jeep steering shaft that Brian installed in Buford, the shaft is nearly a bolt-on, with only a tiny bit of grinding needed on the column end in order to clear the bolt that tightens the upper end. Hard to tell from the photo, but we’re talking millimeters.

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There we have it! Nice new steering shaft in a greasy and undercoating-soaked engine bay. While the steering shaft did get rid of a good amount of play, there’s still some left in the box itself, even after adjusting it. With the “Slow:1″ steering ratio, I’m not going to waste too much more time with that box and will upgrade to a 12.7:1 box from a 16” wheel equipped third-gen F-body in the near future.

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So there we have it. A few small modifications, a 5 AM wake-up call, and I was out on the track.
Notice the painters tape holding my $20 DIY magnetic lettering in place. Note to self: Next time don’t leave them curled up a ball in a plastic bag for weeks, you big dumb jerk.

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Seeing as my buddy Phil was too busy racing his own car at the event and I was unable to find anyone crazy enough to stand on hot pavement for hours to take photos of a G-body in trade for a fast-food lunch, we’ll have to stick to GoPro footage for all of that tire-melting G-body action.

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Before getting into how the Monte CarSlow performed, I want to focus on a few cars that show the diversity at an autocross event. Let’s start with the car that was parked beside mine, which just happened to be owned by a guy who lives the next town over from me. Sure, a Miata at an autocross is in no way a rarity, but I’m digging this one because it’s function over form and has money spent where it’s needed. Paint? Who needs paint?

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At the other end of the late 80s/early 90s spectrum was this ’89 Porsche 964 Carrera 4. Not the typical vehicle that we show on BangShift, but it sure did look nice parked out in the sun, and looked good dodging some cones as well.

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Ah, now we’re on to the more eclectic stuff. Don’t let the look of this ’84 Diesel Jetta fool you, it hauled around the course like you wouldn’t believe, rolling coal the whole way.

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Modified old British sports cars? Yeah, there were one or two of those as well.
This ’73 Triumph TR6 was laying down some serious lap times while nailing the hardcore racer look to boot.

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Parked just a few cars down was this ’65 Triumph TR4A.

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This bad boy was stripped down and ready to race.

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No frills, all motor. Raw horsepower isn’t the name of the game here, but power to weight is.

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One last side note before continuing with our regularly scheduled programming: I found out that Mazda has a program that will pay out actual cash money for placing in certain regional and national events. Think I could slap on a few stickers and convince GM to pony up some cash for my 27-year old Chevy? Something tells me that they’d be more likely to pay hush money to stop me from showing up at more events…

Enough prolonging the inevitable: Just how did the Monte do this time around? Not surprisingly, I still finished in the basement of the CAM class, again 12 seconds behind the leader of the group.

results june 22nd

That said, I’m motivated for a few reasons:
1. While the last event was set up to allow the higher horsepower cars (Of which mine is not one, sad to say) to stretch their legs, this course was tighter and in my opinion a bit more challenging. Still, I hung in there.
2. Unlike my first event, I went hard from the get-go, which shows in that I improved less from my first run to my last run. I also finally nailed a cone, which pissed me off about as much as I thought it would.

To give you an idea of the course layout and what it’s like piloting a boat around it, check out this video of my second lap of the day.

 

 

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Not surprisingly, these 320 treadwear Falken All-seasons performed to the best of their ability, but are not exactly designed for autocross duty. That’s a good amount of rubber that I’m pushing from the edge towards the center of those front tires. The fair amount of understeer and my less than skillful tackling of those sweeping turns probably has something to do with that.

 

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Although I love me a spicy chicken sandwich as much as the next warm-blooded American, I need to stop eating crap food for lunch during the break. The laps after lunch were much slower, some of which I attribute to wolfing down 2000 calories worth of obesity before strapping myself back into the car.

 

So, what’s next for me and this heap?

– Continue working on my driving. Watching the videos I took of each run, I need to better set up between elements, as well as figure out how to better enter and exit those long sweeping turns. Having a slow steering ratio, less than appropriate tires, and a bench seat isn’t helping either, but the driver still needs to improve.
– Install a better steering box. There’s some play in the current box, and I’m spending a good amount of time fighting with the wheel.
– TIRES. TIRES. TIRES. No Hoosiers for me as I need 200 treadwear, but better tires are a necessity. This will be a big expense even with a set of used 16 or 17 inch wheels, so I may not get them installed for another event or two.
– More supportive seats. Yes, I love the bench seat as well for daily driver duties, but I’d like to have a seat that I can swap in for autocross. Keeping with the budget theme, I’m going to stay away from an expensive racing seat and see what’s out there for factory takeouts from another car that I can use with some slight modification.
– A larger front sway bar. To be honest, I’m not sure that a larger bar will help with the understeer versus correcting my driving style, but from those in the know that have well-handling G-bodies, I’ve been told that the larger bar will help with the front body roll and help more than hurt. There’s a 36mm bar from an F-body in the garage with my name on it, so expect to see that installed before the next points event.

 

Oh, and if you need proof that more supportive seats are needed, check out this video of my buddy Phil going for a ride along. For extra entertainment, there’s my completely and utterly pissed off profanity at the end when I botch a slalom and nail a cone on what would have been my best run of the day (Pre-Wendy’s motivation-killing lunch)

 

 

As my final thoughts for the day, autocross is a blast, especially with a car that was in no way designed to be dodging cones. The CAM class is being offered by almost every SCCA region in the country, and there’s plenty of other car clubs that will let you stretch out the legs on your old iron. So get out there and do it! The next SCCA points event for the New England Region is July 20th. I’ll be there, and I’m hoping that one of you BangShifters joins me in CAM. If I can do this with a rusty, $2500 car that I drive every day, you can too.

 

 

Til next time!

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8 thoughts on “Nut Driver: The Wheels Haven’t Fallen Off Yet, So I Took It Out For More Autocross Action

  1. TheSilverBuick

    Awesome blog Dave! Had me rolling and makes me want to autocross my Skylark even more.

    “So, there you have it, I was slower than an elementary school child. Totally not bitter about that.”

    LMAO, and hasn’t yet discovered algebra had me rolling.

  2. 69Coronet

    Hey Dave, when are they doing it in August?

    I take the bar exam in July, so the 20th is out, but if they’re doing it in August, I can make you feel good and bring my 1969 Plymouth Satellite Wagon out on its 14” steelies. Since I’ve never AutoX’ed before and always wanted to, why not do it in a car that will be as challenging to drive around the course as possible?

      1. 69Coronet

        Yeah, we’ll have to see if the car is ready by August 10th (needs a new fuel tank and sending unit to properly go around an AutoX course), but if you’re going to be there August 17th, I will try like hell to be there – and I might bring a friend who could shoot (photos) for both of us.

        Thanks for that schedule link, I’ll put it on my calendar.

  3. Leafy

    I’m expecting to see you at the starting line school on the 12th of July. I do love the write ups.

    RE: Tires, Rivals sound like the ticket on your car. As much as I hate it because it looks stupid 17s or even 18s are the proper choice for this car. with 17x9s with 255s or 18x10s with 275s. There are actually some cheap decent options in either of those sizes, in your bolt pattern like well under $200/wheel.

    RE: Seats. Kirkey economy 10° layback is the droid you seek.

  4. EastEnder

    I love this build! Makes me wish I didnt sell my ’85 Regal. I did something similiar to Dave, where I sold my ’00 Z28 to help finance buying my house, and picked up my Regal for $1900 bucks as my DD. I drove the wheels off it for 3 years, put 25k on her and she never left me stranded. Friends would wonder why I was driving a 20 yr+ car when I could afford something newer, lol. It was the closest thing I ever got to have a “Cheap Thrills”-ish Dart like Frieburger.

  5. Bidaci

    It was great to see you again and glad you are coming back. Based on Phil’s ear to ear grin I would bet the is hooked too.

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