Tuesday, January 30, 2018

One of the Many Joys of Home Ownership

Taking a short and unexpected break from fixing cars, today's post is a distraction. Sorry I missed a post last week. I spent the week flat on my back fighting off one of the worst colds I've ever suffered. The story below didn't contribute to either contracting nor prolonging that cold.

If you were to break down the core requirements for a dwelling, and then prioritize them, what order would they fall into? I'd start with shelter from rain and wind: roof and walls. After that, one could argue that everything else is nice-to-have, especially in more rustic parts of the world. In the non-rural areas of the States (like most countries), things like running water and some form of temperature control are assumed. Hot water even. How about a not-dirt floor? Sure, that sounds modern.

On top of these basics, lots of folks are trying to layer in "smart" technologies so they can turn on lights or set the thermostat from their phone when they aren't home. Sounds cool, but after the whizz-bang wears off, do people actually use that stuff? I don't know. I'm pretty sure the excitement wears off in a few weeks and pretty soon you've forgotten the password.

Heat Wave without Water
Anyway, when one of these basic systems fail, you realize just how precarious and fragile your security bubble is. Last Summer, we awoke to a failed water heater. It failed in glorious fashion, leaking water all over the garage floor, trashing cardboard boxes, carpet and anything non-metal as it went. It did create an opportunity to clean the garage, of course. And we took it. More importantly, it reminded us of the fragility I mentioned. Since it was July, and one of the hottest stretches of the Summer, lacking a shower had an extra burden to it. Additionally, I couldn't figure out how to fix any of the plumbing so that there was water pressure  even just cold so we were without water for a few days. Again, it was Summer, and we had kids enjoying Summer break, so there were many trips to the corner store to bridge the gap. I installed a new water heater, and we were back to normal in a few days. Looking back through my posts, it was such a non-event, it didn't make it into even an opening or closing comment, much less garner an entire posting.

6 Inches
This brings us to our latest reminder of our fragility. It was the end of the calendar year, and my extended family had retreated to the mountains. T had gone out of town and C had to work, so we had a couple of friends minding the house (more specifically, minding the cat who was really minding the house). C had a few hours on Friday before he had to work, so he stopped over to grind some paint off the rear driver quarter panel. As I mentioned earlier (See: Z - Work that Body), we had moved the ZX project into the garage. C, expressing concern over getting dust everywhere, pushed the ZX into the driveway to grind the paint. When he was finished and had to get off to work, he tried to push the ZX back into the garage. With the slight uphill into the garage, though, he couldn't. So, he fired up the engine to move it in ... but accidentally put it in a little too far... pushing the big red rolling tool cabinet into the water heater... which pushed the water heater into the pipes behind it. It moved about 6 inches. Those 6 inches started an avalanche of trouble.

Above the water heater, the feed line burst, sending a thin stream of water over the top of the water heater and on top of the rolling tool cabinet. At the bottom of the water heater, the gas line split, venting natural gas into the garage. The couple minding the cat turned off valves and called the gas company, but before long the fire trucks arrived, cherries flashing. Fire fighters kicked everyone out of the house. The gas company closed and locked the meter. The cat-minders were let back into the house after the fumes cleared, but by then it was after 6. On Friday, December 29th and freezing temperatures were forecast. With no water. And no heat. And no one available to fix anything until the following Tuesday... if you're lucky.

Cold Snap without Water... or Gas
Fortunately, one of our cat-minders is a handyman. He was able to re-establish our cold water (so the restrooms were functioning) and repair the gas lines. With a few space heaters and a portable Coleman stove they were able to mind the cat until we got home. You see, the gas company won't turn the gas on until someone licensed performs a leak-down test on the repair, then they will inspect it. Only after that will they turn the gas back on. I understand their conservative approach, but when the temps are below freezing, the process could really use a fast lane.

Boo and I got home on Jan1, and were met by the cat-minding couple. We surveyed the damage, expressed our appreciation for keeping both the cat and the house safe... and for helping C through a rough time. Then, we started reaching out to a contractor we know to get everything back to normal again. He, like so many folks immediately after NewYears were groggily getting back to work. He was available to connect with us on Wednesday. He surveyed the work done by the handyman, thought it looked pretty good and started calling for the gas company to come take a look.

We learned that indeed the gas company won't turn on your gas until a leak down test is performed, but that was not even the half of it. Before the gas company will talk to you, you need the gas lines inspected by the city. The city won't inspect non-permitted work (even if, or maybe especially if, it's done by a home owner). So, step one: get $167 down to city hall and get a work permit. Then, schedule an inspection. We were fortunate and we got inspected on Wednesday evening. While waiting, we ran the leak-down test and pressure-tested the hot water heater (both passed). The inspector was one of those who felt the need to find things wrong, and he cited a bunch of things to be changed even though the repairs simply exchanged broken pipes with a not-broken pipes. So, Thursday was spent making all kinds of additional changes involving 2x4's so the inspector could return Friday morning, which he did. He approved the work, and switched our "red tag" on the meter to green (meaning the gas company was allowed to turn the gas back on, pending their inspection). Then, the contractor was allowed to hook up the water heater and try to get NW Natural to turn us back on. The NW Natural inspector arrived shortly before 5 on Friday, approved all of the work, making comments about the age and condition of things, and then turned everything back on. Unlike the city inspector, there is no requirement for us to do anything the gas company guy said, so we probably won't. As it stood at this point, those 6 inches cost us about $1000US with about half of it because of things the city inspector added. At least we didn't need to replace the water heater.

By Friday night, things were back to normal. T had returned from out of town and grabbed a shower. We had the heat cranking to raise the base temperatures of the no-space-heater spaces, and our little bubble was starting to reform. As we sat down to dinner, we realized that we hadn't had the TV on for almost the entire stretch we didn't have heat or hot water. It seemed as though our having to glamp in our house shifted us to a different mindset. We had access to other modern amenities, like the internet and cable television; we just didn't use them. Instead, we sat in the hot tub and talked, or focused on basics like getting clean with an electric kettle and a dishpan. As the days of suffering fade into the past, it was just as interesting to see our old use patterns return as if they had never left. It does make me wonder how much of our daily behaviors really stem from independent thought versus rote actions we've honed over time. Perhaps, if the environment changes enough, the rote behaviors don't come into play.

Well, that's all I have this week. We are back to normal. The garage was an absolute mess afterwards, so I spent the following weekend cleaning things up. The progress on the list of car projects has ground to a halt, pending the no-gas and clean-up, so there may be a short pause in postings while I get some blog-worthy things done. The missing post from last week was purely sickness related, so there could be more ahead. Sorry.

Thanks, as always, for following along. More soon-

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

280ZX * 2 = Y

This math problem is actually a little harder than it looks. Simplifying this does not follow the classic, standard pattern, and today's post explains it.

thank you WikiPedia
The 280ZX is an iconic car. Based purely on the hit rate on my posts that mention it, the car remains very popular. It was one of those cars that every boy wanted in the late 70's and early 80's. From 1969 through 1983, Datsun built 4 different versions of the Z (240, 260, 280 and then the 280ZX). None of these versions had a run for more than 4 years, though, so there are a limited number of them out there. Even within the 280ZX, there are differences between the early and late (series 1 versus 2) which you may see in the picture to the right here and some years had a 2+2 version which included a rear seat. Scarcity of the car aside, finding parts for these is an arguably greater challenge. Lots of the bits and pieces just aren't available anymore. For example, the car we bought had virtually no interior. The carpets can be found online, but none of the plastic pieces are made aftermarket. I can't blame the plastic-injection companies; there are probably just too few people wanting the bits and too many variations between the 4 major models. Finding other things like a window regulator, or even an ashtray are virtually impossible.

In our efforts to leave no stone un-turned, we spent a lot of time on eBarf. Those with parts know their scarcity and are charging a premium for them. Next, we try the pick-n-pull yards. Well, there aren't any 280Z or 280ZX donors in the Oregon / Southwest Washington yards. T and C drove almost to Bellingham to pull parts only to be disappointed with the yard management: they have the cars so close together you can't get the doors all the way open. T drove down to Sacramento to pull a replacement door, but most of the interior was so trashed, it couldn't be used for donor material. He grabbed what he could anyway.

Take 2 They're Small
C had started shopping around for rims shortly after getting the 280ZX. The ones that were on it at purchase were okay, but they were chrome-y flat-faced rims that looked like they belonged on a 1/4-miler. While they allowed the car to move around okay, he didn't like the look. The original rims are classic, and like so many other original parts, they are hard to find at a reasonable price. Usually you'll find 1 or 2 selling for $200US a-piece. If you want a full set of 4, you can find them for at least $600US, but at least one will be damaged such that it can't hold air, and they'll be scratched up enough that you'll need to completely refinish them if you want them to look nice.

While searching for rims, C found a car north of Seattle that had the original rims, but had rust, poor body repair and title problems. Based on the pictures, the interior looked mostly complete. So, he and T hopped in the trusty '87 Cherokee and drove off to take a look. A road trip filled with chatter, fast food and music sharing later they arrived at the set of rims with a car attached. It started right up, and drove around fine. Steering was pretty good, suspension not too soft or fluttery but once up to temperature, it won't restart until it's cooled down. Ha. (For those of us with old VW buses, this is a familiar "hot start" problem. It's so common the aftermarket online sellers offer a wiring and relay system to fix it.) A short negotiation later, they bought it. Since C doesn't have a license, we got AAA to tow it. This transportation ended up costing 1/2 of what the car cost (AAA only does the first 100 miles after that it's a cash business), but when I awoke the next morning, it sat in the driveway outside the door of the garage where the no-rust 280ZX lives.

In theory, stripping a parts car could be a weekend of intense wrenching. In practice, it rarely works out that way. This ZX will probably be more on the "in practice" end of the spectrum. Our plan is pretty simple. We're going to video the engine running and post it on craiglist as a whole unit. We don't need it, and we suspect someone else does. We may keep the 5-speed, thinking it might be a good runner for the MG later on. Pretty much everything else we pull off will get swapped onto the '79: full interior, rims, power window regulators, power door locks, door handles, rear hatch (has the wiper and a good seal), power steering unit, hoses, steering rack, radiator and chrome bits. We may sell other things that we pull off along the way, but that depends on whether they're in decent shape. Anything else will be re-attached and part of what's sold to the scrapyard.

Reading that list, there's a lot of stuff coming off that car. If we're not going to turn around and slap them onto the '79, we need to store them somewhere. Aaaaand.... we're not gonna just slap them on. Instead, we're getting the '79 ready for paint first so that really means more parts will be coming off before parts go on. So, with 2 project cars already in the sub-sized 2-car garage and a driveway full of other cars... where do the parts go? Well... we just cleared out a bedroom for C, so he's decided to use that room as a shed where he'll sleep when he's around. There isn't really any furniture in there yet, so it kinda makes sense. It just seems a little nuts. Fortunately, it's only while the car gets prepped and painted. If all goes well, it'll be a couple of months. So, we're probably going to have a partially torn down 280ZX in the driveway and a steadily increasing pile of 280ZX parts in C's bed- or should I say shed-room until the car has paint which could not happen until Spring.

For those of us who dreamed of owning a 280ZX when we were boys, with posters on our walls, this concept is almost unimaginable: your room is not decorated with poster of your dream car, it is decorated with PARTS of your dream car. Need to sit? Take the driver seat from a '83 280ZX. Beware, they're kinda low.

EDIT: I just watched the season-ender for Mighty Car Mods (MCM) season 10. I've been an avid MCM viewer for a few years, but I was stunned to see that they picked up a Fairlady "Zed" in Japan. I'm sure with their resources, time, friends and skills, their Zed will be pretty amazing. I highly recommend watching Moog and Marty, if you haven't seen MCM before. Very fun.

That's it for today. Thanks, as always, for following along,

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Capturing an Escaped Captive... Nut

Rain. and cold. and blustery wind. All of my projects except one are sitting in the driveway under tarps held down with whatever I could get my hands on. My new-ish job has a policy about how much paid-time-off you can carry forward into the next year, so I find myself with days at home. So... what to do? Work on the one project that's sitting in the garage so one day it too can sit in the driveway under a tarp while one of his brothers are in the garage getting worked on. Today covers one of the final steps to achieving that goal.

Captive Nut
test fitting a panel
On the convertible MG, the top fabric is attached to a steel frame. Depending upon the year, the frame could take on one of a few forms. Mine is the last style, which folds straight back with large scissor-style hinges. These hinges mount to the sides of the car just behind the door latch. The steel inner body panel has a flat surface into which 3 holes were drilled at the factory. Inside the panel a nut was welded behind each hole. These nuts are what holds the convertible frame to the car, and therefore hold the top onto the car. Yes, there are clasps along the top of the windscreen and there are little hold-downs along the rear deck, but most of the work is handled by these 6 bolt-nut combinations.

The Escape
With any car, rust and wear take a toll. On the MGB, the little captive nuts (1/4 - 28) can detach from the inner body panel. Once separated, the frame can be attached, but the person doing the attaching must hold the nut with a wrench or pliers or something. Since the entire inner steel skin is usually covered with a vinyl panel (on top of which the convertible frame is usually attached), the owner has a choice: no more panels, no more top or re-capture the nuts. The PO had decided to select multiple options: no more panels and no more top, leaving the frame stripped of canvas and disconnected, but sitting behind the seats after discarding the vinyl cards prior to selling it to me.

I've driven around in plenty of cars which didn't have all of their inner panels. The operation of the car is in no way negatively impacted. It just looks trash. So, I decided I would get the nuts re-captured. There are a few ways to go after it.

Go Crazy, Tear down and Weld - Since these were originally welded into place at the factory before the body was assembled, getting them welded back in the same way is virtually impossible. I imagine someone industrious enough could take enough of the car apart to get access to the nuts. I don't see the value. Maybe if you have dreams of showing your car at concours or something, this would be the most-like-original path. Or maybe you're just sadistic. Either way, rock on.

Ugliest welds ever
Get a Repair Panel - Moss has a repair kit (link here) that could be used to fix this, so clearly this happens often. They run $18 each, which isn't bad, but as I noted at the beginning, I have some time, and I don't want to wait for shipping. I imagine the kit is a pretty easy solution though: set it so it is aligned with the holes, mark the mounting spot with a pen, drill, install. Easy peasy.

Make your Own Panel - While not necessarily the easiest, if you have some time and either don't have the money for the Moss panel, or don't want to wait for it, it's not that hard. I chose this path and I detailed steps below.

I have the nuts in hand and plenty of super-thin scrap steel lying around. I considered that the steel to which the nuts were attached did not need to be terribly stout. It just needed to be strong enough to hold the nuts in place against some modest pressure during installation. Once the bolts seat into the nuts, the plate doesn't contribute to holding the top on: its still the bolt-nut combination. With this in mind, I cut a couple (one per side) small pieces of HVAC sheet metal with tin shears to they fit in the hole, around the nut(s) which were still clinging to the inner body panel. I held them in place, marked the nut-holes with a pen and step-drilled holes large enough for the bolt to easily pass. I then sanded the steel to get any zinc coating off. This is important as the off-gassing from welding a zinc coating is really bad.

For some reason, my top had an extra bracket that looked like this, but not chromed. I think it is for a wind blocker (like this) that wasn't with the car when I bought it. Love that. Anyway, I took that bracket thing and used it to provide more meat for the next steps (see the top picture). I aligned the HVAC sheet with the holes in the bracket and then threaded the bolt through, tightening the nut against the HVAC sheet.  Next came some of the worst looking welds I have ever produced (see middle picture). That is saying something, because my welding skills are pretty bad. Still, I was able to get the nuts to hold to the sheet and hold well enough for me to remove and re-insert the bolts multiple times.
"Pop" goes the Rivet

Whether you did the Moss repair panel or you made your own, the mounting to the car is very similar. The panel sits flush against the outer-side of the inner wall (inside the cavity) with the nuts pointing out (away from the cabin). With the Moss panel, you can hold the thing on from the inside and see where the hole will be because it's symmetrical. Must be nice. With the home-made job, its not. Instead, I made judgments based on where the holes in the body were, and where the panel was as I held it up against the wall from inside the cavity. I marked 2 holes on the inner wall, pulled the panel aside and step-drilled to 13/32". This is just a hair larger than 3/8" so a 3/8" pop rivet will fit snug without binding as it goes in. To make sure I got the holes in exactly the right spots on the panel, I bolted it into place and drilled through the holes I'd just made in the body and then through the panel. With the panel still bolted on, I pop-riveted the panels in. I was still able to easily remove the bolts from the nuts (without touching the nuts), so the convertible top frame should now be capable of being installed after the interior cards are in place.

That's it for today's post. Yes, I could have simply ordered panels and this would have taken far less time. Instead, I got to play with my MIG and save myself about $40US. Thanks, as always for following along, and I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season. Hapy NewYear!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Z - Work that Body

Today's post covers some more of the efforts on the 280ZX.

Rain Rain Go Away
In my last update about the 280ZX, I described some of the efforts that were going on. The oil and oil filter were changed, but the main focus of the work was dismantling the body. This included removing and stripping body front fenders, removing the dented driver door and removing the hood. If we had a garage larger than a freight elevator, this would have all been done in the friendly, climate-controlled confines of my garage. Instead, we were doing this under 10x10 canopy. Enter a wicked storm. The first night, the wind blew so hard that the canopy flipped over, leaving the Z exposed. We righted it and that afternoon set some things on the feet so they wouldn't move in the wind. Well, they didn't move from the wind... exactly... but they moved.

The torrential rain that fell the following night destroyed the canopy. All four legs were broken, the supports under the main tarp were twisted and mangled. The car was kinda dry, but the canopy was suspending huge bowls of water over the top of it. Boo and I got the water away from the car, but all over ourselves. Hahaha.. The canopy frame was moved to the yard where T could cut it into pieces with the angle grinder. The canopy top was laid on top of the Z to try to keep it dry. The wind remained relentless, so we held it down with whatever we could find: pain cans, old rims, etc.

If you thought the front yard looked bad before, imagine the scene now. Like many yards, it is in it's late-fall least attractive state anyway with leaves and overgrown landscaping. Of course, we have the 7 cars in various states of repair. One is in pieces under a make-shift tarp that is covered in paint cans and rims and other stuff. The canopy frame is sitting in a heap. And, of course, there are bits and pieces of the Z project strewn about the driveway and lawn. Did I mention the large blue tarp where some parts had been primed and left? Yeah.. it's a mess. So so bad. Or it was. And the inside of the Z was still getting watered better than my yard in the summer.

Move-a Move-a
C has been working very hard on this car. He comes over on the afternoons he doesn't have work and spends at least one day every weekend on it. He usually works at least one day every weekend at his job, so, basically, if he isn't in school or at work, he's on his car. Proud dad. He is steadily preparing the car for a re-paint, but the more he exposes, the more he is creating opportunities for rust on the panels or water to get into the inside. The panels have been getting stored inside the 2-car shed (technically my attached garage, but it's really barely 18 feet deep) where the MGB sits awaiting funding.

On his last visit we noted how much moisture was still getting inside his car. By moisture I mean standing water, not just vapor or dampness. Standing water. So, we moved things around in a full-scale version of Tetris. We moved cars all around, some car parts got aggregated into big unwieldy piles, and found a way of fitting the Z next to the MGB in the garage. Now, C can climb in and out the driver side and work on removing windows or tail lights inside. When necessary, we'll move the Z straight back into the driveway for grinding and then move it straight forward into it's indoor storage spot. We were all very pleased with the net results. Overnight, we ran fans to get the moisture off the car so with every step he takes forward he won't be watching his car deteriorate from the weather.

So.. Where's the Progress
Yeah, Okay. I know. Lots of words there but no tangible update about the car itself other than it is now stored indoors. Here goes: T went down to Sacramento and picked up some interior plastic bits as well as a driver door (Thx T!). The door, like the fenders and the hood, has been stripped down to metal. We swapped out the power window guts from the donor door, replacing with the manual crank style from the folded up original door. We test-fit the door card and rolled the window up and down. Perfect.

On the next dry day, C will be setting all bare metal outside on that awful blue tarp and shooting them with primer. Of course, he will follow the standard process of wiping the parts down with mineral spirits first so the primer adheres well. Also, he has started to remove the small triangular rear windows. It appears that these were installed with that black windshield caulk, making their removal more difficult. Still, those are the places where rust can go unnoticed, and he wants his paint job to last longer than a few months, so he's going where rust hides.

Ahead, he plans to remove the trim around the windshield and remove the glass so he can address the small rust spots he can already see. Next is removing the tail lights, rear gate and the glass from the gate so the rear tailgate can be prepped. Once all pieces are ready, he wants to learn how to shoot his own paint, so we'll be looking into that. I sincerely hope we get a dry spell or we'll have to figure out a temporary painting shed. Since so much of the car is in smaller pieces, the "shed" may not need to be as large as a car. We'll see.

One last thing: when it came time to move the 280ZX from where it has sat almost since it arrived in October, it started right up. The only other car we have that starts that fast is the VW bus. I took that as a really good omen.

That's it for today. As always, thanks for following along.