2008-08-18

Who'd'v thunk?

Who would have thought that the stuck nut was the least of my problems on the way to a new spiff sway bar set?

So eight hours and countless setbacks later the sway bar is installed, complete with the reinforced mounting brackets and the end-links.

But let me start from the start. I was actually planning to autocross on Sunday. However after the trouble with the upgrade I was frustrated with this whole car business and went out with a friend. I even kept the alcohol consumption down (2 drinks over 4 hours), but ended up staying out later than I planned. So by the time I got home it was already time for me to go to bed if I wanted to go to Danville the next morning, and I haven't even packed the tires and other gear into the car yet!

I checked the club forum and found out that the price to participate would be higher than I expected, because it was part of a 2-day divisional SCCA series event. Plus, we'd be required to plaster our cars with all the sponsors' stickers, even if we only wanted to participate in the Sunday part, which was also a Triad points autocross.

Additionally, the first car off was scheduled for 9 a.m. -- meaning that I would need to be at the site at 7 a.m. just to have the time to change tires and walk the course. I usually wake up at 6 a.m. for autocross, but with an almost two-hour drive making it to Danville with enough time before the first heat was not realistic.

So I posted on the forum that I won't be going. Note that it was already well after ten in the evening. Within ten minutes Charlie (him and his wife Mo drive a C-Stock 99 Miata prepped to the nines) has offered help installing the new parts. Now that I was not going to Danville anymore, I gratefully accepted.

So the next day I headed over to Durham full of hope.

Charlie's got a garage full of all sorts of tools and machines, including an industrial-grade grinder, which we ended up using!

We began by removing all the old parts. The stuck nut came off with an application of an air gun. I rejoiced.

Further parts started coming off, and within a few minutes we had the stock sway bar and end links removed from the car. The sway bar mounting brackets were a little bit different, as the bolts holding them to the frame inside the engine bay are covered by radiator brackets on both sides. On passenger side, there were openings in the radiator brackets to access the two bolts, though the fit was tight, but on the driver side, the bracket was solid.

We ended up removing both radiator fans and the cold air intake for easier access and soon the stock sway bar mount brackets were off. No wonder they are liable to bend and tear under stress from a more massive sway bar--they are made out of what appears to be 1.5 mm sheet metal with minimal profiling (will post a pic here later).

Now that the old parts were out, it was time to get the new ones in! Easier said then done. The new mount brackets would not fit. As in not at all. We ended up having to place a jack underneath each of them and loading them with a nice chunk of the car's weight to make them align properly on the frame.

At which point I could torque the bolts to specified 18 ft lb (248.86 kg cm), and then one of the old worn bolts decided that enough was enough and broke off. In the frame. Flush with the bolt hole.

Yippee.

So off we drove, in Charlie's car, to Autozone, then to a hardware store to buy a bolt extractor and eight new bolts to replace all the old ones lest they break at some other unanticipated point in time.

Back at the garage, we spent some time getting the bolt out, then when it finally came off, I removed all the bolts already in place and replaced them with the new ones. Eight total.

Now of course, one of the bolt holes on the frame (thank goodness the one accessible directly from the driver-side wheel well) was stripped! The bolt would go in, but instead of tightening it would spin. I tried a couple different bolts with the same effect, and decided to leave it like it is for the time being and to have the mechanic at my usual shop fix that during the week.

Next, time to put the radiator brackets back on, at which point it became apparent that they wanted to occupy the same physical space at the same time with the new sway bar brackets. Great.

Our solution to this problem was to relieve the radiator brackets to make them go around the sway bar brackets. "Relieve" is a euphemism mechanics use for whacking a part with a hammer. So Charlie got the biggest hammer he had and went to work. We were into the fifth or maybe even sixth hour of our ordeal at this point.

Once the radiator brackets were in the shape we needed (and out of the shape intended by Mazda engineering) we mounted them on the car and this was the point at which to thread the new sway bar and attach it, at first loosely, to the new mounting brackets.

If you think this was easy, you are wrong. The new reinforced mounting brackets are definitely not precision-made, so of course the bolt holes in the sway bar mounts supplied with the Racing Beat bar did not align with the holes in the brackets! We measured the bar mounts with the stock ones, and there was no difference. Meaning that the AWR sway bar mount brackets were the main culprit for all our installation trouble.

So back to the workbench we went to bend the sway bar mounts slightly wider.

As soon as our interaction with the mount brackets ended, everything else went like a dream. Interfaces between Racing Beat parts and Mazda stock parts were matching precisely and we finished the installation and put the splash guard and the wheels on quickly.

I still need to do the sway bar fine adjustment, but will probably do that at the next autocross or just before then.

Today, I just picked up the car from the shop where the stripped bolt hole was drilled out and tapped with a new thread. So at last, we're good to go!