I secured a 1985 Celica GTS for our LeMons team, as detailed here. Our next task was to prepare the car for the race. The day after bringing the car home, the 17 year old and I proceeded to remove everything we could from the interior. The seats, carpet, interior panels- everything had to go. It was best that we remove these items with care, so that we could offset the cost of the car by selling them on eBay to people who actually drove these cars on the street. This somewhat lessened the “fun” aspect, as it prevented us from going Incredible Hulk on the interior, but we managed to remove everything unharmed, for the most part.
The selling aspect of this endeavor was interesting. The dash garnered the best return, selling for $250, thus reducing our LeMons value to the magical $500 mark. A power window and door lock switch sold for $51, the gauge bezel surround fetched $50 and some other miscellaneous switches changed hands for $15 to $20. In the end, we had enough budget to buy a new timing chain set and some other tune up parts. Safety equipment is exempt from the $500 limit.
Our approach to the car, much like a functional stool, was based on a foundation of three legs – safety, reliability and performance. Confession time: we only had time for two legs, so our stool was as wobbly as Tara Reid at Mardi Gras during an earthquake. Safety, as required by the LeMons rules, includes a roll cage, kill switch, racing seat, harness, windshield, fire extinguisher, etc. We sent the car off to our favorite shop – J-Rod & Custom in Auburn, Washington, to have a roll cage fabricated and installed.
While the car was away, my wife and I took a two week vacation down to Sonoma in the Corvette. We tasted wine, laid by our pool, dined at some really good restaurants and drove on some of the most poorly maintained roads in the world. The Celica came back from having the cage installed while we were still in Napa, so our team’s newly appointed mechanic, Chris, and our 17 year old son started removing the old brakes.
We returned from Sonoma on a Saturday night. The Celica had to leave for the race on the next Thursday. Panic had begun to set in. Arriving at the garage on Sunday morning, I assessed where we were (at the beginning, I deduced). The car had to run so the timing chain and tensioners had to be replaced. This, in my estimation, was the most daunting task. A task that I ended up performing twice. My week was spent, morning to night, working on the Celica. I arrived at home late at night. I was dirty, greasy, tired and damaged. Also, strangely enough, I was having the time of my life.
On Sunday, I removed everything from the front of the engine in order to access the timing chain and tensioners. I didn’t remove quite everything. On Monday I discovered the bolt that held on the crank pulley was frozen in place. I tried using the starter and breaker bar to loosen it, to no avail. It finally broke loose through a bizarre combination of breaker bars, pipes, a punch and a prayer. After a brief celebration dance, the new chain, tensioner, water pump and gaskets went back on the car.
Tuesday morning came and I filled the radiator with water. On Tuesday morning, this water cascaded from between the timing cover and block like Niagara Falls on a summer day. “This is pretty bad”, I thought. It’s Tuesday and we have to leave for the race on Thursday, a day that now seems five minutes away. I am not optimistic about our chances. The days are passing by in what seems like an hour. Our pace is glacial. I have friends, our drivers, planning a mini vacation around an event in which we are quite unlikely to participate. No pressure, right? I grab my phone to check flight availability to tropical third world countries where I’m likely never to be found before I remember that I don’t even camp and wouldn’t last five minutes in a third world country.
Other wonderful news from this particular Tuesday – All Star Auto Glass, who was to install the windshield this afternoon, called to say they had damaged the new windshield while loading it on the truck. There were no other windshields in the state and it would be weeks before they could find one. I suggested they change their name from All Star to Riding the Bench Auto Glass. My wife called around and found a windshield that afternoon that could be installed on Thursday. Wife – 1, All Star – 0.
Armed with what I learned from dismantling the front of the engine on Sunday, I once again removed accessories from the engine bay. That night I discovered that a part of the gasket had moved so that it wasn’t covering an outside bolt hole. This is where the water was leaking. Wednesday morning, things went together for the second time. After buttoning up the timing cover once again and reinstalling all of the accessories, it was time to fill the radiator again. Again, water leaked from around the pipes exiting the back of the water pump. This could be it. This could be the end of the adventure. Fellow team members gathered around the Celica for its last rights. I tightened the bolts. The leak stopped. Wow, really? Something went right? How did I get to this bizarro universe where something can go right? We still have a chance!
At this point, I looked at what had been done while I was fixing the engine, because there was no time to stop and celebrate our functioning engine. My team members had completed the brakes (pads, rotors, bleeding, new calipers), changed the diff fluid, transmission fluid, oil, oil filter, mounted and wired the kill switch and mounted the radiator overflow container. Our 22 year old, the artistic kid, came in Tuesday night to paint the car with its nacho cheese livery and paint the wheels green (so as to emulate sliced jalapeños).
We had the rest of Wednesday and Thursday to mount the safety harness and fire extinguisher, fix the muffler (it had a huge hole), install the vinyl numbers (664) and hood decoration, install a rear view mirror, attach the wing and sombreros and fill all the holes in the firewall. Our 26 year old and his friend came to the garage to attach the vinyl (my attempt was a disaster since I was focusing more on speed than quality). The safety harness and fire extinguisher mounted without trouble. Muffler fixes proved ineffective. Dad took the car to Safelite on Thursday afternoon and returned with a fresh windshield. We finished filling the firewall holes with the car on the trailer, decided to find a muffler shop in Shelton the next morning and called it a day.
I woke up early the next day so we could get a muffler on the Celica. LeMons rules require a functioning exhaust with no holes, which meant the sporty sounding original muffler had to go by the wayside. Fortunately my wife had provided me with a list of muffler shops in the area, and one said they could fit us in right away. I met my dad at Hometowne Brake and Muffler in Shelton (I wasn’t sure why they put an “e” at the end of “Hometowne”. Perhaps they catered to British cars?)
We met the man who owned the business, who seemed somewhat curious about our car. He said that he gets business every now and then from customers headed to the track. He made quick work of the muffler and we were on our way to the track for testing and tech inspection. In the next installment, it’s time to race!