Long time no update!
It’s bittersweet news, but the all wheel drive Fiero hybrid has been sold. I haven’t given it much attention lately, as I’ve been distracted with other projects. I decided that it made sense to pass the torch to somebody else with a full head of steam and clear out some driveway space and some funds. It went to a good home; my buddy Al who lives in Detroit and has helped me with the project along the way bought it and will be putting his electric motor and inverter into it. I kept all the parts for the electric drive part, so it will find a home in some other cool project someday, who knows what!?!
Before the Fiero left, I did a last video of it in action to show how the controls worked and how the different driving modes worked.
Meanwhile, I’ve been pretty busy with some other projects. I started another pretty big engine swap project on a 1972 Honda N600. As I did with the Fiero, I’m documenting the build up over at Grassroots Motorsports:
Here are a few shots showing what kind of shenanigans to expect this time around:
This is a huge metal fabrication project, I’m trying to learn some new tricks and have a little fun doing it. My buddy Aaron is my partner in crime on this project, we’re doing the work over at his shop.
I’ve also bought and sold a few cars since my last update, more selling than buying. We’re down to ONLY seven cars right now:
1969 VW Bug
1988 Pontiac Fiero
2005 Saab 92X
1967 Volvo 122S Wagon
2007 Saturn Sky Redline
1972 Honda N600
2000 Honda Insight
I’ve made some intentions to get the VW back on the road this summer and the Fiero on the road by December…we’ll see if this year is the year that I stick to my intentions on those cars!
Bryce finally did it, and popped the question and made me the happiest woman on earth! I am so proud to be his, so honored that he chose me out of everyone, and so excited to share the rest of my life with him.
Here are the important tid-bits:
When: September 18th, 2010
Where: Ecola State Park. http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_188.php We took a leisurely stroll in the Volvo with the intent of going hiking on the many trails along the coast line. I bit hook, line, and sinker. I have been wanting to go hiking with Bryce more often, now that I am more fit, and this seemed like a great way to spend the day. It had started to rain, but no matter, we had our Trader Joe snacks and would make the best of it.
How: After we arrived at the park, we found several trails and chose one that would take us out to a point for the best vantage of Cannon Beach. As we left the car we could see a couple getting their wedding pictures with the gorgeous view behind them. I said “oh how sad the rain must be ruining their special day”, oblivious to the fact this would soon be my special day too. Bryce just smiled and we walked on. As we got closer I could see the joy in their faces and said “I guess it is what you make of it, right?” Bryce seemed relieved that I was in the right mind set. Happiness is yours to make! We continued on with Kinzig dog leading the way, further along the trail until we were all alone. I wanted to stop several times but Bryce seemed anxious to continue. It didn’t strike me as that odd, so I continued on. When we arrived at the end of the trail, it was beautiful. A slight mist, birds flying in the wind from the steep cliff we were now standing on the edge of. Stunning endless beaches as far as you could see. If you have ever been to the beaches in the NW you know their beauty. Not so great for sunbathing, but stunning with rocks, cliffs and trees. Then I realized Bryce wanted my attention again, I thought to move on. But instead, he started to kneel. At first I thought he was kidding, and almost told him to stop it and get up. But as his knee got closer to the ground I realized this was real. I shut up (for once) to hear what he had to say. Only problem was, once I realized what was happening, i didn’t hear a thing. Just a rush of feelings, shock, the thought of “I can’t believe its really happening!”
- Us, back in the Volvo, a little wet and a full of smiles.
I said yes, of course, and now life is a bit brighter. It all happened so quickly, and I am still coming to the reality that we will someday be wed. Someday, because we are obviously in no rush - nearly 6 years dating - but someday is fine with me. Because someday, will be one day, and that is certain now.
I love you Bryce and am so thankful that you picked me.
We have been pretty low on updates lately, partially because we have been lazy during our free time but mostly because we have been so busy that we haven’t had much free time! Since the last update, the Fiero has garnered a lot of attention. The most notable is making it to the New York Times:
We’ve been keeping track of the places we’ve seen the Fiero pop up and we’ll probably be making a scrap book for the Fiero soon of all the places it has shown up as well as all the pictures from building it.
I also got around to repairing the batteries and adding some battery balancing wiring recently. The battery balancing isn’t very fancy, but it allows me to make sure my two packs are balanced before I close the contactors so I don’t burn up the inverter parts again. The last string of batteries came from a local junkyard that gave me a great deal, better quality batteries and cheaper than I’ve been getting. With the fresh batteries, the car is a lot more fun to drive than the half-pack I had in Florida. Actually, with the colder outside temperatures and the fresh batteries, the front tires are really struggling for traction…I need to get something stickier on there.
I also made a big presentation to the Oregon SAE chapter recently. It went pretty well and I got a lot of positive feedback, which was nice considering that it was 50+ automotive engineering peers judging my work. If anybody cares, OSAE posted the presentation on their website; the presentation was fairly basic as I spoke with much greater detail than the slides indicate, but here’s a link for those interested:
Jessica and I decided we should get a few decent pictures of the Fiero with all the attention it has been getting, here are a few shots we got:
In between all of this, we also had another 24 hour race we participated in on Halloween. More on that soon.
Well, the car has been dropped off at the transporter in Orlando and we got back home via airplane late last night. We had some very, very bad luck with the car when we fired things up on Thursday morning. The inverter and contactors were having some weird issues when I first fired the EV system up, so I started poking around with the multimeter and checking the codes on the computer. After some poking around I found out that two of my four contactors had welded shut, which allowed battery voltage to the inverter at all times, not a good thing. I also found that the inverter had some internal issues, which I suspected was related but couldn’t pinpoint it. After pulling the inverter out of the car, I found some bad, bad news…one of the cards inside of it was smoked. This made me a very unhappy camper. Here’s what I was dealing with:
(Photo courtesy of Tom Heath, IIRC, modeling courtesy of Jessica)
I made a call to Al, who was planning on coming down in a plane in a matter of hours, and explained the situation. He jumped into action and drove to his house, grabbed his inverter and some contactors, boxed it up, and just BARELY made it to the plane in time, so we had a spare on the way. In further poking around, I found one string of batteries was low, about 25 volts lower than the other string. I came up with a theory (which later proved out true) that the contactors welded shut when I turned the system on because the healthy batteries were trying to charge the dead batteries, which caused a huge current flow long enough to weld the contactors. When I turned the system off, the contactors couldn’t break like they’re supposed to, so full pack voltage was still going to the inverter. The card that burned up is a set of resistors that bleeds the voltage off the capacitors inside the inverter (for safety) and with full battery voltage going to the inverter, the resistors overheated and burned up (probably taking the transistors with them).
So, while still waiting on Al to arrive, I started charging the dead batteries to see if they would hold a charge. I charged the handful of dead ones (all from the same Prius pack, which must not have been very healthy when I got it) but they wouldn’t hold a charge, they’d lose their charge very fast. With about ten of the 42 modules in that string unhealthy, that meant one of my two strings of batteries were now useless (without replacement batteries). Dammit! Fortunately I still had one healthy string without any bad modules, so that was good. I suspect that leaving the car locked up, windows up, in the heat, without any usage (no battery charging) caused the unhealthy cells to go dead. These batteries don’t like heat and don’t like sitting, and I suspect they weren’t very healthy to start with since these were from wrecked cars with unknown history. Lesson learned!
I finished disassembling the contactor box in the parking lot while waiting for Al to show up with parts, meanwhile I’d had a lot of people walking through the parking lot seeing the mess and asking questions. Some were impressed, some were scared I was going to hurt myself, most were drinking. I was amused with how many times I was offered a beer while I worked on the high voltage system. Yikes!
Al showed up with parts around 1 am. We transferred a bunch of stuff between my inverter and his so that this would be the exact same as mine to fit in the same package space. That went back up front and then I began the slow process of rebuilding the contactor box. One of the new-to-me contactors was slightly different and I needed a slightly longer set of screws than what I had. Amazingly, another competitor that was up at 3 am or so had one I could use. I should mention that over the weekend we had borrowed several tools and parts from several competitors; everybody was really helpful and willing to loan out tools and basic parts, that was very nice since we were especially unprepared having flown in to meet a damaged car.
By about 6 am we finally had all of the electrical together and ready for testing. It worked! The sun was just breaking and several early birds were out in the parking lot getting ready, applying stickers, and of course giving us the “You guys were out here all night?” as they walked by our car that was still in pieces. By about 8 am we had the car completely reassembled and back to normal with exception to the dead batteries that we left in the car but disconnected. I could have removed the 100 pounds of dead weight, but didn’t really want a high voltage battery left behind in the hotel room and didn’t want to have to also reinstall it before returning the car to Oregon, so I left it in there.
We got out to the track just in time for the driver’s meeting where I got an applause for “winning” the West Coast $2009 and bringing the car out for the rear $2009. After the meeting we breezed through tech inspection, then found some shade and started cleaning the car. We did a three stage wax, which went pretty quickly with a few of us working on it, then applied the stickers, which took WAY longer than I expected. The car was finally ready for the concourse by about 2 pm.
The car was still acting up as a couple of switches weren’t acting predictably. We couldn’t get the car into electric mode to go into the concourse, unfortunately, due to some technical issues and likely related to the all-nighter. Oh well, we lost a bit of flair points there. Then they stuck a microphone in my hand and told me to tell them about the car. Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!!! After pulling an all nighter and sweating my ass off prepping the car for the last 24 hours or so, I sounded like a real idiot. I tried my best to spit out something coherent, but in retrospect it wasn’t pretty. Oh well, lost of few more points because of that too, likely. About two minutes into talking about the car, Per stole the mic from me so he could talk to a news channel…that was pretty embarrassing, I attributed it to my incoherent babbling.
We were done with the concourse around 2:45 and rapidly running out of time to get some autocross runs in. There was no way we had time to get sticky tires mounted in time for the event, even though Pat had brought some down for us and we could fit them in the budget. For our first run I asked Al McCrispin to step into the car as he had been getting some great times in with other cars and he heard about the car in the morning and told us he wanted to try it out. He came back with a smile and said he was trying to use the two accelerator pedals to control the understeer/oversteer balance, but needed some practice. I took the car back and went to regen the batteries, by the time I got back Al was already stuck in some other car doing laps. Steve Hoelscher was the next hot shoe we asked to drive the car, as he’s done well with mid engined cars and was excited for a chance to drive the car, so we let him take it for a spin. His first run matched Al’s run, but he said something came loose during the run and spooked him going into a corner. Nothing big, something loose in the interior, my fault. I regen’d the batteries and tossed Steve back in the car, at this point he was cutting in line with the fun runs as it was getting late in the day. Steve cut a second off his time, down in the 35s, but this time said something else came loose in the interior. My fault, again. He said he was learning to use the throttled independently, but with the horrible tires and suspension it was still plowing bad into the corners. His fourth run was the fastest, 35.3something, he came out with a smile so that was a good sign. He said it was shocking how much it felt and sounded like a bone stock Fiero until you mashed the throttle coming out of the corners, then it would just scoot. I wished I could have had the car better prepped for him, but consider our all night thrash to get the car back up and running, I was just glad to stay out of the DNF category.
Friday night was an early night. After getting some food and wandering around the parking lot for a while, we were all to sleep by midnight. Come Saturday morning, 8 hours just didn’t seem like enough, must have been the all nighter. We got to the track a bit before 10, just as the first cars were lining up at the lights. I got the battery voltage up to a usable level and went for an easy first pass, just hoping to get a time on the books in case we had problems as the day went on. I think my first time was something like 14.9 with an 1/8 mile time that matched my best time at the West Coast $2009. Not bad for half a battery pack! As the day went on, I got a bit more aggressive with my shifts, powershifting the gas engine and leaving the electric throttle down through the whole 1/4 mile. I also slowly figured out the launches, trying to get maximum power from both the powertrains and getting all the launch I could out of the horrible all season tires. The first 1/8 mile was a blast, the car launched like a bat out of hell compared to most cars there. The 60 foot times were a pretty consistent 1.9 seconds. In the end, the last 1/4 mile pass was the fastest, 14.70 @ 81 mph. That pass had an 8.9 1/8 mile time compared to my fastest 1/8 in CA of 9.3. So, even though I was significantly down on battery power, just learning how to maximize what I had was gaining time.
It was really fun pulling ahead early on and then watching the higher power, lower weight cars slowly gain on me towards the end. The Festiva raced against me earlier in the day with a 15 mph higher trap speed, but a second slower time. I still haven’t got used to all wheels spinning when launching a Fiero…weird! I suspect that with just sticky tires and full battery power, the car probably has low 14s in it. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
The battery thing was an obvious case of bad luck…with not-so-great batteries and the steep learning curve with this stuff, it was just bad luck that we smoked part of the inverter and were down on power. Fortunately, we were able to get the EV stuff back and up running (even it wasn’t full power) and it was fun driving around the pits in EV mode. It was also a lot of fun while everybody else was pushing their car through the staging lane to stay put and creep forward with EV mode.
The Fiero didn’t win any of the competitive events. Actually, it did pretty horrible in the autocross, although I was happy with the drag and concourse scores. The feather in my cap, the thing I was hoping to win more than anything, was the best engineered trophy…and I did get that. That was definitely a proud moment. I also got the evil alliance trophy, which was a Hong Norr cap…I don’t even know the Hong folks, but I still wore the cap home with pride.
We learned a lot over the weekend. Of course, with more time, the car should be much better dialed in. I could see a top ten finish possible with some more time, luck, and attention to tuning. Now that I know how the challenge works, that alone makes a huge difference as well. I’ve got a fair bit of wiggle room left in my budget if I want to bring the Fiero back for a rematch in $2010 that would make the Fiero far more competitive, and now that the hard part is done (the EV install) that would leave a lot more time for the little details that make the big difference. Jessica and I will figure out the fate of the Fiero soon and decide what happens with this EV powertrain going forward. Part of me thinks an engine swap, dampers, bushings, and rebuilding the battery pack would have made the car a solid contender for more than , the other part of me thinks that I’ve showed the potential of this type of project and maybe I should move on to something badder, better, and faster. We’ll think on it over the next month
We should have some video and picture coming soon. I know there were several people at the event that told me they got video and pictures of the Fiero in the events, so hopefully some of that will surface soon. I was really bummed that I didn’t get more time to check out the other cars and talk to the competitors, our last minute thrash to rebuild the car took almost all of my time and energy that would normally have gone to helping others out and just shooting the bull in general. Hopefully next year I can give it another go and avoid the catastrophic issues.
It was only a few seconds, but apparently the car was on the Speed Channel on Sept. 11, sneaking into the Grand Challenge video:
It’s about 30 seconds into the youtube video.
As promised, time for more updates with pictures.
As mentioned earlier, we’ve fabbed up a battery box out of HVAC sheetmetal, so it’s pretty cheap stuff and is fairly easy to form. Aaron did most of the sheet metal work on the battery box, I can’t take credit for it.
One of the many interior pieces we had previously stripped out was the headliner, which was sagging in typical 80’s GM fashion. Jessica fixed this, very cleverly considering she had absolutely zero guidance. First she removed the foam backing which had deteriorated so that the cloth and cardboard would get as good of a bond as possible. She pinned the headliner to the cardboard at the two mirror mounting locations to keep the cloth in the same spot as it was originally, then laid down a layer of spray can glue and stuck things together as necessary. As you can see, the time has paid off as this headliner looks pretty dang good for an original 80’s GM headliner!
Some more of Jessica’s handywork, freshly repainted engine vents. The half-price trim paint we got has really come in handy, the stuff looks spot on to how it was supposed to look out of the factory.
This is what we’ve used for most of the “restoration” work we’ve done, all half priced stuff from a GI Joe’s that was closing down. GI Joe’s - great idea, poor execution. It was a camping/hunting/automotive/sports store. Basically, a man zone. RIP GI Joe’s. I’ve been really impressed with the VHT paint and the trim paint. We’ve had to lay it on a bit thin to stretch the can (for budget reasons) but it is still holding up pretty well considering the car has almost 3000 miles on it since we first sprayed it and the finishes are exactly as we’d hope for. These nozzles also work well, so it’s an all around good deal.
Not the greatest picture, but here’s a shot showing the recently detailed/repaired/repainted trim pieces. Lots of little stuff that all adds up like the air dam, mirror, quarter window (sail panel, in the Fiero world), door handles, surround trim, front emblem, wheels, etc.
Jessica is slowly getting used to the “point of no return” mods, this was her first power tool to car part experience like that. Sure, it’s only a dremel, but we all started somewhere, right? Here she’s modifying the center console so it can fit around our new battery pack.
I was so proud of my new EV cooling tubes that Jessica made me model them. The black ones are freshly painted and ready to install, the silver ones are what I started with. The tubes were only a buck each from another closing store, Linens and Things I think…not nearly as impacting as GI Joes but still good for something! I bent the tubes with my Harbor Freight pipe bender, it’s not good for much but it was good enough for this job!
Over the last few nights before the truck was shipped out, we were consuming copious amounts of caffeine. Healthy, I’m sure…thank goodness it’s only during crunch time! This was just from our last night of excitement:
Yuck! I don’t know how people drink this stuff every day, but during times like these it is the nectar of the gods! Oh yeah, and lack of sleep had us a bit loopy too. Jessica was having a little too much fun…I guess if she wanted a mustache, at least she wanted a classy mustache? She wore this mustache for at least a half hour, I couldn’t stop giggling. Perhaps you had to be there.
Not much to say here, I’ve been showing you the “how it’s made” shots all along, here’s what the under-hood looks like now (note the lack of wire explosion in the under hood and interior):
We still have a few more things we are working on, of course, but that’s all I’ve got to show for now. We’re happy with how much more we got done this week, but of course there’s ALWAYS more to be done. I hope it shows up to Florida in good shape!
I haven’t made time to post pictures lately because I’ve been swamped. Progress has been a bit slower than I had hoped it would be over the last week or so due to lots of reasons. Oh well, I keep my nose to the grindstone and do the best I can…the car has to be at the transporter on Friday so I’m really running up against the deadline, as usual. Several big projects are about 90% done and I’m hoping to finish those up tonight. It doesn’t look like I’ll have time to post pictures and more detailed updates until Friday or Saturday, after the car is dropped off. Very little of the work we’re doing now was “required” but we’re trying to improve the car as much as possible before the big show, can’t disappoint our fans!
Jessica has been a huge help again this week doing tons of detailing. She’s getting pretty good with a rattle can! The Fiero had lots of black trim pieces that were a bit worse for wear, but a can of half price “trim paint” (that we got at a hardware store that was closing it’s doors) and several hours of her attention to detail has all of the trim looking fantastic. This is yet another thing that most people won’t notice when seeing the car for the first time, but having it all look fresh instead of having chipped/peeling/faded paint is a dramatic difference. Another example where time is a big investment, but for only a few bucks the car looks MUCH better.
The interior has been getting thoroughly detailed too. Based on some comments we got in San Diego, we’ve decided to put most of the stock interior back in the car. This means regluing the (typically saggy GM) headliner and trimming some stuff around the battery boxes. We’re probably going to leave the carpet out. It doesn’t look too bad with it out (and floor mats in) and the carpet on this car is VERY heavy, probably 30 pounds. Surprising for such a small car, but it’s really nice stuff with a thick backing material, probably to help with noise insulation. Jessica is also doing most of the interior work, I guess one of the (very) few perks to her unemployment is that when I’m REALLY pinched for time she can step up and help out.
The wiring is coming along nicely. I tested things out on Monday night after I’d cut and spliced a bunch of wires for the EV system and things still worked normally…thank goodness! I have a few more details to re-wire like lights, wipers, etc. under the front hood, then I’ll finally be done with under-hood wiring. Since everybody seems to think there’s so many wires for the EV system when they’ve seen it, I’m going to great lengths to change that opinion. The EV system actually has fewer wires than the gas powertrain, so it makes my life a bit easier in trying to hide the wires.
I’m still struggling on what to do with tires. The car is currently wearing some mismatched all-seasons. I have some used up RT615s from a LeMons car that would be free to the challenge budget, but they’re arguably not much better than all-seasons with tread and I’ll probably have to pay to get them mounted (and of course my budget is getting tight). A coworker has a tire machine, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get his help before Friday for free mounting. I’m thinking I should ask Jessica to dress up in her cutest outfit and send her to the local yokel tire shop to see what the bottom dollar is for mounting, she’s got free tire patches there in the past so it’s worth a shot.
Everybody says to put the best tires on that you can afford in the budget…I wish I could track down some of those free/near-free autocross tires that I am always hearing about with challengers!
Well, I feel like I’m past due for an update. Most of the work I’ve been doing lately won’t really be noticed once it’s done, but as I’ve said before in this build, that’s the point. I want things to look like that’s just how they were supposed to be from the factory even if it means a lot more effort. One of the more time consuming “invisible” projects has been decontenting the wiring. Most of this has been for the stock Fiero harness, since I’ve got rid of TONS of stuff on the car that means I get to delete tons of wiring. The car has just enough electrical stuff left to function as a street car, but that’s it. Sure, the weight loss is nice, but this is mostly to reduce visible clutter that used to be invisible…stuff like the harness that used to hide out behind the dash that is now displaced by batteries. Here’s one of many piles of wiring I’ve created:
You guys that have stripped down a modern wire harness know how much of a hassle this is. Here’s a shot of some of the EV wiring that is being added to the front end of the car:
Since I’m modifying the harness to fit, there are a lot of splices where I’ve eliminated inline connectors or stretched wires. I think Jessica and I have probably done something like 80 splices on the car, fortunately we’re getting the process down pretty well. Those of you with keen eyes will also catch some work in progress in the backgroun. The sheet metal is part of the battery box, which is required to meet NHRA requirements for the batteries in the interior…the sheet metal is super cheap stuff sourced for home HVAC ductwork. The aluminum tubes on top of the motor are new replacements for the hodge-podge rubber hoses I had before and are not only more robust but also significantly cheaper…the tubing only cost me a couple bucks as it was previously a clothes hanging rod from a Linens and Things that was going out of business.
Here’s the latest bundle of wiring under the dash:
It looks like a disaster, but this is actually a huge improvement from the bundle I was dealing with a few weeks ago. For reference, the EV wiring is in the blue zip ties under the pedals, that huge bundle under the steering column is original GM stuff. Slowly, these harnesses are getting picked through, modified, and rerouted until they start to cleanly fit into the available spaces.
I was going through our pictures from the drive down to San Diego and got a kick out of this one:
This embodies everything that I love and hate about driving in SoCal. I love the beautiful beaches, great roads along the coast, and the usually great weather. Traffic, on the other hand, is enough to make you go nuts. That’s Rick driving in front of me in the G37, Chris was driving behind me in his Miata.
More progress updates next week. I’m running out of time before this thing gets put on a transporter so I have to stop taking things apart to “fix” them. I swear, I’ve had just about everything on this car apart and back together about ten times.
Alright, it’s official, the Fiero will be at the REAL $2009 challenge. The donations are greatly appreciated guys, I’m really impressed and flattered that so many of you care enough to speak with your pocketbooks. I’m still shy a bit towards the transport costs, but I’ll find a way to pay for it by the time the bill comes my way. IMO, this is literally what a grassroots movement is all about, so I think it’s fitting to have the Fiero in the Grassroots Motorsports challenge.
I booked the transporter today, the car will arrive in Orlando in the week prior to the challenge. Jessica and I have our flights booked to arrive Wednesday night and leave Monday, so we won’t miss any of the action.
I have been continuing to whip the Fiero into shape. The wiring continues to get stripped down and cleaned up, removing as much unnecessary clutter as possible. I also have my new coolant plumbing 80% done, which will free up a bunch of money in the budget and clean up under the hood. Jessica figured out how to reinstall as much of the stock interior as possible yesterday, which will help hide more of the batteries and give the car a more finished look inside. I’ve also been doing lots and lots of little details all over the car to iron out all of the details that I didn’t have time for before San Diego.
I’m hoping to have some update pictures in the next few days with “finished” under hood pictures. Of course, it’s never really finished, but it will be finished for now aside from cleaning/detailing. I was out of town for most of the weekend and will be again next weekend, so unfortunately the only way I’m making any more progress is by working on the Fiero during “second and third” shift. It ships out in ten days, so the clock is ticking…