Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Altered Wheel Base Story - Part 2

In 1963, more horsepower and less weight are the rule, everybody’s got a lightweight car with aluminum this and fiberglass that.  Everyone was terrified of the Z-11 427 Chevys, well except for Dick Brannan and his 63 lightweight Galaxie and the Ramchargers and their 63 Max Wedge Dodges.  Both cars won national events and held records. Pontiac had a lightweight car that they drilled holes in the frame and support structure and used aluminum exhaust manifolds that would melt if you ran the cars too long.  Ford also has another trick up its sleeve, Tasca Ford, a Rhode Island dealer, took a page from Pontiac’s book and stuffed a 427 Galaxie motor into a lightweight Fairlane.  So we have some A F/X Tempests and a Fairlane and a slew of Mopars.
In 1964 Ford commits to the cause by building 11 427 High Riser powered Fairlanes called “Thunderbolts” and sold them to selected racers. 
Mercury did the same with some Comets.  Chevy focused on NASCAR and Pontiac faded from drag racing.  Chrysler, on the other hand, unleashed hell in the form of the mighty Hemi. The 2% rule shows up in 64, the wheelbase is allowed to be altered by 2% to allow for “manufacturing variances”.  Some Chrysler guys moved their rear axle forward 3/8ths of an inch to help in weight transfer.

Up to this point things have been mostly about more horsepower, bigger motors, and lighter weight.  One of the problems that everyone encounters is traction, how to get the power to the ground.  There are several limiting factors: tires, weak transmissions, wheel hop, and weight transfer.  Tire technology was barely out of the recap era, when you could have your street tires “capped” with stickier rubber that didn’t have any tread.  Drag slicks were in their infancy and you could only get so much tire in the wheel well anyway.  Transmissions were developing at a rapid pace, 3 speeds evolved to four to give more bottom end grunt and automatic transmissions were getting better.  Chrysler cracked the code on the automatics with its “Dial-a-Win” push button transmission. 
Ford practically told the Thunderbolt drivers to use aluminum Borg-Warner T-10 4 speeds so they wouldn’t have to put its super heavy cast iron boat anchor Lincoln “Cruise-O-Matic” up against the super strong lightweight aluminum 727 trans the Chryslers had.  Wheel hop is when the tires try to get traction and then lose traction intermittently and very quickly, it causes the tires to “hop” or jump causing the car to shake violently which leads to broken parts.  By 1964 almost every car had traction bars or a pinion snubber to solve the problem.  Traction bars allowed the axle to move up and down but not twist under acceleration, they were usually just long square bars attached to the axle and then to the frame with a way to pivot up and down.  A pinion snubber was favored by Chrysler cars and is simply a rubber knob sticking up from the top of the axle housing at the center that does not allow the axle to twist forward. Both designs have advantages and disadvantages.  The last problem was weight transfer, or getting as much weight over the rear axle as possible.  One trick was to put a large truck battery in the trunk to put more weight in the back, another was the “Cowboy Rake”.  The cowboy rake is where the front of the car sits higher than the rear and was very common in the early days.  The idea was that since this was the natural motion of the car as it accelerates, it would help to get it in that position early, helping the weight to shift to the rear for traction.  Racers also used lighter springs from 6 cylinder cars and worn out shocks inn an effort to aid weight transfer.  You could also move the motor back in the chassis, which would move the center of gravity towards the rear, but that was illegal.  So if you can’t move the motor back, what if you moved the wheels forward?  By doing that you have effectively moved the motor back in relation to the chassis.  This is where the 2% rule come in, the Ramchargers moved the rear axle an inch forward on their ’63 car with great success and later in ’64 they moved the front wheels forward 3 inches and the rears 4 inches. 
This is all headed in one direction – altering the wheel base to get traction so all of the motor’s power gets to the ground.  Chrysler strikes first.
More to come, until then, keep modeling!
"Rat Fink" Ron

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Altered Wheel Base Story - Part 1

I thought I’d write a little about the altered wheel base cars that came about in the mid-sixties because of a few discussions I was involved in at a model car show the other day.  Let me start by saying that this is by no means a complete history of these cars because I’m sure the whole story is lost to time, things were changing rapidly during this era and several ideas came about in different places at about the same time.  It would be hard to say exactly who had what idea first so I’m going with the general consensus.  The story of drag racing in the early sixties is secondary to NASCAR because NASCAR sold cars, you could see your car on the track beating other cars and then go buy one the next day.  Drag racing was still a bunch of hoodlum teenagers making racket. In the late sixties that began to change as drag racing began to mature and gain a following, partly because of the stock and super stock classes that looked like the cars you could buy at the dealer, but mostly because of the show that the “funny cars” put on around the country.  Altered wheelbase cars are the embryo that grew to the fire breathing, tire smoking, flip tops that ruled the early seventies. So let’s start at the beginning.
In the beginning there were two classes of cars; stockers and dragsters.  Stockers had fenders and doors, dragsters were all motor and frame and were specially constructed to race.  Then guys began to modify their stockers a little while still staying within the rules, so to even things up a new class emerged: Super Stock.  Which was like stock with a few modifications.  This class started in about 1957 and opened the door to the idea of power to weight to set the classes.  1960 allowed any engine from that manufacturer in a car, any “non-visible” changes, and the next size larger tires. 1961 allowed floor shift conversions, ignition upgrades, and open headers. 1962 introduced the FX classes and allowed any size tire that would fit in the wheel well.  1963 set the cubic inch limit at 427.2, 1964 saw rules to keep the current model cars competing against themselves and older models in their own class, and 1965 saw the 2% wheelbase rule come about and some relaxing of the camshaft rules.  All of these changes led to some pretty wild cars by 1965, so let’s look at the effect of these rules.
In 1957, Chevy and Ford were battling on the big ovals of NASCAR with their latest hot rods: the 57 Chevy “Black Widow” with the 283 fuel injected V-8 and Ford’s 57 Supercharged 312 “Thunderbird” V-8.  Somebody figured out pretty quickly that if they were fast on the ovals, they would be pretty quick at the drags. Then came the dreaded AMA (Automobile Manufacturers Association) ban, no more hot rods were to be built by the big three.  That lasted about 15 minutes. Every manufacturer broke it repeatedly, even Chevrolet who still tries to maintain the higher moral ground.  Anyhow, in 1960 the horsepower game starts in earnest with Pontiac’s 389 Super Duty winning at Daytona and an all Pontiac final at the NHRA Nationals at Detroit.  The NHRA relocated their national event from Kansas to Detroit and the Big 3 saw an opportunity.  
Since a big drag race was right in their backyard, all the manufacturers got involved.  With its Super Duty program Pontiac also offered special lightweight aluminum bumpers, Chrysler stuck its 350 cid SonoRamic Commando motor with its long tube intake manifolds in Plymouths, Chevy stuffs its 348 cid truck engine into its passenger cars, Ford steps up its 352 cid “Police Interceptor” motor for more power. 1961 and ‘62 see improvements in power and cars begin to lose weight, but something interesting happens in 1962.  The big hulking Pontiacs shrunk to Tempest size. They stuffed a 421 cid Super Duty motor in a tiny little Tempest and ran A F/X class.  Mopar switched from full frame cars to unibody construction to save weight and began the “Max Wedge” engines that were predecessors to the Hemi.  Chevy’s 409 motor is the one to beat for a while.
Next time we'll discuss more of the evolution of drag racing and altered wheel base cars, until then keep modeling!
"Rat Fink" Ron

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gasser Madness!!

 Gassers are really popular right now, they look cool and they have a lot of room for creative building.  I really enjoy seeing gasser style builds on the table because they are fun cars that border on silly looking.  Even though they can have an element of fun to them, you have to remember, everything was done for a reason.  Racers don’t do anything to their cars just for fun, they came to win and if it doesn’t make the car go faster, they are really not interested.  The idea of racecars looking like show cars is really a modern phenomenon.  Even though you can point out the exception from back in the day, most racecars were built to race and no one cared whether they looked like show cars.  Measure it with a yardstick, mark it with chalk and cut it with a torch was the rule of the day.  So I decided to write a little primer on what is a gasser and what ain’t, er, isn’t.  Here’s a list of 20 things you should know when building a gasser.  I chose the 1965 NHRA rulebook as a guide and then went a couple of years either way to explain changes.
1.  Classes – Those letters on the window mean something, they ain’t there for decoration!  Not every car ran A/G (A gas), that was the top of the heap, a light car with lots of horsepower.  The class designations are based on the car’s weight divided by cubic inches. The reason guys ran Willys, Austins, and other assorted old coupes, is because they were lighter than the current production cars.  That’s why A/G cars are usually old classic coupes with big motors in them.  The behemoths of the 50’s are not light and no matter what you do to them short of cutting off all the body panels, they will never be as light is a car from the 30’s or early 40’s. So, if you took the same motor from “Ohio” George’s 33 and put it in a heavier car, it drops a class or so.  Superchargers moved you up a class at first, so if you ran your car in B/G and then threw a supercharger on it, you are now in A/G.  Then in 1965, they added an “S” to denote a supercharger and you ran in a separate class, such as B/GS.  To make things worse, in 66, the doubled the class letter, in this case the “B” to BB/GS, and in 67 they dropped the “S” to BB/G.  Classes went from A to H.  One of the most famous gassers was the “Flintstone Flyer”, it ran a 292 and weighted 4600 lbs and ran in E/G.   
    2.  Nose Height – Get the nose down!  The rules require that the crankshaft centerline be no more than 24 inches from the ground.  In 1/24 scale that’s about an inch, not 5 inches.  You need to understand the idea behind the high front end, it’s about weight transfer to the rear for traction.  The prevalent thinking of the day was to have the car sitting like it would while accelerating, i.e., the back end squatting. 
 3.  Rear Height – Get your butt up!  As the 60’s wore on tires got better and taller and the cars began to sit closer to level.  The rear was still a little lower than the front, but there was no “cowboy” rake to gassers by 65, and it was never all that prevalent outside the stock classes anyway. 
 4. Street Legal – These cars fall under the “Street” section of the rules, they must have all the equipment required to drive them on the street and they must be able to start on their own, which means batteries and starters, radiators, lights, and all of that cool stuff.  No body modifications unless approved, so watch the chopped tops and no altered wheelbases.
 5. Driver – must be in the stock location
 6 Roll bars – required
 7Frames – cannot be raised to gain weight transfer (channeling)
 8. Bodies – Full fenders required
 9.  Engines – only one and in the stock location
10.  Suspension – Must have one shock per wheel on a functional factory type suspension
11.  Interior – NO gutted interiors!  Rear seat is optional, buckets can replace front bench, full upholstery required.  Cars must have a passenger seat, remember, it’s a street car!
12.  Anglias – Anglias can only run a small block Chevys without a supercharger
13.  Windows – Can be replaced with plexiglass
O.K., enough of just the rules, now for the stuff that most guys did or didn’t do.  These are the things that most people think cars had on them like they were rules, but they are just common practice or not. 
14. Batteries – Big honkin’ truck batteries over the right rear wheel for ballast and to aid in traction.  The battery in the trunk puts more weight on the rear tires which improves traction on the launch, it was put over the right (passenger) side because the torque from the driveshaft causes that side of the body to “raise”, the weight helps to keep it down.  This torsional motion is what causes drag cars to lift the front left wheel first when they pull a wheelie.
15. Ladder bars – Long “ladder bars” were common in the 60’s to help keep the rear axle from “winding up” on launch and when shifting.  In short wheelbase gassers they often connected to the transmission cross member.  Until the later 60’s they were made from 1 piece of  large square tube and had a pivot on both ends to facilitate rear axle movement in an arc but limit axle twist.  The idea comes from the “wishbone” design of 30’s cars and the later habit of hot rodders to put “split ‘bones” on their cars.  The “ladder bars” most people think of are a much later design, the long triangle shape with the zig-zag reinforcing that looks like a ladder.  These became popularized on “Street Freaks” in the 70’s. 
16. Straight Axles – Straight axles on a sky high “gasser” just looks cool!  But not as common as you think.  By the time the straight axle craze was taking off, the Funny cars were taking over.  Early gassers ran stock suspensions and it just so happens that the old 30’s cars had straight axles on them stock.  There are light, strong, easy and work really great in a straight line.  By the time later body styles were getting in to the gasser act, the class was dying.  “Ohio” George modified his Willys chassis to accept a 67 Mustang body, so it had a straight axle.  Later gassers looked like little funny cars.  The “Street Freaks” movement in the 70’s made people think that all gassers were jacked up to the sky with a straight axle under them, it’s not how it was.
 17. Tunnel Ram Intakes – Nope.  These are a Pro Stock item, they belong in the 70’s.  The first commercially available tunnel ram intake was in ’68, there were some around before then, but they were rare.  These were more common on “Street Freaks” than real gassers. 
 18. White Wall Slicks – White Walls were done by 1962, if your car has anything post 1962 do not put white walls on it, it just looks wrong.  I know you can find exceptions out there, but it’s wrong.  In 1959 tire makers started making “pinwalls” which are the narrow white wall tires from the 70’s you remember.  Everybody had to have them and the “gangster walls” quickly fell out of fashion, then the raised white letter tires took over from there.  Another thing to remember, slicks back in the day were recaps, nobody spent the bucks on white walls except the top teams. 
19. Modern Stuff – AHHHHH! I hate this!  Even factory funny cars didn’t run AN fittings and braided line at this time.  Billet fuel pressure regulators came around much later than the gasser era.  Big tube welded pro mod headers don’t fit either.  Billet valve covers are out, finned covers were the coolest thing ever back then and chrome was king! Billet wheels are out too. Most guys ran steelies, especially on the rear.  Real magnesium slotted wheels were common for those that could afford them and Cragar S/S’s came out about 65. 
20. Scrub Line – The scrub line is an imaginary line from the bottom of each wheel rim to all of the other wheel rims.  Nothing can be below this line and be legal for competition.  As a matter of fact, if it’s too close you can’t run.  The idea is if you blow a tire the only thing that should make contact with the track is the wheels, anything else is dangerous.  No header tubes, no ladder bars, no steering arms, no body panels. Nothing.
Last thing I want to mention, rear bumpers were often hollow tubes that could be filled with water or cement to add weight to “make the minimum”.  This way you added weight where it did the most good, water could also “accidently” leak out in the pits after a weigh in.  Barbell weights were also common in the trunk of gassers for the same reason. 

            There’s my little primer on gassers for you, it’s not complete and the rules changed from year to year.  I picked 65 because it’s right in the middle of the era.  If you have any questions, let me know!

“Rat Fink” Ron

Saturday, January 17, 2015

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

After stealing a line from an old song I thought I'd share a few things I really like concerning the modeling hobby.  First up is snow, I love it when it snows so much (or not so much) that you can't or won't go out and do anything.  I love to be snowed in with all day to build models.  There's nothing quite like a cold day when you can spend all day hibernating at the workbench building.  Another favorite is reading model magazines, especially ones that show techniques that I have never tried.  I love reading about how others accomplished the really cool effects and excellent build quality.  Even though I'm a car and figure modeler, I love to read military modeling magazines because those guys really strive for realism in their builds.  They try to build exact replicas of a specific vehicle at a specific time and place, car modelers rarely do that.  Car guys either build something they just made up, or they build it "close enough" to a vague idea of a race car during a year's time.  If car guys do any weathering, they build a junker: as if cars are either sparkling show cars or complete pieces of crap, there is no in between.
I like having quality tools to do the job right.  I think this comes from my 1:1 car.  One of the things I learned pretty early on is that the proper tool makes any job quicker and easier, the same goes for modeling.  Quality tools with adequate storage and work space is a recipe for success.  I recently bought a jeweler's drill press and it has made my work more accurate and much faster than the old hand held pin vice.  I also like my model display room a lot.  I think it's because not everyone has that luxury to have a room where they can have all of their built models on display and have all of their modeling awards hanging on the wall.  Technically, it's my "office", but hey, my models are on the walls.  I think our cat spends more time in there than anyone, so I like to think she is admiring my builds, or sleeping.  Probably just sleeping.
The last thing on my list is contests.  I really enjoy hanging out with other modelers and checking out their work.  I like discussing new techniques and new ideas for builds.  I like IPMS shows because I get to see other types of models, not just cars.  I also get to talk to guys with other interests that build things differently.  I like model car shows because I get to see other guys cool stuff and sit around and talk cars.  The shopping doesn't hurt either.
Well, I'm off to my workbench to do some more work on my '62 T-Bird.
"Rat Fink" Ron

Monday, January 12, 2015

In Retrospect

I just finished up a long term project (one of several) that I started last year and I was pretty happy to get it done.  I reveled in the joy that comes with a completed project, I worked very hard to get it just right.  During the build I made sure that every detail was as perfect as I could get them. I labored over scratchbuilding parts and correcting flaws in bodywork, this would be the one, the most perfect I could build with the coolest details.  I took it to our local club meeting where it was met with approval and got lots of recognition, I was pretty proud.  What more could a modeler ask than the approval of his peers, life was good; until.
Until what? What happened to turn this moment of bliss into tortured regret? Did said model fall from some height and become damaged? Was there a liquid glue spill that damaged the model beyond repair? Did a spray can of fuchsia paint explode nearby? Nope, none of those things happened. What did happen was that I looked at it and began critiquing it.  The headers are wrong, the front axle assembly could be better, the roll bar doesn't connect to the frame properly, and I should have scratchbuilt the rear springs out of brass.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I tend to do this all the time with my models, I always think that they are not that good.  I tend to focus on the negatives of the build instead of the positives and it comes across when I talk about my builds.  I rarely can just point out the positives, just the negatives.
The upside to this self-critiquing is that it helps me build better models the next time.  It challenges me to try new techniques and push the limits of my building, which leads to improved builds over time.  It can also lead to projects getting mired in a state of very slow progress which can lead to a loss of interest in the project.  The other problem is without progress it is very easy to get distracted with other things, especially in the summertime.  My big red Ford is too much fun to leave sit all summer, so stalled projects come to a complete standstill in the summer usually.  Well, back to the bench!
"Rat Fink" Ron

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Trying Something New

Last year I tried out some new building techniques on a 1957 Ford Gasser and I found that I really enjoyed them.  I built a front axle, leaf springs and steering linkage out of aluminum, stainless tubing and flat stock.  I had a good time doing it so I built some headers out of copper wire and did some soldering, something I have limited skill with.  Like most things soldering takes practice so I'm confident that I will improve.  On my latest build I'm going to use brass for several suspension parts so soldering has become more important.  It also amazes me how much I like making parts and creating assemblies from scratch.  It's also pretty cool how real they look, much better than kit parts.  To me that has become the fun, seeing how I can "improve" a kit with scratchbuilt parts.
One of the first things I figured out was that I needed tools to work with other materials.  I've noticed how model car guys will spend $100 to buy a bunch of kits and cheap out when it comes to tools.  We all have 100+ kits in the stash that we have thousands of dollars invested in, but heaven forbid we skip a few purchases and buy some quality tools.  I've been guilty of it and I recently decided to spend some cash on tools so I bought a lathe and then a jeweler's mini drill press. The lathe is kind of a luxury item for now until I really develop my building skills, but the drill press became a necessity after spending several hour drilling holes in brass by hand and then working the cramp out of my hand.  Pin vices are not designed to be used for long periods of time.  I'm also thinking a need a better way to cut brass and aluminum other than a miter box and hand saw.  Also on the wish list is a mill, but I'll have to wait at least a year to save up the money.
So my goal is to have a miniature machine shop in my basement and to build some pretty cool stuff.  I'm as concerned about winning contests as I am about really having fun building.  The scratchbuilding bug has bit me and I like where I'm headed with it.  The photos are of my latest project, a 1962 T-Bird AWB Gasser that I'm building a straight axle front suspension and leaf springs.  After looking at how cool it looks I guess I'm going to do the rear suspension too. Until next time.
"Rat Fink" Ron

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Setting Up Shop

I recently moved and along with all of the joy that it brings there is also a ton of work that goes along with it.  Being a modeler brings certain challenges to the game such as the extra 10 or 12 giant boxes of unbuilt models, or the dozens of delicate built models you need to transport, or the set up at the new digs.  My new house has a good sized basement with lots of room for a model workshop and luckily my better half has no issues with what I do with the basement.  Now I know what you're thinking, "how is this even an issue?" sometimes too much choice makes a decision harder.
So I started with my 6 ft workbench I had at the old house in the corner, then I put my spray booth close to the window so it could be vented outside.  I then decided that I needed a small table beside the spray booth to "prep" the paint, so I used the 2 ft section I had cut off my workbench for that.  Of course the compressor has to go near the spray booth and a set of shelves to store paint and other stuff should be close to the painting area so I had to put those up.  I also needed shelves to put all of my kits on so I used the longest empty wall for that.  I put up 3 10 ft shelves thinking that would be enough space for my kits with room for growth, but I barely fit all of the kits I have.  More building and less buying is in the plan.  I also needed wall space for pegboard to hang all of my detail parts up, so I put that on the wall opposite from my kits.  Since I recently bought a lathe I needed someplace for that, and since you can never have too much work space, I built a 15 ft workbench under the pegboard.  There was already some shelves on the wall so I left them there.  So basically, my shop is set up as a giant "U" with a lot of empty space in the middle.
The last thing was electrical.  I needed more light and more plugs so I put a 4 ft. florescent light above every work station and a outlet every 3 ft around the perimeter.  You can never have too many plugs! I think I covered everything, but as I learned at my last house, no matter how well you think you planned it out, your needs will change.  I still have a few things left to do and some painting here and there, but I think I'm ready to be done moving and constructing the shop and start using it to build models.
"Rat Fink" Ron