$2007: A Zamboni Odyssey

“Also sprach Zarathustra”—the epic bars of this tone poem are profundity’s theme song, the soundtrack to giant leaps for humankind.

Famously known for being the musical motif in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (and described by many as “that song that goes ‘bum…bum…bum…BUM-BUM!’”), the melody conjures images of an advanced era of sleek furnishings and metallic sportswear, of a dark hemisphere of the earth turning to meet the blazing sunrise, of a spacecraft plunging ever farther into the black and lonely depths of our galaxy, of—a Zamboni?

While this Zamboni might not be a benchmark of technological progress on par with the space shuttle, it did mark a new step forward for humankind: It was the first time ever that someone entered an ice resurfacer in the Kumho Tires Grassroots Motorsports $200X Challenge presented by eBay Motors and CDOC. The Zamboni was prepared to take on mere mortal vehicles—Miatas, CRXs and the like—in an autocross, concours and drag race competition that stipulates a strict budget cap of $2007 for the total cost of each vehicle.

When this specimen was unveiled from its trailer amidst a rolling fog (care of a fog machine), the Tennessee team of Lee Graser, Shaun Hinds, Stan Hinds and Jim Stockburger knew precisely how to mark this momentous occasion: They blared “Also sprach Zarathustra” from a set of speakers. Scott Hinds acted as the Zamboni’s ambassador, sporting a Fu Manchu mustache and a hockey uniform, spreading his arms before the creation as if to say to his fellow Challenge competitors, “We come in peace, but we come to win.”

Open the Pod Bay Doors

The best parts of both a Mustang and a Miata lurk under the hood, yet the contraption still wore a Zamboni’s face.

To understand the origins of this odyssey, you must first understand Rule 5 in the Grassroots Motorsports Challenge rulebook: “Production-based passenger cars only. No kit cars, dune-buggies or formula-type cars. The exception to this is Zambonis, which will be allowed to enter.”

“We often joked about the Zamboni option that the Challenge rules mentioned,” Lee explains. “‘Ha-ha! A friggin’ Zamboni—yeah right!’” But once one of these ice smoothers came into reach, the idea became serious—but not too serious.

So, how do you buy a Zamboni? Give you three guesses. Here’s a hint: You can also use the same method to buy a grilled cheese sandwich bearing the image of the Virgin Mary. Yep, eBay. Granted, the team was on the lookout from a number of sources. “We all followed eBay, local traders, craigslist, shade trees, barn backs, etc. for unusual cars,” Lee explains.

The majority of the Zambonis on the market were too expensive for a Challenge budget. However, “Zambonies” were another story. Shaun cleverly used the misspelling as a search term. A ran-when-parked 1959 “Zambonie” with a current bid of $100 was among his search results, and thanks to the misspelling it had very few bidders. Another popular eBay strategy drove the Zamboni into the team’s clutches: They placed their final bid with less than a minute left in the auction. Strategy paid off, and the team had the winning bid at $323.13.

Next question: How do you haul a 4000-plus-pound ice resurfacer with an inoperable clutch 500 miles to get it home? Apparently it’s a pretty difficult process. Step one is to get it on the flatbed hauler. For Lee, this meant a lonely three-hour battle with a dead stick, frozen wheels and a broken winch handle.

Once you’ve got that handled, lug the sucker down the highway at 45 mph. Again, this was no easy task for a one-man Zamboni rescue squad. Aside from dramatically increased stopping distances and strange looks from the surprising number of people who’ve never seen a hockey game, there was another problem.

“Twenty miles into the trip I notice a wad of cars in both lanes built up behind me,” Lee recalls. “Where did they all come from and why are they wadded up in both lanes? What is that I see in the mirror—chunks of black stuff in the air? I have a tire disintegrating, spittin’ chunks everywhere. Everybody is afraid to pass for fear of all the rubber shrapnel.”

Lee had a spare tire for the trailer, but the trouble didn’t end there. Since the Zamboni’s ice auger was in the “off” position, it was free to swing from side to side—and jam the trailer’s fender right into one of its tires. Along with a tire change, tying back the auger with some rope solved the problem.

HAL, Do You Read Me?

The team’s Zamboni Model K560 came with an air-cooled V4 and a four-wheel-drive suspension that used Jeep mechanicals. To transform this machine into a competition racer, the first step was to lighten the load by removing the ice resurfacing equipment, which included a 200-plus-gallon water tank and a 400-plus-gallon ice tank. Next, the team decided that some V8 motivation was in order.

Luckily, 5.0-liter V8 power was waiting for them in a Knoxville front yard. Lee came across a wrecked 1988 Mustang GT “4 sale”; the owner explained that it didn’t run and “may be froze up.”

For a wrecked car, the Mustang was extremely intact and actually in good working order—that is, once Matt Zorvan, Lee’s buddy and local expert on all things automotive, reset the impact switch. After that, the car ran quite well, producing a crisp note and a smooth idle. Along with the engine, the team salvaged the wiring harness as well as the injection components, pedal setup and steering parts.

But to turn a Zamboni into an autocrosser and drag racer, they needed more. Where to get a steering rack and assembly?

The team considered going with Mustang components similar to a Factory Five Cobra replica, but they scrapped the idea due to the relatively slow steering ratio. They decided instead to buy a Miata parts car to take advantage of the model’s strength, light weight and wide availability.

They found a Miata hulk at an obscure body shop and figured that buying the entire car would be less expensive than individually sourcing all of the needed components. After three or four exhausting months spent tracking down the car owner—Lee calls it “sweat equity”—the Miata donor was theirs, and for free. In return, the team had to remove the engine, transmission and front clip and return it to the shop. The remainder, including the needed steering gear, could be used on the Zamboni.

Godspeed

Recycled motorcycle shocks have become all the rage among Challengers. Team Zamboni capitalized on the small size by mounting the coil-over unit out of the way and using pushrod actuators.

So, here’s the short response to the question, “What the heck is that thing?” This is a cut, welded and screwed compilation of scrap steel aluminum, a Mustang, a Miata and, of course, a Zamboni.

The machine rides on Mustang wheels, motorcycle shocks and tires sourced from a throwaway pile. The Zambo’s authentic chassis was reinforced thoroughly with tubing that once formed a greenhouse, and the frame rails were shortened a bit to mate with the Miata subframes. An old Capri contributed its radiator to the project.

The team replaced the water tank with a second driver’s seat, complete with roll cage and full controls. This second driving position is revealed when the ice scraper and top half of the body shell are removed. In just a few minutes, the upright Zamboni becomes a low-slung, single-seat special—like a Locost variant but with some interesting DNA.

The team had originally planned on entering the $2006 Challenge, but life got in the way. “In true GRM Challenge style, the first thing we wanted to do was make sure that we didn’t end up with a lot of extra time on our hands after finishing the car build,” Lee explains.

The $2006 Challenge came and went, so they set their sights on the $2007 competition—hey, an extra dollar for the budget, right? Well, they didn’t need it, as they only spent a total of $1733.86 on the entire project; most notably, the team managed to completely recoup the costs of the Zamboni and Mustang by selling unneeded parts. In accordance with Challenge rules, however, they could only apply $1003.50 of the recouped money to the budget.

They completed the Zamboni and had it on the trailer at 11 p.m. the night before the competition in Gainesville, Fla.—and they weren’t sure it would run once it got there.

Fire, Wind, Water, Heart

Team members Shaun Hinds, Todd Hinds, Lee Graser, Scott Hinds, Gene Hinds, Jim Stockburger and Stan Hinds went all out with the hockey theme. It’s all about the hair.

When the team first arrived at the Challenge venue in Gainesville, they tried driving the Zamboni around the parking lot. It survived long enough to cruise into the concours pavilion for judging. The Zamboni hit it big in this portion of the competition, scoring 93.75 points out of a possible 100 and landing in second place in the category. Thanks to Scott’s idea of the hockey player motif—never underestimate the power of a mullet—the team also received the Best Visual Package award.

However, the drag race and autocross portions of the competition didn’t work out so well. Soon after the concours, heat from the header had melted the Zamboni’s plug wires and plug caps. The result? Fires—plural. Two sets of flames arose from under the Zambo’s hood.

The team quickly extinguished the fires and sourced new wires while their competitors took to the cones. However, dark clouds loomed. When the Zamboni finally fired up, the rain started coming down, and the creation only managed three soaking wet, dog slow runs through the autocross course. Meanwhile, the drag race portion of the event was canceled due to the conditions.

But no worries, Zamboni fans. While fire and rain put a damper on its glorious debut, Lee assures us that this legendary ice resurfacer will return for another Challenge someday. The odyssey continues.

Budget Sheet
Bought
1959 Zamboni (scrap metal, rear steering wheel and throttle linkage) $323.13
1988 Ford Mustang GT (engine, transmission, driveshaft) $875.00
1992 Mazda Miata suspension and brake components free
used Mercury Capri radiator $20.00
motorcycle shocks from eBay $53.43
gauges $16.00
wheels and tires $425.81
wheel adapters $167.50
valve covers $28.72
front steering wheel $15.40
leaky fuel cell $18.72
O-rings to repair fuel cell $0.95
used fuel pump $19.40
rattle can paint $78.40
aluminum sheets for body panels $112.50
rusty roll cage pieces $75.00
square tubing $161.17
partial gasket set $49.92
serpentine belt $16.85
serpentine belt idler $12.00
temp. sensor adapter fitting $27.00
plug wires and rotor cap $17.90
remote oil filter assembly $16.50
used rod ends $19.96
used air filter $10.00
used nitrous kit $128.72
misc. exhaust tubing $47.38
total spent $2737.36
Sold
Zamboni engine, transmission, axles, hydraulic pumps, controls, and 40 gallons of hydraulic fluid -$323.13
Mustang body shell -$500.00
rear axle, interior, wheels -$375.00
total recouped (budget capped) -$1003.50
total budget $1733.86
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Comments

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ansonivan
ansonivan Dork
3/4/09 9:30 a.m.

Nice writeup.

stk_88_ef
stk_88_ef New Reader
10/18/09 8:32 p.m.

I remember when they rolled that thing out, I was really confused and excited at the same time! Then when they took the body off it made a lil more since...

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