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Cut-Rate Rallycrosser — Part 3: Breaking and Braking


Story By Per Schroeder

Getting towed home always seems to yield plenty of time for reflection: What went wrong, and how can that mistake be avoided next time?

Such was the case with our Neon ACR. Our rejuvenated Neon had just 6 miles under its belt before the junkyard-sourced engine clattered to a stop. Our frustration was palpable as we unhooked the car from its leash and rolled it into the garage for teardown.

Head Games

By the time our engine was on its fourth different cylinder head, we decided to go one step further and install some Crane camshafts and AEM’s adjustable cam gears.

By the time our engine was on its fourth different cylinder head, we decided to go one step further and install some Crane camshafts and AEM’s adjustable cam gears.

We diagnosed the car with a case of bent valves caused by a skipped timing belt. However, we still had some questions as to why the engine came unglued in such a spectacular fashion.

We found the answer when we removed the camshafts. The journals were scored and we saw evidence of galling, indicating that the bearing caps weren’t correctly lined up as they were bolted down. We were told that this head had its original cam caps, but looking back we’re going to assume that wasn’t quite the case. The breakdown was frustrating, but at least we knew that our problem was isolated to the cylinder head.

We sourced another used head from the classifieds section of Neons.org; the seller sent it our way after assuring us of its good condition. Unfortunately, we were in for another letdown: This head came poorly packaged in a cardboard box. It was also devoid of all of its camshaft bearing caps, making it completely useless.

After attempting to reason with the seller via some carefully worded e-mails, we gave up and found yet another head for the car, this time with more detailed pictures and references. This head—now the fourth one to date—was carefully checked over before we bolted it to our block.

Since we wanted slightly more power than stock, we figured that a little more camshaft would help. We installed a pair of Crane Cams in their No. 12 grind, which promised streetable manners, good idle and strong performance above 4000 rpm. We also bolted on a pair of AEM adjustable cam gears to help with the later dyno tuning—assuming we could keep the car together that long.

A Literal Shakedown

We buttoned everything together without issue and crossed our fingers as we turned the ignition key. The Neon fired up and our new performance camshafts made themselves known. The idle sounded healthy, if a bit lopey.

We completed our first trip around town with a cell phone and tow strap at the ready. We are normally quite optimistic about the cars and engines that we build—perhaps to a fault—but this one felt jinxed. Hoodoo aside, the car ran great and we became more and more confident in its ability to move forward.

Some durability testing was also on the schedule, and that meant hitting a few rough dirt roads. We shook the car as much as we could to see if anything would fall off. While the bumpy washboard surfaces severely rattled the car, we could feel the Neon’s ACR-spec suspension doing its job well, soaking up the bumps with aplomb. Our hopes for rallycross competitiveness were soaring.

Mucky Brakes

Mushy brakes gave us a great excuse to upgrade. We chose Carbotech pads that were both autocross and rallycross friendly, as well as drilled and slotted rotors from RacingBrake.

Mushy brakes gave us a great excuse to upgrade. We chose Carbotech pads that were both autocross and rallycross friendly, as well as drilled and slotted rotors from RacingBrake.

The engine pulled nicely, but the brakes weren’t holding up their end of the bargain. We needed brakes that could be feathered in some sections and pounced on in others, all while exhibiting good, strong bite right out of the starting gate. After a few hard applications, we realized that the original brakes weren’t going to cut it.

While the firm brake pedal assured us that the hydraulics were in good condition, the car just didn’t want to slow down all that well. We blamed the no-name brake pads that came on our car and ordered something much better: Carbotech’s XP8 compound.

These pads promised quick warmup, good pedal modulation and strong brake torque capabilities—the exact traits we required. The Carbotech pads set us back about $260 for all four corners of the car.

We also needed new rotors since ours were too thin to turn down. Our options were either to replace the rotors with stock parts or upgrade to different equipment. Big rotor and caliper upgrades didn’t interest us, as we wanted to continue using the original 14-inch wheels for our rallycross tires. We went with a stock-sized rotor that had been slotted and drilled.

We know, we know, in the past we have stated that drilled rotors don’t actually do much for braking performance, but hear out our reasoning: We weren’t interested in dry road braking performance; we needed help dealing with wet and dirty rotors.

Wary of cheap, poor-quality rotors, we stepped up and ordered a full set of RacingBrake drilled and slotted rotors for the Neon. They were priced at $93 each for the fronts and $82 apiece for the rears.

Driving Daily

Now that we could reliably stop and go, we started driving the ACR to the office on a daily basis. It wasn’t long before a co-worker noticed a funny smell emanating from the car.

After some personal jokes, we figured the stench was coming from the fresh brakes—after all, we were still bedding in the new Carbotech pads.

During a return trip, the alternator light blinked on and a corresponding bulb went on inside our heads. Was that smell connected to the now-glowing battery symbol on the dash?

Our hunch was correct. An inspection underneath the engine revealed that the alternator’s positive lead was completely burned off, and the end of the harness was scorched. The culprit was likely an internal short within the alternator. We ordered a rebuilt unit from RockAuto for $133. After bolting it up, we were ready to rumble once more.

We’re anxiously awaiting our next rallycross here in Florida. We think we’ve worked out the bugs on our newly revived Neon, but we’re still crossing our fingers and collecting good luck charms. Hopefully we’ve exorcized its demons for good.

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Comments

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Tooocool49723
Tooocool49723 New Reader
2/27/12 11:10 a.m.

So who's gonna be the first one to post a Dodge joke? (Daily Overhauls Do Get Expensive) :p

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