How Do You Build Tolerance to Project Car Chaos?


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I’m multitasking a bit while writing this column. In between typing incomplete sentences and fart jokes, I’m removing the entire suspension of our C5 Z06 project car so we can send it out for some fancy modifications.

Right now I’m technically half done: The car still has its rear suspension but no front suspension to speak of. While I’ve owned a C5 before, I’ve never really done more than install shocks, so it’s fair to say that this is the first time I’ve had a C5 suspension completely apart. At some point I’ll have to reassemble it, too.

The thing is, that prospect doesn’t intimidate me anymore. I mean, I work for a car magazine and build and write about project builds, so I guess you’d be offended if I said it did. But at this point, I’ve taken apart and put back together enough suspensions of various designs and configurations that it feels natural. Comfortable even. I can look at a bolt or a nut sitting in a disorganized pile and tell you which pivot point it fastens or what component it allows to move–or prevents from moving.

[Pause here for a second while I walk back out to the shop and organize that pile of nuts and bolts a little before I tear into the rear suspension. I mean, I’m comfortable, but I also understand the karmic pitfalls of hubris.]

Obviously I haven’t always been this confident ripping into stuff, and I’m not too proud to admit to a list of jobs that still give me pause. Before I installed the ring and pinion in our Mustang GT project, I had never taken apart a rear end before. I watched Jamie Bell install ours originally at Steeda–and actually paid decent attention–so when I decided that the rear end ratio wasn’t ideal, I also decided to perform my first rear end surgery.

And whaddyaknow, it went pretty well. After reassembly, the car moved both forward and backward under its own power, and it was immensely satisfying.

At this point in my life, I have to say there’s very little I haven’t done, but I’m still a little shy in approaching certain jobs–bodywork, for example. The skill and patience with which body fabricators shape and blend metal, plastic and paint astound me. Patience is a thing I do not possess, and my bodywork skills are basically limited to “make that thing touch (or not touch) that other thing.” Paint? Forget about it. If you can’t put a sticker on it, it’s dead to me.

What really intimidates me, though, is integration. Like, I’ve probably done every job necessary to nearly completely restore a car, but never all at once. I can take a suspension off and put it back on, or remove and replace an engine or transmission, but separating those subsystems and then reintegrating them into a cohesive whole is another story. I look at the restorations Tim does–especially the Lotus Elan project, where he didn’t even have the luxury of starting with an entire car–and I’m in awe of the holistic thinking they require.

I’ve disassembled and reassembled stuff, but there’s always been a “car” there willing to accept or lose the parts. I’m not sure what I’d do if I ever disassembled something to the point where it was no longer a car.

So what’s your limit? And how did you go about incrementally raising it? I’m not saying I want to undertake a complete restoration for my next endeavor (again, back to that patience thing), but it would be nice to hear how people have increased their tolerance and bravery for creating mechanical chaos and then restoring order once again.

Okay, now that rear suspension needs to come on out of there. Back to work.

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Tyler H
Tyler H UltraDork
5/3/18 12:19 p.m.

My advice, which is easier to give than take, is to write yourself a scope of work and break the project plan into chunks.  This is where an old whiteboard in the shop comes in handy.  

I'd go with a 4'x6'.  Write the parts you need, any outside vendor work, and a high level task list.  And ultimately a start date and completion date.   If you're really brave, you can track your cost and budget too.  Also, I do a tool reset and clean up the floor and bench daily.  This helps me combat feeling overwhelmed.

Chunk up the sub-assemblies into separate projects. 

So yeah....whiteboard and cash mainly.

Bob the REAL oil guy.
Bob the REAL oil guy. MegaDork
5/3/18 12:27 p.m.

In reply to Tyler H :

That was the original plan with the truck. Both for sanity and wellness of the checkbook. Sadly, the more I tore into 40 year old awesomeness I discovered 40 years of crap to go with it.

Tyler H
Tyler H UltraDork
5/3/18 12:41 p.m.

Another one -- when it stops being fun, hang it up for the day.

NOHOME
NOHOME UltimaDork
5/3/18 12:47 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

...but it would be nice to hear how people have increased their tolerance and bravery for creating mechanical chaos and then restoring order once again.

If you want to see it happening in real-time, just look up the Molvo thread: In over my head from the day it started but I refuse to quit. While I would say that the fear of complete failure has plateaued, the fear of it not being good enough is starting to replace it.

I think Mr Musk is doing the same thing on a more grandiose scale

 

Pete

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt PowerDork
5/3/18 12:50 p.m.

Well, I got started as a kid when I found out how much fun it was to take things apart.

Eventually I learned it was possible to put things back together too.

NOHOME
NOHOME UltimaDork
5/3/18 1:03 p.m.

In reply to MadScientistMatt :

I got started as a kid when I found out how much fun it was to take things apart.

 

Yeah...what is up with that? Same sickness here. I don't recall wanting to put stuff back together, just being compelled to take stuff apart.

Dusterbd13
Dusterbd13 MegaDork
5/3/18 1:04 p.m.

I keep the thought of "what do i want to own" vs "what do i want to build" in the front of my mind. It helps curb my tendancy to go way too far because i just want to build something. 

That said, i use a piece of butchers paper on the windshield to keep track of tasks, ideas, and details. As a bonus, it somewhat protects the glass from welding and grinding damage.

I also try to set milestones. Painted and finished sub assemblies. Fab work done. Engine fitted. Stereo witks and sounds good.

Try to treat the whole as one subassembly at a time. Much easier to manage a simple frame off restoration that way. With hevy fabrication projects like the molvo, the dirt track hack amc, or tbe gmiata, that doesn't work so well due to the scope. Those i try to tackle. Y layer. What cant move? What absolutely has to live in that exact spot? Do tbose first, and then work your way up.

Cousin_Eddie
Cousin_Eddie Reader
5/3/18 2:04 p.m.

I never "come back and finish it later" or "good enough for now". Every single time I finish something to completion regardless of what hardship it imposes. I currently have a car down in my shop waiting on a single little gasket from Rhode Island. I could maybe cludge something ip, but it has to be completely right for me to sleep at night so I wait.

DeadSkunk
DeadSkunk PowerDork
5/3/18 5:14 p.m.

I took apart the whole front subframe and suspension for a Miata today. We'll see if it ever gets put back together. My imagination often outpaces my abilities.

Marjorie Suddard
Marjorie Suddard General Manager
5/3/18 5:20 p.m.
NOHOME said:

In reply to MadScientistMatt :

I got started as a kid when I found out how much fun it was to take things apart.

 

Yeah...what is up with that? Same sickness here. I don't recall wanting to put stuff back together, just being compelled to take stuff apart.

Yeahhhh. I was probably 6 or 7 when I got ahold of my grandfather’s pocket watch and took it apart (my mom sewed, so she kept some ideally sized tools with her machine). She was not pleased to see watch guts spread all over the floor. She was even less pleased when she realized that’s what they were.

Margie

dropstep
dropstep SuperDork
5/3/18 5:35 p.m.

When a weekend turbo 2.3 swapped turned into rebuilding everything in the car because I was too lazy to look it over better before purchase. That pretty well ended my fear of everything except spring compressors. Too this day I hate dealing with front springs on a fox chassis car. For the sake of budget and keeping the car on the road I tend to do the zephyr in bits and peices. Right now I have most of the parts for the suspension and brake upgrades.

Streetwiseguy
Streetwiseguy UltimaDork
5/3/18 7:55 p.m.

 

Two and a half years.  Budget constraints are one thing, but Holy Crap, is it a daunting task to keep from just saying, "Too much.  Can't do it."  The top picture is the complete purchase...It sat in a wrecking yard for at least a decade.  Probably two.  I bought it in 02, started working on it in 15.

And I am still $10k and a thousand hours from the level of perfection I expect, so I'm gonna follow Frieburgers advice, and "Drive My Junk."

NOHOME
NOHOME UltimaDork
5/3/18 9:49 p.m.

In reply to Streetwiseguy :

Build thread?

Crackers
Crackers Dork
5/3/18 10:22 p.m.

I cut my teeth on big jobs. 

The first big job I was included in was stripping a 60's Olds and turning it into a demo derby car. 

Second was the complete disassembly of a 70 Chevelle so it could be caged for circle track use. (And still sits only 90% finished)

Then a different 70 Chevelle rolling chassis that we got with the roof ratchet strapped onto the 3/4 finished roll cage that actually got finished and saw a fair amount of track time. 

By the time I was old enough to drive I'd already done the majority of several restorations. 

It took some time before I realized completely stripping a car was not the normal way to do things. 

Patrick
Patrick MegaDork
5/4/18 7:18 a.m.

I just sit there in my chair and stare at the car when I get overwhelmed.  Sometimes I rock back and forth and mumble to myself.  

Aaron_King
Aaron_King PowerDork
5/4/18 9:05 a.m.

My trick is to not start.  I have a 64 Spitfire sitting in the back of my garage, it has been there for @ 17 years.  It was my first car, purchased in Reno and brought back to Ohio when my Dad got out of the Army.  Ohio and a young kid who didn't know any better has not bee kind to the car and it needs a lot of rust repair.  Every so often I get a bug and start making a list but then either something more immediate comes up or I worry about the cost and so it sits.

On the bright side my 10 ear old has really gotten into cars lately and is bugging me to start on it, maybe this summer.

loumash
loumash New Reader
5/4/18 9:45 a.m.

In reply to dropstep :

I use a braided steel cable with a loops on both ends that I then threaded through the spring and the control arm.  I used a bolt and washers to join it.  That when I pry out the spring, it wont launch and decapitate me.  Works good with a lowering spring on a fox mustang.  

dropstep
dropstep SuperDork
5/4/18 10:21 a.m.
loumash said:

In reply to dropstep :

I use a braided steel cable with a loops on both ends that I then threaded through the spring and the control arm.  I used a bolt and washers to join it.  That when I pry out the spring, it wont launch and decapitate me.  Works good with a lowering spring on a fox mustang.  

Think I'll try that. Last time I used a ratchet strap and on the second spring the ratchet released and took a chunk out of my friends leg.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
5/4/18 10:40 a.m.
Streetwiseguy said:

 The top picture is the complete purchase...It sat in a wrecking yard for at least a decade.  Probably two.  I bought it in 02, started working on it in 15.

And I am still $10k and a thousand hours from the level of perfection I expect, so I'm gonna follow Frieburgers advice, and "Drive My Junk."

Thanks.  That makes me feel a little better about sitting on my Volvo for over a decade as I wait for the time and space to work on it.  Right now, my rough target budget to build it will be around $20K but if I can build what I want for under $30K, I'll be very happy.

Much of my mechanical desire started with just being a car nut as a kid reading Car Craft and Hot Rod magazines.  Then I took to rebuilding my own bicycles. It's kinda snowballed from there.

CBraden
CBraden New Reader
5/4/18 10:55 a.m.

Opel GT with zero Opel moving parts other than door hinges...

took years and was basically a self paced shop class and race car design course.

Learned a ton while building a car worth a tiny fraction of the effort put into it.  (below photo by Costas)

It becomes a sickness though, I am constantly looking for cars to tear apart and make faster now... so far have resisted.

CBraden
CBraden New Reader
5/4/18 10:59 a.m.

In reply to Ian F :

Hang in there / don't give up. As long as it is interesting and challenging (while it may not be fun the whole time), keep going. Even if you just do some very little thing once a week, over time the project will get done... some weeks I would just go look at the current problem I had no idea how to address, and think about it. In retrospect, those were probably the weeks I remember most fondly.

I look forward to seeing your car / reading your build thread if you write one!

 

livinon2wheels
livinon2wheels New Reader
5/4/18 12:13 p.m.
Tyler H said:

Another one -- when it stops being fun, hang it up for the day.

this has become my mantra as I do the work on my old subaru...there are days I just cant wrap my head around it and deal with it...so it sits and patiently waits on me to return to it. And after a sufficient time away, I can usually approach it with a good attitude and fresh thinking. Both of which are absolutely needed. :) And a ton of patience. I have learned to be patient. And not rush. And be patient some more. Its a hard lesson but for me it was a necessary one. We all have our weaknesses and a project like this will expose every single one of your character flaws eventually. Just give it time :)... Obsessing over it is a recipe for unhappiness in the rest of your life so letting it have a reasonable priority is key. Finding that magic spot is harder than it sounds. Or it was for me. My project is still teaching me life lessons. I'm sure yours is too. Go forth and enjoy. Its why we do it. 

te72
te72 Reader
5/5/18 2:02 a.m.

In the case of the Supra:

-Bought a cool car, came up with cool ideas for a simple single turbo swap, upgraded brakes, suspension, and a nice wheel / tire package.

-Found a guy who could help me with the things I didn't have the skills to handle. Said guy was also a bit of an enabler of bad ideas haha.

-Project snowballed into something far greater than the original intent. Guy I found slowly became less and less reliable, to the point that relationship is no longer. It's for the best, for both of us.

-Still had a project to finish though. Had bought a lift. Had bought a welder. Had just enough tools, ideas, and rudimentary skills to get something together that resembled a working automobile.

-Faced my fears, and realized that if I didn't do it, it wasn't going to get done, I was on my own. Being in an isolated area with a car that is uncommon, with only a couple friends who know anything about cars or fabricating leaves you with few options other than to figure it out yourself.

 

The good news is, between a lot of theory, some decent parts selection, and a mountain of blessings (likely themselves a result of a LOT of frustrated prayer, wrench in hand), this car is friggin' GOOD when things are cooperating. For a car built in my garage, it's quite satisfying. Video for proof, my first ever autocross event:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioQZl2T_LYA

frenchyd
frenchyd SuperDork
5/5/18 6:56 a.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak : I’ve built complete cars from nothing more than an idea. Now that is satisfying. Line up the parts and pieces you intend to use and connect them all together with a frame.  

Each time I do it I learn things I’d change.  So I guess I’ll never get over wanting to do it.  My current project is the MGUAR ( a MGTD with Jaguar engine and suspension connected by a Aluminum tube frame.  

The one after that is a Formula 5000 with a carbon fiber chassis.  ( so far that’s in the dream stage)    

I hope there will be one after that too  

 

ccrunner
ccrunner New Reader
5/7/18 2:01 p.m.

A bit jumbled, but here's my $.02.. 

Jumping into the unknown has big rewards for those that have the tenacity to see it through..  I've come to love the challenge of morphing a project car into what's in my mind's eye (read not stock), yet I've never had the talent or know-how going in that the vision required; but I sure as heck had it when the dust settled!  (BTW, I'm with the OP on bodywork and paint- I get to say I've done it, and I'm happy to not do it again!)

Maybe the biggest thing with these projects is delayed gratification.. sometimes it takes months (or years) to integrate something shiny or pretty onto your 'this is taking forever' project.. again, tenacity knows how the story ends, and it's so worth the wait.. 

Budget is of course a big concern, but often creativity and patience will help your project dollar go a lot farther.. You really can create some amazing stuff for (relatively) very little money..

Finally, the project needs to fill a need (which is for me usually mental health)-- Several years ago I told my wife I was going to give up on car projects; too much time, money, and energy.. (at the time I was really unhappy with how the project of the day was going).. Within 6 months she told me to please go find a new project, because "You're kind of an #sshole without a car to cut on." I love that woman, and she was right..

--I've been in the garage ever since, learning to do things that used to really intimidate me..  car projects are an excellent way to express your creativity and bond with like-minded people.. In the end, it's fun and rewarding..

NOHOME
NOHOME UltimaDork
5/7/18 3:35 p.m.

In reply to ccrunner :

 

I've come to love the challenge of morphing a project car into what's in my mind's eye (read not stock), yet I've never had the talent or know-how going in that the vision required; but I sure as heck had it when the dust settled!

 

Word for word where I am coming from, including the wife's sentiments about the whole thing.

 

Pete

frenchyd
frenchyd SuperDork
5/7/18 3:47 p.m.
ccrunner said:

A bit jumbled, but here's my $.02.. 

Jumping into the unknown has big rewards for those that have the tenacity to see it through..  I've come to love the challenge of morphing a project car into what's in my mind's eye (read not stock), yet I've never had the talent or know-how going in that the vision required; but I sure as heck had it when the dust settled!  (BTW, I'm with the OP on bodywork and paint- I get to say I've done it, and I'm happy to not do it again!)

Maybe the biggest thing with these projects is delayed gratification.. sometimes it takes months (or years) to integrate something shiny or pretty onto your 'this is taking forever' project.. again, tenacity knows how the story ends, and it's so worth the wait.. 

Budget is of course a big concern, but often creativity and patience will help your project dollar go a lot farther.. You really can create some amazing stuff for (relatively) very little money..

Finally, the project needs to fill a need (which is for me usually mental health)-- Several years ago I told my wife I was going to give up on car projects; too much time, money, and energy.. (at the time I was really unhappy with how the project of the day was going).. Within 6 months she told me to please go find a new project, because "You're kind of an #sshole without a car to cut on." I love that woman, and she was right..

--I've been in the garage ever since, learning to do things that used to really intimidate me..  car projects are an excellent way to express your creativity and bond with like-minded people.. In the end, it's fun and rewarding..

Once you get comfortable  with building a race car be careful.  The next big step is to build your own house ( some practice by building a garage first ) 

When  that happens.  Be careful to limit the scope of the build. I started with my build in 1998. With luck I’ll have the lions share done by 2020. The original thought was 2-3 years. When I can seriously get back to work on my real love, of cars.  

te72
te72 Reader
5/8/18 12:07 a.m.
ccrunner said:--I've been in the garage ever since, learning to do things that used to really intimidate me..  car projects are an excellent way to express your creativity and bond with like-minded people.. In the end, it's fun and rewarding..

I love that my fiance is supportive of the hobby, and has taken quite the interest in making the cars pretty. Detailing, that woman has an eye for... Diving is a good way to learn, and I'm all for homebrew solutions, BUT, with a caveat:

 

***Don't cheap out on things that can potentially cause fires.***

 

This may seem obvious (and isn't a direct reply to ccrunner here, more general advice), but looking back at the Supra build, I see things that were done, and a couple things I allowed, that make me really question whether or not I should be doing this at all. Live and learn, is the old saying. Lucky for me, none of these errors have been catastrophic, and I've caught them before danger arrived to educate me.

zordak
zordak Reader
5/8/18 9:55 a.m.

My biggest fear is a stalled project. Growing up we usually had 1 or more projects sitting for some reason or another. My process is to to the best I can with what I have on hand or can get quickly. I try to finish each small part of the project before moving on because I have a habit of forgetting until it is almost too late that something was left for later. I really hate to go backwards because I forgot something.

te72
te72 Reader
5/9/18 10:42 p.m.

In reply to zordak :

Write stuff down. I have the same issue, my memory can be foggy at times, so I take lots of notes. It was mentioned above, the white board is your friend. I keep a note book for my project, and on the plus side, it feels rewarding to cross things off the list!

 

Doesn't have to be anything fancy either. Scrap paper, piece of cardboard, whatever you can write on that you won't regret writing on later, it's all good. Just don't lose the list haha. =)

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