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frecks New Reader
11/3/15 10:47 p.m.

I've been enjoying reading the GRM forum since I found it a couple months ago & I just picked up a new project, so I figure it's time for me to finally join the fun here.

I have a nice 2011 VW GTI that is reliable, practical, & lots of fun to drive. I love that car, but I found myself wanting something that would challenge me to learn more than a reliable DD does. I wanted something fun with a manual transmission & rear wheel drive, and I didn't have more than $1,000 to spend on it because I finally bought myself a welder last week. I've been passively searching for "the answer" for several months.

On Saturday, I picked up my new 1994 Miata. It was listed on Craigslist for $1000. This is what she looked like when I went to see it. This is her good side, the other side has a bit of a story.

There are copious amounts of rust on the rockers, fenders, & underbody. 21 years of ungaraged life in Michigan winters will do that to a car. The drivetrain, interior, & soft top seem to be pretty solid though. A quick call to Mazda with the VIN confirmed that it was equipped with the Torsen LSD. I wrote the rust off as a good excuse to play with my new welder & offered the seller $500 cash after showing him this picture of the underbody rust. The seller said he was really hoping to get $600, so I obliged & I drove my new Miata the 3 miles home.

I got a plate for it on Monday & I've already driven over 100 miles. The body & suspension on this car are largely trashed, yet it is an inexplicable amount of fun. I would love for this car to be a 24 Hours of Lemons racer & a $20XX Challenge car, but I know that I don't have enough time to make that happen in the next year. Hopefully I can pull something like that off by 2017 or 2018. For now, it will be a platform for me to learn a ton without ruining my GTI & it should be a very entertaining beater. The current state of my wallet & my dreams of making this a lemon in the distant future mean that I will be attempting to adhere to the 24 Hours of Lemons rules as I fix/build up this car. With a $600 purchase price, I'm sure I will be able to sell a few of the interior pieces to get it under the $500 budget when I'm eventually ready to make it a lemons racer.

I mentioned previously that the passenger side is the good side. Apparently the previous owner learned that a Miata's door is exactly at semi-truck lug nut height when one merged into him. The lugs tore into the driver's door & did some carnage before the semi pulled swerved back into his own lane. The previous owner hammered the panel straight enough that the door worked & "fixed" the carnage with duct tape.

I've noticed a few issues in my 2 days of driving it, though they're pretty much all stuff that I either expected or am not bothered by because of the purchase price.

I checked to see if the washer fluid worked & it didn't. The reservoir was empty. I went to fill it up & it poured straight through the filler neck & out into my shoes. Apparently the reservoir isn't much of a reservoir at this point.

The shocks are super blown out & I assume they are original. Some of the shocks are worse than the others. Michigan's terrible roads unsettle the car in a weird way, with a brief oscillation from one front corner to the opposite back corner. I need to come up with a way to get better shocks on a lemons budget. I've found a few accident part outs with shocks at appropriate prices on craigslist locally, but they're both for only 3 shocks because the 4th shock was destroyed in both cases. I'm sure I can come up with something in time.

The more pressing/annoying issue is that the steering won't return to center on it's own. Based on the previous owner's comment that "it might need ball joints soon", a small clunk from the front end while turning, & the way it feels while driving - I think it needs ball joints now. Ball joints are exempt from the lemons budget, so I've got a full set of upper & lower ball joints from Rockauto in the mail. I'm hoping to get at least the lower ball joints put on this weekend. I'm fairly confident that this will fix the steering, but I'll have to do some more research/diagnostic work if it doesn't.

I did my first mod on Monday evening. At 6'2", I barely fit in the Miata. The biggest problem is that I can't easily turn the steering wheel very far left because my left hand doesn't fit between my knee & the wheel. I replaced the driver's side door handle with a little elastic strap that my mom kindly donated from her sewing kit. It works great & gives me a lot more room for my knee. This tall guy mod should make driving the Miata a lot more comfortable.

I would like to be able to do my own alignments for this car. I am aware of the string method for measuring toe in/out. Are there any good tools or processes that I should look into for measuring camber & caster?

I am planning to cut out a lot of cancerous rust & weld in some new structure as time allows & my skills improve. I'm pretty excited about this project. Being able to pick up a running Miata for under half the cost of what the sales tax on my GTI was is pretty entertaining & I expect this entire project to be a massive amount of fun.

*Edited to fix images.

frecks New Reader
11/4/15 10:12 a.m.

The window regulators still function, but the motors are really struggling. I'll need to keep an eye out for new ones because I doubt these will make it very long.

A peak inside the engine bay:

It needs a good cleaning. There's a small leak from the valve cover gasket. Oil is at the right level, but looks like it is ready to be changed. The fluid in the clutch reservoir is very dark. I'll want to change that at some point. The previous owner stated that he changed the brake master cylinder recently & the brake fluid appears to be fairly clean. The previous owner also recently put in a new radiator.

The buzzer that sounds when the door is open with the key in the ignition was driving me mad. I reached under the dash & unplugged it. Much better now.

I'm sure most of the bushings on this car are shot & I can't fit the cost of a nice set of bushings in a lemons budget. Our current lemons ride, the Legitimate Racing team's carbureted 1989 Honda Accord, is also in need of some new bushings that I haven't been able to source. I have no clue if this will work, but I'm going to attempt casting any bushings these 2 cars need out of Shore 80A Urethane Casting Compound from McMaster-Carr. A 1 pound can costs $31.91 & should be more than enough to make the bushings I need for these 2 cars. I feel like UHMW Polyethylene or some other rod that can be turned to the proper size on a lathe might produce better results than the castings, but I don't have a lathe so I'll give this a shot & see how it goes.

Here's the cost breakdown so far.

Harvey Dork
11/4/15 10:48 a.m.

Usually if you clean the contacts on the window switches the power windows will start working better.

That car looks like it is more rust than metal at this point.

frecks New Reader
11/4/15 11:12 a.m.

In reply to Harvey:

I'll have to give that a try on the windows. Thanks for the suggestion! It would be nice to prolong their life a little bit.

I would say that your observation about the rust-to-metal ratio is correct. I would be too scared to practice welding on something that actually has value, so I'm okay with it at this point. Cutting out lots of the rust & welding new metal in should be great practice for me. If it doesn't work, I figure I can sell the powertrain to recover most of my money & I'll drag the tub off to the crusher. This is one of those projects that would be a terrible idea if it weren't for the fact that I want to learn without worrying about breaking nice things. All of this logic is probably terrible, but I'll find that out in due time.

jimbob_racing Dork
11/4/15 12:09 p.m.

I'm also going to suggest the power window switch trick. It worked wonders on my '93.

frecks New Reader
11/4/15 1:51 p.m.

Hey, there's even instructions out there for cleaning the power window switch. Sounds like it's a pretty common thing.

Harvey Dork
11/4/15 2:39 p.m.

Yeah, happens to everyone. The motors seem to never die, the switch is almost always the problem.

RedGT Reader
11/5/15 8:02 a.m.

If cleaning the switch doesn't fix it, next thing to look at is the cable rollers, as they wear the cables can bind and make the motors struggle to move things. But yeah, as Harvey said, the motors never die.

frecks New Reader
11/5/15 8:58 a.m.

I took the console out & cleaned the switch last night. It was really dirty.

I used CRC Contact Cleaner, which cleaned it up pretty well. Cleaning the switch made a minor improvement, but the driver's side motor is still struggling. The window moves at a fine pace in the middle, but slows to a crawl at the top or bottom. My guess is that the issue is some combination of what RedGT suggested & the track may be bent a bit out of alignment from when the semi-truck crunched that door. I'll open up the door panel & see what's up.

I then realized that the console was filthy, so I cleaned that as well.

Having a "clean" console now just emphasizes how gross the rest of this interior is. Also, I learned that simple green will cause the up/down lettering next to the window switch to just wipe away. I probably need to use something less harsh for interior cleaning.

The urethane casting compound showed up today. I'll probably try to make some random castings to get a feeling for how this stuff works before I remove any bushings from the car.

Stick welding in my welding fundamentals class last night went really well, so that was encouraging. I assume we'll be moving on to MIG soon. I'm going to lunch with my godfather today & stopping by his metal fab shop on the way back to work. He said I can dig through the scrap bin & grab material to practice MIG welding at home with before I step up to working on the car.

I'm really hoping that the new ball joints fix the issue with the steering not returning to center easily. I've noticed that when large potholes/bumps cause the suspension to unload, the steering comes back to center with much less force required than while the suspension is loaded. I suspect that it would work smoothly if I put the car up on jackstands. That's part of what leads me to the conclusion that new ball joints will allow the wheels to turn & return to center with less effort. Hopefully this logic is solid.

EvanB GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
11/5/15 9:51 a.m.

I have a driver door in Columbus, OH if you want to replace it. It is white though.

frecks New Reader
11/5/15 2:14 p.m.

Ball joints are here! I also got a couple dozen pieces of 14 gauge sheet metal & a half dozen pieces of 1/8" angle to practice with my new Millermatic 211. I want to get the lower ball joints in tonight, but I imagine it will be hell with all the rust. Hopefully I'm wrong.

frecks New Reader
11/5/15 2:58 p.m.

In reply to EvanB:

If I get enough time to make the 7 hour round trip drive, I'll pm you to see if you still have it. I really appreciate the offer. I would have to repaint this black one if I were even able to repair it, so starting with an undamaged door would get me a major step ahead.

ssswitch HalfDork
11/5/15 4:08 p.m.

I had really good luck with my '97 using 303 Aerospace Protectant to clean the interior. Admittedly it didn't have a lot of caked on grease but it does a fair job of cleaning as it seals.

That thing is heinously rusty, but I feel like it can be made to be happy again. An FM frame rail kit or something would go a long way to dealing with those mushed-up frame rails, and there's a surprising number of patch kits for that rear dog leg. You should definitely check and chase out the windshield drains though, since the A-pillars look less rusty than I'd expect and they're also a huge pain to fix if they do get rusty.

Curious if the upper ball joints help - I have relatively poor on-center feel and some ugly bump steer and tramlining from my '97 and replacing the lower ball joints and getting an alignment didn't help as much as I'd wanted. The lower ball joints helped, just not enough to make it feel like I expected it to.

frecks New Reader
11/6/15 5:49 a.m.

I managed to replace the driver's lower ball joint last night. It was worse than I thought; Super notchy & had probably around 1/8" play up & down. Steering feel is much improved & and it actually goes back towards center as I would expect. I definitely have to replace the passenger's side lower ball joint soon though. The car now pulls a bit to the right & I'm sure that's why. I also need to replace the tie rod on the passenger's side because there's a lot of slop there. Driver's side tie rod seems good.

Most of the nuts & bolts came off relatively easily considering the amount of rust. Maybe that was because I have a cheater bar that's like 4' long and physics sometimes works in our favor. The sway bar end link bolts & nuts were a different story. They will need the blue tip wrench when I eventually need to get them off. Luckily I managed to get this job done without disconnecting the sway bar.

Thanks for the pointers about cleaning the interior & checking the windshield drains! I hadn't even thought to look at windshield drains. That will get added to the list of things I'd like to do.

The FM frame rail kit looks like exactly what I need. In the spirit of trying to keep things within a lemons/challenge budget & I'm going to make things way harder on myself by trying to cut out the rotted/smashed frame rails & welding in new square tube. I'll take a weight penalty compared to the FM kit & it will be a pain in the ass, but it will be a good learning experience & it might end up stiffer too. Please excuse my ignorance; What do you mean by "rear dog leg"?

I'll be replacing the upper ball joints eventually & I'll report back here when they're done. Those are going to take a little longer because I have to take the upper control arms off & press the new ball joints in. That means that I have to bring my press over from my parent's house & actually set it up at my new house. I'll let you know how that goes once I get it done.

Spinout007 GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/6/15 6:29 a.m.

Google foamectomy, it should be tall guy mod #2. Just be careful with it so you can reverse it if you don't like it.

frecks New Reader
11/6/15 6:48 a.m.

In reply to Spinout007:

http://www.miata.net/garage/foamectomy/ That will definitely be next on the tall guy mod portion of the to-do list.

frecks New Reader
11/6/15 10:13 a.m.

I can't stand reusing super rusty bolts, even on a beater. I'll also need to cut off the anti-sway bar end link bolts. Off to McMaster Carr again...

I looked through the chassis section of the Miata parts list & came up with a mostly complete list of the fasteners that weren't Mazda specific. All of these are flanged nuts & bolts. I'm using class 10.9 hardware. I'm assuming/hoping that they're all standard thread pitches.

I like to buy fasteners in packs of 10 & build assortments of things I might need. I hate when a project stalls because I have to go buy 1 bolt. Building a complete assortment for the Miata isn't in the budget right now, but I'll get 10 packs of everything that I do have to order.

These are the fasteners that I'm ordering:
M12x70 - Lower Shock Bolt
M12x80 - Horizontal Bolt Through Lower Ball Joint
M12x25 - Vertical Bolt Through Lower Ball Joint
M12 Nuts - Lower Shock & Lower Ball Joint
M10x45 - Sway Bar End Link Bolts
M10 Nuts - Sway Bar End Link

In addition to those, the following fasteners would make for a mostly complete assortment of chassis fasteners:
M8 Nuts

EvanB GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
11/6/15 10:36 a.m.

They are most (all?) going to be JIS spec so M6x1.0, M8x1.25 and M10x1.25 should cover a lot of it.

I know all the spares I have from Miatas are JIS pitch.

frecks New Reader
11/6/15 11:03 a.m.

In reply to EvanB:

Damn... It looks like some of my front suspension will be getting DIN spec fasteners. That's going to bug me (just slightly less than having rusty fasteners). Shouldn't be too big a deal for the ones that just thread into nuts. I think the only part of my order that I won't be able to use is the M12x25 for the vertical bolt in the lower ball joint. That one threads into the ball joint instead of a nut.

Where can I find M12 size JIS spec fasteners? They seem to be like unicorns. Everywhere I've looked (McMaster, BoltDepot, Grainger, Fastenal) has JIS fasteners through M10, but no M12.

Is the pitch for JIS spec M12 fasteners also 1.25?

EvanB GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
11/6/15 12:09 p.m.

Yes, they would be M12x1.25 as well. Not sure where to buy them in flange head style. The M12 might be different though, the spares I have are only up to M10.

frecks New Reader
11/6/15 12:51 p.m.

In reply to EvanB:

Thanks for confirming. It looks like the M12 bolts have a flange just like the M10.

The cheapest M12 JIS bolts I could find were at http://www.clipsandfasteners.com/. I eventually found them by google searching "JIS B1189 M12".

frecks New Reader
11/6/15 12:55 p.m.

A buddy at work showed me a mod to fix the droopy dash vents. Looks like it would be a nice improvement. Link included for when I try to find it later if it ever bubbles up to the top of the priority list.

Work on this car is basically being done in a "fix the most annoying issue, then repeat" fashion.

frecks New Reader
11/9/15 9:35 a.m.

I ordered some twist-lock socket organizers & some wrench organizers this morning. Half of the time that I am in the garage is spent trying to find the tool that was just in my hand a minute ago. Some organization should help. I've got too much to do on this car to spend all my time looking for tools. I only ordered socket organizers for 3/8" drive so I can see how I like them. If they're nice, I'll buy more for 1/4" & 1/2".

frecks New Reader
11/12/15 10:24 a.m.

I found time to replace the passenger side ball joint last night. I also learned that Mevotech quality control leaves something to be desired.

While I had the car on jacks, I was also able to see just how bad the car cancer is. It's bad, but that wasn't unexpected.

Gratuitous amounts of rust. The passenger side always seems to rust worse than the driver side on Michigan cars due to all the salt & grime that gets kicked up from the shoulder of the road.

This tube dumps out into... well, nothing actually. So that explains why the windshield washer fluid doesn't work.

I got the ball joint off with relative ease. These things take so much less time once you've done it once. I went to put the new ball joint in, but I couldn't get the vertical bolt to thread in. It turns out that this is because Mevotech didn't actually machine any threads into the vertical hole in the new ball joint.

I wasn't going to put the old fubar'd ball joint back in, so I made the 26.4 mile round trip to the nearest auto parts store that was open at 10pm & had Miata ball joints in stock. I got the new tie rod end that I needed while I was at it.

The parents' 2001 Yukon is still going strong at nearly 211k miles. That thing is a beast. I wouldn't want to daily drive it due to gas mileage & not being as fun as small cars, but it sure is useful to have around. It's probably seen more miles with a trailer behind it in the last 4 years than it has without a trailer, or ever before that. It's like it keeps getting more useful the older it gets.

I decided to make my trip to O'Reilly worth it by stopping at Dragonmead Microbrewery on the way back. Their Honey Porter is fantastic.

This lower shock bushing is also fubar'd. Good thing that is already on the docket to be replaced once I find some decent used shocks for 24 Hours of Lemons level pricing.

The LED lamp on the left was was used to provide light. The lamp on the right was used as more of a heater than a light. That 700 watt Husky gets outrageously hot. I could probably cook hot dogs on it's protective grill.

I got both the ball joint & the tie rod replaced & wrapped things up for the night. I've still got to do an alignment, but it was midnight & I needed some sleep so I could function at work today. Having half of my tools at my parents' house & half at my new house is a bit inconvenient. Hopefully we can finish painting the garage soon so I can get completely moved in. But in the meantime, anyone who says that Miatas aren't practical vehicles really just sucked at tetris when they were growing up.

The girlfriend says I can have beater cars as long as she can have hamsters. This seems like a fair deal. A pair of hamsters + bedding & food cost about 10% of what I paid for the car & they keep her happy while I'm wrenching on my bucket of rust. Works for me. Their names are Gertrude & Meriweather. I'm pretty sure they've run a couple dozen marathons on that wheel in the 3 days that we've had them.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/12/15 10:55 a.m.
frecks wrote: In reply to Spinout007: http://www.miata.net/garage/foamectomy/ That will definitely be next on the tall guy mod portion of the to-do list.

That writeup gets it wrong. Basic version:
30 DO

But seriously, get the seat into a state where you can sit in it, then start gradually shaving foam from the base, back and bolsters until it feels like the custom-shaped seat that it is. It takes a bit longer than the "just cut this chunk off the bottom" easy version, but the end result is more comfortable and offers more lateral support. I find lopping off the bottom chunk results in pressure points from the steel pan under the seat. I've done the proper version on my daily driver, on a few of the shop cars and a few customer cars and everyone has always been very happy with the results.

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