Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Replacing the steering wheel and wiring the horn

Today's project was pulling the stock steering wheel off, and replacing it with the nice, new wheel I ordered with the kit. Here, I am trying to figure out the wiring of the horn circuit in the donor wheel. With the airbag removed, I was able to probe out the wiring harness and figure out what wire I needed to use.

There's a bunch of other wiring here I just won't be using at all - cruise control and airbag.

With the wheel pulled off by use of a homemade steering wheel puller (a piece of steel bar with three holes drilled in it and a few bolts), I was able to get to the clockspring assembly. This is what cancels the turn signals, and it also passes electrical connections through.

The issue here it the large connector block at lower left - it conflicts with the adapter that the new wheel bolts to. The yellow wiring is for the airbag, so I just cut that away entirely, and then I removed the plastic shroud around the four other pins - even though I only need two of them for the horn.

This is the wiring that goes from the clockspring to the cruise control switch and the horn. I only needed the two conductors, so I took them out of the plug, and cut them off the connector at the other end. I will add some spade terminals there to plug the horn button into.
I only need two of the four conductors here. I added some heatshrink and put the wires on the pins. I also took the time to test continuity all the way through the wiring harness for the steering wheel, to be sure I had not broken anything.
Then I just pulled the wire tails through the adapter and threaded the nut onto the steering column. I haven't torqued it down yet, as I'm reasonably certain I will need to get this off again before I go driving.
And here's the wheel all bolted up! The horn button is the black circle in the center - it will get a badge later on.

I'm going to keep a box of all the excess wiring I remove from the donor harnesses. This car is going so have so many fewer switches and buttons in it than the donor that I should be able to remove some real weight.  

Welding while lying on the floor is a literal pain

Here's the car as I left it last. The transmission subframe is about 2/3 welded in - the easy 2/3. I had planned to weld the underside while lying on the floor, welding overhead. This turned out to be harder and even less pleasant than I anticipated.

Welding overhead is always the hardest, because when you melt metal, it wants to run downhill, like any other liquid - so it becomes kind of a challenge to get your bead to stay where you put it. If you goof up, it wants to fall off - and being under that is a good way to get droplets of molten metal on you. Not fun.

So it was time to get a little... inventive, shall we say, with my setup. I dropped the nose of the car onto some rubber wheel chocks, and I used ratchet straps and my engine hoist to get the back end up in the air. This put the areas to be welded at a much more convenient height, and also gave me enough angle that I could weld uphill, using the bead behind to support the weld puddle.

This was mildly sketchy, but not too bad. I'd have loved a real rotisserie, but this worked pretty well.

Here's the old weld. Despite my previous practice sessions, this just looked like garbage, even by my standards. I ground all this away and rewelded it. It's still farmer-grade welding, but I am happier with it. 

And, let's face it, it's going to be only a few inches off the ground when all is said and done, so I doubt anyone will ever look at it again.

Here's one of the improved welds. Still not perfect, but way, way better.

And thus my goal is met to drop the tail end of the transmission by about three inches. This should mean a much longer life.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Actually installing the transmission subframe

Previously, I had gotten prepared to tack the drop tabs to the transmission subframe. Then I did actually tack them on, and the moment of truth was that I had not goofed it up and it would still fit between the frame rails.

It did fit, and here it is clamped back into the frame. This is when it really started to feel good.

Here's my rinky-dink welding setup - an old 110V wirefeed welder, a Harbor Freight welding table, and some LED work lights dangling from the boom of my engine crane.

Full props to those lights, though. Two of them were so good I went and bought some more. They make it a lot easier to see the weld as I work, even once I strike the arc and the helmet goes dark. Amusingly, with five of these pointed at the welding table, it was so bright that my helmet triggered before I even turned the welder on - I had to turn down the sensitivity so I could see before I pulled the trigger.

Definitely a farmer-grade weld, but it's going nowhere. I need a lot more practice before I can dash off those perfect, beautiful beads I have been seeing in online tutorials.
Once I had the subframe fully welded out, I picked the engine and transmission again and started dropping them into the frame. Here, the forward engine mounts are in their slots, and I am just about to start dropping the tail end of the assembly, I want to get the tail pretty low, so I can actually bolt up the subframe from underneath and then pull it back up into the frame.
... Just like this. The transmission is lower here that it needs to be, by a couple of inches, and I have the subframe bolted up to the transmission mount. All new engine and transmission mounts, by the way - much more rigid than the stock units, and also just not worn out.
Then I used the crane to lift the tail end of the transmission into place, so that all the tabs lined up with the tops of the frame rails, and I started tacking it in.

That bead on the left-hand side of the frame makes me very happy.

At this point, I have not yet fully welded out the drop tabs - just the beads on the top. I still need to get the vertical beads and the ones underneath. But, as you can see, it bears my weight easily, and feels very very solid.

Once I finish out the welding, I'll hit the welded areas with some seam sealer and then rattlecan all the places I had to sand off the powdercoat.

Between the drop tabs and the new transmission mount, I should get right at three inches of drop at the tail of the transmission. Maybe even a touch more. And that's exactly what I needed to keep from burning up the gears.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Fixturing jig

I'm still wrestling with getting the rear subframe welded to the drop tabs. I spent a log time with magnets and clamps, trying to get a stable assembly of the subframe and the tabs that I could tack up in the frame, then remove to complete welding. I had no luck, and even cursing at it didn't help, so I decide to regroup and find another way to fixture the tabs.

I need them to be the right distance apart, both side to side and fore/aft, and I need the top edges to be in the same plane. I decided to try 3D printing these little jigs, which I will position and screw to a piece of plywood.

The idea is that I will clamp the plywood to the frame and use the frame and the transmission subframe to position the drop tabs, then screw the 3D printed jigs to the plywood. This should give me a repeatable position for the tabs, which I can remove from the car and move to my welding table.

This is effectively upside-down in the frame of the car, but orientation doesn't matter right now - just the dimensions I mentioned.

The plywood board is clamped to the frame of the car. The blue plastic jigs hold the tabs. I've used the transmission subframe to get everything in position, with some clamps and spacers to help align everything.

And here's the finished fixture, with the tabs in their slots. This can be repeatably placed in the frame, so the width is right if nothing else.

I will next finish prepping the subframe and the tabs and get it all aligned, then tack it together and test-fit it in the car. I think it should work; then I can finish weld it, bolt it back to the bottom of the transmission, and tack it into the frame.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Prepping to weld up the dropped transmission mount

My main work on the car today was working on my welding. I've been having a nagging problem with my welder not feeding wire smoothly, so today I tinkered with that some. I replaced the contact tip, made sure the drive rollers were set up correctly and working well... and then noticed that the spool of wire was tangled somehow. I ended up chucking out maybe half a pound of wire and just putting a fresh spool on.

In addition to that, though, I've been getting ready to weld up the dropped transmission mount. This is from the rear of the frame, looking forward. The chunk of frame that I cut out is bolted to the transmission; you can see the three inch drop, which should go a very long way toward solving the oiling problem.

Here are the drop tabs all marked for shaping. I could easily use them without any addition trimming, but those extra bits would bug me. And I have grinders!
Now, with the engine and transmission pulled out again, here is a look at the right-rear drop tab, clamped up to the frame.

I am going to work on fitting up the subframe between the tabs - it needs a little strategic grinding to fit. Then, with the frame bolted to the transmission, and the engine in the car, I will tack the tabs to the subframe. After that, I will unbolt the subframe and fully weld that up on the bench.

The hard part then will be welding the whole thing up to the frame.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The engine is in!

The engine is in! .. for the first time. There's lots and lots to do before it will go in for the last time, but today, my uncle and I were able to get it into the engine bay.

First we hooked it up to the hoist, and unbolted it from the stand. Then we put it onto a table, sitting on a skid to keep it supported level, and installed the clutch and pressure plate. After that, we mated up the transmission and picked up the whole assembly with the hoiust.

Here it is, going into the engine bay. Ed is guiding.
And here it is in place. It's sitting on the engine mounts, but there is nothing supporting the tail end of the transmission - it's just hanging from the hoist. The idea from here is that, once I get the angle how I want it, I will bolt the transmission support frame to it and start measuring and marking the drop tabs in preparation for welding that back in.

This isn't the final position just yet, but it's close. Next up is to order new engine and transmission mounts, which will let me get it  into its final spot

This is the tail of the transmission, hanging below the frame. This downslope will help the oiling issue I described earlier. The black X-shaped item on the floor is the support frame that I need to weld back in.

This feels like a really big milestone. It's going to come out and go back in several times, I am sure, but this makes it look and feel a whole lot more like a car.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

More welding practice

With a little help from my friends, I'm getting a bit better at welding. I added a magnifying lens (a "cheater") to my welding helmet, which helped me to see the joint. And I slowed way down, which helped me to actually put the weld bead where I wanted it.

I'm still not a good welder. These are completely serviceable welds, but I won't win any prizes for consistency or overall beauty. But I am getting better. And that feels pretty good.