Friday, November 27, 2009

Brownie gets new pipes!!

July, 2009

After returning home from the Reno/Fernley race and loosing yet ANOTHER section of completely rotten and rusted out exhaust system on Brownie, "The World's Greatest Crappy Old RV" (tm) I decided enough was enough, really this time. Knowing I was finally going to get a good exhaust, I set about deciding what I wanted to do with the old beast.

I've never been a fan of the "rocks-in-a-coffee-can" sound of Flowmasters. They are out of place on anything short of an all out race car. I always thought it was mostly a classic case of everybody likes them, because everybody ELSE likes them. In rare circumstances they can sound decent both inside and outside the car, but that's the exception not the rule. They usually sound like valves barfing out the vehicles ass. Maybe I'm getting older, but I have peculiar tastes and prefer the vintage sounds. The exhaust note is like music, why ruin it with a soulless fad?

My first thought was a nice set of duals with Smitty's or Cherry-Bomb Glasspacks, but the real inspiration came from the unlikely source of my Stepfather who suggested Brownie "would look bitchin in a set of lake pipes."

Huh... Yeah, he sure would.

This set the way-too-creative hamster in my noggin whirling away, and I had a flash in my mind's eye of the mid 1970's van craze.

"AHA!" I nearly screamed at my "why-the-hell-are-you-screaming-and-interrupting-Survivor-spouse".

"What this time?" she said as she paused her TV show on the DVR and gave me the usual one eyebrow raised look.

"I know what I'm gonna do with Brownie!" I explained proudly.

"Sell him?" came the dry reply.

"No no, I have to fix something on him first. No seriously, I'm gonna turn him into a '70s Shaggin Waggin! Ha-ha-ha! What do you think?"

"I'd have to see it first." she said back with no hint of emotion.

Arg. I forget, she was but a glint in her parent's eyes in the whirlwind of polyester that was the 70's, whereas I still have the entire debacle burned into my mind's eye.

The '70s were actually pretty cool right up until John Travolta screwed it all up with that funny dance. Side pipes, feathered hair, slotted mags and spaced out fantasy murals all fell hand in hand with wide lapels, bell bottoms and trucker convoys on the CB radio.

EVERYONE had a CB handle, and The Starland Vocal Band was gonna grab some Afternoon Delight.. Those were the good old days...

But the little lady wanted more reassurance than just my enthusiasm and promises that "everything would be fine".

"Oh sure, easy. I'll just go dig up some photos off the interwebs and show you what I'm talking about, be right back."

And so I spent the rest of the night, and then the next few weeks trying to find photos of the old van craze. Searching revealed nothing. I was stunned to find that photos and mentions of the entire movement have all been erased off the face of the earth, as the first victim of the infamous sex-wax Disco revolt of the early 80's.

Huh. I must be the only person on the face of the earth who secretly thought the van craze was cool. I always wanted a van, and got slightly more than I bargained for with "Brownie". Turns out there are exactly 2 websites in the world dedicated to the old cruisin vans. And they both lack photos, which was the same problem I was having.

Well dammit.

Then I remembered the old "Truckin" magazines I used to read and a couple clicks later I was back on Evilbay, thus breaking an unspoken truce between myself and miss-don't-spend-anymore-damn-money-on-evilbay-spouse.

I found a couple issues in a lot from the mid '70s ending in a few hours and placed my bid. Lo and behold I won! Again. Sigh. I buy the weirdest crap.

While there, I also found and bought several brochures and catalogs for Swing Machine vans by Rodco and Sportsmobile from several years. It was funny to see the progression of style.
I also picked up a dozen Easy Riders from 1976 full of ads for tube tops, iron-ons, leather wallets, automatic BB guns and smoking accessories. The best part was and is still the kick ass artwork by David Mann.

I also ended up with a 12" disco ball! yeay! All I need is some more shag carpet to match the shag carpet already on the walls. Throw in some velvet and velour, and I finally have a use for all my 12 volt mood lighting and rope lights! Brownie, Club 51 - mobile edition.

When my Truckin Magazines showed up I was pretty excited to see back into the past, but I stopped in my tracks when I pulled out the May '77 issue. It was as if I was staring into the face of the devil himself.

My wife said I was as pale as if I saw a ghost...

When I was in elementary school I had recurring nightmares as a result of a bitter divorce and several other changes in the family tree. At the same time evil stepfather came on to the scene, whom I was deathly afraid of.

These two issues combined to create great stress, and triggered odd results such as nightmares and sleepwalking trying to escape "bad people".

As a backdrop, everyone in the family drove Ford trucks at the time - Broncos, Econoline vans, F-series pickups and Couriers, and Evil Stepfather had a Bronco that was bright orange.

My nightmare involved "Bad men" attacking our family, led by Evil Stepfather crashing through the house walls in an army of Ford vehicles with identical paint jobs - orange with yellow and black stripes- and trying to kill us by running us all over. They were followed by uncles on silver dirt bikes, a plane and a helicopter.

F@#$%^ Terrifying.

The nightmares eventually subsided, but this one is one of 3 or 4 vivid bad dreams I have never forgotten.

So imagine my shock when I pulled this magazine out of the package. There is now no doubt where the images in my dream came from, but first seeing this was like being transported through time in some sort of evil space warp. (Click me --->)

Other than the midnight-scream inducing visual on this front cover the rest of the magazines were full of neat old advertisements just like I remembered. How to customize vans by Barris, old CB radios, the movie SuperVan etc. Refreshed with the flavors of how it was done way back when, I had a clear picture of Brownie's future as a loooove machine.

I spent weeks looking for just the right side-pipes, but nothing was quite right, until...
BAMM! A vintage set of unused pipes from an show van showed up on Evilbay! Perfect. Click-click-click and they were on the way.

Arg! But when they arrived and I saw the inlet pipes were TINY dinky little things which would never let the mighty 440 breathe. Damn. So back to square 1.

Compounding the issue was the extra width of the camper and the propane tank on the passenger side so normal straight pipes just wouldn't work. I thought of having custom 6" chrome pipes done up by the speed shop or a big-rig company, but decided that would have to be a project for the future once more important things had been taken care of.

I ended up having dual 2 1/2" exhaust with 32" Glasspacks and side exits in front of the tires welded up by none other than Babe's Muffler at their new location.

Dang. Those things sound GOOOOOD.

I have more ideas and visions for brownie. But first I have to get the race car ready for the next race, then get brownie road worthy and winter ready. The generator is not working, the fuel lines all leak, I have half a dozen cans of "Stop leaking damnit" for the roof, I need to rebuild the camper door which was destroyed by vandals and rotted out, a new generator door, bad TV antenna, starter wire gremlins, exhaust manifold, etc etc...

Ok, the Shaggin Waggon can wait, but I DID put the disco ball inside. Oh yeah... now we're talking...


Previous: Fernley, we finished!

From the Beginning of this Mess: The Hook... (Part 1)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fernley, we finished!

Sunday Morning, 24 May 09

After a fitful night of sleep, we awoke early and attempted to make ourselves as presentable as possible for our masses of fans.

I got online real quick and saw that Murilee Martin had posted our team - the Killer Bees, as being in contention for the prestigious Index Of Effluency (IOE) win, which as any followers of 24 Hours of Lemons will tell you is the REAL winner of the race.

They showed us dukeing it out for the IOE with those pesky kids in the Scooby-doo van. DRATS!

My eyes narrowed... and I felt like Old Man Withers from the
haunted amusement park.

"I see I have acquired a new set of nemesis-es..." I called out to my "I'm waiting on you, mister internet, let's go - spouse".

After Scooby's "Block and tackle" tactics on me the day before, I was even more convinced they should get the People's Curse. Voting for them would be a hard sell to my teamates, but the idea gave me pleasure just thinking about it.

We stopped off for our now obligatory breakfast burritos and picked up a few odds and ends from the local "Flakgens" autoparts store. While there we spied an awesome black Dodge Challenger out front with a big block. We spoke to the driver for a few then turned to head to the track.

Someone else heading to the track took pity on Kevin "Hey WOW man" Chong shoehorned into the back of the smart car, and offered him a ride. More pleasant sure, and potentially more legal. But it spoiled what could have been the greatest entrance at the track... chuckle.

More last minute thrashing before the morning drivers meeting, and then Kevin was next on the rotation. The cars filed back out onto the track, the green flag dropped and the race picked up where it had left off the prior evening. Quite a few cars that had dropped out early were now back in the race after long nights of thrashing on their race cars.

However many of them soon came back off the track with more mechanical woes.

"Hey WOW man" unexpectedly came back into the pits as well. Oh noooo.... what's wrong?

We ran over to the car and Kevin showed me the temp gauge, which was pegged at the HOT mark. I cooled off the radiator with some cool water and went to check the water level in the tank. Kevin shouted that the temp came back down quickly, and I saw the tank was still full. This radiator just wasn't shedding enough heat at wide open throttle. I cold only imagine what kind of debris was hiding inside the cooling tubes.

"Run it till it blows!" I yelled to Kevin through his helmet. "There is nothing we can do, so let's see how far it goes!"

The temperature wavered between HOT and NUCLEAR for the rest of the day, but somehow the silly thing kept going. And Going. And Going. I thought about putting a big drum and rabbit ears on the car for the next race.

Lurch and Gargamel both took their turns behind the wheel, and the superheated motor kept on ticking. Then my turn came up again. I went out and had a pretty good session, and suddenly I had Black flag.

I was all by myself, had no contact, and my wheels stayed on the track so I was a little surprised. Rather than whining or arguing, I made a bee-line (puny me) straight to the penalty box to find out what I did wrong. I was genuinely curious, because there was a STRONG possibility I screwed up somehow. I actually looked forward to learning something so I would not do it again.

"What did you do?" asked Ed, Supreme Justice and one of the contributors to my present delinquency. Yeah, it was partly his fault for encouraging me at the lunches and at the last Thunderhill race.

"I'm not sure" I responded, trying not to sound like every other innocent victim. I was suddenly not sure if the flag was even for me. But if I screwed up, I need to know what I did...

Ed looked at me and said "You guys have been the cleanest drivers out there all weekend." He looked around with a scowl on his face, and I looked over at our pit, where I saw my team had finally noticed what was going on and starting to get off their asses.

Expecting at least a driver change, Ed said "Go on" and waved me through just as my teammates came huffing and puffing up to the penalty box. "Later dudes!" I yelled and back out on the track I went.

A short while later there were a few spin-outs and cars facing the wrong direction within a a few laps of each other on top of the hill. The last of these incidents resulted in a cluster of cars at the turn, dirt all over the track and the yellow flag came out. All the drivers raised their hands in acknowledgment and slowed except for one, the Jalopnik/Evil Genius Racing V8 Volvo.

It came screaming by me, then hit the brakes hard as the driver noticed the yellow.

The car slid completely sideways then snapped to the other direction at least 5 times right in front of the Bee, giving me a great view of a 4-wheeled "tank-slapper". Once he got it under control I gave him the thumbs up, and he returned it to me. It was a spectacular show of driving.

I later learned it was my old nemesis Jesse, and he had hit a patch of oil when he tried keep from passing me under yellow. The oil was allegedly causing all the spins (and not over eager drivers, sure) and resulted in a red flag for the track.

I pulled over just after the flagging station along with a half dozen other cars and we waited, baking in the sun. OMFG it was hot. We eventually lined up our cars Lemans style and shut off our engines to try and cool off while talking back and forth.

When the track went back to yellow a month later I pulled into the pits for a drive change and a drink of water, not to mention a badly needed potty break.

The day dragged on and the sun's shadows grew longer. For the final session of the day we sent out "Hey WOW Man" for the last hour of madness. "Tear it up, drive the tires off, just don't wreck it." was all I said.

The most exciting part of the day was upon us, and all the cars still running were in a frenzy out on the track. Several crippled cars were able to get out and do a few last laps just for pride's sake, and the checkered flag dropped at long last.

Finished! And our crappy little $500 MBG was still running! Not only that, but we placed 39th overall out of of 100+ cars, 12th in the "Not expected to finish class". Not bad for the car's inaugural race with a bunch of rookies!

The FrankenMiatallac won the overall race, and a front wheel drive Cadillac with antlers won the IOE award.

After the ceremony we packed up, the team went out for dinner then ice cream, and started the long drive home.

At 9:30pm we crossed the California state line and started the painfully slow trek back up the Donner Summit at 28mph, the dragging brakes on our rental trailer dragging our speed down to a blistering 28mph and 3.5mpg.

10:30 we passed grouse ridge and the Hwy 20 cutoff... and I yearned for a camping trip in the forest of my childhood home.

At midnight we were cruising along on the freeway and I heard something funny...

"What's that noise?" I asked "Hey-WOW-man", who had finally calmed down, quit talking a thousand miles an hour and was taking a nap.

Just then one of our mufflers divorced itself from the rig and left out the back. I saw a shower of sparks in my mirrors and watched in horror as it slid spinning behind us directly at my wife's smart car.

Without missing a beat she zipped around it, missing it by at least a foot. Last time I saw the muffler it was rolling off the road and into a dark ditch... we never saw it again.

We arrived home at 2:30am in a screaming cloud of thunder yet again (sorry neighbors, this is becoming it's own joke) and slept until 1:15pm the next day.

While unloading the trailer I checked the odometer on the Killer bee.

506 miles.

Daaaang! :-) Now THAT'S something.

Next: Brownie gets new pipes!

Previous: Fernley, End of day 1

From the VERY begining... The Hook