It’s been quite some time since I last posted regarding my four wheel adventures. With myself taking a step away from the drivers seat there simply was not much to talk about. I hit a few races here and there but the lack of dedicated racing program left me with little to write. That however is going to change in the upcoming weeks.
We had been kicking around the idea of resurrecting my father’s home built D-Sport Racer for some time now. The idea gained traction on many levels. We benefit from a large vintage gathering at Pittsburgh International Race Complex (PIRC) each July. This location is nearby and I know the track well. Additionally, the events at PIRC accommodates purpose built race cars and precede the vintage events that take place in scenic Schenely Park located inside Pittsburgh proper. My father will park his Mini in the car show at Schenely this year as the official mark for 2014 is Mini. My father and I also have several friends who take part in the Grand Prix in one form or another. It should be a fun and festive week for my father and I.
A little history on the car. My father with the aid of several friends built the car in the mid 70’s. Work started in 1972 and the car was SCCA homologated by ’74. My father successfully campaigned the car up until 1978. The chassis is of semi-monocoque construction, featuring an aluminum space frame with riveted aluminum panels. The chassis is constructed completely of aluminum, the roll bar included. This met the regulations successfully at the time, however, shortly after the cars campaign ended the rules were changed and subsequently a steel roll structure was required. All control arms and linages are constructed of steel. The engine is a 750cc Suzuki Water Buffalo that was sourced from a Suzuki GT750 motorcycle. The engine is three cylinders and has an integrated five-speed sequential gearbox. At 67 horsepower stock, the Water Buffalo was not know for massive horespower. That said, my father made significant modifications that included drastic porting changes and the addition of hand made expansion chambers. The complete car is estimated to weigh around 800lbs.
When the car was retired it sat stationary in my fathers garage for many years. It was decided that instead of storing it on the floor, where it consumed considerable and valuable space, that it would be better mounted to the wall (photo at header of story). My father mounted it to the wall sometime in the early 90’s where it remained until this last weekend.
To remove it from the wall we simply reversed the process that he used to put it there in the first place. The hole in the ceiling that was created to accommodate the hoist still existed. All we had to do was remove the two bolts that secured it and then lower it using the same hoist from twenty years ago. The car is light enough that my father was able to operate the hoist while I pulled the bottom of the car away from the wall. I accidentally timed the entire process when I set a reminder for us to check on some egg-rolls we had in the oven at the house. It took less time to get the car down than it did to cook the egg-rolls. The total time was around 21 minutes.
Once the car was down we did a little cleaning. If you have ever gone car racing you would know that it should be renamed to “cleaning” because really that’s what happens behind the scenes. The DSR had 35 years of grime when we took it down, but after an hour or so of cleaning we had it looking much better. Despite this, it’s clear that many of the steel parts have incurred surface rust. They will have to be removed, blasted in the media cabinet, and then repainted. While doing this, it should free up enough room to clean the intricate parts more thoroughly.
After this, we set out to get the car up on the table. It’s not much fun working on really low cars and since the process is going to take a few months having the car up on the table is a necessity. My father already had a lift that he constructed to lift the body on and off of his Mini. It required retrofitting some pulley reduction so the small winch could lift the car, but otherwise it was a perfect fit for the job. The process was a little touch and go, but after a few minutes we had the car on the table. Resting on the table, we were able to remove the wheels and tires and start looking the car over a bit closer.
Once in position to perform a little work on the car we discussed a plan of action briefly. One thing was apparent, if the engine required a full rebuild there was a good chance we wouldn’t make the races in July. Between my motorcycle project and my fathers ongoing Mini work there just isn’t enough time for a full rebuild of the GT750 Water Buffalo unit as well. As a result, we decided that before getting into a full restoration on the DSR chassis we should attempt to start the engine.
I cleaned the points up and my father connected a jumper battery. I removed the spark plugs and connected them to the spark plug wires external the engine. Meanwhile my father fashioned a make shift gravity flow fuel can that we hung from the ceiling from above the car. The fuel pump had been removed from the car sometime in the last 35 years. My father postulated that he put the fuel pump on his old Case tractor when it’s OEM unit went belly up. I guess the grass really needed cut. Anyways, when I turned the master switch to the “on” position the single light on the dash lit up. My father hit the starter button and sure enough the engine turned over immediately. There was no spark though. Flipping the ignition switch to the “on” position made a noticeable difference in that situation. Two of the three cylinders had spark. We decided to give it a shot and installed the spark plugs. With only a few cranks the engine came to life on two of the three cylinders. Later we went through the ignition system a bit further and after cleaning the contacts on the coil that wasn’t firing it started functioning correctly. As a result, the engine consistently fires and idles on all three cylinders. It’s an encouraging start to our quest towards the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in July.