All Autumn in a Day

Somebody must have hit the fast forward button on Autumn. We had our first winter snow storm yesterday — much too early in the season. It was a great day to get caught up on watching movies, sorting photos, and editing videos. Much has been happening at GeorgeCo in the last three months. Let’s get caught up.

RLL Racing

Labor Day weekend brought the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. (Click the photo above for the complete set.) The three days of racing got off to a slow start as the track was about half a day late opening up to practice, but once it did open, Balmer put on an excellent show. Crowds were strong all three days and the racing was solid. The local BMW club had a hospitality tent and a car corral which proved great fun and also gave GeorgeCo an audience to advertise the GeorgeCo E30 powered by Beano for sale. GeorgeCo even got to meet Bobby Rahal (he signed my hat.)


At the end of the day, we even got to drive the track. (GeorgeCo thought he was in a traffic jam to leave. Much to his surprise, traffic turned left instead of right, and we found ourselves on the track.) Pratt Street was bumpy at parade-lap speed, I couldn’t imagine what it was like at 185 MPH.

The beginning of October brought the final NCC BMW CCA Drivers’ School of the year. This time we were on the Jefferson Circuit. Rain turned most of the driving into one big skidpad exercise. But even at super low speeds with no grip, the Jefferson is tons of fun. Mid-day on the last day, the sun came out for a while and we got to take the new GeorgeCo MINI out for a spin. The video below shows the GeorgeCo MINI wearing regular old street tires, chasing down a certain Red M36. I still haven’t mastered getting the helmet-cam on straight, but this video is better than most.

The big news of the month, however, has to be that the GeorgeCo E30 Powered by Beano has been sold. The buyer is an enthusiastic autocrosser who will give it a good home and the attention it deserves. Scuderia GeorgeCo has now gone from a high of five cars, down to a more reasonable three.


NCC BMW CCA HPDE Summit Point, August 2011

After a bit of a summer break, GeorgeCo was back at the track with the National Capital Chapter of BMW Car Club of America to instruct for 3 days at the Summit Point Main Circuit August 5-7, 2011. We ran the GeorgeCo E30 Powered by Beano on Friday and the GeorgeCo Blue MINI on Saturday and Sunday. I had two students this time out. My A Group Student was in an E36 M3 and my B Group Student was in an E30 much like mine. Both accomplished GeorgeCo’s Objectives for any Drivers’ School: 1–Have fun. 2–Learn Something. 3–Return home with your ego and your car undamaged.

The MINI is sporting a couple of new mods designed to improve brake cooling and reduce flex under braking. For the brake cooling we took a trip to the local Ace Hardware to get some ducting. Having previously removed the fog lights from the bumper cover and cut a hole in the wheel liners, we connected the two with some ducting to improve air-flow behind the wheels. At the Shenandoah in similar weather in June we saw brake caliper temps in excess of 650 degrees. This weekend, temps stayed below 600. Tough to say if it was from the improved ducting or just the differences in the two tracks, but $15 for a little insurance is well worth it. To firm up the chassis you will notice the red convertible chassis braces in the photo above. Not seen is the lower stress brace that reinforces the link between the sub-frame and frame. This was on sale a few months back so we snapped one up. Install is dead easy and can be done in about 10 minutes.


We got a break in the harsh summer weather we’ve been having here in the Mid-Atlantic and took full advantage of it with 3 glorious days at the track. We had a bit of rain on Saturday afternoon which spiced things up a bit as seen in this first video.

But once we came to grips with the lack of traction on the transitions to the patches, lap times dropped down to within a couple of seconds of our times in the dry. After the rain, the track never had the same level of grip as it did on Friday, but it did give us a chance to try out a new camera angle with the GeorgeCo RePlayXD camera.

We’re also still perfecting the Helmet-cam, but this video gives you bit of an idea of what is meant by keeping your eyes ahead of your hands. Watch for the head to turn before the turn-in point in the corners.

Ready to Rock the BMW M20 Engine, Rocker Replacement DIY

Unlike other DIY projects for the E30, if you do a quick search on the internet for “BMW M20 replace rocker without removing head” you won’t find much in the way of quality advice. I found one lengthy writeup which may be the single most poorly written and profane set of DIY instructions I’ve ever seen. At least it provided some inspiration and I was able to figure it out myself. So the answer is yes, Virginia, you can replace a broken rocker on the BMW M20 engine without removing the head. Here’s how. (Disclaimer: Use at your own risk, your experience may vary.)

I broke the intake rocker on the #6 cylinder. You will get a range of advice on replacing just one rocker. Some say just to be safe, replace them all. If you have the improved rocker from the later years of the series, you can probably get away with just replacing the broken one. That was my case.

Here’s what you need to consider before you begin: you will need to remove the camshaft gear to get to the rocker arm shaft. To get to the cam gear, you need to remove the radiator and the timing belt. If you replace the timing belt, you should replace the tensioner, and the two seals behind the cam gear. If you don’t remember the last time you replaced the water pump, you should replace it as well. I replaced my water pump recently so I just went for the seals, tensioner, pulley, and new hoses. You will also want to replace the valve cover seal as well. Since you’re going to pull the spark plugs to make turning the engine by hand easier, you may want to replace them as well. Since you’re going to drain the coolant, you need to buy a new supply of coolant. I also changed the oil while everything was apart just in case any bits of rocker fell into the oil. (Turns out it was a clean break.) Replace your AC, PS, and Alternator belts too if you can’t remember the last time you replaced them. And of course you’re going to need a new rocker, eccentric, washer, bolt, nut and clamp.

Since these parts are relatively cheap, pick up a couple of spares in case you get into the project and realize any more rockers are cracked. Of course, having your trusty Bentley Manual is a must. Now you’re ready to start. Give yourself at least twelve hours of work time to do this if you’ve never done it before. You will also need an assistant once you get to step 29.

1. Place your car on jack stands and remove the front wheels, plastic under-tray, and hood. Take the transmission out of gear.
2. Drain the coolant out of your radiator using the drain screw at the bottom of your radiator and the 19mm screw plug on the block. You will make a mess so be prepared. The M20 engine holds about 3 gallons of coolant.
3. Remove the hoses to the radiator and remove the radiator by removing the bracket that holds it at the top and lift it out of the car. There will be some coolant left in the radiator so be sure to drain that too. If you are replacing all of the hoses, remove the rest of the hoses that go to the water pump as well. At a minimum you will need to remove the metal pipe that crosses in front of the waterpump and attaches to the timing belt cover.
4. Remove the mechanical fan using a long thin 32 mm wrench and fan pulley holder.
5. Remove the distributor and the rotor using a 3mm allen key.
6. Cut you belts or loosen the brackets for your AC (if you have one, I don’t), power steering pump, and alternator and remove your belts.
7. Remove the pulleys from your water pump and vibration damper.
8. Remove the cover that protects the position transmitter wire that crosses the timing belt cover.
9. Remove the timing belt cover, both halves.
10. Remove your spark plugs. (Optional, I found it easier to rotate the engine manually with them removed.)
11. Remove your valve cover and gasket.
12. Remove the oil pipe that runs the length of the head so you don’t damage it.
13. Note which rocker is broken. (I’m describing what worked for me with intake #6 rocker.)
14. Using a 22 mm socket, rotate the engine clockwise until it reaches Top Dead Center (TDC). This will be marked on both the cam gear and the crank. On the cam gear there will be a line on the head and a mark on the cam gear indicating TDC. On the crank, there is notch on the crank gear wheel. These two marks should both line up, otherwise your timing belt is installed wrong (not uncommon to be off by one tooth.) Freshen the markings so you can be sure you can find TDC again.
15. Rotate the engine manually in the clockwise direction until the pressure is relieved on the remaining 5 intake rockers. This will occur when the cam lob for the broke rocker is at its highest. Rotate until you are just ahead or just past the peak, but the other 5 rockers remain without tension. This will make replacement easier as you’ll see later.
16. Using a different color paint, mark this point on your cam gear and your crank gear wheel at the same line on the engine as TDC. Once we remove the timing belt, you want to be sure neither the crank nor the camshaft has turned while there is no tension between them so you don’t bend a valve.
17. Relieve pressure on the timing belt tensioner and remove the spring.
18. Remove the timing belt.
19. If you’re replacing your water pump, follow the instructions in the Bentley manual and replace the water pump now.
20. Remove the cam gear using a Torx socket. The Torx bolt is a T50. The corresponding socket is an E12. (Older cars may have an allen head bolt.)
21. Remove the bracket that locks down the two rocker arm shafts at the font of the cylinder head.
22. Remove the blind plug closest to the front (cam gear end) of the cylinder head. Use a screw driver to carefully pry it out and discard it. You’ll want to replace all four plugs while you have the valve cover off.
23. Remove the clamps that go over the rockers on each of the intake rockers.
24. All six rockers (including the broken one) should be loose on the rocker arm. Slide them off the valve perch toward the back of the engine. They should slide freely on the rocker arm shaft. You may need to lube to get them moving. Loosen the eccentrics if you don’t have enough play.
25. Lube the rocker arm shaft and see if it spins freely. Try to move it forward without prying. You are trying to slide it out the front of the engine far enough to reach the broken rocker. If you can’t get a good grip on it, wrap a piece of brass around it (or split a small piece of copper pipe) and use vice grips to get it to move. You want to be sure not to damage the surface of the rocker arm shaft.
26. Replace the blind plug at back end of the cylinder head.
27. Place your new eccentric into your new rocker along with the bolt, washer and nut. Be sure to put it in correctly so the adjusting hole is up and away from the rocker arm. Spin the eccentric so it creates the largest gap to the valve perch when installed. It will be adjusted later.
28. Slide the new rocker on the end of the rocker arm shaft.
29. Have a helper climb up in the engine bay with a large screw driver and press down on the valve spring of the rocker you are replacing. Remember that since the lob is up, the piston is down in the cylinder so you won’t damage the valve. You need to apply quite a bit of down ward pressure to free up the rocker on the rocker arm so you can move it back into position. Once the rocker is fully on the shaft and while keeping the pressure on the spring, use a rubber mallet to move the rocker shaft back into position. Be sure to align the rocker in the correct position so you can reinstall the clamp.
30. Spin the rocker arm shaft so the indentations are parallel for the bracket to be replaced that holds the arms in position. Reinstall the bracket.
31. Move the 5 loose rockers into the correct position above their valves and reinstall the clamps on each rocker.
32. Put a new blind plug at the front of the rocker arm shaft. (Replace the two plugs on the exhaust rocker arm while you’re at it.)
33. Before you reinstall the cam gear, you should replace the two seals behind it. Pull the guide cover off. Discard the o-ring and replace it with a new one. Pound out your old shaft seal, clean up the guide cover, and use the old seal to press in the new one. Lube it up along with the new o-ring and replace. You’ll be thankful you did this when your new timing belt puts additional tension on your old cam gear seal and you’re taking all of the timing belt parts off again next weekend because your cylinder head is leaking oil after you put on your new timing belt. (Don’t ask me how I know this….)
34. Reinstall the cam gear. Tighten it but don’t torque to spec until you have the timing belt back on. Check that the timing lines (the one you painted, not TDC) still line up.
35. Follow the instructions in the Bentley Manual to install your new timing belt tensioner and timing belt. Torque the cam gear nut. Verify your marks line up for TDC. Rotate the engine clockwise 4 cycles to make sure they still line up.
36. Follow the instructions in the Bentley Manual to adjust your valves.
37. Put the oil pipe back on the top of the cylinder head.
38. Put a little RTV Black on the Rocker Arm Shaft bracket as well as along the tops of the four blind plugs. Put on a new valve cover seal, and reinstall your valve cover.
39. For the rest, as they say in the Bentley manual, installation is the reverse of removal…


Window Tint and Dent Masters

GeorgeCo has been taking a couple of days off ahead of the Easter Holiday here in the U.S., using the free time to catch up on some garage and basement cleaning (more room for spare parts and tires) as well as taking care of a few odds and ends that GeorgeCo can’t get done when working 9 to 5 — things like paintless dent removal and window tinting.

The GeorgeCo MINI powered by Beano has done pretty well in the door ding department. After 7 and one-half years of motoring and 140,000 plus miles — only 3 dings of any significance to date. One of which was from a shelf full of GeorgeCo spare parts that fell on the car while safely parked in the GeorgeCo Garagemahal. The other two were likely earned while parked in the underground parking garage at the undisclosed GeorgeCo work-site location near the nation’s capital.

So we made an appointment with the Maryland Dent Masters location in Rockville. Cyress did a great job. No grinding, painting, or putty and the dents were history before you knew it. The three dings took about an hour to erase and you can’t even tell they were there when he was done. Highly recommended.



We also got the GeorgeCo E30 back from the tint shop as well. Since it no longer has AC, we need all the protection we can get from the sun. Decided to go with the max tint allowed by the Great State of Maryland (50%).

New Paint for the Stealth BMW

Back in Black

We got the GeorgeCo Stealth E30 back from the paint shop yesterday but didn’t really get to take a good look at it because we were dodging thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Today we rolled it out into the sunlight and to paraphrase Fernando Lamas “it looks mahvelous.” The paint still needs some time to cure, but so far, we’re really happy with it. And the price was right too. Click either the photo above or below for the complete slideshow. Can’t really call it the Stealth anymore.

even from behind

The change is all the more dramatic when you compare with what we started with back in 2008:

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SCCA Event 1 and CCC for 2010

It was a busy week here at GeorgeCo, with three events in five days. Saturday started it off with half a day with some of the BMW club instructors on the skidpad at Summit Point. About a dozen drivers, three at a time on the skidpad for four hours. Very helpful in finally mastering a full-lap with the tail out in oversteer. I also mastered the 360 degree spin. I spun so much that my radiator cap came undone.

First Championship Event of the Year.  Photos by Danny Kao
First Championship Event of the Year. Photos by Danny Kao

Sunday was the first championship event for the SCCA. It was a fairly simple course on a very slicked repaved surface at FEDEX field. I drove the MINI which was probably the right choice for the surface. I had a bad tire bead on one of my racing tires so I tried slicks up front, street tires in the rear. Sort of a tire mullet. It really helped to get the car to rotate, but you couldn’t get the power down because the temperature was so cold.

Finally Wednesday was the Colonial Challenge Cup at Summit Point. This is a fun charity event with loads of track time. For the second year I instructed basic and intermediate students. I usually try to pick front-wheel drive or low horse-power cars, but this year I got a Corvette and an Audi S4 with a V8. Fun, but more power in the wrong hands is not always a good thing. The video has a couple of good recoveries in the wet, especially towards the end. Below is a screen capture of my finest moment: passing a Ford GT coming out of turn 10 onto the main straight, in the rain….


Detailing Tip of the Week: Better Living Through Chemistry

If you have an ’80’s BMW, chances are you have some funky looking door trim. If you’re turned off by the price of OEM replacement parts, take heart: there is a better way. OK, not better, but certainly cheaper. And you can get it at your local Ace Hardware. Acetone.┬áTape off your trim so you don’t dissolve your rattle-can paint job, put on some gloves to keep your skin attached to your hands, and grab a decent rag and wipe away years of oxidation and discoloration. It’s like magic and only slightly toxic.


The change is dramatic and immediate, but it only works on the door trim, not the bumper trim.


Stealth Gets a New Steering Wheel

The weather gods finally took pity on us in Maryland and gave us a seasonably warm weekend. With about two months of work to catch up on, I tried to spend as much time outside as I could. I managed to install a new steering wheel in the Stealth BMW. Install is fairly straight-forward:

  • Disconnect battery
  • Gently pry out Roundel to get to the nut
  • Using your handy-dandy anti-theft wheel lock, for leverage, remove the nut and washer
  • Turn your key to position 1 to release the lock
  • Remove old steering wheel
  • Installation is the reverse of removal

In this instance, installation consisted of a BMW hub adapter, 15mm extension ring, and competition wheel. It is quite a bit smaller than the standard BMW wheel and fairly thick.

Winter Plans

This is supposed to be that time of year when you watch the 24 Hours of Daytona, day-dream of the upcoming autocross season and start deciding the mods you want to make to your car. You take a close look at the rule changes and decide which of the go-fast bits you can get away with installing. This year has been no exception, only actually getting the parts on the car has turned into somewhat of a challenge.

Back in November I started down one of those “I’ll just touch up a bit of paint…” paths on the convertible. What started out as fixing a scratch and a nickel-sized rust spot, turned into repainting the rear quarter panel. Evidently the “scratch” was a crack in the paint. The paint cracked because the filler under it had separated from the metal due to a poor repair job. Many hours of sanding and a couple of tubes of filler later, I had the panel repaired and primed. Then I ran out of color-coat. The new shipment of paint arrived two days too late — it hasn’t been above 50 degrees since. I can only get the garage about 20 degrees above the ambient temperature outside so I haven’t been able to finish painting. Since I haven’t finished painting, I haven’t been able to get the other BMW in the garage to put the new parts on. Now I have snow drifts of up to 4 feet in front of the garage so I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to get back in there.


You’ll recall at the end of last season, my differential was toast. I have a replacement (which is currently on the front porch under a couple feet of snow) that’s ready to be installed. Since the standard E30 limited slip differential can really heat up under heavy track use, I’m going to modify it with a cover from a Z3. As you can see in the photo above, this cover has fins to help cooling.


Next up is a new header. My old stock exhaust manifold is either cracked or cracking so it’s time to replace it. Though this mod isn’t legal for Spec E30, it is for the autocross class I’m running this year. Since full Spec E30 is still a couple of years (and an engine rebuild) away, might as well get as much power as I can out of the current lump. I like the shorty headers because you get the benefit of equal length primary tubes, plus the convenience of being able to still drop the exhaust ahead of the cat. Once I get all this in, then it’s time to turn to steering changes and the adjustable 19mm rear swaybar to complement the front bar I put in last year. For now, the Stealth has a set of Blizzak winter tires and is my primary means of getting around in the drifting snow.

End of Autocross Season, 2009

The autocross season drew to a close on October 24th with the final event for the NCC at Baysox stadium. I had one chance to win my class for the season: I had to beat my closest rival in the championship by two places. It was close, but in the end, the weather voted against me. The other two ran in the dry and my heat ran in a monsoon.

In the end the GeorgeCo BMW powered by Beano finished the season in a solid second place in the Modified 3 class. Here’s a little life lesson: Be sure to read the class rules carefully. You had to run 6 of 8 events to compete for a class win for the season, best 7 of 8 events counted for points. The previous year it had been best 6 of 8. GeorgeCo only ran 6 of 8 events in a best of 7 series, we lost on total points despite 4 class wins; 1 second place; and 1 third — the most wins in the class. We could have showed up for the event 7, came in last, and walked away with the title. D’oh!

Time to start planning for next season. Next year this will be the only series we’ll run so we won’t come up short on total points again. The car needs a few repairs: new clutch slave cylinder and a new final drive. It’s also time to start working on more power with new injectors, a header, free flow exhaust and a custom ECU tune. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho. It’s also time to bite the bullet and buy some Hoosier A6 tires.

NCC AutoX Event 8