Last Motoring Event of 2011

Saturday brought the last motoring event of the year for GeorgeCo. It was a very nice late Autumn day of sliding and sloshing on the skidpad at Summit Point with the other instructors from the local BMW club. GeorgeCo got a chance to test out the Red MINI’s new suspension and even got to drive a friend’s 911.

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I’ve instructed in a Porsche a couple of times and really enjoyed the opportunity to drive it on the skidpad. I’d like to say I instantly mastered oversteer, but that would be not true. It’s a very different experience to feel the car rotating around you at a point somewhere in the middle of the rear seats. Most of my MINI tricks didn’t work (ie more power in oversteer) and the balance just feels wrong. It wasn’t until later in the session that I finally figured out to ease up on the wheel, let the wheels straighten and keep steady power and it sorts itself out. You can’t lift suddenly and more power just speeds up the spin, but steady power seems to do the trick. That was fun.

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The new suspension on Red MINI proved to be a good choice. The middle setting on the Alta rear swaybar took out most of the understeer, but didn’t make the car tail happy so as to induce oversteer on sudden throttle lift. It’s very neutral with a slight bias to understeer which is the way I like it. We set up some cones and got a chance to practice a little scandinavian flick action. The IE fixed camber plates provide a much less harsh ride than the adjustable plates in the Blue MINI. I think I’m going to like this set-up.

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The track was quiet all day. I don’t think I’ve been here before when there wasn’t some sort of event going on. The run-off area in turn one had a certain zen garden quality to it. Be the curve.

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…

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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.

Before:
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After:
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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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End of an Era. Sold the E30 Convertible Today.

We sold the convertible today. I hope the new owners like it as much as we did. For four years we really enjoyed the car and top-down motoring, but it was starting to demand more attention than the crack GeorgeCo mechanical staff was up to providing. At some point, you just need to make a clean break, and divert your energies to other projects. Someone else is picking up the hard-top next weekend. We sold it for about what we paid for it in 2006, so for the price of four years of maintenance (and countless boxes of parts from Bavauto and PelicanParts.com) we got to have the wind in our hair (GeorgeCo less than the others…) and the sun on our faces.

Update: December 11, 2011

Longtime readers will recall we sold the GeorgeCo convertible last Spring as pictured above. We hoped to find someone who would take the time to restore it. This week we got an update: Not yet complete, but so far, nicely done. About the only bits we recognize are the seat covers.

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More Control

I’ve been taking advantage of the unusually mild November weather to catch up on some maintenance issues on my cars. It started when I noticed a nasty screech sound from the MINI clutch on the way home from work one day. It had been a while since the MINI (now with over 135K miles/over 5K on the track) had been thoroughly checked out. Sure enough the clutch is slipping.

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Once you know you have to drop the engine to replace the clutch, you start to think of all of the other things you might as well do while it’s all apart. I noticed steering wasn’t as precise as before (2nd set of control arm bushing shot); and I haven’t yet replaced the belt tensioner (3rd belt due to be replaced.) I started to source parts, and then realized I’d have to drive the Stealth to work while the MINI is in the shop. I ended up getting a Spec Stage II clutch and lightened aluminum flywheel along with some Powerflex bushings.

control arm

The Stealth E30 burned through a front wheel bearing on my last track day and also showed signs of control arm ball joint failure (I hate when that happens.) New bearings, new wheel studs, new control arms, new control arm bushings, and an alignment later, the Stealth is back on the road. I was able to do the control arm replacement and bushings, but the rest I had to take to York Auto.

I’m trying something a bit different with this set of control arm bushings. I used offset bushings from an E36 M3. The offset location ads a bit more track, camber and caster to the geometry. With the current setup of Bavauto springs and Bilstein shocks, I’m getting 2.5 degrees negative camber in the front (without adjustable camber plates) and 2.6 negative degrees in the back.

NCC BMW CCA HPDE Shenandoah, May 10

This past weekend was the Spring Driver’s School for the local BMW club. Friday and Saturday were warm and sunny. Sunday was mostly cloudy with light rain. It was a good lesson in car control, but not as much fun as pushing it in the dry. The best thing about the rain is that it equalizes the horsepower advantage of the M-cars. The video shows a lap of the skid pad at large-angle oversteer. This club really emphasizes car control on the skidpad. Being able to maintain a full lap in oversteer is one of my last obstacles to finally making it out of the instructor program.

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….

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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.

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

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SCCA Practice Event, 3.28.10

Today was the SCCA practice event at FEDEX Field. It is a non-championship event where drivers can knock off the rust and organizers can try to get their act together before the season starts. It was unusually cold today. Most of the cars in the super-sticky-tire Street Mod class were running street tires for a change, including the GeorgeCo Stealth BMW powered by Beano.

GeorgeCo at FEDEX

Yesterday we had a bit of a set-pack in the suspension department. When we went to adjust the rear sway-bar, we found the drop-link was a wee bit bent.

Bent

Nobody likes having their drop-link bent out of shape. After (quite) a bit of judicious pounding with a sledge hammer and re-cutting of threads, it was almost good as new. Not really, but good enough for autocross. We won’t run it on the track. Not sure why only one side bent. Don’t remember any wheel-eating DC potholes.

Miata hungry

There were some interesting cars there today. Of special note is Jeff’s E-30 with an E-36 M3 engine. More power. Ho, ho, ho, ho. Unfortunately, no grip in the cold, but if it ever hooks up, watch out.

E-36 M3 fits

Speaking of all fury, no grip — check out the Home Depot Spoiler on this C6 Z06 Corvette.

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