And We’re Back In Business! An Equals Zero Return to Form, or So I Hope

After much ado about a whole lot of things, this site is now at least in a working state where all my information is accessible… even if it doesn’t look quite all aligned, all my plugins are missing, things might not be in the right place, and so on. This website is still a van, just a newer one.

By the way, I noticed all of your 63 emails asking what happened to the site! Hell, I didn’t know people still had the patience to read blog posts in this era of Youtube subscriptions and TikTok follows. A lot of valuable info resides here, so I definitely had the incentive to get everything running again, just a matter of willpower (This will be a theme for this post…)

So I had to relearn a lot of “Internet Stuff” since the last real revamp of the site from 2009. The biggest challenge ended up being re-importing the database which actually dates back to 2007 (the earliest posts on this site now), which is why this site was a potato dealership for a few days.

First, I had trouble importing the 200-something megabyte database dump, and it took several retries in different browsers and different times of day. Not only that, but fancy hax0r Charles of 2006 named all of his WordPress databases fancy names, so the new WordPress install didn’t know ass from teakettle. Next, because all of my domains are now unified on one hosting account (Equals Zero Designs and Marconi Motors), I had to connect all the subdomain dots. I’ve also never seen cPanel in my life, despite it being available back then also – I did pretty much all of the setup and back end work through FTP and phpMyAdmin directly, so there was just button clicking to learn.

I’m still going from theme to theme, so the immediate appearance of this site might change in the next few days. I’m trying to keep it a dark and easily browsable theme. The one I have as of 1/11 also has a banner image like the previous rendition, but I haven’t reuploaded those yet. It also has a bad habit of displaying the past few posts all together making the front page infinitely long, and I have yet to find the setting for breaking it up into previews only! I also still need to get used to the visual editor that WordPress ships with now – I’m not a fan of it so far, since it’s more of a walled garden experience and it’s a little harder to use my historic file and photo structure. But alas, welcome to the Internet of Today.

Anyways, after all of my makeshift database adminning, here we are again – I’m sure I’ll make a post like this again in another 11-14 years. All of the old posts should be there, but I have not (and will not) check them for layout or importation mishaps, as I consider those pretty much static archives at this point. Look, my van posts are here for my own reference and that’s all that matters.

So! Onto the new content. Besides now the Summer of Ven and Overhaul 3 Design & Build series posts I need to backfill, there’s some new stuff in the pipeline because I will somehow always find new vans to work on. I’ll just add this to the “List of Things I Still Have To Blog About”. Here’s the short story of, I dunno, since late September or thereabouts.

dromes

You know what? I miss having my own drone. I keep working on everyone else’s drones, but I haven’t had one truly of my own since all the way back in the Tinycopter days. Back then, I had the audacity to code my own flight controller, but these days most of my work is integrating Arducopter and PX4, flight controller firmwares that are….. less haphazardly put together. With safety and what not. Somehow I’ve built dromes for many entities since then, including KIWI of course, and my current place of employ, but what measure is a drome engineer if he doesn’t have any of his own?

And so I went to pray at the Altar of Lord Bezos and visited the Oracle of Jack Ma. You know the adage “Buy right, or buy twice”? My take it on it is “Why buy right when you can buy very specifically wrong and buy a lot?” It’s like getting a 0 on the SAT, since you have to answer every question incorrectly and can’t just shotgun it at random. You have to specifically know what not to buy, so your pile of parts has a minimal chance of cooperating, maximizing your chances of failure but forcing an exploration of the tradespace into places no sensible engineer would touch. Long time readers will understand this is my M.O. for everything – I know what to do, so why do it when you can try something dumb since nothing matters and we’re all going to hell anyway?

As such, crafted out of a tote of deprecated KIWI parts and my robot electronics bins, helped along by some deconstructed Seg-baby packs dating back to 2015 (RIP seg-thing), and with the blessing of the lowest-priced drone parts AliExpress could provide, I present Trashcopter:

The least fine drome that money can maybe buy!

This thing is…. a drone. There’s nothing special about it. I just wanted a beater drone to fly when I felt like it. It works fine, I went through the usual setup and tuning and fine craftsmanship associated with putting a kit drone together, and it is still in one piece as of this writing. It can fly autonomous missions, take off and land itself, follow terrains and avoid (large, visible to IR light) objects, and do a barrel roll in mid-air once. (Okay, it was for a brief couple of hours not in one piece). It ain’t a Skydio II, it’s basically a potato someone threw very hard, very controllably.

I explored the sub-basement steam room of drone parts on this build by purposefully trying to sort by price lowest and free shipping. What I found is an entire under the fallen log ecosystem of used drone parts, selling motors and ESCs and subassemblies for $1-$5 apiece. As expected, I now own like 50 motors pulled from XiaoMi drones, and the ESCs that go with them.

The frame is the cheapest, most terrible DJI FlameWheel knockoff I could find. The finish is so ratchet that I had to deburr everything before using it (and correct some of the heatset insert work, and open up some of the PCB chassis plate holes…), but I also now have 6 frames worth of questionably molded nylon arms. I mean you should see the sink marks on these arms. What I’m saying is, I can build as many terrible drones as I feel like now, for less than the cost of getting parts stateside for one single functional unit.

I furthermore went shopping for the crappiest radio I could find – the “Can I find something even cheaper than the 4 channel HobbyKing 2.4Ghz radio?” and that result is sitting next to it, the “MicroZone MC6” series. Like Trashcopter, it is “An Radio”. It has all the right shapes and tchotchkes in the right places, and Doesn’t Not Work. Hell, it’s even 6 (secretly 7) channels.

The build report for this guy will expound more on the process I took to get the parts, exploring some of the parts themselves including taking apart the cheapo radio, and just generally show the setup of a modern-day Pixhawk and Arducopter based multirotor from end to end for posterity.

But that’s not all.

I hinted in the original Robot Trap House post that I had unfinished business in the sector of Very Lörge Dromes that I still wanted to explore and develop, but which wasn’t relevant to the KIWI business needs at the time. One of these in particular is my strong belief that the “One motor per prop” multirotor architecture doesn’t really scale to large, flying van levels. You CAN make it work, and many companies have, often at great expense of either buying or developing cutting-edge custom motors and materials for airframe and propellers.

That clashed with my general philosophy of “Don’t custom unless you want to make a project out of the custom thing”, and consequently the direction of KIWI, where every aerospace engineer we tried to hire dropped to the floor and foamed at the mouth as soon as they witnessed our extremely BattleBot-like building approach: COTS and easy sheet metal and extrusion weldments.

The magic sauce to me when it comes to electromechanical hardware startups lies not in exotic in-house cooked and served materials and genetically-evolved one-piece structures, but getting out into the field with a working, reliable robot in front of the customer and a practiced means of getting there many times. I’m a bad CTO – I don’t like technology.

So how do I aim to demonstrate an alternative? Well, I reached just a little bit back into history, like a few years, into the domain of the Variable-Pitch Multirotor. Also called “Heliquads” or “Collective Pitch Multirotors”, they trade a little bit of mechanical complexity (The collective-only rotor head) for, in my soon-qualifiable opinion, a broad increase in the maneuverability space and control bandwidth.

My still-in-progress entry into this design tradespace will be what I affectionately named “Wigglecopter“:

Yes, that is my dinner table. No, nobody ever comes over.

In short, for a minor increase in thrust for vehicle attitude correction, a conventional multirotor has to spin up and down the propellers. Your torque to inertia proportions really, REALLY matter. Everything needs to be as light as have as little MOI as possible, and your motors need to be as torque dense as possible, to get a high enough control loop bandwidth to keep the vehicle stable.

Conversely a VPM/CPM can issue corrections by adjusting the pitch of its propellers. Single-degree movements will induce variations in thrust corresponding to possibly hundreds of RPM of motor speed. There is a lot of literature in the advanced aerospace controls scene pertaining to these, and I’ll collate and dive into a few papers I’ve taken a liking to in its build reports.

I actually tried to buy one of these, as they were sold for a while in the Early Teenies by a few hobby vendors with models such as the HobbyKing Reaper 450, WLToys V383, and the CJY Stinger 500. They’ve pretty much all died out, so instead of hunting around for used or new-old ones, I decided the mechanical problem was simple enough to just put together and get the point across.

If you look closely, Wigglecopter is just made from the same pile of garbage that Trashcopter emerged from. I just ordered a few DJI F450 quad frame cards from Amazon to make it a quad, and had to gently re-engineer the motors to accept the collective pitch mechanism and propellers. I’m going to put some more legitimate gear into this thing from the flight control and sensing side, as I’d like for it to be a development platform.

Notice that it still does have four independent motors? Well, you can still do that with a CPM, provided you now keep the motor speed constant so your thrust output is not a multivariate surface of sagging motor speed and flexible propeller blades…. just one of them, as much as possible. I decided trying to make a serpentine belt drive was just going too hard the first time out, and will just bypass this issue with inertia rings pressed onto the motors if need be, and with the ESCs set to speed govern. We’ll see what it does!

My LTE plan for Wigglecopter is to finish and validate it, then start getting larger and larger. I’m going to need to modify the firmware a little for myself, as I would like to make a collective-pitch Hex and Octo down the line. Wigglecopter itself should be all done and ready this spring, and its bloodline is completely unplanned except for daydreaming of lifting Kei vans in the air.

Overhaul 1 Restoration

A very exciting new development in my life is that I now have Overhaul 1 in my possession again. In November, I made a speedrun up to Boston to collect the remainder of the several hundred pounds of life I left in the ol’ vape shop. At this point, I was able to extract Overhaul 1 from its dormant state. For the past few weeks, I’ve been going through it (there’s not much, mind you) and getting it back in running order.

There’s no intention of putting it back in battle except a few token matches with Sadbot, Overhaul 2, and Overhaul 3. Yes, somehow I will soon have four operational heavyweight Battlebots. It’s like vans, they just keep spawning. Everyone I know agrees that it would be incredibly funny if Overhaul 3 loses to every preceding generation of Overhaul. I mean, it’s never won against Sadbot, so this is a distinct possibility.

I designed up a retrofit for the drive motors on the shuffle pods, implementing a design idea we should have done but didn’t have the time to execute. Right now, the electronics bay is a small plastic tote bungee-corded to the frame, but I’m going to design up an integrated battery case and electronics deck so I can close it up. It won’t be as (unnecessarily) fast as it was before, as as a bot I’ll probably reserve for demos and showings only, doesn’t need to be anyway.

I also had to straighten out a lot of bent parts. You know what – my adventures in Big Chuck’s Auto Body came home to roost. There were a lot of fun rednecky processes involved in straightening the welded unibody-ish frame and the pointy plow.

So, hopefully Overhaul 1’s “Rebuild Report” will just read like one of my many other hundreds of “I fixed this stupid thing that broke because I was stupid to begin with” titles.

all of the ven are piles

As of right now, my entire treasure fleet is in disarray. While everybody runs and drives, I wouldn’t characterize any as “particularly competent”. It’s winter, and they’re not in danger of being towed or fined for the first time, so in a way this little return to form with me building robots again has been at the expense of the ven.

Why are they so derelict? Well, I think in part it’s due to me continually throwing them up and down mountains.

Now that I’m only about 3 to 4 hours from the very vannable mountain roads of northern Georgia and the North Carolina/Tennessee border, it means I go…

I’m the width of the road, I’m the width of the road, I’m the wiGET BACK IN YOUR LANE NOW

…all…

Look at that inside-front liftoff. Rear sway bar time?

…the time

I do think at least once every month so far I’ve ended up somewhere in the area with vehicles nobody expects to ever witness in general, much less on a mountain. I’ve gone with groups (typically composed of SPROTS CARS) and when I damn felt like it.

The downside is obviously that the exercise is very strenuous for tired old ven. Here’s the lockout tag captions for everything as it stands:

Mikuvan

  • The entire exhaust path from the axle-clearing bend back fell off in late May when I was on the Tail of the Dragon. Yes, fell off. As in the person behind me had to dodge it. Straight-piping 3 hours home was hilarious, albeit dissatisfactory for hearing longevity. I replaced the exhaust in my first fully welded/fabricated custom exhaust job in June. In fact, look at it ratchet strapped to the roof rack above, as a victory trophy.
  • Complete front brake caliper and rotor replacement in November – it’s had one mildly dragging caliper for a while, and it was tolerable until some amount of smashing on the mountain caused it to seize even more.
  • Now it’s slowly leaking brake fluid from the master cylinder/booster assembly – while it stops fine, the fluid loss is gradual and both faster than I’m comfortable with and want to deal with the mess.
  • The power steering pump is now making absolutely terrific sounds and leaking at the shaft seal, so it’ll be on the chopping block for replacement.
  • There is a cable harness that the cruise control computer intercepts the transmission overdrive solenoid with which has failing pins. This has manifested in sporadic loss of 4th gear, meaning I’m either going 55mph tops or absolutely revving it flat out to hit 70. A kick or tug on the harness will often resolve it – I’ve tried various methods of biasing and restraining the connector pigtail over the past year or so, but outright repair/bypass is now a necessity because it’s getting too annoying.

Vantruck

  • Developed either a misfire or bad exhaust leak from the right cylinder bank, so while it will drive fine, it sure sounds like an old rattly diesel when it isn’t one (yet…). I’ll need to do a full heuristic debug before commenting on it more – it got worse lately as the weather cooled down.
  • It’s recently began emitting blue smoke out the exhaust intermittently. I’d attribute this solely to something like worn/crispy valve stem seals or sticky piston rings, but what was more worrisome is that the oil pressure gauge began to not register pressure. Now, in this era of Ferd, the oil pressure gauge appears to be a fake one – really an on-off scenario. I haven’t correlated the two symptoms by physically measuring the oil pressure yet, and really cannot say I’ve paid enough attention to said pressure gauge in months past for it to even have been symptomatic of anything. It could be a coincidence. Either way, out of an abundance of caution, I haven’t been driving Vantruck around the past few weeks.
  • Rear drum brakes have something going on, probably just excessive wear. If I set the parking brake, the rear brakes will drag for a while after releasing them. If I brake in reverse, then drive and brake forward, there’s a palpable clunk as something with just a bit too much slop pops back into position. Sounds straightforward, just willpower-limited for dissection.

Spool Bus

  • It came with a diesel leak around the left bank of injectors – old and crispy return line fittings, and the cold weather has made it worse to the point where I’d prefer not to drive it. Less due to the fire hazard and more because it stanks of diesel, costs me money by leaking it out, and is rude to others for leaving dribbles on the road. Willpower-limited repair, as I have the fittings and hoses sitting in it right this minute.
  • Thrashing about the mountains has caused a power steering system leak. I haven’t dug into it to find out where from, but it’s actually not from the gearbox itself this time (a known failure mode of many a Ford truck), so it’s probably a stiff hose or loose fitting. In fact, I had to abandon a day on US Route 129 a few months ago because the power steering leak became dramatically worse all of a sudden, a small puddle per power cycle. Luckily, the system was filled with transmission fluid and I had a quart to keep topping it off on the trip home.

You notice it’s all turning and stopping related problems, more or less? Well, in order to not fly off the side of a mountain, it’s imperative that you be able to turn and slow down. Vans, while imperfect at this, can be coerced into doing so somewhat gracefully, but they’ll only put up with it for so long.

Oh, yeah, where’s Murdervan? Spoiler alert – I sold it back in September after shoring everything up nicely and writing a Facebook ad that, in light of current events might get me Investigated. It was sold locally in-town to someone who seemed enthusiastic and knowledgeable of old Ferd diesel trucks, and will join a small business fleet that does urban gardening and landscaping work. A very fitting end to its brief story with me, as it was always just too normal for my misfits. I’m sure I’ll see it around the city more!

So there’s also a lot of Ven to write up, besides the Summer of Ven series itself. I better get used to loving this keyboard and its probable timely successor once the keys start falling off.

Cute little robots

A few weeks ago, I was skulking around knick knack stores in the farthest reaches of Georgia (my latest habit, finally checking out all those antique and flea markets I keep blasting by on the way back and forth from the Smokies and Blue Ridge). A lot of these stores have vintage tools and hardware, which I enjoy perusing. However, at one of them, I found this little guy:

That, if you’re not familiar, is a Dr. Inferno Jr. Well, not really. It’s a Tomy Omnibot, a little robot toy of the 1980s that was probably pretty badass for its time, being programmable via cassette tape and all.

Needless to say, I made off with it because hey, it has some relation to BattleBots history as well as the history of programmable smart toys. It was in good physical condition, though the proprietors said they couldn’t locate the remote control at the time but would keep mining their stocks for it.

Without the OEM remote, it seems rather static based on my research, and so I decided to perform a unique restomod. I’d do a mechanical repair and restoration to get it in driveable first, but I had an element I wanted to add.

That is an old Futaba T4NL Conquest I got for free at some Swapfest at MIT many moons ago, and have just had sitting in one of my Electronics Mystery Abyss totes since. What better to control your 80s robot with than an 80s radio!

What you can’t see from the outside is the MicroZone MC6 transmitter that I organ-swapped into the T4NL. Yup, I done did it – a restomod of the transmitter with a modern day, albeit potato, 2.4G computer radio. This was a fun adventure, and I think I approached it in a unique (but harder) way than just tapping the PPM summation point and feeding it into a 2.4G radio module. I fully embedded the MC6 using the original Futaba gimbals, added the MC6 servo reverser switches to the back side, and wired in new switches to turn the 4 channel T4NL into a full fledged 7-channel radio.

And of course, this photo of my 80s robot that I drove around with my 80s R/C radio was taken at a car show I took my 80s van to. This, as I called it on the Facesphere, is #Radwoodbait for whenever those shows come back up.

I’d definitely love to write up the whole restomod of both the Omnibot and the Conquest T4NL radio, because it was just a fun distraction project over the holidays when everything was closed and I didn’t feel like going outside.

Remember, even while I’ve refrained from fixing this web-van (HEHEHE WEBVAN) up to post content, I’ve been taking my usual excessive amount of photos of every step or interesting happening. The content exists, I just have to find the willpower to write it up – and I hope finally having the damn site operational again will motivate it.

Also, I have so much to remember what I named “Potato”…starting with the title of this site. I’ll take care of it soon, I promise.

robots

How to Remedy Your Mitsubishi Delica’s Leaking Windshield: A Pictorial Guide; Or, Van Facility Improvements Late 2018 to Nowish

It’s well known that every 3rd-generation Mitsubishi Delica produced, for any market, has the Delica Windshield Leak.  This manifests as rainy days or water from car washes/even window washing dripping into the front of the cabin floor by the outer corners, making the floors wet. Left long enough, besides amplifying your foot dank, it will rust the floors out.

But it’s a trap – the “windshield leak” isn’t a windshield leak at all. You can have the windshield replaced and resealed as many time as you dare, but it will still happen. That’s because the actual source of the leak is from a corner body panel immediately under the windshield! After learning of this condition from the delica.ca forums, I…

…waited like 3 years and did nothing in particular about it. I was leery of taking off body panels since there wasn’t a guarantee I could get them back on in due time, if at all. The ensuing “not having an indoor facility of some sort” was also a psychological damper. So on rainy days I usually stuffed some shop rags into the corners and used them as diapers. Well with the facility issue resolved, and with Mikuvan really just running too well lately, it’s time to make myself some problems again. Here I will show step by step how to remedy your Delica Windshield Leak That Isn’t Really A Windshield Leak.

I hope you hipsters in Somerville all don’t see this until it’s too late.

Not that I’m bitter or anything, but with the 3rd generation Delicas becoming more and more legal to import into the U.S., I sincerely think there are more here now than the USDM ones! I’m now outnumbered in the greater Boston area by at least 3 known-to-me and possibly more imported late 80s, early 90s 4×4 Delicas. Does this make me, in fact, the original Mitsubishi van hipster? I think it does! Anyways, before the word “Hipster” loses lexical meaning due to saturation…

Okay, first, this story begins with a national tragedy in the making.

That is a dent in the side of Mikuvan which somehow missed both doors. I was going to the #NewVapeShop on a side road when, at a 2-way stop, someone just straight up rolled their stop sign into the main road. Which I was crossing at the time, of course.

It was a gentle bump, and I remember thinking to myself “Really?” before the sound of mashing plastic. And guess what!

IT’S ANOTHER NISSAN!

Well that makes 2 of 2 of my vans which have been attacked by Nissans in some way. Maybe if I buy a Nissan Van, they’ll go away. What the hell is it with Nissans?

I think the sheet metal damage on the side was actually solely the result of mashing the license plate holder off the front of this Altima. They more or less hit the tire/rim first (destroying one of the hubcaps) and then slid backwards some. Besides the dent, there was no other damage to anything save for the hub cap.

 

bump

I’m just glad it was a gentle bump. While I generally consider myself very cautious, and try to ‘drive ahead’ instead of be reactionary, it’s a clear demonstration that some times, crashes just come out of nowhere. Apparently expecting someone to see a stop sign is too much to ask. My guess is phone, of course. Someone once said that driving a classic (or just old) car requires the same caution as riding a motorcycle; you have to anticipate the mistakes of others before they make them, because you’re not getting any protection from your own ride.

Maybe I could have staggered into that intersection a little more (I was following a loose line), or maybe……… someone can look at a stop sign. Oh well, I’ll let the paperwork elves handle this one.

Anyways, after this facepalm-worthy occurrence, I decided it was time to really give Mikuvan some attention again. The Weird Idle Problem of Vantruck had recently been resolved, so it was no longer in an awkward state of “is it REALLY running, though?”.  Now, with BIG CHUCK’S ROBOT WAREHOUSE AND AUTO BODY CENTER established, I had a place to leave unfinished work for indeterminate time periods (uh oh… so it begins).

In we go! Big Chuck’s Auto Body (as I keep calling it now) is just deep enough to put Vantruck in wall to wall, with around 2 feet of clearance. Mikuvan though can just about whip a U-turn inside.

So here is how we begin. The big steps are

  • removing the headlight bezel, then
  • finding and undoing the corner panel screws, then
  • remedying the aged and likely crumbling body seam sealant.

It helps first to remove the bottom windshield trim, which I didn’t know how to do correctly so I just pried until the little plastic clips popped off, some cracking in the process. I ordered a bunch from this website, and you should probably too before starting.

Two of the screws for the corner panel are hidden under the headlight bezel:

And one more behind the A-pillar inside the doorframe:

And finally, one last one – the most irritating one, in my opinion, since it’s highly possible that the cross drive screw will be rusted in place.

These screws are all going to be JIS type screws, but a good quality #2 Phillips driver will also fit and drive with downward pressure.

I found that heat cycling the screws a few times using a heat gun, then using an impact driver (electric or hammer), was effective in freeing up the stuck screws. Honestly, they weren’t rusted in place so much as just aged together.

The two on the bottom side of the headlight bezel are probably better off done with an electric impact driver because of the awkward angle of approach. If you strip the heads out, you’ll probably have to cut straight slots into the heads and use a large flat-drive bit instead.

The driver’s side windshield trim screw on mine had some Natural Loctite holding it on, but heat cycling did the trick. It’s interesting to see that the body was seemingly assembled with these screws, then painted.

A little bit of wiggling to release two pieces of rubber foam trim strip and the panel will slide off to reveal the abject horror underneath. That’s some pretty deteriorated sealant there!

One of my diagnostics to determine if I had the Delica Windshield Leak was pouring some washer fluid into the corner of the windshield, then heading inside and sniffing around for the mildly-sweet methanol smell and the colored drippings. Sure enough, it was leaking profusely.

Most of the sealant will be so deteriorated they come off with the poke of a screwdriver. I didn’t even really need to break out chisels or scrapers here.

It’s highly likely that the sealant will be hiding some rust, so wire brushing it off and treating it is part of the order. I used a few sizes of wire wheels on a drill to knock as much of it off as I could, manually wire brushed the rest, and applied a little bit of rust converter compound into the gap.

The area after a cleaning and wipedown is ready for new sealant.

I painted the sealant on in a few blobs first, then smoothed it out into the gap. Make sure to also smear some up top where the windshield seam begins, since that is probably where weak spots will start growing.

I waited for the first pass to dry a little and then went on a 2nd pass to give plenty of material and a healthy fillet in the gap area.

The day after, when the seam sealer cured, I did a water bucket test where I just poured a whole lot of water down this area and watched the inside for signs of dripping. I’m glad to say there was none!

You’d want to cover all the bare metal exposed by the brushing, so I painted on some POR15 in a much more widespread area – I decided to go ahead and hit some of the other surface rust around this area while I was at it.

Give a day for everything to dry, and the corner goes back on. You can also replace the rubber weatherstrip foam, but I didn’t.

I also didn’t put the screws back by color – instead I put them back by which one was least stripped and would require the least effort, or most accessibility for Unconventional Screwdriving tools, to get back out. So the more damaged screws went on top and by the door, and the screws which were quickest to come out went on the bottom.

I later picked up some #10 truss-head sheet metal screws in 316 alloy stainless steel and replaced some of these screws with them.

On the passenger side, I ended up having to Dremel a slotted drive into the former cross head, which had deteriorated so much that it basically stripped the instant I tried to torque it.

Yikes, this side looks substantially worse than the other, even!

Same procedure in progress! Scraping off of the old sealant (barely any effort required here… it all sort of fell off), wire brushing and rust conversion, and then application of sealant and protection of the area.

I went a little more gung-ho on this side with the seam sealer use, doing it in one run instead of two.

And went a little more crazy with the POR15 on this side, just sort of coating the whole area top and bottom.

I said earlier I ordered some 316 stainless steel screws for the reinstallation of body panels. I also got these M4 pan-head machine screws to replace the headlight retainer screws, which were otherwise rusty and deteriorated. They did come out with some effort again, so I figured they’d been reused enough times – the threads were almost completely gone – that I should just replace them outright.

Luckily, the completion of this timed well with 2 or 3 days of rain. I purposefully parked outside all day long to try and see if I got any more water intrusion. Suffice to say, both sides were dry to the degree that I couldn’t tell if it was just condensation or not. The driver’s side had a very confined moist region which I’m not sure is water intrusion or a worn out window/door frame seal. I’ll keep working on figuring this out, but for now, one of the biggest annoyances of driving in the wet has been remedied. It always felt kind of ridiculous to have a van that isn’t waterproof.

There are other known sources of water intrusion into this area further back by the seat which only is a problem when the tires kick a lot of spray up. I think it’s an unfilled screw hole or plastic snap rivet hole. I know where it is, so maybe it’s time to do some more exploration!

All-Vans Quality of Life Rollup – Mid 2018 to Now

I’ve had a very unexpected life problem lately.

Namely, all of my vans work too well.

(Okay, I mean, they now do). But still, even before the Great Engine Rebuild (Oh, Shit, Again!?) adventure of 2018, there was, in practice, nothing really going on with Mikuvan besides the engine being worn out and consuming oil. Vantruck, too, always started (begrudgingly so) but really has never quit once running, and has repeatedly made its way to New Jersey and New Hampshire and other New states….as well as Pennsylvania again, but we’ll get to that. It’s probably solely responsible for around 0.00002 degrees Celsius of global warming by now.

This is, honestly, rather unprecedented. So what’s someone like me to do now that he has two vehicles which, at first order approximation, start and run without trouble?

Make problems for myself.

Well, I mean, make incremental facility improvements and try to head off future issues… but then again, I said that shortly before changing my timing belts in the dark.

This post covers the smaller potato work that I’ve done on Mikuvan and vantruck roughly between May (when the place finally unfroze) and, like, last week or something. There’s nothing very revolutionary (thankfully!) and the beginning of cold weather* now will see a decline in work again. I also moved house – on purpose close by the shop – specifically to cut my commute to just a few minutes of walking, hence relieving Mikuvan of having to be dailied. This has been unfortunately going on since I left MIT in 2015, so being able to park it for days at a time means opening up more opportunties to execute longer term work on it again.

*i define cold weather as anything under 65 degrees

mikuvan

 

Some time last fall, Mikuvan began developing a clicking sound from the driveline somewhere in the back. It was a classic sound of a degrading universal joint. I’d bought replacements a long time ago, but didn’t feel the need to replace them just yet. At that time, it hadn’t progressed into any noticeable vibration or binding, and without any long trips on the horizon, I decided to just try and see what happens! I mean, worst case, it r/JRITSses itself somewhat or I’d need to redneck tow it to the shop if it got really bad.

Fast forward to spring, and the clicking had evolved into a somewhat noticeable vibration. Finally, the tipping point came after the 2-and-some week Battlebots Season 3 filming – in that time, something finally bound up completely, maybe from corrosion, and the vibration became much more intense to the point which highway use was questionable.

Alright, alright, I get the point. Time to unbolt the driveshaft at the differential input flange and slide it out.

Huh. Well I’m no….mechanical engineer, or something?…. but I’m pretty sure a universal joint like that shouldn’t just stay rigid on its own. It turns out that vibration is straight up the whole thing flexing the suspension parts and transmission/engine mount!

I’d never replaced driveshaft parts up to this point, so I spent a while watching Youtube videos on how to do it correctly and incorrectly. I ended up deciding to do it incorrectly using the Two Sockets Method, a close relative of the Three Seashells, I am told. This just means receiving the lower U-joint cup with a large socket like an impact wrench socket, and pressing the top downwards with a smaller one, in the absence of a dedicated pressing tool.

The first step either way was releasing the years-old retaining rings which had long rusted shut. I decided to go for total war and simply rip them out however I could, since the new joint parts came with clips anyway.

The gore that presented itself I was just a little unprepared for. I’d say that’s a rather r/JRITS universal joint indeed! The rubber seals were completely fried, probably from the immense heat generated from grinding metal rods around.

Here’s where the joint seized up and bunched up the rollers.

Hold on – I said there were “no long trips on the horizon”, right? Nah, this thing went to Atlanta and back in January. Through the Smoky Mountains, even!

I reused the Two Sockets Method to install the new joints. The ends of the U-joints were ever so slightly not parallel, which made the initial press alignment difficult, but it was not enough to affect it once things got under way.

The new joints came with some semblance of grease of unknown vintage inside, but I slathered the entire assembly inside and out before putting it back together. Here I am about to do the second stage install on the differential flange end.

And all finished!

I had a replacement ready for the transmission-side joint too, but it didn’t exhibit any binding or backlash and the seals looked healthy. So I just gave it an external grease slathering and cleaning for now – no need to replace it for the time being, since even though the Two Sockets Method worked fine, it was still a little painful.

It’s late May coming into June now, so the weather’s been warming up (finally) and I haven’t blown the engine up yet. I decided to address something that has always been lurking since I bought the thing, but never presented a problem, nor is it of guaranteed benefit if I messed with it.

I meanwhat else is new, right!?

 

I’m talking about Mikuvan’s secondary A/C condenser. It’s a little radiator that’s part of the dual air conditioning system – only equipped on the dual A/C models. It lives right in front of the passenger front tire, protected from all the spray and road grime and debris by….. like a 3″ tall mini-mudflap. This is to say it’s utterly useless and the whole thing is filled with rocks. The fan motor is long dead and bound up. I was in fact amazed it hadn’t rusted all away by now.

 

As long as I’ve had Mikuvan, the mini condenser fan has been loose and just jiggling under the motor. After cracking the assembly open, it fell right out. The hub was pretty mangled, but it was just a press-in steel insert and not bolted or splined or something.

I surmised that the first good rock that got flung into this thing probably jammed the fan and caused it to be broken off its hub, and from there, this condenser was basically useless. It’s positioned horizontally, so it really doesn’t even get any kind of directed airflow. Not without some kind of assisting duct or control surface, anyway.

The fan motor itself is a little cute 60W nameplate rated axial pancake motor, which seemed to have long ran out of life energy and could be barely turned by hand. Nevertheless, I kind of got the idea of what it has to be replaced by, so I went and did some shopping.

This is its replacement, a 10″ diameter miniature radiator fan from Amazon. I have to take a moment here to stop and praise the sheer ballsiness of Bezos’ magical elf workshop for making formerly very niche car products commoditized and straight up passing the Chinesium into the hands of consumers. This object is $40 and by my judgement quite well made with sharp mold lines (very sharp… ouch) and rigid feeling plastic with visible fiber-fill texture.

I was just going to pull the motor and fan rotor out and bolt it to the existing steel frame of the A/C condenser.

I was pleasantly surprised pulling the fan rotor off because I discovered that this motor was basically identical to the stock one, as in down to the mounting flange and everything. I take it this size-class of fan has just been a form factor staple for decades.

The mounting holes just lined up, but the new one is actually mirrored from the old one. The motor did need spacing off from its mounting bracket due to a different, more protruding rear bearing boss, so I used some spare Overhaul rubber shock mounts to give it that distance. It also gives the fan a little bit of flex so it isolates (what little it had) vibration.

Before mounting everything, I hit the fan mounting plate with a few coats of rust converter and then leftover clear-coat. This should keep it from dissolving away for a few years yet!

I spliced the connector from the old motor on and dropped everything in place. Really from the space available I could have well gone for a full 12″ fan, but this actually shouldn’t be drawing that much power anyway. It’s on a circuit that supported 4-5 amp draw to start with, so to try and stuff a 10+ amp full size blower motor on it might have other consequences in the electrical system.

When the A/C is turned on now, this fan runs with the system. It provided a noticeable improvement in the A/C system’s cooling ability at low speeds (in traffic/stopped) and in general on hotter days.

After Dragon Con this year, with the summer (a.k.a “the three or four weeks you can work on stuff outside”) coming to close and with no more long roadtrips on the horizon for real this time, I decided to address the ever-degrading paint work on the front. I now was in my new place nearby the shop, so I could leave stuff unfinished for multiple days without making one or the other white-collar millennial yuppie upset (I speak as if I’m not one at heart…)

The paint on the front of Mikuvan was ratty and rock-chipped when I bought it – and it sure hasn’t gotten better. It doesn’t help that the front is also nearly vertical, so it will take every piece of gravel (and every bug) head on.  I elected to go for just a repaint instead of also filling dents – it was more worth it to me to just protect the metal more than anything. That’s my general approach now with bodywork – make it not get shittier, and some day when (I’m sure) I sell the company for Bezos-class ca$h-out money, I’ll have everything done over correctly.

 

….right? Right?

I thought the front trim piece was double-sided taped on, but turns out it’s just held in by little snap rivets. I removed it and all of the headlight trim in order to inspect how much I’d have to do here. The plan is to mask off the black window highlights, give a fine sand over everything, use some high-build filler primer on select areas, and then blast the whole thing.

I didn’t invest in any color-matched paint or a spray gun or anything. This whole operation will be a rattlecan bomb with Dupli-Color Chrysler Bright White, the closest shade to what I assume it looked like new (and which has been on all my other questionable auto body endeavors).

Here we go! Masking was a job that took a while on its own, especially since I had to be very careful trimming the black highlights with a craft knife. I masked far enough around that I could go Banksy Overdrive.

I used some 180 grit sanding sponges and 220 grit sandpaper to roughen up the existing paint. Honestly, it’s so degraded that even 220 grit was very easily removing it to the OEM primer layer (as seen in a few spots). I cleaned everything during and afterwards with denatured alcohol.

It didn’t occur to me unti I was more than halfway through the filler primer job that….. it’s black colored. Oh boy, this will take quite a few coats of white to cover up now…. I mostly focused on blasting the extra-sanded areas and the deeper rock chips.

As can be seen, I also had a little too much fun with exhausting the initial few old/stale paint shots. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about spraypaints, it’s never use the first couple of seconds of paint, especially not after it’s been sitting a long time.

 

After the primer had dried, I went back over it with sandpaper in parts where I let it hang out a little too long and it produced some noticeable runs and areas of unevenness.

Then I went ahead and applied the first couple of color coats. I continued this process even as the sun started setting – and had to clean out another Autozone of the color I needed before continuing. I think about 9 or 10 passes of paint total went into it. You can’t spray regular spraypaint too thick at once, since it will run down a vertical surface, so I had to take multiple very light passes.

I let the color coat dry overnight and bake some in the morning sun, then made a few passes of gloss clear coat. I actually used a clearcoat advertised as an engine paint which had ceramic particles (allegedly!) in it; this I got some time ago for another project and had used on other smaller van sections. This stuff, whatever it contains, actually isn’t entirely clear in thick coats – the magic unicorn dust gives it a very, very faint bronze tint. This actually had the effect of color-matching the Bright White with the more weathered white factory paint, so it was a happy coincidence – but just watch out if you actually use it for real things.

In the afternoon, I began peeling off all the masking.

A few tiny runs and undermining of the masking tape here or there, but I consider it all good.

I gave the paint about a week to dry and cure fully before installing the badges again. The “Mitsubishi” logo came off some time in 2016, and I hung onto it. I got a new diamond badge off eBay about the same time, so I finally dug them back out and cleaned everything up.

To align the diamond badge, I looked up some photos of where they were originally.  It seems to either have the centroid horizontally aligned with the top edge of the headlight trim, or the bottom edge of the badge aligned with the same. I’m sure it depended on the year and how drunk the assembly workers were.

I decided to go for the “center aligned” version, so I made a guide with a horizontal solid strip of masking tape. From the center of that tape strip, I tore off a section and applied it again, lowered by the height of the bottom two diamonds. Then I marked off with a pen the middle of the distance between the headlight trims at that height. This gave me local geometric alignment to smash it on with some VHB.

The Mitsubishi text badge was applied much more haphazardly in a location that I thought looked like that it belonged.

At this point, Mikuvan is in a very stable plateau, which I hope I can maintain for a while. I no longer need to daily, and the powertrain is in excellent shape post-rebuild. I do need to get around to re-brushing the front A/C blower motor (…again), but that’s a very minor kibble.

The only additional bodywork I’d like to do (besides everything) is revisit the rear hatch glass, which was the very first rust repair I ever did 5 years ago. It’s been slowly coming apart the past few months and is now bubbled up some in spots. However, without a heated garage, and with further detrioration less likely to advance since it’s mostly parked indoors, I’ll put this off until next spring or later.

Everything else that is/was rusty has been paved over in thick dosings of what I call “Eastwood Goo” – you’re supposed to fill body panels with that stuff, not use it externally. Believe me, I’ve considered making look intentional and doing both sides with a clear masking line.

And now, back to the only-partially white elephant  of….

vantruck

Sorry, did I say it was running well and had no problems and had never left me stranded?

I dunno what BattleBots did this year, but my vans weren’t much fans of me when I got back. Maybe it’s because they got jealous, or maybe all of my equipment actually talk to each other and know I failed at winning miserably, so they’re just all piling on now while I’m down. Either way, one day soon after my return, I went to pick up a few shipments.

All was great going in! Then, when I tried to leave…. nothing. I could hear the starter clicking, but it wasn’t doing much starting. After a classic “hammer on the starter” attempt, it gave maybe one half-assed crank, but it wasn’t enough.

Okay, okay, I get it. You guys really like riding on tow trucks and U-hauls. Vantruck got this habit from Mikuvan, who I’ve had to trailer home more times than I’d like to admit to my friends in order to avoid their judgemental Facebook comments. Something about older siblings being bad influences….

 

I figure the starter is original, since it looks like THAT.

After dealing with a snowflakey, rare Japanese van for ages, it was actually a relief to handle something American. Parts for domestic brands are SO. CHEAP. I’m guessing this is how old muscle car people survive – the lineage of parts for American makes is just so extensive. What do you mean Autozone had something just on the shelf? Such luxury! I had this job done the SAME DAY.

The starter is retained by only 2 bolts, so this job was very quick and painless. Quite possibly the ONLY part which is quick and painless to do on a 3rd-generation Econoline, as far as I can tell.

I took the old starter apart afterwards because curiousity got the better of me. Those are some very stumpy and worn brushes indeed. What didn’t make sense to me still was just how fast the cliff came – typically you can nurse a worn-out brushed motor for quite a while by hammering at it, which has the effect of making the brushes temporarily contact the commutator again. I got maybe another few rotations out of it, not enough to turn the engine over even once. Oh well…

And yes, I absolutely did return it to Autozone as a core in this condition. They took it.

Hey, it saves your rebuild house some labor time!

The interesting thing is, I used to have two of this kind of Ford truck starter. In early high school, when I went to a junkyard the first time to the utter horror of my parents who were desperately trying to keep me on the path of being a doctor or something, there were just two of them lying on the ground next to a bunch of other pre-pulled parts. I got them both for something stupid like $20. I didn’t know what they were at the time (only that they ended up not being good for robots), and eventually they were lost to the cruft seas of time and moving house, given away or left behind. The last positive memory I have of them was in 2006 or so when I finally had to reorganize my every-growing cruft stash.

This just confirms my belief that you shouldn’t ever throw anything away, ever. Because I could have REALLY used them just now.

Whatever, it starts again. Here’s a picture of the bottom pan of a Gear Vendors overdrive unit – I wanted to stop it from dribbling gear oil slowly since the gasket was damaged. I scraped off the existing one (the green junk) and put on a new one I ordered from GV directly. The only trick to this I encountered was the oil pickup tube didn’t want to stay in the upper half of the unit, not even with a new o-ring. So you kinda have to place it just right in the tray and wiggle it in as a pilot alignment feature before putting the oil pan bolts in. There’s no other retention for it I can see.

By now, it was late May, and Vantruck’s true calling of being an internet meme was well under way.

Yes, that is indeed Alex and myself at the first Regular Car Reviews double-review. If you haven’t seen it by now…

….don’t click on it unless you have headphones, have very understanding bosses, or own the damn company.

This was a cool experience. I’d been following RCR for a while now, and so to be on the show was an exciting opportunity. We presented the idea of Double Vantruck Party to him some time in April, after BattleBots was all done. The whole filming was a one-day affair – meet in the morning, take some sweet video, and then roll home in the evening. I’ll say that Mr. Regular really opens up personality-wise after a few beers. He’s otherwise a very unassuming person, someone you wouldn’t associate with the #1 source of brown on the Internet.

 

Some time in June, I was trying to change the alternator belt when I realized that there’s just way, way too much going on in the engine bay. A lot of the mess is the 1980s California smog package. It has two air injection pumps that run off the alternator belt, about 2 miles of random hoses and vacuum lines connected to a few check valves and delay valves and thermally-triggered valves and blah blah blah GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE

All of it. Out and away.

I wasn’t merely doing this for the purpose of easier belt changing, but also I wanted to get to the root of the Weird Idle issue that has plagued Vantruck since forever, at least since the installation of the EFI rig.

Basically what would happen is, upon reaching warm idle, the exhaust AFR becomes very rich on the order of 12.5 to 13, and the EFI unit tries to trim down as much as it can, but it’s not enough. Some times it feels like it’s missing a cylinder. It clears up if you rev at all, and it’s never misfired or exhibited bad behavior on the highway. It also doesn’t happen when it’s cold started or just warming up.

This led me to believe that there was a remnant temperature-triggered emissions device which, no longer needed or with its connected system removed, was now simply causing problems. I removed and plugged every single vacuum fitting I could find, and also plugged/capped the air injection manifolds.

Jokes about global warming aside, when it’s operating outside of the “Weird Idle”, the AFR is maintained very tightly. I strongly think the EFI retrofit makes the emissions more controlled than any analog vacuum cleaner contraption ever could.  They did the best with what they had, now it’s time for it to disappear.

I kept all of this gadgetry in a box – if you want it some some reason, let me know!

 

It’s actually reasonable in there now!  I always thought this engine bay was never designed to fit the big-block series engines and they just smashed them in there because marketing said they had to.

In the same session, I also retimed the distributor slightly. I figured that one of my Weird Idle causes could be too low initial timing – the FITech dashboard screen shows me the manifold vacuum, and it was always suspiciously low in the Weird Idle state, often on the cusp of around -15 to -16 inHg, whereas The Internet suggests that a higher (-18 to -20) value is more common.  So either way, I decided to double check.

By the way, if you’ve know me recently, you might have heard me say that “X or Y is the Distributor Wrench of Z”. This is because it took me THREE. HOURS. of dismantling things to get to a point where I can wrestle some abomination of a crows-foot wrench, a universal joint, some kind of socket extension, and a wobble-drive to get to the stupid bolt that locks the rotation of this thing.

Then I found out they make a single-purpose U-shaped bent wrench, JUST for this purpose. It has no reason to exist besides compensating for shitty engineering and cost-cutting. It is, truly, the Distributor Wrench of distributor wrenches.

This is not okay. It’s the literal opposite of okay.

This was the first time I got to play with my own timing light and know what it meant. There was a timing light someone busted out when the initial exorcism of Mikuvan was happening, but my only conception of timing at that point was about stator flux and that motor sure didnt look very electric.

I verified that the base timing of the distributor was only 4 degrees – even lower than the 8 degrees indicated in the manual, and far lower than the 12-16 degrees The Internet™ claimed that Ford big-blocks liked. Feeling edgy, I set it to 16 degrees. Unfortunately, it had little to no apparent effect on the Weird Idle.

Whatever the root cause of the Weird Idle might be, it wasn’t causing any problems really besides making people judge me while in traffic – but I’m used to that anyway.

Among other adventures, I went on a van assist mission to work on Cassandra’s van in New York. We had a number of things to go over during the day, and I figured I’d bring Vantruck for its towing capacity juuuuuuuuuuuust in case.

This trip taught me that all American full-size vans are abominations of packaging and manufacturing, not just mine. They were never made to be serviced – you were supposed to buy them for your contractor business, drive them for like 40 or 50,000 miles, then get a new one. Problems wouldn’t really come up in that time interval, and when they do, you just junk it and start anew. This is how American van design hasn’t really changed since the 1970s. Even a modern final-generation E350 shares underpinnings with this generation, and GM has been making the same van now since what, 1994?

So what’s on the horizon for Vantruck now?

I’ve been doing some research on how you remedy Ford rain gutter rust, and the answer is “You Don’t”. Not without custom metal fab, and definitely not cutting these off because that apparently makes the whole roof just pop off, because the rain gutters double as the pinch-weld which attaches the roof to the sides. Gee, thanks Ford.

I have a few bright ideas about cutting them off just enough to weld on some strip patches, and have talked to two or three auto body places regarding it (and to have them on standby for when I inevitably fuck up).

This work is kind of indeterminately scheduled right now – I’d like to remedy this entirely before trying to paint it or make any additional restoration fixes.  For now, the rust is arrested with converter compound and clear-coated over, so this (along with 2 or 3 other patches on the roof) at least won’t get much worse. Realistically, the fleet is in good running condition day-to-day so I will likely back off on Van Stuff for the next few months.

However, I’ve decided that Vantruck will be my target for more extensive buildout in the future in terms of restoration and “enhancements”. It goes back to what I said earlier about Mikuvan being just too much of a snowflake; parts beyond powertrain are difficult to find if I mess something up, or expensive if I do find them since they often need to come from overseas where the platform is still being supported. Vantruck – while “special” in its own way, is still an older American truck built like a Lego set. 3rd-generation Econolines show up on Craigslist all the time for cheap. Parts are everywhere. I feel way less bad diving into it and modifying it for this reason.

As for what plans exactly, I’m not sure yet. I definitely want to repaint this thing fully white with black accents much like Mikuvan still; as much as the three-tone brown-on-Brown-on-b r o w n is endearing, I’d prefer a more consistent look – most people pay good money to have three-tone paint, but I get it for free! It’s brown, less brown, and white!

Recall the original Vantruck repaint concept I posted way back when:

I’d like to make some very mild changes to this based on inspiration I’ve seen from other trucks, but it will resemble this at a high level. It replicates the window blackout highlights that Mikuvan has, which I do like.

I’ve also been playing around in Solidworks with other “additions”:

That is a very idealistic mockup of what I call the “Bovine Interdiction System”, or a cowcatcher/bullbar setup. The inspiration was largely from semi-tractors with the broad chromed front bumpers, which I learned were called “Texas Square” bumpers. It also turns out that the elaborate marker light arrangements on some trucks and trailers are called “Chicken Lights“.

It would then seem, at first approximation, that truckers have as many meme-names for thing as I do. Because I sure as hell didn’t get any useful search results for “those lights that truckers put all over their running boards and trailer sides”.

Anyways, I’m highly unlikely to build that monstrosity, but its design will probably evolve. I would like front and rear upgrades to this thing eventually, and paying $1000+ for a commercial brodozer bumper is just unfathomable in my mind (Plus literally nobody makes them for 3rd-generation E-series vans, because why would you.)

In general, it gives an idea of the direction I want to pull this thing, which is “mildly brodozer” in aesthetic without sacrificing usability; I’m not inclined to lift it beyond the point of usefulness in towing the company’s equipment trailer, but a bed-mounted toolbox would be nice, for instance.

Operation Bad Timing II: The Epilogue

Holy pepperini I’m late with this one! I’m really hoping I can get back into regular posting soon in some way as the company (which I owe now a TED Talk or Disrupt-level summit on the story of, I’m sure) becomes more defined and roles more condensed. See, if I don’t get to blog, I start almost brooding like a chicken that just has to pop an egg out and sit on it until it hatches. This is a patently unsustainable behavior in the long term. By the lack of updates, really, you can probably infer that everything worked out and I was able to move onto other things – after this post, I’m planning on a lot of back-blogging some robot and additional van work I did before the summer. If I keep saying it, it will happen, right?

We pick up the adventure again on the verge of final re-assembly as I decide to tackle the very cracked exhaust manifold before it just splits in half like something I’d see on r/JustRolledIntoTheShop. I did some light reading on cast iron welding techniques beforehand – everyone says it’s extremely difficult, so why not try since I’m not…… likely to make it worse? The method I ended up settling on is using a nickel filler rod and a TIG welder.

 

I wire brushed and ground out the area of the crack with some combination of a Dremel and a die grinder. The idea seems to be you have to get ahead of the crack such that it doesn’t continue propagating.

I’ve read that it’s very likely the cast iron used in manifolds is a bullshit material made of manufacturing scrap and cuttings, so the composition might not be carefully controlled, and that different manifolds will weld with different success rates because of it. Either way, it seems like a preheat is necessary – and some places even advocate post-heating. I found a simple way to pre-heat the area by virtue of just sticking the torch up the bottom.

I can say right away that these were not my proudest welds.

So I’m sure people who have repaired manifolds will giggle amongst themselves about it, but it turns out that old oil-soaked cast iron is not exactly a very cooperative material to weld. By this I mean the moment I stepped anywhere near the boundary of my cleaned/ground weld seam, it would literally explode from all the deposited junk in the surface. If it didn’t just crater the whole area, the remnant oil would actually bubble up into the weld pool and make it porous!

This meant a lot of rework and re-cleaning and re-grinding. Eventually I got the message, and simply plowed forward and just kept adding more nickel rod to fill the imperfections and porosity up, basically burning out all the oil in the area of the weld. Sadly I was only able to close the cracks on the accessible sides, and not much in the center valley, so it’s still technically leaking.

You know what, fuck it. It’s better than when I started, and nothing re-cracked yet, so it’s going in! Overall the experience in the clean, cooperative area of the weld wasn’t bad at all.

 

….okay, yes, but first I had to repair the studs. There was always one exhaust downpipe nut that was almost impossible to get off, and I finally found out why. In this manifold were studs of two VERY, SLIGHTLY, IRRITATINGLY different threads. Two were M10 x 1.25, a standard metric fine thread that is easy to find in the US in any disused, neglected metric parts corner.

The third was M10 x 1.0, which is apparently a parallel metric fine thread standard. Well that would certainly explain why the M10 x 1.25 nut was so difficult… this nut has never been changed or the stud inspected by itself until now, and was the one someone clearly meatheaded on long ago.

Oh, yeah, I also sheared all 3 studs off trying to get them loose, because of course they would all shear off.

The only option remaining was to drill them out down the center. Because of the awkward angles involved, I decided to not try and set them up in a drill press, but instead piloted the center of the hole  with a larger 135-degree, split-pointed drill bit, then drilled downwards with larger and larger drill bits by hand.


Manifold-kitty is pleased.

Then I slammed a M10 x 1.25 (more commonly found metric fine thread) tap through whatever remained and YOU KNOW WHAT, JUST GO DIE IN A FIRE ALREADY shipped it. Yes, I tapped right over the remains of the old studs. Who cares!?

My plan was to actually not use nuts and studs anymore and instead put some ISO large-head M10 bolts straight in from the bottom.

Very generous dollops and blobs of anti-seize lube are applied to everything in sight with respect to the exhaust manifold. The new nuts and hardware are no longer JIS standard, so they use 13mm wrenches instead of 12mm – while I was able to locate 12mm JIS series nuts, they had a regular zinc coating, whereas I could get the non-JIS ones with the yellow chrome finish. I decided to opt for maximum corrosion resistance than period hardware correctness.

Also check out the timing hardware finally installed! I’m so fast with it now! Kill me and end my suffering!

Look! I didn’t even sail right through a critical mistake-catching step this time! That is indeed the camshaft timing mark lined up with the head casting mark.

 

The original mistake? In the dark and without the paper manual in front of me (and boneheading through remembering the exact procedure), I missed the casting mark and instead lined it up with the top of the head.

With everything now bolted up and secure, it was time to fill it up with oil (just oil for now) and do a test fire…

Well, it didn’t explode, so…

I now had to set the distributor timing. The engine has electronic timing control, but still depends on the distributor as a crankshaft position pickup, so it has to be vaguely in the right place. To do this, I had to whip out my timing light and find the degrees-BTDC indicator on the lower timing cover, after jumping a “timing mode” connector pin located right  behind the engine on the passenger cabin firewall – this tells it to not apply any timing advance.

Wait, what? Mine didn’t look like any of the others I saw online. After a lot of head-poking and investigation, it appears this has been severely damaged at one point by an escaping pulley of some sort, or a loose/derailed belt! The “BTDC” text was visible, but all of the physical markers had been destroyed.

It took a little clever hunting for OEM parts to find an image of what the thing used to look like.

I found listings for other cars with 4G64 engines, both SOHC and DOHC since they appeared to share the same timing components besides “More of Them” for the DOHC. At the least, I wanted to check if my imagined scale – what the indicating lines would have said – was correct.

The above timing cover from the Eclipse shows the “BTDC    |” marking with a “10” near by the T and D. You can barely make out the tops of the “10” on mine, so I used this as a reference to set the distributor at the 5-7 degrees base timing it recommended. I erred closer to what I think was 5, since I’m not letting that happen again.

After setting the base timing was done, it was time to fill up fully with everything and idle until warm. Now I reconnected all of the intake and coolant hoses, as well as finally adding in the oxygen sensor (which I went ahead and replaced, since the old one at this point was a solid wad of oil minerals)

Filling a cooling system from empty means it has to purge all the air out that had been trapped. Idling until warm/hot means the thermostat valve opens, letting the coolant fully circulate and a lot of it will burp out from the radiator. After that, I could top off the radiator and close up.

Final bringup operations included organizing remaining wires/cables, spark plug wires, final check on hose clamps and tube fittings, and setting the warm idle speed by repositioning the throttle cable stop incrementally.

And we’re back online! The trip to the local gas station was really a make or break – once I got out here, it meant that any near-term catastrophic failures would have already revealed themselves….or so I’d hope.

But you know what? I was out for revenge. I had to restore my honor and dignity.  Why the hell would I do all this work just to drive 6 or 7 miles to and from the shop?

So after the 100 mile break-in oil change, the following weekend I decided to hit up….

Middle of Nowhere, Virginia. My original late May trip was going to be taking the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway slowly down to Atlanta. Not having a random week to spare at the moment, I decided to just make a weekend (Friday evening to Sunday evening) trip out of it, on the Skyline Drive portion only. I got into the area Friday late night, spending a good chunk of Saturday wandering through and then hanging around Harrisonburg, VA before returning Sunday early afternoon.

I’d give Skyline Drive a 8/10 for sheer scenic presentation, but a 4/10 for “Hoodrat shit Charles likes to do”, which is cut up mountain roads in a nonsensical vehicle for doing so. First off, the park speed limit is 35mph and it’s very much enforced. Second, since it’s actually a national park, it’s not very technical nor tight – any schmoe has to be able to drive it without flying off the mountain. A very leisurely cruise – almost too leisurely as you are trapped behind a Winga-Dinga-class drop-top Corvette with 3 gray-haired people doing precisely 35.1 mph who REFUSE. TO TAKE. ANY. PULLOUT. At least I got to fly around a little after the second “half” south of U.S. 33 where the camper, biker, and hiker population also drops off. I think I’ll go back to U.S. 129 any day…. or hell, the Afroduck Loop if I’m that bored.

What kind of idiot goes on a 1,200 mile road trip right after rebuilding an engine? Apparently me.

Suffice to say, Operation Bad Timing II was a resounding success. I’ll be keeping an eye out on the wear and consumption levels of everything in the next few trips, but so far it’s all been super promising. After I got back, I did another wear-in oil change, and the oil consumption level has dropped to almost trivial levels. It’s after Dragon Con now (…so there’s THAT trip report), another 2,500+ mile combined trip, and I’ve topped the oil level off with about half a quart.

 

Once.

 

Operation Bad Timing II: Chinesium Rising; The Zero-Delta-Entropy Point

Last time, I had just gotten to replacing most of the seals on and cleaning up the old head before discovering a cracked exhaust valve which meant I couldn’t put everything back together before getting new ones. That delay pushed back the timeline just long enough for the Chinesium Solution to appear:

Yep, it’s cylinder head shaped alright.

– me, when I opened the box

 

To recap, while searching the neighboring galaxy Craigslist for old Mitsubishi truck/van parts, I discovered that there is still a lot of Chinesium aftermarket support for this engine family, the 4Gxx series. So I took a leap of faith and spent $400 on a complete cylinder head assembly, in the interest of exploring the solution space and documenting it for all other silly van enthusiasts as I tend to do for everything.

The appearance is virtually identical to my current cylinder head, minus one or two things which jut out in the corners, possibly for different accessories or mounting needs later on. However, the biggest added feature I noticed? Roller rocker arms! That’s worth at least like 1 horsepower over flat ones, which to me is a 1% gain.

The gasket-mating surface of the head is otherwise identical.

So now I’m left with a conundrum. Which head do I use!? The old one is proven and has most of its wear parts changed already, but I had new valves coming and would be changing those out, but without refinishing the valve seats. The Chinesium Option is brand new – late-2017 date code on the casting and still smelled like machining coolant – but my fundamental skepticism of Chinesium persists.

I figured that at the end of the day, all things considered, Chinese people also prefer to have working cars – so this thing probably doesn’t not work, but might have parts that have  shorter wear lifespans. However, I’m of the opinion that any new parts I can find for this thing are already Chinesium, or already will not have the expected lifespan of an original Mitsubishi OEM part, or both. For example, the head comes preloaded with valve stem seals which might wear out again at the 50-70K interval. Or they might not. Who knows?

Fact of the matter is, after doing this dive, I’m no longer uncomfortable and scared of a lot of the process, just understanding that it takes time. So what if this thing instantly and catastrophically fails – lesson learned, shove the old head back on. So for now, I’m keeping the old head around until the new one either proves itself or doesn’t.

And so we cross the point of maximum entropy, basically when your shit is the most taken apart and hopeless.

The new head even came with studs. I picked up a pack of new metric nuts to replace the hodgepodge of hardware that was on the old intake – which I still can’t figure out if it was factory-intentional or the result of some previous surgery.

This was the moment I discovered that JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) and the rest of the world has different wrench sizes for various fasteners.

Chances are, in the U.S., if you even touch metric at all, it’s the ANSI or ISO standard. JIS is Japan’s own thing, and it has different head sizes for nuts and bolts. I finally understood why some times I found M8 nuts and screws that had 12mm hex heads and other times with 13mm ones, or more drastically, M10 nuts and screws with – get this, 14, or 15, or 17 millimeter wrench needs. I took most of these parts off with a 12mm wrench… but a 13mm is being used to re-arm them!

To be super authentic and ジェイ ディー エム, I’d have to hit up the local metric automotive supply place and get some JIS small-wrench hardware. But McMaster-Carr is just so easy.

 

The intake manifold now being mated to the new head. I took this opportunity to replace a few of the rubber hoses which I noticed had become sufficiently mummified, including the PCV, PCV breather, and a few vacuum lines.

Before I go too far, just double checking that it’s correct….

It took me a little while of searching to find how to re-mount the distributor. I couldn’t find where it was referenced in my USDM van manual at all, just occasionally sketched in with the intake manifold and cylinder head. I had to do some searching and found a 1990-1994 4G6 workshop manual hosted by the Canadian Delica club, where I found the instructions for the SOHC head, reproduced here for saving my ass later:

 

Hey, I have those locating features! The distributor will need to be fiddle with once mounted anyway, so I really just wanted to get the initial gear mate correct.  When it is correct, the rotor will face essentially straight downwards with the head in a normal upright position.

Now I flip it over and mount the exhaust studs, which are the same type.

After the head assembly was prepared, I cleaned and prepared the valve cover with a new gasket and also added the half-moon shaped plug to the back of the cylinder head with some silicone squirt-a-gasket compound.

The whole assembly was maneuvered into place with some help and put in its final location without the head gasket first – this was just to make sure it was basically in the right place to begin with and we wouldn’t be hovering over a “Don’t fuck this up or it will explode instantly”-class component trying to find the two mating locations.

After it was dropped in place, I simply had someone hold the head up a little and slid the gasket into place, then the whole assembly was dropped back down. I then sprinkled some oil into the rocker and cam area, around the lifters and springs, and a bit into the valve stem seals to start them off.

The fun operation of torquing the head bolts now begins! It seems like some times you’re recommend to torque them to specification and then check it again after a few hundred miles or several cycles, and other times you’re recommended to give it some extra goose to ensure you don’t have to do that. But either way, that sounded like “old school car guy” advice…. for people who can just pop off the valve cover in their very clean and accessible open engine bays without having to remove half of the vehicle (because 50% of the length is hood) and just crank on the bolts a little harder.

You know what, I think I’ll stick with the “Extra Goosing” strategy. Beforehand, I thoroughly washed the head bolts themselves as well as made sure the clamping surfaces under the washers were clean – this was one area where I could see “Torque it a little more” being the cure-all for dirty or oily head bolt threads and lands.

With the head bolts secure, the worst of the storm is now history. Everything else from here on is making sure I don’t forget how to plug something in.

The task of reattaching all the random hoses and lines now begins. I moved all of the aft heater hose connections and clamps to more accessible positions that I could get at from the top only…… if, for instance, I had to run back in here shortly.


Some of the more snowflakey connectors had to be routed through the intake manifold curve, like the oil pressure sensor harness. They don’t reach otherwise – I contemplated extending them so they could be routed around if needed, but the idea is I shouldn’t have to keep doing this, right?

Now it’s time to try and remember what my gratuitous labelling meant. I not only drew on the connector themselves, but the connector mounts and seats, and even on the cables. And even in regions where the cables had to go. I wasn’t leaving anything up to chance.

 

….except, apparently, where I put two of the small M6 flanged mounting screws. What? I thought I sequestered all of the hardware in little baggies with their associated parts!

Who knows – maybe I will find these screws randomly one day in the back somewhere. In the mean time, I had to sub in two of my M6 socket cap screws.

Okay, my mechanic friends were right – things really only do go back together one way.

Making the connections on the intake side now, including several vacuum lines and water temperature sensors.

 

After all that was complete, I discovered what is so far the only incongruity between the original Mitsubishi head and this chinesium special: The power steering pump bracket is displaced an additional roughly 2mm in offset distance from the side of the head.

Hmm. Well, it could have been worse, I suppose. This meant the PS bracket and alternator mount don’t line up with the hole they need to. This was resolved by turning the PS bracket hole into a C-shaped slot with two quick Dremel cuts.

All of the accessories and cable and hose connections were now reconnected. By this time, night had fallen again, and I elected to not repeat my mistakes and try to put the timing gear back on now. That battle was for another day.

In the mean time, before I put the thing back together, I decided to tackle an additional demon:

The exhaust manifold has been cracked since time immemorial, and it’s only gotten worse over time and heat cycles. I figured while I had everything dismounted, I would try to repair the crack as much as I could. It was cracked not only through the collector region on both sides, but also in the valley, which was going to be rather hard to reach.  And honestly, it looks like several people have been here before me – as usual – so I probably can’t make it all that worse!? I picked up some nickel filler rod for the purpose after doing some research on welding and brazing cast iron.

Oh, and my new valves came in finally.

 

So for now, the old head also sits at the ready if it has to be recalled into service…