So a couple weeks ago I decided to get serious about getting the car on the road. As seen in my last blog post I was working on the alignment and getting the engine management straightened out. I had one really big issue to address however regarding making the Catfish legal, the custom car registration for North Carolina. I had done some research online but could not find a solid explanation of the process or the reference to the places I would need to go for the special inspections or even the specific laws regarding windshields or exhaust etc.
It just so happens that on Sunday while driving through the town of Manteo I spotted the familiar front end of a Cobra replica at a small car show. I quickly got into a conversation with the owner who told me he had purchased the car already registered in NC but knew a guy at the show who knew exactly who to call regarding the process. His name is Rich, a very friendly guy and a wealth of knowledge. Within minutes I had the direct phone number of an officer at the NC DMV License & Theft Bureau. I was extremely grateful. On Monday I made the call just to get some information to see if I was on the right track to getting registered and titled. I explained I had receipts and paperwork for the frame and a barely readable number stamping on the engine that was left unpainted. “I’ll be over tomorrow morning” the officer replied while I was still yammering about the details of my build. This concerned me as I did not expect them to come to me and that I was not 100% sure about any of this yet. I know that not having the correct paperwork can turn into a nightmare that so many before me have had to endure. The scramble was on collecting everything and making it nice and neat for inspection.
8:30 a.m. rolled around faster than usual. I sat in the garage waiting for the officer to show up and going through the list of what I thought I should have ready so I can get the car titled. He was there right at 9:00. Chad turned out to be a very nice guy, but all business. “I need the MCO, engine number and the frame vin markings locations” he said “Um, …. Here is the MCO” which I handed to him. I pulled the hood and pointed to the bare spot on the top of the engine where the number was barely readable. “I can’t read the engine number” he said. The engine number was worn away and the lighting was horrible on top of that. “Wait, I have pictures from the engine build with the number magnified and easy to read”. This took about 10 minutes of going through hundreds of pictures over the last two years until Eureka! I found it. He recorded the number and moved on to the frame and body. ‘There are no stamped numbers on either” I said. ‘Well that’s a problem” Chad replied. “You have a vin on the MCO but cannot use it if there is nothing on either the frame or body”. Oh man, this is it I thought. I would have to go through a very long title process and it will take months. “Hey, wait, I have a VIN plate from Bauer! Still in the box” I remembered. “Will that work?”. “Yes, but I need to see you physically attach it” he replied. Out came the drill and stainless rivets. It was attached to the dash in a couple minutes. Chad left to go out to his car and to fill out some paperwork. He returned after what seemed like an eternity. He started running through the list if safety items, lights, windshield, reflectors etc. I was getting concerned that I was not going to get titled due to the fact I was lacking a few crucial things.
“Here you go, you are all set.” Chad handed me the completed report. “The title information will go to Raleigh today”. “Wait, What,…. Really?” I was very relieved. He reminded me that even though the Catfish was now able to be registered it was still not 100%v road legal and could not be driven until I fixed two items. I needed a proper windshield and working wipers and I would also need DOT approved front and rear reflectors. I am working on both items now and sorting out the approach I wish to take on the windshield.
Peter Florance and PFTuning.com
While figuring out my title issues I was also trying to find someone who could give the Megasquirt a solid tune and give me an engine that would sound and drive the way it should. Peter Florance of PFTuning was that guy. I started my search by location which soon lead to a few different car forums. There were a few mentions of “PFTuning” in the Virginia Beach area which I decided to research more at first because it was in reach at only a two hour drive from me. I was impressed with what I read. The word “Guru” came up more than once in reference to Peter so I decided to contact him. We passed information back and forth via email and text and finally set up a dyno session on the last Sunday of April. The night before I ran around checking everything, oil, coolant, tire pressure and getting together any tools to tune ITB’s or the like. I had the car out doing a few “test” runs on the local rural roads the day before also to make sure that it was at least able to start and run. Everything looked good, until “Wait, What, …Really?”
As I looked under the Catfish I saw the unmistakable thick red drippings of Redline Shockproof gear lube. The clock was ticking and I needed to fix this fast, but its not as simple as pulling the driveshaft and replacing the seal. There was the matter of preload on the bearings and finding the cause for the failure. Emergency surgery started in earnest.
First problem, new seal and where to get one. I am a bit of a worrier and over the years I have been known to buy at least one extra of anything I think might fail or get worn quickly. I was not sure of the odds of me having purchased an additional pinion seal but dug down into my big box of Miata parts. There it was, a new OEM Mazda part still in the wrapper. I began the tear down and removal of the belly pan and driveshaft. There was red oil everywhere which took a bit of time to clean up. I had the flange and seal out and on the bench within a few minutes.
It didn’t take long to see what had happened. It was my fault for the leak and it was something I should have caught during assembly. I like my parts to be clean and painted. I had decided the flange needed a nice black paint job to match the differential housing back when I was rebuilding it. I had taped of the machined end of the flange where the seal rides when I painted it, but had not check it afterwards. The paint had made its way under part of the tape and created a ridge down the machined area at the top. When I removed the tape and was assembling the pinion I assumed all had gone well, removed the tape and placed the flange onto the pinion and through the seal. The seal now had a very tiny bump going round and round and letting oil out at a slow rate, but enough to make a big mess. I got to work carefully cleaning the flange and getting ready to reinstall the pinion seal. One thing left to do was the preload after everything was back together. This is a long careful process and it cannot be rushed. There are many methods I have read about but I decided to use the same one I used when I initially assembled the differential. I pulled the parking brake and carefully torqued down on the flange nut until I could no longer feel and movement between the flange and the pinion bearing. Now here’s the tricky part. What I am looking for is rotational torque on the rear as its spinning. I have heard that racers go loose at about 6in/lbs and OEM road cars use about 12 in/lbs, I like 10in/lbs. I release the parking brake and turn the flange nut with a torque wrench which in turn will turn the differential. I set the torque wrench to 10 in/lbs. if the differential moves without first reaching the torque I reset the parking brake and turn the nut a bit tighter by a 1/4 to 1/2 turn on the nut and try again. This process takes about 6-7 times to get a click on the wrench and a perfect preload. Its very important to get it right and not rush it as it will directly effect the life of your pinion bearings.
When I was done I buttoned up the under tray and scrambled to get the Catfish loaded on the trailer for it big date the next day!
Off to see the Wizard…….
Expectation is a crazy thing. I had never spoken to Peter at PFTuning directly. I was expecting a twenty something who might be a bit difficult to deal with or on older “wrencher” that knew his stuff but it was his secret and you would have to pay more to find out. Peter is neither of those two. I met him at the front of a large set of buildings in an industrial park. We would be using the dyno facilities at Abacus Racing. The first thing that struck me about Peter was he is very pleasant to talk to. He put me at ease making it comfortable to ask my long line of obvious or amateur questions about the tune. He is a wealth of knowledge and was doing his best to explain each step of the tune and how it would affect the engine. I did my best to listen but I am sure I lost 90% of what he explained through out the day. None the less, as I sat and listen to the car I could hear how each change made it sound better and better. Each dyno run got progressively louder and the sound…..oh my, the sound became intoxicating. I videoed every run. Occasionally the car shot a nice flame out the exhaust ah-la race track tuned race car. My favorite. As we talked it became clear that this was just the first of a few if not many dyno runs in the future with PFTuning. Peter explained were more power might be gained and I am actively looking at those changes. More on that at another time.
Much more to come as the build continues….