Sunday, September 4, 2011

I Didn't Make It To Lime Rock, But My Car Did

I wanted to make it to Vintage Weekend at Lime Rock, but there were just too many other automotive tasks on the plate.

My '93 Toyota Land Cruiser was being auctioned on eBay and the auction closed on Saturday morning. This was a huge disappointment; the No Reserve auction closed at only $2550. For that price, I might as well just park it until next year and take it to Nantucket again. The buyer has zero eBay feedback, lives in Florida, and an e-mail address with "ngangsa14" in it, so we'll see if I even hear from him.

I wanted to polish off the "change the fluids" task on my newly-purchased 2001 325XiT by flushing the brake fluid. I managed to get this done (and you longtime Hack Mechanic readers know how much I adore the smell and feel of brake fluid) and to my delight, found that the car has four brand-new brake pads on it. As I finished the brake bleeding, my friend Alex showed up. I wrote a post last month about how Alex's VW wagon ate its engine on the Mass Pike and was towed to my driveway where it still sits. Alex had just bought an engine and came over to help me haul my engine hoist out of the basement where it has sat for the past 20 years and generally talk through how we were going to prosecute this swap. After we got the hoist set up, he mentioned that he and his boys wanted to go to Vintage Weekend at Lime Rock but he was afraid that his dad's decrepit pickup truck (which he's been driving while his wagon is dead) wouldn't make it. I did what friends do -- I offered him the 325XiT wagon. He thought about it and finally took me up on the offer. "And this one I'll return," he said. It was a 25-year-old reference to my loaning him Bertha -- my heavily-modified air-conditioned Recaro-interior'd 2002 -- to go on his honeymoon and never getting it back (he eventually bought it). "Any quirks?" he asked. "I don't know -- I've only driven it a hundred miles." He and his boys just got back and said it was great. I probably should've just hung my planned work, piled in the car, and gone with them.

The car I wanted to drive down to Lime Rock -- my '73 3.0CSi -- hadn't had the maladies it suffered at Vintage at Saratoga in July attended to. While driving out to that event, the car ran very hot and had some odd driveability problems that turned out to be caused by my having left the oil cap off the valve cover when I added oil before leaving Newton (stupid!). I needed to check if this potentially lethal combination of heat, decreased oil volume, and an open valve train caused problems. I drained the oil and found no antifreeze in it (nor any oil in the radiator), so there was no sign of head cracking. I pulled off the valve cover and visually inspected the valve train and saw nothing obviously worn, scarred, or burned. I adjusted the valves for probably the first time since the L Jetronic was retrofitted into this car, and that must've been at least 10 years ago (in my defense, this car sees very little mileage).  A few valves were a little loose, a few were a little tight, but nothing was dramatically over the line. After the oil change and valve adjustment, the car fired right up and ran great. 

I took it onto the highway, and as soon as I got it over 40, it exhibited problem I'd forgotten all about. When I'd started driving it out to Vintage at Saratoga, there was a fairly severe steering wheel vibration at around 45mph that smoothed out somewhat at higher speeds. This problem was quickly eclipsed by the oil and the near-overheating issues, but as soon as I drove it again this afternoon, I was reminded of it. It clearly felt like a bent wheel. I didn't understand this, as last year I'd driven the car 1600 miles round trip to Vintage at the Vineyard in NC, and probably hadn't put ten miles on it before driving it out to Saratoga; I think that I'd remember a pothole impact severe enough to bend a wheel.

I brought the car home, put it up on the lift, and immediately found that the right front wheel was indeed pretty obviously bent. These are Alpina 16" open lug wheels. When I bought them (for a song, off a junked car) last year, three of the four of them were bent, and I had them straightened. I couldn't imagine how I bent one without knowing it, but there it was. I swapped the right front and right rear wheel, then laughed when I found that the right front wheel wouldn't spin because of course these are staggered wheels, and the wider rear tire won't clear the suspension when swapped onto the front. I restored the fat wheel and tire to its rightful place on the ass-end of the 3.0, put an old pair of 14" Alpina look-alikes (off an E12 -- these were on the car before I scored the Alpinas) on the front, and drove the car and verified that the whubba-whubba-whubba was gone. I'll take the bent wheel in to Rim and Wheel Works in Waltham on Tuesday.

So I didn't make it out to Lime Rock, even though my car did. But at least my 3.0 will be ready for BMW Day at Larz Anderson.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The 325XiT Era Begins -- So Far, So Good

I picked up the 325XiT this morning. I'll leave the story of the purchase for a Roundel article, but $5800 bought me a 145k mile rust-free car, 5-speed, sport package, black with tan leather interior, clean Carfax, two owners before being wholesaled, so no repair records exist.  Mike Miller warned me that if there's no record whether the transfer case and diffs have had the fluid changed, they probably haven't, and there could be trouble, but for the price I couldn't pass it up. I saw it and bought it on the spot.

I drove it home from southern Rhode Island, then used it to run errands all day. After putting a hundred miles on it, I like it a lot. The seats are very interesting. They're sport seats (as one would expect with the sport package) with side bolsters and an extendable front support, but for sport seats they're very soft. And they're unpowered. Very surprising. With my bad back (bulged L5 and sciatica), I've become increasingly sensitive to seats. This has made my Z3 M Coupe uncomfortable. I recently did the tilt mod (putting a threaded coupler over the front seat stud to raise the front about an inch), and that helped, but using the Z3 M as a DD was driving me nuts. The XiT feels much better.

As soon as I got the XiT home, I put it up on the lift and drained all five boxes (engine, transmission, front and rear diff, and transfer case). The diff fluids looked and smelled fine, possibly even recently changed with standard hypoid. The trani and transfer case fluids were thin and black, like old brake fluid, but could've been worse. Could've smelled like burnt coffee. Redline MTL for the trani and transfer case (Mike Miller's recommendation), Redline 75/90 for the diffs, and Syntec for the engine. I'll bleed the brakes in the morning.

Doing all the fluids is a pain and a mess, but there's no better way to acquaint yourself with the car. Pulling all three plastic under-covers and lying beneath it for the afternoon, I didn't see anything scary. The engine isn't pissing or weeping anything.

I'll bleed the brakes in the morning, and begin the task of looking for the date codes on the cooling system parts to see how recent they are.

But... so far so good.