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Shaping the Body

The 914 has reached a really exciting phase. It’s starting to take the shape I’ve been daydreaming of.

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After a lot of trial and error, several failures, it finally dawned on me to form the shape of the car with industrial modeling clay. The same clay professional designers use to prototype and mock-up their own cars. What a difference clay has made. Clay is non-toxic, stable, requires no time to cure, fosters experimentation and is forgiving of mistakes.

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Take a look at the patch area where the b-pillars used to be. This area has been, by far, the hardest to get right. As noted in an earlier post, I’ve welded-in and ripped-out several patches in the attempt to make this area look unabtrusive and natural. The process of getting this patch right required a lot of experimentation, but materials I used made the iterative process excruciatingly slow. Industrial modeling clay changed all that. I settled on this shape in about a week. I can’t believe how great it looks!

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The areas where I’m most excited to be making progress are the bumpers. This is were all the hard earned lessons I learned are really starting to pay off. The final shape of the bumper plugs will be formed in clay, but most of the plug’s internal volume is actually two-part expanding polyurethane foam. To get a block of foam attached to the body, from which I could rough-carve the car’s nose and tail shapes, I needed to make a form which I could pour the expanding foam into.

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Once the foam set and pulled away the form, the carving began. Initially, I removed foam very cautiously and conservatively. But it didn’t take long to notice that I had to be very aggressive in removing bulk from the bumpers. Every time I forced myself to shave the bumper closer, the better it looked. Can’t be afraid to remove.

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A notorious characteristic of the 914 was that it didn’t bear any resemblance to other Porsche models made up to that point. Its looks are so different that some people are surprised to learn that’s a Porsche at all. I wanted my work to imbue the 914 with a little more visual heritage than it had before. That is, I want the 914 to remain distinctive but clearly show it’s lineage with other models. I took some photos of Porsches at the local CarsAndCoffee and use them as a reference when carving the bumper. I’d say the results are positive.

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Deleting Pop-ups

I’ve read it somewhere that the Porsche 914’s pop-up headlights were added added as an afterthought to meet regulations for the US market. I don’t know how much truth there is to that story, but the 914’s pop-ups never really looked well suited to the car. Pop-ups in general have never held much appeal to me. Their greater heft, complexity, gimmick-factor and (most importantly) un-Porsche-esque appearance always bugged me. My 914’s pop-ups had to go.

The decision to delete the headlights was easy. The hard part is making it look right. Deleting the pop-ups means that I have to patch the frunk lid, and that means that, if I was not careful, embarrassing patch seams would appear in the hood. I’d have to make sure that the funk lid was patched in the most meticulous way possible. Here are my pictures of the work done on deleting the pop-up headlights from the 914’s “frunk” lid. I first needed a foam block which I could easily carve to match the contour of the hood where the headlights had been.

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Notice I used spray-on expanding foam for filler material. This was a huge mistake. Never use spray expanding foam! NEVER. Don’t be lured as I was by how convenient it appears to be. Spray expanding foam is unstable. It expands in heat and contracts in cold. You’ll never carve a good reliable shape as it is constantly changing shape. It is a perfect choice if you want to slowly drive yourself insane. If you want carve a foam fillet properly, do yourself a favor and get a block of polyurethane foam from a local hobby shop.

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Here’s the hood’s female mold curing. As I collected all the pictures of my work, I realized that I hadn’t taken a photo of the finished female mold. That will be coming short;ly.

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Building A Racing Seat: Third Try

When writing my last post on the racing seat build, I forgot to include the pictures of my very first attempted build. My original idea was to build a seat plug I could mold a composite seat from. I build a basic frame patterned from the 914’s original stock seats and started building up plaster of Paris.

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Carving out the seat mold this way was becoming painstakingly slow process. The plaster had to be lathered on thick and the sheer volume of plaster meant that it took ages to dry. Carving was slow since I could only really check fit by actually sitting in the seat. So I’d have to shape a bit, stop, sit in the seat, try and figure out where the high spots were by feel, get up and repeat the cycle. Not to mention the mold was starting to weigh a ton.

Now, fast-forward past the seat I built in my last post to these pictures of the second attempt at an aluminum seat. I went back to the drawing board and reworked the seat template such that I could form the entire seat from one piece. Instead of welding or riveting parts halves together as we had in the first try, this one piece template meant the seat could be simply folded together. This would minimize complexity, seams and the need to weld.

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A picture of this completed seat to come shortly!

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Making a Racing Seat From Scratch

Didn’t take me long to determine that if I was going to all the trouble of rebuilding the 914 I would need to build some custom racing seats. While I might have ultimately been able to convince myself to fork up the cash to buy a set, this project is more about the challenge of fabrication than anything else. And when I thought of all the chopping, panel welding and dent pounding I was doing, I figured making a couple of seats from scratch would be the easiest part of the whole project. I was of course soon disabused of this notion.

Step 1: Get a plan. I found these plans from Rorty Design, and plotted them into Google Sketchup where I could lay out a template with lighting holes.

IMG_0678Plotting out the template

Putting the seat plans in Sketchup allowed me to mark of stations which I then had to plot out on paper, old-school style. By hand.

IMG_0683Laying out the pattern on aluminum sheet

Once the pattern was layed out on the aluminum, I cut out the pattern with a jig saw. Cutting the metal was actually much easier and faster than I had expected. My Pop had the brilliant suggestion that all four halves of the two seats be clamped together when filing the edges clean. This both minimized the time required to finish the edges and guaranteed the seats would be symmetrical.

IMG_0686Deburring edges

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photoStarting to look like a real seat!

IMG_0693A finished Seat!

I was really proud of the seat, and it looked pretty good. But,… like so many things in this project, it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Forming sheet metal turns out to be harder than I expected, and the seat ended up with some flaws that bother me. As a result of having made this seat I could see all the ways I could have done it better. So I decided to modified the plans and try once again. Expect picture of the second seat attempt soon.

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Up, From Down Under

Mid-engine cars, awesome as they are, the engine sits behind a nearly impenetrable barricade of bodywork and suspension components. Otherwise simple maintenance tasks become an exercise in frustration. Even when sitting on jackstands, changing the little Porsche’s oil requires the crawling skill of a contortionist. Considering the engine requires a valve adjustment every 3000 miles, I knew I was going to have to come up with an easier way to get under the car. And here it is:

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This picture gives the author pause. Perhaps he should consider a weight reduction plan in parallel to the car.

This picture gives the author pause. Perhaps he should consider a weight reduction plan in parallel to the car.

I have no morbid desires to be crushed underneath the car. So I made the table as beefy as I could. The table’s width matches the 914’s wheel track, which allowed me to drive the car on and off the table once I lined it up straight with the ramps. I won’t lie though, getting the car up and down was a nerve wracking experience. I had to somehow convince my wife to act as a spotter whenever I needed to get the car on or off the table. She made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she hated doing this and reminded me that I risked divorce with every oil change. A replacement would be needed sooner or later, but I didn’t really have a sense of urgency until the inevitable happened.

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I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. I didn’t drive it off the end. This was far more stupid. Here’s the story. Driving the 914 up onto the table gave me access to the engine, but to adjust the valves properly I’d still have to hand crank the engine to top dead center for each cylinder. That means I had to jack up one wheel of the car while on the table, giving me something to turn the engine with.

Sketchy though it may sound, I was able to jack the wheel up and adjust the valves without any trouble. However, the process of lifting and lowering the car had gradually pushed the front wheels to the edge of the table. When I saw how perilously close to disaster I was, I started pushing the car back away from the edge. I couldn’t manage to get the car to roll back. It was still in gear and the engine compression was working against me.

So, instantaneously and with no regard to forethought, I reached into the car and slapped the gear shift into neutral. That’s when car rolled forward and off the end of the table.

Now, here’s the part of the story I’m proud of. My first reaction, the very first feeling in my mind at seeing the car stuck on the table was… endearment. I felt love for the car. I had done my first truly stupid thing with the car, something for which I would forever after have story to tell, and that gave me a strange feeling of love. The car was truly my own now. “This is my 914. There are many like it, but this one is mine”.

But, I still needed a replacement for the table. What I really needed was car lift, but those aren’t cheap. Trolling craigslist got me close to getting a used one, but I was always a day late and a dollar short. I needed a home brew solution. I got some steel square tube from Maxx Metal along with a set of 600 lb casters from Uline and welded together a car dolly. Thanks, by the way, to Heriberto for lending me his welder. I lifted the car off the table with two engine hoists, one borrowed from my neighbor Marty. Thanks Marty!

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Once the table was pulled clear from under the car, I set the car back down on the dolly. What a difference the the dolly makes. I can spin the car around and move it from one side of the garage to another. Waaaaaaay cooler than the table! Thanks to Dad for manning one of the hoists. Couldn’t have done it without ya.

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Try and Try Again

Chopping the targa top off the 914 was the easy part. Figuring out how to put it back together is the fun part. Over the last year, ( yes it has been a year), I have been obsessing over what to do about the area of the body where the b-pillar used to be. Here’s my first attempt at buttoning up the hole.

Healing the turtledeck: the first patch

Healing the turtledeck: the first patch

This first patch was simply a flat piece of 20 gauge steel laid flat over the the top of the cut and seam welded shut. This looks pretty horrendous. This is equivalent to giving the car a bowl-cut. I’m actually kinda ashamed and surprised that I thought the patch job would be this easy. This patch didn’t last long on the 914 before I ripped it out and tried again. On the second attempt I used paper to figure out where the steel would eventually go.

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Now that’s starting to look right. Using paper to mock-up the patch was a big help as I could cut the steel to match the pattern. Here’s what it looks like in steel.

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I’ll have you know that this patch, while not perfect, contains exactly zero Bondo. I pounded out the curve by hand and welded it in place with no filler. I was pretty happy with the improvement my skills as well as the improvement in looks. But,… the patch still wasn’t right. The turtle deck patch needed to look seamless. It needed to look like the car had always designed to be an open-top speedster. So, once again I ripped the patch out, and tried again. The results were much better, but that’s a post for another day.

Spotted in the Wild: The Brubaker Box

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Here’s one I’d never seen before, a Brubaker Box. Immediately recognizable as a Beetle based kit car, The Brubaker is powerfully evocative of a time when cars were simple enough that people could modify them in any way they wanted. In the course of researching the Brubaker I found a great mini-documentary on Greyboy’s Brubaker.

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Analysis: Chases, Races and the Lust for Speed

A look at the elements of what makes these great car and motorcycle sequences exciting. Posted under “fair use” for criticism, commentary, teaching, and scholarship.

Chopping

I’ve had a thing for the humble Porsche 914 since high school. I finally bought a ’73 and about a year ago and the car has been a blast to drive. While you could consider the 914 a classic of sorts, it wasn’t the prettiest car ever built. Something about the 914 just seems to beg for modification. For a long time I’d been wanting to chop the 914 and convert it to a spyder, but hadn’t really committed to the idea. It was my Dad who finally dared me to put up or shut up, so off the top went.

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Using Git for Cinema Production

I’m a big believer in indulging in a broad set of interests and hobbies. Since you never really know where good ideas may come from, I usually have several projects in progress at any one time to keep the ideas flowing in. Each project cross-pollinates the other, creating novel solutions to frustrating problems. Since my day job is software engineering, I have been putting the best practices of software development towards solving problems in cinema production.

I have been using Github to story my project ideas, story notes and scripts. Github is a hosted code repository where engineers can store, manage and share code. Code repositories are an essential tool of the software industry since it helps engineers work in coordination on piece of code without getting confused. A code repository allows multiple engineers to work on the same document without overwriting each other’s changes, or getting confused as to who has the latest version of the document. Turns out Github solves the same problem for cinema production. Using Github gives me 1) The ability to post all production documents and materials to one place where everyone of my collaborators can be assured of getting the most recent versions of each script and production notes, and 2) displays my history in a cool chart which I can use to review my productivity. A third possible benefit is the possiblility that the repository can serve to document of my authorship on a given date should there be unauthorized usage. This is similar to the functions that the Writer’s Guild of America serves for copywrite protection.