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A Class 5b..uild Story

A Class 5b..uild Story

So, you want to race a class 5b. I’m going to walk you through the process of a ground up build and share with you what I’ve learned along the way. I hope to have someone like Rick or Jamie chime in and give their input as well.

My project started back in 2003. I bought a finished “car” that was to be a play car for Ocotillo Wells. What started as a simple toy quickly escilated into a wanna be race car. The following story is basically a good route NOT to take.

I have a good friend that is a very capable fabricator, but with virtually no real world race car building experience. His welds are as nice as some of the masters in the industry though, and his shop is full of all the required tools to pull off a complete build. I knew I wanted a “few” changes made to the new car right off the bat. Well, the first lesson I learned is that anytime a complete car is for sale it’s going to have some issues, it doesn’t matter how nice or how much you spend, there is bound to be at least one or two little gotchas if you tear it all the way down. My initial plan was simply to add bypass shocks to the front of the car and swap out the arms and spindles for Foddrill stuff. A simple, cost effective plan to make the car more reliable as it had some tweeker built 6″ sand car arms and cheap spindles on there.

Well, that WAS the plan until I got the car into the shop and started going through it. We found some cracks in the rear end while going over the car. They were significant and made the car unsafe. The rear torsion housing was cracked, as well as where it tied into the chassis. Well, I took that as an excuse to go big and replace the rear arms, as they were kind of old school and used type 1 parts. I also figured, why not buy some 3″ quad bypass race series King Shocks. Ohh, and don’t forget the Pro Am race hubs and massive Willwood calipers, 300m axles and fully race prepped 300m caged CV’s to round out the package. Heck, lets have that Mendeola transaxle checked out as it is leaking a little bit while we’re doing all of this. Point here is, things got way more expensive than initially planned. BY A LOT!

There was more bad news on the way. I drove the transaxle out to Dave Folts as we just kinda hit it off over the phone and I figured he had a great reputation so he was the guy. As soon as I walked into his shop, the first thing he said was “that ain’t a 2D, that’s an Econo”. People, I was as green as they come. I honestly didn’t even know what he was talking about. I learned real fast though, in the way of another $6,000 to replace the little box with a real race transaxle with Weddle gears. The internals on the eco were pretty much hammered and had been badly abused. Point here is, things got way more expensive than initially planned. BY A LOT!

OK, so back to the shop with a fresh DFT Mendeola 2D full of all the best Weddle goodies and every service he offers. DIALED. Sinister Steel had installed a new torsion housing, the new arms, made new shock mounts and reinforced everything else. The car looked really good from the driver seat back. Dang it though, I still had to conquer that front end, especially now that the rear end was so stout. So I went out to KarTek to buy some more goodies. Wait, arms and spindles are HOW MUCH? For real? No come on, quit bullshittin me! OK, that’s fine. Wait, those fancy bushings are how much on top of that? You guys are absurd. Well fine then, throw in the new race series KK hubs and brakes while we’re selling first born children. As I walk into the shop Brandon looks at me and says “Dude, you’re not gonna believe this”. People, I can tell you when your fab guy says those words, 99% of the time it’s BAD NEWS! And it was. The beam that was in the car and the shock mounts were not going to work with the all the new stuff. Which really, as far as I was concerned at this point was not that big of a deal. Just build me a new beam! Well, he didn’t have the time and I was now in a hurry. This had been going on for several months and I wanted to go play. So I made a few calls and ended up taking the car to Penhall fabrication to have the new beam and shock mounts done. This would ensure it was done right. The first thing they said is you’re going to run this car with that rack? I didn’t even flinch, I was used to this by now. Long story short, nice new Howe Diablo rack, servo, pump, inline cooler, pully, etc. It was definitely done right and the work they did was extraordinary; it was beautiful. But the point here is, things got way more expensive than initially planned. BY A LOT!

The car was stout and really looked good at this point. I took it back over to Sinister Steel where we would do a few more small things like add window nets, run the plumbing and brake lines and get her finished up and ready to run. Well, as you can probably guess by now and the way this story is going; we weren’t even close. There were so many little things I had overlooked that it would almost another YEAR before I’d get to drive this car. It started with the wiring, which LOOKED great, but was seriously flawed by design in terms of wire gauge, terminals, and layout. So it got gutted. I figured why not add some sweet optima yellow tops, and a nice dual battery switch, and some fancy new HID lights, and an in cab light, and ohh, I guess I needed tail lights and an amber light as well. Did I fail to mention that we had decided this was a race car somewhere back during all of that? Yaaaa. Once we got it close I took the car to Ben Fibke to do the wiring. The guy is amazing. He did a terrific job and did it relatively inexpensively compared to what Pro Wire wanted at the time. I got way more than I paid for and I knew it would hold up and not catch on fire. Ben is a meticulous guy. We replaced all the wires with proper gauge, and the higher quality stuff too. New captured terminals on everything too so nothing could ever slip off, new mil spec switches, replaced all the blade style fuses with circuit breakers, added heavy duty main fuses and added proper ground terminals throughout the car. It was really nice! But the point here is, things got way more expensive than initially planned. BY A LOT!

So there she was. One year, six months later, there she was. Sitting in the shop, glistening in the morning sunlight that had crept through the rollup door. Clean, fresh, and ready to receive fresh fluids and a first fire. Today was going to be a day of glory, a day like no other in my life up until this point. A day where all that work, all that time, all that money paid off with a magnificent rumble of whatever VW engine that was attached to the back of my car. I “knew” it would be fine, after all I had test driven the car 18 months ago, all the way around the block. What could possibly go wrong, it’s just been sitting, in a shop, on the floor, for 18 months. Can you see where this is going? I spent a few hours doing all the fluids. Bled the brakes, filled the oil cooler, primed the lines, primed the power steering system and was ready for a NEW test drive. She fired right up and away I went. SUCCESS! Life was so good, so awesome, I was as happy as a pig in slop. Well, for a few minutes anyway… tick tick tick tick tick tick, keeppededplop keepededplop, tick, CLUNK. WTF WAS THAT? as the car came to an abrupt and unexpected stop. Clearly, something wasn’t right. I hit the starter once just to see and the sound it made was horrifying. I sadly pushed her down the street (all 3,400 lbs of her) back to the shop. I made a few calls and got online to see what I could see. This was, after all supposed to be a race car. I hooked up with Leonard Perez, the nicest guy I had met in offroad. He was so cool and so patient and knew that I obviously didn’t know a darn thing. I took the engine out of the car and headed over to see him. I don’t remember exactly what he called me about that next day. It kind of sounded like when you watch Peanuts and the adults talk… wahhawa waa wahh wahhh, heads, pistons, valves, cam, compression, carb, waahh waaa waaa. “Ya dude, cool, how long and how much?”. The point here is, things got way more expensive than initially planned. BY A LOT!

Leonard was great to work with. He was instrumental in my aircooled VW education. He had put together a nice 2332 race package working with what I had and trying to keep costs down. I’d later learn, that the choice to do that was also a mistake. Not his in any way, but my own. I would have been way further ahead to spend few more thousand and built an engine from the ground up. But that’s another story for another time. I got the engine back to the shop and went to town getting it bolted in and hooked back up. She fired right up and sounded so good. I could just tell we had a whole new beast on our hands. Things were looking good. I got on the phone and got a few buddies fired up to take her out to Lucerne for initial real world break in and testing. We loaded the trailer, headed out and gave her an initial jetting test and then broke her in before taking a nice long break to let the new engine cool back down. It was now time to give her a lap on the race course for the upcoming Day Night 500. About 2 minutes into the test, I somehow lost a set of brake pads, that caused the pistons to pop out and create a mess and scare me half to death when the car wouldn’t slow down. Turns out those little pins are important… cough my own fault… cough. Ehh hemm. OK, back on course. We ran it pretty hard for a solid 100 miles or so and it was so close to perfect that we weren’t sure what to do. Suspension was great, engine was strong, temps were cool, nothing came loose, nothing even rattled, the car was SOLID.

It took almost two year to complete. It took an extra $40,000 that I didn’t plan on spending. It took blood, sweat, tears, and almost cost me my marriage. Ya, it really was that deep and I really was that insane with getting it done that the entire world ceased to exist. Work suffered, my relationships with friends that weren’t at the shop helping me suffered, my marriage suffered, my bank account really suffered. It was a long road. If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would have changed some things FOR SURE. But to be honest, I wouldn’t have done much differently. It’s how I learned. It’s how I got into all of this. It’s how I developed so many of the awesome new relationships I have. The experience taught me patience, it taught me many lessons along the way and it taught me that if you have the will, you can accomplish anything. Off road is my passion. My car is an extension of that passion.

Hey, guess what. That car got totaled in it’s 3rd race. Guess what else… I built another one! Stay tuned. (you can see pics in the show and tell section of the forum)