"The Cost of Addiction"
Unanticipated results from two trips to the track in a Fiat Spider 2000.
By: Mike Kibort, Director of Operations, e-Racing Motorsports (from 1998)
Well, I had gotten myself out to the track again with my now modified 80' Fiat Spider 2000. After my first great experience at Laguna Seca Raceway, I had invested $1200 in a badly needed valve job and figured, "why not do a little extra since I already have the heads off." One thing lead to another, and soon I was trading my heads in for higher compression versions, ordering cams and big valves, getting a free-flow exhaust with a catalytic bypass pipe, and generally frothing at the mouth in anticipation of my next visit to the track.
Day at the track #2
To explain a little about the structure of the event, NASA (National Auto Sport Association) organizes the racers into 4 groups. Groups 1 & 2 are the beginner groups and run together during their four 20 minute sessions on the track. There is no passing allowed during the first two sessions, then limited passing (on specified straight aways) during the last two sessions. Group 3 is the intermediate group. Group three drivers have limited passing (on specified turns and straights) during the first two sessions, then passing everywhere during the last 2 sesions. Group 4 is the advanced group of drivers usually made up of licensed racers out for practice, along with others finishing up their schooling to get there racing licences. The day started much like the previous one, with one major difference. Due to my stellar performance on the track the last time, my instructor bumped me up into group #3 for this day's event. Frankly, I was happy because I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the varying descrepencies between drivers' abilities in the combined #1/#2 groups' track sessions. However, I was a little worried due to the fact that I was driving a Fiat that, even with all modifications, still only had around 125 HP at best. I figured what the hell, it was more than what I had the last time I was there, so I should be fine.
After the first lap of the first session, I felt like I had never left from my previous outing. The car was handling great, and the increase in power allowed me to reach a few more MPH during specific portions of the track. Then came session #3... passing allowed everywhere. I had been grouping up the last couple of times with a couple of Honda CRX's and the battles were beginning to get a little more competitive. The green flag was waved and all of us headed out full-throttle out on to the track headed into turn 2. All of us settled into our positions behind one another as we came out of turn 2 and headed to turn 3. I felt pretty good about the way the Fiat was handling as we passed through turns 4 and 5 and headed to turn 6 which would take us up in elevation to the backside of the track. During this time I was able to inch by one of the CRX's and settle in between them. As we came out of turn 6 and headed uphill they regained their positions in front of me as I felt like I was stomping the accellerator pedal through the tin metal floorboards of my little italian sportscar. Even with all of the engine modifications, I still couldn't keep up with my "competition." The engine whined at 6500-7000 rpm as a Porsche 911 Carrera flew by all of us like we were standing still.
We approached turn 7 which took us even higher up the back of the course toward the famous corkscrew. As I passed by braking marker #3, prior to the corkscrew, I made what felt like a smooth combination heavy breaking/downshifting maneuver that put me in perfect position to rip straight through the corkscrew. The additional speed brought me back in front of one of the CRX's as we entered the long, sweeping left hand turn 9. As we came out of turn 9, I saw the opening I was waiting for. The second CRX still in front of me was getting far left to prepare for the hard right hand turn 10. I pulled next to him (to his right) to take the inside line into turn 10 when I noticed the CRX that was behind me was trying to take the inside line on my right! There we were, like some racing movie I had seen before in a previous dream, flying through turn 10 three cars wide at full throttle! My heart raced as I tried to figure a way to gracefully bow out of a situation that, based on our combined racing experience, could have proved to be an ugly one at the least. By the time we reached the final hairpin left at turn 11, I had backed off, regained my composure, and had begun trying to figure a way to get past those guys again.
As that session came to a close, I felt I had truly been introduced to the adrenaline rush that is club racing. The last session of the day, once again, didn't dissapoint.
Same location.. (with instructor)
Turn 1 at the end of the straight-away at Laguna Seca
The entire drive home was spent re-living the day's events, and the more I went through it, the more I came to the same question: How can I get a car with more horsepower? Within the week I began my search in the photo-ad magazines from the local convenience store.
I was torn. The Fiat was the first project car I had purchased strictly for a weekend car. All of my previous convertables (64' Pontiac Lemans Conv., 86' Mustang GT Conv.) as well as my motorcycles during college were primary sources of transportation. I wanted to make sure whatever car I got was definitely still a rag top, but I couldn't believe I was thinking about getting rid of the toy I had enjoyed for the previous 4 years.
Then I saw the ad.
It said: 90' Porsche Cabriolet update. Red, 17" Anteras, 255-40-17 Rear, 225-50-17 Front, rebuilt engine and transmission, clutch, Bilstien susp., new top, 1000 watt stereo, clifford alarm, salvage due to theft.
The price was right, but I had quite a few questions from the picture shown in the ad. Although it was a C2 (92') conversion at the front and rear bumpers, the tail was from a 77-89 turbo, and it seemed a little too low. The fact that I actually had a chance to purchase a car that I had dreamed about owning for years had me in some kind of deep trance. Since I was in Northern California, and the car was in LA, I figured I could fly down there and check out the car. If I didn't like it, I could fly back. If I did like it, I could buy it and drive back. I thought of it as a possible 400 mile initiation. Little did I know what lay in store ahead.
So I arrived at the LA airport where the seller was to pick me up. I was standing there with my small duffle bag outside the baggage claim area. My eyes scanned the road for all red cars. Then, after 10-15 minutes, I saw it approaching. I was so excited that the thing could have had dents on all sides and faded paint and I still would have thought it was beautiful. The new top was up and there was a bra on the front of the car that I didn't particularly care for. It's regular ride height was lowered to the level equivalent to an import with air-bag suspension deflated, and had 17" five-spoke chrome Antera wheels that were actually 9" and 10" wide intended for the fender flares of a 930 Turbo. The problem was that the tires were a little too narrow for the wheels, and the seller had hit quite a few curbs in his day. Immediately the rationalizations kicked into effect. "OK, changing the ride height shouldn't be that big of a deal. I could probably find a buyer for those wheels." and "The bra's probably covering up some bad paint chips, but so what. I could get a friend who does bodywork to do the paint job for half price."
We had to get out of the airport pick-up area quickly, so I went ahead and jumped into the passenger seat where I was greeted with the classic Porsche black leather interior that looked like it was in great shape. Granted, the guy had probably just unloaded a full bottle of treatment spray all over the inside of the car, but still, there were no rips, tears, or cuts anywhere, and everything fit properly. Even the electric windows worked well. We pulled out, and that's when I got sucked in. The sweet sound of the 3.2 Liter 911 engine growling behind us made the hair on my arms stand up. I couldn't believe I was actually considering buying a Porsche!
We traveled a few blocks, then stopped at a gas station so I could more closely inspect the car from all sides. That's when I saw all of the imperfections. The multiple shades of red on the body immediately told me that this vehicle had been put together with a trunk and engine lid from different cars. I figured this was probably due to the theft salvage. Once again, the same rationalization kicked into effect: "Well, I figured I would have to get it painted anyway, so what's the difference?" As I looked closer at the rear of the car, I found that the aftermarket fiberglass rear bumber had not only been cracked, but was also warped. "couldn't be more that a few hundred extra dollars to replace that," once again considering I would be painting it anyway. After inspecting underneath, in the trunk, and engine compartment for all of the proper identification tags, I then checked for any weld marks from possible unibody reconstruction resulting from an accident repair. Everything seemed in order. Granted, I conceed that my judgement was slightly clouded due to my excitement, but I still did my best to look the car over objectively. The last thing I checked was underneath the bra. I didn't want to make the seller pull the entire bra off, so I pulled at it from different areas as to look underneath it. At this point I figured that I would have to paint the car anyway, so whatever extra chips I found in the finish would be taken care of by the new paint job. As I had suspected, the paint underneath was chipped and discolored. Since the red color under the bra was darker than the rest of the car, I had concluded that the bra had been a permanent fixture on this car for at least six months to a year.
Now it was time to test drive the beast.
First, I made sure we put the top down. It was a perfect day, and I wanted to make sure the top linkage worked properly. Everything worked great, so we were ready to roll. Before I could really drive the thing, I first I had to get used to the clutch and the stiff feel of the linkage. The steering felt a little stiff as well, and I noticed that the Momo steering wheel was not aligned properly when we were headed straight forward. I thought nothing of this and attributed it to the poor mounting skills of the seller. Driving around LA with the heavily lowered Bilstien suspension, we felt every bump in the road (and there were many of them). I was in heaven. I was behind the wheel of a convertible Porsche! My judgement took a back seat as my mind concentrated on the sheer excitement of the car's potential. After talking with the local mechanic who had worked on the car on a regular basis, I discovered the final item needed was a set of brakes. No big deal, I thought (once again, my judgement was clouded). Finally, I looked over all of the receipts for the work that had been done, and came to the conclusion that this car would be mine. I offered quite a bit lower than what he was asking for, then he countered back. We closed the deal at $16K, and I began my jouney homeward.
Before leaving LA, I stopped by an old friend's house. He used to have a Porsche of his own, so I figured I'd show my new purchase to him. Much to my suprise, he looked the car over with an extremely concerned look on his face, then he said, "Why didn't you come to me first? You're going to have nothing but problems with this car." Needless to say, I became a little concerned myself. I then realized that although he had owned a Porsche before, he had never owned a "project" before. I had owned many "projects" before this one, so I discounted his comments as uneducated in the field of resurrecting automobiles, and said, "You just wait and see, this thing is going to be awesome."
I spent the next four and a half hours during the ride home with my fingers crossed, hoping and praying that I didn't break down on interstate 5 that runs through 300 miles of the middle of nowhere between LA and San Fransisco. To my relief, the trip was not only uneventful, but also invigorating. I was flying high with the stereo blasting, entertaining visions of what the car would be like six months from that date.
I arrived home completely excited to show my wife our new pride and joy, so I pushed the horn button and nothing happened. I figured, "no big deal, it's probably just a loose wire somewhere." I pulled into the garage, and my wife looked at it with the same strange look I had seen only hours before at my old friend's house. I tried to explain myself, but I knew it was no use. I had to come to the realization that I had a vision in my head of how this thing was going to end up, and no one else would be able to see that vision until it was actually a reality.
I was still very fired up about the great deal I had made, so I immediately decided that I wanted to see what the car would look like without the bra on. I pulled at the felt covered metal clamps holding the bra on the car on one side, then the other. Before I could completely remove the bra, the entire front bumper fell off of the car! It turned out that the only thing holding the bumper on was the bra! To top things off, the bottom portion of the aftermarket fiberglass bumper that had previously been covered by the bra was missing entirely! Broken off, more than likely, many months earlier by some unfortunate parking block or speed bump kiss (the car was indeed that low). This was when I became at least a little concerned. The problem was, I couldn't let my wife know that I was unsure of what I had gotten myself into or that would be like admitting that I had made the wrong decision. I stuck to my guns and said, "Just wait honey, this is just a minor setback. It's going to be great!"
Within the week I took the beast to the local Porsche mechanic that my brother had used for several years with his 928. The first order of business was to get the car raised back up to a reasonable ride height. The phone call came in just about two hours after I had dropped the car off. "Uh... mister Kibort? We found a few things that you are going to need to take care of." Exactly the phone call I DIDN'T want to receive. During the simple process of raising the car and giving it a 4-wheel alignment, the mechanic had found that the tie rod bushings, as well as the tie rod ends were in horrible shape and needed replacing immediately (thus the reason for the off-center steering wheel that I thought was no big deal). Also, some of the bolts that held the suspension to the car were missing! At this point, I was just relieved that he didn't say the car was actually two separate cars welded together! Total cost for my first visit to the mechanic: $348.15 . Not too bad I thought to myself.
Little did I know that this was only the beginning...
To Be Continued.....