Additions to the cage and a new differential

Because the car was originally an IX with an automatic transmission, a 4.10 differential was fitted at the factory. When I first drove the car I was very disappointed in how high the gearing was. Had I simply done the research and appropriate math, I would have known what to expect. Oh well.

The new diff came off an e28 535i. Its a limited slip with a 3.25 gearing ratio. The gearing is still higher than Id like for daily driving (3200 rpm at 70ph), but for rally applications it should serve me well. I had to swap out the rear cover and drive flanges from the e28 with the ones from the e30. The rear cover off the 4.10 e30 diff was super dirty, so I had a local shop wash the part in a boiling chemical bath. Then I painted the thing with electric blue engine paint. Well spent 14 bucks!
e30 diff swap

I also hopelessly dismantled the car. The engine is out and apart at the machine shop for some additions Ill address in another post. While I had the engine out, I figured I would clean up the hacked engine pay and paint the car. I bout a gallon of Alpine white paint from nappa and have started stripping the car. Since the car is apart, Im taking the opportunity to add to the cage to make it NASA rally legal. The two support bars I added werent required but I always wanted them. Ill be adding gusset plates in the next few days. I also shot this video of some of the work. Enjoy!

matsuura mach3 control panel

I designed a control panel. Back when I was running the bridgeport, the only interface with the machine was the keyboard. I promised myself never again. So I designed this control panel with every button I could ever imagine needing. The labels have been laser etched, but I have to rub acrylic paint in them to really make them visible.



Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 7.52.42 PM

Mc500V Mach3 Retrofit

Gather round minions and behold the most challenging project this homeless looking theatre major has ever undertaken! Feast your eyes on the 36-year-old iron beast from Japan. Gaze in awe as I defeat its analog servodrive system and tame its brushless DC servomotors. Watch in utter befuddlement as I tear out its antiquated heart and transplant a modern control system capable of simultaneous 3 axis milling, rigid tapping and executing programs hundreds of times larger than its creators every dreamed. Lastly, behold as I rise to the engineering heavens and with godlike aplomb join the ranks of Einstein and Edison!

So I bought the vertical machining center in August of last year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been wanting one since I first discovered the model a few years ago. This one came standard with a 16 position turret tool changer, 22 x 14 x 15 travel, 7.5 hp spindle, automatic lube system, analog servodrives with dc brushless servos, coolant system and one ancient controller. It could run a max of 2000 lines of code. By conventional standards, 2000 lines tis but a drop in the programers bucket. The control panel was complex and difficult to use. So, like the bridgeport, I set about building the retrofit.

As a quick aside, the bridgeport has been sold. The iron pig that started it all now resides in a rally car fab shop in Denver where its new owners use it to build one off parts for their custom cars. Sorry. I needed the space and money to fund the Matsuura retrofit.

The first order of business was to place the tool changer under mach3 control. When I first purchased the mill, I contacted Scott Schaffer, an man who lends his services as a designer and builder of mach3 retrofits. Lucky for me, he was in the process of helping with two retrofits of the very same machine for none other than Brian Barker, one of the minds behind the Mach controller. In a brief e-mail exchange, he outlined his plan for Brians machines. The tool changer would be controlled by an Automation Direct DL06 PLC. The PLC would communicate via modbus TCP with Mach3 and also via modbus rs485 with the variable frequency spindle drive.
Bellow is my cart of madness. The black box on the top shelf is the DL06. It communicates to the PC via an ECOM module also available from Automation Direct (AD). The white box with the 21 pin connectors on either side is the CSMIO/IP-A controller from Cs Labs. On the second shelf is the GS2 drive also from AD which drives the spindle.

The thought of integrating a PLC into the build intimidated me. The PLC uses ladder logic, a language strikingly dissimilar to, say, visual basic. But, I bought one anyway and set about learning everything I could about ladder logic. Endless youtube videos on the subject later I felt confident enough to program a simple tool change operation. The next step was to write an M6 program in visual basic which would communicate with the PLC and order the correct tool.

An M6 program is the tool change program in G-code. In any cnc machine, the line of G code M6 tells the machine to change to a particular tool. M6 T3 would tell the machine to change to tool number 3. In Mach3, a macro is triggered when the M6 command is read. My goal was to initiate the tool change with this macro.

Now, this next bit will make little sense to those not familiar with mach3, so skip this paragraph is youre not. The visual basic macro sends the commanded tool to input registers in the PLC via something called a brain. In theory, I should be able to read or write to a register directly through visual basic in the macro, but I cant seem to find the appropriate vb script command. Instead, mach3 has a powerful platform that uses a programming method similar to ladder logic. This platform is called brains. Each program is referred to as a brain. I simply wrote a brain that would read unused OEM DROs in Mach3 and write their values to the registers in the PLC. Then I would write to the DROs from the VB M6 macro. See bellow the PLC fixed to the inside of the panel door.20150131_145925

After a week or so fiddling with the PLC and Mach3, I decided to go with an ethernet motion controller from CS labs. CS Labs is a polish company that builds one of only a few motion controller systems designed to handle analog servo systems. Like everything else electronic, servodrives are now exclusively digital. Only a few manufacturers produce motion controllers capable of outputting the + or 10V signal required to drive analog systems. I had read great things about the CS labs CSMIO/IP-A controller, so I bought one for about 700 euros. Surprisingly, it arrived within a week.

At this point I did a stupid thing. I gutted the Matsuura. This was stupid because I hadnt sourced a wiring manual for the stock servodrives. Servodrives are the most expensive components of retrofits, so it really helps the piggy bank if you can save them. Thats why I bought an analog controller in the first place. Now I was left searching for the signal control wires, the enabling wires and a few others I might talk about when I have more time.
past the point

Fortunately, my patience won out and after twisting many wires together, I got each axis to move under the voltage of a 1.5V battery. Crazy, I know.

The stock servo encoders quickly became a problem. The CSMIO/IP-A needs a 5V encoder signal while the stock encoders produce 12V signals. The solution was to purchase Opotical couplers or optocouplers from Automation Direct which takes the 12v signal and couples it to a 5V signal which in turn is fed to the controller. In the picture bellow, the slender blue thingamagigs at the top are the optocouplers.

This is where Im at now on the build. Good progress up to this point. Im confident that within the next month I should have the machine tuned and ready to cut parts.

Almost done!

I had set myself the deadline to finish the car last thursday. Little brothers Robert and Joseph helped out for a few days in hopes that we could drive the car to Tucson for other little brother Williams wedding. I picked up a Gopro hero 4 and edited this short video of our work.

e30 custom control arm

As with most things on this build, the final product varies from the original design. I had planed on only using the inner ball joint socket and forming the entire control arm with DOM tubing. The outer ball joint would be replaced with a 5/8 heim joint while the rear bushing would get a half inch heim joint. But with the control arm in front of me a better way bubbled up through my imagination. I simply pocketed out the original control arm to take a section of DOM tubing with a bung to receive the 5/8 heim joint at the end. I had planned on using the cmc mill to make the modifications in an effort to keep the two control arm geometries identical, but in the end a simple grinder and a cutoff wheel sufficed. I am confident that the two steering axis points are within a millimeter of each other.
My hopes to save the original inner ball joints were dashed when the plastic lining between the ball and socket started oozing out, melting as the parts soaked up the heat as I welded the DOM tube to the arm. Ive read before that these joints are notoriously hard to knock out. My suspicions were confirmed after I tried heating the joint socket and bashing the joint with a hammer Jeremy Clarkson style. Nothing. A $230 trip to harbor freight later and I had a 20 ton press kit which I unpackaged and assembled in minutes. AS far as I am concerned, the press paid for itself in the few moments it took for me to squeeze out the old joints. They both popped out effortlessly under mountains of hydraulic pressure. Tomorrow I need to press in the new ball joints and cut aluminum bushings on the mill. 20141011_184945

New strut towers welded in place

Working ten hours in the oilfields and three hours in my shop every day is starting to wear on me. I leave my apartment at 630 am and get home at 9pm. My hands are tired. As my excitement grows though, I feel myself wanting to stay at the shop longer and longer. Tonight I finished the two strut towers. 20141010_201432

What I have left

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I still have to molest my engine compartment with new shock towers. The good news is that the rally car weighs a measly 2300 lbs. To put this in perspective, 500,000$ rally cars that race in the wrc are required to weight no less than 2600 lbs. When my e30 bmw 325ix rolled off the assembly line in 1987 it weighed around 3100 lbs. To further put this in perspective, a 2013 subaru wrx sti, the car of every rally fan-boys and lead-footed teenagers wet dream, an all wheel drive, 305 hp beast that can give many supercars a run for their money, it weighs 3300 lbs. Were talking a thousand pounds more than the bmw rally car!!! Further contributing to how unbelievably snappy I think this car will be is the 4.10 differential that the e30 happen to come with stock. Simply put, my top speed will be lower than some, maybe in the 130 to 150 range, but Ill have a whole lot more fun getting there. Special thanks to Isaac or this scale he just happened to be building for his truck last saturday night.
As far as the bad news goes, my engine bay looks like crap right now. see bellow. My first attempt to cut the hole for the schedule 10 6 pipe started with a cutting torch and ended in a blur of profanity. The saw-zaw ended up being the only tool that worked. In the end, the body of the new strut tower was in the right place, give or take an inch or two. I have little hope that both the left and right new shock towers will be identical. 20141005_205520
but hey, looking on the bright side, at least the left side of my car will handle great in the corners now!
few other things Ive gotten done but havent talked about. I mounted the radiator fan assembly int he rear. I did this because the intercooler occupies the space where the radiator once sat. The difficult part about reallocating the radiator is getting the coolant from the front of the vehicle to the rear and then back to the front again. If you ask your local auto parts store for a spool of 1.5 radiator hose, theyll tell you as politely as possible that youre shit-outta-luck. This is because no one makes unformed radiator hose in that diameter at that length. you can buy a 36 piece from nappa for the low low cost of 36 dollars (a foot I think). Thats about it. But, drop down a quarter of an inch and options open up. I found a 50 roll of goodyear heater hose on amazon for a little more than I wanted to pay, but after experimenting with various home depot hoses, I resigned myself to dropping a few hundred on hose that could actually handle the temperature rather than turning into a smoking hot, high-pressure spaghetti noodle. I like the blue color. 20141006_172759


I also had a driveshaft built. It was the most painless part of the build. A man from a local driveshaft shop came to my place, took some measurements and two weeks later a stonking huge, alas heavy, driveshaft is connecting my m54 engine with the 4.10 e30 ix differential. I wish it could all be so easy.

Isaac helped me install the rear suspension. This was also quite painless. The kit comes with the shocks set at their most stiff settings. The dealer emailed me specifically to tell me not to try and drive the car without first softening the settings. This is because the shock is locked shut allowing no movement at the stiffest setting. He wasnt joking. The only movement in the rear of the car came from flex in the tires. Even on the softest settings, the car seemed stiff and race like. Two words came to mind- HELL and YEAH! 20141006_172553

And not directly related but still very important, I got the bridgeport up and running in time to cut some parts for the shock towers.

And lastly I picked up this little guy at harbor frieght on sunday. Dont know how I ever did without it.

Huge setback

Let my stupid mistake be a lesson to you , Kids. Always do your research before spending 3K plus on a rally suspension.
What I hoped would be a painless bolt-in install has quickly become a fabrication nightmare. The car at hand was, at one time, an all wheel drive 325ix with an automatic transmission. Since automatic transmissions are for old ladies and teenage girls, swapping it out for a manual was priority number one. But coming by an IX manual transmission proved difficult so I just bought a new engine with a manual still attached. This allowed me not only to upgrade to a much newer engine from a 2006, but a larger engine as well. I went from a 2.5 liter to a 3 liter. Bigger my not always be better, but more powerful is always better than less powerful. But the upgrade did not come without the a tradeoff. While I happily convinced myself en route to pick up the new engine in south Carolina that I would be able to salvage the AWD system, the reality was that nothing from one would bolt up to the other. Oh well, I thought. Ill just convert this car to rear wheel drive. After all, rear wheel drive rally cars are said to be the most fun.
Happily I went about the build for the next two years fabbing the roll cage and sorting out the ECU and supercharger. All the while a thought tugged at the engineer in me. How will you integrate the front struts without the driveshaft to hold the bearings together? The answer is always the same. Im a fabricator, Ill make it work. The plan was to buy e30 non AWD struts and simply bolt them up. So confident was I in this plan that I ordered the suspension without even consulting almighty google to make sure my plan would work. Well, after staring at the two struts since 330 this morning, I can tell you with certainty that it will not.
The first glaring problem is that the IX shock towers and the non IX shock towers are completely different.

ix hsock towers

Note how forward the IX (second image) shock towers are! There is virtually no caster in the system. The second problem is that, because there is no caster, the bottom of the strut on the IX mounts directly bellow the centerline of the wheel. On the regular e30 strut, the control arm mounts to the strut such that the centerline of the strut is forward of the control arm mount by two inches or so. If I were to simply bold up the regular strut it would be like trying to run a grocery cart with the wheels facing the wrong direction. Not only that, but the wheel would be two inches forward inside the wheel well.

In summary, that guy tickling his daughter in the picture bellow is an idiot.

Truth be told though, I suspected that I would have to fabricate a few things to make the non IX strut work. I just never imagined I would have to fabricate and move the front shock towers. 20140925_051644

Suspension has arrived

For the first time since I started this project, I truly feel this car earns the title in its description. Enough technology, money and sweat has been poured into the car that it has crossed over from a weekend project to pure bread rally car. Ive been working 60 hours a week, so I havent had the time to finish before the deadline of the 25th.

The hot bits suspension just arrived from Malaysia, of all places. Take a look.


I also ordered two seats from sabelt. As FIA approved seats with halos go, they were pretty inexpensive. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up and only one seat left the factory. So, it will be another day or two before the second seat arrived.


Loomings deadlines

I decided a month or so ago that I needed a hard deadline to help motivate myself to finish the rally car. Its been a little over two years since I first purchased the car from an eccentric old couple in downtown indianapolis. Listed for 1200, I offered them 900 for the car and they countered with You seem like a nice young man; Well sell it to you for 800. I took it as a sign from God and bought the car immediately. But that was two years ago. For most of that time the car has languished in my garage while I waisted my money and time on graduate school. Now I make great money but spare time is sparse. I have two deadlines. The first is a soft deadline on the 25th of this month. If I can finish it by then, I can make a rally car road trip to my brothers graduation in Albuquerque New Mexico. The second deadline is the 16th of next month when William gets married. By then, the car must be finished.
Things I have left to do- Finish mounting and plumbing in the trunk mounted radiator. Rebuild the supercharger. Plumb in the intake system. Install throttle cable between the gas pedal and the throttle body. Finish the wiring and make it clean. Mount the hood. Mount the seat. Install the amazing suspension. Plumb in the brakes. Get the Driveshaft built and installed. Check over all nuts and bolts. Get the thing tuned right.
Damn. I need to get to work.

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