So there I was, just zooming along, and this happened…

Well, back in August, things were going swimmingly well. I had done several track days in 2016, car was well sorted (I thought), I was getting more confident and faster. That’s how one always feels, I hear, right before the bottom drops out.

Happened about 5 laps into the first session of the first day of a two-day track weekend at VIR. Oof. Car was feeling a little squirrelly and I was trying to figure it out. I felt like I was driving well off my normal pace, but back end of the car came around when I turned in on a high speed sweeper… and before I could correct or even go “two feet in,” the car had assumed a new trajectory and I was just along for the ride, into the Armco on the inside of “Hog Pen.”

Sadly, I my video recording didn’t start properly that session, so I didn’t have much to analyze. I KNOW I had the car set up VERY loose… but I had the same settings for two days at CMP a month earlier, with no issues. Months later, when I was rebuilding the car, I found that one of my inner CV joints had failed… either in the crash, or before. I’m thinking before, and that was what I was feeling with the car, prior to the crash. And that would explain why my usual car control skills didn’t do what they usually do…

So, broke my car. And I bought VIR $1200 worth of new guard rail. But I was able to spot my newly painted guardrail on the TV the next weekend when the pros raced at VIR. So that was cool, I guess.

It’s OK. It’s what I built the car for… going fast, and crashing into things. And it’s fixable. Never was built to be a show car.

Anyway, I let the car sit for about 5 months, because I just couldn’t get in the right frame of mind to work on it. Then, I finally did.

Left engine/bumper frame rail was mushed. So I replaced it.

Gave me an opportunity to learn some new skills, and improve my welding technique.

Got things pretty well patched up. Straightened out the mushed bonnet to “good enough” and re-used my spare partially screwed up bumper cover. I decided to switch to an Aero grille instead of spending $$$ on buying and painting a new slatted grille and related trim. I like the way it looks. Kept a little Armco Green paint for street cred.

I’ve been driving, and rebuilding my confidence in myself and the car. I had been testing much stiffer springs. While it would actually work on the track (and did at CMP last summer), it’s too stiff for bumpy roads. Every bump is a car control event waiting to happen. So I’ve backed way off on the sway rate, and I’m backing off a bit on the spring rate. I think the new setup will be about perfect.

Really happy to have the car back on the road for the spring.

I hate the OEM hood latches…

The hood latches had been wonky since I helped my wife ripe the nose off the car a year ago… and remained wonky after the recent fix. I had them both latching (though with huge effort) for a couple of weeks. Then the passenger side latch wouldn’t line up properly no matter what I tried. Hours later, I punted and decided to do something I had been wanting for a year.

I replaced them with something better… Aerocatches. Kenn recently did these, and shared his pics and lessons learned. That helped A TON.

I ordered the “Extreme” version with the steel pins, I trust them more than the aluminum pins, and they accept adjustments with the hammer quite well.

It helps that I have about 1000 ways to drill and cut sheet metal in my shop.

A nibbler is the right tool for this job.

They work very well. I love them. The key to the install is to REALLY take your time. There’s only one spot that really seems to work well, with the pin 3/4″ forward of the plugged hole on the outer strut tower arm. Drill a hole there, insert a sharpie with the point up, and carefully lower the bonnet just until it touches. Use that as your starting mark, drill a small hole, cut 1.5″ off the threaded end of the hood pins, install the a┬ápin to approximately the right height, lower the bonnet and see where you are. Drill another small hole in the “real” correct spot now that you can see what you’re doing. Place the templates, mark, measure and check about a dozen times (you get one shot at this) and carefully cut.

I get spoiled after a while

I’m trying to figure out how to make the backend just a bit more stable at speed. The front sticks well with the RMW splitter. The rear got a bit better (I think) with the GP2 diffuser. But I want a little less lift back there… I really want the car to sit down at speed. Since my car has more in common aerodynamically with NASCAR trucks than other MINIs, I decided to try a variation of the NASCAR type spoiler.

Ordered some 3/16″ smoked Lexan, and mocked up a spoiler in cardboard to get the shape and profile right. Originally I was going to mount this with stainless hinges and turnbuckles, but then had a brainstorm on bending tabs in the Lexan and trying that. Turns out that worked well, so it simplified the whole project.

Marked and cut Lexan using the cardboard mock-up as a template.

Started off 5″ high, plus 2″ for the tabs.

Marked the size/shape of the tabs. Drilled holes for stress relief. Cut the tabs with the jigsaw.

Bent the tabs, using a simple jig, flat pliers, and heat gun. You have to get this stuff HOT to bend it, about 300F. Took a few tries and test fitting to get the tab angles close enough.

Then drilled holes for hardware, removed the film, and screwed it into place.

I love it. It seems plenty stiff, I can add turnbuckles later if needed. Need to sand the edge a bit to smooth it out, but it’s pretty much done.

Raise the Roof

Last year, I fabricated a “bikini” style soft top for the GP Roadster. It served its purpose, keeping me and passengers mostly dry during wet trips. But right away, I started thinking about how nice it would be to have a removable hard top for such trips.

The best starting point for this would be an R50/R53 roof assembly. Sadly, I only thought of this a few months after sending the GP carcass to the shredder… it would have been the perfect roof donor. Oh well, water under the bridge. I started searching for another roof nearby, at a price I would pay.

I finally found an R53 roof at a salvage yard about an hour away, for a couple hundred dollars. So I bought it.

These have a ton of layers of steel welded into a “sandwich” with air gaps, to make a very stiff, strong structure.

But I didn’t need any of that. I just needed the roof skin, cut to shape. So hours of time with about 20 cutting wheels in an angle grinder, plus more cutting with my air nibbler, and…

I cut the rear profile to match the curvature of the top of the new rear spoiler.

 

Sand and prime the roof panel. Not going for perfection; it’s gonna get banged up anyway. Just want it “decent” for now.
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Measure, mark, and split the panel with the nibbler.
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Applied a few coats of silver wheel paint, which is a pretty close match to the Pure Silver. Painted the underside with satin black chassis & roll bar paint. Just going for “good enough” for right now… if it all works out, I’ll take it apart and refinish later. Added edge trim all around both panels.

Now, to attach it… I spent the better part of a year searching for the best attachment approach for the roof. I looked at hundreds of different types of hardware. Things that were designed to hold on roof panels… and just about everything else you could imagine. Dick suggested last year that I use hood pins. I was headed that direction, but really didn’t want pins sticking up through the roof. I looked at several kinds of flush-mount latches. The Quik-Latch latches looked perfect for the application… but they are $300 a pair! And I was probably going to need 8 of them…

Then I found a source for Chinese knock-offs of the Quik-Latch. Yeah, I know. I’m not usually into such things… I buy the real deal whenever I can. But there’s no way I was going to buy $1200 worth of latches for my roof. $100 total, shipped from China, was more in the budget.

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These are pretty slick. Billet aluminum latches have a ball bearing ring that snaps closed around a ball-top adjustable hood pin. Push the button on the top to release, it stays released until you press it back down on the ball.

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Spring tension in the latch should help dampen vibrations. At least that’s the theory. I measured and identified locations where I’d have enough clearance for the “stack height” of the assembly, and where the roof skin was flat enough for the latch.

The adjustable pins are designed to mount through sheet metal with nuts and washers. But that’s not appropriate for mounting on the roll cage. So I drilled the cage and installed 8 M12 outserts. Yeah, I know… holes and roll cages aren’t a great combination. If it was a wheel-to-wheel race car, I’d be concerned about it. But it’s not… and I’m not. I avoided bends and junctions that will see highest stress in a catastrophic incident.

Measured and cut down pins to an appropriate length to provide the necessary adjustment range in each location.

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Fit the roof panels in place, adjusting the pins to hold it at the desired ending height. Lined everything up, including the center seal for the panels, and taped into position. Checked, double checked, triple checked, and then marked the center points for the latches on the bottom of the roof where the pins touched.

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2″ hole saw to cut holes for the latches… install latches… and the moment of truth!

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OMG! It actually works!

I’m most excited about the tight fit against the factory convertible roof seal at the front. Should be leak-free!

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I’m actually a little surprised how well it came together. But the first real test… how secure it is when driving?

I did a total of two hours of spirited driving, over smooth and rough roads, at speeds up to 90mph. Zero wind noise, zero whistling, zero rattling. It’s just on there, solid. Relatively quiet, calm, and civilized in the cockpit. With the windows up, the heat actually works and makes the car quite livable for four-season use.

I can install and remove the roof in about a minute, maybe less. Stows in the boot; I need to work up a secure storage method so it’s protected and doesn’t shift around back there. That’s next.

I’ll be able to test it in the rain this coming week, to see if I’ll need to make any adjustments, or add any window seals, or add any “wings” in the rear to prevent blow-back. But judging by the airflow in the car today, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. Very calm inside with the windows up.

I’ll refinish it to look nicer, once I get the storage solution done, so I can protect the finish. Stay tuned.