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If you’re a beginner and you just found rallynotes.com, keep reading, your quest starts here.

Rally car jump

Building a rally car is something that is very rewarding, time consuming and expensive. My formula is: Take the cost of ANY car and add about $8000 and you will have a good budget for your first rally car. Did eight grand scare you a little? Good, because used rallycars can be found for $5000. That cost doesn’t include the $2000 each of safety gear you’ll be wearing. ($ in USD)

You’re going to want to prioritize your to-do list and start by gutting the car. Any mechanical issues that the model has will need to be solved. (AWS on VR4, Neon head gasket, Rear beam brake bias on VW’s, etc.) This stuff involves lurking on car forums and doing research on what works and what doesn’t in racing. Talk to people who have actually rallied. Don’t spend 1000 hours re-engineering something from the factory. The manufacturer spent a LOT of money to ensure the gas tank was in a safe place. Why are you spending hours setting up a fuel cell in the spare wheel well? You’d be surprised to see how much factory stuff is just fine working under rally conditions. Don’t run too many rally experiments your first time out.

Find a reputable roll cage fabricator. You could do it yourself, but I don’t recommend it. These guys have rally experience, they know what works and what doesn’t. At least consult with one before you start cutting tubes. A basic cage that will protect you in a crash is going to be around $2300 – $2800.

friendsGet some friends to help. Your mechanic buddy might groan when you ask him for help on a Friday night, but secretly he loves it. He loves knowing everything about your rally car, he talks about it at work, and he’ll love when you finish your first rally and bring it into the winners circle with his help. Compensate these guys by paying for their rally weekend. Cover the hotel and food.

Once the cage is in and seats are installed. Upgrade the suspension, and come up with a clever way to attach some HDPE plastic and 6061 3/16″ aluminum skid plates to the underside. I used angle iron on the side sills and some metal skis off the K-member. Then take it out for testing at a rallycross, dry lake-bed, or closed dirt road. You should have already had a conversation with a sanctioning body rally car inspector. Getting a logbook for your first rally car is a major milestone!

Going to start with a brand new co-driver? Go to a rally school that teaches co-driving skills. Rally volunteers have some patience for noobs, but getting 10 minutes of road points because you don’t understand how a time card works is embarrassing.

Read rules, rulebooks, and car classes. You’ve read them once? Read then again. Now all the little details need to get in place. Your orange triangles, your first aid kit, tow hooks, extinguishers, etc. Only after this is all figured out should you sign up for your first event. Do you have everything you need to pass tech at your first rally? I highly recommend hanging out in tech a few rallies before your first one. I learned a lot just watching the scrutineering process.

Your goal is to finish your first rally. You will learn an amazing amount of stuff about your car and yourself in one event. Now you can go forward and refine your driving, your car, and your rally skills.

Want an idea of what it’s like to build and race a rally car? Check out some of the highlights of the rallynotes.com archive. Goals Achieved at GormanThe Olympus StoryThe Black Canyon VideoThe 2008 USRC Production 2WD ChampionsRally car project number 2
Thanks for joining us!
– Kris

The hard work of putting it all back together.

2GN roll cage paintThe first thing on the agenda was to paint the cage. This is like building a paint booth – – inside your car. After mistakenly buying (and spraying) silver metallic, I went back to the store to pick up a flat ‘granite’ grey. As I’d be painting the roof, floor, and side pillars, I wanted to go with something darker then primer. I think the color is perfect for the interior of a dirty rally car. With a respirator on, I did two coats of grey and then I sprayed a clear coat on the floor and the door bars that would see the most abuse. Allow 3 days to dry, then begin.

The HVAC system was a bit of a fuss to get back in, but eventually I coaxed the blower motor under the bar going out to the front strut tower. The flap that controls air from the cabin and air from the outside was compromised, and we’ll have to see about sealing that up better. The 1stGen only took air from the outside, so being able to control that even partially is better then nothing. The dashboard followed quickly afterwards and heavy modification to the vents were needed to make them operable. I used pop rivets to secure the tubes that push air to the cabin. With 70% of the original dash gone, you have to be resourceful if you want the remaining bits to stay in place.

The wiring is underway with the stock dash harness back in. I found an old phone charger cable that I scrapped to make a coil cord for the horn. I pop riveted the original interior light back in – a little further back, and replaced the bulb with an LED replacement. Red and white LED strips are in place above the driver and co-driver. Their location will be finalized when Christine’s seat goes in.

Dry cell Optima Red Top in Rally CarI mounted an 1/8″ plate with four bolts into the frame rails behind the co-driver’s seat. This fixed, flat location was used to mount an Optima Red-Top battery inside a plastic box. The plastic box will keep spares or tools from damaging the battery, and adds very little weight. I had enough wire to put the battery all the way in the trunk, but I prefer to keep the weight between the front and back wheels. There is a handy rear seat belt bolt near there that I re-purposed to be the main ground for the chassis.

The next big step will be to get the body wiring harness back in, battery connected, and tested. This will allow the stock motor to return and we’ll really start pushing for Prescott.

Making the most out of the least: Your tiny garage.


My first garage was, well it wasn’t really a garage. The place where I spent many a weekend wrenching on my first rally car was a small shed at the end of the driveway at my friend Sean’s house. Always fighting for space , we had to remove the bags of lawn waste, lawnmower, and gardening supplies before we could even think about bringing a car in there. Once a car was in there, good luck opening the doors or doing anything easy. Shelter from the weather and a place to wrench on cars with the help of good friends was what made that place special. I longed for a garage of my own.

Subsequent sheds, borrowed garages and driveways followed. I convinced my Dad that my brothers and I could insulate the garage in a weekend and a propane heater made the difference between working on the cars in the winter and a mission to the outer reaches of space. Have you ever changed brake pads when it was 14°F out? It is a whole new level of preparation and commitment. Fluid, tools, and physical tasks are completely different at that temperature.

Once on the West Coast, we got with an eclectic group of folks that rented warehouse buildings in the garment district of LA. Lots of space to be had for $200 a month, but you never wanted to leave your good tools there, and you could never really call it home. Because of course; the guy with the blacked-out caddy already called it home, he had been living out of his car for over 2 months. 😐 When we found that out, we bailed pretty quick. Transmission swaps in the UCI graduate student housing parking lot gave way to some rented shop space for $350 in San Clemente. Access to real tools, a lift, a tire mounter, etc. For a time this was as good as it gets. Then the economy tanked and the rent had to go up. I stuck it out while my space got smaller and smaller, eventually everything had to be on wheels, everything had to be mobile (including the rally car). This is a pain in the ass when you have a long term suspension and engine swap planned. It was time to save my cash, stash the rally car at a buddies house, and move the tools back into a plastic shed behind the apartment and buy a house – with a garage!

What do you get for a reasonably priced short sale in a nice neighborhood? You get 250 square feet. Now subtract space for the washer, the dryer, and the water heater. Ready to get all those extra car parts up on the shelves? How about you start with the 15 paint cans, the bucket of plumbing supplies, and the box of house fix-it stuff that you refuse to place on the hood of the rally car. Here’s my suggestions for surviving out of a tiny garage.

  • Label EVERYTHING!
  • You have to start somewhere. Label the box of random house stuff – ‘House Stuff’. That way you won’t spend two hours digging through it looking for O2 Sensors. Put subsequent labels on it later. ‘House Stuff’ can become ‘House Stuff, Painting Prep, Door Hardware’. Call the P-Touch label maker geeky, but when you and your friends can find (and return) every tool in your tool chest, it’s worth cash money in time saved.

  • Put it on wheels. Become mobile and flexible.
  • Being able to quickly roll work areas and tools around keeps things potentially more flexible then the huge garage with every tool needed in the large immovable chest. Harbor Freight furniture dollies work great for bins of spares, and FWD transmissions. Have some spare dollies in anticipation of your next project. Consider building a smaller mobile work table covered in scrap sheet metal with heavy duty wheels.

  • Get it off the ground. High shelves for stuff you use less.
  • If you are a man – you no doubt consider the floor ‘a low shelf’. Now that everything is mobile in your garage, even 1 bin of parts not on wheels will be frustrating when you go to move everything around for a project. Since a box truck will never fit, why not use the magic space over 5 feet for wall shelves along the length of your garage. Consider a one foot deep shelf with angle brackets tied to the studs. Just like your sugary sweet cereal isle, put the stuff you use most at eye level, ‘good for you’ parts lower, and the super healthy un-used items up above.

  • Unfinished, cluttered, and hot. Invest in small money, big upgrades.
  • Don’t have the time for drywall? Consider ‘Thrifty White Shower Paneling’ for the walls. It’s like $9 a sheet and you get three pretty good benefits: 1. You can hose it off. 2. You can write on it with whiteboard markers (and erase). 3. It makes pretty good projector screen material for Rockband or Rally games on the Xbox. 😀 Rolls of insulation are cheap, and even in Southern California – consider an insulated garage door. My garage door faces the SW and even on the hottest of days the garage is cooler then outside.

  • Setup your old PC or laptop.
  • We’re not building a media center here. We just need access to alldatadiy.com and mp3’s. WiFi and $9 speakers makes the garage so much more productive. Most OBD software can run on a 486, so that old P4 with a gig of RAM will do just fine.

  • Other ideas:
  • Build a storage loft! Span Calculator
  • Front load washer / dryer = a temp work table on non-laundry days
  • Standardize your bins, various sizes that are all stackable
  • Got your own small garage ideas? Hit up the comments!
  • The Teardown – Phase I.5

    About a month ago I got the gas tank and the fresh fuel pump installed. I was once again disappointed when I went for a quick drive. It went like this: “So I zip down the street one more time and whip the car around. Wide open throttle in first and then the car falls on its face.” Now it’s definitely time to look at that Check Engine light flashing in my face.

    Turns out that the Dodge Neon (and I’m sure most cars) doesn’t like it when the camshaft position sensor stops reporting its position. :eek: After pulling the codes it reported this error and sourcing a replacement from Harry’s garage, it’s fixed! I ditched the Blazer and drove it home.

    Tomorrow – We’ll be at Cars & Coffee in Irvine bright and early!

    Getting the car together for this car show was a good excuse to make a list of all that needs to be done over the next couple of months. If you haven’t seen it, we updated the Upcoming Events page. Our first event this year will be the all new North Nevada Rally!

    The Teardown – Phase I

    Good news, bad news. Somehow we must have installed the axle wrong. When we popped it out, or jammed it in (in 6 seconds). I think that maybe one of the bearings popped out of the hub side. The axle rolled forward and without a bearing in there, it crunched up the ‘end bits’.

    I know this because Harry and Dan stopped by the shop and we installed a back-up axle. Everything seemed to turn nicely and I took Ze’Neon down the street for a quick ‘is the tranny blowed up?’ test. 1st through 5th – all working! I even did a tire chirp-burnout to stress the axle. If it’s going to break, I want it 50 feet from the shop. So I zip down the street one more time and whip the car around. Wide open throttle in first and then the car falls on its face. “Uh oh…” I mumble. Some sort of fuel starvation from the tight corner probably. I have a half tank of gas though… The power picks up and I make it back to the shop. Then it stumbles again. Seems like a fuel issue and probably why it’s been hard to start it.

    I hot-wire the fuel pump and we took the remaining fuel out of the gas tank and into a container. It’s coming out of the hose for the fuel rail very weak. Sorta like a foam soap dispenser. The gas is all frothy and the flow can’t be right. It may be the lack of pressure, but the Neon doesn’t use a return line in the engine. The fuel is looped and cycled through the filter next to the tank and then drawn off the filter for its long journey up to the fuel rail.

    We dropped the tank and took the baby out to have a look. All the seals and connections are fine – so I’m chalking this up to the fuel pump right now. I’m also not ruling out the filter. We have a fresh metal tank courtesy of Harry to install the new pump into. I have to strengthen / shield / kevlar the bottom side this time to prevent future gas tank issues. I have thought about and rejected a ‘dual fuel pump’ system for this car. If I was planning on a fuel cell and firewall – SURE! At this point I have other things to spend my money on…

    The screwvenir of the year.

    Screwvenir Dodge Neon Differential PinFirst off – a new word for your vocabulary.

    screwvenir (skrew-von-eer) ; 1. A collectible item or souvenir that, by obtaining it, screwed you over in some way or another. 2. A trophy for “dead last but finished.” 3. Any simple bolt, fastener or clamp that takes longer then 1 hour to remove and required an air chisel, hack saw, AND torch.

    Some how, some way – this differential pin did not explode and render my transmission useless at the Prescott Rally in 2005. Think about this pin while you casually watch Perkinsville fly by. This single item could have totally screwed up a lot of stuff. Think about the term: ‘transmission grenade’ when you imagine that this little baby was moments away from a royal cluster of transmission ending, rally over, try not to spin it into the woods when your front end seizes, cluster fudge of screw. I don’t even think sheer will power and determination are keeping this thing together right now.

    This is the differential pin from the Dodge Rally Neon’s first transmission. No – It normally does not have ‘lobes’ in it like some weird camshaft. This tranny has been sitting in a plastic box since April of 2006. I replaced the transmission shortly before Rim of the World 2006 for performance reasons ONLY! My second gear in the 3.94 trans is having syncro issues. So, I decided to swap over to the old 3.55 while repairs could be done. In the process I swapped the differentials (my 3.94 has a friction locker) and I noticed the unbelievable. The planet gears inside the diff had chewed through half of a hardened steel pin! Wow…

    I think this might become a key chain…
    or some sort of rally talisman. :o Creepy!