First test drive – 2nd Gen Neon Rally Car

The other day I was pretty excited to pop the axles in and go for a spin. Unfortunately I still had to re-attach the front bumper, lights, and hood. There was also adding fluid to the transmission and the modified power steering pump.

Monday, I wrapped up all these tasks and set the car back down on the wheels. The steering made no argument turning rally tires on concrete. No noise from the pump and the steering felt light. I idled slowly out of the driveway, listening for any weird noises from a car that I’ve taken completely apart and put back together.

Ferrari F355 ChallengeMy first reaction to the quickener is that it drives like a video game. That tight – instant steering you get from your Logitech Gaming Wheel. It feels natural and I didn’t even think about adapting to it. You just drive it like you would Sega’s Ferrari F355 Challenge. The car drives straight and I didn’t tax the steering pump puttering around the neighborhood swerving around trash barrels. The real test will be at speed – and at a rallycross in 3 weeks.

The plan has been finalized to be ‘Zero Car’ at Prescott. This is a lot less stressful then competing and will be a great shakedown of the systems and setup so far. For those of you unfamiliar with the term: 1 or 2 course opening cars are sent down the rally stage to make sure it’s clear and the time controls and signs are in place (000 and 00), then the 0 car (usually a rally car) is run at a fast pace before the competitors. The zero car reports any change in conditions to the drivers, any potential safety issues, and declares the stage “hot” and ready to run. The Prescott Rally is September 30th – October 1st, and we have one last weekend of prep to get the new Dodge Neon rally car ready to run. See you on the stages!

Some additional engineering necessary…

Just a quick note – The steering column and quickener needed some more effort. If something related to steering is off .05 from the center, it’s off a lot. 😐 After welding I re-assembled and found about 20 degrees of friction when turning. I stupidly assumed that the ID (inner diameter) of the column and the ID of the spline adapter were different and that’s why I tried to center the adapter from the outside. (Metric car made in Mexico – Adapter in the US) I cut it off to re-weld and was shocked to find that the ID of both were .755 and .753 respectively.

Instead of centering from the outside, all I needed was a metal pin that was exactly 3/4″. And that’s exactly what we did. My buddy Erik was able to find a steel dowel pin from McMaster for $2.32, he shipped it to his office and we welded it up and tested it last night. Check out the video of the Dodge Rally Neon steering quickener test.

Seam welding, mock up, and fabrication

Seam or stitch welds.
Seam welding, or stitch welding, is where you take and join the layers of metal at the seams on a chassis. Modern uni-body cars are made up of dozens of pieces of steel that they spot weld together. Spot welding is fine for a street car, but spot welds start to pop in a car that is bounced, jumped, bumped, twisted, and raced. As we want to build in some serious longevity into this car, we’re taking the time to weld all the metal panels together.

My friend Erik came over with his welder (Thanks Erik! :D) and we started with the interior. I had prepped a bunch of areas by grinding the paint away and we were able to get through it quickly. We still have the rear strut towers, trunk, and undercarriage to do.

Dashboard mock up
I’ve had parts of the dashboard in and out of the car a dozen times. I want to see what is going to work and what won’t, and the best way to do this is to mock it up using a couple of bolts just to hold it in place. All of the extraneous plastic and metal is out of the dashboard and the HVAC system and piping has been reduced to a minimum. I actually think I’ll duct the floor heat, making it better then it ever was. 🙂

steering modification
The heavy fabrication was done yesterday with a new steering wheel, extension, steering quickener, and floor mounted gas pedal. I had just about given up on the “tilt wheel” with the Howe 1.5:1 quickener, but I was able to make it work after an hour of critically examining the steering. I modified the cast piece that hinges the column up and down, and was able to slide the housing of the quickener into it. Now I just need a bracket from the upper part of the column to support the quickener. While I was at it I solved an issue where the aftermarket steering adapters don’t reset the blinker. Adding two small threaded posts with a plastic covering on them I was able to restore functionality. Check out the quick video of the steering blinker reset in action.

Taking my time during fabrication means I’ll have no-compromise steering, A gas pedal in a Neon that I can actually heel-toe with, and a car that is ready for whatever rally can throw at it.