Lola T594

SR-71

 

 

    Talk about barn finds, this Lola T594 had sat at Val Burd's race prep shop in north western New Jersey for years.  Note the inverted row boat on the engine deck.  The last time this car had seen the track was in ASR trim with a Cosworth V-8.  Ergo the rear hump and Compomotives 13x 8's and 10's.  

 

    After getting it home, I began the task in identifying missing, altered, and damaged parts, as well as going through the boxes of possible parts that came with the car.  I say possible, since it seemed that I must have caught Val in his house keeping mode.  He loaded me up with everything including, as it turned out, building supplies he had left over in building his barn.  But I rather sort it out in leisure than forego a critical part.  But rain gutters?  Hmm.....................prototype aero devices?

 

The mono polished up real nice.

 

    Off came the body, off came suspension, off came the sub frame, off came the roll bar, and off came everything else (sorry, reading too many bedtime stories to my daughter).  The mono looked straight and polished up nicely.  But as I started to piece the parts together, I noticed significant modifications from original.  Further research found that the changes were consistent with the SR-71 conversions that Steven Johnson made legend in the 1980's.  However, without a log book, it could have been an imitation that was widely performed during the day.

   After about a year, Val calls out of the blue and informs me that the logbooks had finally surfaced with more boxes of parts.  While the parts were a bonus, the logbooks were the real find.  As it turns out, H.U. 71 was Steven's personal car, driven by him in 11 races in 1982 and 1983, winning 9.  Confirmation by Steven himself was later made, informing me that it was his "C" iteration of his famed SR-71. 

    After installing the front suspension I noticed how un protected your legs and feet are should you ever stuff it head first.  Steve offered up a crush box that he had as a spare.  The workmanship is fantastic and is almost a direct fit for my T594.  

    Finally identified the body work as being a T598.  Appears that Alan Merchanthouse owned the car after Steve and fitted the car with the T598 body after a engine fire at Lime Rock.  I am told that many earlier 594/6 series cars were commonly fitted that way during that time.       

    In re-making the SR71 Engine plate out of .25" aluminum, we noticed that the distributor notch only left about 1.5" of material holding the left side of the plate to the right.  Instead, we riveted another .25 aluminum plate over the area and slowly ground out the area to clear the distributor.  Plate took weeks to finish even with a template.  Also sourcing the material was a challenge given the dimensions of the plate, just a little bit too big for standard stock size .25" sheets, and small enough to make you think twice about buying a huge slab of aluminum.  

    Cleaned up the oil tank nicely, no leaks.  Ports are 3/4" NPT which we will plumb with AN 10 Aeroquip lines.  Now to figure out the plumbing.

Borrowed Buzz's headers to make a copy.  Relatively simple using stepped tubes.  However, we had to buy the tubes from 2 sources, Sthal and SIS, given the various radius' and pipe diameter.  

  

    SIS collector was a work of art.

    Amazing how quickly surface rust appears after some heat is applied.  The flange was made by Stahl and brazed, tubes were all Tig welded.  Tail pipe will be built once we install the engine.  

 

Front suspension came together quickly, some new sphericals and heims, nuts and bolts.

 

Engine plate fitted perfectly on the first try along with the oil tank and engine frame.  Original pinto thermostat housing re-configured (cut and welded).  

The rest was easy, and bolted together effortlessly.  New rear uprights from Guil Twiss, Stimola blueprinted gearbox, new radiators from Buzz Hooker, and radiator shrouds by Michael Baultz.  Spacers between the Hewland and CV's are being fabricated.

  

Couldn't resist trying out the side pods, even though they still need some fiberglass work before paint.  Note the former class, ASR with a Cosworth V8, yahoo.   Picking up all the finishing items now, new Stack 8100 series tach, a set of Technomagnisiums, and a set of OZ one piece wheels. 

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The body was in decent condition but had some problems including poor repair work over the 20 year life of the car.  Tons of bondo and slapped on fiberglass and resin.  The worst of it was the left pod, cracks, repairs, and waves that would rival a tsunami.  I was fortunate enough to find a set of T598 body molds, albeit in well used and in sad shape.  Instead of totally reconditioning the mold and making a whole new side pod, I decided to take a splash of the worst part, the front 1/3.  After sectioning out the offending fiberglass, I pulled off a new part from the mold, and the new section dropped in perfectly.  I left the pod floor in to ensure that it didn't lose too much of its shape and to have it give me some idea on how it should fit, but it definitely needed replacement.  Once I grafted the new part and set it aside to cure, I started out on making new floors.  I wanted to do both sides, so I took some more advice from my friend Tom at T3 Composites, and built some "pre-preg" fiberglass sheets.  Got a sheet of Formica and glued it on to a slab of particle board.  The Formica was waxed and the fiberglass sheet laid up on the surface with resin.  I used 2oz. Chopped Strand Matt, CSM, (thick), followed by 10oz woven fiberglass (for strength), and sandwiched it with another layer of 2oz CSM to form a very strong and light sheet.  Once cured, I needed a 90 degree 1" lip for inside floor where it bolts on to the Mono.  I decided to use my cut off wheel instead of the jig saw since I suck at cutting straight lines with the jig.  The only draw back is it gets very dusty.  Once cut, I used my new Formica board as a straight and level foundation and clay to jig up the part.  A couple of layers of fiberglass tape and the angle stiffened up the new floor considerably. 

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Decided not to use Steve's Crush box to design one on my own.  But in the mean while, I built a simple open frame to hold the nose.  Nose frame was fabricated using 0.5" steel tubing and brazed together a day before my new Tig welder arrived.  Using a threaded rod on the top of the "V" brace in order to raise and lower the nose with ease.  The finished structure was very rigid once bolted together and should hold the nose firmly in place.

 

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Popped off a fiberglass nose diffuser from original molds, but with the new Tilton Masters, replacing the much shorter Girlings, a modification had to be made to clear the brake and clutch master cylinders and its respective lines.  Using fiberglass "pre-preg" sheets that I made (just like what I used on the side pods), I sectioned out the area and cut up the panels and fiber glassed them into place.  

Original Dash pod was in bad shape and had holes cut for analog gauges.  Had a Stack 8100 system that looked to be a perfect fit for the dash.  So I prepared the dash to be used for a plug, made a mould and made a new dash.  I had to lower the steering wheel for a better view of the digital read out.  Will be making an aluminum disc to cover the holes with a Lola emblem.    

Trial fit of the body showed promise with most of the panels fitting up on the first try.  The extensive work on the side pods didn't seem to effect, change, or cause any major problems so it appears that the body is relatively still straight and true.  Some of the tabs and locating nipples were broken or missing so we began lining everything up and replacing/repairing the offending parts.  The new Tig makes a great cup holder while you are working.  

 

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7/15/05 The project for today was to make a head rest for the SR71.  Found the vinyl at the fabric store and started to cut out templates.  The original black piping was kind of boring so I decided to spice it up with a bit of yellow.  Made a couple of new aluminum backing plates from the original Lola size and shape, as well as the wood backing inside the cushion.  Needed a hard foam that will conform with SCCA rules and found the best material to be the Sears 1/2" foam used for tool box organization that was doubled up to get up to the 1" required depth.  Added a layer of soft foam after that to give it a soft feel and to fill out the vinyl.  Added the rivnuts for the roll bar mounting and counter sunk the aluminum plate to accept the stainless steel wood screws for a nice clean look.  Plus it will be out in the elements so aluminum and stainless is the only way to go.  I think the yellow piping goes well with the Lola decal and if I had more time, I would have found a way to embroider the log onto the vinyl.   Who figured, that required home eco class in H.S. finally paid off,  LOL.

The seat was built for a shorter driver (I'm 6'0") and the shoulder contour nailed me right in the shoulder blades.  Could have just glued in a patch of foam, but with all the work on the headrest, I thought a seat insert was more appropriate.

Needed to fabricate a tail pipe that would snake through the half shaft and lower suspension "A" arm.  Not much wiggle room, so I had to make sure that the pipe would not interfere with suspension travel.  With the suspension fully compressed (measured with the chassis hitting the ground) the lower "A" arm just touched and the same when the car was fully unloaded (jacked up off the ground) the half shaft just touched.  This gave me the range and subsequently the location the pipe.  Simplest and most economical way was to get a 2.25" "J" pipe and cut it in half in order to swing the opposite leg 180 degrees.  This gave me the correct orientation, but too deep of a drop.  So I needed to remove enough tube to get the correct rise to fit through the suspension.  In order to get a perfect matching radius, I drew a simple protractor and drew a 45 degree line to match up with my cut.  I cut both pipe ends which gave me a perfect radius for exhaust flow and match up of the two ends for welding.  The excess straight pipe was removed from the front of the tail pipe and welded to the rear.  Now with all the parts cut, everything was fitted on to the car and tapped together.  I wanted the pipe to exit straight back which required repositioning the two main halves of the "J" pipe to bend up and towards the car.  Since the cut was a perfect 45 degrees, the parts just swiveled into place.  Once I was happy with the fit, I removed the pipe, marked the position with a sharpe, and tiged the parts together.  I welded 0.25" I.D.  tubing on the collector and tail pipe to secure them together with w 1/4" bolt.

Now with a new tail pipe we needed a tail pipe bracket.  Tried to figure out a way to mount the bracket without having to use the bearing carrier bolts.  The body tail support already bolts onto the Hewland and having something else on it would just be more things to take off when you need to change gears.  But nothing looked viable so we went ahead with the bearing carrier bolts.  Simple project, 0.50" tubing, some bar stock, Teflon strip, and a spring.  I cut two 1" sections of tubing and welded washers on the ends for our mounting points.  Used Allen head screws to bolt them to the box which gave me my reference points.  Hammered out the steel bar to the proper radius, to allow the Teflon strip to be inserted, which in turn matched up to the tail pipe.  The Teflon didn't bend easily and tended to flatten back out.  I had to counter sink two holes in the Teflon, tap the steel bracket, and use stainless steel counter sunk Allen head screws to keep them in place.  Since this was a high vibration part, I decided to braze the parts together which would be an easier track side repair plus I'm better at brazing than tig for the moment.   

 

8/11/05.  Fellow Lola T342 owner, Paul Redstone dropped by today and brought over a pair of catch cans he purchased from Summit racing.  The cans are for oil and water and come complete with AN6 fittings, made from thick heat resistant plastic, have petcocks to drain the fluids between runs and a air filter for venting.  And for less than $50 for the pair, it's a bargain.  I quickly fabricated an aluminum bracket and they mounted perfectly on the side of the gearbox.  Yet another thing to remove when changing gears.  

 

9/1/05 - Now with all the mechanicals pretty much taken care of, we focused our attention to the body.  I bought Fred knoll's rear SR71 T598 tail when he converted his car to the new Clark Lincoln body work.  Unfortunately after a closer inspection, it was seen that the tail was in terrible shape.  The center engine dome and was badly deformed, large sections layered with fiberglass and bondo repairs that were 2 inches thick in places.  Tail may have been in a fire.  I decided to cut out the bad sections and replace them with the good kevlar parts of my old tail.  the above picture shows the new center dome sectioned and fiber glassed in.  By the time I was through, the whole top right side had to be grafted with new sections.  The parts removed weighed about 20 pounds if not more.  But the tail is now correct.

The rest of the original kevlar body was in good condition, but needed the old paint sanded off to gel coat and cracks repaired.   Many of the cracks were cut out and re-fiber glassed.  The small stress cracks were sanded and a thin layer of vail fiberglass resined over the area and re-sanded smooth. 

Primed in Urethane primer, sanded again with 400 wet, and ready for paint.

 Decided on a two stage paint base coat/clear coat, Indigo blue metallic GM color with a white stripe which came out great.  The tail's shape and contour is spot on after the bodywork and the paint just makes it shine.

When the car is in the sun, the color becomes very bright and iridescent.  But with any spray painting outside of a spray booth, the next few weeks were dedicated to wet sanding and polishing.

9/18/05- Body fitted up nicely after the wet sanding and compounding.  Nice depth of color and shine.

 

9/18/05 - Designed an array of decals for the car including a www.ThelolaRegistry.com logo 8 feet long to fit the top of the car length wise on both sides, roundels, S2 classification decals, and a tribute to Steve.  had everything vectored out and brought it down to my sign making shop for a quote.  Sticker shock soon overcame me as they wanted $500 just for the one set.  Figuring that I would be going through a lot of decals for all the restorations in cue, I bit the bullet and bought a commercial vinyl plotter and enough vinyl to keep me busy for quite some time.   

Took some time learning the new software, but it paid off.  Final product came out exactly how I envisioned.  

10/1/05 - Next was to fabricate and install the fences and tail extension.  Since I already finished up with the paint, I decided to polish the aluminum to a mirror shine, fully realizing the pain that I would have to undergo hours of wet sanding and polishing, and then having to maintain it.  But it works well with color scheme and gives the car a bit of flash.

First light of day in over 3 years, and she looks brilliant.  Just need to finish up the decals and graphics, bleed the hydraulics, set up, and a few bits and she'll be ready, the driver may take a bit longer.

5/14/06 - Over three years and the car is ready for her debut at the Jefferson 500 at Summit Point on May 18/19/20/21.  Triple checked every nut and bolt, scaled and aligned the car and loaded the gears.  Fresh coat of wax and cut and applied all the decals.  Have been watching the Summit Point track videos over and over again, and with a full day of coaching from Peter Krause on Thursday, I should be ready....I hope.

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