Friday, April 18, 2008

I'll get to the car: hold your horses. This pertains.

I bought my motorcycle new in 2003: a Honda 919, aka Hornet in other markets. Most of a CBR900RR performance and mechanical foundation, but with EFI and as is common with "naked bikes" a fatter midrange and slightly emasculated top end. 105 hp at the rear wheel, 65-ish ft. lbs of torque.

Within 3 months of purchase I had my most expensive speeding ticket ever ($455) and was leaving every stop light on one wheel. Often riding in jeans, a tank top, and shades. Stupid at any age, stupider at 39. It wasn't my first bike, but it was the most liberating to my inner hooligan of any bikes I've owned.

My dad died that autumn and left me a little inheritance. Although I had never seen photos and he never owned a bike after he "settled down" I just know that he passed on his love of bikes to me. He had owned a 1928 and a 1935 Harley when he was in his twenties. They would have been WELL used ratbikes by the time he got them. I think he paid $5 for the '28.

I decided that I was going to go drag racing, partly in homage to my dad. After all, I could never have afforded to do it properly without his parting gift to me. I first commissioned an extended swingarm: if I'm going drag racing, I'm NOT going to be "the guy who looped the bike off the line that time." Because Honda never sold a large number of 919's in America and the 919 is not a design that lends itself to modifications, increasing the engine output in any significant way is difficult. VERY restrictive porting, very limited availability of big bore kits, high lift cams, NO turbo kits whatsoever on the market...I was running out of options for achieving my goal of a nine second quarter mile on this bike. If I knew I was going racing when I bought a bike, I certainly wouldn't have started with this one. A CBR1000 STARTS with 50 more h.p. , and has many options for pursuing greater performance.
After engineering and installing what I believe is the world's only wet nitrous system in this application, as well as a few other little mods, I was ready to take it to the track and see what The Tinman could do. I'd rarely ever finished off a can of whipped cream, never mind tuned a nitrous system in my life. And after getting caught in the rain and nearly ruining the most expensive suit I'd ever own (Alpinestars) I HAD to come up with an alternative way of getting to the track.

In my driveway sat an unused 1999 Honda Civic HX; the VERY tall-geared, 43 mpg rated, lesser-engined version of their coupe that I had bought new. It had served me well, ferrying me across Alaska for my inspection business to the tune of 147,000 miles in the first two years of ownership. I got mine back from the insurance company virtually for free after totaling it in 2002, and band-aided it back together with a plywood front bumper and some judicious tugs on the "frame" from a come-along anchored to a concrete parking garage support. I drove it for a few years before I found a clean old BMW 320i and parked the Civic. Because it had 210,000 miles nobody would be too interested in salvage parts, and because it had been totaled and was still not titled, it was unsellable as a car.

I began thinking of cutting the car up and making it into a trailer before I got the brilliant (ahem) idea of making it into a self-propelled trailer, or "truck" as they are sometimes called. I took a few measurements, checked my stock of Sawzall blades (if only I'd had my air compressor and die grinder/cutter then!), bopped down to the liquor store for a rack of Alaskan Amber, and got to drinking...I mean, re-manufacturing.

I started by removing the trunk lid and gutting the interior of carpeting and basically everything but the driver's seat. I removed the back glass, cut out the package shelf, and sawed out the center of the rear bumper and everything between the taillights. The floor was poorly shaped for truck duty, and a hump for the fuel tank was going to cause my bike "deck" to sit much higher than I wanted. I hacked out the floor above the center of the gas tank, and quite proudly only sawed through one vapor return hose/valve assembly in the process! I got skills! Somehow, the fuel tank still held fuel and I was still not engulfed in flames at this point. But I was pretty s-faced now, so really, I was amazed that I hadn't wound up in the E.R. yet nor spilled any...okay, MUCH blood. There is a high-strength steel crossmember in the area under the former back seat, so this served as the main anchor of the ramp/deck for the bike and provides a surprising amount (ANY is surprising, right?) of structural integrity.

Because The Tinman is stretched and slammed he cannot negotiate much of a ramp without high-centering, so the deck is mounted nose-high and El Civico is MUCH more accommodating than would be a pickup truck or trailer. This car, albeit somewhat odd, is the best way I could hope to transport the bike without spending an arm and a leg. Or really, more than $50, as is the case.

As you can imagine I get some looks on the highway on the way to the track. I'm simply amazed that with the dozens of cameras that I've seen hanging out of passenger windows, I've never come across a picture of my rig on the internet.

After a passing rain shower last year, track management allowed spectators to take their cars down the track to assist drying. Slapped on my helmet, fired up El Civico (sans Tinman in back) and high-tailed it to the staging lanes. With 216,000 miles on the original clutch (and everything else but the front brakes and timing belt) I bounced it off the rev limiter in the burnout box for 15 seconds, released the ebrake, and sidled up to the tree. My reaction time wasn't great; this WAS the first time I'd ever drag raced a car, but I left the line around 6,000 rpms with a taste of equal parts clutch slip and tire spin: exactly what this tall-geared car wanted. Second gear is good for 72 mph, a quick slam into 3rd and we crossed the finish line with a 16.84: one hundredth quicker than I'd just seen for a new Mini !

El Civico has no problem keeping up with highway traffic, or any other kind really. I had it up to 95 on the Old Glenn Highway, a lovely meandering old two-lane, following a WRX on the way home from the track and all hopped up on adrenaline and Diet Rockstar. Thankfully the peace officers up here don't seem too concerned about the car and technically, they don't need to be. It has all its safety equipment besides a license plate light, but thanks to the late sunsets of summer here that's not really an issue.

Okay, so El Civico ain't too fond of washboard bumps: the torsional rigidity obviously does leave something to be desired. But I seriously doubt it's less safe than just riding the motorcycle. Granted, once I get into an accident in this car I'll be in for a world of hurt. Do I have any other mods planned? Probably an ejection seat for just such an occasion. I'll want to get some distance between me and the bike should the 's' hit the fan.

But until the doors stop working due to body flex, or the front half says 'Adios' to the back half, El Civico will remain the workhorse that keeps me in the racing game. In fact, working as a team last year, The Tinman, El Civico, and I took home the top trophy of Alaska drag bike racing.

My apologies to DeWalt, but their heavy duty reciprocating saw turned out to be less heavy duty than a drunk with an old Civic. May it rest in peace.


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