Direct 'Dear Dave' tech letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.Coleman will share mind-numbing details, earth-shattering revelations, and technical nerdisms in this space each month.
How to waste $15,000 - Q: I have a '97 Nissan Altima that I have completely ruined by trying to turn it into a road race car. I have gutted it, installed D2 coilovers, made my own end links for the rear anti-roll bar, added a roll cage, and on and on.
During the build, I kept referring to Kojima's 'Making it Stick' series. In the steering geometry section, there is a photo of a Nissan Sentra lower control arm that has been modified to correct the geometry. The next part is the steering tie rods that are supposed to be on the same plane as the lower control arms. So I start to look into this part and notice that the tie rod end ball joints mount to the top of the steering arm on Sentras and Altimas, not the bottom like on 300ZXs and 240SXs.
How the hell are you supposed to move the tie rod down to a parallel plane with the lower control arm when lowering the tie rod end would mean pushing it through the steering arm? If I bought the parts to fab up my own (as suggested in the article) and they go in through the top, wouldn't that put them even farther away?
I know I never should have done anything with this car, but now I have blown $15,000 over three years and it has not even seen the track yet.Tom WitoshynskyPalm Beach Gardens, FL
A: The answer to your dilemma is simple, but not easy.To lower the tie rod, you need to attach the tie rod ball joint to the bottom of the steering arm. This seems impossible, since the joint bolts to the arm through a conical seat that faces upward.
The first thing to do is drill out the conical seat and turn it into a straight, cylindrical hole. Since the big end of the original conical seat is just under 5/8-inch, you need to drill it out to 5/8-inch. Now you can run a grade 8, 5/8-inch bolt through the hole and use a 5/8-inch rod end to replace your original tie rod end.
You only have two problems now. First, the tie rod is way too small to thread into your 5/8-inch rod end, so you'll need to machine an adaptor to thread into the rod end and accept the Nissan tie rod.
If you don't feel like machining all this stuff yourself, go to www.unbalancedengineering.com and drop $95 on a pre-made kit. You can also skip the drilling out of the steering arms by sending them your uprights, along with a picture of Ulysses S. Grant on a 6x2.5-inch piece of high-cotton rag paper and they'll do it for you.
Problem number two is that, depending on ride height and what you've done with the lower control arm, the ideal tie rod end position is probably somewhere in the middle of the steering arm itself. Although you need to lower the tie rod, you probably don't need to lower it so far that it actually mounts below the steering arm.
Since perfection is unlikely to be possible, just concentrate on making it closer to right. You're building an Altima track car, so you should already be familiar with that strategy.
How to get disowned by your GM family - Q: As an avid reader of SCC over the years, I have noticed you have this great ability to be realistic. When us impetuous youths swamp you with ridiculous questions, you tend to, in some form or another, tell it like it is, using just enough space to convey your point and add a bit of wit to the response too. I like your style of being realistic to the most absurd questions, all while not being rude to the reader. With that out of the way, I think it's finally my turn to ask.
I'm 23, in college, and am hopefully getting out of my lease. I have a 2007 Cadillac CTS, which is a nice car. However, I'm at school way too much to pay for this thing, which leaves driving time to a minimum once the semester starts. Seriously, I take the bus to school, so why do I need a Cadillac? The CTS is a nice car, handles pretty well in my opinion, but with my situation now, I just want to get a used car.
I'm from a GM family, my first car being a Camaro Z-28, my second being an Alero. I have admired Japanese cars since... oh, I don't know, age eight or so, but never owned one. I would like your advice on what you think is worth buying for someone who finally wants to have a car that can be modified if they so choose.
I just want a used car that is reliable (well, before messing with it) and has great support for customization. Oh, and I want to spend under $6000, maybe more like $4000 to $4500-ish.
Thank you for your time and great writing in SCC, your articles always inform, inspire and sometimes humble. David BohilPhoenix, AZ
A: Thanks for the ass kissing, David. Now go buy a Miata. There are several reasons why the Miata is right for you, but the most important would be my personal sense of accomplishment at turning a former Camaro driver into a Miata guy. It will no doubt be a test of your independence and self-confidence for you to face your GM family from the seat of what they undoubtedly consider a fruity hairdresser car. It should just take a quick ride around the nearest corner (one family member at a time, of course) to change their minds.
You've given me no hint of your needs, other than the ability to customize the car somehow, so I'll take a couple more stabs in the dark. Based on your current CTS, maybe you need more than the two seats the Miata will give you. If you want to stay luxurious, consider a 1991 to '97 Lexus GS300. In your price range, you'll be looking at cars with over 150,000 miles on them, but Toyotas of this vintage are quite tough and the car's 2JZ-GE straight six is especially so. When you find the funds to start tuning it, the engine responds to all manner of mods, especially turbocharging. Being a six-cylinder, though, there are 50 percent more things to buy when you need spark plugs, injectors, etc, compared to the dirt-cheap Miata. That and US models only came with slushboxes. Ick.
If the Camaro is more indicative of your tastes, maybe you need a first- or second-generation Eclipse. Like a Camaro, Eclipses and Talons are easy to make fast in a straight line, and relatively stubborn when it comes to going around corners. Both can be made to corner well with some work, but it's not their natural strength.
Don't waste money on a non-turbo model. Power gains with a turbocharged model are cheap and easy, but turbocharging a naturally aspirated one is not. Buying a Diamond Star means navigating a minefield of known problems, from ECUs that fail with age (easy to fix) to thrust bearings that give out early (hard to fix), so shop carefully. Still, the rewards of boost are hard to overstate.
On the other hand, if the Alero speaks to your true automotive tastes, well, go buy a Camry and stop writing me.