Justy Little Project Car: Approaching Completion (?)

My wife fully gestated and expelled a baby in less time than it’s taken me to finish my engine rebuild. It was September 2015 when I removed the engine from my ’91 Subaru Justy project car. I had it apart shortly after that, pricing out exhaust valves, bearings and machine work to see if a rebuild was financially feasible (and if a motorcycle engine swap was a better idea). By the end of November 2015, the machine work was done and I had most of the parts I’d need, but it wasn’t until this month that I put the engine back in the car.
Now I’m making the final push to get this car mobile so I can let another project gestate in my garage. A Pontiac race car with a due date 10 months out. Read on.

The hard thing about making progress on any of your goals is not finding the time to accomplish them. It’s making the time. Something will always get in the way. For me, it has been classes I’m taking toward another degree and time spent on my new hobby: mountain biking. Oh, and my wife was also pregnant with our second kid. And I like sleeping. But I’ve been cranking on this car nearly every night for the past week with newfound enthusiasm and dedication. Hopefully I can keep this up so this high-compression Justy can finally get moving.
Apropos of nothing, here’s a picture of a different tiny Subaru I saw at the Turkey Rod Run.
Now. Catching up on progress: I spent a few extra bucks on a name-brand timing belt for the first time. This is a Gates, and it’s what I’m buying from now on for no reason other than those little white stripes. They tell me exactly where my sprocket timing marks are supposed to be when I install the belt, which makes for stress-free and guaranteed correct belt installation. Too many times I’ve installed belts and either worried that they were off by a tooth or found out that they indeed were, because those marks are never very precise. Not this time.
I had an exhaust header made this summer. I loaded up my engine into my van along with the Honda motorcycle header I bought for next to nothing, and took them to a local muffler guy who is willing to tackle these stupid oddball projects. Someone told me he makes motorcycle headers for somebody down the street that builds drag bikes.
Fortunately, he understood that I was looking for something quick and dirty rather than pristine craftsmanship (of which he’s also capable). He cobbled this together for me and charged $120 or so. Unfortunately, since dropping the engine in the bay, I’ve run into clearance problems with that lower runner (cylinder No. 1) and the sway bar. I’ll have to make some modifications and take it back to him to weld it together—ideally with the whole car.
Another summer accomplishment: An oil pressure switch and a mechanical oil pressure gauge. I think this switch closes around 5-7 psi, Justy few psi higher than the factory one. Not a huge improvement, but it’s cheap, and screws in to NPT threads. My local hydraulics shop had the adapter and T fitting I needed so I could use these bits. The Justy oil pressure boss in the block is tapped British Pipe Thread. Adapters are generally hard to come by, but this place seems to have everything.
A tip if you opt to do something like this on your car: These 1-wire oil pressure switches operate by completing the circuit to ground (through the engine block). If you opt to put Teflon tape on the threads like I did, don’t tape the whole length of it. Leave a bit of bare metal at the end of the threads so you don’t interrupt the circuit.
The gauge will sit up at the wiper blade until I can get the engine started. Then I’ll see about either weatherproofing it and mounting it directly to the cowl, or running the line into the car so I can mount it to the dashboard. If anyone’s ever successfully weatherproofed one of these gauges, I’m all ears.
This is where I currently stand with the car: Tidying up wiring, plumbing, axles, and other odds and ends so I can open up the space in my garage. Once it’s done, I’ll take delivery of a Fiero that was once prepped for SCCA racing and later disassembled. It’s got a V6 with an oil cooler, a big radiator, Koni suspension and all sorts of other possibly-cheaty stuff. It’s been sitting in a yard for three years, and who-knows-where for who-knows-how-long-before-that, but it’s free right now, and it’s mine.
With Justy little luck and a lot of dedication, that Fiero will come out of the garage screaming and crapping its pants just in time for the LeMons race at Road Atlanta in December.
Of this year.
[Photos copyright 2016 – 2017 Alan Cesar | Hooniverse]

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11 responses to “Justy Little Project Car: Approaching Completion (?)”

  1. GTXcellent Avatar

    I can’t help but have this old Hall and Oates classic play on a repeated loop reading your update

    Keep it up man, I so badly want to see this little white pocket rocket leave the confines of the garage under it’s own power!

  2. crank_case Avatar

    Love this wee car, kind of funny that you mention that time has been taken by mountain biking, not saying you’ve gone to the same extent (because clearly you’re still making progress) but I’ve lost count of fellow car enthusiasts whose car based interests have been sidestracked by pedal power. It seems the new midlife crisis purchase of either a menoporsche or harley petrol to noise conversion machine has been replaced by a needlessly expensive carbon framed pushbike.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Haha dear lord no. I buy my bikes like I buy my cars: Fully depreciated. I ride a hardtail Haro that I bought for $150, and my interest is primarily in improving my health. Typical gym-based exercise bores me to the point where I won’t do it. I get excited about biking.

  3. ayuvar Avatar

    He’s Justy poor boy, from a poor family.
    Running hot oil pressure lines into the cabin freaks me out. I have an Autometer electronic oil pressure gauge that I picked up on eBay years ago.
    You still need an adapter bung from the Subaru-esque BSPT, and it’s a little pricier to find the gauges in the range you want, but it’s worth it to have one fewer scald risk in front of your face on the day to day, I think.
    I am so glad you are continuing with this project. Have you done anything with the oil pump/timing cover situation to improve reliability?

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I suppose I didn’t think much of the scald risk. I had a Mercedes 240D with a mechanical oil pressure gauge in the dash (though it had a steel line from the factory, not a plastic hose). Never worried about that.
      Though in this case I do worry about the line rupturing and losing oil pressure while I’m just driving around. If I get real worried, I could just get an electronic one (those senders are big!) either from [Online Speed Shop] or a $20 gauge on eBay that ships direct from Hong Kong.
      “Have you done anything with the oil pump/timing cover situation to improve reliability?”
      That’s a big ol’ bag of nope.

  4. outback_ute Avatar

    Interesting reading. Seeing the engine on the stand behind your car reminded me of the last time I shifted a couple of engines, using an organic engine stand…

  5. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    The first line gave me a much-needed laugh. Somewhat at your expense though. Sorry for that, I think?
    Love the project! Best of luck tidying up the last few bits.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Oh, it’s definitely intended as self-deprecating humor.

      1. Ross Ballot Avatar
        Ross Ballot

        Every time I think about self-depricating humor, I can’t help but think about Andy Samberg’s bit at the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco. Seriously, I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed that hard.

  6. Scoutdude Avatar

    Be careful of that oil pressure lash up, It is hanging out there pretty far putting a lot of leverage on that adapter. You could swap the location of the sender and the tube to lessen the distance the weight is hanging out there. A brace is another option. I found that out the hard way one time. Thankfully the leak started small and I caught it before it cost me my engine.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I’ll be sure to check on it every time I change my oil. At some point I may install a sandwich adapter on the oil filter so I can add an accumulator, so I’ll move the sender there if I do.

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