Bay Area Miata Drivers
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by nick
Looking ahead and looking back on the Miata, sports cars, clubs, and BAMD. Plus of course updates on my Miata.
Entry # 20 (5,027 Views) Posted on November 21, 2011
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Maybe almost as much fun as a Miata
A while back in these pages I wrote about my experience of going back to school to learn how to weld. That was almost two years ago now, and in all that time I have to say I haven't welded a darn thing. Part of the reason for this is that I really haven't had much of anything to weld, but the main reason is that I haven't had anything to weld with, a certain amount of equipment being necessary to do the job. 
That situation changed a few months ago. For my birthday this year, Kaitlyn bought me a brand new Miller 140 with all the trimmings, including 20 pounds of wire, lots of clamps and magnets, a cart with inert gas bottle, and auto-darkening helmet. I haven't actually set it up yet, but for the past several months, whenever I haven't been slaving away on the BAMD website, I've been cutting up steel tubes and metal sheets in preparation for my Locost build. 
As most of you know, or even if you don't, a Locost is a sports car you build from scratch. A lot of people around the world are building them, but not so many that you're likely to see one on the street in the next several days. A Locost looks something like a Lotus 7, which may mean nothing to you unless you're old enough to remember the British TV series The Prisoner, and caught the episode with Patrick McGoohan tooling around London in his Lotus 7. 
Although you build a Locost from scratch, starting with the frame, you don't build all the parts that go on to the frame. Things like the engine and tires are obtained from another car, sympathetically known as the "donor". These days, the most common car to get parts from is a Miata, and for good reason. Miata parts are light, reliable, well-made, relatively cheap, and for the most part easy to remove. The drivetrain fits pretty well in the standard Locost frame, leaving just enough room inside the car for a skinny driver and a brave passenger. 
So you might wonder, if the Miata is such a great source for Locost parts, and this being a mostly Miata website, why the webmaster of said site would build a Locost from anything other than a Miata. Because in fact I am. There are actually several good reasons for this, but we won't go into them here except to say that a Miata is a pretty amazing car exactly as it comes from Mazda, and doesn't need to be re-invented as something else, especially something that resembles a 60-year-old hand-built British motor car. The Locost will be fun, in a charging-downhill-on-a-motorcycle sort of way, but may not be as much fun as a blast through the back woods in a tricked-out NA. 
So in the hopes of not jinxing what promises to be a long, grueling, frustrating, arduous, and sometimes painful process that typically meets much more often with failure than success, I thought I'd post a few pictures of what I've done so far. I think I'm far enough into the job to say I've started the build process, despite the fact that nothing is actually built yet, unless you want to count a couple of jigs I made for the suspension components. 
This is my old frame. If you've been to a BAMD tech day at the house, you've seen it. It's made of wood, except for the nuts and bolts. The new frame will look just like it, but will be made of steel. I realize this will put it at a disadvantage weight-wise, but on the plus side it should be much stronger. 
The picture below is the box I'm keeping all the tubes in, prior to welding. This is about a third of the tubes. They're all coated with oil and wrapped in plastic film (Saran Wrap) so they'll be nice and rust-free when I get around to welding them together. At one point they were carefully marked with labels and a felt pen, but oil has a way of seeping into things like that, so the labels are pretty much gone. 
I have more metal in the garage waiting to be cut, but I got side-tracked because I wanted to start on the suspension. This proved to be a major hassle, for a bunch of reasons that won't add anything to the story here, but I eventually got all the parts to fit the jigs and everything is ready to weld. However these parts are too critical to trust to amatuers, so I'm sending them out to be TIG welded by a pro. 
Here's my Locost-building workbench. The bench and grinder were donated by a fellow BAMDer. The chop saw was a gift from Kaitlyn. The table sander and drill press I sprung for myself, and the jig saw has been around for years, its origin unknown and in any case no longer relevant. You can also see my welding cart off to the right, waiting for its big moment. 
It's great to have tools, but before you accumulate a collection like this for yourself, be sure you have enough room left over on your workbench so you can actually work on things. 
I'm going to start a website so I can record the whole build ordeal, start to finish. I registered the domain, which is a small clue to my choice of donor car. I'm not sure when I'll have the website up, but it'll be sometime in the next couple of weeks. The good news is, by covering the Locost build over there, I won't have to sully these pages any more with OTM talk, and we can get back to the business of discussing Miatas.
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Comments (newest first)
2011-11-30 19:04:29 from alex
I know what you're talking about re the work bench. 
I built one for myself: 6 4x4 legs, 2x6 and 2x4 horizontal supports holding up a 30" x 96" piece of 1-1/8" plywood and a huge vise. I could drive my truck onto it. But I can't because it's covered in Miata parts and tools! There's a whole NB front subframe, a 5spd tranny, two tool boxes and assorted tools, lubricants and cleaning solutions strewn about like cards from a game of "52 pickup". 
As my friend John says: "All horizontal surfaces ultimately become storage areas." How true, no?
2011-11-30 19:04:08 from nick
Website is up.
2011-11-25 13:36:39 from Atram
I find this to be just as interesting as the miata. Please, do keep us posted.