Home of K-fab

For as long as I can remember, I've always had a fascination with racing in the dirt (go figure). I dreamed of flying along across the desert floor in a vehicle designed for just such fun. Back when I was in High School, I was pretty sure I wanted it to be in a truck (I had a Toyota 4x4) and watching the Mickey Thompson Grand Prix races on ESPN just added to the desire. I played with motocross bikes and that helped curb the dream, but the idea of running in a vehicle instead of on a bike always stayed in the back of my mind.

Being that I live in Ohio, I never figured that I'd end up getting to play in the desert - it's a long way from here, but the possibility of getting to race in the desert has taken a big step towards reality this year. It's amazing that they saying "Good thing comes to those who wait" really does fit this time. Sure, I've waited over twenty years, but hey, better now then never!

When I was out west in Phoenix this January, Neil, Jay and I headed over to Dottie's ATV's nerve center controller) house one afternoon to go for a motorcycle ride out in the desert. It just so happens that there was a car at Dottie's - a full blown off road race car. It's got to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

The Desert Car!

We pulled it out of the garage and I began to drool all over the machine. I've dreamed about desert racing for years, and here in front of me sits a car built for just that. I'm told that I should take it for a spin. NO PROBLEM!!!

Driving the car is like driving a big sponge. 18" of travel, 21" of ground clearance and a very soft initial suspension. The car just cruises along. Dips, rocks, small bushes, shallow washes - you can barely feel them as you go past. It's incredible how well the suspension soaks everything up. It's pretty quick - but could be a lot better and the steering's weird, but what a machine!

This is where the project part of this venture begins.

The Desert Car

The Beginnings

The Trip To Ohio

Let's see what we've got!

Project Gecko What's going to get done to it to make it race ready.

The car needs some work if anyone's going to race it. First and foremost is the fact that the engine is a total SLUG! It's an OLD Kawasaki GPz600 Ninga engine - from the mid 80's. It's probably only making 55 to 60 hp and that's made in a band that's between 9,000 and 11,000 rpm. Keeping the engine in the middle of this range is not the easiest thing. Top speed is probably somewhere in the range of 65 mph, but it struggles to stay there.

Second, the car's steering has NO feeling at all. From what I understand, the steering box is from an old VW Bus or something along that line. It feels like it's twenty turns lock to lock so steering wheel input doesn't seem to elicit a response very quickly.

Last is the fact that it's got NO front brakes! Gee, I think they'd be kinda NICE TO HAVE!

Neil and I are currently discussing our drive train options. The 600's got to go. We're considering going with a big four stroke like a Yamaha R1 or a big twin two stroke like the new 809 Rotax. Then, we need to setup reverse. Right now it's just chain driven. We're thinking that the Drakart's tranny should hold up and would be an easy install too. Other options such as belt drive torque converter setup and how to drive it from a big 4 cylinder will have to be answered before any final decisions are made.

The steering box has to be changed out to a power rack and pinion setup and more fuel cells will have to be added. Front brakes will need to be installed too.

If all works out, I'll fly out to Phoenix, pick the car up and bring it back here to my shop. This will allow me to do the work, as ATV does not have the time or manpower available right now. Also, as this project develops, I'll keep this site up to date on what's happening just like I've tried to do with the Moskito.

It looks like the Desert Car (Big Moskito???) is a go! Neil's getting the car this weekend. We're planning to use the Rotax 809 twin driving a Drakart tranny. Hopefully I'll be able to get back out to AZ by the middle of next month and pick the car, engine, tranny and what ever else we need up and bring it back here to Ohio.

I'll be busy for a while. Gotta get the engine and tranny installed, new steering box and brakes installed, seat and steering wheel need to be relocated, additional fuel cells - lots of stuff. I'm wondering how hard it would be to make it street legal for "testing purposes". (:

This should be a blast. This year will be a learning year. I've never done any desert racing, but hey, "ya gotta start somewhere", right? If I can get enough racing under my belt this year, maybe next year we'll be real contenders. Don't get me wrong, I'll give it everything I'm capable of this year, but like my stadium racing, the learning curve is huge and I'm at the bottom of the ramp.

Today I was able to make a big step forward on the Desert Car's drive train. We want to put a gear box that has reverse in the car. Right now, it's just a differential that's chain driven from the countershaft of the slug GPZ engine.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a man named Tony Sanger of "The Edge Products". He makes off road cars for fun, play and racing in Australia (gotta love the internet). He and I e-mailed back and forth a few times and I had mentioned the problems with the tranny on the Moskito, telling him that I was probably going to try to find a new transmission setup for it. He e-mailed me back with a link to a company called Hymark in Salt Lake City. It just so happens that Hymark makes a transmission - or to be more exact, a transaxle that looks like it will fit the bill PERFECTLY!!!

Two phone calls later, a couple of rounds of "twenty questions" and I have one of the transaxles heading out to Arizona so I will be able to pick it up with the car when I go to get it.

Now we're doing our homework on the powerplant. We still have three options - Something along the line of a 800 cc twin snowmobile engine - makes about 150 hp stock, a 1000 cc triple that makes closer to 190 or possibly a Suzuki Hyabusa 1300 cc 187 hp monster. If we go with the Suzi, we'll gut the cases and just drive a snowmobile type clutch off the crank - somehow.

After talking to Steve of Hymark, it's been determined that the snowmobile drive train - a pair of clutches and a belt - would be the most efficient, simplest and durable way of getting the power to the ground. I was really worried about dust, dirt and general desert stuff being a problem for the drive train, but Steve informed me that he's been running a snowmobile powered sand rail for the past three years (rolling engine test bed) in the sand with no cover or shroud system and has never had a problem. He was also very helpful with different powerplant ideas and suggestions.

(4/30/00) The Desert Car's been home a couple weeks now. What a trip getting it back!

The trip started out pretty good. I flew to San Antonio to pick up my van (with the YZF and remote control helicopter in it). I had left it there after driving down and spending a week at my mother's for spring break. I packed up a BUNCH of stuff my mother wanted me to take home and then headed on out to Phoenix - let's just say that I-10 SUCKS!!! Can you say drive across no man's land for freaking ever???

I arrived at ATV on Thursday morning, ready to head on to the Imperial Sand dunes and play for the weekend. Not to happen. I ended up helping get one of two Drakarts ready for the weekend. The crew at ATV was planning on a "working weekend" and I was going to play. Alain Fricker from Drakfart was meeting us at the dunes. They were going to test more suspension upgrades and modifications on the car that Jay had crash tested so well. The crash test car was pretty much stripped - say 40 to 50% ready to go. They also had special order car that was about 75% finished that HAD to be done by Friday night. I figured that there was no way it would make the weekend.

The guys thrashed Thursday and Friday and at closing time, we were loaded and heading for the Dunes. I was blown away at the resourcefulness of the ATV crew in "crunch time".

The weekend was pretty good to me. There was one thing that could have gone better - First thing Saturday morning, it was nice and calm; PERFECT helicopter flying weather. As typical, the Futura SE didn't want to start. We fought with it for about ten minutes and on my "I'll give it one more try" command, the engine came to life. A bit of tuning and the SE was good to go. I brought it up to a hover, headed out over a couple RVs, put it into a little forward flight, brought it back to a hover, did a couple pirouettes and promptly lost radio contact with it. Jay (who also flies R/C Helis), Neil and I watched it slowly lean over to it's left and begin it's fifty foot fall to earth. Neil was impressed how far the tip of at 60 sized helicopter's main rotor blade can go - we found it a couple hundred feet from "Ground Zero".

The riding was the good part. I had a blast flying through the dunes. Near the area that we were camping there was a sand "high way" that had a hundred yard, or so, long section of one to two foot deep rolling whoops that were a total blast to fly through in 5th gear. (I wish I could do that on a motocross track!) The whoops lead to a series of half a dozen or so drop away rises that I could launch off of in 4th gear catching some major floating air. Coming back was just as much fun because I could hit the back side of the drop aways I'd just been over and jump up and out onto the sections I was launching off of the other way. We also went on a "Rage Run" (where you play follow the leader thru the dunes at high speed) with about a dozen others in Pilots, small dune cars and on quads. I was the only bike in the group, but it was no problem staying with the group.

Drakart under ConstructionNeil and Jay had a few problems and bugs (snapped an axle, fuel delivery problems) to work with, but they dealt with them quite well and they were able to show Alain first hand how well the mods they'd been doing worked. Sometime during the weekend, someone managed to do a pretty serious nose plant with the Drakart and ended up bending the mounts for the steering rack. Naturally, I'm the one that got to discover the problem. I'd stayed out of the Pilot and Drakart all weekend - having too much fun on the YZF - and when I finally did take a ride in in the Drakart, it wouldn't turn right as well as it would go left. I came back to the camp ground and mentioned the problem to Neil. He got in, went for a ride and came back saying - you guessed it - it wouldn't turn right very well. Duh! We pulled the hood and discovered that the steering rack mounts had been pushed back on one side. Time to relocate them to an upper frame member so a good nose plant won't affect steering! See, crashes point out things that you'd never think of! We never did figure out who did the damage.

We got home Sunday evening and Neil figured it would be the best time to go get the Desert Car. It had been stored at Dottie's house, so off we went. (Dottie lives about 45 minutes out of Phoenix.)

Originally, I was going to either get a tow dolly that supports two wheels of the car being towed or just get a car transport trailer. Come to find out, there was a trailer at Dottie's that the Desert Car came on! A couple hundred bucks and we now owned a trailer for the car. It was in pretty good shape - the jack was bent back a touch, the wire harness was old and brittle and the tires had a touch of dry rot - but mechanically, the trailer was very sound. We loaded up the car and headed back to Phoenix and dinner.

From this point on, the trip got interesting.

As we were heading back towards Phoenix, Neil's cell phone rang and it was "Precious" - a woman(?) he's dating. She says she'll meet us for dinner. We get to Applebee's, she shows up and we go in. "Precious" is an interesting person, to say the least. To call her the "Alpha Male" is an understatement. The woman's got HUGE balls! Neurotic, snippy and such a conversationalist - NOT! She proceeded to crab at us about how she hadn't eaten since Friday (Pick up a sandwich and stick it in your face! Dummy!), how this was bad, that was not to her liking and just general crap. Fortunately, after we finished dinner, she went on her way and we went back to ATV. From there, I went back to Jay's house and had my first "happening".

Jay lives on a side street that parallels a fairly major street that runs through Phoenix. At night, I've always had a bit of a problem locating the turn in for his street. If I miss the first one, I've got a second chance, but it comes up quick and it's a u-turn. There goes the first turn in....hard on the brakes, start to initiate the u-turn and "Boom!" everything shakes. I look in the rear view and see that the Desert Car's decided to roll forward about three feet. I'm thinking "Great, I just spit the car off the trailer into the back of my van and I've killed my rear doors!". Not quite. Somewhere, sometime, I must have hit a bump or dip that allowed the car to dip in it's suspension and let the rear tie down loose. When I tagged the brakes, the car was able to roll forward and off the front of the trailer. Lucky for me, we had a safety chain attached AND the trailer jack helped out too. The trailer rolled up over the front left tire of the Desert Car and locked everything in place. I had about half a block to get back to Jay's so I just went nice and slow, smoking and howling the tire in the process. I'm sure that Jay's neighbors just loved hearing all this noise at 11:00 p.m.!

The next morning Jay helped me put the car back on the trailer. No damage done. In fact, the car straightened up the trailer jack when it hit it! I headed back to ATV for the day. I had to get a license plate, install new wires and lights, check the wheel bearings and after the previous night's little episode, make new tie down mounts that held the car by the spindles and carriers instead of the chassis. I spent the day getting all this done and then just before closing time, I left ATV Racing - headed back to Ohio.

Nothing unusual about Monday's drive. With a couple tanks of fuel behind me at about midnight I was ready for some horizontal time. I stopped just across the New Mexico state line in a little town called Navajo and slept at a rest area. Got up about 6:30 and headed on East. It was cold, very windy and overcast.

I'm not exactly sure how long I'd been driving Tuesday morning, but I'm cruising along and suddenly I hear "POP" and it's followed by sudden shaking from the trailer. "Great, I've blown a tire." I think to myself so I slowed down to a tolerable level of shaking. I'd gone through Moriarty about fifteen minutes earlier so I figured I'd pull off at the next available site, pull the tire, go back to Moriarty, get a new tire, blah, blah.

I got lucky; the next exit was a rest area. That would be perfect! I stopped the van, unplugged the trailer and took a look at the tire. It still had air in it, but the tread was about half gone. I didn't have a lug wrench that fit - naturally. Darn. I decided that I'd be able to slowly drive back to Moriarty and take care of business. It ended up that the next exit was only a mile down and there was a big sign: "We Fix Flats". Hey, looked like luck was on my side. I pulled into the little station.

Somewhere in New Mexico - New Trailer Tires!"I need a new tire - in fact, I think it would be smart to get TWO new tires."
"No problem. Let's get the rims off the trailer" the man at the station says.
They jack up the trailer and pull off the rims. "Hey, you got two different size rims. A fifteen inch and a fourteen inch. We don't have any fourteen inch tires" - naturally, the one that's junk. As I wander over to look at the rims, I notice that my wire harness adapter is gone. If you'll recall, I said that when I got out of the van at the rest area, I unplugged the trailer. I forgot to plug it in and the adapter disappeared sometime on the way to the station.

"Gee, now what am I supposed to do?" I wonder.
"Hang on a couple minutes. I'll run over to the junk yard and see what I can find. It looks like a Ford bolt pattern." He takes off in the wrecker and comes back with two old rims. The first one doesn't fit over the spindle of the trailer's hubs. We get lucky, the second one fits. They get the tires changed and I'm on my way, but now I've got a new quest - find a new adapter

I spend the next couple hours stopping in each little town on I-40 (old Route 66) looking for the adapter. After four stops, I finally come across the part I need. I was hoping that this was the last of my "adventure" with the trip home. I was wrong.

The wind was really blowing and it couldn't make up it's mind if it was going to snow, sleet or just be mushy rain. Regardless, it was cold and nasty outside. Now I needed gas. I pulled up to a pump, started fueling the van and went inside to get some stuff. When I came back to the van, it's snowing and I reach for the door handle. "WHAT??? IT'S LOCKED!!!" I can see the keys dangling in the ignition. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!! Fortunately, I was able to purchase a cheap screwdriver and bend it around into a shape that allowed me to get in the back window and pull up the lock. the way things had been going, I figure that the window would probably break before I got the lock up, but it decided to play nice and stay one piece. Whew! This, also, was the last "adventure" on my trip home. The rest of the time was spent cruising the high way back to Ohio. Thank Goodness! (:

Return Home