The long road back

This will be a long one.

Finally here. After over a year. We’ve arrived.

Before I tell you where we are, let’s recap where we’ve been.

At the SCCA Time Trials Nationals last summer, on June 9, 2021, during the first lap of the first practice session on Thursday, the $300 junkyard “JDM KLZE” engine I put in the Probe after breaking a ring land on the original engine (at 267,000 miles) at the Inaugural Pine Mountain Hill Climb failed in spectacular fashion.

Parts on the track, a huge fireball, giant fire. This is what remained of the engine:

To add insult to injury, I had a mishap unloading the car from the trailer which destroyed the lower core support and damaged the bumper cover.

We still had the original engine, and apart it came. Off to the machine shop it went for cleaning and measuring, and the quest to aquire parts began. I ran straight into the COVID supply chain nightmare. Some parts were easy. KA Injection had connecting rods in stock. But there were no pistons. CP Carillo could make me a set, but they couldn’t make a set of rings quickly, but if I bored the block out to 85mm, we could use a set of rings for a Mitsubishi 4g63. ARP couldn’t supply fasteners. I had to source valve springs from a dude in Australia. It was a scramble. It took six months to source all the parts.

Then, the machine shop was overloaded. It was six more months before the engine was ready for reassembly.

Then more parts trouble: The clutch was a six week wait; I ordered a crank position sensor and got a crankcase filter for a Peterbilt instead; The neutral and reverse switches for the transmission that got melted in the fire were nearly impossible to find; The paint color necessary to color interior parts to match was no longer available; The spray rig for the plasti-dip was backordered. Nothing was easy to get. Even replacing the light bulbs in the corner lamp assemblies was an ordeal because the bulb catalogs at parts stores only go back to the year 2000 now.

But perserverance and planning brings us to this.

The engine:

  • Mazda KLDE 2.5L V6 bored to 85mm (154.17 cubic inches, 2467cc)
  • OEM forged crankshaft turned 0.010″ under
  • OEM Camshafts (because that’s all there is, don’t believe Ebay, the KLZE cams are gone)
  • 9.3:1 compression
  • Forged K1 connecting rods supplied by KA Injection
  • Custom forged pistons from CP Carrillo (if you need a stock compression 85mm forged piston, they have them now, and you’re welcome)
  • Performance five angle valve job
  • SPEC Performance clutch sourced from Summit Racing
  • Ebay Turbo Kit set for 8psi
  • Ebay air to air intercooler
  • Ebay oil cooler

But getting the Probe running wasn’t the only thing happening. We tried to keep racing using the Buick. Seat time is paramount, and racing is a perishable skill. But we had bad luck there all year. Every event we went to, the car would die due to an obscure electrical gremlin. We finally completed an event in early August at the CAM Challenge in Peru, Indiana, even though we burst a power steering line in the process.

Best run in the Buick from the 2022 CAM Challenge

The power steering issue aside, the Buick is running better than it ever has. still needs some suspension tuning with the shock settings. I probably ran this event with it set too soft.

Back to the Probe. Bringing a car back from a fire is an interesting endeavor. You have no idea what’s going to work until you test it. I see now why the best strategy is probably stripping it to the tub, which I didn’t do. But the headlights took three days to sort out, for example.

But run, it does:

Of course, it didn’t run long. The timing belt tensioner was secured by a fastener in a hole that had had a thread insert used. The hammering from the timing belt ripped the thread repair out and the belt jumped, taking the engine out of time and ending the running part.

Helicoils don’t handle percussion.

We tapped the hole out to 10mm and this problem was solved. We had to wait a week for a new timing set to show up. Fortunately, the KL engine is a non-interferance engine, so none of the valves got smashed. I retimed it, and it fired right back up.

With that out of the way, difficulties with the cooling fan and the interior blower motor were sorted. A bad valve cover gasket was replaced to stop a large oil leak, and the wheels were put back on.

After a couple weeks of chasing oil leaks and working out bugs, we got to here:

Video of the car in action

There’s still a never ending cavalcade of issues with a car this old and modified. We’ve replaced the fan wiring again to prevent it shaking loose, and tightened up the reverse light switch, which was leaking. The oxygen sensor also appears to have bought the farm. A new one is on the way.

And on top of all of that, I repainted it! It’s blue!

A blue Ford Probe

The coating is Plasti-Dip. I was inspired by a video from Donut Media where they initially failed to properly coat their LoCar 350Z, but then followed up with an episode where they did it right.

Just like real paint, all the work is in the prep. It took a week to clean and mask the car, build a paint booth in the garage, and finally spray the coating on. It’s not a perfect job by any means, but it looks damn good in photos.

We do have 116 miles on the new engine, and I went ahead and drained the break-in oil and filled it with Motul 300V.

There’s an autocross on the 18th of September in Bowling Green. We shall see if anything falls off. Stay tuned!

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