SHOP TALK: When Is Enough Actually Enough?
As a gearhead we have this unexplainable addiction for more. More tools, more horsepower, more stopping power, more traction, more timing, more compression, more fuel, more shine, the list goes on and on. My first encounter with this phenomenon came at a very early age. One of my friends was fortunate enough to get a new Schwinn bicycle for his birthday. This was no ordinary bike it was the one that had a T-handle stick shift on the top tube and a very fat slick rear tire. My worn out, cheap Huffy could not hold its own against this hot rod bike.
There was no extra money in the household for me to get a new bike, so the old saying, "necessity is the mother of invention" took over. I unearthed one of my old bikes from our scrap pile and cut the front forks off at the fattest part of the tubing. I then cut the bottom portion that had the axle tabs off of my perfectly working Huffy. As luck would have it my plan actually worked. I slid the Huffy forks into the donor bike forks and had an immediate chopper. Since my welding skills at 9 years old were non existent, I drilled a hole through all of the tubing and ran a bolt through them and "peaned" the threads over the nut to create my own locking fastener. I took the motocross style handlebars off the Huffy and put on a really high "ape-hanger" style set of bars from one of my sisters old bikes. My Dad liked my 9-year old ingenuity and fabrication skills enough to reward me with the widest, rear slick tire our local bike shop had. Or maybe it was a reward for the slave labor I endured helping him fix everything.
If the chopper front end, ape hanger handle bars, and my new beefy rear tire was not enough, I felt the need to completely disassemble the bike and prep the frame for a new paint job. I watched Dad paint several cars in our driveway and knew enough about sanding and taping to prepare my Huffy for its makeover. I used a ladder and tied a piece of rope to my basketball net and hung the bike frame so I could paint every angle, and let it dry safely. I sanded the frame after each coat and applied three coats of the darkest blue I could find in a rattle can. The bike turned out amazing and surprisingly, it actually worked. I was a busy boy over the next few months making custom choppers for all of my friends. Who would have thought that this was the beginning of my custom shop.
I eventually graduated into go-carts and received the lesson of a lifetime as Dad agreed to help me build one from ground zero. We made our own frame, seat, and suspension. The transmission was so awesome. I told my Dad I wanted a stick shift so he designed a belt drive pulley system that was hooked to a gated stick shift in my cockpit. The further I pushed the shifter forward, the more tension it applied to the belt, thus making it go faster. We made it look like a dragster and I tweaked that thing every week until discovering the wonderful world of off-roading. Dad told me I was on my own building the next one but would be more than happy to assist if I needed help. So I tore apart my perfectly running drag cart and stole many parts from it to make my off-road buggy. My OCD soon got re-directed to mini bikes which turned into dirt bikes, and eventually full blown motocross racing bikes. So the question, "when is enough ever enough" proved that enough was never enough at this stage in my life.
Fast forward many years and things have not changed at all. If you spend any time at all at the drag strip or a car show, you are eventually going to see something that inspires you and tickles your gearhead chromosome into an unstoppable desire to improve your own car. As a matter of fact car magazines are responsible for more upgrades than my budget and wife care to admit. Here is where the title of this article comes into full play. My worn out old Huffy worked perfectly and got me around without any problem whatsoever. The same can be said for my go-carts and all of my dirt bikes. My Pro Street Camaro upon completion with version 1.0 worked perfectly and was quite the looker. Yet week after week, I found something else that I needed to either make it run better or look better.
With every upgrade there was a very primal sense of accomplishment in the solitude of my shop. Shutting the lights off and closing the door to the shop gave me a very temporary relief from this gearhead addiction for more. However, this feeling did not last very long, as it was just a matter of time before something tickled that gearhead chromosome once again.
Perhaps it was the fact that I never really had an extra dollar to spend on replacing a "non broken" part and had to get by on whatever was available financially. My car has seen numerous changes since version 1.0. In the beginning the upgrades were merited solely by function. Then at some point parts were simply replaced because there was something better available that I could afford.
My most recent need for improvement was the result of a broken valve keeper. Removing the 572 Merlin big block from my 94 Camaro is no easy task. Although I have a completely tubular K-member and A-arm assembly, the front coil-overs make their home in the stock shock towers. The only way to take the engine out is to lift the car from the K-member. Doing this in my home shop was not an easy option as I have a mid-rise lift that has a piston in the center of it. The car had to be lifted off the K-member with an engine hoist. With the engine, transmission, and complete front end out of my car, I pondered over the thought of having to do this procedure another time and I believe the "when is enough ever really enough" thought entered my mind. After many sleepless nights and a long discussion with my wife, we made the decision or better yet, the commitment to build the car the way I really wanted to.
Half of me loves the mammoth tired, menacing, street pounding roar of a Pro Street machine. A quarter of me loves the completely detailed, glamour and glitz of a meticulous show car. The remaining quarter of me loves the data logging, high horsepower, lightweight, Pro Mod drag car. So the decision to make Big Red combine all of this was made once and for all. There would be no part left unpainted or uncoated. Every bolt and nut would be of the highest grade. All of the engine, drive train and suspension components would be monitored by a gauge or data logger. The highest quality fuel system from the fuel cell to the filters, including the fuel pump, regulator, and carb would be installed. The best internals for my 572 Merlin would be installed with absolute precision to detail. Yes my friends, this has taken on a life of its own. I sent a picture of a completely gutted interior to my buddy with a caption that said, "I have a problem, somebody stop me." His response was a simple, "Yeah right, that's not going to happen."
My ultimate goal is to have the most sick, naturally aspirated 1994 Pro Street Camaro ever built. (it may be one of the only ones) I want to enter some heads up races and race it in the True Street class, which includes a 30-mile pre-race cruise and three subsequent passes. I also want to enter it in the Pro Street and Pro Builders show class. Perhaps the most important task of all is it must be able to take my Daughter to the local ice cream shop on the occasional day off from life. I believe when that day comes I will finally be able to say, enough is enough! Well at least until the next issue of RPM Magazine comes out.