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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
My last build (here) is still around and remains on hold. I've committed to make room and time to have fun with my projects this year, so that thread should be coming back online in a few months. In the meantime, I've added another time capsule to my oddball fleet as of 1 week ago. Meet my new to me, <92k 1997 Ford Escort. And before you ask why:

1) It's a secret Mazda Protege and handles accordingly,
2) It's a manual transmission,
3) It's a wagon,
4) It reminds me of all the little shoebox cars that were everywhere in my high school years,
5) It has the (apparently rare) willow blue-green interior without a single crack or blemish to be found,
6) I am told it came from the estate sale of an older gentleman who passed away, and appears to have been maintained with OEM parts its while life. He also left behind a Focus wagon with similarly low miles, which I passed over for this, and,
7) Real men drive teal cars.

Okay so I'm not sure on that last one, but I've been missing my teal green 1992 Ford Ranger, which I sold in the early days of the pandemic, and this seemed a suitable replacement. I've been missing having an old sleeper.

Giving this odd duck a proper name is still a work in progress, but before I proceed further, a few pictures are in order. I'll share thoughts on my objectives in the next post. I am holding off on many interior pics until I've had a chance to properly detail it, but I promise to share a full photo walk with interior shots sometime next week. I'll get better exterior pictures as well after a proper wash and wax.

Car on first sight. I took a 3.5 hour Uber ride to pick up the car. Not disappointed:


Title in hand, ready to roll off the lot:


No, the paint isn't splotchy, that's just rain. Will make room in the garage to keep this longroof dry:


Flexing that Ford bumper; totally not a Mazda:



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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
Objectives:

Apart from mild improvements and perhaps a few modern creature comforts, I'd like to maintain the car in as nearly original condition as possible. This means preserving the look, fit, and finish of as many features as possible. I'm no purist, so I'll make it up as I go, but to the casual observer I'd like this car to always appear as something which could have conceivably rolled off the assembly line 25 years ago, perhaps lightly modified by a loving owner, and then entered a wormhole to appear in the present day. A potential youngtimer, to borrow a phrase from the Germans. I'll share all of it here, and while I will include audio within the build, that is not my only objective.

More specific goals:
1) Fabricate an unobtrusive iPhone mount,
2) Run audio through the OEM radio if possible, or at least utilize OEM faceplate,
3) Replace speakers with higher quality units; may require an external amplifier,
4) No weight to be added to the car whatsoever. Maintain or improve on OEM curb weight,
5) Do all maintenance to refresh car, potentially for the next 25 years,
6) Identify and remediate any surface rust appearing on the undercarriage,
7) Fabricate a conservative, professional quality performance exhaust system,
8) Confuse my friends and neighbors.

Now let's begin. Those who follow my builds know I try to post in real time and share lessons learned as they arrive. I like to get it right, so I reserve the right to a do-over.

I'll start with item 1.

I had this lovely blue-green blankout panel to the left of the steering wheel. Seems like a good spot for a phone mount. Even with the gentlest application of plastic pry tools, it shattered upon removal:






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Nice find!

So this would be based on the Mazda BG platform then. I've owned a couple of cars from the quite opposite end of the BG range, the Mazda 323 GT-R (rally editions). That would mean that this platform har great potensial for upgrades, far beyond a performance exhaust system :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
As you may have guessed, the wires on the back of the blankout panel were for power mirrors. Do I need power mirrors? I guess not. Set it and forget it.

Rather than discard the shattered bits, I'm going to see about reassembling them to form the basis for a plaster mold:


Reinforced further with masking tape:


Now hold that thought. Will return to the molding process shortly. Courtesy of eBay: new old stock OEM floor mats in the correct color. These have been sitting on a shelf forgotten for at least two decades:


Helpfully included with my new floor mats was this card, in case I'd like to order more genuine Ford accessories. This contains some great tidbits, such as: "For additional information on Ford Accessories, please see our Internet website www.ford.com."

I'm tempted to mail in the survey to make someone's day a little more surreal.


We move now to maintenance. This car must be registered as a standard passenger vehicle in Virginia for at least one more year before it can be registered as an antique, therefore I must deal with safety inspections.

I dropped the car off for a new vehicle purchase inspection after a cursory inspection of my own, and was told the only three issues of any concern were:

1) slightly worn serpentine belt. Easy, right? Actually, I've got about an inch of clearance, will be a 2 person job, will address with a buddy.


Original battery was too large, sat outside the tray, had no hold-down. Original batteries are group 58 and top out at 550 CCA. That's enough for a garden tractor, I suppose.

I found a group 59 fits nicely in the same tray, and works with a replacement OEM hold down wedge (I have already become friends with the parts counter lady at the local Ford dealership over the past few days).

Home Depot carries an Exide battery in Group 59 with 650 CCA. Unfortunately, the only one in stock within a 50 mile radius has been sitting on the shelf since February, 2019. Instead, I settled on this 590 CCA Walmart battery dated 10/21. Apparently Group 59 is an oddball size; if I ever need to replace this one I'll maybe do some minor fabrication to make room for a group 65 or at least something similar that can be found with AGM construction, since this may be an occasional use / seasonal car.


Last item was some slightly corroded hard brake lines which are not an inspection concern, but could be weakened already by the rust. I'll schedule the shop to do these for me, I have to prioritize which parts I undertake as DIY due to other life commitments.


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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Now wait a minute, I'm diving into maintenance already. I don't even have enough parking spaces. Let's take care of some enabling work. New driveway:



Some extra lighting for the driveway:


And last but not least, a few days spent organizing so I can fit the car INSIDE my one-car garage. What a novel concept!



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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Next on the docket. The shifter has a bit of slop. Let's work on a solution. Got this Ralco RZ short shifter and 8-ball on Amazon. Part number 914822 for the shifter. Fits a Protege, should fit the Ford. Will also go through linkages and replace all bushings with Delprin or similar:


Now my preference with short shifters, or at least what I've done on the Bimmer and the old Ranger is to utilize an OEM style boot. Which means I must adapt my 8-ball to hold up the flange of the rubber boot. This will make more sense with pictures:



Unfortunately, when tightening down the 8-ball, the assembly started to pull the fluted insert out of the 8-ball. So I pulled it the rest of the way out and will reassemble with epoxy:


And a compression washer:


And then let the whole assembly cure in my bench vice for 24 hours before attempting to install:


This brings me current to today. Now I'll get back to i5 and work on building some plaster of Paris molds for my iPhone mount.


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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Nice find!

So this would be based on the Mazda BG platform then. I've owned a couple of cars from the quite opposite end of the BG range, the Mazda 323 GT-R (rally editions). That would mean that this platform har great potensial for upgrades, far beyond a performance exhaust system :)
Thanks! As you guessed, there may be other sporting pretensions in this car's future, however, my mechanical focus will first be efficiency, reliability, and handling. Surprisingly enough, even at an anemic-on-paper 110 hp (81 kW), it seems to deliver that power with big gobs of torque right at the middle of the rev range, is geared such and is light enough that it seldom feels underpowered. I will keep a slow-car-fast mentality until I have everything sorted, and then go from there. But yes, if I open my wallet enough, the sky is the limit...
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Okay now, time to make a mold. Oh, what a relief! (Pardon the dad jokes, I come by it honestly)

This was my first attempt at mold making since high school jewelry class, and the results are admittedly crude. It remains to be seen if this mold will be serviceable, or if I'll need a do-over. Thankfully, I can make unlimited attempts so long as I don't destroy the master.

I'll share a few lessons learned after the photos.

A crudely constructed frame:


Master wrapped in Saran Wrap, stretched tight across the face:


The secret sauce. Using a Pam cooking oil equivalent as my mold release:


You can see this came out way too porous. I'll still try to clean it up and see if it's useful or not.


Lessons learned:
1) the DAP product Plaster of Paris packaging said to mix at a 1:1 ratio. I assume this meant by dry, loose volume. The internet thought 7:3 (plaster:water) by weight was ideal. Not trusting either the the internet or the box, I went for a 11:4 ratio by weight. When mixing by hand, this is much to stiff of a mixture. Not sure if this translates to other brands, but I'll try 1:1 by weight or packed volume next.
2) this relates to #1. I need to mix more thoroughly. I knew the clock was ticking, panicked, and threw everything in the mold. This is what gave me the porosity I noted: both the high plaster:water ratio and the lack of thorough mixing.
3) double the amount of plaster you think you need. I had intended to make 2 or 3 impressions in this frame, but didn't mix enough plaster. If anything, the volume of the plaster consolidated as I mixed.

Well, now the mold is hard already (20 minutes later). I'm going to clean this up with a belt sander, a brush, and then proceed to next steps.


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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Actually, I decided to run the still slightly damp plaster mold carefully through my table saw. Very minimal mess vis-a-vis the belt sander approach.

Also important at this step, I scraped the sides of the mold with a spare drill bit (any abrasive edged object would work) to eliminate any parts that are undercut and could trap the casting.

Here is the cleaned up mold. I decided what to do about the porosity. I'll coat the inside of the mold with a thin layer of 2-part epoxy, then re-stamp it with the master. This should substantially improve the resolution of the mold and help with releasing the casting later.



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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
And the epoxy process.

Epoxy promptly oozed around the edges and threatened to encapsulate the master.


Pulled edges of Saran Wrap tight and stapled to edges of mold to minimize any undercutting. A bit of epoxy oozed through a pinhole. Cleaned up with a cotton swab. This should not permanently glue my master into the mold, worst case I may have to redo the masking tape if I elect to make another casting.


Sharpening stone and metal reinforced body filler to apply uniform pressure while epoxy cures. The body filler is what I will make the casting out of - supposedly strong enough to drill and tap. I'll put that claim to the test.


Now we wait.

Happy Easter!


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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
(The mold released)



If you can't tell, the Saran Wrap has been removed, what is left behind is simply an impression if the glossy surface. It looks like it was not perfectly tight; I'll sand those visible ribs out prior to casting the piece. Going to let this one cure for 24-48 hours on my heated floors before I proceed further.

I think that's all for this weekend, family duties are calling.


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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I promised to share interior photos pending a proper detailing appointment. For any of you in Northern VA, I can highly recommend Sparkle Auto-Mobile Detailing. Donte runs a one-man operation, is highly professional, respected my car, takes his time, and takes pride in his work. On top of all that, his prices were highly competitive for this expensive labor market. I'll get back to some actual DIY stuff this weekend, but wanted to share these pics now.


I am in no way affiliated with the detailer other than being a satisfied and soon to be repeat customer.








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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Rice intensifies

Shoutout to one of my favorite online retailers, Summit Racing. It appears they are drop shipping Konig Helium wheels at or near wholesale price. I ordered a set, they arrived 8 calendar days later and look phenomenal.

I'm hoping to save 8-10 lbs per corner, will weigh against the OEM alloys and post numbers. Moving the wheels around it felt like I was carrying empty boxes.

Pictures later; Tapatalk seems to be on the fritz.


Wheel Automotive tire Bicycle part Rim Hubcap
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The wheel picture as promised, these should be a great fit for the car. Marketed as matte bronze, the finish is actually smooth to the touch, and in reality closer to a satin or semi gloss sheen. I was worried I'd have to clear coat these to make them shiny enough (and easier to clean). On initial impressions, I think they are perfect straight out of the box. Now I need to pick up tires soon too.



Still not audio, but this car is full of surprises. Pulled a headlamp bulb in preparation for a simple direct fit LED upgrade - check out the date stamp on that bulb.





Will get some more pictures after I've swapped the bulbs out, including turn signals and daytime running lights. The 25 year old I'll confirm the beam pattern isn't too obnoxious as well, otherwise I'll have to consider some type of projector housings or just an upgraded halogen.

Maybe I can cast the replacement blankout panel / cell phone mount base this weekend. I have work Saturday, so I'll be lucky to even pick up the tires this weekend.


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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I did start the LED conversion, still waiting on the main bulbs. I may try to add some modern functionality / safety features, such as better side visibility for the turn signals. Still investigating strategies for that to maintain a plausible OEM look and not do anything crazy like drilling in side markers. Basically I would need to wire some relays to make the corner markers flash with the main turn signal.

I'm sticking with plug and play for the moment though.

From left to right: basic amber 194 LED bulbs (tried white, they washed out the corner markers); OEM headlamp bulb with high beams activated; combo daytime running light and turn signal bulb, wired with load resistors for a normal flash speed. You can see the mismatched color temp on headlamp vs. the DRLs in the first picture, will resolve with main bulb replacements.

This first picture is also the only one that is really representative of how dim the main bulbs are.


Turn signal on - amber


Turn signal blinking off:


These are the bulbs I used for the combo DRL + turn signal: AUXLIGHT 3157 3057 4157 3155 3457... Amazon.com: AUXLIGHT 3157 3057 4157 3155 3457 Switchback LED Bulbs 16SMD Chipsets Parking Lights / Daytime Running Lights / DRL and Turn Signal Lights with Projector replacement, White/Amber (Pack of 2) : Automotive

I was super impressed with the feature set - rather than simply emulating a dual filament bulb, they built in a logic chip which turns off the DRL completely while the turn signal blinks, just like a modern car. Before, it was just blinking between dim amber and bright amber.


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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Happy Mother's Day!

Last picture of headlights. Really happy with how they came out, I can see so much better. Only a slight color temp mismatch between DRLs and main beams (6000 vs. 6500). Very reasonable beam cutoff too.

I ended up needing to use this type, because the ones with the external ballast would have required modification of the housing.



This week got interesting on Tuesday when I came down with a highly contagious respiratory virus - you can take your guess. Upon the rest of the family testing negative, I elected to quarantine in the garage for a couple days and test out the sleeping capability of the car. With chairs slid forward, a piece of plywood under my sleeping pad, and a trash can to prop up the plywood, a full 72" sleeping pad fits with room to spare. I'll probably utilize this system next ski season, with a few optimizations of course.







A 12A battery charger provided adequate juice that I could run the vent fan all night long.



Next few days were rough, but the sleeping part was just fine. I'll have a few more updates later this evening.


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Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
By Thursday, the whole family had come down with the same virus, so the intra-family quarantine could end. Sleeping in my car for a few days reminded me - the week prior, I took the car for a 300 mile shakedown to test reliability. I averaged 33.4 MPG in moderate traffic. I did have one issue though. Driving through Baltimore, my clutch stuck down at an intersection. I was quickly able to pop it back up with my toe, but for several intersections it was sticking down and would lock the transmission in gear. Not great.

Somehow I managed to not stall the car, and drove the car the rest of the way through town while rev matching the engine by ear (the car came with no tachometer) and shifting without using the clutch pedal. Manual transmission achievement unlocked .

Once on the interstate again, I cruised in 5th gear for several miles, and when I needed to shift again, the clutch was back. Still, I had had my warning, and knew I needed to service the clutch's hydraulic system at least.

Looking for fluid specifications, capacities, etc. in the owner's manual, I came across some early paperwork. The window sticker:



Another interesting tidbit: the original owner purchased the vehicle on August 9th, 1996 - which would have made this a fairy early production 3rd Gen (US) Escort. He traded in a 2nd Gen 1994 Escort Wagon with 29k miles at the time. At the time of his death and recent estate sale, this same gentleman had this '97 as well as an early '00s Focus Wagon in his possession, both in immaculate condition and showing no evidence of abuse or neglect (other than having very old, unworn tires on this car).

The narrative I crafted tells me this fellow likely bought a Pinto Wagon as his first car, and it served him so well he's been driving Ford's econo-wagon offerings ever since. Not exactly an enthusiast, perhaps, if my narrative holds true, but a no-nonsense and unflappably practical individual with a bit of a zen approach to vehicles. At least, that's my story for the guy.



Okay, clutch service time...


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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Decided to do the master & slave cylinders as that will allow me to assess the condition of the pressure plate and throw out bearing by process of elimination. If this resurrects the car, I'll run it as long as I can without splitting the engine & transaxle.

Gosh I love these Japanese econobox parts prices. $55 with tax for both ends of the system:



Yup, looks good:



Oof, wrong part. Jeff Bezos has betrayed me:



Sent back for exchange, now ready to start. It quickly became evident this is not a job for large Anglo-Saxon hands. Both master & slave cylinders were unnecessary fiddly with only a couple inches to spare. I had to recruit a helper with smaller hands after tearing up my knuckles several times. My wife is a good sport.

Not many pics of the process as neither one is located well, but suffice it to say I replaced both, and then pressure bled the fluid line from the master cylinder down to the slave cylinder bleed screw. I ran nearly a quart of fluid through until it came out clear as extra virgin olive oil.



My pedal feel is back. Other things to address while car is still in the garage:

Spark plugs - inspect. Original, worn, not fouled. Will replace soon.



Battery tray - had to come out to more easily access the master cylinder. Let's clean this up and get the rust off the fasteners.



Better?



More to follow.


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