The Biggest Rebuild of my Life: A Radical Prosport Too Good to Ignore
Will this car be my most sought after Dream Build, or Turn into a Real Life Nightmare?
This is a car I never expected to acquire, nor was it in a way I wanted to acquire one. Cars have been quite possibly the very existence of my life. I've spent an untold amount of money on models and books of all types, I've been to races around the world, and often were even factored into part of the trip during my married life. Hell, it was my profession for many years, and I would often show that I cared more about John Doe's car than many other techs, simply because I knew that someone's life was on the line from my work. I always saw myself rising to the ranks of working at a race car restoration facility, automotive museum, or even being part of a race team, hired to be part of a vital piece of the puzzle. And although up until last year I was destined for one of these, I knew that one day I would be able to unleash my thoughts onto metal and composites of my own design.
In the Summer of 2019, I was preparing to head out on a contractor job when a friend contacted me about assisting a gentleman and his newly purchased Radical. It was just minor things like helping him get in, check tire pressures, etc, and since it fell on the weekend, it wouldn't clash with my work schedule. That started an almost year-long investment with the owner with whom I became great friends with, even allowing me to crash at his place for a few months while I found somehwere to live in the Big Apple when I changed jobs. He had set up camp at my local race track, and whenever I was asked to help prep the car, I normally set aside time in my weekend to help, because I enjoyed being around a dedicated racecar, and I knew my work was trusted. Through the months as it was driven, the times kept falling, the car got more reliable, and by spring of 2020, nothing but the body and frame was Radical original. We hit a milestone number as he blasted across the finish line at 1:23.77, only being bested by modern Formula 2000 cars, and some 6 digit racecars, but we were knocking on their door. This little 16-year-old motorcycle engined car was embarrassing rides that cost 3 times or more than my house!!!
Then came the Drivers Club event a few weeks after that sensational run. The day before, as usual, he arrived and we did a preliminary check of the car, nothing fancy, and only took a few hours to complete. There was an inertia activated oiling unit he purchased, and we were trying to figure out if it was working. We set up a test rig, and he wanted to do a small drive to see if it was functioning correctly. It would be the last time I'd see the car running, as well as almost the last time I saw my friend alive. We'll never exactly know what happened, but I know it wasn't mechanical related. It seemed more of a wrong place at the wrong time kind of situation. It was Months before I heard from him, between Covid, and his healing process, there wasn't any communication directly, only through his daughter. When he was capable of speaking with me via text, he began trying to decide what to do with the remains of the car. I had this nagging feeling that this shouldn't be the end of this car I put just as much blood, sweat, and chunks of skin as anybody else, that there just may be some potential left. After all, I always wanted a dedicated racecar, especially a Prototype-like car. I had regretted over a decade ago missing out on a custom 1970's Zink Z-11 I seen in the back of my "Vintage Motorsports" magazine. So after a few chats with him, I took the plunge and accepted ownership of the Radical, but now, where do I go from here?
Thngs always look worse in their untouched condition
I began turning my late grandfather's garage into the headquarters of my Bond VIllain-level insanity plan. Many hours, and trips to the recycling and trash collecting facilities granted me the necessary room I needed. Next was installing several hundred dollars in lighting to see what I'm even doing, and a receptacle to be able to use my tig welder. This once sidewalk-wide available spaced-garage now can house several cars, and plenty of room for the parts that are going to be torn out. Of course, this isn't an F1 facility, so some shade tree professionalism would be needed to get the car in the necessary ballpark to properly assess the damage. Finding a large walnut tree, several lengths of chain and steel cable, a torquey vehicle, and some patience was in order. Before people groan at such an archaic job, just look at what some of the greats like Max Balchowsky used to do when building a race car.
In the end, the rear wheel was straightened enough to move the car without a dolly.
The great news is everything from the front of the rear bulkhead was fine...... except for the steering rack bracket they attempted to sawzall when extracting him. He hit in such a place where the body collapsed and pushed the engine, yet the front frame did not receive any of the force. And speaking of the engine, the only issue was a damaged valve cover, but so far, no detrimental damage, so a good cleaning and once over and it should be reusable.
So the big question is, how far will I need to go into repairing this? Obviously, the rear section will need to be rebuilt, although the sprocket/differential housing looks to be in good shape, and may need to have a few pieces cut and rewelded. The rear bulkhead will need to be rebuilt, and of course, the front steering bracket. Anything on the left rear side will be replaced (shock/upper and lower arms/sway bar/etc.) But all in all, the chassis held up well, and with time and patience, should be repairable. I plan to take it down to the bare chassis, strip and paint, and rebuild it, but not just that.
As I stated earlier, cars, and racing in particular, has been my life. I wasn't much for being college material, so my hands and imagination took the helm for my direction in life. My past includes working for a company where I dealt with composites, Mold manufacturing, and R&D, as well as my many years of automotive work and welding. With that, I decided to not just rebuild this to working condition, but build it for the 21th century. These chassis were developed using mid 90's rules and design, and for 99% of owners and drivers it's sufficient enough for them, but for me, it's not enough. I want it to be lighter, lower the center of gravity, and lower the cD (drag coefficient) by incorporating a single roll hoop instead of a full length that it utilizes, something the BMW V12 LMR pioneered in 1999 by using a particular loophole in the rules the ACO used based on Formula 3000 rules, which was originally for the WR LM cars that ran from 1993-1996. I'm using the ACO rules and regulations from 2004 since that is the year this chassis was manufactured. I will also be removing the original location of the engine air intake, and placing it behind the roll hoop, as well as lowering the throttle bodies by rerouting the exhaust, this tightens up the area in front of the rear wing, reducing obstruction to it. Also, more modern upgrades like enlarged and unlouvered wheel well vents (WEC/IMSA) slightly wider body to properly cover the rear wheels, flatter sides and using NACA ducts for the oil and water coolers, and a smaller frontal area. With the exception of the roll hoop fabrication, the chassis will get replicated and mocked up using a wooden buck, and then use clay to develop the new body. The biggest modification I want to try and develop is a "modular" chassis by being able to literally split it in half for easier access to the engine. This will require 6-8 mounting points.
I've taken inspiration from many race cars such as The BMW V12 LMR, Zytec 04-S, Audi R8, the infamous Porsche 9R3, Scott & Riley MkIII C, Panoz LMP Roadster, Mazda RT-24, and so forth. This will be by no means an overnight job. I've gone from all the time and no money, to no time and all the money necessary to do this. so updates may be few and far between. If there are any engineers that would like to weigh in, I'd love to hear it. So with that, follow my journey of saving a special car, not just in the world of Radicals, but for me personally.