We are three weeks out from our debut at Carolina Motorsports Park in the 24 Hours of Lemons: Southern Discomfort. We’ve got a car that’s 15 shades of red, blue, yellow, and green. The engine in the car is straight out of a junkyard and completely untested. The suspension is a cobbled together mess of junkyard struts, eBay springs, and leftover plate given to us by the cage builder…also untested. A barrage of assorted wires, zip ties, and general layer of garbage filled every nook and cranny of the poor Geo. We were long past worried, but one thing kept us going: the commitment we made to ourselves and our teammates to get this thing on track by March.
Our plan from the beginning had always been to consider this project more of a body swap than an engine swap. The engine, subframe, wiring, ECU, etc. were all coming from the Contour… the Geo was merely there to provide us with a steering wheel. Until now, this plan had worked with only a few hiccups. We’ve got 3 weeks to go, one of which will be useless due to our designated “wiring guy”, Aaron, being required to spend a week in China for his ‘racing funder’ aka: Job. No time to waste, let’s hook a few wires up and fire the engine…how hard could it be? It was around now that we realized we had grossly underestimated how difficult the engine control aspect of this build would be. Before sending the Contour to its new home in a field somewhere we had pulled every wire, control box, fuse panel, relay box, and sensor we could find. The idea being, we lay everything out just like the Contour and fire it up, then just start clipping the useless stuff off the harness. It’s rather amazing how complex the harness is on a modern car… relays, sensors, chipped ignition keys, Passive Anti-Theft Systems (PATS), grounding rings on every branch of the harness, and plugs that lead to plugs that plug into other plugs! Some of these things had been marked upon removal, some could be google’d, and others were listed by Ford itself as ‘unknown control box’. To the best of our ability, we plugged up everything we could and lo and behold, nothing works. Aaron, along with the occasional assistance of Gary, Jerome, Brandon, and Jed spent every night leading up to the business trip working on making this wiring setup functional. To say we were naive to think we could lay a few wires in, hook up a battery and fire it up would be an understatement. Towards the end of the week we had successfully gotten the PATS system to flash the correct lights, the starter and starter relay were activating, the fuel pump was kicking on, the plugs were firing…but Aaron’s departure-day hit. Still no fuel going into the cylinder.
The day of Aaron’s departure the team had a meeting of the minds. During the lunch breaks from our jobs we met at Krystal’s with two goals in mind: 1. Determine a plan B. for engine management and 2. Enjoy some delicious greasy mini-burgers. We tossed around quite a few ideas such as continuing to work on the seemingly dead-end Contour harness and ECU, blowing our budget and switching to a completely standalone Megasquirt, or constructing a new harness by adapting parts from older Fords with similar engines but far less complexity. Aaron brought our secret weapon to the meeting: his co-worker Jerome. Jerome is a resident Gen4 Ford expert and all around great guy. Despite not even driving the car, Jerome volunteered his time for the week and convinced us that the ‘cobble some old stuff together’ approach was best. The rest of the team agreed that this is our best and only real shot at making CMP. The next morning we bid Aaron bon voyage and departed for Pull-a-Part. By the end of the Pull-a-Part trip, we had an engine harness from a Taurus, another Contour, and a Taurus SHO. We also had an EDIS box and ECU from the same SHO, as well as an EDIS and ECU from a Lincoln Mark VIII. Jerome and his assistant Brandon spent an entire evening stripping down multiple harnesses, unpinning connectors, removing dead wires and excess sheathing, relocating grounds and re-pinning 100+pin ECU connectors. What came out of the mayhem was a thing of beauty, cleverly disguised as a bundled up ball of wires. This collaboration of wiring is a greatest-hits album of early 90’s Fords containing an SHO engine harness, Taurus sensor plugs and a Mark VIII ECU and EDIS all seamlessly re-pinned together and even used era-correct color coding! We worked for the next few evenings to get the harness routed through the engine bay, connect the remaining sensor plugs, and locating/running the missing ones. Friday evening we convened in KL#1 to finally put power to the harness. A prayer to lord Lucas to bless us with a blue-smoke free wiring was murmured and we connected the battery. No smoke! Jerome clicketty-clacked on the laptop for a few moments and then told us to start cranking. No fire. More clicking… he says something about “Unix, I know this!”… clicks more keys… Still no fire. We check the spark plugs wires and they are firing! Sweet! But still no fuel; this feels all too familiar. We decide to pull the intake manifold off and see if the injectors are receiving the signal to fire…they are! A flurry of thoughts race through my mind; is the fuel pump not providing enough pressure to open the injector? Is the pump bad? Is there a problem with the fuel cell? A kink in a fuel line? A bad pressure regulator? What could it be?! We decide to manually fire a fuel injector and see if we hear it click. Power is applied…nothing. Try another injector, and another, and another…nothing. The injectors aren’t responding to 12v? How can we have 6 bad injectors? We keep trying and trying… Just when we are beginning to question our sanity – *click* – a waft of 93 octane enters the air. We pulse the power to another injector 10-15 times and – *click* – it’s working! We work our way down each side of the V freeing the injectors from their junkyard induced imprisonment. We quickly reassembled everything to re-try awakening the beast.
*BOOM* *CLANK* *POP* *SMACK* *Fizzzzzzz* – “Oh my god what was that!?” The engine definitely had combustion but the sucks, squishes, bangs and whooshes definitely weren’t in the right order and the blisteringly loud open exhaust made it quite apparent. Some high level diagnostics were performed (rearranging the plug wires a few times) and we got the firing order right. It actually runs! I can’t believe it! Cheers were shouted, beers were toasted, rejoice was had by all! With 30 minutes to spare before Aarons return plane lands, we had done it. The car runs! We quickly recorded a sound byte and sent it to Aaron’s voicemail to welcome him home.
Up Next, Chapter 5: We Race!