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LSR Karmann Ghia Blog, September 20, 2009


The following was sent to the Karmann Ghia Club of North America's email list on September 22st, 2009 but included the data through the end of September 20th.

Hello Loyal Readers,

welcome to the final installment - the story of actually getting to and running on The Salt at Bonneville.

...So, you may recall from our last update that it was Friday, September 18th at about 5PM and I'd just made it out the door, freshly bathed. Babe needed some fuel as we hit the road at near empty. I stopped at a local Chevron, for convenience, not price, and while refueling I realized that earlier in the day I'd reinstalled ignition points and had NOT also reset the ignition timing! This is a _serious_ no-no. So, right there on the spot, I reset the ignition timing! ...Good thing I had all my tools!...

Now, seriously under way, I had a LOT of time to make up, so I was cruising at about 75 to 80 when I ran into dead-stopped traffic trying to leave the San Francisco Bay Area at 5PM on a Friday night! Yes, some idiot pulled in front of me JUST as the dead-stopped traffic appeared directly in front, and yes, they were the type of idiot who over-braked, trying to leave 100 yards or more of unused space in front of themselves, never noticing or caring who or what they just cut off to do so! So yes, it took _everything_ Babe had to stop in time - I danmed near hit this idiot, and if I had it would have been "my fault." -pfffft!- Yeah, right. Jerk.

So, nearly three hours later, I arrived at Sacramento just in time to reach the tail end of their rush hour and spent nearly another hour very nearly dead-stopped - there must have been some accident, but I never saw it. ...I got to Auburn on the way up the Siera foothills by nearly 10PM, and I stopped for Wednesday breakfast (!!) at a McDonalds I spotted from Interstate 80.

On the road again, miles rolled by and I passed Reno (Hi Loren!) at a fairly late hour - 11:30? - and kept going. It wasn't far past Reno when I was looking for fuel and missed the cheap stuff on the east side of Reno. I found myself buying three gallons at the ... damn, I thought I'd never forget the name! ... anyway, it was _so_ expensive, it was higher than CA prices! ...This turned out to not be quite enough and I ran out of gas about 45 minutes later.

Not to worry: I have installed a fuel reserve lever in the vehicle and so I used it! And I carried an additional 2 gallons in a spare gas can, too. It turned out I made it to the next stop on fumes, not using the spare gas can, and refueled all of 15.1 gallons in a 15 gallon tank!

Continuing on, I found myself unsafe to drive and so I pulled into a gambling joint's parking lot to sleep, but was awaken by a private security guard during the night and told I could sleep there, but just not parked where I was, and, please, could I move to another spot? I thanked the man and decided to get back to driving. I was stopped about 1.5 hours or thereabouts, but I'm not sure exactly. Later, I had another similar experience at about 3 AM and this time awoke at about 5:30 AM, suddenly aware of where (and when!) I was!

I rolled into Wendover, UT at about 9:30, but no, it was actually 10:30AM because there was a time change to Mountain a mere mile or two before the UT state line.

I instinctively caught Wednesday dinner at a Burger King drive-through, and ate it on the road to Bonneville, a mere 2 miles or so down the road, exit 4. I consumed the meal before I arrived at the check-in spot where I was asked if I could please take two spectators to the event, driving through a salt-water lake on the way - otherwise, they'd have walked! I said OK, and reconfigured Babe's front seat to accommodate two more passengers.

We made it through, drove past the first group, found the second - it was the 150 club: not our group. I then drove back and found the 130 club (our group!) and asked where I get registered, etc. They directed me and, losing my two passengers, Babe and I headed off to the main registration.

I was refused registration, told that I had to go through tech first.

The tech guy was nice but lonely - bored out of his skull as I was the only one going through tech. He had an older guy overseeing him from the sidelines who spoke up now and then. ...The Lonely Tech Guy wanted to chat, so, knowing I had until 6:30 and another day until 4PM, I indulged him. Though this probably added 20 minutes to my registration time, this turned out to be a good move as he was kind enough with certain technical certifications, but what got my goat was that _none_ of the "extra curricular activities" Burlie Burly had demanded of me were actually tech rules.

It started as I showed off that my headlights worked, "That's nice." "That's nice?" ... "Yeah, we don't care, but it's great that they work." "Here are my wiper arms and blades - I hope you don't mind that I didn't mount them as I understand I can remove them for actually running..." "What? We don't require that!" ... It turned out that they didn't care! They didn't care about _any_ of the extra requirements Burlie told me I _had_ to have working, such as: The horn! The Headlights! The Quarter Windows! The Speedometer! The Rear View Mirrors! The Headliner! ... I _could_ go on! HOW FRUSTRATING! There were DAYS of delay spent getting working things that were NOT required for tech...

This dialogue got the old guy up out of his seat, "WHO told you these were requirements?!" Burlie. The young guy stammers, "who?!" I explained that he was the guy coordinating between the VW people and the 130 club people. The old guy says, "oh." The young guy, "who's he?" "Oh, Richard's right, he's the guy coordinating the 36hp Challenge." After additional comments and questions the old guy says, "I'm sorry but those are _not_ requirements - we only require what's on our check list - this one (in my hands) - and nothing further." Well, "so what was all this I was told? I mean, I'm upset I took all this time and none of it was required?!" Old man: "I'm sorry I'd rather not comment; politics." "Oh, OK, well, thanks for telling me."

And I continued on to registration.

They decided to interview me on camera. They said it was for education of people who want to register in future years. I was a good sport and agreed. This added about a half hour to my registration process but the reg people were delighted with my on-camera work and the cinematographer commented that my anticipation of interesting questions / commentary had guaranteed that he had the material to make his customer (USFRA) very happy with the resulting video. All agreed I had a great on-camera presence. ...Thanks for the butter... -shrug- Frankly I was just too tired to tell them no and was just going along with the program.

I went and fetched my "free" t-shirt (not in my size as they were out).

I then made it back to the 130 group, found the only VW I could find, "YOU!" I said, pointing, "...Must be Justin - Hi, I'm Richard." Yes, he was. I explained that I was a late-comer and was hoping I was invited to join them in their pit area. They said yes, but I later realized that the core was actually 30 yards away or more, though I never moved...

I was surrounded immediately by people including just about everyone in a 50 yard radius, all of whom started asking questions and none of whom chose to help when I said I was running late and couldn't they please not slow me down but rather, since they were standing there, please help me get my vehicle ready. One person out of easily 30 or more helped me collect up some tools...

...And the interrogation continued, demanding to know, among many other things, how fast I was intending to go, especially including Justin. I told them that I had two sets of numbers and the most optimistic, presuming the most optimistic reasonable numbers from all of the unknowns about my endeavour at 132. At that, Justin remarked that if I came anywhere near that number he'd kiss my ass right there in front of everybody. I ignored the comment. He then demanded to know my other number. I said that the "pessimistic number" - presuming the lower end tollerance of all the unknown varriables - was 118. Justin said that if I even approached that number he would then have respect for me and the Denzel engine. ...This told me he did not currently have such respect. I ignored this comment, too.

As I tried to change the tires to the Goodyear Eagles - by the way, the same type tire he had pop on him for which he rolled his Beetle not two weeks before - Justin continued inquiries of my views, asking me about my gear selections. I merely said that, "Rumor has it that most people who run in such competitions are over-geared - my intent is to not repeat that mistake." Unsatisfied, he pressed on, and my reply was, "Let me just say that while most racers are over-geared, I'm headed in the other direction." ...To which Justin replied that he believed in having the tallest gears - another comment which I chose to ignore.

There were other remarks that Justin made that were full of bravado and not well considered and are best ignored, which I did. And I found a moment to interject, in several sentences better put than here, that people had told me that he was, overall, a kind and thoughtful person, and, mostly, generous of time and consideration, and while none of us intend to be jerks, each of us takes our own turn...

I wasn't anywhere near having all my tires swapped when everybody left, for what, I do not know. I only know that I had all this junk to remove from the vehicle and all sorts of preparation in front of me. ... I laid out a blue plastic tarp under the vehicle, as I thought was the appropriate thing to do...

Someone showed up in a truck and called me over - it was the cinematographer from the registration video! He asked when I was going to run as he said he had the intention of videoing me because first I was so helpful to him and secondly because he loved my car and thirdly he loved the car's and engine's story! I told him the details. He said he would probably not come see me personally during his filming but that he would capture it from the driver's side and I could be sure he'd do it - he owed me, he said.

I continued to work to prep the car, doing things like taping in the quarter windows as I was told that was OK, and eventually, as it was taking so long, I realized that the remaining material was of no safety threat (mostly tiny screws and other small hardware in the trunk) and no one was looking - even though I was told it all _had_ to be removed before racing - and I decided it was my risk and I felt a compelling need to get in my first run, so I started it and drove up to the line; this was the very first time the vehicle had been driven in the entire time (more than ten years) I have know about this vehicle. This was the first motion for the transaxle under power, the first clutch action, the first steering - the first _everything._ I was told I was not allowed to cross 100 miles per hour on my first run and so I didn't care about the state of tune - any run would help me tune it afterwards. ...And I set out...

The first bit was _exciting!_ The engine sounded and (so far) ran _great!_ It was the kind of loud that is very demanding of one's attention. I was excited because the clutch was _strong_ and crisp, the transaxle shifted well and the car moved effortlessly while driving to the starting line. But, I had a false start - the timing official and I were both at fault. One official was signaling to another official and I took that as the signal to start! They gave it to me as a free run. Which turned out to be a very good thing! Some say I shouldn't show the timing receipt at right, but lets be honest here: I had not spent _any_ time tuning for altitude, and wasn't supposed to get it up there anyway, so I figured whatever it did was fine, and the fact that it was a false start and so a free run was just a big bonus!

Once moving, while the first few feet were great, it was a disasterous run. It ran fine for the first several thousand RPM and then cut out badly. Every gear was a dud. It never ran right except at very low RPM... And the top speed was just over 74. I was _profoundly_ disappointed.

However, the few moments of the beginning of each gear had the crowd excited and when I returned, there were well over 20 people hovering around trying to help me figure out what to do to tune it to the new altitude. Justin was there, too. I brought out my 5 gas exhaust analyzer but it was of no use - I couldn't read the display! If I had someone to hold an umbrella, maybe, but the glare was just too great. And I had no pit-crew, no one to hold the umbrella, and no one offered - they just watched. But not everyone. ...Eric Allred saw my struggles, pulled out his I-Phone, asked me some basic questions - "What are your venturis, the 32s? 36es?" And in moments he said, "The computer says you should be running 127.5 to 130 main jets - what have you got? Let's try the 130s!" ... I was so tired I knew I was "moving kinda slow", and I was so grateful for the help. And, in fact this particular guy Eric was so helpful throughout the day, he deserves special thanks.

...They were 115s. I explained how I thought it should be leaner, not richer, and these carbs came off a well-tuned Porsche 356 at sea-level. But Eric said, no, his numbers were a better starting point, and did I have them? Yes, here's the box! So, I changed them to the 130s he proposed.

As I was putting these jets in, Justin had come by and had become part of the dialogue, and maybe he understood the comment I was trying to make (cited above) as he decided to help and actually wrenched in the jets as I changed them in the jet holders. ...He actually wrenched on my engine and seemed pleased to do so - and I was glad to have his help; I thought we could become more friends than competitors.

On my second run, to the minute a half hour after the first, you could tell the difference right away that the richer jetting made. The blips of the throttle sounded better. The car pulled out better. The timing official did _not_ mark it down as my second run. And I started my second run with some trepedation but feeling better that at least we had done something to help. The car pulled out with a nice but not great first gear, a sometimes fumbling, sometimes competent second gear, a third gear about the same as second, and a solid fourth gear, that ran smooth but low and we never approached a "top" in fourth. The top speed was 83.808 mph.

It was a good improvement, but not nearly enough. At least it wouldn't be as bad of an embarassment. 83.8 is not anything like remarkable to me...

After this run I was confronted with the fact that the engine was leaking a lot of oil from the banjo bolt where the oil re-enters the crankcase following the oil filter / cooler assemblies. I spent a little time working on figuring what further tweeks to the state of tune I could do but wasn't able to get anything done at all because the oil leak demanded attention.

Someone asked me what I would do and I explained that I wasn't concerned as I had until 6:30 that night and "all day tomorrow". I'd fix the leak that night, if that's what it took, and, by the way, do some more tuning to get the engine closer to proper tune. No, I was told, you can't do that! "WHAT?! Of COURSE I can!" But, in fact, no, I couldn't; No one had told me, not Burlie, not other competitors who knew my cell number, not the people at registration, NO ONE had said that the following day had been canceled and therefore, as this was now the last day, racing ended at 4PM and not 6:30 as previously published! I asked the timing official and he concurred with the doom-sayers. WHAT!

I had been robbed. SOMEONE should have told me somewhere along the line. I _had_ checked the web site the day before - it said NOTHING of this as of 5PM the previous day. The people at registration hold the greatest burden; how can you let me register and NOT tell me, "oh, by the way, you have until 4PM"???


As I said, I was robbed. And, yes, it hurts still.

So, what to do? Hurry! That's what.

Someone suggested making paper gaskets in lieu of the present fittings, but I explained that I had the copper gaskets from before and that now I had o-rings surrounded by aluminum gaskets with a smaller ID to provide a place for the o-rings to go. Maybe the copper gaskets were better? All agreed, replace the o-rings for copper - it should help a lot, even if it does not cure the problem.

So, I swapped the o-rings for copper and then ran the Ghia again.

This time the Denzel engine ran better, this 20 minutes later, but still not great; First gear was inter mittently great and awful, as were all the other gears but the run pulled better and we were at 97.63 mph.

But the oil problem was as bad as ever, and, unbeknownst to me, the officials were debating disqualifying me from running until I could fix the oil leak problem.

Meanwhile, back at the pits I mused aloud about ignition timing and indicated that I knew it was likely retarded from optimal - with my lack of sleep I had apparently overlooked it - and while I was interested in swapping in an Bosch 031 that has 32 degrees of total advance, my new pit-crew (Eric, Justin, Craig, and another person or two) urged just adding 10 degrees or so to the 22 degrees of the Bosch 010 that was already installed. I relented and used the timing light to set the advance to 32 total. (Justin really liked the new quite-high idle. I don't happen to care for a high idle.)

One of the officials, who I thought was just a well informed spectator, came by at just about this moment and convinced me to focus on the oil leak.





It's at this point that the paper record becomes unclear as I actually made 6 timed runs but can only find 5 timing sheets with only four of them official. I have yet to reconcile these with the data on the USFRA web site / official publications but we already know that the contents of a contemporaneous call between myself and Burlie is neither confirmed nor denied by officially published records. What I recall and is at least not contradicted from paperwork is what follows.

... As I had been told - strongly recommended by observers - to focus on the oil leak and as I knew it was coming from the Denzel banjo bolt, and I knew there was little chance of fixing it, someone - Eric, I think - proposed the idea of simply surrounding the oil fittings with lots of paper towels, cleaning off the vehicle of what oil we could and it might work. So, we tried it. And, I headed out with stuffed paper towels for a very quick time between runs - about half the previous times.

This time out was _very_ different!

The crackle from the engine was in what one could call "perfect pitch"; it was harmonically exactly the best one could ever expect, and one simply knew it from the sound. It was electrifying! As I made my way to the starting line, everyone knew immediately that this would be different, and as I made it to the start line and lit off first gear, I glanced over my shoulder and saw _everyone_ standing, observing on their feet, and I could hear for myself how this time the engine was running on all four...

First gear was nothing short of awesome! I started out without the slightest skidding but with the most awesome traction and fast moving start. First gear was absolutely perfect and you could simply hear the symphony of sounds that indicated a faultless performance.

Second wasn't so great, I'm afraid, but the stumbles weren't as great as before. Still, second gear was a disaster and I dumped second for third as soon as I figured the engine could give it a go.

Third gear, however, was a dream from start to finish - there wasn't a single faulty cycle of any cylinder throughout the gear. And, as I'd entered the gear too early, I stayed in it longer than before, and also because my intentional gearing was to hit fourth near peak torque - not to mention that as it was running well, why mess with a good thing? - I ran the RPM way up, "wound it out" until near my target of 6 grand (still no tachometer!), when I dropped it into fourth. It was a _perfect_ gear, from start to finish, and because the exhaust was so loud I am _sure_ everyone back at the starting line knew it was perfect, too!

Fourth, sadly, stumbled badly at first, and on three cylinders climbed up to about midway, timewise, when slowly but finally, it cleared and ran smoothly for the remainder of the run - it was the first good run, overall, and the Ghia and I were rewarded with 101.94 MPH.

Unfortunately, this timing ticket has been misplaced. I think it will be found - probably in my as yet uncleaned laundry - and my comments match the memory of others.

Ticket or not, everyone in the pits was excited by what they'd seen and heard and once more there was a BIG crowd awaiting me to help tune - huge crowd given the number of possible crowd participants! When I say that _everyone_ was on their feet supporting me I really mean it - their support was visible and amazing! There was now no doubt that the engine _could_ do great things and there was no question that the times it was now turning were pale shadows of what it could do... You could easily hear the perfect combustion versus the stumbling and it was crystal clear that when operating properly, the engine could put out awesome power. It was now up to me (and the machine) to just do it!

I heard from several people that they were saying to themselves, "SHIFT, Richard, SHIFT NOW!" But they didn't know the gearing or other situation and I knew that this shifting was part of my plan. And, besides, with trouble in the gear before and after, why not stay in a gear that keeps accelerating? (Later, Eric said that he was telling me to shift when I heard the popping, but I don't recall it.)

I contemplated why this run was so good when previous runs were so poor, yet there was no change and then it stuck me that it was the reduction of the oil fog created by the oil leak. That is, formerly the engine bay had been filled with an oil fog that was getting sucked into the carburetor intakes and fouling the spark plugs, and the paper towels surrounding the leaking banjo reduced this fog.

Yet, the oil problem hadn't gone away and I was now told that the officials were thinking of DQing me and the machine until I could completely fix the problem. Yet, there was no clear solution. I proposed the paper gasket idea suggested earlier and the officials quickly agreed. Someone had previously come up with the paper gaskets, in rough form, and scissors to cut them to the right ID, so I cut them to the right ID and we tried them - boy was the engine hot as I tried to install them!

At this point I nearly burned my fingers in touching the Denzel oil fitting (where the OP switch goes on a standard 36hp engine) and so realized the challenge of running the engine at lower RPM back to the starting line and never ran it slowly again - and never again was it so scalding hot when I needed to touch it. Justin, by the way, was being towed back each time by his father via a pickup truck. Either way, it took very little time to get these paper gaskets installed.

I was told I would not be able to run again due to the large oil leak, so I took my case to the timing official. He was pursuaded to let me run because of several reasons. First, I was truely working seriously on fixing any and all leaks in spite of things. I was not focused on tuning instead. And, I was the only person using a tarp and who was catching all drips of oil on the salt that I could reasonably catch without being told to have it as a concern. Because I was interested in saving the salt, I was given permission drive - and leak somewhat - upon it. But with a special twist: I suggested that I be given special starting privileges so that I would not even start the Denzel engine until I was "cleared for take-off" and thus keep the amount of oil on the salt to an absolute minimum. ...The timing officials loved my initiative and agreed; I ran my following runs mostly without comment from them, though they wanted to see me actively working on protecting the salt.

And so it was that I spent all my remaining time working on protecting the salt rather than in fixing the performance tuning problems of the Denzel engine, save for a tweak to timing from 32 to 34, despte the fact that that's what I would otherwise be doing. And so my next two runs were 101.163 and 101.042, neither having any single solid gear as I did with the first 101.94 run, but all having rather flat performances, probably because the torque curve is so flat ( as opposed to having a peaky performance envelope...).











In the end, Justin commented that he now respected the Denzel as it had overtaken his result from two days previous and because it did so with "one cylinder tied behind its back." It was clear to all who heard it that the car and engine had a lot more to say - I just didn't have time to tune it. And, Justin admitted, he gave substantial props to me for having driven Babe to Utah and back - something for which he said he'd be hesitant driving from Salt Lake City and back from (?!?!) much less from California!

In the end, others think of this as a very successful experience for me and the Ghia and I do not. Every Ghia should beat its Beetle counterpart by at least 15 MPH, including Land Speed Record holders! OTOH, I'm glad that there's documentation, and it was, after all, a very fun experience.



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