Update: still not done

Since installing the engine a month ago I’ve gotten into the wires, got my new tires mounted on my new rims, and messed about with a front sway bar.

I also replaced the head gaskets on Bridget, my fake, Subaru-powered MGTD—which didn’t work, obligating me to pull that engine back out and try again.

Bottom line: I drove my 220,000-mile Nissan truck to the Carlisle Import and Performance Nationals this year, as neither of my “cool cars” was in running condition.

The hell of it is, I could have had the Spyder featured in one of the barns at Carlisle. This is because I begged the show runners for a chance to show the car, even though it wasn’t quite done. I guaranteed I could get the car done enough to show, then, on the day after they sent word I had made the cut, had to back out.

This was about a week before showtime, and that very morning, after more than two weeks with little progress on the wiring job (which is the last major element of the build) I decided to shift my focus to the ailing—but trusty—TD Replica, which had blown its head gasket weeks earlier for some reason but had never really overheated. I had the head gasket set and figured, with a full weekend to pull the engine, replace the gaskets and get it back together, plus a couple days to test, I was golden.

Pulled my Subie, changed the gaskets, replaced the engine and on a sunny Tuesday morning rolled her out to check my work. And the same symptom persisted: overflow tank overflowing before the engine reaches operating temperature.


As always, the Spyder’s wiring harness appears to be pretty good. But everything needs to be traced and checked end-to-end because

  1. I am using a different (more correct, of course) turn signal switch than the build instructions call for;
  2. The Thunder Ranch wiring diagram I obtained (which didn’t come with my kit) refers only to wire colors—not function—and those don’t match my signal switch;
  3. There are several wires of the same gauge and color running to, for example, the rear of the chassis (is this red 14g the one for the starter? The alternator?)
  4. My painter Tommy painted all the wires running through the rocker box blue

So progress was fitful. I got parking lights but couldn’t get headlights and then I got heads and high beams but the beams worked when I clicked to signal a left turn.


And so on.

Picked up a stock Beetle (7/16th?) sway bar at Carlisle from another Spyder guy (Lenny C, my man!) and decided to finish that project while awaiting my Subie heads’ return from the machine shop and in lieu of digging back into the electrical.

Turned out to be a chore.

The stock Bug bar almost fits on the bottom of the top trailing arms:


Almost. On bumps, with an inch and a half suspension travel, it bounces off the beam gussets. I considered relieving them about an inch but decided not to: firstly because it would weaken the chassis, at least nominally; second because getting a grinder working up in the space looked mighty dicey. Doable, perhaps, but I figured there’s got to be a better way.

Started with the idea of capturing the bar with bushings bolted through the beam’s attachment holes. An eighth-inch spacer here would hold the bar out far enough to prevent interference with the steering box and allow the arms to hover between the two sets of trailing arms, with no chance for interference.

Yeah, those relatively central, narrow bushings would tend to weaken the bar’s effect. I plan to bush with urethane and, if the small bar doesn’t work, use an aftermarket 3/4-inch one instead.

These bars are blunt ended, with no provisions for a through bolt and those classic “stack-o-donut” end bushings. So my plan is to slot the ends and weld in steel tabs with holes in them to accept those bushings. Welding on sway bars is usually a no-no but I’m thinking a little heat right on the ends won’t compromise the springiness along their length. I figure that job comes toward the end when everything else is mocked up and located.

Looking at the lower trailing arms, I liked the V formed between the arm and the shock mount as a likely place to run the end link. All that’s needed is a plate to run it through. So I CADded up a template, plucked some steel from the scrap pile and got to work with the grinder and the drill….


With the main pieces roughed in on the shock mount I needed a clamp to hold them in place from the other side. A bit of tubing left over from the shipping system the lift came in did the trick: cut it in half, weld on a wing with a hole for the bolt, and Bob’s your uncle.


Of course I tacked it first and then went back and welded it on both sides and trimmed everything down so they’re neat and kinda symmetrical.


With that stuff done I test fit an end link and



The thing wants to go anywhere but where the actual sway bar with end up. And it just touches the shock.IMG_3026

I thought about going ahead with this anyway but ultimately decided not to.

So now there’s a new plan: Heim joint ends bolted through a shark fin tab I’ll weld to the plate. That should add a bit of stiffness to the assembly as well, make up a bit for the narrowed center bushings.

So that’s where things stand now.

I’ve got Bridget’s heads coming back in a couple days, the gaskets and new head bolts right after that, and a weekend with in-laws after that. So progress is once again glacial.

What follows are some random photos documenting The Struggle.

Here’s the new Spyder tires going on: IMG_2795

Wires shrink-wrapped. I stopped doing this early on and will now be wire-nutting everything for testing, then going back and shortening/soldering ends, etc. IMG_2792

Here’s the driver’s hand brake cable housing, busted when I took it out, greased and tried to put it back in:


Here’s Bridget’s engine on the table (first time):


Since been in and then back out again and is currently apart on the table awaiting heads and gaskets. Kind of a bummer driving season so far, all in all.



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