Tuesday, March 7, 2017

GEN ONE CRX Build - Part 1: Humble Beginnings

If you've read my previous post One Man's Garbage is Another's Treasure, you'll already know that the GEN ONE build did not begin as planned.  Starting with one car, and ending up building a completely different car was a surprise, but a good one.  What I didn't include were a lot of the details and steps that were taken to complete the build.  I learned so much in the year and a half it took to build the car.  The many hours spent either in front of a computer screen doing part and task research, or on my back in the garage wrestling with rusty parts, were all worth it.  Now I'd like to share all those gory details in an attempt to motivate those stuck in the middle of a project, gasping for air, to keep going and push through.  The results are always worth the effort.

The GEN ONE build started as a dream years before as I drove my ratty 1987 CRX HF through blowing and drifting snow during a typical Illinois winter, well passed 11pm, trying to make it home from my part time job as a photo technician.  I said to myself, "If I survive this and college, and then actually make something of myself, I will build the first generation CRX of my dreams!"  I couldn't stand watching the car I loved being beaten into oblivion by my daily transportation obligations.  I wanted to be able to cherish my 1st gen like the old guy down the street who only drives his classic car on weekends, and waxes it so much, there's no clear coat left.

Several years later, after surviving college and with my career up and running, the time had come.  As I was perusing through Craigslist, I came across an ad for a largely intact 1987 CRX HF that had been sitting in a field for a year or so.  Listings for first generation CRXs didn't pop up often, and the price was very reasonable, so I decided to check it out.  When I went to the guy's place in middle-of-nowhere Georgia, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had swapped a rare carbed ZC engine in the car, but was never able to get it to run correctly.  This little discovery made the purchase well worth the money, so I pounced.

Then, weeks later, after having it towed back to the house, cleaning about a years worth of dirt and debris off of it and almost completely disassembling it, something happened.  I was online (specifically RedPepperRacing.com) looking for parts when I came across a recent post that was titled, "Free CRX".  Well, obviously I had to investigate further, and it turned out that the RPR member had an 1985 CRX SI sitting at a local shop.  He had challenged the shop owner to repair the car, with the intentions of restoring it.  After giving the car a once-over, the technician noticed that there was structural damage to the rear suspension, and proceeded to advise the owner to walk away.  He agreed and decided to let it go.  He had offered the car up to the first person to show up to the shop with a tow truck.  Usually when these deals pop up online, they are typically hundreds of miles away from me, but not this time.  He was only an hour away.  Less than 4 hours after reading the thread, she was in my garage. Kudos to my boss who let me leave work early to get the car.

The part of this story you haven't heard is how this car got from a rusty paperweight to what it is today.  The outside of the car looked rough.  The nose panel was missing, the headlight bezels were cracked, the trim around the windows was falling off, the paint was faded, the plastic panels were cracked, and the list goes on.  It was a similar story underneath the car.  All four jack points had rusted and had been pushed up into the body.  There was a giant hole that the rust had created in the panard bar support, and not only that, someone had attempted to roll the rear fenders with a pair of pliers, causing the pinched metal to become a trap for dirt and moisture.  This caused them to rust through completely.  The car had seen better days.  However, there was one large benefit that the CRX HF with the ZC engine did not have, and that was a beautiful and complete interior.  I'm not going to say that it was perfect by any means, but when I compared it to the HF interior, that had been sitting in the sun for several years, there was no question which was better.  I also liked the fact it was an SI and it had the EW3 PGMI engine.  With those two points in mind, I decided to turn the '85 SI into the GEN ONE car, and the '87 became the parts car.

Structural Damage Repair

The first step was to tackle the structural damage to the panhard bar support.  I decided to repair this first because if I was unsuccessful, there would be no point trying to get it to run.  I wasn't too bothered by this task because I knew in the back of my mind that CheddasAuto made panhard bar support braces for added structural support.  I figured that if I sanded the rust down to the metal, coated it with a rust-proof coating (POR-15), and simply mounted the brace over the support that it would take care of the issue.  It did.  The steel brace is meant to be welded to the body, but since I had no experience with a welder, and no confidence I could tell if it was done correctly, I decided to bolt it on.  The process was pretty easy. After the section of factory brace was sanded down and painted, I had Chedda send me a steel brace.  The brace had to be modified a bit because of the hole on the back of the factory brace, where one of the support straps for the gas tank got attached.  I simply used a dremel tool to cut a hole in the Chedda brace, large enough for the hook on the end of the tank strap to pass though.  Afterward, I pressed Chedda's brace over the factory brace and marked where to drill holes for the mounting hardware.  Thankfully there was enough structurally sound metal around the rust hole for me to drill into.  Once the holes had been drilled into the Chedda brace and the factory brace, I secured it to the car with the grade 8 hardware that I had purchased.  It worked like a charm.  With that complete, I could now move on to the next hurdle... getting it to run.

Fuel Pump Repair

When I picked up the car I was told that the fuel pump wasn't working, but I wasn't given any additional details.  I figured that a fuel pump swap wouldn't be difficult, so I assumed that this repair would go as smoothly as the panard bar.  It didn't.  The pump, which was a factory original part, looked terrible but it functioned.  It made a lot of noise, but I wasn't getting any fuel pressure.  The reason why it wasn't able to develop any fuel pressure was because there was a crack in the hard line coupler that connected the rubber fuel line running from the pump, to the hard lines running under the car.  Rust had corroded a hole right into the side of the hard line.  In the image below you can just see the hole in the line, just below where I cut the hard line.

This left me with quite the predicament.  I wasn't about to start replacing factory hard lines, and I knew I wasn't going to find a factory replacement coupler, so I needed to figure out how to safely join the newly cut hard line and the rubber line running from the pump.  Not only that, but when I removed the fuel pump, the rubber mounts that absorb vibration from the pump detached themselves from the metal bracket that attaches to the frame.  After taking a moment to ponder how to move forward, I decided to follow the K.I.S.S. philosophy... Keep It Simple Stupid.  I just needed it to run not be prepared for a factory endurance test, so I focused on connecting the pump to the fuel lines.  A quick trip the hardware store later, and I had a couple feet of rubber fuel hose, a brass hose connector and a couple hose clamps.  I also decided to use a special silicone used for making gaskets to help create a seal between the fuel hose and the hard line.  This, in my mind, was another gamble, but it all worked out in the end.  

After re-soldering the fuel pump connections, mounting the pump back to the body with a cleverly cobbled replacement bracket (made from the factory part and a hose clamp, shown below), and filling the tank back up with fuel, I primed the pump.  As I turned the key to the ON position, the pump began making horrible noises.  But as I kept repeating the priming process, the sounds got smoother and quieter until I felt like it was done improving, and it was holding fuel pressure.  While doing so,  I had to keep one eye on the banjo bolt on top of the fuel filter to make sure it was just fuel coming out; something that came back to haunt me shortly thereafter.  Once I felt confident enough to try and start it, I rolled the car out of the garage and jumped back behind the wheel.  Only two prime and start attempts later, and she was up and running!  It even idled smoothly.  I was shocked.  

Video of the start-up:

The first major hurdle had been conquered, but my jubilation was cut short when I noticed fuel pouring out of the fuel filter.  Yep, I forgot to tighten the banjo bolt on the top of the fuel filter.  At least I knew for sure that the was no air in the system.  This was an important moment for the project.  There were no longer any doubts that this car was going to be my personal 1G; the one I've been waiting years to build.  I instantly felt emotionally attached to it and it looked better too.  However, the improved looks of the car may have had to do with the BMW Bottle cap wheels that I had acquired and installed only weeks before. As I starred at the car in the driveway, running, and with new wheels, I knew she was the one and it was time to get serious.

In the next part of this build post, I'll cover the next steps I took to get the GEN ONE build road worthy, as well as a horrific discovery I made shortly after celebrating the success of getting it running.  Stay tuned!


  1. Brother it is so cool for you to post this.

  2. Thank you! I hope it'll inspire those struggling through their own projects to keep going.