haven't updated the Blog in many months, and it seems like a lifetime
ago looking back. So much has transpired since the last entry, it's
almost impossible to condense into just a few paragraphs...but I will
the N360 project was low on funds, and although we were
excited to continue forth (after rectifying some of the earlier design
flaws) other (paying) jobs took precedence. Also the fact that we were served a
notice stating that the shop property would be auctioned due to
foreclosure, was another reason for concern. Not the best time to
attempt such a build, and under the stress of what transpired
Cody and I were unhappy working together. we've known each other and
worked together (off and on) for almost fifteen years. (think: "brothers"...you can
imagine it now?) We both had very different ideas of what direction to
take things...but in the end, as always, it was my decision to make. so I hustled my ass off to beg, borrow, and do everything
but steal...& bought the property at auction. In hindsight, I
now realize It was the nail in the coffin of my working relationship
The following six months were pretty horrible. We continued
to take on fabrication jobs (the mortgage and multiple loans now
looming) I did some subcontract work for Scott
Babsin at Kustom Kar audio & took on another major chassis
build/retrofit (the LS2/SR20 '58 Triumph wagon...more on that later) but
the energy for the N360 that we had so eagerly cultivated and nurtured
during the initial chassis design stages had choked down to a pathetic
dribble. The animosity between us was evident. We would need to travel
the next stretch of road alone.
Unfortunately the N360, like many
'good ideas' was also lacking some other major components beyond a positive motivated team. money
being the largest of the lacking components. Our funding dwindled (as of
feb 2010, we'd really only spent about 1/3 the projected budget) and
the cold hard reality was undeniable. you cannot build a 50,000$ car
with a 15,000$ budget. (sorry, but used parts and free labor only go so far)...nor do long overtime days without a collective positive attitude work.
I hope that Nick & Cody can find the means (..& lord knows I'll do my best to help!) to continue & ultimately finish the N360, it still holds a lot of potential and the ability to showcase the work we are capable of. It still is and always will be a 'Hectors' build.
The story of the "Nikolai360" E.V. (1969 Honda N360 electric conversion) - written by Forrest Koogle
scroll down for current progress!
the N360s come home to Hectors
For years we have desired to take on an interesting
and innovative E.V. conversion project. Toying with notions from lightweight
three wheeled scratch built, to conventional ‘plug and play’ installations….but
none of these admittedly costly and time consuming projects ever gained
traction beyond ‘after work beer’ conversation. (Yielding nothing more than
good ideas and a couple ‘near sells’ to potential customers that eventually
backed out) We were pretty much back to “if you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately,
this was impossible within the Hectors budget at that time.
street legal? yup.
I’ve always had a soft spot for early ‘Kei’ vehicles. Sold
in countries other than the U.S, they are size and engine restricted (under
11ft, long and 4 1/2 ft. wide, with a maximum displacement of 660cc) and
really…dare I say it? “cute”.
being an avid watcher of ebay and craigslist, it was only a matter of time
before the right deal came along, and vintage Kei cars would be showing up on
trailers in the hectors parking lot, as did the pair of Japanese market, right
hand drive, n360s. One of which, was sold (to another vintage Honda enthusiast)
prior to making the deal to purchase both, as to offset the initial cost of the
donor that (unbeknownst to us at the time) would eventually become the
The two N360s sat around the shop collecting dust,
until the running and drivable black car was sent off to it’s new home, and the
white ‘NIII “S” (the “S” or “sport” model, came equipped with factory dual port
head, twin carbs, and factory tachometer) awaited it’s fate. in the course of
the months to follow, the Hectors crew stayed busy with many a project, and
between our audio/video installation, race car fabrication, and other odd
customers, there was a common interest in the little N360. Everyone loved it,
especially our old friend Nikolai. He reminisced about another small Honda that
I had sold him a few years earlier, a 1977 CVCC hatch. white with tan interior.
(same as the remaining N360!) the CVCC met it’s fate on a sleepy late night
drive up the coast, leaving the car in unrepairable condition, and Nick with a
broken sternum and three broken ribs…as well as an empty place in his heart
where the little Honda once was. He longed for another machine of such
intelligent design and understated beauty…we knew he was one of the few people
who could truly appreciate this vehicle. It was a match made in vintage JDM
heaven…and right from the start, he wanted it electric.
and it's a BIG one!
One of our mottos here at Hectors is: “we can do
anything.” and in retrospect, when
first embarking upon the N360 build, neither Cody or myself had any idea how
far we could push this statement. In the months to follow, we gained a more
finite understanding of the limits of our tools, our shop, and our minds. There
is little doubt that after completion of this project, we could conceivably
build a complete modern performance vehicle chassis, body, and interior, from
scratch, within the Hectors facility.
most of our jobs start out, we were on a budget. Not simply to build it as
cheap as possible, but to have a reserve for the unexpected, to upgrade where
needed, and to keep in mind “it’s a forty year old Honda!” Of course, I was
pushing for a performance oriented A/C build (as my earlier research had me
sold on the attributes of this powerplant, and we all agreed this would be the
‘best case scenario’) many ideas were tossed around, and after much back and
forth, (from in-line rear-mid A/C motor direct driven to an independent rear
LSD, to using a complete ‘ZAP’ truck rear differential mounted D/C drivetrain)
we eventually gave in to the plan of using as much of the existing drivetrain
as possible. (For the simple fact that although we were completely capable of
executing all of these options, this was admittedly, our FIRST E.V. conversion.
EVER…..and we wanted to actually finish it) Transversely mounted front D/C
motor. front wheel drive. upgrade the front brakes, use much of the fabrication
budget for engine/trans coupling, mounting, and the component racks and battery
sheet metal work. we would remove the head from the motor, disassemble the
crankshaft, mount the electric motor where the head once was, and drive a
custom dummy crankshaft via an adjustable cog belt, to utilize the stock output
into the clutch and trans assembly…easy! Until we looked a little closer.
"definitely NOT going to fit."
A few people have done similar conversions to this, and we
found out about them in subsequent research. unfortunately, none of these
conversions are designed to withstand much of a power increase. by using the
stock clutch, transmission and CVs, you are limited to somewhere near the
original engines horsepower rating (31hp). That would not do. between Nick's
expected use of the vehicle (windy coastal roads) and our ingrained desire for
performance, we needed to more than double that number. It began to look like a
much larger undertaking than originally expected, and we truthfully did not
want to get involved in something fueled by a mediocre plan from the start. it
would not be worthy of our time, or our moral standards of modification. the
plan would need major reworking and a budget increase before the first wrench
could be turned..
from the beginning, we would build it around the wheels.
At this point, we had a lot of other jobs going, and as we
stalled on the E.V. conversion,
we were back to interior fabrication work, a big
subcontracted design and build project for Wes Shirley and Rich Clark, of
Enriched mobile electronics, in a ’69 chevelle. Romanced by local carshow
deadlines, and a guaranteed ‘SEMA’ debut in the ‘Zapco car audio’ booth, we
would put the N360 off for a couple of months until the chevelle was completed.
working diligently for six weeks, from ‘Hectors’ designed drawings, Cody and
myself built elaborate multi-piece interior components from fiberglass,
plastics and MDF, to be finished in satin black paint, textile fabrics, and
trimmed in chrome (Due to circumstances beyond our control, the project was
halted mid-stride, as Enriched mobile electronics went through a much needed
restructuring…needless to say, Wes Shirley’s Chevelle is still unfinished)
unfinished interior "mocked up"
Wes Shirley's '69 Chevelle
But this was just a mild hiccup for Cody and myself,
as we had begun a business relationship subcontracting fabrication work for
Noah and Adam Levey of L.I.C. motorsports in Novato, a Subaru-specific tuning
shop. after a few initial jobs, Noah contacted me about making some major
modifications to their shops ‘Time Attack’ Subaru STI race car, and was on a
tight schedule to campaign the car for the remaining race events of the season.
It needed A LOT of work to be competitive. Cody and I went back and forth on
the commitment….we had put Nick and the E.V. off for almost two months at this
point, and now there was internal turmoil between us due to my enthusiasm to
take on yet another thing. And this thing was a big undertaking.
fiberglass fender flare mold process
Hectors sponsored LIC time attack STI
after five straight weeks on the LIC car, it rolled
out of our shop awaiting it’s new 550hp motor, with Hectors designed and built
one-off custom fiberglass fender flares (requiring extensive body modification
to accommodate huge tires) a custom adjustable aluminum rear wing mounting
system, custom composite front aerodynamic components
(splitter/canards/wingets) and a custom control center dash insert. As
expected, the Subaru enthusiast community was more than pleased with our
offering. The subsequent success (both visually and literally, in race results)
of our work on the LIC race car yielded more distractions from continuing work
on the E.V, but it also gave us new insight into our approach, and admittedly,
with yet another job under our belt, we had added confidence behind the Hectors
“We can do anything” motto. so
finally, after almost four months, we would once again begin work on the E.V.
At this point, I was pretty consumed with the details of
keeping our high performance Subaru customers happy, and Cody took the reigns
with Nick and the EV project.
After many phone conversations, they were finally ready to
start ordering parts for the EV. That’s when it happened. “what if…we go
A.C?”…. Numbers were crunched, specifications were analyzed…and although the
efficiency, drivability, and benefit of regenerative braking were all quite
attractive, for budget constraint reasons the answer was: “it’s gonna be D.C.”
They researched to find a simple solution for the drivetrain, retaining the FWD
layout. After much debate, the VW rabbit transaxle was found to be the most
compact, yet when set up properly (I.E, good clutch and limited slip differential)
quite robust. Many VW-based conversions had been done before, and there would
be lots of parts and information readily available. Countless phone calls,
calculations, and measurements later, the orders were placed.
motors “Warp 9” series-wound D.C.
motor, coupled to a 1985 Volkswagen GTI transaxle, powered by ten Kinetik 16
volt deep-cycle gel-cell batteries, via a LogiSystems 1000 amp controller.
We would have the adjustability to squeeze out as many miles per
charge as possible, as well as the ability to ‘crank up the wick’ so to speak,
and generate ample wheelspin. ( = FUN.)
It wasn’t until three weeks later, with motor and trans in
our possession, that the realization occurred. Although it could physically fit in the engine bay, we would have to
sacrifice greatly. Weight distribution, (resulting in a high center of gravity)
track width, (requiring massive flares to get the steering angles without
interference) and firewall modification.(limiting passenger compartment
comfort) With this new information assessed, it took Cody and I all of about
five minutes to convince ourselves. Go to a smaller motor? A different
transaxle? There was no other logical choice, and after a surprisingly brief
conversation with Nikolai, it was unanimous. We would keep the existing
components, and we would get our wish. It would be rear wheel drive. (once
Rear-mid engine, rear wheel drive.
We pretty much immediately began cutting into the
unsuspecting little Honda. Cringe or rejoice, the first cut marked a symbolic
moment. The car would never ‘go back to stock’… and it would never again
consume from the gas pump.
our plan consisted of this:
Remove the sheet metal we knew would be in the way. set the track width and ride height according to the correct visual orientation of wheels and tires, build the suspension geometry from the 'static' hub location, accounting for desired travel.
O.E.M wheels/tires: 10x5 145/R/10
Nikolai360 staggered fitment: front 13x6 175/50/13 rear 13x7 215/50/13
ride height mock-up
(the following is an email I sent to the folks at Ground Control, in an attempt to get them up to speed on the suspension build requirements & recommend the proper spring rates and dampeners. it is a fairly accurate synopsis of the configuration to date):
This is going to be a road-driven, maybe autocrossed a few times a year, show car. I would like it to have 5+ inches of suspension travel from droop to bump stop.
We have removed the drivetrain, and are converting it to a rear-midship with a warp 9 dc electric motor coupled to a cable shifted 1985 VW GTI race preped 5 spd w/ LSD, transversley mounted into a full tube-subframe back-half. The rear independent suspension setup is comprised of 1984 VW rabbit front hubs (to take the input from shortened gti CVs) three lower adjustable triangulated arms (trailing/lateral links) and the original VW front strut housing (now, no longer a pivoting macpherson, but a 'chapman') mounted into an upper strut tower hoop (tying the subframe together over the top and into the roll cage hoops)
The front, we are once again emulating the VW suspension (it was cheap, consistent with the rest of the build, and we're going from a 7" drum to a 9.5" disk) we've made a removable front subframe, tying in the unibody and lower control arm mounting points, brought the pivot points up (to allow us a good bump-steer angle without the need of spacers) and relocated the lower strut mount 4" higher on the strut housing tube (we no longer have clearance issues with a CV axle in the front)... I believe this will allow us to not be required to shorten the strut tubes and run a shorter-stroke strut. So we can basically go with off the shelf VW rabbit specific stuff all the way around. If the strut tube is moved down 4", and our springs lower the height by 2", then we turn a 20" strut assembly into a 14". Which is our target height, front and rear.
The car will have 500lbs of batteries between the engine compartment racks and the rear (400lbs in the front, and a 300lb motor/ trans, along with 100 lbs of batteries in the rear) Hitting a target weight of 1750 lbs with the cage, full interior, and electronics. (It originally weighed 1150 lbs, and had all of the drivetrain weight in the front) The camber plates should work with the rabbit -specific struts, but we are making custom upper mounts, so if we can run 3 or 4 hole, and have more adjustment, that would be great. We may go through a few sets of springs before we figure out the rates, and my customer is okay with that...maybe we could get them offeset a bit, and therefore having more to choose from. Or perhaps order 8 springs, in sets of two, 50lb increments of difference... And the struts?... Whatever you recommend. We're open to suggestions.
We also are shortening GTI swaybars for mock-up, and would like to find someone to send them to to make new ones.. Addco? Who might you reccomend?...
thank you very much for your time, -Forrest @Hectors
front crossmember fabrication
sheet metal manipulation
control arms mounted into triangulated crossmember
in order to accommodate the new (much bigger) wheels and tires...
the new sheet metal would allow us to achieve 32+ degrees of steering angle. better than most production vehicles (and as good as many purpose-built drift cars)
stitching up the inner wheel wells
through this process there were many lessons learned, and some important rules of automotive restoration that we were continually reminded of.... like: "you can't weld to rust." ...unfortunately, after nearly forty years on the Island of Japan, the shell had its share of rot. we would cut, grind and replace it with hand-formed patch panels welded into where the original good metal was left, until there was once again a solid base to build off of.
crossmember and control arms installed
sheet metal wheel tubs installed, modified strut tower build next.
waiting on suspension components!
we received our suspension components from Ground Control, and suddenly had no excuses. once the front strut towers where built, the final geometry would be in place to calculate the rear subframe build.
just like Christmas morning!
sharp tools and ample lube
thanks to our friend Eddie Fulkerson from Western auto body, we had in our possession an important tool for the build. a beautiful hydraulic tubing bender. it would play a key part in the suspension and subframe design.
strut tower build in progress
Admittedly, I've never built a racecar suspension from scratch before...but after modifying countless existing suspension designs, as well as reading numerous books on the subject, I felt that we were up for the task. although Cody had less experience in this realm than myself, he played a crucial role in helping to solidify the final design, as well as someone to double-check the equations and reasoning behind them. the end result is a narrowed, and highly modified version of a VW GTI front, and the rear is a homogenization of Subaru STI and formula-one inspired geometry, using VW parts, and custom control arms and links. Everything is very easily adjustable, and allows for quick change of Camber, Castor, Toe, Dampening, and Ride height.
cardboard templates test fit for sheet metal
with something as important as the handling characteristics of the vehicle, every measurement and angle must be taken into account. Laser levels, conventional levels, angle gauges, micrometers, tape measures, squares, plumb bobs, and a little bit of voodoo... all utilized to assure proper geometry.
note the asymmetry of the engine bay: there was original design provisions to accommodate a spare tire in the top LH corner.
strut towers w/ camber plate position mocked-up
Nikolai paints hubs and brake components after media blasting
Cody plasma-cuts rear subframe bulkhead mounts
while I was completely submerged in the front suspension build, Cody began preparations for the rear subframe and wheel-well tub fabrication. Surgically removing the original wheel wells, sectioning the inner mounting flange and relocating it upwards by three inches. Effectively creating the correct attachment point for our new fabricated tubs, and allowing for the wheels to visually be swallowed by the rear quarter panels. ( a tough, yet sexy look...we think.) Also adding to the aggressive finished product, and allowing us to package the (relatively) wide tires within the confines of the body, we plan to cut along the top edge of the outer wheel well flange, maintaining it's shape and integrity, remove a crescent-shaped section of metal above it, and manipulate it outwards until the desired width is achieved. patching back over the void with welded-in, hand-formed steel flares. NOT fiberglass and bondo.
rear shell braced up and under the knife
Rear subframe, tubs, and suspension fabrication next!
We've added new content and details to earlier blog posts, so there may be updates you've missed! check back soon for current pictures of the finished front suspension, and in-progress shots of the rear build!
our custom built strut housings assembled with koni adjustable dampeners, GC adjustable spring cups, and Eibach 175lb. springs.
(...waiting on calipers)
with the front roughed-in, and coated with etch-prime, we were now ready to focus on the rear suspension build
at this point, we were working with very little of the original car.
shrinking, stretching, and generally manipulating.
we were determined to construct a new rear wheel well that would both accommodate the 215/50/13 tires, and create much of the strength that was lost by removing all of the original sheet metal, save the quarter panel outer skin.
Cody stands back to admire his work. the sheet metal tubs installed.
attempting to gain as much usable space inside the body for the tubs (and hence keeping the flares looking as 'streetable' as possible...also good for parking in tight spaces) we would measure the motor/trans assembly, give ourselves a quarter inch on either side, and build the tubs to fit... and fit they did.
from inside the N360...
suspension links mocked up..
building rear lower suspension knuckles
lower A-arm/ hub assembly
unfortunately there are many details of our recent progress that I have glossed over, or left out completely, in an attempt to get all these new images uploaded without consuming too much of my very limited free time. I will be back on here again uploading new photos and filling in the text where needed. We're looking forward to building the suspension and engine/trans mounting subframe over the next week. It should be a fun and challenging step, undoubtedly pushing our engineering and creative abilities... the vehicle should really take shape here soon!
well, it's been a while since an update.. not that we haven't been steadily moving forward, in fact we've been moving forward in leaps and bounds! unfortunately, there seems to be little visual indication of such. I could explain the deep intricacy of chemical processes that convert rust to an inert substance (of which Cody and I are admittedly skeptical) but the current stages of fabrication are probably more interesting.
Chicken before the egg?
I must take this time for a disclaimer. Our approach, our choice in components, materials, and ultimately our technique, has all been tinted to some extent by our budget and time constraints. From the chassis itself, to the eventual drivetrain layout. all compromise. We're just working with what we've got. (skills included) That said, we are learning a LOT.
Nikolai and Cody work to re-index the motor in the correct location for wiring and mounting
we have battled the rust in this Chassis since the beginning. I was attempting to downplay this fact to save everyone the constant complaints, but there is no denying. This thing spent almost forty years on the island of Japan. It's rusty. We're dealing with it. Sandblasing, grinding, gouging and cutting it out, fabricating patch panels, welding it back together. Slathering all adjacent panels with POR-15, and crossing our fingers.
inserting micro-contoured patch-panels, and stitching up the entire rear wheel well-to-quarter panel seam
fresh sheet metal. it's a beautiful day.
remember our 3" upward relocation of the wheel well? a lot of metalwork, some filler, blocking, and primer coats later...you'd have to look hard to spot the seam.
cut, ground, bent, stitched, sanded, seam sealed, primed....and still no floor.
Parts. sandblasted, cleaned, etch-primed, scotchbrited, cleaned, primed, cleaned, and topcoated.
Much of the tubular upper strut tower assembly you see here will
have additional support members and gussets. This is simply a 'Starting
front tubular member tied into unibody bulkhead. (gussets next)
the upper strut towers & camber plates, mocked up with wheels in place. the car will soon be on the ground, supporting it's own weight! (lower control arm mounts and subframe cradle next!)
still a ways off, but it's a Friday deserving of a beer.
After a brief hiatus, (winter holidays & a few short-term jobs) we have once again commenced work on the Nikolai360, and after much design and re-design, this 'removable rear subframe' that I keep ranting about has begun to materialize.
after much discussion, measurements and drawings, we had to start somewere
a part of our plan from the beginning, it was time to start reinforcing the chassis
the beginning of our subframe, test fit.
I must take a moment to fill everyone in....admittedly, our distractions from the Honda weren't all negative. Over the last two weeks we have already begun working on our NEXT vintage Japanese EV conversion. (Scheduled for extensive retrofit within days of the Nikolai360s summer 2010 show debut) Now referred to as "The Green-E", a 1971 Datsun 510 station wagon. the platform is well known and loved here at Hectors and much of the initial chassis upgrades are compulsory modifications required in the transformation from antique grocery-getter to modern performance vehicle. (especially when it's been sitting in a barn for 17 years, as this wagon was)
The Greene-E: our next EV conversion!
our 510 wagon rehabilitation plan consisted of: An extensive drivetrain inspection and service (requiring replacing or upgrading just about every moving part: bearings, bushings, hydraulic and fuel systems, retrofitting 280zx struts, coilovers, camber plates and big brakes, among other details) as well as an interior freshen-up including new bucket seats....& obviously, the wheels.
the 510 wagon "Green-E" gets the required upgrades
We're obviously excited with the plans behind our next project, and soon I'll be starting another Blog highlighting the progress as it develops...until then, we've got a lot of work ahead of us on the Honda!
suspension arms test-fit, and the chassis supported on it's wheels!
...the basic framework, with more support members and gussets planned
unforgiving tolerances. everywhere.
checking suspension travel & CV axle angle
at some point here I need to elaborate... there have been countless hours of research, test fitting, discussion and theorizing that has birthed this suspension configuration. At no time did we discuss the "Best" way to design an IRS...simply because we don't have the means to accomplish this. What we do have is a sideways motor and trans in the back of a car that is two-thirds the width of a normal vehicle, some junk yard parts, some nice yet "universal fitting" aftermarket performance parts, and a tight budget. That said, I think we can make it work. (it's been the "Hectors" theory all along)
at static ride height, with a slight preload.
for those of you sharp enough to spot it...the unequal steering arm length does in fact induce a minor degree of passive rear steering under cornering load, (1.5 degrees of toe at bump stop) we believe it will act upon the chassis to provide a "compliance understeer" (depending on our swaybar adjustments & stiffness)...lets hope our calculations are correct!...more updates soon, as we plan much progress in the upcoming week!
22 degrees of CV angle? unacceptable.
After much debate, our lower subframe left much to be desired... mainly correct CV axle angle. Cody and I both had different Ideas about how to remedy the multitude of problems (most of which created more problems, or just transferred the problems elsewhere)... the only thing we could agree on, was to scrap our existing part, and build a completely new lower subframe.
we mapped out the new subframe design over the existing template
And jigged it up square..
Our new lower subframe...spot on.
Once the decision was made to design and build the new part, we were both elated. We could take into account everything that created issues with the earlier design, and rectify the problems. we gained ground clearance, lessened CV angle, simplified mounting, and made a more attractive, functional, and stronger part.
Tube frame assembled
upper tube members and motor mounting assembled
Upper transaxle mount before gussets
The RH motor mount was a tricky endeavor
The shop. Thrashed.
A 'Well hung' motor
gusseted and stitched!
...With just enough room for a child's seat between the strut towers!
...Thanks again to all who have been following the blog, it has helped our motivation knowing that people are interested... and we're not alone in the madness that has birthed such a project!