Recommended Reading for car builders

Here is a list of books that might be of interest to persons designing and building cars:

  • Don Alexander's "Performance Handling" from 1991
    "Peterson's Basic Chassis, Suspension, and Brakes", 1970
    "How To Modify Your Mini" by David Vizard, 1977
    Paul Van Valkenburgh's "Race Car Engineering and Mechanics", 1992 ed.
    "Theory and Practice of Chassis Tuning" by Norbye, 1972
    "Chassis Engineering" by Herb Adams, 1993
    "Race Car Fabrication and Preparation" by Steve Smith, 1977
    "New Directions in Suspension Design" by Colin Campbell, 1981
    "The Complete Handbook of Front Wheel Drive Cars" by Norbye, 1979
    "Competition Car Suspension" by Allan Staniforth, 1991
    "The Anatomy & Development of the Sports Prototype Racing Car" by
    Ian Bamsey, 1991
    "The Car and Its Wheels - A Guide To Modern Suspension Systems" by
    Norbye, 1980
    "Steering, Suspension, and Tyres" by JG Giles, 1968
    "Advanced Race Car Suspension Development" by Steve Smith, 1974
    "Racing Car Design and Development" by Terry and Baker, 1973
    "Racing and Sports Car Chassis Design" by Costin and Phipps, 1961
    "Fundamentals of Vehicle Dynamics" by Gillespie, 1992
    "The Sports Car: Its Design and Performance" by Campbell, 1978

How to align your car – Cheap and easy!

Credit for this technique goes to Stefan Mullikin, who described this very straightforward method of alignmet on the Grassroots Motorsports Forum

Start by getting the car level, side to side, front and rear using a long builders level. Once that’s done, mark the spots for the shims and the car on the floor of the garage so that you know where to put the car and the shims every time.

Use the cmaber gauge to find set the camber setting you want. Next set up the jack stands at the four corners of the car. I usually go about 24″ past the car front and rear and about 12″ outside. Just make a perfect rectangle with the car centered in the rectangle. Mark the spots for the jackstands.

Now, tie some string form the front jack stand to the rear jack stand. Make sure its tight. Finally using a good ruler or tape measure, measure the distance between the leading and trailing edges of the wheels. This will give a number for the toe. ADjust the toe to your liking and make the mark.

Its time consuming, but worht it since you can make changes based on how the car is reacting or what the weather is doing without spending a bunch of money each time. Though sometimes fi you can find a good shop that knows a little about suspension tuning it might be helpful to pick their brains.

Just remember to just go slowly and after every adjustment roll the car back and forth, bouncing the suspension to settle the suspension out.

La Bala appears in GrassRoots Motorsports Magazine

I’d like to extend a big welcome to all the people visiting my site from Grassroots Motorsports Magazine! GRM is one of my all-time favorite magazines and not just because my car has been listed as Internet Car of the Month for August 2004!

I was very happy and quite suprised when I received an email from the editor of GRM asking if they could use my car as Internet.Car of the Month. This considering that the car is only finished to the frame and I still have the bodywork to go. I’ve had a lot of people say that the car has a pretty shape, even with her clothes off.

The good press just serves to motivate me even more to finish the car and to make it as absolutely inexpensive as possible while still maintaining a hi-performance envelope to it. Those are my goals, cheap AND good!

IRS vs DeDion Rear suspension

My car uses a deDion rear axle. (photo) It behaves like a live axle in that the two rear wheels are always parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. But unlike a traditional live axle, the differential is not carried on the axle and is not part of the unsprung weight. Instead the differential is attached to the frame (or in my case the engine) and power is carried to the hubs via traditional half-shafts. The benefit is a much lighter unsprung assembly than a traditional live axle.

A number of people have written to me in the past concerned about my decision to use a deDion rear suspension for my car. I have been over this so many times it makes my head hurt.

Let me say that although there are definite advantages to a properly designed IRS, the first time builder, or the builder that doesn’t have the resources (read money) to refine and develop an IRS, will almost certainly achieve better results with a deDion. The interaction between the driven wheels and the chassis is an extremely complex one, the car pitches and dives and rolls and with IRS under bump or droop the driven wheels change camber and toe. At the same time, the rubber is expected to provide acceleration and lateral grip. There are so many variables! And to complicate things even more, the IRS needs to be designed in harmony with the front suspension. Without years of design experience or even a computer program to aid simulations I simply couldn’t take the chance that whatever IRS I designed would work correctly the first time out. A Chapman Strut (FYI – in the front of a car it’s called McPherson and it steers, in the rear it’s called Chapman and it’s locked) includes a height penalty that I can’t design around. The beauty of the deDion is it’s ability to maintain the driven wheels perpendicular to the road surface under all conditions. Granted, on a rough road surface the well designed IRS wins hands down, but on a smooth surface there are absolutely no benefits to IRS and in fact the deDion is the winner. In that sense most people are being sold a “bill of goods” with regards to the superiority of IRS. Some of the most agile and best handling cars have been deDion (or) live axle. Alfa Romeo, TVR, Caterham, Lotus. It’s a long list! Because of it’s simplicity, a live axle can be brought up to an excellent state of performance very quickly. Another reason, for me at least, was packaging. In a transverse mid-engine application, the drivetrain sits squarely where the best location for IRS links go. deDion simply goes around it. In the end it was a no-brainer for me to use the deDion on my first scratch built car.

About La Bala

La Bala is a low-compromise, from the ground-up, new car. It is built using an early model Toyota MR2 powertrain. The reality is that there are many other donor choices available that may actually be better suited to lightweight vehicle construction. At this point though, construction is far along and won’t change in the original prototype. The idea is to make the car as inexpensively as possible and yet make it look like a million bucks and go like stink. I am doing this by thinking creatively and doing much of the work myself.

What inspired me to build la Bala? Ferdinand Porsche, when asked about why he started building cars said, “I couldn’t find the car of my dreams, so I decided to build it myself.” Well, I simply have not been able to find a car sold stateside that combines light weight performance motoring with good looks AND low cost. Light weight, looks good, costs little and goes like stink… Can you name one? Didn’t think so.

It seems to me that lately that production cars are really suffering from “feature-creep”. Every year the manufacturer assumes that they have to add more “stuff” to last years model so that the people feel that they are getting an improved model. Just look at the Mitsu Eclipse or the Miata… They are perfect examples of feature creep. You can certainly buy an economical car, but it’s a slug in every sense of the word. You can’t buy an economical car that provides what sport bike riders get doses of every day; Big performance with bare essential trimmings. I just want a car that looks good, is extremely light, has race level safety features and goes like stink. And while I’m at it, it should get close to 40mpg around town.

I want a vehicle that feels connected to the road, that vibrates and gurgles and reacts to my thoughts. I want to create a visceral experience out of steel and rubber. I want to grin from ear to ear as I enjoy the beauty of a perfectly carved line up some back canyon road. Reason enough? I think so.

Who designed and is building the Bala? This car is designed by me and is being constructed by myself – alone – in my 2 car garage on weekends and some weekday evenings. Every custom part has been designed by myself and then fabricated using simple hand tools. The chassis is my design, the suspension is my design, the body is my original design. I used the book “Tune to Win” by Carroll Smith as a guideline for the suspension geometry and with assistance from Alan Bertwistle. Alan has been a true inspiration and great help. Even though we are across the country (USA) from each other, he has always been willing to answer my questions with truly useful information. Check out his car, the Meerkat. The only custom fabricated part not made by myself are the front suspension balljoint pucks, which were machined on a lathe by a local machinist. I also find that the Locost_Theory and Locost_North_America Yahoo Groups are a great source of inspiration and camaraderie with like-minded folks.

What other experience do I have with cars? My Velo Rossa was the first experience I had with car building. After that project made the cover of Kit Car Magazine and won some trophies, I spent many, many hours of my personal time answering technical questions and providing valuable sales support for John and the beautiful Velo Rossa Ferrari 250 GTO replica. You would not believe the amount of interest my participation in the Velo Rossa project back in 1999 still generates to this day! You can check out John’s business at I hope you all enjoy my website.