The rear axle of the Talon Wasn’t very hard to mock-up. The four-link bracketry had three inch holes in the middle of the four identical brackets for an axle tube. Well, as luck would have it, I had a three inch exhaust on the Talon previously that I had taken out of the car. The exhaust was getting pretty rough, being about five years old, so it wasn’t going to be going back on this Talon, or any DSM anyway. I broke out the Sawzall, and went to town on a large straight piece of former-exhaust-pipe. After I got that squared away, I took the four-link brackets, and persuaded them onto the mock-up axle. After that, we welded some flimsy little hubs onto it, complete with three bolts on each to hold the new wheels and slicks, and then placed it all in the car where we wanted the wheels to ultimately sit. Why’d we do this, instead of using a real axle? Weight and width. The real axle weighs considerably more than the mock up axle did, and would be a bit more unruly to work with trying to mock the rear suspension dimensions. That, and we didn’t have an axle to work with at the time. In addition to that stuff, we didn’t yet know how wide the axle needed to be, and a full width axle would have been far too wide.
There was a lot of stuff in the car that needed to be removed. Most of it was originally permanent. Back in 2001, my father and I installed a mild steel roll cage – it was a five-point, and was pretty beastly. The cage rested on top of the stock factory equivalent to what you’d consider to be the crossmember on a car with a frame. In the Talon, it’s the front most part of the rear seat. In any case, this part (and the rollcage, because it was mounted there) had to be removed in order to install the new rear frame. The other thing that had to be removed was the floorpan – I don’t know about you, but I had never removed a floorpan from a unibody car before. So, how would I go about doing that? Saw-zall. :-) It worked great. I purchased a saw-zall a few years ago for various Talon projects, and it totally fit the bill. I also had an angle grinder and some cutting discs for it that worked where I couldn’t put the Saw-zall. In any case, I went to town tearing both the rollcage, and the floorpan out of the rear part of the car.
It was a very good learning experience. Now I know why these cars weigh what they do from the factory (they’re 3100-ish pounds) – there are layers upon layers of steel in the car that I didn’t know about. Everything was spot welded – everywhere. It took a long time to really get the ass end of the car cleaned up to the point where it was just down to some framerail, and a little bit of floorpan welded to the framerails. When that happened, though, then it hit me. This frame is holding *everthing* up. Cutting the frame out would severely compromise the rest of the rear end of the car. So, how would I support the ass end in multiple locations while this thing was being disassembled?
Well, that roll cage really came in handy. I took the cage, welded it back in the car about a foot forward of the location it was in, and then triangulated everything in the back of the car to the cage to support everything. Yes, it sounds ghetto. Yes, it worked very well, so shaddup ;-) I don’t see *you* building a rear drive :-o Once I was sufficiently satisfied with the bracing in the back of the Talon, I cut the frame out from under the new angle iron jungle gym. The frame came out easily, and without incident. Cake, right?
Turning the engine sideways so that we’d be able to get the power to the rear wheels wasn’t too big an ordeal, but it was something that was a bit errie. I mean here I’ve got this car, my car, and I’m cutting the shit out of it. It just didn’t seem right at times, but it was still amusing. Most of the time I wasn’t too freaked out by actually cutting up the car – My general thought was “Eh, it’s just steel, I can weld more abck in if I need to.” We weren’t quite sure which transmission to use – Mark was all about a transmission with a lockup convertor, and I wanted to use a TH350 or TH400. I was more about the TH400, but talking to some Chevy guys, learned that the TH350, if built well, would handle all the torque I could throw at it. Through a friend, I picked up a TH350 on trade for some other work. It was cheap, and even if I didn’t end up using it, I would still be able to use it for mockup purposes. The TH400 would potentially be a little longer, but the TH350 worked for now. Here’s the cool thing: The way the rear crossmember, and the rear differential sat in the car, we would have a 0 degree angle on the pinion, and a 0 degree angle on the transmission… but only if we used mounted the engine in the car ~4″ lower than it was previously. Was that even possible? Well, not with the stock oil pan, but that’s okay, because the stock pan had to go. What’s even better is that the stock cam gears cleared the hood, so we wouldn’t even have to cut up the hood, or install a cowl or anything like that. It’d sit tightly under the factory steel, with a little room to spare. In addition to that, the ass end of the car was also spec’d out to sit at stock right height, even though the new slicks were 29.5″ tall, ~6″ taller than the stock tires on the car. All this is in fact intertwined with how we’d turn the engine 90 degrees, so that it sat “right” in the engine bay, in V-8 terms, anyway. We needed to make sure we had room, the engine could sit level, center, and square in the car. So, all those other things I just mentioned played a large factor in that. Once we did all that, we had the engine and transmission on a hoist, ready to weld in place. So, it was time to figure out mounting locations. The engine plate would end up being the mid-mount for the engine / transmission, with a bar going across the front for a front engine mount, and a bar going under the tailshaft of the transmission as the rear engine mount. Now, mind you, this was a good chunk of the weight of the car. Altogether, this stuff probably weighed in excess of 500 pounds. In addition to that, the engine was expected to make torque like whoa, so It’d need to be able to handle that. So, since the mid plate was so hefty, we decided to use that as the main engine mount. We welded tabs to the midplate so that the entire assembly would bolt up to the engine mounts without an issue. After that, we constructed some solid mounts out of some 1/8″ 1018 mild steel. They’re solid! We cut and welded the main pieces of steel for the mid mount, and then created the chromoly front engine mount, and rear engine mount, also out of chromoly tubing. That stuff is 1-1/4″ .065″ wall, I think (It’s been a while.) After that, we finished up the mid mounts by boxing them in, and painted them up for a nice finish :-)
So, Where do you begin with a project like this? At the beginning, of course ;-) Seriously, though – you begin at Outback on a cold winter night with a good friend (Mark Hessler, in my case) that’s willing to prod you in the ass to get things moving. I was waffling about what to do to the car next. TRE Transmission? Magnus Dogbox? Even with those options, I wouldn’t be confortable with the breakage that I think I’d end up with. Okay, what other alternatives? ‘Change the driveline completely’ was the only other one that came to mind. I remember the first year Dave Buschur had his RWD first gen at the shootout. I loved the matte black look that the car had, but even moreso, I liked that dave had back-halved the car. Since then, I’ve wanted a RWD Talon. Nobody should ever say “no” to “let’s do it”, unless you’re talking about dirty women. And I mean dirty as in infected, not dirty as in naughty. So, that was about it. I brought it up to Mark, he replied with “make it rear wheel drive” and after some waffling, decided to go for it. Cake. Alright, not so simple. It was about like that, and then the napkin drawing started. We started pondering exactly what would be required to actually produce this new chassis, and then to get the engine turned the right way, and then get everything else squared away. We asked ourselves some questions like “what are the goals for the car?” and “can I live off Ramen noodles for a year?” … you know, the important stuff. After deciding that I didn’t need the money anyway, we got down to business. What were the goals for the car? Power? Configuration? What would we use to accomplish these goals? Would we be able to take on a project like this? How long would it take? Goals for the car? 8.50’s. On a 10.5″ tire. Power?: 850 horse. It’d be nice to have that to the wheels, but there are some power hungry components. Well, I really mean there’s a convertor with lots of loss. So, I’m okay if it’ll whip out 850 at the crank. That should be close to 8.50’s if there isn’t too much loss in the convertor. Configuration? Yeah, RWD. We’re using a Chevy 10 bolt rear end, stuffed with lots of racing goodies :-) Accomplishing these goals? Time, Money, the ability to fabricate, and the dedication to getting it done. We’re working on all those as we build the car ;-) Taking on a project like this? Looking back, even though I didn’t consider myself naive then, I still didn’t know it would take quite as much of everything that it has. How long will it take? We’re about a year into it. I’m sure it’d already be done, had we kept the pace that we did up for six months. That just isn’t possible, though. Mark and I typically spent 30 hours a week on the car, in addition to having full time jobs. It gets old after six months, no matter how “worth it” it is.