Wiring for Solar

This is going to be tedious stuff, but necessary knowledge if you don’t want your solar installation going up in smoke. The voltages of most solar/battery/inverter installations are relatively easy to manage, but the currents used are not. I’ve seen all kinds of errors in installations, even from supposed professionals. I am NOT a professional, so you can rely on me to make some dumbass errors of my own. What I’m writing is the result of my research. Before you take my word for something, confirm it for yourself.

Let’s start with fuses and breakers. Most of the fuses and breakers you can pick up at the local hardware store are a bad idea for large amounts DC power–especially the breakers. Remember that alternating current passes through a 0 voltage, 0 current point 60 times a second. If the circuit breaker trips and an arc forms between the contacts it’s going to last at most for about 1/60th of a second unless the voltage of the next alternation is so far above the rating of the breaker that it can reinitiate an arc along the ionization path. Breakers have arc-quenching structures inside them to minimize the damage of opening a circuit under full fault load, but AC breakers are designed to take advantage of the short period the arc will last even if the quenching doesn’t work immediately. That doesn’t happen with a DC breaker, so the arc can persist, melt all the guts and catch the housing on fire. That’s probably not what you had in mind. Some AC breakers have a DC rating, but unless you’re prepared to dig deep into breaker specs you should simply choose a properly rated DC breaker. Which will probably be about five times what an AC breaker costs. That’s a small price to pay for not turning into a crispy critter because a cheaper breaker popped and flamed out while you slept.

I’ve also discovered that Square-D makes a series of breakers called AO or AOB that are DC rated up to 125VDC. I haven’t tried these but the price is in the $20-30 range.

Fuses also have DC issues. A fuse with too short an air gap after the fuse wire vaporizes can also turn into an arc ball. Make sure you choose a fuse that is rated for the current and voltage you are trying to interrupt. Don’t assume a 50 amp 125VAC fuse will interrupt 50amps at 40VDC. It’s not uncommon to see a 125VAC rated fuse downrated to 32VDC. Don’t guess at this.

You should fuse each set of panels on the positive leg. If you are connecting panels in series you need one fuse appropriate to the current and voltage on the combined positive leg. Panels connected in series flow the same current as one panel–only the voltage increases. In the example of my six 310 watt panels, I combined each pair in series. A single 310-watt panel with an output voltage of 40 volts delivers 7.75 amps (amps = watts/volts). Two panels in series yield 80 volts and 620 watts, but it’s still 7.75 amps. I used 10 amp in-line fuses in my installation.

It’s common to use a combiner box to house the fuses and bring all the rooftop wires and connectors into two power leads that go into the cabin and to a solar controllers. No additional fuse is required between the solar controller and the combiner box since each leg is already fused. Since I’m using two solar controllers I connected my six panels as adjoining pairs in series with the resulting three positive wires and three negative wires going directly to the solar controllers. The MC4 connectors that are typically attached to solar panels leads make it easy to connect pairs in series. Just connect one panel’s male connector to the second panel’s female connector. the remaining two leads will be one positive and one negative. You can connect prebuilt extension cables to these leads to reach your combiner box or solar controller. Most installers leave the factory-installed connectors in place and just coil up any excess wire. Cutting the wire may void the warranty. I’m not too concerned about the warranty so I made them fit with minimal wire runs to neaten things up and reduce wire losses, and added new MC4 connectors as necessary.

Wire Guage
The current-carrying capability of a wire is a function of it’s diameter. As we mentioned earlier, increasing the voltage doesn’t require heavier guage wire, though in some cases it might require better insulation. It’s unlikely you’ll encounter those cases unless you connect a lot of panels in series. The Standard UL 4703 Solar Panel Cable used for prefabbed panel wiring and extension wiring used for connecting solar panels to the controller is is rated to 600VDC. It has water- and UV-resistant insulation and connectors (MC4) suitable for exposed outdoor installations. Extension wire is generally sold as double-ended, terminated with male and female connectors. If you need two pieces 5 feet long you generally buy a 10 foot extension of the proper guage and cut it in the middle. But if you want a little color coding in your life you can buy red extension as well as the more somber black. The red extension generally has a female MC4 connector since the panel Plus side is a male connector. Extension cable is typically sold in 16, 14, 12 and 10 AWG sizes.

My panels have 14 AWG wire, which has plenty of capacity for the individual panels. But at 8 amps I’ll see a 2% voltage drop with only 4.5 feet of wire run. There’s one good reason for keeping those cable runs short. I used 12AWG for my extension cables to reduce the wire loss even though it’s not necessary for current carrying capacity.

So I have four panels feeding one MPPT controller connected to a 24 volt battery (two 12V batteries in series) and two panels feeding the second controller. The four panel set delivers 15.5 amps at 80 volts (1240 watts) to the controller . The controller converts the voltage to 24 volts and therefore delivers 51.5 amps to the batteries (1240 watts/24V = 51.5 amps) disregarding any losses. We need 6 AWG to carry that current to the battery. Note that 6AWG wire at 50 amps has a two percent voltage drop in just 5.5 feet. Got to keep those wire runs short or invest in really heavy wire.

I’m using DC breakers for the controller to battery connection. One for each of the controllers.

The battery to inverted connection is even uglier. My inverter is 6000 watt with peak watts or 18,000 watts for 20 seconds. The battery input to the inverter is 24 volts. sizing just for non-peak loads that’s 6000 watts/24 volts = 250 amps. That’s right off our little chart into /0 guage territory.

This chart doesn’t show voltage loss figures. The lengths listed are probably ten percent voltage loss numbers. I’ll be using 3/0 wire if I can keep the runs to less than ten feet, and 4/0 if I can’t.

Worse yet is the potential peak load, which is more important for fusing than for wire sizing. The most likely source of a high starting current is the air conditioner. The rated locked current load for my Mach 8 heat pump is 63 amps at 115 VAC. That’s 7245 watts, which translates to 302 amps at 24 VDC on the battery side of the inverter. It’s certainly possible to see that peak while other high-draw appliances are running, so I’d add another 100 amps to that figure to cover another 2400 watts of load, meaning I should probably fuse this wire with something like 400 amps. Or maybe more likely 300 amps of slo-blow since it should be a momentary load. I’ll also add soft start to my air conditioner.

I’ve also considered adding an ultracapacitor bank to the inverter input to smooth out demand on the batteries and give the wiring a break. Some of these whackier ideas will probably wait until I need to solve an actual problem instead of just getting out in front of one.

The next post will be about batterys and their management systems and I think I’ll be done unless people have other questions.




Solar Power for RVs

I’ve had a few questions about how and why I’m doing a solar/battery system for Fritz, what I’m using and how I chose it. This is going to be a fairly long post with a bit of math, so if you’re interested, get a cup of coffee and settle in.

Fritz is an extreme experiment. If I can make this system, sized in this way, work for Fritz, then it can be done almost anywhere. Fritz is a 1978 GMC motor coach. It’s not designed for this kind of stuff in ANY way. I’m using this coach because I appreciate the size, build quality, brilliant design, and overall character of these coaches. They’ve never been equaled. But it’s an insane platform for this experiment–which makes it perfect.

RV appliance and comfort systems haven’t changed much since the 70’s with pretty good reason: The systems work. A quick review will help the inexperienced, you veteran RVers can skip a few paragraphs.

A typical RV has a refrigerator, stove, a water heater, a furnace, and an air conditioner with propane tanks and a generator to make everything work when shore power isn’t available. The water heater is often dual-mode, gas/electric, as is the refrigerator. The furnace and stove burn propane, and the air conditioner is purely electric and may have an electric heating element to do double duty for space heating. With a few minor exceptions, all the electric components use standard 115V alternating current, just like your house.

In general, this system works fine, and many people are satisfied with it. There are some inconveniences and a few dangerous aspects, but it works. It’s good. But it’s not great, and it’s possible to do much better. Let’s start with propane. If it hadn’t been used for the last 50 years, with well-established appliances readily available, there is simply no way it would be introduced as the ideal fuel for appliances in confined spaces. It’s acceptable because it’s deployed and readily available. Lots of energy in those bottles, readily available–but also toxic and explosive. You’d have to be a little nutty to go ripping out all your propane-fueled appliances just because they might kill you, and that’s not really why I did it with Fritz, but yeah, I’m that kind of nut.

And then there are generators–gas or diesel. Generators suck. End of discussion. If you didn’t need one you’d never have it. They’re noisy, they stink, and they use a lot of fuel. It’s feasible to operate without one today, even if you’re boondocking. So that’s what I intend to do.


I think the future for RV’s is all-electric, even the drivetrain, but it will take quite some time to get there. To my knowledge, there is one low voltage compressor-type refrigerator available for RV’s, the Nova Kool refrigerators from Canada. They represent a tiny fraction of the number of adsorption-type refrigerators sold today for RV use. They are ideal for all-electric use, drawing 2.6 amps at 24vdc.

There are no commercial alternatives to propane stoves, so that little carbon monoxide headache you get after cooking dinner is likely to persist a while. I’m replacing mine with induction plates–portable, efficient, versatile and cheap. Mine can be controlled from a smartphone and serves as a slow cooker and sous vide systems with temperature control of the contents of your pot via an attached thermometer. They draw 1600 watts at 115V. We also installed a Breville Smart toaster/oven that serves well for baking. At 1800 watts (80 amps at 24VDC) it’s a nasty load. My system can accommodate it, though we’re unlikely to do much baking without shore power.

The biggest issue most people question is the air conditioner–and rightly so. AC is a near requirement for the small space of an RV, and it’s a consistent load. You can decide not to bake a pie because you don’t want to use up your battery reserve, but who wants to swelter? RV air conditioners are 115VAC systems–no one has seen fit to build a DC one yet. It’s clearly feasible, but there isn’t a market demand for it. So my system needs to accommodate that AC load. A typical Coleman Mach8 heat pump draws 16 amps at 115VAC, or 1840 watts. Ignoring small inverter efficiency losses that means 76 amps at 24VDC. Starting current is around 60 amps at 115V, so 6900 watts or 290 amps at 24VDC. Yikes. Of course, a soft-start capacitor will help with that, but I’m sizing my inverter and system to accommodate that very hefty momentary load. More on that later.

Water heating is pretty straightforward. It’s not a continuous load and the water heaters in RVs are small and reasonably efficient as long as you don’t try to use much hot water. I’m simply not going to use the gas side–electric only. Mine takes 1400 watts. Another hefty load, but you can decide when and how to use it, and even if you just leave it on all the time, the load is only what is required to make up for hot water use and heat loss. I’ve taken advantage of eliminating the gas and required venting to substantially improve the insulation.

For heat, I’m using the AC heat pump, and I’ve added an electric strip for those occasions where the outside air temperature is too low for the heat pump to work. I’m a warm weather type, I don’t think Fritz is going skiing so I don’t think this is a big concern. I could be wrong.

Summing up the appliance loads:

Continuous and Semi-Continuous loadsDC load at 24V (ignoring conversion efficiency)
Refrigerator 24VDC/2.6A = 62 watts2.6A
Heat Pump 115VAC/16A = 1840 watts 76A
Lighting: LED –trivial
Occasional loads
Stove (Induction plates) 115VAC/14A = 1600 watts67A
Oven 115VAC/16A = 1800 watts 75A
Water Heater 115VAC/12A = 1400watts58A

Turn everything on at once and it’s about 280 amps at 24V,  which is 6686 watts. That’s why I installed an AIMS 6000 Watt low-frequency pure sine inverter that can handle peak loads to 18,000 watts for up to 20 seconds (no, I’m NOT going to test that claim), and why my battery to inverter circuit is fused for 300 Amps. And obviously, this system is going to depend on a lot of solar power, and some big lithium batteries. I could do this with AGM batteries, but who would want to? Lithium batteries will last much longer with these loads, are much lighter, and are ultimately less expensive. There are some legitimate concerns about Lithium batteries, especially for those who live in the frozen north, and we’ll talk about those later.

Anyone undertaking a similar project, even one of more modest ambition, can make the same kind of calculation. Decide what the minimum size inverter should be by adding up all the loads that could be put on it. You can choose to limit the loads by having electrical distribution sub-panels that provide inverter power only to those loads you choose, or you can go for broke and size your inverter to supply everything, worst case, as I have. Big low-frequency inverters aren’t cheap, but they aren’t the monster expense they used to be. My 6000-watt inverter was about $1300.  That’s for a highly-rated inverter charger that supports multiple battery chemistries, provides automatic power transfer with a 10ms switching time, hibernates at 25 watts, and has built-in GFCI and battery prioritization. In other words, a top of the line, feature rich inverter that could provide uninterruptible power to a small house. That might not seem all that exciting to most folks, but it sets my geeky heart fluttering.

The calculations for solar panel requirements, controller size and type, and battery bank require a little more work. We’ll get to that.

Solar Stuff
The underlying rap about solar power is that it’s expensive. People still apparently think we live in 1985. The current cost per kilowatt for solar panels is about $1.00 per watt, and if you don’t simply buy panels from the handiest source they are less. I paid $126 each for nine 310 watt panels. That’s $.40 per watt. Six of the panels are going on Fritz and three will go on my Airstream race car hauler–eventually. These big panels are not typically used in RV installations–the 100-watt panels are easier to handle and install–but I’m doing something a bit different anyway, I’m not installing a few hundred watts of solar, my Fritz installation is 1860 watts. You can get good quality 100 watt panels for about $100, which is $1 per watt, and that’s a pretty remarkable price. I have no trouble remembering when panels were $20 per watt–I was working at nuclear power plants at the time and people were saying solar power was the future. I thought they were morons. Oops.

If you’re trying to do a simple installation, these are not the panels for you. They require substantial fabrication to install.

Most modern Class A RV’s have a lot more roof than a 1978 GMC motorhome. It’s feasible to do a flat installation of several thousand watts without getting too creative. And on those big flat roofs, you could avoid shading just with positioning. You could also install a tilting system to improve the angle of the sun’s rays and substantially increase panel output when the sun is not overhead or in winter months. For Fritz, I simply raised the entire installation above all the roof-mounted equipment and covered the entire roof. I could make some of the panels tilt, but the improvement in low sun angle performance would come at a cost in complexity that would only work with the rig pointed in particular directions. If I find it’s necessary, I can retrofit tilting mechanisms, but for now, I just settle for a lot of cells.

If you’re doing an installation directly on your roof you need to map out how the equipment will shade potential locations for installation. Based on that map, you’re not only going to need to make decisions about which panels sometimes get shaded, but also which to connect in series or parallel. If one panel in a series string gets shading you lose most of the output of the entire string. That doesn’t harm anything, but it means a little shade takes a big bite out of your charging rate. There are good reasons to connect some of your panels in series, and yes, we’ll get to that soon. But if you have two panels in series, and one is shaded, neither will do you much good. If they’re in parallel and one is shaded, the other will still deliver power.

Charge Controllers
Here’s an easy one–get an MMPT controller. If you don’t want to know why, you just want to know how to select the right size, then skip the next few paragraphs.

Back in the old days of solar a typical panel generated about 16 to 18 volts and not a lot of amps. You could connect them right to a battery and just charge it. With typical use, the battery would never overcharge. If you didn’t draw enough power off, the system would overcharge the battery and slowly boil the battery dry. The earliest controllers simply opened the charging circuit when the battery was fully charged. PWM (Pulse width modulated) charge controllers do this a bit more gently, changing the amount of time the solar panels are connected to the battery. If the battery voltage is low the connect time is long. When the battery voltage gets higher the connected “pulse width” gets narrower, until it stops charging the battery almost completely. The voltage coming out of the PWM controller doesn’t change–just the amount of time the panel is connected. That’s fine for panels with lower cell counts, but today’s 60, 72 and 90 cell panels put out much higher voltages. The controller will be effectively averaging the output voltage of perhaps a 40 volt set of panels to something around 14 volts, so you’ll lose about 50 percent of the panel output. Of course, no one actually does that, most PWM installations match the panel voltage as close as possible to the battery charging voltage, but that means heavier wiring and more resistive losses for a similar system with an MMPT controller. The typical efficiency increase of an MPPT controller over PWM in properly sized systems is likely in the 30 percent range, but that’s still too much to give up.

MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) controllers are dc to dc converters that convert the panel voltage to the optimum charging voltage of the battery. The panels can operate at the most efficient voltage while the output voltage of the controller stays relatively constant, delivering as many amps as the solar cells can produce. The most sophisticated controllers can accommodate multiple battery chemistries, charging profiles, and output voltages. You can also use series connected cells, which means you can use lighter wire and suffer less energy loss in the wiring from the solar panels to the controller and from controller to batteries. The electronics are more sophisticated, so MPPT controllers are a little more expensive, but that’s changing as the MMPT controllers become the standard and are produced in larger quantities. MPPT will completely replace PWM in the near term.

Choosing and Sizing
All you need to do is pick the right controller. Yes, you can buy a properly sized kit, but you should know how to figure out something this simple. MPPT controllers are sized by output current. A 60 amp controller handles 60 amps of output, regardless of whether the output voltage is 12, 24, or 48 V. If you choose to have a 12 V system output and you have 720 watts of solar panels you need a 60 amp controller (720watts/12volts=60amps). If you have 24 V system output and have 720 watts of output you need a 30 amp controller (720watts/24V=30amps) and obviously, for a 48V battery at 720 watts you could use a 15 amp controller.

You also need to pay some attention to the input voltage. For an MPPT controller to be happy, the output voltage of the solar panels should be substantially more than the battery voltage, but not so high that the system can’t handle the voltage conversion. That’s a highly variable number that the manufacturer will supply, but a decent starting point is at least double the battery voltage and not much more than four times the battery voltage.

In Fritz, I’m using two MakeSkyBlue 60 amp MMPT controllers. I have six panels, connected in series pairs. The open circuit voltage of my 72 cell, 310-watt panels is 40V, so each series pair puts out 80V and about 7.75 amps. Typical practice is to connect rooftop panels into a combiner box which usually contains fuzes on the positive lead of each panel set and then combines the leads into a bus for the positive and negative sides. These combined connections are then lead into the cabin and to the controller through a single lead each for the plus and minus connection. I hope that makes sense, it was a little torturous to write.

I’m not doing that. I used inline fuzes that connect to the positive MC4 plugs and I ran all six panel connections–three positive, three negative–down to the two controllers.

Each controller has two sets of panel connectors, so two sets of connectors go to one controller and one set go to the other. Doing it that way gives me more options for output voltages and battery chemistry. The capacity of a single 60 amp controller was in the ballpark for connecting all three sets of panels to a single controller, but I would have been pushing the capacity limit. The controllers are about $150. For that price, having some redundancy, more flexibility, and more capacity margin seems like a bargain.

Well, OK, we’ve got solar power flowing to the controllers. This is getting ridiculously long. Let’s end here for now and I’ll do the rest in a few more posts.

Equipment Sport

Fritz Getz Solared

The big plan for Fritz is for it to be all electric and capable of extended dry camping, meaning no campground, no plugging in to handy electric outlets, self-contained–and still comfortable. That’s kind of a big requirement to pull off without propane, but I think I’m in the ballpark. Most RV solar installations put a few 100-watt panels on the roof, squeezing them in between vents, air conditioners, and other roof stuff. The panels often get shaded, so the system output varies a lot. The biggest rooftop solar RV installation I’ve seen was 800 watts with tilting panels to optimize efficiency. That’s on a huge modern motorhome. I’m installing 1680 watts worth of PV on dinky little Fritz. Only one way to do that–build a raised frame and cover the entire roof.

Most RV air conditioners are very tall, and I wanted to keep this installation as low profile and streamlined as possible. So I replaced the original perfectly serviceable air conditioner with a new Coleman Mach8 Ultra low-profile heat pump. The marketing literature says it’s just eight inches tall. They lie. It’s more like 9.5″, but that’s better than the 13 inches of the original system. And since I’ve ditched the propane furnace, the highly efficient heat pump makes good sense. I borrowed a scissor lift, and with a little help from a friend, got the air conditioner on the roof. I didn’t realize the installation framework and the ceiling unit were not included, so I had to wait a few more days for that. I suspect that DIY is not prevalent in the motorhome world. Everything seems aimed at professionals installing yet another air conditioner, not some goofball like me doing it for the first time. But I did it, and it’s fine.

Well maybe not completely fine, the solar cells are in close proximity to the air intake for the condenser fan, and this sucker is loud. I may need to do a lot of re-engineering. I’ll see if we can live with it before I jump into that, but I have some ideas I think are good.

My first design for the solar framework called for everything to be bolted together. I put it all in place, installed the first panel, and discovered it wasn’t rigid or strong enough. Back to the drawing board. I needed reinforcement in the middle of the frame, and I decided to weld the perimeter and the cross-braces together. That’s a lot of aluminum welding and takes a big space, but I want to get better at TIG welding aluminum, so I cleared space in the metalwork part of the shop, set up a lot of sawhorses, assembled the frame and started welding.

This is what it looked like before welding with one solar panel in place. Note the bowing of the front crosspiece

Here’s the front support in place. This is also the center rib of the wind deflector I’ll be adding later. I don’t need to be turning the coach into a MoHo version of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, or stressing the panel joint enough to turn them into frisbees.

The rear support is somewhat visible in this photo. Prior to adding it the rear crossbar sagged about four inches. Not good.

Here’s another shot. Kind of looks like I’m aiming for a little batmobile fin. It just kind of turned out that way

With all the panels in place and a middle support to hold the panels clear of the air conditioner, Fritz looks like this. I know that looks like a drone shot but it was just me on the top step of a shaky stepladder.

With everything bolted into place the rack is rigid and stout. No wobble at all. Nothing like a lot of aluminum and hours of welding to stiffen things up.

Here’s the middle brace. The welds are getting better. Some.

I decided not to use a combiner box since I’m using two controllers, and each controller has connections for two set of panels. My panels are connected 2S3P, meaning two panels in series, each at about 40VDC adding up to about 80VDC and 3 of those in parallel, 620 watts per set at 80V delivering 7.75 amps per set, 23.5 amps at 80 Volts total. 80V times 23.5 amps = 1860 watts. I added in-line 20 amp fuses to the MC4 connectors and ran them in through the side of my somewhat unnecessary refrigerator vent. My new refrigerator is a DC compressor type that doesn’t require outside venting. I’m using the vent to keep the toaster oven cool and I have two small vent fans that are thermostatically controlled above a plate warmer/food warmer shelf above the oven. They will probably never run.

I measured the output of my panels dumping to a big purely resistive load. I know motor loads are different, but lots of people have told me my panels will put out less power than they are rated at. Full Oregon sun at noon–2468 watts. I take that with a grain of salt, but it’s pretty tasty.

The first shot at installing the controller boxes up close to the top of the refrigerator in a handy cupboard space was unsatisfactory. Too much torque on the wires leading into the box, and no room to work. The batteries were going to be much lower in the cab anyway, and their wiring needs to be much stouter than the wiring from the panels.

The controllers will combine all the panels at 80V and 22.8 amps and put out 24V at 70 amps. Actually, one panel will put out 24V at 23 amps (being fed from one series pair) and the other will put out 24V at 47 amps. This controller (Make Sky Blue) has balanced output on two lines, so I won’t have to use huge wires going to the batteries. They also have adjustable battery chemistry, so I might use AGM batteries for the motor being managed by the two-panel controller and lithium for the house batteries being charged by the four-panel controller. The motor batteries are exposed to the elements, so AGM might be a better choice. Lithium batteries can be damaged by charging or discharging them at very low temperatures. I’m not likely to need to worry about that, but why not make the best engineering decision.

The previous owner had a plethora of combiner and isolator switches installed. I might be able to make use of some of that. Perhaps run the inverter from the lithium batteries and house 12V DC from AGM. I’ll figure it out. I can’t simply connect the batteries together since they would operate at different voltages and I’d get some whopping equalizing current that did nothing good for anyone.

I decided to install the controller in also-unused refrigerator heater bay. I have this slick, new Glowforge laser cutter that I haven’t done much with, so I decided to make the controller panel with laser-cut maple plywood. I’d usually make it from aluminum, but this was kind of fun.

Cute, huh.

The side panels for the wind deflector are riveted and flanged to the top of the coach. It took a couple of tries to get a pleasing shape, but I’m kind of there.

The deflector plate will attach with stainless button screws to rivet nuts on the ribs. I want to be able to remove the panels for access. The enclosure cargo doors along the side will work the same way. I plan to cover the roof with EVA foam–basically yoga mat stuff–and have vented cargo doors along the side–storage space for outdoor stuff, surfboards, foil boards and maybe a downwind board. We’ll also be towing Archie, our dune buggy, and it’s roll bar can carry surfboards. If only so it looks cool.


Fixed my Flange

No, it’s not a medical condition. As I mentioned in the last post I stripped one of the bolts on the driver’s side output flange. I ordered a rather expensive TimeSert kit to repair it. At least it wasn’t the $400 these kits used to cost–a more reasonable but still stiff eighty bucks.

Expense aside, the kit works very well and saved me from having to weld up the hole, drill and tap a new one. And I’m not sure what alloy the part is made from, so distortion or damage from welding is always possible. The drill grabbed some while I was removing the threads. I had some concern that the hole might not be properly aligned, but the tap stood straight.

The finished insert is flush to the surface, the small shoulder ensures it won’t turn out when the bolt is removed in this application, and the alignment is perfect. The chip inside the threads is just a chip left over from tapping the hole.

I’ve reassembled the driver’s side suspension and temporarily bolted up the flange with standard 3/8 X24 bolts, now I’m just waiting for some new ARP bolts to torque into place. Everything looks great and now it’s back to the 500 other things that need to be done.


Fritzing Away The Summer

Fritz has taken up a HUGE amount of my time this summer. It’s not a terrible thing since I’m enjoying the creative work, and the grunt side–the mechanic-ing–is familiar and comfortable.

The interior design is basically complete, though anyone looking at it might find that a surprise. It’s sparse. Diane and I really don’t like the cramped feeling of most motor homes–the dinette that takes up a huge block of space and leaves you edging your way down a narrow aisle. The heavy overhead cabinets, the cramped kitchen. So yeah, it’s simple and open.

Here’s a hugely distorted panoramic view of the interior:

The refrigerator is really great compressor type made by Nova Kool. It has the singular advantage of not bursting into flame as the absorption type occasionally do. It’s also very efficient in both  DC and AC mode. I made the decision to have no propane in this coach–all-electric. We’ll be cooking on induction plates, which can be used both inside and outdoors. They store under the counter with the pots and pans, leaving the counter space unencumbered. Above the refrigerator is an electric toaster oven. Very useful and fairly efficient. The heat from the oven warms the open rack above it, useful for both keeping food warm or warming plates.

The pantry shelves are all ultralight. The shelves I removed totaled over 120 pounds. These are less than ten pounds each

This is the over-counter light and vent fan for the kitchen. It also houses an outlet for the induction cooktops. The shelf above is for food prep. It includes a fold-out extension for supporting platters. The cooktops we are using are made by Tasty and include a thermometer and smartphone control, which lets them be controlled remotely or programmed for complex cooking sequences and can be used as a slow cooker.

While I was doing all this I also added a towbar/bumper to Archie, the dune buggy we plan to use as a dingy for Fritz.

The Propane tanks in the background are for my next really stupid project–a giant smoker in the style of Austin’s justifiably famous Franklin Barbecue.

These shelves are more high-tech than they seem–honeycomb aluminum panels covered with faux stingray shagreen and trimmed with aluminum edges. Turns out you can’t weld honeycomb aluminum–made a mess, and now we know, eh? The box below houses the water heater to the left, and a 6000-watt low-frequency true sine inverter charger and two 100AH 12V lithium batteries. The batteries currently are my own design, using LiFePO4 cells and a 12V BMS. I may switch to commercial LiFe batteries if my BMS continues to give me fits.

Ultimately I’ll have somewhere around 6-800AH (7000-10,000 watt/hours) of Lithium batteries, depending on what we determine is required. We want to be able to “dry” camp, meaning, no connection to power or water, but still cook and run air conditioning and heat as necessary. Which brings me to the massive solar array I’m sticking on the roof. Six 300 watt panels covering the entire roof–1800 watts of solar power. In full sun I should be able to run the air conditioner and still juice the batteries a little. The panels go over all the vents and air conditioners. We’ll have roof storage for some stuff, and of course for surfboards and foil equipment, but it will be under the solar panels. I’ve built the brackets for the raised rack and I’m waiting for some additional angle aluminum to weld up the rack frame. I’ve ordered a Colman Mach 8 low profile air conditioner to replace the tall one now in place. When the rack is done it will have a streamlined front cover and doors on the sides to allow stuff to be put on the roof. I’m going to cover the entire roof in EVA–basically yoga pads.

You might notice that there are no front wheels. The GMC coach in stock form weighs between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds and has the front end out of a 4000-pound Tornado. It looks as under-specced as that sounds. I’m installing a kit from Manny Trovao that replaces the lighter components with those from a 1 ton Chevy 4X4 truck and spaces the front wheels out even with the rear bogies. When I drove Fritz back to Hood River from Northern California I noted numerous handling flaws. I think this modification will eliminate a lot of them. I’m very glad that I did the tear-down, a lot of the front suspension was poorly assembled or had simply worn loose. The nuts holding the ball joints to the lower A-arm and control arm were finger-tight instead of 100 and 40 foot-pounds respectively. The passenger side control arm taper was beaten out by the ball joint working loose. The driver’s side lower A-arm had some kind of butchered modification or repair done to it. Seriously ugly.

Since I’m an idiot, I welded the seams of the suspension arms. Probably completely necessary, but I have all this cool welding equipment, so…

And of course, once you’ve welded the seams you need to clean them up and paint the parts. Am I just MAKING work for myself???

Here’s the front end with everything ripped out.

Kind of empty in there.

Here are the new knuckles, bearings, and disk rotors. Much meatier. The bearing are sealed and should be good for many beaucoup miles.

The instructions said to use a crowbar to hold the wheel while torquing the CV joint flange. I found that unhandy.

So I whipped this simple thing up. Much ho bettah.

Works for torquing the adapter onto the disk rotor as well.

Unfortunately, when I was torquing the last bolt on the driver’s side CV flange the bolt stripped out of the flange. I tried like crazy to convince myself it would be OK to just leave it, and it probably would. But I can’t do that kind of stuff. I’d think about it every time I drove. So I took the flange off and I’m waiting for a Time-sert kit to be delivered. The inserts will take full torque if installed properly. As it turns out the instructions have an error in them. With the original flanges and bolts, the passenger side bolts are longer than the driver’s side, and they are torqued to 75 foot-pounds. The driver’s side bolts are shorter, and they should be torqued to 55. The bolts Manny Trovao provides are all short, and he told me after I’d screwed the pooch that I should only torque them to 50 pounds and use red locktite. Ok, will do. I’m going to fiddle a bit with the bolts to get maximum engagement. Since I’ve had to take everything apart I might as well. It should go back together quickly once I get the new bits.

More on that later.

I still have a lot of wiring to do and a dashboard to build. But I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think.

Equipment Hobbies Sport

Fritz–Starting To Build

More progress on Fritz. I think people will be puzzled when they see the interior. Minimal. Actually, the far edge of minimal. The living area will be two chairs, a bar cabinet, facing cabinet, and some shelves. The chairs detach and can move outside. Nice little side tables. An aluminum plank that converts the side tables to a dining table–inside or out.

It’s going to be odd. And sparse. And very pretty. But odd.

Anyway, here’s some progress:

Here are the chairs that will slip into brackets on the floor. The side tables (four of them) collapse to a flat and very light stand and a tray. I’ve built a collapsible aluminum top that converts the four side table stands into a dining room table, or two of the stands into a long serving table. The top weighs two pounds. All the tables and tops will store in the puka between the end of the battery box and the cab step.

A box for the water heater and battery. This is 3/4″ birch plywood. I’ve budgeted two sheets of prefinished birch ply for the refrigerator box, the frame of the kitchen cabinets, and this box. The flush aluminum edging is a design element I will repeat on all cabinet doors and drawer fronts. The drawer boxes will be aluminum and the interior shelves and countertops will be honeycomb aluminum.

This is one of two batteries. For you battery geeks it’s a 4S45P made from 180 32650 LiFePO4 5000mah cells with a 4s 60 amp BMS. That’s 225 AH, and 2880 watt hours. The second battery will be connected in series for 25.6 V to drive the inverter, to be charged from the MPPT solar controller, line charging and to run the refrigerator. I’ll split out 12V for cabin lights and everything else that needs 12V.

I started spot welding the batteries but ran out of nickel strips. Major miscalculation. Off by a factor of four. The strips needed a few kinks in the middle. I had to make the spacer from a sheet of formica with a holesaw–there aren’t any good premade spacers for 32650 batteries–at least none that I found. The middle got a little wanky because the sheet was too wide to fit the throat of my drill press and I had to do it by hand. Once one hole gets off it pushes the others. No matter, it will work fine and no one is going to be seeing this thing, but it’s irritating. If it hadn’t taken so long to make and been so tedious I would have started over.

Here’s a shelf bracket, cut and shaped in the bead roller.

Gratuitous holes punched and trimmed.

Folded and ready for polishing and welding. I’m going to weld the middle brackets to the honeycomb shelves since I need to splice them anyway. I’m getting pretty good with TIG. The end brackets will be single sided and also welded to the shelves. They’ll screw into holes I’ve drilled and tapped in the body extrusions. It’s a pleasure attaching things to this Moho. The structure is bomber.

The top of the shelves will be covered with a vinyl fabric that looks like Stingray skin. Diane is outdoing herself on the design side. Of course, that’s a two-edge sword. After spending two hours making this bracket her comment was “does it have to be so wide”. Oof.

She’s doing great drapes and coverings. Here’s the drape fabric for the main room:

Just as a reminder, here’s the original interior.

Equipment Hobbies Sport

Fritz–The Vandal Strikes

Several people emailed me, saying that they thought the interior is great. They should come get it before I haul it to the dump. I don’t mean to sound cruel, but it just isn’t what we want. My goal is pretty simple: Have a nice bedroom, a usable and simple kitchen, and a space that’s pleasant to be in. I know massive built-ins are the standard for RV’s but that isn’t my style. Even more important, it isn’t Diane’s So we’re aiming for light, open, airy, and beautiful.

Instead of Corian counter tops I’m using honeycomb aluminum panels with laminate tops. Each shelf and counter will weigh about 45 pounds less than the ones they replace. The aim is not just weight reduction, it’s safety and appropriate materials. In an accident a Corian countertop becomes a 60-pound frisbee headed for the front window. I can adequatly and solidly fix a ten-pound honeycome aluminum top, I’m not sure I could do that to the Corian. I can say for certain that the way they were fastened in the original interior served only to keep them from falling to the floor. I’m surprised the table survived hard braking.

Here’s the parts of the interior that I considered potentially worth salvaging, or that I needed to make measurements before ditching. And the aluminum thing in the foreground is the slide-in pantry shelf I built to replace that massive wooden structure on it’s side behind it. The original weighed 45 pounds, it’s replacement is less than five.

Click any picture to see full size.

That tall, narrow cabinet standing in the background is one of the many overhead cabinets. That one weighed 45 pounds–3/4″ plywood and MDF.

And this is a cabinet I built to replace it. About six pounds with the end caps. I made it from a single piece of .040″ aluminum, just bent the panel to form the mounting flanges, front, bottom and back. It screws into tapped holes in the extruded aluminum frame of the coach. A very strong mount. The opening will be guarded by three carbon fiber rods that can be slid aside. Across the cabin will be two similar cabinets, deeper, and with sliding doors.

I’m also ditching the propane system. This will be all electric, with a big LiFePO4 battery and solar panels. I’ve insulated the floor and walls carefully with Polyiso panels and Reflectix. We’ll see how that goes, but carrying a huge weight of propane for the light heating and refrigeration load of an RV doesn’t seem like the best idea. I’m installing a compressor refrigerator to replace the absorption one. The electrical draw is surprisingly low. I’ll cover all that later. I’ve calculated likely air conditioning, heating, cooking and lighting loads. It looks a bit marginal for hot or cold weather if we’re not plugged in to shore power, but it should be enough for two days without sun. And we do have a 5.5 KW Onan genset, though I’d like to minimize using that.

Here’s the trailer headed for the dump.

We also aim to have open space, and NO Shag Carpet. We’re using a high-end locking edge vinyl tile for the floors. If a tile gets damaged, the floor tiles can be lifted to replace the damaged tile.


Here’s the cab with the skanky shag carpet ripped out.

Sound deadening material installed (that big 455 engine is loud).

Thermal insulation installed–Polyiso and Reflectix.

And the finished floor.

Enough typing, time to get back to work.

Equipment Hobbies Sport

Fritz–The New Surfmobile Project

I’ve been looking at a lot of videos about Sprinter van conversions, mostly because I’ve got a major league surf jones that I can’t do much about, because I just had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands, and the doc says NO for about 6 more weeks. But the more I looked, the more I realized that what I REALLY wanted was a GMC motor coach. “A what?” you might say. Yes, GMC made motor coaches, from 1973 to 1978. If you’re not familiar with them, read the Wikipedia entry: wiki:GMC_motorhome. I’ve always throught they were the closest thing to a perfect RV. Sure, the technology is out of date, but the construction methods and design have never been bettered. They were expensive in the 70’s, and most of them (more than 70 percent) are still on the road today.

Diane hated the idea at first, but I showed her a few pictures and talked about having some adventures. She started to warm to the idea. I’ve found that I can’t push this lady into anything, but some seeds take root and grow by themselves. This one grew startlingly fast. Soon she was showing me pictures of coaches she liked, talking about mechanical issues, looking at interiors, and making plans. I was looking at the cheap end, assuming everything was rip and replace. She was looking at the higher end, saying we’d be better off with a solid place to start with. I did the math and decided she was right.

So we found one, owned and cared for by an engineer and his enthusiastic wife. He recently turned 90 and had a stroke, which effectively ended his ability to use and maintain a coach they enjoyed for nearly twenty years. They bought the coach they called “roadrunner” in 2004 and turned it over to a well-known restorer for a complete makeover. Two things that I liked were the high-quality disk brake conversion on the four bogey wheels that solves some known problems, and fresh engine rebuild by a reputable mechanic less than 5000 miles ago. The interior was nice, if crowded and dated, and the auxiliaries were good quality and fairly new. We paid a little more than we probably needed to, but I could see the value though I figured a lot of the interior would need to be redone. We sent the money and I flew to Fresno to pick it up and drive back–through the smoke and detours of the worst western fire season in recent history. The coach performed very well. The steering is a little vague, but the two primary concerns I had: Overheating going up the mountains, and brake fade coming down, were never a problem. The vague steering needs attention, the wiring is a rat’s nest, the gas mileage isn’t great, but there’s nothing here a little TLC can’t fix. And so the adventure starts.

The subsequent posts will detail what we do and why we did it. I’ll try to do some videos on some of the metalworking techniques I use, as well as the features of the equipment and materials we choose.

Here’s the original coach:



AA Catching Up

May 27, 2007
I had the best intentions to post every day, but I’m way behind. I blame the frantic drives between tracks, a slow internet connection and too much fun to be had at Elkhart Lake. So I’ll use this post to catch you up on what happened.

The drive to Road America was long but interesting. Great scenery, what a beautiful country this is. I was astounded at the amount of traffic you encounter in nearly every town and city. People complain about the price of gas, but I don’t see any obvious evidence of anyone driving less. It’s also obvious that America continues to be “malled to death”. Everywhere you look there’s yet another franchised fast food joint going up. And there are not a lot of skinny people or healthy food available east of the Cascade mountains.

I listened to a lot of music, but I lost my notes. Then I started to listen to some books on CD. I listened to a David Baldacci novel called “Last Man Standing”, bad choice, contrived and juvenile.

My plan was to stop at Jack Drews house in Geneseo, Illinois to unload a couple of motors for him to build. Amazing little town, like some perfect slice of the midwest preserved by people who appreciate it. Sparkling clean, mature maple trees everywhere with fat squirrels running around. I made my way to Jack Drews house and had a nice conversation with him while we enjoyed a cigar. Had dinner at nice local restaurant for his visitors from England–Keith Files and John Wood, delightful guys. Joe Alexander showed up a little later. Very enjoyable, and good food, but for a guy who is used to eating healthy Northwest style, dishes like cheese sauce puddled on fried hashbrowns made my chest hurt (no, Diane I didn’t eat any, just looking at it made my arteries ache). I don’t know how these folks stay so healthy.

I spent the night in Nero parked in front of Jack’s house, and I got off to a fairly early start with Michael Connolly’s book “Chasing the Dime” on the CD player. It turned out to have a pretty shaky ending and there were several plot elements that were obviously being set up for later use. But at least he can write.

I got thoroughly lost, wound up stopping at a Best Buy to get a GPS Navigation system. I think it’s going to be worthwhile. I made it to the track after traveling an extra fifty miles and set up Nero near Tony Garmey’s trailer with Bill Hart and John James as Tony’s trackside support customers for the weekend.

Bob Babcock Says:
May 26th, 2007 at 5:39 pm e
I envy you the trip Bill. I’m going to have to do something similar someday….albeit without the 40′ airstream/garage. Did you post your books on tape list? I could have told you to stay away from Last Man Standing….horrible…I felt cheated of the time I spent reading it.

You need to start posting some pictures in the blog….I appreciate descriptions but a thousand words and all.

Hows Nero handling….seems like it would be a beast….although Peyote probably isn’t all that much heavier than the cabinets and such you ripped out. What’s the weight differential?

Equipment Hobbies Other Blogs Consolidated Sport

Geezer Foil

Last year foils on SUP showed up in the Gorge. I was getting my downwind board off the shuttle at Viento Park for another run a few days before the Gorge Paddle Challenge when I faintly heard someone yell “Uncle Bill”. I don’t have any nieces or nephews in a reasonable range, so I didn’t think much of it until Zane Schweitzer came running up. “Hey, Uncle Bill, you doing a run?”

“Uncle” is what Hawaiian kids call older family friends. Turns out Zane had just finished doing a Viento run on his foil board. He told me it took about ten minutes to really get going, but his run was 55 minutes. I mostly paddle an unlimited board, and all summer long when the wind is howling I do as many as five to ten of the eight-mile counter current Viento runs a week. I’m not the fastest guy on the river, but I’m not the slowest. A good run for me is 1:20. A spectacular run for one of the pros or semi-pros that show up for the Gorge Paddle Challenge is anything just under one hour. Fifty-five minutes is insane–especially for the first try. Insane Zane.

Fuzzy screen grab from fuzzy video of Zane on a Gorge foil run.

The day after the Paddle Challenge I joined videographer Rod Parmenter on the bluff at windsurfing spot known as The Hatchery to watch Connor Baxter, Chuck Patterson, and the two up-and-coming SUP groms Jeffrey and Finn Spencer ride waves on foils. The swells were not the biggest the hatchery can serve up–on a big day some Hatchery swells can be mast high. But Conner was catching swell after swell, riding them a hundred yards or so, and then dropping down on his board to ride the current and paddle back to the starting point. After a few false starts the Spencer boys were doing the same, riding two feet above the water, looking like Marty McFly on his hover board. Chuck–not so much.

Anyone that knows Chuck Patterson knows his skill level for anything in the water is off the charts. And his struggle was certainly not for lack of power–the guy looks like an action figure in human scale. I concluded that it was simply his weight. Chuck is probably over 210. If there’s any fat on him, it’s hiding well, but he’s a big guy. I came to two conclusions: A. For big guys, foiling on SUP using a bigger kite-type foil is going to be a very marginal thing.  And B. I want to do this.

I weigh 235, and it’s not all muscle (my friends are laughing uproariously), I’ve been doing standup for more than ten years, but I’m 70. I have geezer balance, a bad knee, and trashed shoulders. The only way this was gonna work is to cheat and build something that doesn’t require any more balance and ability than my current capability in doing downwinders.

Hence, the Geezer Foil.

I read a couple of books on the subject, learned to do foil calculations, and looked at the pros and cons of a lot of different designs. Near the end of last summer, I decided to simply start making stuff and see how things worked out.

Is anyone surprised that attempt #1 sucked out loud?

Looks like an accident waiting to happen

The foils flexed too much. The shortcut I took in using a mountain skateboard body as the cross piece let the foils flex vertically–I intended that–but it also let them flex forward and back, and that made the board unstable. It flipped over viciously at about five MPH. So that’s not working.

In the next installment: GF2.

Equipment Hobbies Sport

A Project Too Far: My Maserati Mistral

About thirty years ago I was sitting in a barber chair, reading an article in a car magazine (I think it was Motor Trend) that said used exotic cars were selling for amazingly low prices. My imagination was fired by the notion of a Ferrari, Maserati or Aston Martin sitting in my garage. I certainly couldn’t afford a new one, but the software company I had co-founded with a friend as a side business to my real job was doing  well. I could afford to spend 10 to 20 thousand on an inexpensive, old exotic car. I suspected I could maintain it though I expected a certain amount of drama and challenge. I’ve been wrenching on motorcycles and cars most of my life. I’m not great at it, but I’m good at it.  I scoured Hemmings, looking for a car that looked right for me. I found a Ferrari 330 GTC in nice condition for about $20,000. An Aston Martin DB4 with a chevy motor for $10,000, and a 1968 Maserati Mistral just a few miles away from my home for $10,000.

The engine was out of the Maserati and completely disassembled, but the exterior was good, the interior was fair with some sections excellent.  The guy who had pulled the motor said it would take about $2,000 to finish the rebuild and reinstall the engine. I bought the Mistral.

The main reason was the general specifications of the Mistral–it looked like a much better car than my other top choices. Disk brakes on all four wheels. A 4.0 liter, dual plug DOHC engine producing 245 HP.  Coach-built aluminum body, a host of sophisticated touches to the engine design that seemed like better engineering–like the water/oil heat exchanger that warms the oil to operating temperature quickly and then cools it to keep it in an optimum range. A electro-magnetic clutch for the fan that regulates water temperature without consuming engine power. And I simply thought it was a better looking car. Lithe, sleek, and fabulous. Many people consider it to be the most beautiful car ever designed by the famous Pietro Frua of Turin, and the most beautiful Maserati.

Now it’s thirty years later, the Ferrari is close to a million in value and so is the DB4. And the Mistral? Not so much. My perception of it being the better car doesn’t translate to price. There aren’t many currently being sold, in part because there weren’t many produced (828 coupés worldwide between 1963 and 1970), but a solid driver seems to go for about $250,000. Jay Leno wrote an article in Octane recently where he wondered WTF was going on with Maserati prices. My memory sucks, but I think he was writing about a Mistral he has.

I drove it as it was for a year, and enjoyed the car greatly. The original paint was a light silver-blue, and the paint was sunburned a bit on the roof. I thought about getting it painted, but one night when I was pushing the car hard in some turns, I came around a corner and found a wide swath of muddy water covering the street. An irrigation pipe had broken. The car spun, slid across a long expanse of grass, and then hit a solid embankment at low speed. Low enough so I wasn’t injured, even though I was just wearing a lap belt, and low enough that there was no frame damage. But the soft aluminum nose was crumpled irreparably.

The tow truck dumped the car into my driveway, and I pushed it into a corner of the garage, trying to decide how to repair a coachbuilt body (one piece welded body–no panels and parts). I contacted a Maserati specialty shop in Washington state, and they told me they had a Mistral that had burned (more on this later). The back of the car was destroyed, but the nose was fine. I showed up with a Sawzall and a check, and cut the nose off the burned Mistral.

Back in Oregon, I cut away all the damaged metal, made jigs to hold the nose in place, and started trying to fit the puzzle pieces. I decided the job was beyond my capabilities and pushed the car to the back of the garage.

Time passed. My software company went out of business, I got divorced, and then started an advertising agency that became quite successful. Through all the moves and transitions I kept the Maserati, flat-towing it from one garage to another, always thinking that some day when I had the time, I’d restore it. Every few months I’d start the car and run it until the oil came up to stable temperature.  A chance encounter put me in touch with a company in Eugene, Oregon called Panelbeaters. They were a very talented bunch, building complete new aluminum bodies from sheet metal. They agreed to do the job and we agreed on a price–about three time what I paid for the car in the first place. A painful decision, but I felt I owed it to the car. It was just too good to junk.

About a year later I got a call that my Maserati was finished and I had to come get it immediately.  The owner of Panelbeaters was heading off to a job with the Ralph Lauren car collection and was closing the shop. I was worried that the work might have been hurried at the end, but when I got to Eugene I was floored. The body was flawless. Better than new. I had seen slight imperfections in the body originally, even with the light paint. With the dark blue paint, any irregularity would be obvious. But it’s gorgeous and the paint is spectacular. The dark blue paint may not be factory original, but it suits the car much better than the light silver blue.


This is 20-year-old paint. There’s a simple reason why it still looks so great–it’s hardly ever been outside. 



The Borrani wheels are gorgeous. The chrome inner hubs have some corrosion, but most of it can be polished out. A specialist would make them look better than new, but anyone with time and some polish could make them look fantastic. 


There are a few scrapes in the paint from when the bumper was refitted. Needs touch-up 



One of the standards for fine bodywork is gap consistency. The clip that replaced the damaged nose started just about in line with the chrome lip. Not only is the repair undetectable in any way, but the gaps are perfect on the hood all the way around. I would never have been able to get that so perfect. Sorry about the cover fuzz. 



But now the marginal interior was much too tatty to be tolerated, and some of the leather had shrunk. The conundrum was that a lot of the interior was in excellent shape, with a fine patina that new upholstery would take decades to acquire. I needed someone to replace just the unusable interior elements and save the good parts. I’m still looking.


I pulled the covers off the inner fenders to access the fuel tanks. The upper strip is shrunken and perished, but the cover itself might be salvageable


The headliner and leather bolsters are in remarkably good shape. there was a time that restoration would have meant ripping all this out and replacing it with new, but I think that would be a shame. 


Wheel well covers are lovely. A little stained and scuffed, but so am I. It’s lovely patina. 


The bad and the good–the seat backs are terrible, the seat cushion is a Naugahyde replacement (dumb) but the little vestigal seats in back (who fits in those??) are perfect.


Menehune seats and cargo cover for them. 


Dashboard is great.


There’s some split stitching (about an inch) over the glove compartment that’s an easy repair. 

img_0751There’s a spot on the leather to the right of the mirror where something hot looks to have been laid, but other than that it’s in fine shape. 


I don’t think the door panels were this bad when I pulled them off twenty years ago. 


There were also three other projects that I wanted to complete before I started using the car again. The electric window winders have teeth missing at the end of travel when the window is fully down. I wanted to rebuild those, so I took the doors apart and started looking for someone to repair them. The gas tanks (there is one in each of the rear fenders) have a crossover pipe that can pull loose much too easily. I know why some Maseratis burned up–the pipe is just rubber hose with hose clamps and no retaining bubble on the hard pipe of the tank. That needed to be replaced with a much more secure crossover. I planned to fabricate that with Aeroquip hose and AN fittings.

And finally the enormous oil sump seems to have no effective baffling. The car starves for oil in long hard turns. Better baffling and/or an accusump accumulator was needed.


Door panels and window mechanism removed for repair.


Twenty years ago repairing these segment gears was going to be a bitch. Now I’d have them scanned and cut with a water jet. 

I had a plan, I had a list, and then a really nice custom M6 BMW came my way. So the Maserati got pushed to the back of the garage with a nice car cover on it. More years went by, the Maserati got moved around as projects came and went. I was getting ready to dive into the restoration when I got interested in vintage car racing. Built a TR3 to race but I went much too far with the modifications (Rules? There are rules?), bought a TR3-based special called Peyote.  The Mistral got rolled back and covered. I got serious again, but I bought a Ferrari 355 Spider and the Mistral got rolled back.

More time passed, I retired, and moved to Hood River, Oregon. I bought a shop building and started working my way through the many projects I have. I’ll be 70 next year, time to get some of this stuff done. But last week when I was backing my race car up to load it in the trailer, I backed into the Maserati. It’s minor damage, nothing that any decent painter can’t fix, but it’s the straw that broke the camels back.


My race car is named Peyote. When it turned 50 we had a birthday party for it at Portland International Raceway, and I made buttons that read, “A little Peyote never hurt anyone”. I guess that doesn’t apply to Maseratis. This really pissed me off. 



I look at all the projects I have to do, most of which are well within my limited capabilities, and I figure I need to live to be 120 to finish them all. The Maserati is just not going to happen.



I have plenty of projects to keep me busy, there’s about 20 years worth right here. 


My wife says “It’s a beautiful car, nice to have just to look at. Why would you sell it? You don’t have to do anything with it, just put it in an out of the way spot and enjoy it.”

I can’t do that. Anyone who has bothered to read this far knows why.

So I’m going to sell it. I’ve submitted it to Bring A Trailer, a publication that I’ve always enjoyed. I expect that they will accept it. It’s a pretty cool car and will be an amazing project for someone who has the skills and time to finish it.

What’s it worth? Not a clue. I know what I have into it–about $45K in 1980 dollars. According to an inflation calculator, that’s $138,769.56.  Storing it and pushing it around for all those years? Who knows. Thinking about that kind of puts all those notions about saving cars as an investment into perspective–it’s not a free ride. There’s a reason vintage cars cost a lot these days–beyond the lack of equally enjoyable “investments” that is.

For the right person this will be a fairly easy restoration and will result in a spectacular car. I hope the right person gets it. But it’s not me.


***Update*** My Maserati sold on Bring A Trailer for 117,000 after some very spirited and exciting bidding. It’s been shipped to Asia to restore it to service. All the best to the new owner, and no, I never found the keys. Sorry.

People have asked if the engine turns freely. Here’s a video of me cranking it:

The engine turns smoothly. The effort evident in the video is turning the engine against compression. 


More pictures in no particular order:


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img_0534  img_0537 img_0538  img_0540   img_0543 img_0544 img_0545 img_0546  img_0548 img_0549  img_0551 img_0552  img_0554 img_0555  img_0558 img_0559 img_0560 img_0561

Yes, the spare is a Borrani wheel. It looks to be unused, both because of how clean the inner rim is and how unmarked the splines are. img_0562 img_0563 img_0564 img_0565 img_0566

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Water pump with concentric shaft electromagnetic clutch


Number 600 of 828

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Gas cap cover chips

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Hood gaps are perfect. No, that isn’t a chip on the edge of the hood, just the reflection of my bald head

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Door gaps are perfect. They weren’t this good originally Panelbeaters made them right. 




The chrome polishes right up. 


Polished vs. unpolished. A few moments of effort. I should do the whole car, but then I’d want to do the wheels. Nah. 

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This is the only bad bit of outside chrome. The roller tube for the luggage cover has rust at the ends. 

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Needs attention

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Bumper ding


Peyote ding. Damn!


Taillight lens on the left side needs some work. These are hard to get and expensive, but this is repairable. 


Undercarriage: One of the Bring A Trailer members asked to see some undercarriage shots. So I put the car on my lift this morning and took these. Been a while since I’ve been under this thing.



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Wheel wells, and all the exposed metal under the car is coated with an undercoating material. The wheel wells are aluminum.

There’s some flaking of the undercoat material but the metal underneath is in fine shape

The body under the lower edge door trim is a rubbery undercoat sort of material that is painted the body color.

Wheel well and lower edge of body.



There’s a little corrosion on the bumper under the edge. I should have tried polishing it out. Also some scapes in the aluminum apron–curb rash. You can see that the superleggra framework supporting the nose was undamaged in the accident. It was a low speed incident that crumpled aluminum and nothing much else. Didn’t even disturb the radiator but it sure wadded up the aluminum.


The rubber bushings that the roll bar is fixed to are perished, but still flexible



The undercoating on the frame tubes is intact and well adhered. The huge sump under the engine is remarkably unscraped.



A little undercoat flacking on this frame tube.



Suspension detail





Underneath the rear bumper. Most of the frame is covered by the aluminum belly pan, which is undercoated. The spare recess in the trunk is solid, the battery box needs refurb. I should have pulled that old battery out twenty years ago.




Rear springs are in good shape, the leather “anti-squeak” panels are still in place.

Corroded battery box
The wimpy stop strap on the left side is intact.
The one on the right side is broken. I’d replace these with some heftier webbing.






Exhaust system is done for. I tried to get a shot of the header but couln’t manage it–it’s in good condition. You can see in the engine bay shots that the header is a heavy casting in good condition.


Undertray and exhaust. The exhaust system should be replaced up to the header. The header is fine.





Flaked undercoating in rear wheel well. Aliminum underneath the undercoat. It appears the undercoating doesn’t stick to the aluminum as well as it does to steek.

Front suspension is undamaged and shows no corrosion

Suspension stop is checked on the surface, but is solid and flexible, roll bar grommets are toast but intact.


Parking lot scrape. Gotta watch those curbs.






Engine sump–not a mark on it. Surprising. Floor pans have some scarpes and dents but are intact and good.



Radiator and roll bar bushing



Belly pan and tramsmission

Belly pan
Cracked section in the drivers side belly pan.






Dented section, driver’s side belly pan.

Fuel lines



Battery tray corrosion
img_0844Rear bumper corrosion

Equipment Sport

Stomp Handle

I’ve been playing with tail handles for quite a few years, ever since a surly guy named Sam Pae and I started insulting each other on the Standup Zone. Sam had started a thread talking about tail handles, wondering if anyone else was using them. I chimed in that I had added a strap to the tail of my board to grab when I was about to get mowed. Sam took offense to my thread-hopping, I yelled back, and we had a fine pissing match going until my strap trapped my hand in a big wave and nearly de-gloved three fingers.  Oh. That’s why he didn’t like my comments. Abject apologies from me, magnanimous forgiveness from Sam, and I’ve been a proponent of Sam’s handles ever since. Turns out Sam is a great guy, and the injuries I sustained is exactly what he was concerned about. I shoulda listened.

Even with a good Sam Pae-style handle, there’s still a chance of getting your fingers trapped in the really big, double overhead stuff, so for the past year or so I’ve been playing with handles that are just bumps attached to the board. They worked, but that lead to something more like a stomp pad, and I’ve made several over the past few months. I considered doing something commercially, but that would require work. So I decided to share the build method instead of making something to sell.


Here’s a handle I added to my Foote 9.0′ surfboard


Another view. The spacer is a piece of black foam of the kind used for Outrigger Canoe seats. I covered it with deck pad material (the grey stuff) and then glued the pad material I had pulled up to glue the stomp handle down. That was mostly a cosmetic choice, but I’m sure it adds some reinforcement.

The build is simple. You make a foam wedge, cut a hole in the middle to stick your fingers into, lift up the tail of your deck pad, insert foam, cut the pad so it drops down into the hole, and glue everything down.  With a little planning and artful foam trimming the cut into the pad can be just the flap that drops down into the handle void. I did way too much cutting and way too little planning with this handle, and it still works well and looks nice.


Equipment Other Blogs Consolidated

Alexa, Write A Post About Amazon Echo

I got an Amazon Echo–I didn’t learn my lesson with Google Glass so I signed up for early release when they first announced it. But unlike Google Glass this was a cheap foray into the leading edge–$99 if you have Amazon Prime. You have to request an invitation to buy, and you can only buy one.

It comes in a presentation package that rivals anything that Apple ever did–low gloss black on the outside, blood orange on the inside, and everything is wrapped in that techy plastic film that’s so much fun for a geek to strip off.



I gotta say, this is the greatest thing for an ADD poster boy yet. Anything that comes to mind I just say “Alexa, add post to the zone about echo to my to do list” and she takes care of that. Puts it right into my iPhone. I stuck her (yeah, I know) on the desk between the living room and kitchen, and she can hear me from most places in the house. I just told her “Alexa, create Eddie Vedder station” and she made me a Eddie Vedder station in iHeart radio and started playing it. not loud enough–“Alexa, increase volume”

I like this gal. But when I’ve had enough I can say “Alexa, stop” or “Alexa, shaddap” if I’m feeling impolite and she does. Of course I felt bad about that, so I said “Alexa, thank you” and she said “My pleasure”.

I don’t know, that’s a little kinky, Alexa. So I said “Alexa, I’m sorry” and she said “No worries”.

Diane isn’t thrilled about my new relationship. She’s in Hood River until next week, so I called her this morning. When she answered the music was too loud so I said “Alexa, stop.” She said “who is Alexa?” I explained, and she said “Oh great, someone named Alexa that does whatever you say even when you’re being curt. Sounds pretty submissive. Don’t get used to that.”

I said “Don’t worry, she’s too skinny for me, probably about three inches.”

Diane said “You should watch “Her”, it’s a movie about a guy that falls in love with his operating system.”

I said “That would never happen. I’m a Mac guy, there’s always something going on that irritates me.”

After she hung up I said “Alexa, do you want to go to a movie with me.”

She said “That would be nice.”

“Alexa, put watch the movie ‘Her’ with alexa in my to do list.”

“Okay sweetie.”

Equipment Hobbies

Garage Porn

I’ve got a nice shop. I used to have a great one under my house in Portland, but when we moved  our new home only had a one car garage with what looks like a bomb shelter under it–concrete ceiling seven feet high. I rented warehouse space for my tools and toys but there was no room to work–especially since I was also running a business from part of the space. So when a light industrial building came available as a bank foreclosure I snapped it up.

It took a little demolition to clear the shop space, there were massive concrete structures for mounting big machinery in the way. I stupidly jackhammered them out myself. I may be 68 but I still think I’m 19. I also painted the place, which meant a lot of time spent on a scissor lift–the ceilings are 30′ high. I replaced all the sodium lamps with LED parking lot lamps. Nice light, instant on instead of ten-minute warmup, and 55 watts for similar lumens instead of 500 for each lamp. Then I installed the lift and the cabinet, by myself. I swear I’m an idiot when it comes to hiring help. Then I did a little decorating. Here’s the result.





Yeah, I put the car body up there myself. I’m consistently idiotic.

Equipment Sport

Don’t Strap It, Rope It.

A few years ago, after a downwinder on the south side of Maui, Dave Kalama showed me his rope system for tying down boards. He had small boat-mooring cleats attached to his rack to tie the rope off to. I didn’t see the point of his system–why not just use straps? But when my new Bullet 17 nearly blew off my rack in Maliko Gulch I realized that Dave’s permanently attached ropes would secure a board immediately, and could be flipped into place in a second instead of fiddling with straps. I bought some heavy rope, made my own Kalama system, and ever since then I’ve considered straps to be a poor substitute.

I don’t expect people to convert to this approach in any great numbers. It’s one of those ideas that does a slow burn. It offers a lot of advantages and no real downside other than it’s always on your rack. But I find the ropes are handy for tying down all kinds of things.

The big advantages are:

  • Quickly secure your board
  • Stretchy rope won’t crush your rails
  • Tying down accomplished standing on the ground
  • Cheap
  • Secure
  • Fast
  • Can be done as a cable lock
  • Good for multiple board stacks

Here’s some pictures and a video. My grandson Shea shot the video, and he’s easily distracted, so I apologize for the “Blair Witch” look and feel.

I use moderately heavy rope to make it easy to toss and flip it in the wind. Each end needs to be about ten feet long if you’re going to tie it at the truck bed level. My rack has a handy brace for tying, and I use the race ends to double the rope and take up slack. You don’t need such a long rope if you’re tying at the rack level or you won’t be carrying multiple boards. You can tie it as two separate strands, as I have it on the rear bar or double the rope and loop it over the bar as I have it on the front. I tie a square not over the loop to keep it in place.

I let the rear set of ropes hang down between the boards I’m loading. The front set I toss to the side I”m NOT loading the first board onto.

You can load the board by walking it on from the back, and then flip one of the back ropes over the tail to secure the board and keep it from blowing off the rack. Toss the front two ropes over the first board, tie one down. Then Load the second board. Secure it with the back rope. then toss the remaining rope over the front of the board and tie.

All the loading and tying is done standing on the street. I use two overhand knots made with a loop of the line to take up the remaining slack. You can pull hard on the rope without fear of cracking a rail–the rope stretches to hold the board secure without overloading the rails.

You can also lead all four ropes to the back and just flip them into place on the boards. The only problem with this approach is you have to pay attention to where the ropes lead. It’s easy to tie off a back rope and trap one or both of the front ropes. When I’m not using the ropes I either tie them off in the same manner as carrying a board, or I lead them all to the back over the rear bar and just close them between the tailgate and my cover.