Project 914 3.6: Part 17

The final details: Corner-balancing, alignment, paint, protection, and a performance chip

December 10, 2010

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Project 914 3.6: Part 17 1
Project 914 3.6: Part 17 2
Project 914 3.6: Part 17 3
Project 914 3.6: Part 17 4
Project 914 3.6: Part 17 5
Project 914 3.6: Part 17 6

Confession: Project 914 3.6 is nearing completion, and has turned out far better than intended. This wasn’t supposed to be a concours-quality car, but that’s what it has become.

Of course, “too nice” is a great problem to have, but it does have one downside: It makes the thought of the first scratch or ding especially painful. Thus, I looked into options for paint protection. After a final paint buffing, I decided to have a “clear bra” vinyl coating installed on areas prone to rock chips, and had a local company come by and install 3M film on the hood. I had it removed immediately, however, because the film’s heavy “orange peel” surfaces didn’t appeal to me.

There had to be a better way, and there was: Another type of clear film, made by Venture Shield, is far smoother and a lot harder to spot. I would, however, have to travel a ways to get it installed — and before I made that two-hour drive, I would need to get an alignment so I wouldn’t kill my brand-new tires.

While I would leave the final alignment settings to a professional, I decided to tackle my first four-wheel alignment at home because I wanted to corner-balance the car, too. Corner-balancing addresses the weight at each of a car’s four wheels, taking into account not just weight bias from front to rear but also side-to-side weights and weight differences between the front-left/right-rear and front-right/ left-rear wheels.

When you corner-balance a car, you add or subtract weight from each wheel as necessary to better balance the car, a process that requires an expensive set of scales and a suspension system that allows fine-tuning of the ride height at each corner of the car. To get an idea of what corner-balancing addresses, picture a chair with one short leg — one that rocks uncomfortably when used. Well, a car with a tire that has less weight on it than it should will be uncomfortable when used, too; the tire may lock up easily under braking and the car won’t handle as well as it could.

Due to the equipment required, corner-balancing is outside the scope of most home builders. As it turns out, it’s outside the scope of most professional alignment shops, too. We called a few and, when asked if they could perform a corner balance, most asked, “What’s that?” While race-prep shops often have the right equipment to do a corner-balance, I found out a friend of mine did, too. When he offered to loan me his set of scales and help me, I decided to take him up on the offer.

Each scale has a cord that attaches to a master display where the weight readings can be viewed. In addition, we placed special ball-bearing plates under the tires so the car’s suspension could move more freely as we made adjustments. To achieve the best results, corner-balancing and suspension alignment should be done together. Your alignment settings should be based on how you will drive the car. While you can usually squeeze more performance out of a more aggressive setting, it will come at the expense of tire wear. Even so, I chose an aggressive setting due to the 3.6-liter engine’s power and my intended usage: fast backroad drives.

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