Category Archives: Foam
Custom Molding the Seat
For the intermediate term I’ll be using a custom-molded seat insert made with readily available (and cheap) two-part urethane foam. I have a kit of the Indy/F1 style foam, but it’s so expensive I’m going to learn what I can from the cheaper seat first. I’ve learned useful things already: on the first pour the bag doubled over or stuck to itself and the foam didn’t make its way to the thigh area, so the first attempt was scrapped. It was also useful, however, in finding out where to slice the foam to get it out of the car easily, and learning how thin the foam will make itself under high pressure areas (zero thickness). So for the second attempt I first lined the entire cockpit with two layers of 10mm energy-absorbing foam before pouring the 2-part foam.
As it expands the foam pushes hard against any constriction, like your body. When it hardens it’s almost too tight to fit back into. Many hours of sanding and cutting are needed to make the fit reasonable and comfortable. As it is, I can’t even get into the seat with my wallet in my pants pocket. At first I couldn’t even breathe in fully with the shoulder harness straps moderately tight.
Building the Undertray / Floor
Building the undertray started with building a surface large enough to hold it. It’s larger than it looks, so we had to laminate decorative plastic laminate onto two 4×8 foot sheets of plywood that had been trimmed to about 3×8 feet each. Then wood to form the side air dams was screwed down, and the radii filled with auto body putty. Next we cut plastic honeycomb and plywood pieces to fit, with the plywood located to pick up the attachment points on the frame and to protect the radiators on either side of the car. I built a hot-wire foam cutter from a tree saw handle, a piece of guitar wire, and an automobile battery charger, which I used to cut foam profiles for the leading edge of the floor. Then we laid the whole thing up with epoxy and two layers of fiberglass on the bottom and one on the top, and vacuum bagged the whole shebang. Vacuum bagging was made more difficult by the random tiny holes in the plastic sheeting, which we expediently fixed by adding a whole second sheet on top of the first.
After debagging we painted it and found out the hard way that you can’t paint enamel over fresh epoxy in a humid climate. It never dried, and had to be scraped off like tar. Epoxy paint worked much better. We then mounted the undertray on the car, drilling mounting points through the plywood in the correct places. We had to fabricate a mount for the front of the undertray, which was a little tricky as we didn’t want to remove the fiberglass body panel under the driver’s legs so everything had to be done from the outside. We fabricated a small pylon from aluminum sheet and pop-riveted and epoxied it to the bottom of the body.
Foam-Filling the Driver’s Head Surround
For proper protection in a crash, the driver’s head surround needs to be filled with foam. I placed an aluminum panel where I wanted the bottom of the foam to be, covered everything with plastic sheeting and poured two-part urethane foam into the cavity. The foam generates considerable pressure as it expands and cures, necessitating many iterations of trimming and fitting. I then sat in the car with the HANS device on, followed by many more iterations of trimming and fitting. Once the foam was cut to shape, I covered it in a single layer of fiberglass and epoxy, then painted it.
Finishing the Body Master Pattern
I ended up applying ten coats of SikaFloor epoxy to try to build a hard base for further finishing. Even this gave me problems, though, as it appears that the two-part urethane foam continues to expand indefinitely. Every time I would finish a section, next time I looked at it, it needed more work. For a long time I just thought my eyes were getting more demanding, but I finally realized the body buck was slowly changing shape, bulging out between the ribs. Once I figured this out, I just tried to finish the molds as fast as possible. I also installed air conditioning in this part of the workshop, and kept it running at night to avoid temperature-cycling the pattern.
If you’re thinking of doing this yourself, a better way to do it would be to just fiberglass straight over the plywood forms, using tape or something to support the first layer of fiberglass while curing. About a 3mm fiberglass shell should do it. Then use body putty right over that, using standard auto-body finishing techniques. That way there’s no foam between the ribs to push outward and mess up the shape. The only time you need foam is when you’re really sculpting something, like the sidepod air intakes. Oh, by the way, plan on about 1,000 hours of work.
After the floor epoxy there were several rounds of primering, puttying and sanding, followed by two coats of black two-part epoxy paint. This was sanded with 400, 800, 1200, and 2000 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper, then machine-polished with rubbing compound. The top layer was 9 coats of “Hi Temp Mold Release”, applied by hand strictly according to the instructions.
When I started to think about how to split up the body panels, I realized that the “horse collar” head surround would be impossible to remove when the car was finished, as it would interfere with the main roll hoop. This necessitated going all the way back to the SCCA rule book, where I took another look at the minimum cockpit opening specifications. I found that I could meet the minimum cockpit opening size with a fixed head surround, but I had to cut the “arms” off it. So, you get to see that surgery in the photos below.
Building the Body Buck: Part 2, Putty, Prime, Repeat
Here’s where the heavy lifting begins. Many, many passes of plaster or putty, sanding, and primer. The first step was to coat the entire body in plaster, which is best done the messy way: just plunge your hand into the bucket of plaster and smear it on the body buck. Plaster is much better for filling voids than foam is. Especially the insulation foam that comes in a can. Don’t, under any circumstances, use the canned spray foam. It remains flexible permanently, and keeps slowly expanding over a period of weeks or months. If you use it, as I did, to fill voids, you’ll spend days and days digging it out wherever it reaches the surface, refilling the holes with auto body filler.
I discovered that spackling compound, made for smoothing house walls before painting, works great after the plaster. Plaster has a short working time, and you end up mixing lots of little batches when you’re filling ripples. The spackling compound goes on smoothly, you can work it just about as long as you want, it sands extremely easily, and it sands to a feather edge. I also tried gypsum, but it has the disadvantage of remaining water soluble as it doesn’t cure.
I put on a gallon of Jotun Penguard 2-part enamel filler, then found the only auto-body paint supply shop in town and discovered “sprayable body putty”, so I followed up with a couple of gallons of that, spackling and sanding between coats. About the third coat of sprayable body putty, I noticed that the body buck was swelling badly where it had been in the sun. Uh-oh. It turns out the foam expands and contracts with temperature. After that I kept the car only in the garage, never letting sun touch it. It took 2-3 weeks to fix that mistake, now using auto body filler and a double-action (DA) air-powered sander with 40 grit sandpaper, a great combination for this work.
So when I finally got that mess cleared up, I wasn’t too keen on spraying another coat of primer and potentially distorting the surface again. Instead, I went straight to an extra-hard epoxy used for floors, called Sikafloor. This is a very unusual paint as it’s intended to be used only on horizontal surfaces, where it remains liquid for a long time as it flows to become perfectly flat. I sprayed it on, almost unthinned, an “off label use”, but it worked great for my purposes.
Building the Body Buck: Part 1, Ribs & Foam
Here’s what we’re building, sort of. Rather than build a CAD model of an actual assembly of stringer and rib parts, I extruded cuts into the solid model so that the slots will appear in the correct places when I make cross-section drawings at the appropriate locations. This is actually harder to visualize than you might think. I wasn’t sure it would go together flawlessly, especially since the cuts in both the ribs and stringers went to two different depths depending on the typical height of each region. I didn’t want long floppy sticking up from the cuts: