MAX Update No. 93: Plugging Away

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Man, I’d better get this right.

Those who’ve been following the MAX Updates know how hard it was to build this body, and how hard it was emotionally to build the rear fenders twice. To avoid ever doing that again, I made molds for the second set of rear fenders (see MAX Update No. 73: Fenders Sans Benders) and now I can pop out replacement rear fenders like Pepperidge Farms pops out cookies.

Now that MAX has shown its stuff, there’s been a bit of clamor from DIYers who want to make similar* cars, and it’s clear that the streamlined body is a key factor in MAX’s fuel sipping ways. I’ve shown how I made MAX, and the nose alone took two solid months, and other builders could duplicate my steps or we could make a mold of the entire nose and pop out noses too.

As long as you’re making a few of them, molded parts aren’t much more expensive than start-with-a-block-of-foam-and-knock-off-everything-that-doesn’t-look-like-a-car parts. You use the same amount of resin and glass in either one, and there wouldn’t be any cost difference at all except A) the mold itself takes about triple the materials that go into a part (the mold has to be substantially stronger than the part) and B) you have to make the first part first anyway so you can have something to make the mold off of, and if you’re only making one part, you’re done, and if you’re making a mold, your work has just started…and if you mess up on making the mold (hey, it happens) you don’t have a part or a mold and you get to start over anyway. To thoroughly abuse the metaphor, you have to make a lot of cookies to pay for an industrial cookie forge.**

The long story short is, I figured if I spread the cost of the mold over ten cars, it would be just about as cheap*** for builders to buy the body parts as to make the parts themselves, and when people asked if I’d be making (and selling) copies of the MAX body, my answer was: when three people commit to buying bodies, I’ll make the molds.

The third builder committed about a month ago, so I’ve taken the nose off MAX and am transforming it into a pattern, or “plug” as it’s known in the colorful patios of the fiberglass industry. The scary part is, once I’m done converting it from part to plug, it will never be a nose again. I’m having to fill every hole (including the headlights and radiator air intake and the hole in the hood where the turbocharger sticks up), and having to brace it inside with bonded plywood panels, and bond flanges to the edges and…if this doesn’t work, MAX will never look like MAX again, and win or lose, MAX is out of the picture for a few months.

Of course, it’s going to work out great, and the first nose out of the mold will go on MAX, and I’ll use all the lessons I’ve learned from this prototype to make MAX prettier and slicker than ever, but it’s still a little scary. I’ve already looked like a dork at one Mother Earth News Fair (in Seven Springs, 2010) and I’d hate to double-dork.

Whew. I feel better, getting that out of my system, and I should stop with my “what if…” worries, since I’m already past the point of no return. MAX’s nose is hanging in my hangar (hence the name), upside down, getting its braces installed and its holes fiberglassed flat; it’s happening and that’s that. And maybe it’s a good thing that I can’t cruise around in MAX for a couple of months, because that allows me to work on the enclosed cabin without distraction.

*If you have a Cocker Spaniel named Trixi, her puppies are Cocker Spaniels, they’re not Trixis. MAX is only the name of this one specific car, and we need a name for this model of car. You can help; our lines are open, and operators are standing by.

**And if your first cookie gets jammed between the cookie hammer and the cookie platen, boy are you in trouble!

***The cost/labor comparison is about 35 cents an hour.

Photo by Jack McCornack

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