How To Plan A Project

General Discussion about the Datsun PL510
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okayfine
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How To Plan A Project

Postby okayfine » 20 Dec 2009 12:57

In “Suggestions for New 510 Owners,” I included a section on project planning. Planning is vital to the success of most any project, especially automotive ones. Current culture and society have removed or eliminated some of the foundations of planning knowledge and ability. Novice mechanics may never have stood by their fathers as they maintained and repaired the Family Truckster and many have also grown up in our current “disposable” society where non-functioning items are trashed instead of inspected and repaired.

It is almost never too late to develop planning skills and put them to practice. Reading that you have to “plan” a project is all fine and good however, but what does it really mean? It means many things, actually, and all good project plans involve five broad elements as we’ll detail below. The five elements can be summed up as money, tools, time, space, and skill. Each element is important for the do-it-yourselfer in equal measure, and they are often intertwined. If you have the money to pay someone else to craft your project then your tools, your time, your skill, and your space (or lack of them) don’t factor in, but if you have that kind of money, you likely aren’t reading this article. For most of us in the real world we can’t afford to have someone else build it or to begin a project destined for failure.

It goes beyond those five elements, though, and should also include a concept of the finished product and how to get from the beginning to the end. This article can’t help with the wrenching or motivation to get out there after a long day at work, but the vision in your head of that finished project should do its own to get you out into the garage, even for an hour a night.

So far we’ve spoken generally about the planning of a “project.” What constitutes a project? It could be a suspension swap, an engine rebuild, construction of a new dash, an engine swap, or all of those things during a complete rebuild of a bare metal shell. It is generally advisable to start small and work up to bigger and bigger projects. Provided you objectively judge your preparedness in the following five elements, big projects out of the gate don’t have to be avoided. Think of each of the five elements as a stop-gate – if you can’t satisfy the requirements of even one element, your plan needs to be reanalyzed.

Money

We will start off with money because, of the five elements, money is the least important provided the other four are already in place. Off-the-shelf bolt-on parts are expensive because fabricators value their time greatly and their skills are generally in limited supply. If your skills are sufficient to fulfill your vision, you can save significant money on the build of your 510 by doing nearly everything yourself. Sending out for a flipped front crossmember is $200 while doing it yourself is a few hours…as long as you know how to properly jig the crossmember, have a welder handy, and know how to use it.

Your budget involves more than labor charges for fabricated parts, however. You would be hard-pressed to build an engine from raw materials even if you had plenty of tools, time, skill, and space. Hard parts like engines, suspension components, and wheels have specific costs you will have to account for in your budget. When you do, do not forget about all the related costs that your project will incur. An engine swap will likely need cooling and fuel system modifications but could also require brake and suspension system upgrades. You might start out with a desire for coilovers on the front of your 280ZX struts but will the front strut insert dampening match your chosen spring rate? What about the rear springs? If your new suspension setup lowers your car, how are you going to correct the rear suspension toe and camber? Will the tires and rims fit the new suspension and lowered stance?

Money, if possibly the least necessary of the five broad elements, is likely the most restricted, especially for novice mechanics. Before spending dollar one, determine if your plans can be accomplished for the budget you have set. Novice mechanics frequently allocate tiny amounts of money for significant projects, either in the belief that buying the engine constitutes the complete outlay of money for the engine swap or because a friend thrice-removed said it only cost his brother’s cousin $25 to swap in his junkyard KA24E.

Tools

Do you have the tools to build your vision? The tools required vary from person to person, just as each person’s project will vary. They obviously include basic mechanics’ tool sets with end wrenches, screwdrivers, socket sets, etc. The more involved your project, however, the more important the correct tools become. Some new tools will likely be purchased prior to big projects, but that’s part of the fun. The reality is, though, that the tool budget directly impacts the parts budget and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to buy every tool you’ll need.

For many welding jobs, for instance, a MIG welder will do just fine – if it’s made of steel and part of a 510, any good (Lincoln, Miller, etc.) 120V welder will be sufficient. Increasingly, aluminum is involved in 510 fabrication and that requires a TIG welder. Neither is cheap and you can easily spend thousands of dollars on either. If you’ve only got a few parts that need welding, determine if the welding can be outsourced to a local shop or acquaintance (Bluebirds’ list or 510 Realm member, for instance). If all you need is a crossmember flipped, the $200 cost for an exchange piece sure outweighs the $700 needed for a MIG rig.

For the most part you should have the tools you’ll need. This helps to prevent delays. As with the money component, determine if your plans can be accomplished with the tools you own. If not, budget for the tools you will need to buy and for the labor costs of outsourcing, if necessary.

Time

Projects take time, this is no surprise. However, projects often take much longer than the novice mechanic appreciates, especially if the quality of the resulting product is important or the impacts of life away from the 510 are taken into account. Time is probably the least valued by most 510 owners because many 510s are owned as hobby cars and working on them is part of the enjoyment of that hobby. The time budget of a successful project plan isn’t about money but it is just as important, and it is most intertwined with space.

In the planning for the project, an honest allocation of time is necessary if the car will be rendered undrivable for any length of time. Something as “simple” as changing out the stock Hitachi downdraft carburetor for a set of SUs can be accomplished in a few hours under the best of conditions; it can also take many, many times longer if you need a new manifold gasket and your FLAPS needs a week to order one, or you find your “worked when pulled” set of SUs don’t actually have all the parts in working condition.

Time is most intertwined with space because in addition to planning the project you’ll have to arrange space for the project to take place, whether that’s a space in the garage, on the driveway, or at a friend’s house. That last location is the most perilous for obvious reasons, but even your garage space can throw curveballs if you don’t think it through. If your project 510 is immobile in the garage on jack stands what happens when your daily-driver needs an oil change or the Christmas decorations, located directly above the 510 in the rafters, need to come down?

Will you have the space available for the time it will take, whether that length of time has been properly estimated or not? If you get your wife to agree to the 510 taking up garage space for four weeks but you know even the best time estimates call for six weeks (and it’ll likely take eight weeks or more), you’re simply setting yourself up for failure.

Space

As mentioned, space is intertwined with time. Space, however, has its own requirements beyond the relationship with time and it varies with the complexity of the project. Where are your tools? When and where can you make noise (cutting, grinding, swearing)? Where can you cut? Where can you weld? How will weather affect project progress? Do you have space to work around the car without worrying about other cars, storage, or utility use of the rest of the space?

Engine swaps have been performed in carports, but that is not anyone’s idea of the proper space for the project. Brake jobs can easily be accomplished in a carport. The space required for your project varies with the project. Again, an honest accounting of the space required will help determine if you have the space necessary and, hence, whether the project you are planning can be successful given the realities you’ll face in regards to space.

Skill

Skill, for the do-it-yourselfer, is paramount. You can overcome hurdles in most of the other elements with an excess of skill. If you don’t have the required skill, all the time, tools, and space won’t help you be successful.

Skill isn’t something you can acquire by reading about it, skill is developed by doing. Often that initial “doing” is accompanied by a lot of failing, but failure is as good a teacher as any provided you learn the lessons it teaches you. As mentioned above, it is rare these days to have a family figure show you the ropes by working on the Family Truckster, so where do you start to develop your abilities? Start small. Oil changes, brake changes, tune-ups, that sort of thing. Minor mechanical adventures are hard to get wrong as long as you’re careful and follow the procedures outlined in a service manual or the like. Success with these small projects builds confidence to tackle larger ones, and success also provides its own feedback and lessons learned.

There is a component of skill that also can’t be readily taught: critical thinking. What does critical thinking have to do with welding skill or fabrication skill or wiring skill? Everything. In wiring up a modern engine swap, you’ll have to make decisions regarding where to source constant power from, how to tie in the engine harness to the chassis harness, what wires can be eliminated, etc. These decisions can be made on your own, provided you have examined and evaluated the wiring diagrams and can understand the electrical flow of components outlined in the factory service manual. Critical thinking is necessary to do anything beyond follow a step-by-step guide. As you’re dealing with custom processes, there’s little in the way of true step-by-step instructions for most 510 modifications.

Concept

You can have the tools, time, money, skills, and space to accomplish your project, but what is that project? Creating a concept, whether on paper or in your mind, can be crucial. A revised suspension is more than a parts list of coilovers, camber plates, and urethane bushings. What kind of ride and handling attributes do you want? Will that new suspension match how you end up driving the car? Will it match your budget and your mechanical skill?

The concept is probably the most ambiguous of the project planning elements discussed in this article, but it may be the most important. The overall concept can help keep you motivated during times of little progress (just thinking about the finished project can be quite the motivator). Keeping your concept in mind can also keep you focused on the project plan. Sure, you may have stumbled on this killer deal for a set of 0-offset, ultra-rare JDM wheels and they’re too cheap to pass up and no one else has them on a 510, but if they won’t fit your suspension and don’t really fit your plans for the appearance of the finished project…are they worth it?

Keeping focused on the concept is key, therefore development of this concept is of utmost importance. As with everything here, the concept varies according to the project. Put simply, examine the impacts your project will have on the car and determine how to best shape those impacts to your ideal. If you aren’t sure about what your ideal is, that’s where researching and networking with 510 enthusiasts comes in. If you know you want an engine swap because you are sold on the benefits of EFI, EI, and modern reliability and power but you don’t know which engine is right for your budget, skill, and how you will drive the car, do your research.

Research

You may have noticed that “research” is not part of the five broad elements I feel is necessary for a successful project. Research can take the place of some of each of the five elements and should not be discounted, but provided you have objectively judged your budget, tools, time, skill, and space to be adequate, you likely have no need to research.

I did no research during the conception and execution of my SU-fed SR20DE because I knew it was straight-forward, if not easy. Having honestly evaluated the five elements before beginning the project I knew I knew I was going to need help with the aluminum welding and melding of the SR CAS and L-series distributor – and that’s exactly what happened. The fabricated SU manifold bolted up and the carbs fired the engine straight away. The distributor slid home as stock and, after some faulty parts were replaced on the “rebuilt” distributor, ran just like an L-series EI dizzy.

With a solid plan and concept, anything is possible. If you look around the 510 world at the failed projects, they failed most often because the five elements mentioned above were not honestly assessed. Most often lacking is the skill required to pull off their concept. A KA swap may seem common these days and every Dimer wants something unique, but a KA is a great engine for a 510 and because it is relatively common there’s tons of information about it.

If you take away only one thing from this article, ensure that you’re honest with yourself when contemplating a big 510 project. Are your desires based on more than just the current trends? Do you understand the compromises your project will bring (and, trust me, everything is a compromise)? Do you have what it takes to see your plan through to the end, successfully? There’s nothing wrong with sticking to a stock-based 510; L-series and carbs have powered every single 510 in existence at one time or another. Don’t aim for the stars, aim for reality.
Because when you spend a silly amount of money on a silly, trivial thing that will help you not one jot, you are demonstrating that you have a soul and a heart and that you are the sort of person who has no time for Which? magazine. – Jeremy Clarkson

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jason
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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby jason » 20 Dec 2009 13:10

This needs to be a sticky I think!
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merlin
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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby merlin » 20 Dec 2009 13:17

this needs to be a tattoo
Merlin from Datsunhistory.com

"test mule? I don't need no stinkin' test mule... Bert Vorgon is my test mule"

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby goichi1 » 20 Dec 2009 13:37

I still want to drop a Hemi in my dime....will it fit?? No garage, no tools, but Idid fix my BMX bike a few times, I should be ok, right?? :shock: :lol: :lol:....just kidding, very good info....nice.

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby jason » 20 Dec 2009 13:44

Richard, I though you wanted that radial pratt and whitney :mrgreen: :lol: ~!
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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby goichi1 » 20 Dec 2009 20:21

hhaahah....you have a good memory Jason, but that would require destroying at least three 510's!! but it would be "baaaddd aasssss YO! 8)

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby jason » 20 Dec 2009 20:27

Dude, all ya gotta do is find a 'goon and hang some curtains in back :twisted: ! No one will even know 'til you wick 'er up man :mrgreen: ! I remember an old story with that line in it, it was funny 8) :lol: !
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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby hang_510 » 21 Dec 2009 10:19

okayfine wrote: Think of each of the five elements as a stop-gate – if you can’t satisfy the requirements of even one element, your plan needs to be reanalyzed.

i just keep adding to the 'time to completion' :lol: :evil: :evil: :evil:



dont think ive ever had them all going at the same time :twisted:
byron wrote:I'd be all over that like a fat kid on a smartie.

okayfine wrote:Sense doesn't always have everything to do with it, and I speak from experience.

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby dislexicdime » 21 Dec 2009 10:42

this should be on every datsun web site. Have it set up so that you cannot start posting until you read it. Then answer a series of questions to prove you read it. then use the search 10 times ! Then you will be allowed to post ! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
L series only have one header!

i need another garage mine is full of part's

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby KaipoDa510 » 21 Dec 2009 11:16

This is probably in my top five list of good advice....
Godd stuff!!
Someone please make it a sticky!!!
There is no feeling like driving a Datsun!!

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby okayfine » 21 Dec 2009 12:23

KaipoDa510 wrote:This is probably in my top five list of good advice....


I'd love to hear the other four. This is just one person's POV and certainly isn't the end-all, be-all. But it should give people a place to start and to get a lot of the nonsense dealt with before a new member reaches for that "New Topic" button to discuss SBCs or RB26s.
Because when you spend a silly amount of money on a silly, trivial thing that will help you not one jot, you are demonstrating that you have a soul and a heart and that you are the sort of person who has no time for Which? magazine. – Jeremy Clarkson

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby defdes » 21 Dec 2009 12:29

okayfine wrote:
KaipoDa510 wrote:This is probably in my top five list of good advice....


I'd love to hear the other four.

-Don't piss into the wind.
-Look before you leap.
-Don't take wooden nickles.
-Speak softly and carry a big stick.
-How to plan a project.

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby 5teN » 21 Dec 2009 13:04

Thanks Julian!
Spencer

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby Derek » 21 Dec 2009 13:25

Hey Julian, what about those who plan/analyze all day at work, and want our hobby to not have anything to do with planning/budgeting/worry? I like my personal projects to be fluid and run them fast and loose, making decisions as I go and not always understanding what I am up against until I'm into it. The may not be the cheapest or easiest way to do things, but it keeps it interesting for me and it lets me do the fun stuff as soon as possible.

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Re: How To Plan A Project

Postby okayfine » 21 Dec 2009 14:07

Derek wrote:Hey Julian, what about those who plan/analyze all day at work, and want our hobby to not have anything to do with planning/budgeting/worry? I like my personal projects to be fluid and run them fast and loose, making decisions as I go and not always understanding what I am up against until I'm into it. The may not be the cheapest or easiest way to do things, but it keeps it interesting for me and it lets me do the fun stuff as soon as possible.


Derek, the article is really aimed at the novice mechanic even though plenty of more experienced blokes could take something from it. That said, as I mention in the article, if you have the skills, the other elements aren't quite as important. IMO you still need some of each to get the job done on time and on budget (or somewhere close), but as I also mentioned, often these projects are our hobbies and as such we aren't required to come in on budget and on time...and if we did everything by the book then some stuff may never happen that could or should. But the difference between you and a 24-year-old, first-time 510 owner looking at the world of modifcation is pretty dramatic.

The novice mechanic isn't going to have the experience building and driving Datsuns that you do, so it's not really a fair comparison. And it won't fit for everyone even if they're new to projects or 510s or whatever.
Because when you spend a silly amount of money on a silly, trivial thing that will help you not one jot, you are demonstrating that you have a soul and a heart and that you are the sort of person who has no time for Which? magazine. – Jeremy Clarkson


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