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Soap Box Race Los Angeles

Making a Body Plug

The body is by far the most ambitious part of this project. We are currently working to carve the mach 5 out of foam in order to make the basis for our body mold. This part is called the plug and here is the process we have gone through to this point to make the plug.


We started off with humble beginnings, a stack of insulation foam that we got for $50. This is a soap box car of course, so we can't exactly spend a pile of money on foam. So we are making due with what we can get our hands on. This, is what we can get our hands on...


It looks pretty rough, and to be honest, it is pretty rough. Each piece of foam has a fiberglass sandwich of material that had to be peeled off...but we'll get to that later.

Jeremiah, the master of all things 3d design, drew the vehicle and was able to section it into 54 sections.

The Mach 5

The sections were then sent over to a waterjet that we have access to at Display Devices. Each piece was cut out in the foam and each piece was then transferred onto two aluminum poles that hold the pieces together.





The waterjet typically cuts through metal with a stream of water and a bit of a sand like material mixed in. The foam is so easy to cut we were able to just cut with water alone. This system simply cuts a 2d version of the drawing and every section was then stacked together. As the stack started getting taller the car started to take shape!



Of course, as the night got later and later we became a bit more and more intrigued with other things... if you have ever seen that Japanese game show where the competitors have to become human tetris piecs....


Or if you have ever worked in a may be familiar with these guys...


Oh and of course, you have to have the most random bug ever landing on various team members throughout the night.


During all this the foam was cutting and we were stacking. The car was continuing to take shape.



Eventually all the pieces were cut...actually, we ran out of the night was finished. But the majority of the vehicle was cut and we were able to load it into our borrowed truck that we affectionately call "America" at about 2am to take it down to the shop.


Once back to the shop (and rested...slightly) we started rough sanding the vehicle. The sanding went quickly but we realized very fast that we were going to need to peal off the fiberglass paper that was sandwiching the foam pieces. It was just hindering the sanding to much!



So after sanding we committed an entire night to pealing off the fiber paper. What a process. Respirators were worn, gloves were required and it was just a tedious task to get that paper off the foam.



The next step was to glue all the pieces together, we can't have it shifting or moving about while we are making our mold so we need it to be nice and solid!



Once the plug was glue up we came by the shop ready to tackle the nose and tail sections. The aluminum pipes we used for our body were a smidge long even after the precision cutting we had done at the shop... So we did a little, non precision cutting.


Then we put a section of all thread through the tubes put the tail pieces on and tightened it all down to keep the foam pieces nice and tight together.


The basic form of the nose was assembled and glued up, this will be attached and sanded down soon.



We moved on to sanding the body. We had a lot of material to smooth out and prepare for a top coat.




Then we wrapped it up for the evening, the body is close to finished and ready to be sealed and coated. The nose and tail will be attached tonight and sanded to match the body. Soon the body will be ready for fiberglass!



With the majority of the team occupied Matt and Josh dug into the car to get the nose attached and start shaving away at the tail section. This thing is really starting to look like something.

The nose and tail were attached using threaded rod as an assistant and wood glue as a binder. It took a few attempts but we got everything lined up well and it is ready for action.




We shaped the tail section to give it it's final look. this thing is great looking, I seriously can not wait to see the final car!





Finally we started giving the dash a bit of form as well. Hopefully all the details shine through at the end, but the steering tunnel with a little detail on the left side...well that is just awesome looking if you ask me.


Next up we are going to sand the form into the nose as well as plaster the whole vehicle. I suspect the vehicle is going to take a lot of plaster to get it completely covered...but we have 50 lbs to start with, so we'll see how it all comes together.

Matt began shaping the nose, no pressure at all Matt, it is just the part that makes or breaks the car...


seriously though, Matt did a kickass job, Jeremiah and Josh did their part and got burritos...



The more time you spend on your mold the better the final product is going to be. That is what they always say. Well guess what everyone? It's GO time! We have been spending our days and nights sanding away on this thing, adding more plaster then sanding some more. We are going to get it as straight as possible.

The process started with deciding on the material to coat the vehicle with. Jeremiah and Josh began with the plaster as Matt continued to shape the nose. We began with varying levels of success. We chose plaster because we used it for a sculpting project before and remembered how nicely it carved and shaped...






We made countless batches of plaster all with different levels of density in order to accomplish different things. Eventually the entire vehicle was covered and we were ready to sand.




This whole process was an extreme mess so our photos are pretty limited actually.

After all the sanding it was time to apply a second coat. We were warned that this was going to be a heck of a task and it started out appearing that we were going to be in trouble. However as all good discoveries happen, we accidentally discovered that you can moisten the surface and add a little material then massage it all in and smooth it out. It was pretty time consuming and it made a horrible mess, but it worked very well and we will have the opportunity to sand it soon in order to try it out.






We have been working tirelessly on this thing...well, we have been under the influence of Red Bull however, but we are making good progress and even picked up our Fiberglass just yesterday... 40 yards later and 5 gallons of Resin later...


At the end of the day yesterday we had made the most incredible mess that we have ever made. Every surface of the shop was covered. You'd have to see the shop in order to get a true grasp on the severity of this, but we did our best to clean it all up.



Here is a Video for you to check out from our adventures up till this point.

We have recently moved into a new facility. We are fortunate to have access to a paintbooth that we are able to use. This thing is perfect. It has a HUGE exhaust fan and a perfect size for the vehicle. The Exhaust fan is great now, but we are going to be even more excited about it when we start doing our fiberglass work.

The new shop is in the middle of no where, I mean, really. It is out there...




Ok, so back to the labor. We had a bit of trouble with our plaster. The second layer and the first layer were not getting along as well as we had hoped and we were having some separation between these layers. Personally, I was very freaked out by this. It basically meant to me that we were going to have to find an alternative and alternatives are not cheap! We decided that our plan was going to be "Sand aggressively, get this thing as flat as possible and then reassess the situation."

So that is what we did, we pulled out the big guns, inline sander, DA sander, air file all with 36 grit paper, this thing was getting flat whether it liked it or not. We sanded through in a few spots, that is to be expected...





When we got it pretty darn smooth we resorted to plaster again to fill in the gaps. I can see how this plaster could actually work, it just has some very strange characteristics that make it complicated. We are pushing on however and making due with the plaster. We will see tonight how our newest layer holds up...










Eventually we started to realize how bad a plan plaster was. We weren't thinking clearly when we chose this. As usual we thought we had a brilliant plan that would save us a bunch of money...

Anyhow, we decided to cut our losses and seal the thing with Gel coat. We figured, if we gel coat it that will give us a solid layer to work off. Then we can bondo the car and that will give us an easier medium to sand on. So that is what we did. First a layer of Gel coat then layer after layer of bondo until it was straightish.


Steve hueske, our paint and body expert has been a valuable resource!




After a quick break for refreshments we were back at it


We started sanding the vehicle then applying bondo to the rough spots... eh...rough spots may be a bit of a stretch, we started covering the car in bondo.




If you have ever worked with bondo and tried to get every last second out of your working time, you know what is going on here...if not, stop by, we got a job for you: IMG_4390

Then onto the sanding, lots and lots of sanding..



Sanding was handed off to more bondo then back again to the sanders



Eventually we were able to get the whole thing all dialed in.


The vehicle has now been gel coated and sealed, so we will be waxing the body, spraying it down with PVA and getting ready to pull our mold off this thing. We are hoping to have the mold off the car this week so we can pull a body next week. We are pushing it...I know.

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