Angry Hamster EVO II: Holy Crap, I drove it! (and now I’m deaf)

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I HAVE NO SENSE OF TIME AT THIS POINT, BUT AFTER SOMETHING BETWEEN 10 MINUNTES AND AN HOUR, I START NOTICING A LOT OF BLACK FLAGS BEING WAVED IN MY GENERAL VICINITY. LEMONS RACES ARE SO CROWDED THE BLACK FLAGS HAVE TO BE ACCOMPANIED WITH A FLIP-CARD SHOWING YOUR CAR NUMBER, AFTER WATCHING THE SAME NUMBER A FEW LAPS IN A ROW, I REALIZE I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT NUMBER THIS CAR IS. I ALSO REALIZE I HAVE THE WRONG EARPLUGS IN, MEANING I CAN TALK TO THE PITS, BUT THEY CAN’T TALK TO ME. I RADIO IN THAT I’LL BE STOPPING IN MOMENTARILY FOR A LITTLE SELF IDENTIFICATION.

24 Hours of LeMons Angry Hamster Honda Z600 CBR1000

Turns out I was not being black flagged, and it turns out my whole stint, before and after the number debacle, supposedly only lasted 45 minutes. We normally aim for 2 hours in the Frankenmiata, but we have the engine way up in this thing called an “engine bay” and a giant Walmart cooler full of ice water pumping through our shirts. By comparison, the Hamster is the most intense sauna I’ve ever tried to race. Still, if it were just hot, I could have stayed in longer, it was the combination of hot and LOUD that saps the concentration. Besides, I’m only in this seat because one of the Hamster’s drivers succumbed to heat exhaustion trying to do a too-long stint and got a ride to the hospital. Best not to push my luck.

I don’t feel like I ever got the little beast figured out in my 45 minutes, and every time someone asks me what it’s like to drive, LOUD is the only word I can come up with. The engine itself is pretty loud, but the way it shakes and rattles the rust-perforated steel really magnifies the cacophony. The flat aluminum sheets surrounding the engine are actually double Dynamat lined, but the engine is solid mounted to the cage, which is solid mounted to the original, paper thin sheet metal. Making matters worse is a series of wafer thin louvers lining the passenger’s door/engine hatch. Each of those is surely resonating at its own frequency as well.

If you don’t recognize this car, go read up on its background here. Half of the amazing engineering and fab work that went into the original version of the car has already been tossed out the window, but its hard to understand what was done for Hamster EVO II without seeing the original Angry Hamster.

For all its gloriously over-engineered details, the Angry Hamster has lead a troubled life. Its first powerplant, the 1100 cc V4 from a mid ‘80s Honda Magna was chosen for its packaging. A longitudinal V4 with a shaft drive sits perfectly where a Z600’s tiny passenger’s seat should go, and the shaft drive is close enough to the middle of the car to make things work.

24 Hours of LeMons Angry Hamster Honda Z600 CBR1000

There was a problem, however. The only reason, it turns out, that the Magna doesn’t have a reputation as fragile and unreliable is because of its well-earned reputation for piggish handling. The Magna was a big, burly Camaro of a bike, capable of scaring riders from stoplight to stoplight, but without the handling chops necessary for anybody to stay on the power long enough for the engine to explode. Being in a car finally gave the engine that opportunity, which it took with surprising regularity. After chewing through 4 engines, and gaining enough notoriety to be noticed by the few brave riders who had tried going fast on Magnas, a small but convincing chorus of advice began floating Tim’s way saying, basically, “The Magna engine is shit, give up.”

Meanwhile, in the pit next door, Alex Vendler was running race after race relatively trouble-free in a CBR1000-powered Geo Metro he had hammered together in his garage with little more than a Harbor Freight welder, a pile of rusty angle iron, and a fearlessly creative mind. Finally the message sunk in: CBR1000 is much more race ready than the Magna. Time to change engines.

24 Hours of LeMons Angry Hamster Honda Z600 CBR1000

If only it were that easy…

The MetroGnome’s engine sits transversely in the passenger’s seat and chain drives a welded diff that’s hard mounted to the car, thanks to its independent rear suspension. The Angry Hamster, on the other hand, is so narrow, the engine won’t fit transversely, so it can’t be chain driven. Besides, the car’s narrowed RX-7 solid axle can’t really accommodate chain drive anyway, nor can the Z600’s laughably short wheelbase, which would leave the chain too short to be reliable.

24 Hours of LeMons Angry Hamster Honda Z600 CBR1000

Want a CV joint coming out of your bike gearbox? Just make one of these to replace the drive sprocket.

Turning the engine longitudinal makes it possible to replace the sprocket with a driveshaft, but if you want the driveshaft to point toward the back of the car, that driveshaft will come out of the right side, roughly in line with the right rear tire.

It would, in the end, have been easier to convert the car to right-hand drive, putting the engine on the left and the drive sprocket roughly down the middle, but building a time machine to give him the power of hindsight would have been even harder than the ordeal of making the right-hand engine work.

To keep the driver where he was and get the driveshaft to the middle of the car, Tim decided to mount the engine diagonally. This would point the bike’s output toward the middle of the car, but would require the driveshaft to make two roughly 30-degree bends on its short trip to the diff. This is more angle than any U-joint can handle, but there are some CV joints that do it.

 

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