SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300ZX

Bear with me for a moment… have you ever heard of the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert M. Pirsig? The title tends to get thrown around in automotive circles – usually by car guys (watching other car guys) struggle with a stubborn part, [miss] diagnosis, or any other issue causing a hapless mechanic distress.

It’s cited in such a way as to say, take a break/calm down, get in a focused state of mind, and the answers will come; “you know, like ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’” Having finally read the book last year, I can honestly say; people who throw that statement around have probably never read it!

The book touches very little on the art of motorcycle maintenance (or any Zen like state to accomplish said maintenance). The author himself stating, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

Having said that, it’s a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it (for reasons other than the title implies). But I digress… at this point, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with radiator repair? Stay with me just a little longer.

SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300ZX

Whether truthful or not to the book, the car guy’s ‘interpretation’ of the title really does apply to most car (and life) related situations. Keep a level head, focus on the task at hand, and know when to walk away… too often we wrench on our rides angry and/or in a distracted state of mind. Almost always leading to some type of calamity.

Case in point – a few months ago I was thrashing around in the garage: it was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right. After hours of wrenching, frustrated and feeling like I was getting nowhere, I accidentally bumped a floor jack into the Z’s transmission (which had been removed and placed upright in the corner), sending it toppling right into my new SPL aluminum radiator. Great…

SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300ZX

“Did I just turn my expensive radiator into a giant paperweight? They don’t even make these anymore!” Indeed – I had gotten the last one used (but new) from Sean over at SPL, taking it out of his personal car. It hadn’t even seen fluid yet.

It’s a trick piece that fits in the stock location, and houses a built in oil cooler. The cooler keeps oil temps in check by way of heat transfer (submerging the heated engine oil in a bath of radiator coolant). This not only cools the oil, but regulates it in relation to coolant temps; stopping the oil from becoming too cool to perform properly (as can be the case with large external coolers). External coolers also block critical airflow to the radiator – with the already limited real estate in a Z32’s front nose, that was something I was trying to avoid.

Thankfully, a trip to my buddy Jay over at JPC Fabrication in Stroudsburg, PA put my mind at ease. He was confident we could weld the damaged tubes shut from the inside, effectively sealing them off from coolant (without damaging the oil cooler). I’ll lose 4 tubes in the process, but the radiator’s double the size of the OEM unit; it should be large enough to absorb the loss without affecting cooling too much.

SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300ZX

There was a lot of eye candy in the shop that day, everything from Porsche Cup Cars to classic muscle cars. JPC Fabrication runs the gamut, from mild to wild, and specializes in custom roll cages, headers/intercooler pipes, etc. If it’s metal and you can weld it, JPC can do it. They recently even started offering powder-coating services.

I’ve known Jay for a long time; we used to live in the same apartment complex way back when I was in College. He’s come a long way from the kid who used to drive the (cough) purple Honda Prelude (cough) with the hood scoop. (I kid, I kid!)

Jay got his start apprenticing for a local welder/fabricator (there’s that Zen theme again), eventually purchasing the business from him. With a reputation for quality, and his business growing faster than the original location could handle; Jay revamped and relocated to this mammoth location last year (coincidentally across the street from where we both lived years ago).

SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300zx

Porsche Cayman getting the full race prep! JPC will do the cage in my Z (when I get to that stage of the build).

SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300ZX

Race prepped 911 Turbo and a 69 Mustang Fastback “Resto-Mod” on the lift.

JPC Fabrication 69 Mustang

View of the Mustang from below. Some trick suspension components! Wish these were under my 69…

JPC Fabrication 69 Mustang Resto Mod

Another shot of the Mustang. Can you tell I like this car? Really clean build.

JPC Fabrication Powder-Coating

JPC’s newly constructed prep & powder-coating area.

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

Back to the task at hand… Jay begins by cutting the end tanks from the core, taking care not to damage the integrated oil cooler. A test cut was made (with an air saw) prior to this photo to make sure we had the necessary clearance to remove the end tank without damaging the cooler.

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

Next he uses some duck bill pliers to crimp the damaged tubes closed in preparation for welding.

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

Followed by a few passes with the TIG welder to seal them shut.

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

Notice only part of the end tank had to be removed on the passenger side to access the damaged tubes

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

A quick clean up/test fit of the weld surface before the two become one again.

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

A few tack welds hold the end tank in place.

SPL Radiator JPC Fabrication Z32 300ZX

Followed by more TIG welding.

JPC Fabrication SPL Radiator Z32 300ZX

All welded up and ready to go. To be 100% safe, I took a trip up to Motts Radiator in Reeders, PA to have it pressure tested. A dunk in the tank revealed a pinhole leak from where the bracket mounted to the end tank (the double layered area of the bracket/end tank prevented the weld from penetrating all the way through).  

A quick trip back to JPC had the leak sealed up and the radiator holding pressure. I can’t thank Jay enough for his hard work and attention to detail. If you’re looking to get any type of fabrication/welding done in the Northeast, JPC’s the place!

In the end – had I known when to walk away, the whole disaster could have been averted. Lesson learned. Next time things aren’t going my way, I’ll remember to keep a level head, focus on the task at hand, and know when to walk away… you know; like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”


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