The Omni Rehab Project

Keeping the old clunker on the road

Copyright 2008 by Morris Rosenthal All Rights Reserved

The Omni Project

If It Jams Home

I've owned the Omni for 26 years now, and I'm not going to give it up without a fight. My real goal is to build an electric car one day, or at least do a conversion, but the chassis has to be reliable first:-) But I'm not a restoration guy who's going to strip it to the metal, sandblast, and basically restore it to new. All I aspire to is safe and effective. So what does the Omni need? For starters, some serious unibody repairs. Last time I had the left front wheel off I peeled away a pound or two of rusted, jagged sheet metal from one of the formed structural members. What bothers me is that it's the continuation of the shock tower and also supports one of the motor mounts. There's enough metal left that the car doesn't sag if I pick it up from the central jack point under the front motor mount, practically under the radiator on this car. So I moved on to cutting out the rusty subframe and I'm preparing to install the new floors as well.
The passenger side axle needs to be straightened out. The last couple years, I've been keeping the speed under 55, because that around where the vibrations get really bad, thanks to a inner tie rod that needs replacing and an axle wobble. Under 50 or so, you wouldn't know that the axel has wobble in it. What drives me nuts is that the axle itself isn't bent, it that I have mismatched axles in the car, leaving one too long. While you might think only an idiot could do that, I replaced both axles at the same time with rebuilds because the CV joints were going, and the job turned into a mess because one of the stock rebuilt axles turned out to have the wrong end on it. Never occurred to me to check the box while I was at NAPA, but it gives you an idea of the QC on some of these rebuilds. When I finally found a local supplier with a replacement, I suspect all I did was look at the end and install it. The problem is there are THREE different axle set the car can use, and you are supposed to match them and then move the engine on the engine mounts to get everything centered right.
The front passenger wheel (when it rains it snows) has a nasty horizontal shake, even when the tire is on the ground. It's not the ball joint, it's in the tie-rod linkage, and as near as I can judge, it's the inner tie-rod. The tie-rod is cheap, don't think it cost me much over $20. Replacing it is a pain, because you pretty much have to take the whole bottom of the car apart to get good enough access to the rack to put a wrench on it. I might buy one of the specialty tie-rod replacement tools they sell at Harbor Freight, essentially a tube with assorted open ended wrench ends that fits into the housing to keep the rack from twisting and getting damaged as you unscrew the inner tie-rod. I came across a brilliant animation of a pinion gear in a rack while checking out existing web pages.

My plan for proceeding is to start by renting a space where I can do the work and shoot video for this site. Next I pull the engine to get some honest working room, and while the front end is apart, I'll do some sheet metal repair work on the unibody. While welding is an option, I have an affinity for doing things the bizarre way, so I may try to go with steel pop-rivets (hey, they hold helicopters together) or with nuts and bolts (no nuts jokes, please). Then I'll straighten out the axle, which might be an interesting little project, and finally, I'll deal with inner tie-rod. Somewhere along the line, I'll have to do enough general body work to make it worth putting the car back on the road, but I have some decent techniques to video there. The idea is to do the work good enough. I'm not a perfectionist, and if you just want it to run, you shouldn't be a perfectionist either.

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