Tormach on the Track

Things don’t get much cooler than vintage race cars, except when you are creating custom parts for vintage race cars. Sonoma, California-based Adam Silver uses his Tormach PCNC 1100 mill to make parts for vintage racers and “better than aftermarket” components for his own sporty Mazda Miata, which he uses to occasionally burn some rubber on the track.

“The Tormach [is] used to carve parts out of 7075 aluminum primarily. I've also used it as a vertical lathe, by attaching parts into the spindle on a fixture, for turning contours and even make prototype circuit boards,” Silver explains.

He puts the PCNC 1100 through the paces with varying jobs. “On occasion I'll even use it as a metrology tool for measuring features on larger pieces by fixing a dial indicator in the spindle and using the DRO.” Silver has been doing his own R&D work on Miatas to help solve problems the car had from the factory.

“One [problem] was real oil pressure. I've had a lot of interest in the adapter pieces I made to allow the installation of a VDO real oil pressure gauge instead of the OEM gauge which looks like [it measures] oil pressure, but in fact is simply a switch.”

There is a collection of coolant re-route kits available online, but Silver felt they weren’t up to par, so he took to making his own. “I've milled a manifold to re-route the coolant return from the rear of the engine instead of the front. Since the coolant is pumped into the front of the engine, the OEM design of returning coolant from the front made for poor cooling on the rear cylinders. For street driving this is certainly OK, but not for track use.”

He has also used the Tormach mill to make an array of adapters and brackets for oil cooling, fuel system, and engine components. “I use it for whatever comes up.” Silver uses high performance aerospace alloys for many of his custom car parts on his Tormach mill.

“Most OEM and aftermarket parts are made from steel or Al-6061. With the PCNC 1100, I get to use titanium and Al-7075. Lighter, better strength, and machinability are all good. I think this mill brings out the engineer in us. It lets us take an available aftermarket part to the next level.”

The entrepreneur wasn’t at liberty to divulge the renowned formula car maker for which he supplies vintage race car parts. “[They’re] very protective of their name and any proprietary designs, which are basically everything,” he explains.

However, he was able reveal some details about the parts he mills, in support of formula car events at his local raceway, Sonoma Raceway, as well as Laguna Seca in Monterrey, California.

“I've been making a variety of items as they come up. I've made a bunch of wheel nuts, which are large bore single nuts used to hold the wheel on. Think of NASCAR, not your car that has a hub with lug nuts,” he explains.

“You would think this would naturally be a turned part, but in fact it lends itself to being milled, using thread milling. The nuts center the wheel using a taper. After flipping the nut over and rough milling the taper, I put the nut in a fixture on the spindle, clamp a lathe tool in the milling vise, and use the Tormach as a simple vertical lathe, to get the angle on the taper dead on.”

Silver finds it interesting that his PCNC 1100 does such a good job milling these wheel nuts. “I usually take steel wool and polish out some of the highly regular tool marks before anodizing. The fit on these nuts is particular to the car, and in some cases varies from axel to axel, because the axel spindles were all handmade.

Between SprutCAM (Silver’s CAM system) and the Tormach, it's easy enough to cut several test threads and get the fit as sample.” The challenges in creating vintage racing parts don’t end there. “Often, there is no print, but where there is, the detail can get quite intense. For instance, I'm working on a set of end caps for some hub carriers. They require holes to be reamed to 8 mm, even though they are through bolt holes for a 5/16” bolt. Yes, I think it's overkill, but that's what's spec'd.”

Silver has been impressed by the precision and ruggedness of his Tormach. As a TechShop member, he saw a Tormach used by lots of people. “After a few years in this semi-abusive environment, it kept on performing and holding good tolerances.”

That was one of the driving factors to him getting his own PCNC1100. “One of my favorite features is the tool table, and TTS tooling. The PCNC 1100 offers an excellent range of tooling at competitive prices that get the job done,” Silver says. “The SprutCAM tutorials are invaluable and the Tormach seems dedicated to offering new tooling and solutions that really make this tool valuable.”