This year I have the great privilege to be one of the judges on The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Award for Automotive Innovation 2011. Defining ‘Innovation’ well enough to be able to judge the relative merits of the entries is not a simple task, so the short-listed entries will present to a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style panel of industry leaders. The winner will be announced at SMMT’s Annual Dinner on 22 November at the London Hilton, Park Lane.
The six short-listed entries showcase the cutting-edge R&D work currently taking place in the UK automotive industry. An industry that is developing at a phenomenal rate whilst battling an extraordinarily difficult world economy. It’s an industry that has suffered very hard times in the past yet seems to have come out of it stronger and fitter than ever.
Innovation is a key ingredient of this recovery and is essential for the industry’s long term survival on the world stage. Please take a moment to look at the SMMT page on the awards at:
It’s all change here; after 12 years of having a vehicle workshop in one location or another, it’s time to close up shop.
In that time I have built a variety of race cars, a concept car, a selection of specialist vehicles and some notable project cars for magazines including a 400bhp Escort and an Evo ‘grand challenge’ car..
Most of these projects have been for paying customers, but a few have been for myself and I have many fond memories of building them. So there is more than just a hint of sadness as this chapter closes.
But the sad fact is that it is so very difficult to earn a living from building other people’s cars, that’s why every back street garage is struggling to survive and why insurers and main stream car service centres would rather write a car off than spend the time fixing it. It really is tough out there.
As an engineering consultant and as a writer I earn enough to pay the bills, so my workshop has become rather redundant, the great collected piles of ‘useful’ bits are covered in dust. I still have my garage at home for toys so it’s not like I am going to stop spannering though, and there are still plenty of silly projects in the pipeline.
Some of the good bits have already been sold, but there is still literally tons of stuff left. This includes duplicate tools from when I had a set at home, a set in the truck and a set in the workshop! Then there is the fall out from the job lots I have bought over the years, radiators, turbos, intercoolers, tubes, clips, wiring, all sorts of miscellaneous parts that were bought but never got used. Then there are the bits taken off scrap cars because they looked useful, some bit are small like control modules from a Volvo 940, but some are rather too large such as a set of Range Rover axles and 10 E30 wheels!
And it’s not just car parts, there are also books, magazines, corporate merchandize left over from press launches (Ferrari lanyard anyone?)
I have sold a few bits on a well known internet auction site, but to be honest that is a bit too time consuming and spare time is in rather short supply just now. So my plan is to offer first dibs to http://www.projectmobility4x4.org which is a fantastic charity that I am very pleased to support, and then throw the doors open on Saturday 13thAugust 2011 to allow any like minded petrol head to make silly offers on anything they see.
It’s a simple premise: everything must go, most of it is free to a good home.
I might also be persuaded to part with my beloved Triumph Trident 900 motorbike and the project BMW 325 E30 racer, both will need work.
The workshop is in Bedfordshire, half way between Luton andBedfordjust off the A6. Everyone is welcome, just send me a message, email, Twitter, Facebook etc. and I will send you the details.
Some of the contents:
Janspeed Rover V8 SD1 exhaust manifolds and big bore system.
Turbos, various including two Garret T25s (used) and a modern variable vane Tdi unit (new).
Gauges, fuel level, coolant temp, battV etc.
A new Lambda air/fuel ratio gauge, by AutoGauge, new and boxed.
Range rover front grill
Discovery 300 manual pedal box with brake servo.
A genset frame for mounting on a truck.
Vacuum control valves
Large box of random nuts, bolts, screws, washers. Metric and various imperial, all used, very used.
Model aeroplane piston engine, with fuel tank and propeller, glow ignition.
Model aeroplane fuel, one gallon.
A large selection of new and used engine mounts, gearbox mounts and random rubber bushes. Mostly classic Jaguar and LandRover.
A selection of sealants, gasketing gunge, threadlock and glue.
A hot glue gun and glue sticks.
Gunson Gastester, about 20 years old, unknown condition.
Oil cooler fittings, take off plates and adaptors.
Copper washers, O rings and small seals.
Solar trickle charger, 12v, new.
Random engine brackets for alternators etc.
Two new Sandon air conditioning pumps.
Two new GM throttle bodies, I think they were for the 2.0 Astra Gti engine.
Two clothes rail thingies on casters.
Some aluminium sheet.
Some steel sheet.
Steel box and tube section.
Stainless steel sheet and large bore tubes.
Electric clamp meter
Car radiators, Range Rover 38a, Fiesta, random modern units.
Jaguar XJ-S front grill.
Jaguar X Type real brake callipers with integral handbrake, new.
Power steering pump, new.
A set of polyurethane bushes for a Land Rover Defender/Rangie/Disco, new but very poor quality.
Random Landrover spares including prop shafts, door handles, disco headlining and side glass.
XJS racing front brake pads, EBC Yellow Stuff, new.
XJ40 rear brake pads, EBC Yellow Stuff, new.
XJ40 real hubs on XJS wishbones and a tube the right size to make the shaft adaptors up, for outboard rear brakes.
BMW E30 suspension kit, full set with dampers and lower springs, cheap brand, new.
BMW E30 rear disc brakes and wishbones, used.
Some floor standing shelving units.
Random bucket of household ironmongery, screws, rawl plugs, brackets, door handles, hinges.
Random bucket of plumbing spares, pipe joiners, T pieces, adaptors etc.
Random bucket of domestic electrical parts, wall sockets, cable, switches etc.
A set of vintage hand tools, spanners, hand drill, pliers and the such like.
A pram (has been used to move engines about a bit)
Random ignition parts, plug leads, spark plugs, rotor arms etc.
Random steel braided fluid hoses, could be used for oil, fuel etc. Most with Aeroquip fittings.
Random spray paint cans, some dayglo.
Spanners, hammers, chisels, sockets, pliers, screwdrivers, hex keys and other surplus or duplicated tools.
Hot air gun.
8 inch angle grinder with burnt out brushes. Boxed, makes handy step.
It’s funny how some things in life can change your point of view. Not just any old view, but long held beliefs, things you didn’t think would ever change.
Many years ago I was a teenager, honest. As a child I had it drummed into me to ‘buy British’, after all it was vital to the state of the nation that we all avoided imports and supported our indigenous industry, blah blah blah. But as a teenager I rebelled, I was an individual (just like everyone else) and decided that if the best product happened to be Japanese or German then that’s what I wanted.
Then something happened that involved a Ducatti. I had started earning a proper wage and wanted to upgrade my motorbike, my horrific old Suzuki XS was deeply shagged, both the headstock and trailing arm bearings were shot, it was like riding a hammock. So I looked in a range of voluptuous bike mags for inspiration and was very taken with the fantastically gorgeous Ducatti Monster, so off I went to the friendly local bike dealer to buy one.
Heartbreak awaited me, the salesman dutifully showed me a gleaming red example which I attempted to take for a test ride. But I didn’t fit.
I am just over six foot tall. I don’t think Italians are. It was like sitting on a child’s toy, my knees tucked into my armpits, this was a tragedy of epic proportions! But salvation was at hand, in the shape of a luscious green Triumph Trident 900 which not only fitted me but actually fitted perfectly. Cash leapt as if by magic from my hand, not only did I buy the bike but I also bought the dream, along with matching Triumph branded leathers, gloves and random Hinkley trinkets.
It was, and still is, a fantastic machine. The sheer thrill and exhilaration can only be understood by fellow riders, its that good. Now sure there are other bikes that are either faster or more powerful, some might say better based on their own scale of good and bad, but for me it’s the best.
The reason is not just technical either, some of my friends at the time worked for Triumph, I learned stories about the development of my bike, met some of the people who did it and even took the factory tour. Twice.
The bike was good, the people were good, and slowly I started to feel pride in the little British flags on the back of the lustrous green and cream bodywork. So many times I have heard people say negative things about British industry, but here was solid proof that we could design and build a fabulous world class product. In fact this is the very reason John Bloor bought Triumph and built the new company in the late ’80s; just to prove that the Brits still had the ability and put all the nay sayers in their place.
Looking around I started to see a whole range of excellent British products, I bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner, Britool spanners and looked for locally produced food. All good.
In my career I had to drive a great range of cars, but for my own cars I started only buying British. As I have never been rich these were generally ten year old bangers, including no less than seven Rover SD1 V8s.
Fast forward a few decades and I am searching for a very economical banger to carry me over 600 miles a week. So last year I bought a £500 Rover 420 SDi which regularly returned 55mpg and was generally borderline acceptable. But unlike my previous Rovers the drive experience was strangely un-involving, competent but dull. It went round corners well enough and the engine pulled well, in fact it could even be described as nippy, but never raised a smile. This annoyed me.
Of course it is not an entirely British car, the floor-pan and suspension is Honda, similar to a Civic. And maybe it’s something to do with the perfect yet soulless way Japanese cars were designed back then.
Anyway, eventually the little Rover had to go and as usual I started looking for a British replacement, but then Keith suggested I buy his old Audi 80 diesel. This sort of went against the grain, but maybe it was time for a change, after all Keith had frequently talk about how these old Audi’s were amongst his favourite drives.
So the deal was done. The first few thousand miles went by without too many worries, it’s returning an average of 50mpg and is reasonably comfy. The little rear wing and a lovely sports steering wheel hint at performance, but this is sadly lacking. It is much slower than the old L Series Rover, ponderous almost, but the steering was very vague with a tendency to wander on motorways. But on the whole a good solid car.
As you would expect with a 500 quid bargain banger there are a few ‘issues’; there is a curious whining noise which is road speed related but not load related, the odometer doesn’t work so I have no idea what the true mileage is, but the main problem was very heavy tyre wear on the front inside edges. This was obviously due to the tracking being too ‘toe out’ so I set about winding in the cunning German adjusters. This is were it started going wrong as they were rusted solid and quite difficult to access with big tools. Not so cunning after all.
So drastic surgery was called for, out came the steering link rods, getting to the bulkhead mounted steering rack is very awkward and involved a complex array of universal jointed socket drives and some degree of swearing. Once removed it was clear to see where previous grease monkeys have tried in vain to force the adjuster round, the drive flats being badly rounded off and marks from pipe wrenches in evidence. But with the rod in the bench vice, the rust wire brushed away and a good dose of penetrating oil the lock nuts came free, then a heavy whack loosened off the clamp collars. But even then the adjuster was very stiff because the design has small slots in the rod ends that trap moisture and corrode the threads from the inside! Don’t talk to me about German engineering….
Anyway, referring to the official tracking figures showed a fairly traditional (for that time) modest toe out setting. Back then the theory was to make all family cars under-steer so they were safer to drive by incompetent drivers, but I wanted something a bit more fun so I have set a modest amount of toe in instead.
The transformation was immediately noticeable, with a much sharper turn in to corners, a little more feedback and greater stability at high speeds, well relatively high speeds for a tractor engined barge.
And here’s the thing; it is now fun to drive, honest. Its involving in a way that the poor old Rover never was, even though the Rover went round corners faster. The feeling that a driver gets is a complex thing, highly individual and largely a mystery. Over the years I have developed a set of tweaks that suit my own personal taste, but other drivers may well not like it; soft springs, hard dampers, sharp turn in with progressive over-steer. I am perfectly happy with lots of body roll, I just set the suspension to give good traction when cornering hard with what ever degree of roll the car has, it’s not rocket science but makes a drive much more involving being able to feel the car moving about under me. The Rover didn’t really have that much roll, it cornered relatively flat, it was good but didn’t require much from the driver, maybe that’s why I never liked it that much despite desperately trying to.
But the Audi is now giving me all I ask of it, involving me in every manoeuvre in a most rewarding manner. So now I own a non-British car (as well as several other cars that are very British of course) and my state of mind is being questioned. It’s a foreign car and its fun, reliable (ish), economical and safe.
So there is only one thing for it, I will just have to make my own British car that works just as well. Current thinking is an Allegro with an L series diesel engine in……
Recently our lovely little Freelander was rudely assaulted by an old MR2, the un-insured hit and run driver must have taken most of the front corner off his red MOT failure (reg K531CBO, if found inform Bedfordshire police) before speeding off into the night.
This left our car with a ten inch gash in the rear bumper. Now normally the simplest fix is to buy a second hand item and bolt it on, but this car is still new enough for spares to be pricey, and also I really didn’t feel like spending another afternoon away from my family fitting the damn thing.
So it was time to try a spot of plastic welding, this may sound complicated but actually it is no more difficult than most other ‘normal’ DIY jobs.
Firstly I should point out this only works on thermoplastic bumpers, they are the more flexible ones. Harder glass filled nylon or fibre glass GRP bumpers need gluing instead.
Thermoplastics can be melted and reformed, so the basic principal is to get the damaged part of the bumper hot enough that it can be re shaped back into something approximating the original profile, then get the split hot enough to melt and flow back together again.
A word of warning; heat guns can melt more than just the bumper, it is vital to ensure that fuel lines and wiring etc. are not going to get hot during the operation. The second safety point is that the plastic will be scolding hot, so don’t touch it!
Back to our Landy, to do this job I used an ordinary DIY style heat gun, usually used for stripping paint of windowsills. Moving the heat gently across the whole damaged area softens the plastic enough for the creases to be eased out by running the rounded handle of a screwdriver along the inside, working each section a little at a time so as not to create further distortions.
Unfortunately the plastic has stretched in the collision, so some material has to be removed from the split area. I did this by heating a large flat blade screwdriver with the heat gun and running the tip through the split whilst waiving the heat gun over the plastic, its a bit like soldering or gas welding, the hot tip ensures the edges of the split melt and can then join together.
Once the joint is complete and the bulges and creases are smoothed out, there is a surplus of material around the joint. This has a smooth surface which does not fit in well with the textured surface of the original, to get a rough approximation I pressed a course weave cloth against the joint whilst it was still pliable.
In my case I just wanted the split strong and safe again so I only spent a few minuets on it, but if you take your time and gradually work the material into the original shape you can get an invisible mend, saving a fortune on parts and workshop time.
Motorsport at any level is hugely enthralling, but the costs are prohibitive for the vast majority of enthusiasts. There are, however, a few ways round this and it is possible to do a day’s competition for less than the cost of a full tank of fuel.
The fastest cars in drag racing accelerate from 0 to 100mph in 0.8 of a second, and exceed 330mph in ¼ of a mile, but they will spend 500 quid on fuel for each run, followed by replacing most of the 50 grand engine. By comparison The Slow Car Club take bangers usually costing less than 500 quid up the track at Santa Pod on Run What Ya Brung days, entry costs 35 quid for a whole day of driving flat out. It doesn’t matter how fast the car is because after the first few runs you start trying to beat your own personal best time, it is highly addictive and lots of fun.
If you have ever fancied rally driving but haven’t got a rally car and baulk at the £300 entry fee for even the smallest of events then drop down a few gears and look at Production Car Trials. As the name suggests the cars are standard and there are classes for different engine sizes and engine/drive configurations, 4x4s are banned. The set up is simple; take a muddy hill with a few obstacles, mark out a challenging twisty course and see how far you can drive a car up the track before getting stuck. About the only modification you can make to the car is dropping the tyre pressures. The tracks are divided into 10 sections and you get penalty points depending on how badly you do, if you manage to get all the way up then you have no penalties and its a clear run. The skill required is remarkable and it is easy to get utterly immersed in the task of coaxing your banger that extra few inches up the track, it’s just as addictive as high speed track racing and highly recommended.
Another variant on the rally theme is the 12 Car Event, this is a navigational event run on public roads so speeds are modest. A route is issued to the drivers at the start line and timekeepers are stationed at the end of each section, the skill is in the teamwork between the navigator and driver to ensure the best route is taken and speed optimised to make sure the car arrives at precisely the right time. It’s very competitive and requires self control as much as car control, going to fast is as bad as too slow.
You have probably seen some footage of cars being expertly drifted round a very tight course laid out with cones in a car park. This is Autotesting and is a measure of drivers skill against the clock whilst negotiating hairpin bends, reverse parking and tight slaloms. You’ll need good tyres to get the best out of the car but for road car classes that’s about the only thing you can change. Precision and pace are needed in bucket loads, you think you can handle a car – this will make you think again!
But if driving flat out round corners is high on your needs list then consider Hill Climb or Sprints, this is usually on race tracks and does require a race licence so the costs start mounting but it does mean you can drive at high speeds on real circuits. The idea is simple – to get fro the start line to the finish line as fast as possible and its wonderful to watch as there is often old F1 machinery operating in the upper classes. If you wonder what the difference is a Hill climb is up hill and a sprint is on the flat, more or less.
In fact there is a surprising wealth of cheap motorsport opportunities in this country, if you are handy with the spanners then there is Grass Track (sprint races in a field), Comp Safari (rallying for grown ups), economy runs (more fun than you might think) and even real circuit racing can be done on a budget of less than £3000.
Currently I am liking the idea of buying a bargain banger for less than £500 and seeing just how many events it can do in a year. Probably something old, maybe another Jag, or a 2CV, or a Maestro, the more un-motorsport the better, maybe a diesel. Anyone fancy joining in?