Tales from the workshop

It has been another eventful year, as some of you may know this year I took the difficult decision to close my workshop, so this is a slightly self indulgent look at the last three years projects that have been through the ‘big shed’.

The Black Pearl, a mind of its own and frequently holled.

The first occupant when I moved from my old workshop in Coventry was my beloved Jaguar XJ-S V12 race car. You might think racing a V12 is a bit opulent, but it was one of those things that I really wanted to have done, even if it turned out to be just one race. The car itself took a fair amount of work but having bought a sound ebay car for £1500 it only cost a further £1500 to get all the bits to make it into a race car, so that’s a V12 on the starting grid at Silverstone for 3 grand, which I think is a bargain. As it turned out I did three years racing and even slipped in a bigger 6 litre V12, I sold it last year and it is now back as a road/track day car in Scotland.

Motorway speed accross forrest tracks, ditches and rivers. Rallying is to easy, Comp Safari is where the real fun is!

Next in the shop was my long suffering Comp Safari racer, if you don’t know what that is then I strongly recommend you Youtube ‘Comp Safari’ and be prepared to be amazed. I built this car using my old Range Rover as a base, then bought lots of nice bent tubes and fibreglass bodywork from Tomcat Motorsport, Comp Safari racing is intense and punishes the car massively, it is both a technical and a physical challenge, this car is now running somewhere down south with its new owner as a road and play day car.

My toys were swiftly followed by the first customer project, this Volvo C303 6×6 army ambulance from the ’60s had the Volvo straight 6 petrol carb engine and a four speed box, oddly enough the fuel consumption was horrific. The customer wanted it as an expedition vehicle he could live in, so I raised the roof by just over a foot. Then I fitted the 2.5 Tdi

A Volvo 6x6 is the perfect party bus.

diesel engine and 5 speed gearbox from a Land Rover Discovery, which really doesn’t fit! After modifying the turbo, the manifolds, removing the water pump and fitting a remote electric pump, moving the alternator, shortening the bell housing, making new drive shafts, designing a new gear selector system, converting cable clutch to hydraulic, moving the brake servos, raising the cab, making new bodywork over the engine…… oh loads of stuff, did I mention it really didn’t fit? Anyway, it now works, has an MOT and is somewhere between Coventry and Africa.

The donor for the Volvo was a 300Tdi Discovery, bought for 500 quid with two months MOT left, it was a classic rot box and would never get through another test, ideal really.

Why did Land Rover never do a Discovery pick up? So usefull, like a Defender but comfy and bigger.

Whilst I was modifying the body of the Volvo I tried a few ideas out on the Disco including a quick pick-up conversion (about an hour with an 8 inch angle grinder), I quite liked it and it was used on the farm for a few weeks before its engine was required. Fancy doing one?

Another interesting project was the PalmerSport Jaguar XK-Rs, all converted to LPG only, no petrol system left at all. My job was to re-tune the engine management, which obviously involved a lot of thrashing the cars round the race track, it’s

25 thousand miles a year driven flat out, remarkable cars.

a hard life.

The next little project was a two pronged ebay ‘bargain’. I wanted to make a track day car for Di who loves E30 BMWs. I couldn’t find what I wanted so decided to make one using the tried and tested method of buying a car with the ideal shell but wrong engine plus a rot box with the desired engine. As luck would have it I found a mint 316 two door non-sunroof with MOT, plus a utterly rotten 325i with a really good engine and gearbox. Blending the two had a few problems but resulted in a track car at a fraction of

The scrapper 325i donated its engine and disc braked rear axle.

the cost of a mint 325. All the bits left over went back to ebay and paid for extras like the roll cage, which was nice.

A 316 transformed into a 325 for the track.


Another purchase with only a few weeks of MOT was a rather pleasant Range Rover classic. It was just a few hundred quid because it wouldn’t start, the owners ‘mechanic’ friend told him it needed a new fuel pump, ECU and some other expensive bits, but when I got it back to the workshop I found it was just a corroded wire on the ignition, a few

A broken wire had written off this RRC.

minuets and a new spade terminal and it fired up. I had only bought it for spares but with a few weeks ticket left it seemed rude not to drive it, surprisingly it drove very well, even Di who is a sports car fan liked driving it.

The Range Rover’s engine and auto gearbox was due to be fitted to a rather tidy two door Range Rover Classic belonging to the editor of PPC magazine, I also fitted the stainless exhaust that the donor car had plus the fuel injection. The resultant car was a rather pleasing blend of ’70s style and ’80s performance, it was also more economical.

I love the original 2 door Rangies

Sometimes I end up with a car that I have fixed for someone, such was the case with a Frontera that belonged to Di’s uncle. The car was at that age when one thing after another breaks, and after several trips to the workshop the owner got fed up and bought a Freelander instead, which needed less frequent mending. He offered the Frontera to me for a bargain price, I set about overhauling a few of the remaining items and sold it on, but not before driving it round for a few weeks and being surprised how much fun it was.

The Frontera; not as s##t as I thought.

Some of the project cars are more interesting than others, one of my favourites was the Escort which came in for a suspension conversion. The engine was a big turbo Saab unit capable of over 400bhp, to cope with this I fitted a narrowed Volvo 740 axle with a classic four link set up. The front received Group A rally suspension. This was a thing of beauty.

400 bhp MkII Escort, nuff said.

Occasionally I get called by magazines to help with their project cars, if you follow Practical Classic you might know of their very long term restoration of a MK2 Jaguar to which I fitted the wiring and a few other bits. A more curious call was from Evo magazine who were running a ‘Grand Challenge’ where they bought a shed of a car for under £1000 then raced them. One car, the BMW 325 cabriolet had virtually no brakes so it trundled into the workshop for a rebuild, I was not allowed to spend any money on it as this was against the ‘rules’ so I stripped and rebuilt them to stop the callipers sticking and resurfaced the discs and pads. This worked well, but when the young Evo staff member drove it back on a cold and frosty night he managed to loose it on a corner and crash it. Undaunted, for the next trial at Bedford Autodrome race track we recovered the ‘scrap’ from the insurance company compound, at the pits with the 325

Track day in the snow in a written off BMW, who hasn't done that...

firmly strapped down to the trailer and the trailer brakes applied I asked someone to stand on the brakes of the Range Rover tow car, meanwhile I attached a tow rope to the crumpled bodywork that was crushing the front left wheel and had smashed the front of the engine, the other end of the rope was attached to my trusty Discovery which I drove in the other direction with some enthusiasm, repeatedly wrenching the bodywork out until the wheel was free. I dropped in the radiator and intake from our E30 and fired it up. The only thing preventing the wreck from an outright win on the test track was the fact that it was snowing! Ever done a track day in the snow? You should!


My trusty Disco has a hard life and needed a major overhaul, so to keep myself mobile I put the word out on social media that I needed a short term banger. This Volvo 940 turbo was offered to me for £50, only snag was it had to be recovered from a secure compound on a military base! A few tweaks later it was roadworthy and its remaining month of MOT was well used as I travelled the country for various photo shoots, it even managed to survive driving round a quarry when I test drove a Bowler Nemesis for Evo. After a few weeks I had patched up my Disco again and the Volvo was surplus to requirements, now this left me with an expendable car with a turbo engine, you can guess what happened next, up went the boost in stages, testing the performance then upping the boost a bit more. Obviously eventually it went pop, but a lot of fun ad occurred.

The 635CSI, drive one, it's important.

A frequent visitor to my workshop was Di’s BMW 635CSi, one of my all time favourite drives but by crikey does it need a lot of maintenance, and the bits aren’t cheap either, a genuine set of spark plug leads is over 80 quid! The car arrived with the original metric wheels with odd sized and very old tyres that made the car lean to the left. I bought a set of BBS wheels with decent tyres and unsurprisingly the handling improved dramatically. These are lovely cars to drive, but if you get a cheap one be prepared for a lot of work.

Vrooom Pttttshhhhhh

The Saab 9000 was an accidental purchase, or possibly more accurately incidental. It had been converted for track day use and was offered to me with a view to me breaking it up. All I wanted was the seats! Anyway, it had the big turbo engine and a few tweaks, it went like stink and handled OK, after a short period playing with it I swapped the seats back to standard and put it on ebay, two young lads bought it. I explained that it was a bit swift and that they should take it easy but I never heard from them after they took it away, don’t know whether they got home….

Yes they are indestructable

As my workshop was on a farm I occasionally got called upon to fix farm vehicles, tractors, a combined harvester, Teleporters and even crop driers. They also had two very rusty Toyota Hi Lux pick ups, these were rarely used on road, they are registered ‘agricultural vehicle’ and don’t need an MOT. Which is just as well because this one would never pass one. Being caked in mud and farm waste permanently had rotted nearly everything, it was held together with wood and good will, it had structural bailer twine, it was a shed. On this particular day the brakes had failed and the car had been stopped by driving it into a steaming mound of farm waste and poultry entrails. The car arrived on the end of a fork lift truck and was dumped in my compound. Taking the wheels of resulted in a splash of what I at first thought was mud, but as soon as it started running off I realised was in fact cockroaches, woodlice and maggots. The brakes had failed because the pistons had fallen out of the callipers due to the discs having worn down to 0.9mm thick!


Another odd thing from the farm was the Kubota lawn tractor, which had a problem with the hydrostatic drive. The engine just drives a hydraulic pump and the wheels are driven by a hydraulic motor, in between are two swash plates so the gear ratio can be infinitely varied between two limits. You can drive along and steadily drop the engine revs whilst increasing the gearing to maintain a constant speed, if you wanted to.

With the arrival of our baby, our transport needs changed. Di heroically continued to use the 635 with a baby seat in the back but the contortion needed to get a baby into the seat eventually wore her resolve down, so she decided to get a Disco like mine, only cheaper.

V8 but no burble

It had a worn cam and a host of problems caused by years of neglect. I fixed most of them but when it became clear a new engine would be the best rout she decided to sell it, there comes a point when it is better to get rid and start again, the art is to recognise when this is and not get trapped into spending a fortune.


Another example of this was a Fiesta I bought with a view to doing up and selling on. It had been parked on grass, which is the worst thing you can ever do to a car other than burning it or rolling it! Grass creates a very humid atmosphere that eats very quickly into every nook and cranny of the bodywork, it eats the brakes, the fuel lines and every fixing that is in anyway exposed. Up top the car had been regularly washed and appeared to be looked after, but once back at the workshop and up in the air it became clear that every mechanical part under the car needed refurbishing or replacing. Both sills had rotted from the inside leaving a thin layer of paint to make the outside look ok! I decided to cut my losses, strip a few spares off for ebay and weigh the rest in for scrap.

This shot was for a CCW article on towing

A better choice was a lovely green XJ-S 3.6, bought with an engine fault that was reasonable easy to fix. These 6 cylinder Jags are lovely to drive, quite nippy yet very smooth and capable of returning over 30mpg on a run. Once it was all running well it was bought by a chap wanted it as a first car for his son, how fantastic is that!

I have also done a few experiments in the workshop when people have asked me to investigate theories or product claims. One of which was the idea that you can improve mpg by using hydrogen obtained form on-board

I test claims and say what I find.

electrolysis of water. I tried several variations and ran systems on my car for many months. Guess what, it doesn’t work!

Customer projects continued through the workshop including a rather cute MGB, it had a Lancia twin cam 2 litre engine and a Fiat five speed box. To get the power down I was asked to fit a modified Rover SD1 rear axle, parabolic leaf springs and convert it to use a Watts linkage. I was surprised how much difference it made, particularly entering fast corners where it settled in instantly rather than the traditional MGB rear end wobble. Must do an article on it one day.

Twin cam MGB in progress

To replace Di’s Disco she returned to her trusted BMW, this time with a 535, similar to the 635 but with 4 doors making fitting a baby much easier. These cars are often kept in very good condition but have amazingly low values, this one was under £300 and only needed tyres and front dampers for the MOT. Eventually she sold it to a collector in Dubi!

At this time I started doing higher mileages as my technical consultancy work really took off, I needed something a bit more economical so I bought a Rover 420 diesel. Fantastic car and cheaper than the smaller 220 for some reason. In a year of motoring it only

Top Gear test track in a banger

needed routine servicing and one new wheel bearing. I absolutely thrashed it, including a few laps on race tracks and running down the beach at Pendine. Only down side was I found the seat very uncomfortable.

I got a call one day from a bloke who wanted me to get his MGB working, this sounded ok until I saw it parked in a hedge, one side rotten the other side missing! I declined to fix it but did use some of its parts on his other MGB. Amazingly this chap bought two identical


new MGBs back in 1980, he used one (the one in the hedge) but kept the other one under wraps in a dry garage. It had last ran 20 years ago and had a few thousand miles n the clock, even the running in instruction sticker was still on the windscreen. I changed the expired fluids, cleaned the plugs, stripped and rebuilt the carbs to free them up, fitted a new battery and threw some fresh petrol in. Amazingly it fired up first time! I freed off the brakes and took it for a drive round the farm access road (private land), it was an utter time warp car and an amazing experience.

Stunning originality

As time passed Di’s BMW started to show its age, and in the winter snow it was a bit to lively so she decided to try a Disco again, this time a ‘spares or repair’ Discovery 2 V8 with a faulty LPG system. The car was basically sound but had suffered from a lack of maintainance and a botched LPG conversion that had damaged the engine electrical system. It was a mash up of random LPG parts that would never work together but the tanks were ok, so I first reworked the wiring to get it back to standard and running

where angels fear to tread..

properly on petrol, then fitted new brakes and gave it a full service, it passed the MOT with ease. I then bought a second hand LPG front end kit to get it all running properly.

If you follow Twitter you may know @onecarefullowner, he has a dream of fitting a Rover L series Diesel engine into one of his beloved Allegros. I like this idea, double the power and also double the economy, double win. The target for his Frankenstein concept was a slightly battered white estate which in tru tradition ‘looks worse than it is’. The engine donor is a Rover 220d, it is always best to have a complete car to take the engine from so that you


get all the ancillary bits needed for the conversion. One small problem is that the L series doesn’t fit in an Allegro engine bay, you have to cut off the chassis rails! The solution would be to weld in a space frame front end, but this was beyond the scope of the original project and Richard took the difficult decision to quite before we ran out of time.

Richard and the donor

Other vehicles that have gone through the shop include a variety of bangers, the Audi 80, Pug 206, Freelander and my Rover 75 plus @petrolthreads E30 race car and a few prototype cars for OEMs, but that’s another story.

With my time totally consumed with consultancy work and writing I closed the workshop for the last time in October, it is sadly missed.

The GT Double 6, Triumph GT6 meets Jag 6litre V12
My long suffering Disco, still working hard
E30 'testing'

Innovation Awards

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:

Award for Automotive Innovation 2011

Please also take a few moments to look at these excellent projects and let me know which one you would choose, and of course why:


The Great Garage Sale!

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.

The batcave

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..

Escort, XJ-S and E30 with Tomcat in foreground a few years ago.

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.

The Jag racer

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.

Triumph GT Double 6

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.

Discovery pickup

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!

Crowded house

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.

A selection of turbos

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.

So many boxes of stuff!

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 books

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.

Bighead fixings

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.

Oh look; more stuff!

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.

Ah yes, that's more stuff isn't it...

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.

Jig Saw.

8 inch angle grinder with burnt out brushes. Boxed, makes handy step.

2x Freelander tyres

2x Discovery tyres

A domestic radiator

Some oak beams.

A tool.

A very large oil cooler

Triumph Trident/Sprint/Daytona 900cc tripple engine.

An antique wardrobe.

A swivel chair

A radio in the shape of two car wheels.

Boxes of small springs.


Various coolant, fuel and oil hose, new.

Race pedal sets.

MBE engine management systems, 3 off, one bodged Rover V8 wiring loom.

A Lucas 14CUX Rover V8 engine management systems with loom and air flow meter.



Ultimate classic car

Worlds greatest cranks and crackpots

The Radar war.

Discovering the Amazon

RAC rally encyclopaedia

Space travel

Brilliant roads

Some OS maps

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

Mathematics for engineers

The art of electronics

Various car books

Various computer and electronics books

Some car mags, some with stuff I wrote in that I could de-value by signing.

Haynes fuel injection manual.

Haynes auto electrics manual

Electronics made easy

Various mechanical engineering books.


Many manifolds



Audi80 and patriotism…

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.

Triumph 900 Trident - Something to be proud of

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.
My love of British engineering continued with buying this Alvis

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.
My first Rover SD1 racing at Cadwell Park 1992

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.
A good car but un-involving

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.
Although thrashing the 420 round the Top Gear test track was fun 🙂

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.
Audi 80 proved German and British engineerg is similar

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….
The only way to adjust the tracking was to strip out the rods!

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……

Bumper fix

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.

The theory of cheap motorsport.

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?