Back on the road again

With all the health problems I’ve been dealing with, my “toy” car has ended up being off the road in my garage for the last three years. So when the car tax renewal turned up on the doorstep recently I almost reflexively started to apply for a SORN again, before stopping and thinking that perhaps it’s time to get it back on the road again.

When I’d taken it off the road back when I was diagnosed with my cancer, it had just had some fairly major engine work done. In theory it was ready for the road, but probably in need of a rolling-road session to properly set up the carburettors and ignition map. So how hard could it be to get it basically running?

In practice, harder than expected.

The first problem was that the battery (which was brand new, 3 years ago) was completely discharged. And my battery charger wouldn’t charge it – which normally indicates that the plates have sulphated so badly that the battery needs replacing. But in this case, with a relatively unused battery, I persevered and managed to finally get the battery charged with the aid of a new high-tech battery charger.

The car then fired, started, ran terribly for about 20 seconds, and finally stalled. And then wouldn’t restart. After checking all the obvious things, the penny dropped. The fuel in the lines wasn’t in the best of condition, but good enough to run the car. But the fuel pumped through from the tank 20 seconds later had gone completely bad, and definitely wasn’t good enough to run the car. So I drained the fuel tank and system, and put in a gallon of fresh unleaded.

Which got the car started, but running very roughly indeed. A quick temperature check on the exhaust headers showed the car running on only three cylinders, with number four cylinder not firing at all. However, there was a good spark being delivered down the spark plug lead, so the obvious conclusions were either no fuel to that cylinder, or a problem with the spark plug. And sure enough, a check of the spark plugs showed that all of them were very badly oiled up, with lots of baked on carbon under the oil. The plug from cylinder four was particularly bad. An hour cleaning the plugs, and the engine started and ran smoothly on all four cylinders. But clearly with a very rich mixture. But fixing that can wait until I have the car running on the road again.

Having got the car running again, I rang around for insurance quotes – in the end I got fully comprehensive, 3000 miles, SD&P for only £125. Bargain. For once there is an advantage to getting old!

Next was an MOT. I gave the car a complete spanner check, and ran through the test as best I could myself. Unsurprisingly all the major items seemed in order, but there were a few niggly little problems to resolve.

How do those come about when the car hasn’t even moved in the last three years? Gremlins?!

The first problem was with the front offside indicator, which intermittently refused to work. Which is a clear fail. The bulb was fine, and the bulb holder was fine. The earth point (often a problem on space-framed cars) was also fine. Which meant the likely problem was a break in the copper core of one of the wires to the indicator unit. After much wiggling of wires I decided that was definitely the problem, but I couldn’t narrow the point of failure down very much. So in the end I replaced all the wires from the indicator unit as far back as the main loom, and added new couplings so the nose-cone (which the indicator unit is mounted to) can be easily removed from the car, as now. Which completely resolved the problem.

The next problem was that there was condensation in both the headlamps; which meant disassembling the headlamps, cleaning them out, drying them, reassembling them to the car, and then roughly realigning them so that they won’t become a failure item for the MOT. Easy, but oh so time-consuming and fiddly.

And finally, one of the windscreen wipers had broken off it’s arm. In the case of my car, these are custom built, so this meant fabricating a new wiper and reattaching it to the arm. Which turned out to be significantly more fiddly than fixing the headlamps. But was very satisfying when finally complete!

And on Tuesday morning of last week the car went in for it’s MOT, and passed first time.

I had been very concerned about the emissions testing, but it turns out that the engine in my car was originally made in 1971, and despite having been completely rebuilt with racing components since then, is still assessed against 1971 standards. Which is to say that there is basically no emissions test – the tester simply checks to make sure the car isn’t belching out blue smoke – which is great!

And so, with a fresh MOT in my hand, I was able to pick up a new tax disc, which allows me to get out on the roads again. Which is most revealing. The engine is running ridiculously rich at low engine speeds ie, while it’s running on the “idle” circuit of the carburettors. What this means in practice is that it’s very easy to flood while trying to start, and doesn’t pick up crisply from low revs, instead feeling rather wooly. It also bangs and pops like mad on over-run because too much fuel is going through the engine and out into the exhaust system. Sounds great, but needs to be resolved before I burn out all the exhaust packing!

And the result of my first run in it? I’d forgotten just how fast it is. And with the carburation so far out, the effect is magnified. The car is fast through the low revs, but feels unhappy. And then it hits 2500rpm and all hell breaks loose as the engine comes onto the cam, and the carburettors switch to their “main” circuits. It’s white-knuckle fast. Completely mad – mad as a box of frogs in fact. But ever so much fun …

I’m looking forward to getting the carburettor jetting sorted out, and having some great fun driving it this summer!

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