Displacement activities

Strangely, having realised that I’m now imminently facing more treatments, I retreated from all the obvious things that I ought to be doing, and vanished out into the freezing cold garage, and proceeded to disassemble my toy car. It’s been sat out in the garage with a broken speedometer for several months, barely touched, but this last set of news somehow galvanised me into action.

In the course of a few short hours I’d stripped out the entire interior, removed the transmission tunnel, and exposed the gear linkage and speedometer sensor, removed the broken sensor, adjusted the gear linkage détente, put it all back together again, fabricated a new sensor mount on the front bearing carrier, re-run the sensor wiring, and bonded some rare earth magnets to the disc rotor.

Unlike trying to monitor the propshaft rotation, monitoring the disc rotor works beautifully; the propshaft has a lot of play in it, as it connects the engine and gearbox which are both on flexible mounts, whereas the disk rotor doesn’t move in relation to the front bearing carrier at all. It’s possible to closely align the sensor to the magnets, and get a superb signal to drive the speedometer.

As a result, I can now (for the first time ever) see exactly what speed I’m travelling at in the car, and it’s somewhat eye-opening. I always knew the car was fast, but when the soft rev-limiter engages in 2nd gear, the car is already approaching 70mph. It’s completely mental. And exactly what I need at the moment!

The only question now is whether the epoxy resin I used to bond the magnets to the disc rotor is strong enough to keep everything in place, or if the magnets will eventually come loose. I’m currently pretty sure it’s the former – but as they say, pride comes before a fall!

Think Bike

Rant on:

Exhorting all the other road users to look out for you does not mean you can ride like demented lunatics, ignoring all the rules of the road.

Frankly, if you are going to thread between three lanes of near stationary traffic on the motorway at (I estimate) 80+ mph then don’t come crying to me when you get killed when you run into the back of some poor car driver who was swapping lanes and never saw you coming.

On the drive to London this morning, and the drive home this evening I didn’t see a single motorcyclist travelling with the flow of traffic. They were all threading through the traffic at well over the speed limit. Idiots. All of them.

More fuel saving measures

I got the Tiger out this afternoon to look into the apparent over-fueling. Once up to temperature I leaned off the mixture by half a turn per barrel. This made no noticeable difference to the idling, but the engine seemed much happier to respond to a snap-opening of the throttle while sat on the drive.

Out on the road however, the car is still spitting back through the carbs on light throttle openings, and banging and popping like mad on the over-run. It’s still hesitant when accelerating from low revs too, though it does subjectively feel better than before.

On the downside however, I now have a list of little teething problems to attack. None are particularly onerous, but some of them are going to be rather time-consuming. In particular, the electronic speedo has stopped working after only some 15 miles. I suspect that to fix it I’m going to have to take the interior back out again, which is frustrating. I also have a strong suspicion there is an air leak at the exhaust collector, and that I’m going to ultimately need to get the carbs rejetted on a rolling road to get the mixtures right.

Still, now that the speedo isn’t working, I don’t know how far I’ve gone, so at least I can’t work out the fuel consumption any more. That’s one solution to that problem I guess.

Fuel saving measures

I’ve been meaning to take the Tiger out for some short runs, just to continue to shake it down and find any little problems that may be hiding in there. Better to find things like that within walking distance of home, before I start venturing further afield, than risk returning home on the back of a recovery lorry.

Meanwhile, my youngest daughter has been itching to show off, and has been “asking” to be taken to school in it. So the other day I decided to humour her. But when we got in and turned the ignition on, the fuel gauge read empty. Which on reflection was where I remembered it had got to when I’d last put it away. I’d thought at the time I should put another gallon can of fuel in it, so I could drive to the nearest garage and fill it up – but I’d not got around to it. So we switched to the people-carrier for the school run, and I did some quick mental maths.

Basically I’d put a gallon of fresh fuel in the car when I was first getting it running again. There was probably 1/2 a gallon of petrol left. From the odometer I’d gone some 9 miles. Ergo I’ve been getting only 18mpg or so, rather than the 30mpg it should be getting.

At that rate of consumption, I must find the time to revisit the set-up of the carburettors, or I won’t even be able to afford to drive it!

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!

New car

This week I changed my car. I went from a very sensible (but old) Seat Leon 1.6, to a Mercedes 280 CLK Coupe.

Which is an odd decision. In fact, if I’m honest about it, it’s not so much odd, as really not very sensible. I can’t fit the whole family in it (it’s only a four seater) it’s a nuisance carrying anyone in the rear (because it’s a two door car), and it promises nothing but large bills in the future.

But over the last 18 months I’ve realised that actually there is more to life than just being sensible. Sometimes you have to live a little. For me, this was one of those occasions. Not so much a mid-life crisis, as a (hopefully) post-cancer crisis. I fancied it, I could afford it, so I bought it.

I’m loving the luxury; the automatic gearbox, the effortless power and torque, the fact that its electric everything. I’m trying not to get too worried about the 22mpg urban fuel consumption (it rises to about 33mpg on a run) simply because these days I tend to either drive to the station and catch the train to London or work from home. I just don’t drive as many miles as I used to.

But so saying, I really do need to add a bluetooth phone interface and the ability to play MP3s for those few longer journeys that I do still make. The car comes with a 6-stack CD player, but all my CD’s are packed away in the back of my wardrobe; I really want to be able to plug in a USB hard drive. Hopefully this Dension Gateway and bluetooth adaptor will do the trick.

I just need to decide whether to have them fitted for me, or to do it myself. I’m strongly tempted to go the DIY route, simply because I know I’ll be happier with the placement of everything … but against that, I’m really not keen on the amount of disassembly that seems to be involved.

A decision to mull over for a bit longer, I suspect.

Putting the “Va Va Vroom!” back into life

My toy car got a further injection of work this afternoon when an old friend popped by to give me a hand modifying the brackets on the axle to make sure that they could no longer bind on the strut mountings. The end result from the driving perspective will be minimal – perhaps a slightly better ride over particularly poor road surfaces, but given that I tend to avoid those anyway (the suspension is set up for smooth roads and race tracks) I don’t see this mattering much.

It will however, stop the axle eventually damaging the struts, which apart from being a generally good idea at the best of times, also means that the nice man at the MOT station will be a lot happier with the rear suspension, and is therefore much more likely to give me the piece of paper I need to get the car taxed and back on the road again.

There are (as always with kits like this) a lot more things that need doing or checking, but most now need the car back on the road before I can progress them. For example; the speedometer had to be replaced with a new electronic one, and I’ve made up the mountings for the magnetic pick-ups and mounted the magnets on the propshaft. It currently works really well at the up to 5mph I can achieve on the drive, but I’m concerned at how well the magnets will remain attached to the propshaft when it’s operating at higher revs. Time will tell on that one, but if it doesn’t work out then the next attempt will be to introduce a slotted plate between the propshaft and the differential, and use a reluctor pick-up instead. More expense, and potentially another complete strip-down of the interior to get access, which would be annoying to say the least.

However, the next priority job is to get the car onto a rolling road, get the 3D ignition remapped, and re-jet the carburettors. The car is definitely running lean at low revs, and rich at high revs, and the response to a snap opening of the throttles is very “fluffy” which means the accelerator jets are out too. Finding a good rolling road operator who can cope with mapped ignition and carburettors at the same time is getting difficult, but apparently there is a good one over at Thruxton who is worth trying.

But first I need to get it insured, MOT’d and taxed though. That should keep me busy for the rest of the month.

Extended warranty

As many of you will know, I have a “toy car”. This seems to spend more time in the garage gathering dust than actually on the road, and from talking to a lot of owners, this isn’t unusual. It is however, annoying. Mine has been off the road for the last year or so, mainly waiting for me to fix a problem with some brackets on the rear axle that would prevent the car passing it’s MOT test. It’s also needed a couple of other things done to it that required the engine and gearbox to come out the car, which have meant that most of the car has been in pieces.

My cancer treatment hasn’t exactly sped up the process of getting it put back together again.

However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with keeping myself occupied, and so I’ve been trying to work on the car when I’ve felt up to it, slowly working towards the longer term goal of putting the car back on the road before the summer ends. Given my relative lack of strength and stamina still, progress has been painfully slow; I’ve managed half an hour here, half an hour there on it, but it has (just!) been progressing.

Yesterday was a red-letter day though – I finally got the car to the point where it should be possible to start the engine again. So I got the keys, turned the ignition, let it prime the carbs, and then turned the key to crank the engine, only to hear the click of the starter relay and nothing else. 5 minutes trouble-shooting showed that the maintenance-free, 4 years guaranteed battery was as dead as the proverbial dodo. And that was after only 3 years, a large chunk of which has seen the battery disconnected and on a shelf.

Fortunately I kept the original receipt, and on taking it back to Halfords (where I expected to have a huge argument) I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no quibbling whatsoever. They tested the dead battery and replaced it with a new one on the spot. The battery that I had was no longer available, but they provided me with the nearest equivalent and some adaptors for the connector posts, which have changed shape, all free of charge (no pun intended!).

So top marks to Halfords for an excellent warranty on their battery, which saved me from having to spend some £90 on a new one. Oh – and well done me for actually filing the original receipt somewhere that I could actually find it again 🙂

Update: This afternoon I finished putting the rest of the car back together before installing the new battery and retrying to start the car. All the interior is back in place, the new 4-point harnesses are fitted, and (as far as I can tell) the only thing left to do is to grind down the axle brackets to allow better location of the dampers. That’s ultimately a two person job, which I’m hoping to finish late next week, so in the meantime I tried starting the car again.

Va va va va vrooom, Vrooom, VROOOOM!

After a year off the road in pieces, it was so good to hear the car start up on the first attempt that I celebrated by driving it up and down the drive a couple of times. Now I just need to sort out the axle, and get it taxed and insured so I can drive it on the roads again!

Great news!

Nick, the chap in the bed next to me at the NHS hospital who I struck up a friendship with has just sent me a text message to tell me that completely out of the blue he is to be released home tomorrow. Which is really good news indeed, as like me, he was going slightly stir-crazy.

We’ve arranged that I’ll give him a call early next week with a view to me popping around to see him for a coffee and a chat. He’s promised me a run in his Ford Mustang when he’s well enough to drive again, but I suspect for now we’re going to have to settle for more mundane pastimes. If nothing else it will be nice just to see him back in his own home rather than in hospital.

Hit the road, Jack

Before leaving hospital I’d asked my consultant how long I needed to wait after the operation before I was able to drive again. His view was that there was no physical reason for me not to be able to drive immediately, provided that I felt confident controlling the car, able to perform an emergency stop if necessary, and didn’t over-exert myself. However, he did warn me that my insurance company would want to impose additional restrictions, and that their decision should be the ultimate arbitrator.

So I was completely astonished when I called my insurance company earlier today to learn that they are quite happy for me to drive without restriction now that I have been discharged from hospital. A short drive to the local shops and back revealed that I’ve no real issue with driving per se, but given how quickly I became tired while simply walking around a couple of shops to buy a birthday card and some other odds and ends, I think I’ll avoid driving any more than I absolutely have to, at least for the time being.

Still, having that option open to me is going to make getting to some of my post-discharge medical appointments a whole lot easier than if I was having to use public transport or be totally dependent on friends and family for lifts.