Monday, 7 May 2012

An insight into how my mind works

A lot of people have a mini crisis when they hit 30. “Youth has finished” or “I haven’t done as much as I should have by this point in my life”. I’m a petrolhead. I’m having a far different crisis.

I haven’t owned all the cars I wanted to.

My problem here is I have got a fair few marquees under my belt. But in doing so, I have revisited things when I maybe should have moved on to other pastures. I don’t feel bad about this, for example the AW11’s I have owned have netted me a great deal of experience, and as such my current MR is in prime fettle, and has been modified perfectly (in my mind).

Other examples have left a nostalgic residue. This is perhaps less constructive. My first E30 was so basic, a white 316 more-door, that I loved it to bits. It was a rust free steal at 80 quid with a full MOT, but my neglect caused it to snap a timing belt. I felt that there was more to be had from this marquee, so I revisited it with a red 318 touring. That was not such a smart buy. I should have left it well alone.

So as pass my first decade of motoring, I feel the need to rethink my strategy. I have owned a marquee from all corners of the globe. Every country that produces a car has been tried. Some I have learned from and I stay clear, others I haven’t learned a lesson from.

Take Fiat. My first foray into the Italian stable was with a Cinquecento (no snickering up there), and although it got me back on the road after a license loss, it was a pain in the arse. 

The wee 900cc was not up to the rigeurs of commuting 100 miles a day perhaps, but it soon died. That coupled with the rumours and scaremongering that Italian cars have caused me to bodyswerve them for near on a decade. It was only the need for a newer and more reliable backup car that saw me purchase a yellow 500. Touch wood, its been reliable so far!

I think the 500 has made me re-evaluate a lot of things. Have I been biased for the wrong reasons? Has it been my constant bangernomics that have led me to poor cars rather than the cars themselves? Have I not gave less common marquees a fair shot? It is a question that I will soon need to answer, as I find myself on the edge of another purchase. The logic goes like this:

500: This is a reliable backup car, but also predominantly the good lady’s machine. If both of us need a car at once, I have to fall back on to….

AW11: Perfect little sports car, economic, reliable, but not practical. Plus its increasing classic status means I’d like to take the strain off it mileage-wise to protect my investment.

Camaro: This is a proper project, and is at best halfway through a restoration. In fairness, it should be viewed at present as a hobby more than a car.

So that leaves the 500 and the MR2 in regular duty. I’m soon to be taking a move up north, and a practical car could be useful for this. As such I have started to ponder what I could get on a budget of about 1k.

At first I pondered the Swedes. I had a Volvo 740 turbo many moons ago. 

Fantastic load lugger, good torque, took all the abuse I threw at it. Tremendous value but I have to strike it off for a number of reasons…

  1. I’ve had one. This needs to be an exercise in originality. Experiencing new things.
  2. Its RWD. Normally this is a big plus for me, but as I am moving to somewhere that is a bit more rural than before, I need something with a bit more versatility should the weather get nasty. 4WD has now become a big box needing ticked.

This places some other as-yet uncharted marquees in my criteria. First off, the Subaru:

No, not that. I have neither the budget to ensure that I will get a decent one, nor the inclination to own what everyone in Aberdeen uses. This is despite me loving that addictive noise and character. Make no mistake, the Impreza has been on my to-do list for many years. No, for now if I venture near the starry badge, it will be for one of these:

Crazy good value, more practical, less yobbo, but I have heard they are sore on the juice. To be honest, a practical 4WD is never going to be economical, but I figure if im going to be stung for petrol, I might as well have the torque to justify it. Therefor, the left field choice is……….

The Jeep Cherokee. Proper load lugger, Volvo looks, great torque, and not all that common. Will get me out of most sticky wickets weather-wise, and most if not all of the old ones are sub 1k.

Never owned a big 4X4 before, so this is new territory for me as well. As I said, its all about new things! Let the hunt commence!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Cars - Worse than Ex's?

"A car can make you feel worse than an ex-girlfriend"

If that statement has no relevance or effect on you, there's probably little you will understand if you read any further. It may give you insight into a person in your life who has exhibited actions similar to those i am about to describe to you. However, if you have the spirit, the passion and the madness (depending on how you view it) for cars, there's probably a very good chance you will understand me on this. Cars you have owned and passed up can give you emotions very similar to painful breakups. Don't believe me? Read on...

In a way, it IS a painful break up. I have had many a car (auto-slut anyone?) which i then "broke up with". Some of those cars and I have parted ways on good terms. Take my previously loved UK MK3 Toyota Supra:

My first foray into RWD ownership. I "met her" when she was stock. My first real RWD fling, i lavished her with money on trinkets such as alloys and exhausts. She wore them well and sang beautifully, (the spoiler was the fashion back then) but like many relationships when you jump in too fast, she broke my heart. Her head gasket blew, like many 7M powered Supra's do, and the relationship strained. However, it was love, and i persevered with her more than i had previous ex's. I learnt how to spanner properly and restored her to her previous health. But the relationship was doomed. I couldn't trust her any more. When would she next pop, her head gasket doing like an alcoholic lovers temper? I was living in fear. We parted ways on good terms, but i never pined for her. I would always want a car *like* her again, almost identical some would say... but never her. Time would be a healer...

So in that case, it was an ex you remember fondly, but never long for, or truly miss. I have more examples, but they are are harder on the soul. Readers with an emotional temperament, be advised: This gets sad.

My first true love lost. One that you don't get over, and you never heal from. Not a high-school fling for example, but a proper long-term relationship. For some, this may be the first painful break up that you did not instigate, but was thrust upon you. This is how i feel with the Mazda RX3.

We met in 2002. She had a messy breakup with a lad who i later became good friends with (relationships can have strange effects on social lives) and she ended up with me. She was different to all the other RX3's, With a V8 heart instead of the usual rotary stuff, and was exactly my kind of car. I'd say i probably wanted her more than she wanted me. She wasn't well, but i put the time in with her and got her back on the road. This was a rough time for me personally though, especially career-wise. I ended up letting her go as we couldn't afford to stay together, and she oddly ended up back with her Ex who i had taken her from. It all got quite love-triangle, a bit like an automotive Hollyoaks. We broke up and got back together again, but is was a destructive cycle. I had no choice in the end. She left Britain for Australian shores. She always had Australians "chasing after" her, and to this day still does i gather, but i have no idea where she is or if she is well.

That's why it hurts. I often find myself descending into that troubled world of a lover scorned. I trawl the internet stalking her, just to see how she is. I question if she kept her V8 heart or adopted her traditional rotary to please a new suitor. I often wonder if i am the only one who does this, if my shame is rightly justified, but then a discussion on the matter with this blogs co-writer uncovered that i am not alone!!

Simon recently found "Taz" again. His first true love i suppose, although its always rude to pry into another friends personal feelings! I remember spending time with them both, they were happy together. I even spent time alone with "Taz" when Simon wasn't around, and i could see why he had fallen for her. She was a MK1 Fiesta with a Lancia Beta tuned lump in the back, running twin DellOrtos. It sounded incredible. 

With a snug racing seat and a howl from behind your ear, it had spirit, true character. Looking deeper you could see the love that had went into her. Those arches you see were not cheap plastic. Those are steel. The reason i bring this up is because the internet can be a painful tool. It opens wounds that should be left to heal. For instance, i personally found myself annoyed at the re-emergence of "Taz". She had changed...

She became something else with her new fella. The Lancia soul that made her so special (in my eyes) had gone, replaced with run-of-the-mill Ford boredom. For me, the rough and ready gurgle and unpredictability of the Lancia lump gave it the spark, that connection that bonds you with a car. I think "she let herself go", frankly! Got lazy with her new fella. It does tug at the soul though. I imagine that if i could have bought it i would have. Took her back and returned her to the former glory of Lancia power. But then, am i getting it wrong? Simon often mentioned a desire for a different power source, perhaps 5 pot craziness? Maybe the love i felt for another mans fancy, isn't the same love he felt? Best to do what i have done, and stay out. I decided to keep to the strategy adopted over many years and many cars worth of experience. It goes like this....

I had a Mini. I sold it to fund the first Supra in fact. It never went far, in fact, it ended up staying across the road from a place i used to work. The person i sold it to sold it on, and so on and so on... until the last owner simply ran out of money. It sat in the street and slowly died. First the Tahiti Blue broke out in rust, then the suspension deteriorated and it sat funny. Arches got stolen. Chrome-work pitted. It lay as a constant haunt to me. Always looking to me as i left work, blaming me for letting breaking up with her, pushing to the life she now had to lead. I honestly felt such guilt, i was glad when i left that workplace for good. No longer would i have to drive past and be reminded of my own callousness. I never did find out what became of her.

That taught me that selling cars is a complicated business for me. I cant let go in the same way as most car folks do. I always question why i sold up, whether if a few years down the line, and with a different mindset, if things could have been different. Many people no doubt feel that with women. The post breakup denial or whatever. I just get it worse with cars! I question whether if me and a car go back together it would work out?

It wouldn't. Come on, it never does with women, does it? So I adopted the only strategy I could. No, I don't murder them, but I do put as much distance as I can between us. Take the Supra. No, not the grey first love. The ultimate.

To use an Antipodean expression, it was the ducks guts. Nearly 400 horses, a straight 6 twin turbo monster. It was my holy grail, my ultimate Supra. The car everyone wondered why i hadn't owned by that point in my life. She was perfect.

Well, not quite. She gave me an auto STD. The more time I spend with her, the more it cost me. I got boost-crazy. Chasing more and more power, I had to stop and be logical. "At this point in my life, can I keep doing this?" The answer was no. If I was to wring any more power from her, it would cost me thousands, not hundreds. We had our fun, but we had to part ways. I couldn't see her broken for parts, or with some twazzock behind the wheel with 19 inch chrome alloys on her. She had been perfected by me; to see any change in that would break my heart. This would be the key to a strategy I had perfected with experience. I sold her to a foreign buyer. The strictest instruction to not let me know what would be her fate was put as a clause in the deal. I left the relationship on a high.

The same fate found the RX3. We finally parted ways when I was broke, trying to fund a floundering business. She went to New Zealand, last I heard. As far as I'm aware, she made it too...I know that no matter how much it hurts, I wont have the soul crushing disappointment of seeing her painted luminous green with viper stripes.

If I have a relationship with a car is so strong, and so meaningful, I now find it too hard to see "her" with other people. The distance helps, but its not perfect. But what will happen to my current menage?

...the AW11? The flings we have together on remote back roads, the time I have spend on her handling and looks? She is my perfect AW11, the fourth I have owned and with any luck my last. I promised myself she would be a keeper. 2 years later and the love is still strong. I wont break up with her...I cant bring myself to. But what about:

...the Camaro? My first yank muscle. A car that once finished will rival the AW in tailored perfection.  Every component checked or replaced to hone it to the muscle car I want it to be. A process that has taken so long i don't have a full length decent picture of it!! I cant say these cars will be the last cars I will ever own. I'm 30, barely started in my automotive legacy. But the thought of losing them after so much work going into them tugs at my soul. I one day hope to own a Cobra, or a 4x4. I keep hankering after Legacy's or Imprezas, I go on random eBay trawls for weird and wonderful cars, and find my eyes straying like a married mans eyes would to a young lady. I actually think "Oh no,what if the Camaro caught me looking at a Fox body Mustang.....". Madness.

I guess the only option is to adopt the Jay Leno approach. Never sell another car again, so as to allow my soul respite. There is another woman who will be a deciding factor in that though. Not a Camaro, Corvette, Supra or Mini, but the real woman in my life. The one who has to endure me coming home with dipstick on my collar, scents of gearbox oil in my hair, and scratches on my back from a garage floor. My wife to be, AKA the "car widow"....

Her exact words? "I'm concerned I'll never get a look in if you're going to have so many other women in the garage to 'maintain'. But whatever makes you happy..."

There is hope for me yet. If only the other "women" in my life were as sympathetic...


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

MR2 gets some more maintenance...

So yesterday was a write off. Went to cut off the bolts and change my front track rod ends and found the angle grinder had thrown the death sparks. So in an effort to progress things, i set about cracking all the suspension bolts to ready for the poly bush instal. Couldnt find my wreckers bar for love nor money, and Camaro progress was going even worse, so the towel was thrown.

So today i hit it with full blown enthusiasm. Without going into the Camaro, the first point of contact was chopping the old track rods off. I should point out that i picked up a pair of front track rods as i was planning on making up a set of rear tie bars, but the TB group buy came along so i had them sitting around. Waste not want not! Typically thoughit was eBay strikes again, and once i chopped the old ones off i found that the MK1 rod ends i bought were nothing like the ones i needed. Bumsticks. I managed to catch a thread on the old one but it was barely a couple of turns.. Not drivable. And as usual nowhere in the central belt of Scotland keeps these parts in stock, so the MR wont be moving till tomorrow.

As i was stranded at the garage all day anyway, i made a crack at installing the poly bushes. Surprisingly the suspension came apart quite easily! Especially these control arm bits:

...which i reckoned may be my own personal brand of hell. Getting the lower arm bushes out was my own brand of hell though. I *tried* being all smart and engineery about it, doing something like this:

...and firing 12 tons of force against the bush....

...but all i managed to do was force my 3" wrecker bar into a shape resembling an over-ripe banana. Time for the more traditional method:



Fitted! Well, it was a bit more involved than that. Nonetheless, thats the full front of the MR2 polybushed. Just a proper set of track rod ends to fit and i can see if this makes a difference!!!

Monday, 12 March 2012

MR2 gets some maintenance...

Been a bit ill recently. Had a nasty ear infection that has been keeping me out the garage. Today was the first day i could leave the house without the need for copious painkillers. Spent a couple of hours on the MR2 hunting niggles, as i didnt have the guts to look at the Camaro, knowing it would inevitably swallow my whole day!!

First up i re-greased the new rear tiebars and gave them a check over. They seem to be holding up well, and the rosejoints still tight after a hundred miles on Glasgows horrendous roads.

Only other noteworthy thing outside of bolt torquing and fluid checking was starting on the poly-bush installation. Nice simple one... rear ARBs.

Heavily greased, threads and all. Noticable difference? None.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Camaro and others... Real progress!

The past week has been quite an active one. The only problem for the garage is that it hasnt been a busy one for the Camaro.

I finally manned up and made a good positive bit of progress on my brothers VW Polo project a few days ago. It has been languishing with a half completed 1.4 Efi conversion for months now.. A project that truly snowballed into a clusterfuck. A few days of daydreaming and brainstorming left me with the conclusion that if the 1.4 block was identical to the removed 1.0, then all of the associated 1.0 equipment should fiit and run. In that case, why not just run a carb?

A mornings tinkering with a few elements removed (entire EFi loom, injection manifold and electronic ignition) and even fewer added (carb setup, vac advance dizzy) and we had it spluttering to life with cold start. Just to set up the carb and instal a carb fuel pump. I'll take my timing gun down next week and get some pictures too...

Anyway... about the Camaro now. So I made a resolution to myself. Camaro must be running (if not road legal) by the end of March. Got enough time off now to realistically achieve this, so today I hit the with a vengeance. First up, rectify the problem with the existing HT leads. I picked up a set of Procomp 10mm race leads for a song, and set about crimping them up accordingly:

You can see the difference so easily in the picture. Proper beefy leads... Methodical change over too you'll note!

Looking a lot more "street" now...

All done. Next up I started to torque up the finger-tightened manifolds. This is where it all went wrong. N/S bank tightened up fine, but the O/S wouldnt quite go. An hour of shuffling about later and I got to the bottom of it. The collector seems to be fouling the lower subframe. Far from impressed, it looks like they may have warped or something. Worse than that, I cannot rectify the problem in place, and due to the size of the manifold, that means pulling the whole fecking engine out again. I got as far pulling one side of the engine up with the crane just to see if they would slip up past the block.

They don't.

OK, so after a weekend my mojo was sufficiently topped up. Nothing for it, the engine had to come back out!

Dropped the prop, gearbox mount and as little engine mount and connections as possible, and got it out from the side:

A big slice, bend and weld later, and it *seemed* to look better when bolted up.

Time to take off, wrap and refit completely.

My only gripe is it seems to sit a bit close to the starter motor now. To be honest, its gonna sit close to everything, I just need to suck it and see. If the motor fails I can get a smaller unit to replace it with anyway...

Now its fitted up it looks a lot better, here I have all the ignition gear on, and bolts torqued. Just need to wrap those middle primaries up and cable tie them.

Sadly the wrap on the N/S took a pounding during the refit and now looks a bit tatty. Feckin typical. At least its bolted tight. 

Ignition all set and timed, although this picture does heehaw to show that:

Back to where we should have been! Now for some gearbox oil:

I used the thickest treacle-like MT90 I could find. Took 25 minutes for it to goop down that hose. Also took about 4 litres of the stuff! That Getrag is a beefy one!

Now the manifolds are sitting correctly, I could throw the centre system of the exhaust on. Picked up 6 old bean bolts today and got them onto the manifolds, along with the rear boxes attached. A wee jack on the axle got it as high as it normally sits on the road, so I could gauge how low I could get away with hanging them...

Once that was established I secured it up with a ratchet strap around the panhard rod:

...and started welding! One length of 6mm steel rod to the back of the box:

and another formed and welded to the rear chassis leg: (bad picture angle)

...resulting in one side hung. Add generic exhaust rubber for best results.

repeat on other side...

...and the exhaust is suspended! Need a bit more strength on the N/S hanger, and it could be straighter, but it looks decent enough:

 Got the heater matrix pipes trimmed and fitted. 2 jub clips short of them being done...

Got the fuel pump refitted and the lines terminated on it...

Another big step! Got the coolant system plumbed in. Not checked for watertightness as i'm out of antifreeze...

...and got the lambda ports welded up on the exhausts. No need for that shite here!

Knew i'd find a use for those old merc wheel bolts!

That leaves me with literally the 3 electrical components (dizzy, alternator and starter) to wire up, and shes running!!

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Camaro - Mojo creeping back...

Time for a long overdue update. Been snowed under with .. stuff. Here is where it is at:

Been on ebay buying some bits and bobs. To be honest, its nothing interesting but ultimately really neccessary stuff. I went down on Jan 2nd for a tinker. Got this done:

Mega irritating fuel pump cleaned up and refitted. Its a ballache getting the pump shaft and plate for this bolted on, and it cant be done before dropping the engine in as that is the engine mount directly behind it. So a wee bit closer. Also, did this:

Refitted the alternator with its shiney new bracket. Got the bottom crank pulley reconnected and the belt back on. Will now have power and water for the restart / test fire. This leaves it looking like this:

Engines always look a bit more compelte with a belt on! Havent attached the power steering pump yet as the aircon bracket formed an integral part of the pump support. Needless to say some funky bracketry is afoot. Watch this space.

While I was there I started seriously appraising what still needs done before the grand re-start. Spark plugs, which are shagged, have been purchased and should be here for the end of the week, along with a new oil filter. Once those arrive I can throw the distributer on and finish the top end build up and set the timing. A can of oil should see it lubed too. After that I need to finish the exhausts so it wont deafen Shawlands, throw the rest of the coolant system on, and poke Kenny to help wire it up, and we should be ready for a test fire and 2k cam bed in. 

So then i had work. Was sat bored during January and I just had a wee moment. This project has been nipping at me somewhat to get the finger out. Been dragging my heels on the wheel and tire front since getting the fronts sorted with cooper cobras. The rears have been so bloody rare and expensive in BFG and Cooper cobras respectively I have forgotten about it. Today I trawled ebay and found this:

I emailed the dude and asked what type he had in, expecting linglong pingpong with tipex letters on the side. His exact response:

"These are currently Cooper Cobra brand"

I shite thee not, I had a pair bought less than 10 seconds after he sent that. £228 for a pair. Delivered. I wasn't holding my breath, as this was still frighteningly cheap for it to be true, but stranger things have happened....

So i had a wait for those to arrive. In my head I'm trying to make a conscious effort to keep at this, doing as many silly jobs wherever possible just to break the back of the mountain of stuff needed to get this lump running again. I got a new set of plugs and set about fitting them, only to find that the new tubular manifolds restrict every port. All plugs had to be nipped up with a spanner a fraction of a turn at a time. Very frustrating.

I also got the new oil filter on:

...everything is just BIGGER on a V8!! Primed it and attached with little drama.

Now that the plugs are in, I set about reattaching the dizzy. Got the leads allocated ok, but the drive could be anywhere as I have cranked the engine a millionty times since fitting the new cam and lifters. Will need to work out how to set it for the first start.

Also, the plug leads... those now don't fit because of the feckin manifolds. I think I need leads that attach to the plug at 90 degrees, but not too sure what i'm looking fo there, as none of the kits I have seen say how they attach...

Then things got better. Biggest news was the mega wide 295/50 R15 Cooper Cobras arriving. Quick visit to TyresBwise and we were in business:

Very very happy about that outcome! Mojo somewhat restored, it was time to move onto the exhausts...

After checking that the new boxes fitted adequately onto the existing mid pipe I have... was time to weld!

All metal-glued together, it was time for a trial fit...

...looking ok....

...yea, not bad...

...I'm happy with that. Couldnt get it fully lined up as it started raining HARD and my feet needed to stick out the garage door to get into it right. Bloody big yank tanks...

Had some time to kill waiting for a courier so I cracked on with another wee job I had up my sleeve fro a (literally) rainy day.

Take one throttle pedal assembly, and cut the pedal plate off...

...then weld on a nut so as to attach and bearing assembly. If anyone is wondering, thats a skateboard bearing:

That sorted, we take a section of 2x2 steel bar, cut the bottom off, then drill and profile: this:

Then weld into the drivers floor:

...and attach this: it looks a bit like this:

Bingo. No yank cruiser is complete without a big organ mash-pedal!!