Friday, 4 December 2009

The end of an era

Big news this month. Those of you who know me will know that my everyday car for almost fifteen years has been a Citroen AX I bought new in 1995. Well after just over 226700 miles it's finally gone, replaced with something rather more modern and much more suited to the many miles of motorway driving I do every month.

Anyway, back to the project news...

The van got its new batteries fitted and everything works well. I also decided that the LED sidelights I'd fitted were never going to pass an MOT so I fitted some different ones that do the job a lot better. I've also made up some temporary front panels for the interior so I can mount the speakers and the control panel for the inverter. That meant I could finally test the stereo properly. It sounds rather good! There's a slight whistle in the audio circuit that is being introduced by the source select switch that I built. It's not a big problem but my knowledge of electronics doesn't extend to understanding what's causing it so it will have to stay as it is for now. The whistle is inaudible when there's any useful level of sound from the stereo anyway.

The van has also been down to the local garage again for a few last odds and ends finishing off and an MOT test. Hopefully that is the end of the original list of mechanical jobs I had. Next thing is to fit the new CB radio I have here and to try and get out and drive it more! (Oh yes, and it's still leaking copious amounts of rain in at the back :-( )

No news on anything else I'm afraid. I have plans to start a big project on the race car next year. More details on that once I've decided what I actually need to do.

Worryingly, I now have a car-shaped space in my garage again... maybe it's time I did something about the Spitfire road car too.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Testing times

I've now finished all the power supply wiring on the van except for actually connecting the leisure batteries in the back. Two new 113Ah batteries are currently on order and I'm waiting until they arrive to check the cable lengths before finalising the fitting.

In the meantime, I connected a battery I bought for the purpose about five years ago and started testing the circuits. Apart from a couple of minor issues, everything seems to work fine. The battery charger supplies charge to all three batteries from the mains supply. The mains supply itself powers the sockets and if I disconnect the external supply, the inverter starts up and maintains the mains supply from the battery.

So that's a result then!

All the internal wiring has now been tested too. There are still a few lights to fit but they have to wait until I finish the remaining trim. Also the main amplifier has no speakers attached at the moment for the same reason so I can't test that (although the power light comes on so that's a good sign).

Today's job was to replace the sidelights. A previous owner had fitted a couple of interior light units to the front grill to make the van legal in the UK (the original specification wouldn't have had them at all). They never did look right so I've bought some LED units and fitted them. Unfortunately the new lights only look bright if you look directly at them, from any angle other than directly ahead they appear very dim. I'll see whether they are good enough to pass an MOT test. If not, I'll have to think again.

Whilst I was ordering LED lights, I also got some to replace the faulty marker lights on the front panel and some others to replace the existing "mood lights" in the interior. Some of the LEDs have stopped working on the existing mood lights.

All the LEDs were obtained from Superbright LEDs over in the USA. I ordered them on a Thursday evening and the letter to say I had a customs charge to pay arrived with me the following Thursday. Once that was paid, the parcel arrived with me on the Friday. From order to delivery in a week. Sometimes I can't get things delivered that quickly from UK companies! Importing stuff this way turns out to be quite easy if you select a supplier that is set up for it. The Parcelforce "handling charge" of £13.50 does seem a bit steep though.

I was hoping to finish fitting the new LED lights tomorrow but the weather forecast is for rain all day so I might not get much done. Once these lights, and the new batteries are fitted, the next target will be to get the van to a local garage for an MOT test. Whilst it's there, I'll ask them to try and fix the useless parking brake (it won't pass the test in its current state anyway) and also to do a couple of other jobs that I either don't have facilities, time or patience to fix myself.

On a different topic, I'm looking for a cylinder head for a Triumph Spitfire 1500. Condition is not important, in fact a scrapped one would be ideal as it is to be used for some rather destructive testing (in aid of exploring tuning options). If anyone has an old cylinder head lying about that's due to be thrown away and you fancy donating it to science, let me know! Either leave a comment here or contact me through the CT or TSSC web sites.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Getting things done

So let's see. Where was I last time I remembered to post an update here?

Quite a lot of progress has been made over the last few weeks. The van now has a new fusebox in the engine bay, new wiring from the battery and a whole new switch panel in the cab that actually makes things work when you operate the switches! (something of a novelty for my van).

I've also got the new cabinet fitted in the back ready for the other fusebox and the connections for the leisure batteries. The inverter is in and almost all the cabling is in place and just needs connecting. One slight issue to overcome in that I seem to have failed to allow for anywhere to put the two large main fuses and a junction box. When you're dealing with 300amp cabling, they take up quite a bit of space. I think I've found room below the rear seat but I need to re-route some of the cabling I already laid in to sort it all out.

Once that's done, I can hopefully finish wiring up the remainder of the electrical circuits.

The back of the van is still leaking water in at quite a rate. This is despite some concerted effort to seal the useless rear rain gutter. I have no idea where the rain is getting in but there seems to be a lot of it behind the trim panels. I can apply more sealant to everywhere that looks likely but since the van has to live outdoors I need it to stop raining long enough to get everything dried out first and that seems to be a problem at the moment.

The race car is currently stored in the dry but isn't likely to get any more use this year as I'm spending the money on other projects (mostly the van!). Nothing happening with the white spitfire either at the moment.

Here's a picture of the space above the cab in the van, with all the equipment now fitted and the new switch panel in the cab. Just to prove I'm not making all this up as I go along!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Professional help

Having finally finished refurbishing the replacement steering box for the van, I took that and a set of front ball joints down to a local garage with the van and got some professional work done for a change. As suspected the job was a lot easier for them than it would have been for me.

So new top ball joints have been fitted and the steering box swapped. Then it was discovered that the replacement box only wants to turn left and the adjuster won't take the slack out of the gears without locking up solid. So it got swapped back for the original again! That was a waste of time and money, as it seems was the rebuild kit for the box however I reckon that at least I know a little more about how the van works now so I'll clutch at that positive straw for now!

A replacement, properly rebuilt, steering box turns out to be available off the shelf from the states so one has been ordered and arrived today. I also ordered a parking brake cable and a rear brake flexi-hose at the same time but those jobs are on the list for later.

Whilst the van was at the garage I asked them to remove the fuel tank and investigate the constant smell of petrol that hangs around the back of the van. After some discussion of how best to deal with the seized fittings (break them off and fabricate new ones from threaded rod) they discovered that the entire fuel pump and level sender unit had come adrift from the tank and was just floating on the fuel. That explained a few things and one large Jubilee clip to replace the broken original solved the problem. Now I can fill the tank right to the top without having fuel spill out. At least I could if I was feeling rich, that's a 36-US gallon tank which would cost at least £130 to fill from empty at current prices. Eek!

I went to have a look at the white spitfire a week or two ago. It's not in a good state. Repairing it as it stands is certainly not a viable proposition. The cost would be many times what it would cost to simply replace it with a pristine car. A re-shell with a good second-hand shell is the other possibility however tracking one down is not easy and the cost would still probably be prohibitive. At the minute I'm thinking that it might be best to simply recover all the salvageable parts from it, get rid of the rotten shell and then decide what to do with the useful parts afterwards. Mechanically it is completely sound but there is no part of the body that hasn't suffered from the ravages of time and salt water.

Final decision has been postponed until after the current round of work on the van is complete and paid for. Then I'll study the finances and see what the plan is.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Catching up

Well, is it really that long since I last posted here. I really must try harder! Now I have to try and remember all that's gone on since the beginning of March.

The trip out for a day's rallying with Martin went well. Sadly Martin has had a major setback in his rallying aspirations since then but I'll leave that story for Martin's own blog.

I also took the race car to Cadwell Park for the Club Triumph trackday there in April and had a fantastic day blasting around in the sunshine. In particular it was interesting to be able to compare my not-excessively-modified race car with the cars in standard trim that were there as well. It turns out I can barely keep up with them on the straights but my car is much better in the corners. That's pretty much as expected but a lot of fun was had testing the theory!

Between them, those two trips also proved that I can manage the van and trailer and allowed me to work out what is needed for the race weekends again. The van tows the trailer no problem at all despite it weighing in at almost a ton and a half with my car in it (more with Martin's TR7) and having a full load of tools and spares in the back of the van. The only downside is the 10mpg fuel economy (not sure that even qualifies as "economy"!) that goes with it.

Not much more work has been completed on the van recently. One new trim panel has been fitted and I now have lights in the cab that come on when the front doors are opened. I know that's a feature of most modern cars these days but it's something that has been missing ever since I got the van and it's rather good to finally have them in and working. I used some LED downlighter bulbs from for this and they are really quite good.

A couple of weekends ago I finally managed to enter a race meeting and took the car to Oulton Park. The weather was perfect for racing and I had a good time. It was my first time racing with the Classic Sports Car Club "Swinging Sixties" series and there was a good selection of cars on the track. I managed to qualify dead last (again!) but then spent the first twenty minutes of the race chasing a V8 powered Warwick around. The long lap at Oulton Park meant that we had a race all of our own after all the faster cars cleared off and it was great fun. The Warwick was ridiculously fast in a straight line but, racing on historic crossply tyres, had no cornering ability at all so we were very evenly matched over the whole lap.

Unfortunately my car developed a misfire about half way through the 40-minute race and as it got worse, the engine eventually stopped entirely and I found myself looking for somewhere to park out of the way. The car rolled far enough to get well clear of the track and I became a spectator for the second half.

I suspected the problem was the rotor arm and this was easily confirmed whilst waiting for the tow truck to come round after the race. The rotor arm had come loose on the distributor shaft and was serving no useful function at all. After a tow back to parc ferme and a long walk back to the van for a replacement rotor arm (why is the van always the opposite end of the paddock to where you're stranded?) the car fired up and behaved perfectly again. I've now ordered some uprated (blue) rotor arms from MiniSpares as recommended by fellow Triumph racer Kevan.

The only other news of note is that my white Spitfire turns out to have a lot more rust problems than were first thought and will need a huge amount of work to put it right. I'm currently waiting for the full assessment/estimate from Karl but it may not be economic to repair it which would be a great pity.

Oh yes, and the passenger door lock on the van is playing up again. I'll have to add that back on the the list of jobs again! I'm not sure the list is actually getting any smaller at the moment!

OK, huge update over. I really must try to post here more often. If only real life didn't keep getting in the way!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Weekend wanderings

Just a quick update on progress over the weekend. On Saturday I finished connecting cables to the new aerials on the van and since that went well I went on to fix the central locking which was a job that wasn't on my list but should have been.

The passenger door lock has never behaved quite right since I had the van and recently had stopped working altogether. It would lock and unlock fine with the key in that door but not remotely from the other door. After stripping the trim from the door it was obvious that there was a wire broken on the connector for the lock actuator. Further investigation revealed that the wiring was completely corroded right through! Replacing the connector mostly cured the problem but then I found the drivers door wouldn't unlock from the passenger side (although it locked correctly). I stripped down the drivers door as well and found the same corroded wiring on that side. Another new connector and all the locks work properly again. I've wrapped the wiring and new connectors in tape to try and keep at least some of the damp out in future.

I also got the vacuum cleaner out and cleaned all the carpets and seats as the whole interior of the van seemed to be covered in a layer of sawdust and metal filings from the fitting of various components recently. It's vastly improved now. I even tidied up all the cables that are dangling out of various panels waiting for me to install the electrics so the van looks better even if there isn't actually much major progress being made.

On Sunday my dad gave me a hand and we got the trailer out, hitched it up to the van, towed it round the block and put it back down the driveway. That proved a few things about the necessary manoeuvres to get it out and in and no major problems came up. Getting it reversed in is difficult, it's hard to place the trailer precisely where it needs to be but it is possible and some more practice will help.

In the middle of all this, Martin came round with his rally car and we tried it for size in the trailer. It fits rather well so it looks like we're OK for the rally next weekend. (and for those who read other blogs too, yes, I have seen Martin's "headlining" but I'm not revealing the secret either :) ).

No more progress this weekend as the rest of the day was spent sorting out the house ready for the arrival of a decorator next week. Still, I'm pleased with the results of my pottering around this weekend. Now I have to try and remember what I need to take with me for the event next weekend. It seems a long time since I packed up for a race meeting!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Tick boxes

Having made a list of things that need doing in my last post here I can now start ticking them off again.

Since I last posted, I've fitted the new aerials on the roof with only a minor issue caused by discovering that the fibreglass roof is so thick in places that there was hardly enough thread on the fittings to reach through. Not what you want to discover just after drilling a half inch hole in the roof! Fortunately there was just enough thread and they all went well. A trip to Maplin got me the necessary cable and connectors so I'll see about getting those fitted this weekend.

To try and work out whether it was sensible to weld the new air suspension brackets in place I bolted one of them to a piece of wood with the same dimensions as the chassis rail. I was still able to attach the air spring to the bracket afterwards so it looks like welding the brackets to the chassis will leave enough clearance to fit the springs. The only alternative I had come up with was to bolt the brackets on with a fitting that passed right through the chassis and floor pan to the inside of the vehicle. That would put the fitting directly underneath the rear seat mounting though so could get complicated. I think that simply welding on the brackets is the way to go.

Since the weather was actually quite good last weekend, the rear door seals finally dried out and I was able to attack them with the RTV sealant again. At the moment I seem to have cured the leak but I've said that before so I'm not holding my breath! Fingers crossed that one is finally sorted as well.

Someone decided to steal the spare wheel from my trailer last week and also broke a door handle on it at the same time. Annoying but replacement parts have been ordered from the manufacturer. I'm hoping they arrive in the next week or so as I've agreed to help Martin get his TR7 rally car to its first event in two weekends time. The trailer is usable as it is but I don't like travelling without a spare wheel.

This weekend's task is to work out how to get the trailer out of the driveway. I moved it part way last weekend so I could clean it and there's no way I can drag it out on to the road on my own. I'll have to tow it out with the van but there's not much clearance around it so I think some practice is in order! I used to get the old trailer out that way and that trailer was longer so there shouldn't be a problem in theory...

I've discovered some other minor damage caused by the garage working on the van a couple of weeks ago. Now I've been able to have a closer look, I'm not particularly happy with the quality of the work that's been done, especially given how much I paid for it. Oh well. Something else to put down to experience I suppose.

I've been cheered up however by the arrival of my new custom made control panels all the way from Germany. There's something a bit special about designing something and then getting it made professionally. These were a little expensive but will provide a professional finish that I don't think could have been achieved any other way. Very pleased. I'm gradually building these up with the necessary switches and connectors. I'll try and remember to post another picture when they're complete.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Wow, is it really that long since I wrote anything here?

Just realised I haven't posted anything here for ages so it's about time I updated anyone who actually reads this stuff on what's been going on.

The new headlight fittings arrived from the states and the newly fitted halogen units are a vast improvement on the original type. I can actually see where I'm going at night now! I'm still trying to get hold of the P43t adapters though.

As the winter weather had well and truly set in and the fuel tank and brake line problems were looking like big jobs I eventually booked the van in with a specialist to get that work done. I'm glad I did as they have done in two days what it would have probably taken me most of the rest of the year to do. Some of the fittings were seized solid and had to be cut off and re-welded so it really did turn into a major operation. Despite a big bill I'm pleased with the results although less pleased that the garage seems to have managed to get hydraulic fluid all over the place which has damaged the paint on the inside of the bonnet and other places.

Whilst the van was in the garage I had them fit four new shock absorbers too which has made a noticeable difference to the ride quality.

I bought a kit to fir airbag spring assisters to the rear of the vehicle too but fitting that has also turned into a bigger job than it should be. The upper mounting brackets for the air springs are supposed to replace the bump stops on the rear of the chassis however the bump stops are attached with two very small bolts each and given that these are located directly behind the rear wheels and have been liberally sprayed with road dirt, salt water and the like for the last eighteen years they are not going to unbolt without breaking off. I broke one myself and the garage wasn't able to come up with a solution either. At least not one that didn't involve cutting lumps off the chassis and welding bits back on again. I need to have a look at how the kit all fixes together before deciding how to proceed but the answer may involve just welding the new bracket to the chassis instead of bolting it.

In the meantime, I have finally finished building up and bench testing all the electronic apparatus that will be the AV system for the van. With some assistance from various friends and family I've also made a start on putting together the new fittings and trim that will house the equipment and (eventually) allow the job to be finished.

Lists of things to do are always useful with a project like this so here's my list of things that still need doing, in no particular order.

Work out how to fit the air springs and get them installed.

Get the rear doors to seal watertight so it doesn't rain in.

Make and trim the switch panel for the cab and then fit the overhead panel and switch panel in the cab.

Start wiring the switch panel and install the electronics above the cab.

Make a storage locker to go above the cab.

Make and trim the rear shelf.

Make and trim the interior side panels which are to have lights fitted in them as well.

Wire all the new equipment and complete the new wiring loom. This includes running a new section of loom from the engine bay to the location of the new fuse box at the rear of the vehicle.

Fit the new aerials on the roof and install the cabling for them.

Make and fit the varnished wood trim panels for the front and rear of the passenger compartment.

Ply-line and trim the luggage space behind the rear seat.

Make a cabinet to house the new fusebox for all the interior fittings and the battery charger/inverter.

Fit the leisure batteries and test all the electrical equipment.

Oh yes, and somewhere amongst that lot I need to put some fuel in and actually get some use out of the thing too!

Well that should keep me busy for a while yet I reckon.