My car is back!

Oh yes...

Wow. I've been driving my car with the new engine for two weeks now, and it's still fantastic. The combination of stump-pulling torque and a super-quick gear-change (courtesy of the close ratio gearbox, homebrew quick shift and the lightweight flywheel) has completely transformed the car. It's a rocketship! On roads where visibility limits my speed I can drive a gear higher than before and still probably be faster. When I'm on a mission the performance is awesome; overtaking is effortless. I took Steve Foster out for a ride and he said it was very similar to his race-prepped 200 bhp Vauxhall car in its speed and noise, but a little more cammy. I'm please to be able to say that the handling escaped unharmed; the throttle is lovely and progressive so there's little danger of accidentally giving it too much welly, and I'm impressed with how much grip the CR500 tyres are finding in the cold and wet.

Stepping back a couple of weeks, things weren't going quite as well. In attempting to remove a seatbelt which had (as I found out) corroded to its mounting point, I ripped the driver's-side seatbelt boss from the chassis. I was not pleased.

Phil devised a most ingenious workaround which involved looping the crotch strap from the inside seatbelt mount, around the back of the seat, and into the right-hand side of the buckle. That at least made the car usable and it looked OK too, just in case I got stopped by the boys in blue. Bruce at Arch agreed to see me on the Saturday to try to weld in a new boss while I waited.

The seatbelt hack allowed Phil and I to take the working car for its maiden drive on Tuesday 3rd February. At 11:30pm. In the snow. And Phil couldn't wear gloves because he had to work the laptop. OK, so it was only a few flakes of snow but it was still bloody cold. The idea was to do a few runs making use of Steve's wideband lambda sensor to ensure that the fueling was reasonable and definitely not dangerously lean. Phil courageously fought back the frostbite to make a few tweaks (mainly involving leaning off the map) until we gave up at around 12:30am because the snow was getting too heavy. The car was tricky to drive because there was lots I wasn't used to and we couldn't adjust the clutch properly because the airbox fouled the cable. I could tell that Dave thought we were incompetent idiots when we phoned out of desperation; that might be true of one of us but there's no way it would fit properly no matter how jiggy we got with it.


Saturday dawned and Phil came along for a very wet drive up to Arch. Neil did a splendid job of fitting the new boss, explaining how the old one hadn't had its powder-coating removed before being welded, which meant that the joint wasn't as strong as it could have been. He made sure that this one was done properly, and neatly too, including peeling back the ali skin inside the cockpit, and not burning a hole in the outer paint.

I was relieved to see only a little surface rust on the chassis tubes in the side of the car. Steve had panicked me earlier by suggesting that we'd find little more than red dust and that it was entirely likely that Arch would then not let me drive the car away.

Whilst there, Phil and I looked at several of the chassis lying around and found the reason for our problems fitting the airbox. The hole in the pedal box where the clutch cable enters had been moved sideways by about half an inch. Even Bruce didn't remember that happening, so it's perhaps no surprise that neither Dave nor Bernard were aware either.

Engine tweaks at DVA Towers

Having finished at Arch we took the opportunity to return via DVA, since he'd kindly offered to help properly set up the starting and idle of the new engine. We had to wait a while for my starting problem to go away and then, despite our best efforts, Dave managed to improve the balance of the TBs, the idle adjustment, and he also set the Emerald parameters for:

Tip from Dave: turn off idle control and get a solid idle by adjusting the ignition and fueling at the 1000 rpm site (assuming that's what your desired idle is). Only once you've done this should you enable idle control, otherwise the ECU keeps changing things behind your back.

Dave was very surprised by the poor fit of the airbox, but at least it proved that we weren't going mad. Later that evening Phil demonstrated even more of his valuable talents by skilfully modifying the airbox to have a wider channel for the clutch cable. That allowed us to properly adjust the clutch which made a huge improvement to the feel of the gear-change. The only remaining problem is that it seems easy to accidentally shift the lever into the reverse side of the gate, for example when changing down into second. Phil apparently knows what is likely to be causing this, but a fix would involve removing the seats, heater blanking plate, transmission tunnel cover and gear lever, so for now I'm trying to get used to it and be more precise with my gear changes.

Thank you

It's been a long slog to get my car back on the road, and in the spirit of Oscar-season I'd like to thank all those who helped: Steve Foster for the loan of the engine hoist and wideband lambda sensor; Brent Chiswick for his grinding skills; Dave Andrews for having all the bits needed to make an engine, and the time and skill to put them together; Brian and Chris at BGH for building a great gearbox that seems perfectly suited to the car; Bruce and Neil at Arch for fixing my chassis without any fuss; and definitely not least Phil Waters, without whom I would never have finished this project. It wasn't just Phil's technical skills that were invaluable, he's a pretty good motivator too ;-).

Engine saga: part 1, part 2.

This page is It was first published on Saturday 21 February, 2004 and last updated on Wednesday 23 June, 2004.