Sunday 26 May 2013

Meanwhile ........ Back At The Point

Which is of course the car.

I have worked up sufficient enthusiasm to do a little work on it. I did some sums this morning & the way I would like to fix it - lightened flywheel, Pinto clutch, new alloy bell-housing comes out to the thick-end of £700, so that's not going to happen.

Venturing out to the garage, I wheeled the engine-less car onto the drive (the myriad cars usually resident at chez blatter were spread out somewhat as the neighbours are away & like their drive to look "used") I rolled the engine on it's makeshift trolley out of the hidey-hole & took off the Mondeo 1800 clutch. Then the ARP bolts & the flywheel. Trying my best to look casual so as not to attract Mrs Blatter's wrath, I weighed the 1800 Escort Zetec flywheel on the bathroom scales. 8.5kg. The Burton Item I had been considering weighs 6.8 with the ring gear, so it really isn't much of a saving when compared to the cost. I then took off the aluminium bell-housing - the probable villain of the piece - & weighed that - 3.5kg, the iron one I'm replacing it with is (EEEK) 11kg. That was just too much for me & shuddering slightly, I wheeled the car back into the garage & e-mailed a local Co. asking if they could re-drill the Zetec flywheel to take the Pinto clutch.

We await the outcome.

Friday 24 May 2013

A Strange Experience For A UK Engineer

As I may have mentioned, I've been working abroad (can't say where - they told me that once I'd got there). I've worked as an Aircraft Design Engineer at a number of locations in the UK & it's always the same story, no matter what you send in advance, no-one's expecting you, security clearance takes a week or so, it takes twice that to get a computer, another week to get an account, by which time the few people that realised you were coming have forgotten you're there & you have to go & INSIST that they give you some work.

It doesn't appear to be like that on foreign shores, the job title "Senior Aircraft Design Engineer" seems to carry a little more weight. I arrived mid morning, waved my passport at the nice lady on the security desk & was promptly met by a senior engineering manager, who gave me a clock card & made sure it worked properly, escorted me through the gates & delivered me to the team I would be working with. The rest of that day was taken up with introductions to the people, the project & my office - MY OFFICE! At 09:00 the following morning, I was taken to the security building to get a permanent pass - which worked properly in all the doors, first time - when I got back to my desk the computer had arrived, as had a chair, both brand new & top spec. I have two enormous screens & a proper C.A.D. controller that looks like the helm of the Starship Enterprise. The e-mail worked, the C.A.D. account was set-up after lunch. Bob's-your-uncle.

The other wonderful thing is that the C.A.D. system is set-up for & by the Designers to do what they need. In the UK that's usually run by someone (often a Designer who wasn't very good) who sees it as thier right & responsibility to introduce as many petty & meaningless rules about (for example) the colour of lines & the naming of points, as they can possibly think up. The purpose of these rules seems to be to slow the creative process to a crawl & make any task endlessly dull. Not so here. There are rules of course, but they are rules you can understand the need for, they help conformity & understanding. In short they are as they should be - it feels like we're creating something, not working as data entry clerks.

Of course it's not perfect & it could all go horribly wrong, but the first impressions are good.

Sunday 19 May 2013

Immobile Phone

Nothing to do with cars this one, just a general moan about the mobile phone industry.

Mrs Blatter has a mobile as do the two daughter Blatters - as you'd expect. Mrs Blatter works for the education authority which entitled her to a discount from Orange, so all three of the girlie Blatters were with that network, on contract, with insurance.

Then the cost of the insurance went up, the benefits provided went down. Then the cost of the CONTRACT went up (the word "contract" must have some strange other meaning within mobile phone circles). The upshot is, my wife is currently paying £80 / month for three non-smart phones, one of which has a broken charger point - AGAIN (the third time this has happened).

In the mean time Orange has merged with T-mobile to form EE or some equally unlikely name. "Shall we call customer services, or go into town & talk to a person?" she enquired, I thought in my innocence, that talking to a person in a shop would get more accomplished, so we set off.

We went into the shop in the local shopping centre - there was a queue, between customers, one of the boys behind the counter suggested there may not be a queue at their other shop upstairs, feeling slightly incredulous, I followed my wife & youngest up the escalator & found another shop run by the same network. Here there was no queue.

We enquired about my wife's enquiry - a simple one, it said in the "contract" that after 1/2 the contracted period, she could switch to a lower rate (call me suspicious, but the rate hike mentioned above is starting to look pre-planned). The boy behind that counter couldn't help "because they are an ex-T-mobile shop, so can't help with ex-Orange contracts - you need an ex-Orange shop".

We went for a coffee, while heading for one of the dozens of coffee shops, we passed a third EE shop, we called in & asked, we were told that while they were indeed an ex-orange shop, they could do nothing in the shop, we had to call customer services. SORRY? you're paying High Street rates for ground rent & Sunday rates for staff to tell us that you're no use at all?

We had our coffee & headed back to the car. On the way we passed a FORTH shop run by the same network, also open, also with two boys in. We asked the obvious question first - they were ex-T-mobile, but asked if they could help - presumably out of sheer boredom. After a brief run-down, no they couldn't. Furthermore, "don't call customer services now" they said "you'll never get through, try 9:00 - 10:00 in the morning" (Mrs Blatter will be at work).

So, what we find is this:
EE run at least four shops on the local high street & open them all on a Sunday - 8 people.
Ex-Orange shops can't talk to ex-T-mobile customers & vice-versa.
The staff in those shops are mostly stood about with nothing to do.
The staff in those shops can't help with anything to do with an existing contract.
Customer services - who can deal with existing contracts - don't have enough people to man all the phones.

I have no business management training, but I can see some potential improvements to their business model.

Can you children?

Saturday 18 May 2013

Not a lot of Luck Going On

So! What's been happening since the road trip. Well, mixed at best really. When I got home I just put the Fury into the garage & bathed in the warm glow of not-coming-home-on-a-truck. but by the following weekend I thought I ought to be doing something to fix the couple of problemettes that had come up on the tour, namely:
The bonnet hinge - broken
The alternator exciter wire - not exciting
The starter - still shrieking & graunching

The natural first job was the bonnet, so off it came - it seems like the welding wasn't done very well, so I dropped the frame into Ashby Welding of Church Crookham with a request to re-weld the broken end & weld u both sides of the other end. But I'm getting ahead of myself - with the frame off there's no real way of attaching the bonnet, so I'd placed it on the car. Then daughter-the-younger wanted a lift. Could I find my glasses? in desperation I took off the bonnet again - forgetting the new one is noticeably heavier than the old one - & fell over, dropping the bonnet on the concrete with a rending crunch. I may have said "bother" or somesuch. Upshot is my shiny new bonnet now has a series of deep gouges & an area the size of an egg where the gel-coat has come off altogether. I have lumps of skin missing off both knees & one elbow, but I'll heal, the bonnet won't.
I picked up the Bonnet hinge yesterday - I'd said I'd need to pick it up lunch time - it hadn't been started. Well, it had in a way - they'd re-made the bit to be welded on as they'd lost the old one, then they didn't weld it both sides like I asked (sigh). So I fitted that back on the bonnet, then got distracted & fitted the spot lamps. The car had a pair on the old bonnet, but I'd got better ones, so fitted them in a similar place, surprisingly that went well, I fully expect them to catch fire when I switch them on.

Today my plan was to remove the engine, swap the (probably) flimsy alloy bellhousing for a cast iron one, re-fit, test with the starter all would be fine of course, re-plumbed the engine, job done. It was not to be. A grisly scene awaited me when the engine was lifted, the ring gear the starter engages with is badly worn, battered, burred & basically no good at all.
Now I have a dilemma, fix it for the least cost, or replace things to make them better. The mondeo clutch is fierce - apparently because the clutch fingers pivot in a different place to the Rear Wheel Drive Pinto clutch. I would be good to fit a lightened flywheel that takes a pinto clutch & sort out a couple of problems at the same time. Adding to the complexity of the conundrum is that I'll be working abroad from Monday, every Monday to Thursday, which limits the amount of time I can devote to it.

Life, never easy is it. Better that the alternative though I suppose.

Monday 6 May 2013

SKCC Road Trip Day 5

Each day I wake up closer to the alarm time – only 5 mins early today.

Having taken note of the unseemly melee that occurred last year (after I’d dropped out) with a whole herd of pensionistas elbowing the strapping young men of the SKCC out of the way to get at the breakfast, it had been set up so that we ate first, so were all done by the time the mob arrived.
Some farewells were said in the carpark, as some would be heading straight home, others were making directly for the kit car show at Stoneliegh. The rest of us fired up & headed for the coffee stop where the road trip officially ended. So there was a noisy departure from Llandidrod Wells, & I’d almost gone two miles when I remembered I’d not re-connected my magic wire installed by Ash, so was running on 9 volts. I hastily pulled over & reconnected it. Graham stopped to ensure I was OK, but after a few seconds I gave chase again. 
After a mile or so I found Mr Mango waiting in a lay-by (a habit of his I’m told) so the two Furys were once again in formation when we found another bunch in a petrol station. Now back in the middle of the field, we re-entered England & had a run up & then down Clee Hill, where the Mango Fury almost served lunch direct to it’s driver when a pigeon left it a little late to take off from the middle of the road. At the coffee stop, some were already supping when we rolled in and as others arrived there was another wildlife related tale of woe. It seems one of our number had hit a dead badger which took a large chunk of the rear wing & the geometry of the rear suspension with it.
Badger Strike
However, drinks were drunk, cake was eaten & an extremely attractive waitress was looked at, then we said our goodbyes & separated.
We also saw an extremely large cock.
I took the fast route home, along the motorway & arrived with a dry tank, ready for the repairs to a number of bits of the car to begin.


The extremely large cock
The route as ever was spectacular.

The hotels were superb.
The camaraderie – always a feature of SKCC runs was as good as ever, with everyone doing their utmost to ensure broken things got mended(ish) – at least enough to allow them to carry on.

The scenery was outstanding.
The SKCC is nothing short of an inspiration.

SKCC Road Trip Day 4

Please bear in mind dear reader, I’m writing this after a pint or three & an abundance of banter.

So, (struggling already to put hotel images together with day numbers) today began also in Llangollen with rain. Not just any old rain, this was precision guided rain. It waited until just about everyone had taken the covers off their cars, THEN it rained. But we cared not.
The route was planned such that an intrepid few would leave early & head out on a longer blatt, while those of us that were softer / more sensible / hung-over* would have a little extra time to gather our wits.

*delete as appropriate
Eventually all the cars started & turned left out of the hotel, except for Mr Mango & myself & Red27, who went right. Myself & Mr Mango knew we were heading on a small de-tour to see a spectacular aqueduct carrying a canal over a valley.
I suspect Red27 thought she was heading out on the route – until we went through a farm yard & liberally coated the rear arches of her car in cow dung. Aqueduct seen & photographed, we kind of went back to the route, though we lost Red27 in traffic.
Last night I had joked that we hd been going SO fast that we were almost as quick as a local – in a diesel pick-up – pulling a trailer – full of sheep, well today my joke was made real on a single carriageway A-road by a local overtaking a car & caravan, at a speed of 70mph while diving a diesel pick-up - towing a trailer – full of beagles. Next stop for us was a small town in the back of beyond. This was another of Mr Mango’s must-see architectural wonders, a railway viaduct across a bridge. To see it from the optimum angle required driving though the small town of Fairbourne,

which had the air of a town put in as a tourist attraction that never really happened, but the road ended on an estuary beach of significant proportions & as I am fond of places “at the end of places” I was happy to wander about taking photos while the locals looked at our cars like they were from another planet.

So an unashamed three photos I was particularly pleased with. 

By this time I needed fuel, but the only station close to our route was charging 5p / litre more than anywhere else – moderated on this occasion by the guy behind the counter mis-reading the till & charging £20.84 instead of £28.84. After that, as oft happens on these occasions we arrived at a junction just as the hard-core, long route blatters appeared from a side street, still dripping mud from a route along a forestry road. After some lake-side motoring at moderate speed(!), we arrived at the coffee-stop hotel just in time to see a bunch of the SKCC leaving. Helpfully we were warned against engaging the hotelier in conversation lest we be regailed with a story about an aquaintence of his who had recently undergone “gender re-assignment”. Good advice indeed.

After coffee & a lecture about turning off lights & taps, we returned to our journey, briefly all together, until one of the Mango’s detours loosed us from the pack. Again spectacular scenery & photos of the cars in front of it ensued, until we rolled into the lunch stop. A small establishment at the end of an enthusiast-run narrow gauge railway, made jangly by dozens of wind chimes for sale. Lunch eaten (I had cake) we mounted up & I disturbed the peace again with the atrocious racket produced by my starter motor. On this leg we were delayed climbing into the hills by a party of bikers seemingly determined to not go more than 40 & not keep to one side.
 To avoid getting REALLY ANGRY we stopped at an exquisite spot with a stream tumbling over rocks, a small bridge & some artistic dead tree for good measure. We were about finished with the photographic opportunities this provided when the SKCC appeared on the road up the valley. Mr Mango & I hurriedly took up station with our cameras & he got some excellent photos.
After that, it was back to the grim reality of driving excellent cars through stunning with a bunch of mates.

We rolled into Llandidrod Wells & parked up.
We had a beer in the hotel, then went out looking for tea, but it seemed that Landidrod Wells closes early on a Saturday evening. We found a hostelry where the chef was about to go home, someone persuaded him to cook another 12 meals & the banter flowed, culminating in a beer-mat flicking competition where the maximum No. successfully flicked & caught was 14 – mostly because we only had 14 beer-mats.

SKCC Road Trip Day 3

Awake pre-alarm again, so out to the car park & prepare the car for the day. This involves removing & stowing the roof, swapping the side screens for deflectors, turning off the alarm, stowing the steering lock, disconnecting the solar charger – and of course re-connecting the exciter wire, then wrestling the bonnet back into place.

Today we set off in a couple of waves, the hard core blatteers went first as they had some peace to disturb, the rest of us left the hotel in a more leisurely manner & almost immediately found Locost220 in a lay-by. What was this? Did our perennial rescuer need rescuing??
It turned out to be a minor issue that was already well in hand, however another problem soon became apparent, one of the cars was emitting smoke. It turned out that when checking the oil, an oily rag had been left on the exhaust & was smouldering. Another few miles & it may have been more serious. So it turned out that Our Rescuer had effected a rescue without even trying. Cool.

We headed out again & made our way to the first coffee stop. A certain amount of confusion ensued as the group ended up in Ffestiniog – the pre-arranged coffee stop was at the café of the Ffestiniog Railway about 5 miles further along a wonderful road. The nice people at the café had opened especially early for us. Suitably refreshed, we headed off – in a variety of directions & in fact that was to be almost the last Mr Mango & I would see of the SKCC for some time.

We headed – in a round about fashion for Carnarvon where we took some photos & took advantage of some cheap Morrissons petrol, moving on to Conwy – called Conway last time I visited – we parked up near the castle walls & took some more photos. Interesting place, they appear to have incorporated the castle into the town wherever possible, houses & shops seem to grow from the castle walls. Next in the itinerary was Llandudno, where we failed to have lunch, but succeeded in failing to pay the toll on the toll road around the Great Orm. The trick it seems is to drive up to the cable car station at the top, then after experiencing the gale, follow signs to the toll road, the bring you out on the road – but downstream as it were of the toll booth.

Mr Mango had mentioned the previous evening that he wanted to see the Menai bridges, That started me again reaching back to my childhood holidays, I remembered Beaumaris Castle, a pile in remarkably good condition, probably because being on Anglesea , it too far out of the way to bother attacking. So we drove over the Stevenson bridge & took photos of the cars in front of the Castle before driving back over the other bridge – where there was a very wordy sign saying something like “NO OVERTAKING EXCEPT WHEN A PEDAL CYCLE IS OVERTAKING ANOTHER PEDAL CYCLE” & then repeated in Welsh. I wonder if any cyclist ever wondered if a NO OVERTAKING sign applied to them? On a bridge? Weirdness.

We then headed inland & experienced a number of roads from motorways, through sweeping A-roads, to single track roads over dams. Feeling rather parched by this point we stopped at a road-side café which from the general feel, the décor, & the stickers around the entrance, was keen to show off it’s environmental credentials. I wondered if we would be shunned as we were not only motorists, but recreational motorists, but not a bit of it. The proprietor was keen to enter into discourse about the cars (after we’d corrected his assertion that they were TIGERS of course - we forgave him after he furnished us with a spectacular hot chocolate with marshmallows & cream & a pot of tea.
After  a fuel stop in Betws-Y-Coed, we took two hours about getting back to Llangollen, then had a raucous evening in the hotel bar before retiring.

But one question persists. What DO the locals run their cars on? Twice during the day we found ourselves driving windy, up-hill roads in extremely capable, high performance cars – unable to shake off a local in a small French hatchback (once a Peugeot, once a Renault) Local knowledge counts for a lot – but this was EXTREME.

SKCC Road Trip Day 2

Up with the lark again, so I ambled down to set up the car before breakfast. That done & with the SKCC beginning to appear, I had a hearty breakfast, collected the rest of my bags & repaired to the car park. There was a great deal of “bonnet off action” going of as people checked oil & water levels & all those other things we never bother doing to our tin-tops.
I thought I’d fire up the Fury just in case the starter had a problem. It didn’t, it fired, but I noticed the volt meter was low & the idiot lights on the 12v power sockets were low as well. Something was amiss.
Having called in a person or two, I quickly established that the alternator wasn’t charging, there was no “alt” light on the dash. A spare alternator was produced, but that had the same symptoms. A great deal of head scratching ensued, but in the end, Ash triumphed over a problem that would've seen me on a truck home, by jumping the alternator exciter lead straight to the battery & that worked.
So off we went an hour late. We passed through some wonderful Derbyshire towns & villages & drove down & then up the spectacular Speedwell gorge, as well as the “Cat & Fiddle Road which now has a ridiculous 50mph average speed camera system on it. I say ridiculous because it has some very tight bends meaning you can go really quite fast on the few straights without breaking the 50mph average.
It was during the coffee stop when I lifted the bonnet to unplug the ignite wire, that I realised that my bonnet hinge has broken in exactly the same way as the Mango’s had. A couple of freshly drilled holes & beefy tyraps made it safe (if not actually convenient) but what with one thing & another my heart was then really not in it after that.

Until the PM coffee stop at least, After which I kind of woke up & the last bit of the day involved driving up Horseshoe Pass – A place I remember from my 10th year, when we had a family holiday to the area. I remember it because my Brother took his Mk1 Cortina which in a stifling day, over-heated on the climb. He did that thing one should never do & took off the rad cap while the engine was hot. He had a red face for the rest of the trip.

Today however would offer no such embarrassment, as the Fury simply LEAPT up the twisting road. My self & Mr Mango parked up at the top to admire the view & take some photos & after not long at all, an growing roar & some brightly coloured specs on the far side of the valley suggested the imminent arrival of more of the SKCC. They duly arrived & parked up, taking in the vista laid out in the sunshine before us.

After that, I lead the charge back down the far side of the pass & along the wonderfully twisting (& deserted) road back to the hotel.


SKCC Road Trip Day 1

Up with the lark – actually a full 1/2hr before the alarm went off, so plenty of time for a coffee & a couple of left-over chocolate croissants, move the car on to the drive & take a few photos.

Just before the appointed hour I fired the engine & headed out to the north-western out-post of civilisation that is Basingstoke. Arriving at Mr Mango’s in plenty of time, the Mango-fury was coaxed into life & we headed north. The rest of the SKCC were heading round the eastern half of London which would’ve added quite a bit to my journey & a huge amount to Mr Mango’s, so we elected to pass London on the left-hand-side & make straight for the first coffee stop. We were quickly joined by Mr & Mrs Florin & ChrisL, then the rest of the SKCC’s eastern contingent appeared.

Mr Mango had a cunning plan to modify the official route, to take in a few extra sites, so I’d loaded his route into the SatNav & this pairing lasted oh – about 20 seconds. The trouble with SatNavs it that they know where you are, but not which way you’re facing, so on pulling out of the coffee stop, I went the wrong way.

No matter, I found some other running mates & we chugged along happily, but one by one they turned off, following the official routes & I was left on my own. After a few miles I decided to “sod this for a game of soldiers” & pulled into a farm track for a wee & to reload the “official” route. The trouble was I didn’t know how many way-points to delete. Then Mr Mango went past.  I hastily re-re-loaded his route, then I had the same waypoint problem, so just deleted the first two pages & off I set. It took me 30 miles up the motorway & completely skipped the lunch stop!

However, all was not lost, as I then encountered Kenton – strangely – in a petrol station (he has a V8 seven with a legendary thirst) & a few more popped up while I was paying. However, as soon as we set off we were in trouble. The roads had all changed & in next to no time we were delivered back to the petrol station. Oh how we laughed.
Deleting more another waypoint solved that one, but by now there was only myself & Our Leader, & soon, we’d lost touch as well. So it was a lonesome Blatter that rolled up to the PM coffee stop – still thinking it was a lunch stop, but at least all the SKCC were there as by this time we’d been joined by some of the more Northern members, but were missing one member – one GBSpark, who’s engine had moved the the extent that it split the thermostat housing. Particularly bad luck as on day one of last year’s road trip he suffered another water related out when he was forced to retire with a blown head gasket .

We headed into the Peak District, the next exciting thing was that one of our No. broke a throttle cable, soon our mobile repair man & all round guardian angel Locost 220 appeared & after a frantic ½ hour during which an unfeasibly large array of tools appeared from the apparently small confines of his car, a repair was effected & we were off.
Shortly afterwards we rounded a corner in a small, stone-built town, to find Mr Mango & Our Leader nestling in the kerb. Our Leader’s car had stopped & the high pressure fuel pump was getting the full force of a collective “hard stare”. The problem was traced to a blown fuse & while friendly locals came & went, the fault was diagnosed & mended. We set off – for perhaps a ¼ mile, when it did it again. More hard stares, more friendly locals, another fuse. I was the last into my car & when I pushed the starter button, there was what can only be described as a “CLACK” followed by silence.

A couple of the afore-mentioned locals helped me turn the car round to point downhill & it bump-started easily, so I sped off in pursuit of my comrades. I found them pretty easily  - at the side of the road, next to Our Leader’s car, holding another blown fuse.

This time there was to be no messing & the seemingly cavernous depths of Locost220’s car produced not only reels of wire in a choice of colours, but terminals, PVC tape & a crimping tool. Soon the system was re-wired & while I fended off what must be described as the-local-loony who appeared with a broad grin next to a bright blue car, one in pale blue & orange “GULF” colours & two in yellow & announced “THAT’S HARRIETS FAVOURITE COLOUR!!!!!!!!” (she actually said that many exclamation marks!!!!!!!).
Having had a chunk of the wiring loom by-passed (properly I hasten to add, with a relay & in-line fuse, Our Leader’s car burst into life & again we set off, now very weary, for our hotel. The roads we travelled were serpentine, but also VERY rough, which jarred our aching bones somewhat. We found the hotel, Our Leader’s car kept running, some of our contingent even had the energy to go hunting for curry. I & a select few had a shower & ate a bar meal.

So, roll on tomorrow when I’m quite expecting to see Locost220’s car produce a two-post lift, a lathe & a medium-size wind turbine to power them.
Oh – there was some fantastic scenery too.