Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas

A multimeter, the Swiss Army Knife of dealing with electrical problems.Late, I know, but Season's Greetings and all that jazz.

I was fortunate enough to receive (at long last) a shiny new multimeter from Santa Claus et al this Christmas. I'm in Southwell, Nottinghamshire and the Lotus is tucked up in Epping, but I now cannot wait to return home and begin measuring anything and everything electrical. I have already measured the resistance of my girlfriend, which is, for the record, very, very high.

This handy little electronic device has arrived just in the nick of time too, as the damned Lotus seems to be leaking charge from the battery. Either that or it's not charging properly when running. Either way, my multimeter will effortlessly equip me with the knowledge I require. I hope.

If it's the latter, then Barry Ely has two jobs in the spring (assuming I still own the Lotus, which is still for sale, by the way). New clutch slave cylinder and a new alternator. Fortunately, neither job is particularly expensive and, as I've noted many times before, repairs come with the territory.

(For the record, my father also got a multimeter, as his Jaguar XJ-S Convertible is happily dumping it's entire battery in less than a day. He had the ignominious experience of being jump-started in the office car park by a Fiat Panda, called "Custard" apparently, and you know what I think about naming cars. He too has some investigation to do, so it's not just the Lotus which causes headaches. And you should see the price of his tyres!)

I'm just hoping the weather holds, as I have no plans for Monday, so if it's a nice day I will jump-start the old girl and take her for a good, long run in the sun. I'll probably take the Fiat out too, as she's been neglected recently. The British weather has been so shocking for the last few months, we've barely had a decent day on a weekend. Even Christmas Day was a wash-out. Humbug!

One more thing - it remains a New Year's Resolution of mine to sell the Lotus and buy myself a nice, early 1980s, Porsche 911. This was further exacerbated yesterday evening when, while driving the Rover 600 back from a family dinner in Lincoln, it too feeling as though it had just eaten two pounds of turkey and full accompaniments, one blasted past me on the A46 around Newark. I was left blinking and murmuring...

*poop* *poop*

Have a great New Year. More to come in 2008.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Broken Brakes

Lotus Elan brake light switch, wrongly demonstrated in exploded form. Do not copy!My brake light switch stopped working the other day. I tried to purchase a new one from Halfords, whose catalogue assured me they had a brake light switch for a 1974 Lotus Elan, so I ordered it in for collection two days later. Was it correct? Was it hell is like! It was the brake light switch for a modern Elan. Utterly useless to me.

Figures, I suppose. I half expected it to be incorrect, but my well represented lazy gene convinced me to order it anyway, since it beat a trip to Bishops Stortford... and it might be right.

The worst part is, no one at Halfords seems to actually bother to correct the catalogue. They just shrug and send the part back marked as "no longer required". NO! It's not "no longer required"... it's plain "wrong"! There is an option for "wrong" on the computer, but they all ignore it and send it back as "no longer required", so the catalogue managers have no inkling they're sending out the wrong bit. I'm sure it's a part they carry, as it is common to several cars from the 1970s/1980s/probably even early 1990s.

Anyway, I was about to trundle up the road to Bishops Stortford to a motorfactor and get the part there, when someone on told me they were easy enough to fix. Apparently they get corroded and dirty inside, but if you clip them apart and polish up the contacts they're good as new.

So I popped down to the garage, looked at where the switch was mounted on the back of the pedal box, disconnected the spades and the plastic switch screws straight out. Fantastic. You don't even need tools. I ran a wire between the spades with the ignition on, just to be sure the switch was the faulty part, and the brake lights lit. I took the switch home, dismantled it, could see immediately it needed a clean, so I set to work with some glass paper and ten minutes later it was back together again (as shown in the photo).

Now, those of you familiar with this particular type of switch are probably already saying "Ohhhh!" - yup, it didn't work. Had I actually thought about the mechanism, rather than half-guessing how the switch came apart (I couldn't actually see it properly, on account of the spring sending its various parts in five different directions across the living room floor) then I would've realised I was doing it wrong. But I didn't.

I should note this is also where you need a multimeter, something I am now asking for at Christmas! If I had a multimeter, I could've simply measured resistance across the terminals of the switch and realised what I only discovered when I got down to the garage and fitted the part, without leaving the fireside - namely, the way I had put the switch together meant it was permanently "on". The way I assembled it (as shown) just makes the spring press the contact plate permanently against the contacts, rendering the switch no more useful than a length of wire. Obvious, with the benefit of hindsight.

I walked the ten minute walk, up the hill back to the house, cursing the rain, my stupidity at not taking my precision screwdriver set with me and not actually considering carefully enough how the mechanism needs to work. When I got back to the house and took the switch to pieces again, looking with a more analytical eye everything became clear:

There is a little square peg on the internal end of the push-button of the switch, which is clearly supposed to marry to the little square hole in the brass contact plate of exactly the same size. The correct configuration is with the contact plate the other way around to the way it is in the photo, inside the casing of the switch, and on the other end of the spring with the spring going up between the contacts to rest against the clip-on plastic "top".

The tricky part is when you clip the whole unit back together again. The contact plate needs to pass the contacts, so that when the switch is sealed, the spring pushes the plate back on to the contacts, but not past them - this is a push-to-break switch, not a push-to-make. When you push the button in, the contact plate is forced up towards the clip-off end of the switch, away from the contacts it sits between, breaking the circuit.

When in position, it is permanently "pushed" by the end of the brake pedal lever. The act of pushing brake pedal removes the lever from the end of the switch, allowing it to extend and make the circuit, illuminating the brake lights.

It took me four attempts to put the switch back together so that it functioned correctly. I can't think of any easy way to do it. It's just a case of trying until you suceed through dumb luck! But it does go, eventually, with the correct blend of brute force and ignorance. And my brake lights work once more. Happy days!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Under The Hammer

My Lotus Elan +2S 130/5 I have decided to sell the Lotus.

*Stunned silence*

Seriously, life is too short and there are too many cars I want to experience. The Lotus is for sale and I am sourcing a Porsche 911 S. I'm really looking forward to sampling something completely different. I believe, ultimately, I will return to the Lotus stable and get myself a nice Elan Sprint, but first I want to play the field a little.

Wish me luck!

And it goes without saying, drop me a message if you're interested in buying the Lotus.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Citroen's Future Car Comes Of Age

The Citroen DS Convertible - craziness on wheels!For some time now I've been fascinated by the Citroen DS. Clarkson once remarked what a shame it is Citroen no longer make their trademark "crazy big cars" and I'm inclined to agree.

My boss in my first full time job after uni, an architect called Mark, was a DS nut. He didn't have one any more, preferring his new Alfa 166, but he had been through a string of them in his 20s and 30s and loved every second of it.

As family saloons go, they were pretty damned luxurious. They looked stunning too. They look even more stunning these days, now that all cars look the same. They remind me of a 1950s luxury jet on wheels - a look that continues right through the car, from the chrome ridge running up the centre of the bonnet to the enormous leather armchair with wrap-around headrest, which almost literally absorbs the driver.

I don't know what they're like to drive, but the air suspension is always good for a laugh and they had a wealth of fantastic little touches, such as headlamps that turn to point the way you are directing the car. (Great for the DS driver but a pretty ropey idea if you're the poor sod coming the other way on a right-hand bend!)

So, suffice it to say I'd rather like a Citroen DS. Annoyingly, just five years ago I could've picked one up for peanuts in any French town you'd care to mention. Not so any more. They are scarce enough and interesting enough to fetch the best part of €10,000 these days, for a decent later model. Still feasible, but no longer in the "cheap" stakes.

Which is why I got rather excited when I saw an immaculate red DS convertible (or Decapotable, as the French call it) in Rapallo at the weekend.

These days the Decapotable version is a very expensive car, as it seems Citroen only made about three of them. To give you an idea, the only one I could find for sale in the UK was a replica (a standard 1963 saloon with the roof chopped off by a good coachbuilder) and the dealer wanted £50,000 for it. They are, to coin a phrase, like hen's teeth. So it's hardly surprising the only place I've ever seen one is a stone's throw from Porto Fino, in Italy's millionaire's playground, on the Ligurian coast. The other two are probably in St. Tropez.

Sadly, I seemed to be the only one who noticed. Everyone else was too busy trying to stop my girlfriend's nephew from dropping his ice cream on the floor. Oh well. Their loss!

Friday, July 06, 2007

The new, new Fiat 500

The Zastava 750 - distinctly un-Croatian.So it has been launched. What started off as an industry rumour has ended up a finished product. According to Fiat CEO, Sergio Marchionne, "the new Fiat 500 will be the iPod of cars". I hope so. These relaunches of classic models have been a mixed affair. The new Mini is a fantastic little car, but then the new Volkswagen Beetle is dull and completely undeserving of the association.

I'll reserve judgement on the new 500 until I actually see one, but it can't be any worse than the last "Cinquecento" Fiat put out. I'm tempted to go to a dealer over the weekend and see if I can get a test drive - just for fun!

On a slightly different note, the photo in this post looks like a Fiat 600, right? Wrong! Apparently this is a Zastava 750 and my father took this photo in Croatia. It is a re-badged Fiat 600 and the "750" refers to the engine capacity, as the later models had 767cc engines.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Famous Fiat

Our Fiat 500 with The Shapeshifters.Well, the Classic Car Agency has paid off. Both cars are listed, but somehow I knew it would be the Fiat, not the Lotus, that got booked. They're just such cute little cars.

And not only was it booked, it was double booked. A fashion shoot in Manchester wanted it on the same day, but a publicity shoot with the DJ duo, The Shapeshifters, and their singer, Jenna G, in Battersea won hands down, both for glamour and location.

Silly as it may sound, I've also created a MySpace for the Fiat. Why not, eh? The car is on its way to being a celebrity in its own right, so it should have a MySpace. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

I look forward to the next booking. And the cheque will help pay for the Lotus service. *phew*

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Servicing Shock

A worn rotoflex (or doughnut) coupling.The Lotus, in spite of spending most of the last twelve months laid up in one workshop or another, has not seen a true specialist in a while. For this reason, I decided to take it to a Lotus specialist nearby (known to the Club) for its long-overdue "full service".

I am still shaking from the bill. Over £1,000!

Don't get me wrong, broadly speaking the Lotus is reasonable economical. Until now the car has caused me little trouble, but three years without a proper service have taken their toll.

Couple that to the fact the rotoflex joints on the rear axle (similar to the one pictured, courtesy of need changing this time, which is no small task, and must happen at least every 15 years or so, regardless of mileage (the rubber simply ages). The final bill is eye-watering.

There's a lesson here. Avoid the annual service at your peril! Ignoring the working classic car until it breaks is a false economy, as I keep attempting to explain to my long-suffering girlfriend. She, like many people, only sees the bills - £100 here, £200 there. But in the grand scheme of things, these small "hits" to keep things ship-shape pale into insignificance compared with the cost of ignoring a car for 3 years and having to fix everything at once, and some!

Of course, when I get the Lotus back I sincerely hope that will be it for a year, and it should be. That's the point of a good service by a specialist engineer. There's always the potential for finding a gremlin in an old car which has been lurking for a few months, waiting to be spotted by the sharp-eyed mechanic.

But it's important to bear in mind even the big gremlins (like my £500 rotoflex replacements) on a classic car are cheaper than some of the monstrous creatures to be found lurking in a 5-year-old modern car. Something like a new catalytic converter (courtesy of a malfunctioning engine management computer) means a truly horrific bill for even the cheapest 2002 Fiat Punto (it would effectively write off my Rover) and these things do happen.

So I philosophically accept the pain of running a classic car, and remind myself the guy driving around in a second-hand BMW M3 is shaping up for a much larger bill before too long.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Company Car Drivers: Show Some Respect

We have the Fiat back! Actually, we've had it back for a couple of weeks now, but I've been too busy to write anything.

The car is (nearly) as it was. We've used it a few times for shopping trips and mechanically it's perfect, however, I must report the after-market body pressings currently being produced for the Fiat 500 in central and eastern Europe are not of the same quality as the original Fiat pressings. Perhaps I was naive for ever hoping they would be?

Not only is the new engine cover missing the charming, albeit unnecessary, Italian stickers warning you not to do silly things like rest your hand on the exhaust manifold, it also doesn't quite fit properly. It's immediately obvious when you know how it used to be. Bob (bless him) has done his best with the pressing he could get, but you can just tell it isn't right.

The handle no longer closes neatly behind the latch (indeed, he had to cut an inch or two out of the existing rubber seal), the lid seems a fraction too wide and tall for the hole it is supposed to cover and while it used to fit like a glove, now it just about closes tightly with a bit of jiggling and jostling.

What a shame! And all because some silly idiot wasn't paying attention.

The person responsible for this mess doesn't realise, and would never appreciate or probably even accept, is that while this was only a £500 repair, it knocked a small fortune off of the "saleability" of the car.

Little details like this make a big difference to charm of the vehicle and a little bit of the car's soul was lost the day that stupid fool mangled the original Italian engine lid beyond repair. It's not like replacing the plastic bumper on a 2004 Ford Focus.

Call me melodramatic, or even overly sentimental, but I'm serious. This sort of detail makes the difference between a truly sound, original car and a "restored" car. The former will always be more desriable to the purist and a little bit of that desirability was lost that day.

But you know what winds me up the most? The fact it was a company car.

Doubtless the offender in this case got a replacement car immediately, was totally unaffected by her careless antics and is free to do the same to someone else tomorrow, totally without penalty.

We had endless hassle and stress dealing with solicitors, doctors, insurance companies, valuers, garages (we had to fight just to get it fixed by a specialist), recovery companies and more besides ... and we had to pay a £50 excess for the work!

While she signed a piece of paper admitting liability and handed it in to HR.

Where's the justice in that? Where's the punishment? Where's the tiniest little piece of incentive for her to not drive around like Britain's Worst Driver in the future? Her premiums won't even go up, not that she'd care if they did, because the company is paying.

There seems to be something about not owning your car which makes a person treat it with total disregard. This doesn't bother or concern me, to an extent. I mean if you want your car to be a mobile skip, filled to the brim with burger wrappers and discarded coffee cups, what do I care? If you're not bothered about that four foot scratch down the side, where you used the supermarket railings as a parking guide, who am I to comment? However, if your attitude extends to privately owned cars belonging to other people, then I, nay we, have every right to be angry.

I hope the lady concerned felt at least a small pang of guilt when she saw my girlfriend choking back the tears as she observed the mess that was the rear of our Fiat 500. The Fiat 500 her brother sourced for her from a proud, elderly collector in Milano. The Fiat 500 we drove from Italy in a 5 day adventure. The Fiat 500 which has been a part of people's lives, and a part of her native Italy, for nearly 40 years. The Fiat 500 which is so much more to someone than "just a car".

Sadly, I fear she felt nothing more than a slight pang of iritation that now she was going to be late for lunch at her mother-in-law's.

So what you gonna do?
Simple: if it were up to me, people with company cars would be obliged to organise their own insurance.

Sure, the company can provide you with a car. They can do the routine maintenance and pay the road tax. But every individual should organise their insurance personally, so they get the hassle and the paperwork when they run into someone. Then, just maybe, a few of them would be a little less blasé about other road users and a little less prone to using their 4-door family saloon as a mobile battering ram.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Taxing Problems

Well, what a stir good old Mr Blair has caused with all this "price by the mile" nonsense. It doesn't really affect me as a "classic motorist", as my mileage is comparitively miniscule anyway.

However, quite apart from the various good arguments against such a scheme (and also glossing over the rather lame response, supposedly from the PM, which was appropriately and immediately marked as Junk by Hotmail) what really irritates me is a number of the green lobby who seem to think cars are the preserve of the rich and famous! "Cars are a luxury item," they cry. Apparently, poor people shouldn't have cars anyway, so raising the tax is no big deal.

Ugh?? That kind of dim-witted drivel can only have been written by some odd-ball daughter of Geldoff who already has more dollars than brain cells, but is still busily trying to deny it by hiding out in the Indonesian jungle, saving monkeys or some such!

I'm not sure what planet they live on, but here on Earth, particularly in the UK, cars are anything but luxury items. In fact they are the work horses of a nation, depended upon by young and old, rich and poor, for better or for worse. By way of an example, I just calculated (while forming this rather hurried rant) that buying a car saved me at least £100 this year. Furthermore it will save me a lot more than that next year, simply because I won't have to use the extortionately priced public transport system!

To quote myself (I quite like doing that):

In the UK people with a low income drive a car, because successive UK governments have put an end to [cheap, reliable public transport] by privatising and fragmenting our railways and other public transport mechanisms beyond recognition, allowing jokers like First Great Western to run up massive profits operating an awful service, by privatising what should never have been taken out of public hands - and for what? A few quid of some city banker's tax bill so they vote for you again in 2 years time!

Clearly, the British public transport system is no alternative to car travel, for rich or poor. Pricing people off the roads achieves nothing but confining low income folk to their locale. Don't feel sorry for me, because I can afford the train - I just don't, because it's a horrific waste of time and money!

So for those who say cars are a luxury item, pull your heads out of your behinds and look at the real issue here. The CAR is the ONLY viable means of transport in this country where the public transport system has been repeatedly raped by greedy and vote-hungry men. Until the government sorts that out, they should forget about driving people off the roads.

Blah! I'm going to the pub.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spring Forward

Torsion springs - the root of all evil!Well, I got the Lotus back on the road all by myself! I had a look at the throttle problem a couple of weeks ago, and on closer inspection I noticed three things:

1. What I thought was the throttle cable was actually the choke cable (how embarassing!)

2. The throttle cable is, in fact, nearly new.

3. The return spring is, in fact, very, very old!

You see the little hooks on the ends of the blue spring on the right in the photo? (Photo courtesy of Pated Springs, by the way.) Those hooks hold the torsion spring in place. On my Lotus, one goes through a hole in a piece of sheet metal, which appears to be something to do with holding the carburettors in place, and the other goes through the end of the throttle cable.

After a thorough forensic examination, I deduced that a combination of the metal being very old and my over-exuberant application of the throttle resulted in the hook at the throttle cable end sheering half off, thus causing the spring to dangle helplessly beneath the carburettors! That's why the throttle stuck open with alarming effect, half way around the M25.

On the plus side, enough of the spring was left to effect a decent repair with some garden wire, so not only is it now driveable again, I'm also in less of a hurry to take it for its service (though I really should sort that out soon anyway).

The Fiat lies with Bob right now. He's had it for a week now, so knowing Bob, he's nearly done!

One other piece of news. I'm not sure if I'm proud of this or not, but Honest John featured me (about two thirds of the way down, headline " hold you?") in his column in the Daily Telegraph. As an example of what happens if you don't give mechanics a deadline. Oops!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Happy New Year!

Sorry this message is somewhat belated. I've changed jobs and been crazy busy! I still am, actually, but decided I really must post something in my blog. Especially since I now work in "Web 2.0 marketing", a decent junk of which is blog management! Very poor form to leave my own covered in dust and cobwebs.

Anyway, things are looking brighter at this end of the Christmas period. I have the Lotus back finally! It was running well, until I rather over-exuberantly applied the accelerator pedal and the throttle stuck open on the M25. It never rains...

So, next month it's going to Barry Ely for service, fluid change and fixing the now-sticking throttle. It's a fairly simple job so shouldn't cost too much. I'll have a quick go myself at the weekend, just to get things driveable.

Also the Fiat is getting valued on Thursday, so hopefully that will be back on the road by February too! Bob has quoted for the work and we know he'll do a good job.

Anyway, time still presses hard upon me, so I'd better keep it short.

If you get a chance, take a look at my latest project: Infield Parking. It's a NASCAR community based in the US. We're all very excited about it. It's going great guns!