As usual.

Bearing cover bolts

Picking up where I left off on the Morris Minor gearbox, I worked out that the bearing cover bolts would have to be captive on the inside of the box (there were two small anchor plates illustrated in the parts book but which were missing from the box) the assembly sequence rendering the heads impossible to reach. I made up a couple of tab washers and put a blob of weld on each tab and bolt as a belt and braces measure and did a trial assembly. 1st, 2nd and reverse worked as advertised but 3rd and 4th just wouldn’t engage at all. As those two gears are the only ones with synchromesh, I think that the synchromesh unit has to be the culprit.

Synchromesh unit

That’s fine – as long as I know – but I’ll have to take the box apart again to get the unit out for examination. I remember that I discovered (quite by accident) that it was pretty well seized up when I first had the box in bits. At the time I had only half an idea how synchromesh worked and didn’t realise that the outer ring of the wheel moved independently of the inner hub; it was only when it flew apart that I got the full picture. With the box reassembled, the outer ring did move and you could engage 3rd and 4th but only with a tap-meter and drift – not with the gear lever. Further investigation is required.

Leon's A7

To lighten up an otherwise frustrating day, Leon turned up in his A7 Special, sporting his newly fabricated and rather stylish rear mudguards.

Leon's A7

The front mudguards will follow the same pattern and finish the car off very neatly. I noticed also that Leon had made up a very clever addition to the steering linkage. The original A7 steering arm is reputed to have a weak spot on the inside radius of the extension to the drag link and a complete failure of the arm would ensue if an undetected crack were allowed to develop.

Steering arm reinforcement

The chances of that happening are pretty slim but if you’ve a mind to pre-empt that occasion, Leon’s mod looks like a straightforward fix. And on that subject, there’s nothing straightforward about the fix for the rear axle mounting on the racing car.

Rear axle mounting

The radius of the bracket is just a tiny bit smaller than the radius of the axle casing. I’d thought about making up new brackets to fit the axle but these ones are so neat that I think I’m going to take the disc cutter to the brackets on the axle casing, give it all a good clean up with the polishing wheel…

Axle casing

which should make the radius a gnat’s smaller. I think by the time I’ve got the rust and paint off, there’s not going to be more than a whisker to remove anyway, so it’s not as though I’ll be introducing a weak spot in the casing. I was just going to set about it, when the phone rang.

Kan du gå til Norge i morgen?’

So that’s scuppered that plan.





Jeg Forstår Ikke….

… and nor am I ever likely to but I’m happy to report that in Norway, English is spoken by almost everyone.

Olympic Commander

So, need I tell you that of course I’m uniquely qualified to undertake the magnetising of undersea power cables (for wind farms and so forth) and for this purpose I was whisked to Drammen and put aboard a general purpose supply vessel, the Olympic Commander. A fellow Magneteer flew in from Germany to assist in the setting up of the equipment and to get the show on the road – so to speak.


Drammen at night was a pretty sight…


… much prettier than it was during the days to follow when the clag was on the deck and rain was almost continuous. Apparently it was unseasonably warm during the week – hence the rain – and the preference among the crew was for the colder, brighter weather that they had expected. Either way, I think we were lucky that the wind didn’t put up more than 3kn. 10 kn would have made things jolly uncomfortable.


It’s always a treat to go somewhere new; language, architecture, agricultural styles, the quality of light and the people themselves are always fascinatingly different. Looking out of the window of the train from Torp to Drammen, my first impression was that I’d arrived in some gigantic railway set. The tidy and colourful timber houses, the carefully decorated municipal buildings and even the forested fjord sides, themselves conspiring to form the back-drop to this orderly layout, looked as though Frank Hornby had had a hand in their creation.

Olympic Commander

I was lucky to draw the midday to midnight shift which, proffering only a few hours of daylight, imparted a touch of drama to my sense of the ship. The hum of motors, the crackling of walkie-talkies, the ring of footsteps on gangways – the rhythm of their fall announcing crisis or calm – were the sounds that made up this particular Night music.


Excluding travel to and from the ship, if I were to map my sphere of operations over the last 7 days, it would appear as a ball no more than 30 yards in diameter. Within that globe every facility was to hand; life continued without the slightest inconvenience – even my laundry involved only getting it to the laundry room and collecting it 12 hours later.

Cable spool

The magnetising of the cable was done as it came aboard the ship direct from the cable factory on the dockside. The cable passed through a ring of electromagnets attached to which was the only moving part in the set-up, a wheel that both counted the distance off and acted as a switch – when the cable stopped moving, the magnets switched off and vice-versa. The Magneteer’s job was to monitor the computers, keep a log of events and at intervals, check the measurement of the magnetic flux. Some general house-keeping; integrity of the machine, cables and wiring and comms with the other contractors on board kept me alert and left a bit of time to catch up with the London Review of Books – a pile of which had been accumulating in my sitting room over the last 12 months.

3.00am on the bridge

Over the week we put through about 22km of various sizes of cable and as we left the ship in the early hours of Saturday morning, she slipped away into the night, bound for Copenhagen.

Cable tensioner

But not without my first spotting a potential source of Jowett Jingle Bell wheels; I’ll give Learned Counsel the old, ‘ahoy there’.


Where The Time Goes….

… is anyone’s guess. I’ve done absolutely nothing to the racing car this week largely because I’ve been trying to get back on track with work. In order to finish the Hillman Special in time for the Monaco Dash, I had to push everything else to one side and stay on the car for 12-15 hours a day for the whole of the month of August.


Naturally, this has led to the introduction of economies in the household (bread-and-scrape for the foreseeable) so this week I’ve been doing a lot paperwork and preparing the ground for a bit of a push with my Avant Loader work in addition to training for a job which will take me abroad for a few days – so that’s fun. (I was going to go and get the pot of gold but when there’s two rainbows, you can waste such a lot of time).

© Science Museum London

© Science Museum London

So, in order to make the paperwork less of a chore, I decided that I’d entertain myself at intervals by investigating how to create a digital photobook of the build of the Hillman. I’m very pleased that I did one for the Austin as looking through an album is always so much nicer than clicking through pictures on a computer. Well, as usual, one thing leads to another and I tripped over a whole lot of pictures that I’d been given when I was tasked to investigate the construction of S. F. Cody’s Army Aeroplane.

© Science Museum London

© Science Museum London

It was, at the time, coming up to the 100th anniversary of Cody’s first flight (2008) which was the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine in the UK. Everyone got quite excited about a flying replica being made ready and an Antoinette engine in an overseas museum was ear-marked for the show. Unfortunately, this particular project didn’t quite get off the ground – so to speak – and the various bits and pieces were stored.

© Science Museum London

© Science Museum London

But I’ve never forgotten how fascinating and delightfully simple it was to make working drawings of the myriad brackets holding the structure together and to gauge how the machine was assembled, solely because of the clarity of the images. These were most likely taken with a plate camera with the lense closed down for a very long exposure which resulted in, every now and again, a spectral figure able to be discerned amongst the rigging.

© Science Museum London

© Science Museum London

I don’t envy these girls their task; rib-stitching is very tedious. I imagine that there’s another three girls on the other side of the wing to pass the needles back through the linen.

© Science Museum London

© Science Museum London

You’ll notice that these drawings are marked ‘Secret’ and I’m sure I need not enlarge on the consequences of their being revealed to subversive elements.


But, getting back to the photobook; after about 15 attempts (reading the manual would have helped) I finally understood that the thing to do was to organise the selected pictures into a single file, upload that to the photobook programme and hit the auto button. So I did and it all worked – sort of – and then it was time for bed already.

That’s where the time goes; sitting in front of computers.

The Extra Hour…

… last Sunday wasn’t wasted lying about in bed. Breakfast was scheduled for 9.00am, 46 miles away in Southwold. There’s a charming cafe on the harbour which opens at 8.00am (that would be pushing it). Stupidly, I didn’t take any pictures and only when we left did I think to get a couple of snaps of our fellow early risers.

Southwold Harbour

Leon’s A7 Special was followed by Awkward’s Avon Special and behind him a TVR. In front of us was a very fast Model T.

Southwold 2

Which reminds me that I must do something about the Special Builders Union badge that I should have mounted on the Hillman by now. When you’re invited to become a member of the SBU, it’s simply not the thing to take at all casually.


Rather like bread making. It’s impossible for me to determine whether or not my next loaf is going to be a success so, when a near perfect loaf emerges from the machine, I’m inclined to record the event. I think the rather random sizes and shapes of the loaves are influenced by the weather – specifically the moisture levels of the various flours I use and, if I was a bit more particular about the conditions of their storage, the results might be more consistent.

Austin controls

The Austin’s clutch pedal had shifted round its shaft over time and engaging gears was beginning to get tricky. The next time the engine comes out would be a good time to modify the current clamping arrangement to include a more positive locating device – a pin for instance. The clamping nut has to be done up extremely tightly and it’s one of those situations where stripping a thread is a possibility. That would mean engine out – a job I don’t need just now.

Austin floor

Considering the car is now about 7 1/2 years old and rain, snow, ice and all the rest has never stopped me using it, the underneath is in pretty good shape. Powder coating, several coats of a good quality yacht varnish plus Bear Grease on the nuts and bolts has paid off.

Austin model bonnet

I’m still toying with the idea of painting ‘Austin’ on the bonnet; it looks good on the model.

Throttle linkage

One of the things that came to light whilst the Hillman was on the rolling road was that the throttle linkage was allowing the butterfly to open only half way. I modified one of the levers which gave some improvement but, the heart of the problem is the dog-legged link from the pedal to the first lever. There’s too much lost motion. I may have to go to a cable at this point because the clutch pedal, when depressed, precludes the extension of the throttle lever shaft to give a straight drop to the accelerator pedal. Rather than fiddle about with it and as the weather was quite extraordinary for the 1st of November,

1st November 2014

the local VSCC meeting beckoned so, with the prospect of an excellent beef and horseradish sandwich for lunch, The Ambassador’s Daughter and I set off. The car I would have most liked to have taken home with me this month was a difficult choice; this splendidly original Rolls Royce or,

Rolls Royce

this Derby Bentley…

Derby Bentley

… neither of which I could have afforded to run. We moved on to The Great Collector’s tea party where the Hillman was parked next to one of the cars which provided inspiration for the project – a Vauxhall – and which I’d never seen with its hood up.


All in all, a grand couple of days out but a distinct lack of progress on the racing car. A couple of extra hours in the day would be handy.

520 Miles…

… in a day is quite a lot on English roads but, more anon.

Morris Minor bell housing

One of the bits that I was going to have to make to complete the Morris Minor gearbox rebuild was the front cover which sits inside the bell housing and supports the transfer gear. Happily, a reader of this blog was able to supply a cover – thank you Andrew, your help is much appreciated. This cover doesn’t, as you might expect, go over the layshaft bearing so I might just tap a couple of holes and fabricate a light aluminium plate that, with a bit of sealant, should prevent any gearbox oil leaking onto the clutch. I’m not concerned about the selector shaft bearings because they’re at the top of the box and probably won’t leak anyway.

Riley rear axle

On the racing car I’m using a Merlin rear axle and that doesn’t locate exactly in the axle mounting castings on the rear springs – the circumference is just a gnat’s too big. So, rather than remove the mounting plates that are welded to the axle, I’m going to think about fabricating replacement spring plates that’ll make use of the axle plates (here shown upside down).

Merlin front axle

And while I was thinking about that, I thought I’d just pop the kingpins out of the front axle and see what was needed from stores. 3 hours and a 12 ton press later, I still hadn’t got the second pin out…

5/8" HT bolt

… and all I had to show for it was a buckled high tensile 1/2″ bolt. I had to resort to drilling the pin from either end leaving about 1/2″ in the middle of the pin so that a decent size drift had something to bear up against. I still had to use an old exhaust pipe to get useful leverage on the hydraulic press arm (I was also keeping as far away as possible from the whole exercise) before there was an almighty crack and the pin moved about 1/4″ and stopped. Some more penetrating oil and a bit of heat saw the pin moving again, albeit very reluctantly.

Bristol 501

The 520 miles was originally a trip with Counsel down to the Richard Edmunds auction at Castle Combe and which featured a zillion tons of Austin Seven spares but we kept on saying ‘well, while we’re in this neck of the woods, we may as well go to….’ We didn’t stay too long at the auction – endless boxes of  A7 bits and floors covered in axles and whatnot has a limited appeal – but there was a nice little Le Zebra which might have suited The Great Collector and in the car park, this beautiful Bristol pictured above.

Original A7 SWVA

Next stop the South Western Vehicle Auctions where we looked at a very original and untouched A7 but, more interestingly, this rather splendid Lea Francis sports car.

Lea Francis Sports

This is just the sort of car that would go well with Learned Counsel’s Jowett Jump Start; it’s green, it’s made of aluminium pots and pans and is reputed to go at about 90mph. Even the number plate stands for ‘Jowett Racing Team’. That’s a clincher in my book.


In one of my photo albums is a picture of someone’s hand holding a CO2 powered model of Mignet’s Flying Flea. The picture was taken in my garden some 27 years ago and I’ve occasionally wondered who the hand belonged to.

Flying Flea

Well, this week I found out. The White Lion at Ufford in Suffolk hosts a vintage car meeting a couple of times a year. The spring gathering is not to be missed as vintage stuff comes out that you don’t see for the rest of the year and the event is always packed. The October meeting is less popular but, if the weather is half decent (we got soaked in the Austin last year) then it’s definitely worth the trip.

Ufford October

There’s always a good showing of Lagonda’s of all shapes and sizes but, more importantly for me, a chap turned up on a Cyclemaster powered bicycle. I was an NSU Quickly and Solex fan in my youth and in the last few years had restored a Trojan Mini-Motor for Mark the Furniture (a local antique dealer) so,

Trojan Mini-Motor

I popped over to have a look. I don’t know how we got on to the subject of Fleas but, well I never, it turned out that this was the chap who belonged to the hand in my photograph. I found a Flying Flea rudder in a local barn some years ago. This particular HM14 was registered appropriately enough to a Commander Bird and was reportedly flown (and crashed) at Bury St Edmunds. The main spars were way up in the rafters of the barn and couldn’t be reached and there was no sign of the fuselage or engine.


An inherent fault provoked by the unusual configuration of the Flea’s wings and which produced control reversal in certain modes of flight – resulting in the deaths of several enthusiasts – was enough to persuade the Air Board to issue a blanket ban of the Flea, even though a Cleverchap called Baynes had sorted out an Anti-Bernouli-Control-Device mod (ABCD to us Earthlings) making the aircraft safe. I often toyed with the idea of building a Flea and, because at one time I was lucky enough to have my own airstrip, I imagined that a taxi trial; whoops, we’re going a bit fast, hello, the ground’s falling away, would have been an exciting moment. I think Mignet got away with it because he flew his aircraft on rudder and throttle alone – throttle for going up and down and rudder for left and right, leaving the articulating wing pretty much alone. It would perhaps have been interesting to test that theory. I’m pleased to have on my shelves a copy of Mignet’s original book whose opening gambit declares that if you can nail a packing case together, then you can build a Flea. That’s the stuff!

Riley front springs

A trip to Norfolk – no doubt one of a great many to be undertaken – to borrow a couple of front spring shackles saw the first progress on the racing car. The rear springs – apparently of Maserati origin – are very neatly arranged.

Rear springs

No flies on the chap who designed this then.





That Was Clever…..

…. and I had a feeling that I was going to have to pay for it a bit further down the line.


I happened to have a piston ring compressor which fitted exactly the circumference of the Morris Minor synchromesh gear and within a couple of minutes the whole thing was back together again; no searching for balls and springs under the bench, no screwdrivers through the hand – it all seemed a bit too good to be true.

Morris Minor gearbox nose cone

Buoyed by this piece of luck, I went on to repair the main shaft bearing’s front cover (removed from the 3-speed box) and carefully glued the broken bits together with Araldite and filled in what was missing with Milliput. And, in what might be described as a dis-covery, the 4-speed box front cover it turns out, is not the same as the 3-speed box front cover – that was the payback. I may have to machine up a new cover if one can’t be located.

Hillman rear axle

I had a quick peek in the Hillman rear axle – the back plates were almost non-existent after sandblasting – and everything looked intact inside. I’ve got to drill out the drum screws which are currently as one with the drums but after that it should be plain-sailing; a little bit of heat and the hubs will fall off in an obliging manner, the bearings will slip from the half shafts…. you know the sort of thing.

Riley chassis

But the biggest excitement was having a massive clear out and tidy-up in the workshop to make space for the racing car. I had to call in Counsel to help me shift a couple of benches round and heave the milling machine about and to set up the chassis on trestles. I can now get round the car and the first job is to get the axles jury-rigged and see where everything might end up.


I also rested what I’ve got of the body on the chassis to give me a bit of inspiration. It probably isn’t in the right place ….


… but a picture is beginning to form. I must get hold of the photo of the car that had this body; that would be a great help in determining what goes where. Apart from the silent-third box, I’ve also managed to get a couple of very large brake drums – they always look very racy besides being a great deal more effective than the standard size, a steering column without all the pre-selector attachments (the box had a hole in it in any case) and a lighter front axle – still a Riley type. I’m also led to believe that the cast bulkhead, visible in the picture above, is copied from a Maserati bulkhead of the period, so that’s interesting to know.

Riley 9

And this is what under the bonnet should look like when it’s finished. I dropped in to see a chum who’s building a Riley Special and grabbed a couple of pics; any information – especially in photographic form – is going to help.

Riley Special

Blue and cream are very nice together.