That’s Interesting…..

A few weeks ago, first light in Halden was around 3:30am and the sun appeared over the hill at about 7:00. I left the quayside an hour later and came back to work as the sun was going down. It was almost dark for an hour or so around 1:00am before the cycle started again.

At home, at this time of year, the sun’s daily routine describes an arc which appears to be roughly semicircular. Here, it seems to be more like a horse-shoe. It’s perfectly obvious why but, until you notice it, you don’t notice it – so to speak (photos of the factory premises are strictly forbudt, hence the artwork). I mention all this because I find myself back in Norway, though this time on the day shift. My fellow magnetiser, Janecki z Krakowa, drew the short straw as, in sharp contrast to a couple of weeks ago, the temperature slips below double figures during the night. Locals concede that they have two winters – one white, one green. The problem is that when the green one comes along, the heating’s gone off.

It must have been the subject of some discussion because on two separate occasions, someone has popped their head around the door of our magnetising hut and remarked that an Englishman drinks tea from only china and perhaps I would like a cup from the work’s canteen. They’re a generous and obliging lot and I’m careful to decline their offers with a jolly discourse on the merits of my paper cup (which I notice has sprung a leak) and the evils of the ubiquitous earthenware mug. One of them wouldn’t hear of it and brought me a porcelain mug from home!

Looking South from the factory, down the Ringdasfjorden, you’d be forgiven for assuming (as I did) that Sweden would be on your left but at Vassbotten, 40 kilometres South of Halden, the border between the two countries hooks back on itself and runs North along the Idefjorden before turning East and heading out to sea. That makes the big lump on the right, Sweden.

My last but one visit to the Skagerrak was memorable for various reasons, but the thing that stuck in my mind was a piece of fillet steak I had in the mess for which you might recall, I noted the cooking instructions. There’s a temporary chef on board at the moment and I’ve had this evening, another superb piece of fillet, every bit as good as the last. I think it’s about giving the meat plenty of time to stabilise at room temperature and then cooking it slowly at 150°C. I bought a square inch of fillet (short commons that week) to test the theory, but promptly forgot about it. That’s the trouble with freezers – they’re a bit like attics in that respect.

In the factory’s canteen here in Halden, there are daily, several dishes to choose from but no indication of what costs what. That’s because at the till, your plate is placed on a set of electronic scales and you’re charged by weight.

Hmm, interesting.


The Best Thing Ever….

… since the last thing I thought was the best thing ever, is my new-to-me, cut-off saw. It’s 3 phase and whips through 5mm thick 80mm box like butter. I reckon I’ve now got the hang of stick-welding so the next thing on the to do list is an English Wheel. Practical Classics published a plan for one about a year ago which Counsel is digging out for me. I’ll buy in the anvils as making those is beyond me but I’ve picked up an old Boxford tail-stock to use as an adjuster for the bottom wheel – I didn’t think of that, I read about it somewhere.

Before I left Halden, on my way to work I popped in to the monthly meeting of American cars. I’d never seen a Desoto before; very nice.

I found my railway line and the next thing I knew,

I was back at home inspecting a chum’s recently finished Straker Squire. Another very nice car.

In his workshop was a handsome Sunbeam in the throes of having a new head gasket fitted. Interestingly, at TDC, the piston crowns rise above the block by about 40 thou. To accommodate this, the head gasket is a very thick and solid affair – much beefier than any I’d encountered before.

A machine servicing job took Learned Counsel and me down to the other side of Cranfield and on the way back we stopped at Old Warden for lunch. In the hangar was this 504 in exactly the same livery as I’d had mine – only the Le Rhone and the painted prop gave the game away. Apparently, the day before, they’d had three 504’s on the flight-line. That was a first.

Back home, the 8hp Rover in the workshop was waiting for its gearbox and associated controls to be completed. This is going to be a bit of a long job as the gearbox is, in effect, part of the structure of the chassis. I’ll have to remove the gearbox as it appears that some bits could be missing and in any case, to get the gear train in, the casting which supports the box needs to be released from the frame. This involves dismantling the rear spring mountings and moving the axle back. To get at all this, I’ve decided to take the body off so I’m left with just a rolling chassis.

A bit like this; then the dog can see the rabbit. Mr Summers (of Summer Road) turned up with his Morris side-screens for cutting and re-welding so they’d fit his nearly completed tourer. A trip out in the Hillman proved that the brake conversion has been a success. I need only take a little bit of metal off the caliper brackets as the bolts which secure the discs to the bells just kiss the brackets on sharp corners. I could take up a flat on the hub nuts but that wouldn’t really solve the problem long term. I’m also going to swap the 1″ master cylinder for the 3/4″ cylinder I have in stock. That should give me more travel at the pedal and so greater ‘feel’.

Then they’ll be the best thing ever!

Matters Of The Night.

A teardrop coupé can be one thing only – a teardrop coupé. The Alfa, Mercedes, Talbot-Lago, Bugatti and Delahaye examples all share much the same root and, though I hesitate to mention my proposed efforts in the same breath as the Greats, there’s not much I can do other than follow their lead. To radically alter the shape would be to depart from the brief – something I don’t want to do. One avenue popular in styling development seems to involve inflating the basic shape. The Cobra, Austin Healey, the MX-5 and the BMW ‘Z’ series’ all got pumped up – in my view to the detriment of the original designs’ understatement, so that’s another road I don’t want to go down.

I like the idea of the wolf in a dinner suit – a sort of James Bond approach, but then a competition type finish – oily aluminium, faded sponsors logos and numbers – jostles for position and I wonder if I can somehow combine the two.

Having the end in sight is an important beginning and, through the nights sitting in my hut on the quayside at Halden, I have all the time in the world to contemplate different schemes. I know what the steering wheel is going to look like (I’ll definitely make up a Bugatti style piece). I know what the dashboard will comprise and I know that sealing the doors against the weather is going to be tricky – not to mention the complication of wind-up windows and windscreen wipers. The interior is where the most fun’s to be had. Dreaming up some quirky-looking instruments and nickel-plated controls with perhaps a woven silk head-lining – my work at Stephen Walters & Sons has given me a few ideas – is an absorbing pastime. A bench seat might be nice for touring?

So whilst I’m here, I can spend a bit of time on the internet, particularly Google images. It’s got almost everything I’m going to need. A search for ‘ash framed cars’ leads me to various restoration companies’ archives. Though they’re always a bit thin on particulars, they’re handy for an overview. Happily, there are also blogs that detail almost every aspect of building and repairing ash frames and the people who write them really know their stuff. Similarly, with the mechanical side of things, I know I’m in good hands.

I’m coming round to the idea of using the 15” wheels as they’ll avoid a lot of trouble and expense converting the rear axle to take the 18” Lagonda wheels. The Jaguar XK’s use 15” rims and the Alvis Special is going to be more or less the same size. I’ll just have to watch the body height to keep everything in proportion.

I’ve had a cursory glance at the TD21’s cylinder bores – they look good, but only a complete strip down is going to tell me what’s what. The block, without doubt, will be in need of a good flushing in the caustic bath and I see I’ll need a clutch.

After sitting all night doodling and thinking about this, the sun’s just up ….

… it’s time I stretched my legs again.

A Revised Schedule.

A trip back to Norway has interrupted progress in the workshop but, that’s no bad thing – uninterrupted thinking time is a gift. If I was blindfolded, I would know that I was back in Halden, especially if (as we did) I arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon, because the sound of V8’s and V-twins is all you can hear.

You may recall that Halden is a bit of a honey-pot for American car and motorcycle enthusiasts. This Crown Victoria outside the hotel took my eye, as did the Pontiac Bonneville parked beside it – note the Tesla charging leads on the wall.

The boot of the Bonneville could have easily accommodated 6 for dinner. We had a day to kill before the ship we’d come to load arrived so I took myself off to Fredrikstad – reportedly Northern Europe’s best preserved fortified town and only a few klicks north-west of the fix.

It didn’t disappoint, though the absence of life should have given me a clue about how successful my trip was going to be. After I’d stumped up for some not inexpensive parking, I found everything of interest closed until the following Saturday. The local museum which boasts an art gallery (though oddly, nothing on the web described its contents) was closed. The reviews I read before setting out, concentrated solely on the museum’s café. That’s slightly suspicious.

Even the largest model railway set in Scandinavia, boasting 30 trains all running at the same time was closed – very disappointing.

But the old town of Fredrikstad is certainly worth a visit if you find yourself nearby. On the way back, I stopped at Hunn.

A short walk down a forest path…

… took me to where there were 9 Iron Age stone circles. They made an impressive sight climbing up the ridge towards the trees, though I did wonder what the landscape must have been like 10,000 years ago.

Ants are quite difficult to photograph (it’s on the leaf – you can just see its shadow) because they’re generally rather busy darting to and fro. These were about three times the size of the ants that plague my kitchen for a day or two around August.

I noticed them scurrying about only when I stopped to look at a small flower I hadn’t seen before. Then, preoccupied with the day’s adventure, I missed the turn to Halden and shot across the Oslo fjord into Sweden – sans ID. As I went across the bridge, I happened to look down and saw the Nexans Skagerrak making its way to the factory – our ship was on time – excellent. The next exercise was to get back into Norway without being noticed, so I turned left and took a minor road across another bridge and of course was selected for a spot check by the big hats at the border. ‘Pass, vær så snill’.Ah, slightly tricky that one…..’ Fortunately, they soon realised that I was a thoroughly decent fellow in a bit of a muddle and I got away with a ticking-off.

I keep doing daft things like that. I used to be so organised!


Planning & Preparation.

The Alvis engine and gearbox are a bit of a lump and the rocker box weighs almost as much as me! I discover from the engine number that it’s a late Series 1. The 4-speed gearbox is a British Leyland creation – the same one fitted to the Austin Healey and the first gearbox fitted to their cars that Alvis didn’t make. It has apparently some problems with weak synchromesh but, with a bit of digging I’ve discovered that a 5-speed Getrag box, as fitted to BMW’s (I’m not sure which one) can be adapted. The Tremec T56 box found on Mustangs and the like, can also be used but the price of those made my eyes water.

A disc brake conversion to the front hubs (these are new and have been made up specially to fit modern wheel bearings) looks a relatively simple exercise. There’s bags of room for a disc and the hub carrier has four holes which can be utilised for the caliper mounting.

An Alvis TD21 manual was something I was searching for on the net when I tripped over the next best thing – arguably an even more useful tool than a manual – a fully illustrated spares list.

For instance, this clearly demonstrates that the timing chain is at the back of the engine rather than the front – a handy thing to know – and the previous owner of the manual has kindly annotated some of the drawings with part numbers for filters etc.

So, although it was a bit more than 15/-, it was an excellent buy. I took a few measurements of the TA14 chassis and made up a drawing of the basics so I can start working out shapes for the body.

The dotted lines represent the 18″ Lagonda wheels (complete with tyres), the solid lines, the 15″ TD21 wheels. There’s not a lot of difference at this scale but having the right wheels will make or break the look, just as the wings on the Hillman needed to be just right.

At last I’ve managed to make room to get the Rover into the workshop to finish off the gear lever and handbrake quadrant. The Riley single-seater has gone back into store – it was a project beyond my capabilities and I lacked specialist knowledge of the marque to make headway with the kit of parts it came with. I’m happy to admit defeat on that one. The Alvis is in a slightly different category – the rolling chassis is there and it’s rolling. That is a huge advantage over something like the Riley. It means that all the running gear is there – no missing special nuts and bolts, thrust washers and the like. The engine and gearbox are complete as far as I can tell from a cursory glance and there’s a steering box and column, a pedal box of sorts, fuel tank and various odds and ends peculiar to the TA14 and TD21.

The disc brake conversion on the Hillman is complete. The discs aren’t anything like as sharp as I imagined they might be – a good thing as there’s no seat belts – but the great improvement is that the car stops in a perfectly straight line – full left rudder was needed in emergencies before now. Counsel and I had a bit of a game balancing up the rear cable brakes with the discs and although it all works rather well, I think I might need a different size master cylinder to give a little bit more of a progressive feel – something I might have taken into account had I done the planning and preparation.


We Live In Exciting Times!

That’s if you’re excited by aeroplanes, cars and boats. There was a perfect flying day the other week so I popped along to the flying club to continue my PPL revalidation process. Flying for a test is never much fun and although it was gin-clear and smooth as silk, the cockpit load was 10 times more than I’m used to. And the amount of buttons and switches on all the nav-comm kit guaranteed that I would get in a muddle at some point. I didn’t have that problem in the 737 because chap was there to do all the donkey work!

Anyway, I’ve got the VOR procedures nailed but, identifying the beacon (each one has its own code which is transmitted in morse) is a bit primitive. We can speak to people on the other side of the world on our mobile phones and most of the time it’s like speaking to someone in the next room. Not so with aircraft radios. I learnt to fly in 1980 and it seems there’s been not the slightest advance in sound quality in nearly 40 years – it’s still like being inside a cement mixer full of gravel.

On the way back from collecting the Speed 20 wings – at 77″ long, I just managed to fit them in my Peugeot 407 saloon but had to drive home with my nose on the windscreen – a tea break at Popham saw its resident Staggerwing rolled out and prepared for flight.

The wings will need a lot of work but will save me a lot of trouble.

The TA14 chassis and TD21 engine were delivered during the week. It’s a huge project and I’m disciplining myself to planning and preparation only at this stage. With the bits and pieces came a full set of 18″ (possibly Lagonda) wire wheels. They fit on the front hubs but the hubs on the TD21 rear axle are too short. I’m going to have to think of a mod – possibly new hubs – because the style of body I plan really needs the wheel height. The current wheels, complete with tyres have a diameter of 26″ whereas the others have a 31″ diameter – more in keeping with the Speed 20 wings. I’ll draw up both options before making a decision.

Peter popped by one evening to show me what he’d done with the speedboat drawings – here is the shape in Solidworks. We can now take a section at one of the frame stations and see what comes out of the CNC router.

I’ve been busy completing the disc brake conversion on the Hillman. It’s gone well so far and I’ve managed to achieve a tight and relatively unobtrusive installation with a weight saving of 2.6kg each side. I’ve got another set of back plates and, because their diameter is greater than the disc, I can weld on a 3″ flange and hide the whole works.

I got to the end of the job and found that the existing brake hoses were too short – they need another 5″ to allow for full lock, so I haven’t been able to bleed and test them yet.

Thrilling stuff!




It Crossed My Mind…

… that it would be fun to build a boat. I’m not a boating type but, a while back, I tripped over a write-up on the Chris Craft SRB 19 which is a beautiful barrel-back mahogany speed boat of the type Sophia Loren might have turned up in to your front door if you lived in Venice. I ordered the plans from Classic Wooden Boat Plans and, as a lot of the parts come in .dxf files (for CNC routing) I passed them on to Peter, a chum who’s a whizz with CAD. Peter’s ironed out a few of the wrinkles in the files and has produced the boat in Solidworks – effectively reworking the design so it looks and flies right.

Courtesy: Classic Wooden Boat Plans

The choice of wood for the keel and frame had me searching the web and coming up with no definitive answer. A visit to a couple of boat yards left me none the wiser but I met a chap who was very keen to do the varnish finishing of the boat, something I haven’t the equipment or skill to do. And that was far as the project had got when I happened to notice an Alvis TA14 rolling chassis for sale – fatal!

With it came a TD21 3l engine and gearbox complete with ancillaries, a couple of sets of wheels, headlamps, instruments and a whole bunch of invaluable come-in-handy bits and pieces essential to the Special builder’s store.

I’ve built an Austin 7 Special; progressed to something a bit bigger – the Hillman Special, so now it’s time to tackle something which is really going to take some doing, a coupé. This is just a preliminary idea; a mixture of various marques to work out where I’m going with this one. I’ve managed also to pick up a couple of Alvis Speed 20 front wings of the shape in the sketch so that’s going to save me an awful lot of trouble and expense. They’ll need some adjustment but the basics are there and come complete with a spare wheel well in the nearside guard.

Avro’s ‘Standard Pilot’ has been a most useful chap in helping to get the proportions on the right track. I was struggling with the tape measure and getting into a bit of a muddle when I remembered he was in the drawer somewhere. But first I have to get the 8hp Rover in the shop and finish the gear lever and handbrake quadrant. Then the Cushman three-wheeler with the drop-tank body – that’s a relatively straightforward restoration as everything’s in place and it’s not too complicated a vehicle.

Mr Summers (of Summer Road) is making good progress with his Minor – the windscreen is on; the wiring loom is in place and the hood frame is ready for covering. I’ve got a bit of number plate bracketry to make up for him and I think he has a 4-speed box to fit which will improve the car’s usability enormously.

It crossed my mind that if I can make a good job of the coupé framework, the barrelback should be like shooting fish in, er… a barrel.