Project ‘X’….

… has taken up most of my time since the autumn of 2015; car stuff has taken a back seat – so to speak.


The brief was to replace a 60-year old fabric finishing machine with something that would refine the finishing operation, expand its capability, last for the next 60 years and at the same time bring the control process into the 21st Century by introducing programmable logic control (plc) and touch-screen operation. Oh, and by the way, the finishing room has only small doors so the 2m x 3m machine would have to be assembled on site.

Steam blades

Part of the finishing process involved the delivery of super-heated steam to the fabric and I was lucky to be familiar with the coating process on wallpapers; air knives deliver a metered, high velocity blade of air that blows away surplus ink and leaves an even side-to-side coating on the substrate. Air knives are also used for drying tomatoes and suchlike in food processing plants.

Heated rollers

My biggest headache was how to heat the 2m wide rollers that are the last stage of the finishing process. In the original machine, the rollers were heated by steam but over the years the surface temperature had become uneven. Not knowing anything about the internal structure of the cylinders and how they might well have corroded over time, I had to think of another way of heating them. I looked at oil, water and electricity but the downside of all these internal systems was the weight of the finished rollers – around 350kg each! To change a bearing or a seal would require lifting tackle and a gantry incorporated into the structure – the machine would become a different animal. As with all these things, a chance conversation (with Learned Counsel’s brother-in-law, a print technician in Australia) put me on to Infrared. Perfect.

Laser cutting

The laser cutting girls and boys swung into action and produced the superstructure and some of the fiddly bits like the brackets for the linear actuators used to wrap the fabric round the heated rollers…

Linear actuators

… and with the addition of most of the ancillary rollers, the machine was beginning to take shape.


Next stop: disassembly, powder-coating and reassembly at the client’s premises.


Of course, nothing is as simple as all that – there were plenty of ‘gotcha’s’ on the way and a certain amount of cutting and fitting as this was fundamentally a prototype machine. One of the biggest headaches was (as always) translating the finishing process into a computer programme – something we’re still working on.

Thank you to everyone who, despite my reduced concentration on this blog, has stayed the course and I wish you all a Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017.





I Spoke Too Soon!

Having commented that now is not the time of year to be sitting in a tent on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, guess what!

Gulf of Finland

It looks worse than it is, although when the wind gets up, it’s worse than it looks. We Magneteers are here to magnetise a cable as it’s loaded aboard the ‘Cable Installer’, a ship operated by the Italian company, Prysmian.

Cable Installer

We’re back in the same retro style hotel and what I didn’t notice the last time I was here were these ceiling lights – classic Thunderbirds! Also I completely forgot about the instruments of torture which pass for pillows in this neck of the woods – nasty foam filled things which turn to concrete when you lie on them! Two glasses of wine at the hotel – £26! Supermarkets are awash with cider, lager and funny coloured fizzy drinks but a bottle of wine? The nearest ‘Alko’ (the state-owned outlet for anything over 4.7%) is 24km away.

ceiling lights

Every year, I say that I won’t be going to the Classic Car Show for at least the next three years and every year I end up going. But with the entry price at around £30, I’m determined to readdress my resolve to not go.


The cars that caught my eye were a very pretty Fiat 1500 Cabriolet, a brace of Triumph Italia’s (I’d never heard of this hook-up between the TR3 and a Turin body shop before, let alone seen one) and a Maserati. The Italians have always been at the top of the styling game.


Which started me thinking about sports cars and how nice it would be to build one of my own. A couple of initial sketches indicated how difficult it is to depart from received ideas about what constitutes a sports body. Some radical thought outside the box is required! Recently, I was leafing through a book about special bodied Jowett Jupiters by Edmund Nankivell and noticed a coupe with particularly attractive lines. A Jupiter chassis….

Jupiter chassis

… would be a good starting point and there are a few dotted about (if you can find them) that would be perfect for such a project. I’d have to do a bit of juggling with the radiator – perhaps make a couple of side-mounted assemblies to lower the bonnet and maybe move the engine back a bit…. it’s just a thought at the moment of course.


This week, I’m working the midday to midnight shift so I have a couple of hours to explore the area around Siuntio. In the sunshine and snow I imagine the forests are a real treat; fungi, elk, bears and whatnot, but in the cold, wet and overcast skies we have at the moment, nothing could be less inviting.

Lohja station

The nearest town, Lohja, threw up this charming station building. It didn’t appear to function as a station anymore although the lines were definitely in use.

Railway lines

I saw a sign to a museum but it was time to go back to work; maybe the museum (and finding Alko) is tomorrow’s adventure.

When The Temperature Drops…

…. the leaves turn


and the local Council get it into their heads to throw salt all over the roads (the Hillman still bears the scars from the autumn of 2014) it’s time to do a bit of maintenance.


The manifold gaskets on the Morris Six engine have never lasted more than about 1000 miles and they’re increasingly difficult to find. As it happened, a head set popped up on Ebay and I was quick to ‘buy it now’ at a reasonable £40. I used both the head to manifold and the manifold to exhaust gaskets as patterns and slipped along to a local water-jet cutting company to have a couple of sets made up in copper.

Exhaust paste

These were cut from the softest grade of 1.5mm copper sheet I could get and I used a good quality exhaust paste to take up the slack created by a less than flat manifold (probably my problem from the outset). I haven’t done a road test up till now (I’m waiting for the salt to be washed away by a good rainstorm) but the run-up outside the workshop indicated that the solid copper gaskets might be the answer – the engine was quiet again.


I thought about machining the manifold to get the faces flat but making a jig to hold it in the mill would have been an engineering feat in itself. I still have the option of annealing the gasket to help it conform to the inaccuracies if this first experiment is not as successful as hoped for.

Austin 7

Meanwhile, Leon has produced a bit of kit (the lower item was the jig) to sort out some steering problems on his Special. It’s got the Cambridge independent front suspension set-up which places the spring at the bottom of the hubs, wishbones at the top and the assembly joined up with hydraulic shocks. There’s a tendency towards bump-steer – helped by the flat rear springs. Leon’s device, which splits the steering link rod, removes the geometric shortcomings of a single link, and gives each wheel a degree of independence that should help to lessen the effect – that’s, I think, the theory…..

Jupiter dash

Unfortunately I’ve had to shelve my ambitions to drive Learned Counsel’s Jowett Jupiter in the Le Mans Classic; getting my racing licence and getting to the starting grid was going to prove hideously expensive for the one-off experience. But it doesn’t stop me being part of the team and recording the ‘Road to Le Mans’ in this blog. My first contribution will be to create an engine-turned dashboard to the pattern of the spare that Learned Counsel dug out – hopefully, that’ll earn me a couple of test laps at a Snetterton track day so I’ll get a taster at least.

MG Midget

Talking of whom, his latest distraction has been the restoration of an MG Midget. Originally it was navy blue – dark colours on Midgets were never that successful in my view – but now it’s ‘Speedwell Blue’ and a lot prettier. I haven’t seen any progress on the Austin 10 Cabriolet as yet and I think that’s going to take a back seat – so to speak – as we turn up the gas on the racing Jowett.

Special Delivery.

A lot of people have remarked that it must have been quite a sad occasion to see my Austin Seven Special, ‘Sunita’ go.  No. Not at all.


I’d cut my teeth on Special building with the Austin and, I don’t mind admitting that the detailing on Sunita is better than on the Hillman; I could go as far as to say that Sunita is a better built car altogether. But, it was always going to be a bit too small for me and now I’ve built the 6 cylinder Special, Sunita just doesn’t go fast enough. Yes, I could have added a few fandango bits and pieces to the engine, but I couldn’t have made the car more comfortable without radical surgery – something I wasn’t about to get involved in.


So at 3.30 one morning, Counsel and I pulled away from the farm with Sunita on a trailer, off on the journey to her new owners in Holland. Arriving at Big Sister’s at around 5.00am, we would take Sunita off the trailer and then dash down the M20 to the Eurotunnel terminal before slipping across to Calais on the 6.10 shuttle for a rendezvous with the van Kleef brothers – collectors of fine furniture and vintage automobiles; Sunita has been generously described as an amalgamation of the two.

Channel Tunnel

I was jolly glad to have Counsel behind me in his Mercedes going down the M20 towards Folkestone; even at that time in the morning, the traffic was murderous and lorries just lost sight of you when they overtook. Evasive manoeuvres were twice called for.


As we pulled in to the car park behind ‘Toys R us’, the heavens opened and I got absolutely drenched – punishment for parting with the car no doubt. Sunita has gone to a good home and now shares a garage with a Bugatti, a Rally ABC and a Peugeot Bébé, not to mention a fine collection of classic 50cc racing motorcycles. I’m delighted that she’s in such good company and I’m invited to visit next time I’m passing. I shall keep that date.

The drift

I’m witness to another special delivery about this time of year when I get involved with bringing the cows up from their summer pastures to their winter quarters in the yard.  To see these magnificent beasts thundering towards you is a sight that never fails to impress – and you have to look lively as well; they don’t stop for anything or anyone!

Normal Service….

… will be resumed shortly – I’m still up to my neck in Project ‘X’.


Big sister found a picture showing the registration of the family Alvis. Unfortunately, it seems that the car didn’t survive and all I’ve got is the hare and a folder of correspondence between my father and the Alvis factory:


.. and an invoice might be of interest.


It’s a bit difficult going back over the 8 or 9 weeks or so since my last entry and trying to remember all the events in the correct order but I’ll have a go. In early September, trips to the Lincolnshire Wolds provided an opportunity to have a look at Grimsby and Cleethorpes – places I’d flown over on the way up to see chums at Breighton.

Grimsby docks

As its name regrettably suggests, the casual visitor to Grimsby might carry away a gloomy picture of this, at one time the biggest fishing port in Europe, but it’s worth digging a bit deeper – Wikipedia has some interesting things to say about the town which now produces more pizzas than even Italy.


Cleethorpes, which forms part of the Grimsby-Cleethorpes conurbation, retains lots of interesting late Victorian seaside architecture and has suffered a lot less at the hands of mid-20thC developers than Grimsby.

Cleethorpes station

There’s still a few less attractive but nevertheless ‘moody’ corners to frame. In contrast, Louth was a delightful little market town, bustling, unspoiled, full of history and period architecture. Wikipedia informs me that the ‘Keep Louth Local’ campaign has successfully countered the introduction of major supermarket chains to the town and it’s paid dividends in keeping open independent high street shops.

Gulf of Finland

I was rostered to go back to Finland at the beginning of October to magnetize another 20km of undersea cable but various delays in the programme put paid to that. No bad thing really because the butter in my butter dish (I don’t keep butter in the fridge because it’s just impossible to spread) has started to firm up, indicating that it’s nearly time to look out thick socks and woolly hats.

Not the time to be sitting in an open-ended tent on the shores of the Gulf of Finland.




To The Finland…

.. cable factory.

Boat House Cafe

On the way, my fellow Magneteer and I flew over last Sunday’s breakfast spot – Felixstowe Ferry (it’s down there somewhere) – and headed out over the North Sea to Helsinki. Finnair have a refreshingly civilised approach to air travel; there was bags of leg-room, a moving map to show us where we were and on this two and a half hour flight, a welcome absence of airline food, no inducements to contribute to charitable causes and no Duty Free offers. We were left in peace.


An hour or so’s drive West from Helsinki is Pikkala, home to the Prysmian cable factory. The countryside here is, in comparison with the other parts of Scandinavia I’ve been lucky enough to visit, fairly unremarkable; lots of woodland and rolling hills punctuated by outcrops of rock.

Hotel dining room

A few kilometres to the north of Pikkala was our hotel and, if we’d poled up in the Consul’s Rolls Royce I mentioned a week or two ago, you might have been forgiven for imagining that an episode of ‘Thunderbirds’ was being filmed. The hotel dining room was a work of art – pure retro – though there was nothing dated (so to speak) about the food – delicious salads and perfectly cooked vegetables (magnetising is always an excellent opportunity to detox) and everything you’d expect from a spa hotel devoted to healthy living. There were other little touches in the corridors that continued the retro theme…


One of the stranger features of this part of Finland is the way smoke behaves. My investigations have revealed that the proximity of late orogenic granites in the geology of this coastal region has an influence on airborne particulates (a phenomenon known as ‘Gnikoms On’ after the Nobel Prize Winner, Eemili Gnikoms) which causes the products of combustion to descend rather than what you’d expect. The phrase ‘going up in smoke’ is met with blank looks in this part of the world.

Gnikoms On

Our magnetising equipment was made ready as the sun set…

Cable-laying barge

… and the working lights came on, on board the BoDo Constructor – a cable-laying barge operating in the Baltic sea. It fell to me to take the night-shift so I was able to capture the scene as the sun came up again in the morning.

Cable loading

Word has it that we have been lucky with the weather on this trip; sunshine and temperatures nudging the low 20’s are a rare occurrence at the end of August.

Lotus Europa

Before I left, I looked in on the Lotus Europa – the rear suspension is taking shape and soon the car should be on its wheels again. The apparent delicacy of some of the components is remarkable considering the pounding that a car’s suspension takes in the course of its life. It’s a lovely bit of work.

Lotus Europa

Won’t be long before it’s finished.

Breathing Space….

…. which is really another way of saying there hasn’t been much to do for the last couple of weeks (the installation of Project ‘X’ has been delayed) so there was a window in which to complete the A7 wings.

A7 new wings

I don’t quite know why it’s taken me 7 years to do the job – in the end it amounted to a week’s work at a fairly relaxed pace. Aside from wheeling the wings themselves, there was a bit of welding to do, a couple of stainless steel brackets to form, a splash of paint and that was that.

Square holes

Drilling the holes square for the bumper bolts was a bit tricky but I took ‘Sunita’ down to the Post Office for a trial run; nothing fell off, no irritating rattles and no ducking flying debris! Perfect.

A7 new wings

When I completed the Hillman Special, because I didn’t have time to have laminated glass cut for the windscreens (I did really but just didn’t get round to it in time for the Monaco Dash) I used instead a couple of sheets of Perspex. Almost immediately the Perspex got scratched, it went a bit grey and cloudy and driving in either rain or into a low sun it became almost impossible to see anything and I always had to look over the top of the windscreen in those conditions to avoid disaster.


With the lull in work I resolved to get the glass made up. I remembered that when I went to get the laminated glass screens for the A7, there was much sucking of teeth and reluctance to do the job because it was for a car. I popped home and wrote ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’ on the templates thereby deflecting any unwanted inquiry from the next glass merchant I visited. That did the trick – as it did this time.


The Great Collector kindly hosted a a Rolls Royce garden party and in amongst the fairly ordinary offerings were a couple of extraordinary monsters. This first, a 1930 7.6l Phantom 1, was as long as a ship and would be excellent for long-distance touring. A tour would require very careful planning – you wouldn’t want to be caught out with hairpin bends and I’m not quite sure where you’d park.

RR 2

A 1973 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Cabriolet by Frua, built for the His Excellency the Consul of Switzerland and Monaco (according to the Bonhams blurb). There was something about this very unusual body which, although the lines weren’t quite right and the front was terrible, had a certain presence. It wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of ‘Thunderbirds’. There was a small plaque showing the arms of the Principality of Monaco on the dash of this LHD model and a DK sticker on the back so it’s been about a bit.

I suspect it might have been easier to park in Denmark than Monaco – there’s a lot more space there.