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.

Over & Out.

When I had a trip round the houses in the flying club’s Cessna 152 last November, it was fun to be back in the air again but not in the 152. In the first instance, it’s quite a small cockpit and with a non-adjustable seat back, I found it all rather cramped and uncomfortable. Secondly, it’s high-wing and doesn’t afford anything like the visibility of a low-wing aircraft. So I’ve elected to continue the revalidation of my license in the club’s Piper Archer.

I thought it would be prudent to go and sit in the cockpit for 15 mins and see where everything was as we were socked in for 3 days and weren’t going anywhere. It’s just as well I did as the whole layout (and half the instruments) were completely unfamiliar. And that’s only the half of it!

Here’s the other half. One of the things I’ve got to master for the flying test is the use of VOR’s as aids to navigation. They’re beacons on the ground dotted about here and there, sending out a signal on each of their 360 radials. You can tune into a particular beacon (the frequency and morse ident is on your chart) and establish yourself on, or navigate to a radial or VOR of your choice. The matter of whether the radial you want to use is ‘to’ or ‘from’ is the tricky bit and until I got things sorted out in the old hay loft, there were some spectacular gaffs in the nav department. I think I’ve got the hang of it now but for a simple fellow like me, the various explanations I both listened to and read of how VOR’s work and how to use them, were just so much static. In the end I managed to reduce the whole manual to two words: ‘to’, and ‘reciprocal’. If I’m asked to fly to a beacon, I dial up and fly the reciprocal heading and, conversely, from a beacon, the actual heading from the beacon. Intercepting a radial has an added complication but the same rule applies. Can’t go wrong.

Staying with a flying theme, I blew through the Hillman radiator matrix with a compressed air tool. Now I know where they get the filling for Eccles cakes.

Chap ordered a couple more stainless steel manifolds which helped to defray costs at the flying club and, as I was at a bit of a loose end – I’d hoped to have the discs back by now but they’ve not yet materialised – I took myself off to see what Awkward and Leon were up to.

Awkward was cleaning the Avon’s Model A block ready for re-assembly with its new self-balancing flywheel fandango.

Leon had added a few lightening holes to his Climax-engined A7 and, in his enthusiasm had decided to polish the bodywork – a decision he was beginning to regret because if you start polishing, you’ve got to finish and it’s not hard to find something more interesting to do than polishing.

Like giving a Mini head a bit of a clean up and renewing the oil seals on the inlet valves. Once the valve spring compressor is in place, all you’ve got to do is turn the head over and the collets fall out.

Over and out then.


A Nice Surprise.

I sometimes hate my old Microsoft Surface tablet because the operating system (Windows RT) doesn’t allow me to download apps that aren’t from the rather poorly stocked Windows store. Also, the USB port has only enough power going to it to operate one accessory at a time. But, it’s brilliant for Netflix which I use all the time when I’m abroad. There’s only an occasional hiccup, for instance when a film contains various languages – Russian, Chinese, Greek etc – and you hit the subtitle button, they cleverly come up in the language of the country you’re in – which is mostly unhelpful. So, when I left the tablet on the plane, I told myself that I wasn’t that bothered if I never saw it again. Five days later the phone rang; ‘We think we may have located your tablet’. It turned out that it had been handed in at Turin. I checked the database to see where the aircraft had been – everywhere in Europe but Turin, so I don’t know how that worked. Anyway, in a village near Stansted there’s a little industrial unit full of cheery girls and stacks of valuable stuff dopes like me leave on aeroplanes. After stumping up £10 for the tea swindle, my tablet was handed over (which saved me the bother and expense of a replacement).

I missed the Ufford gathering last year and was all set this year for the Hillman’s first proper outing when, on opening the workshop door on the day of the meeting, I was greeted by a large puddle of water underneath the engine. The blinkin’ water pump had failed again. I’m toying with the idea of blanking the pump orifice off and going electric – I just can’t seem to get the pumps properly sealed. This SS Jaguar was my favourite of the day….

… and this is only the second Avon Special I’ve seen after Awkward’s.

Following a fun day out, it was back to the workshop to weld up some flanges for delivery on Monday and then to address the water pump problem.

And whilst I was at it, I thought I might as well whip the hubs off and get to work on the brake conversion. It’s always worth assembling everything with copper-slip and then applying some protective coating over the top of the exposed nuts and bolts because when it comes to taking it all apart, it pays dividends. I use a now unobtainable US Airforce spec gloop called ‘bear grease’ – I bought a can of the stuff many years ago from Vintage Engine Technology to protect the Avro’s nuts and bolts – it lasts forever.

It was good to see that the small hydraulic assist assemblies I’d designed and fabricated for the drum brakes were still in good shape and could go back on if the disc brake conversion doesn’t work out.

Just out of interest, I weighed everything I’d taken off each hub and it came to 9.4kgs. The Wilwood caliper complete with pads, its mounting bracket and nuts and bolts came to 2kgs. I’m hoping that the new disc rotors will weigh in at no more than 6kgs, then I can nod sagely about unsprung weight and so forth – providing of course, there’s no nasty surprises.

I’d Forgotten……

…. what a blue sky looked like! Instead of going straight back to the hotel at the end of my night shift – I’d only be awake again in a couple of hours or so – I took time to explore the area around Loutraki.

Going up into the hills behind the town one morning I was able to see across the Gulf of Corinth looking South towards Tripoli. (I had to do a double-take when I saw a sign to Tripoli the day I got lost in the hills. Tripoli? Surely I wasn’t that lost? No, it wasn’t the one I was thinking of).

I found a railway to photograph – an old line which had fallen into disuse. I didn’t look too closely but I think there were people living in the old station buildings.

Almost everywhere I went, there were half-finished buildings. Although Loutraki was billed as a holiday resort, the hotel where we were staying had clearly seen better days. I fell into conversation with the owner of a café that I visited a few times and he was fond of reminiscing. 30 years ago, the town was thriving – the hotels were full, the bars, restaurants and cafés were doing a roaring trade (though he had his reservations about the behaviour of the British) and all was well. Now, because of the economic problems, the picture was entirely different and it showed in the infrastructure which was sad and neglected. People were hanging on by the skin of their teeth and, according to the café owner, it seemed there was no way out of the hole that Greece had found itself in. Nevertheless, everyone I met was cheery, helpful and generous. It would be interesting to see how the Greek Islands have weathered the storm.

We left Athens as the sun rose – we had to get up at 04:00 to catch the flight – and, three hours later, as we descended over East Anglia, inbound to Stansted, I noticed something I’d never seen before.

When I got home I realised that I’d left my Surface tablet on the plane. The lost property service that Ryanair use has a simple on-line form to fill in; no number to call, no office at the airport that you can contact, nothing to reassure you that your loss is of any interest to them at all. All you can do is sit and wait for an email to say that your property’s been handed in – or no communication at all. I went onto Flight Radar and found out the registration of the aircraft and where it went to next – Karlsruhe. I rang the lost property office there – nothing had been handed in. The aircraft subsequently returned to Stansted so, fingers crossed, but I don’t hold out much hope.

On a brighter note, Learned Counsel has been going full steam ahead on the Jingle Bell hood.

The frame, although in need of a bit of tidying up, was perfectly serviceable. Now all we need is a bit of sunshine.