Every now and again, my friend Roland who runs ‘Flaming Cactus‘, calls me up to knock out a dent in one of his Airstream vans. I pop round with a few tools and between us, we get things straight again.

This connection took me to Duxford on setting-up day before the weekend’s airshow. I hadn’t been to Duxford on foot, so to speak, since my father and I as prospective purchasers, had blagged our way into the front seats of a B-25 Mitchell that was up for auction. I’d taken the Avro to Duxford’s airshows in the 90’s but was always too busy to have a good look round. It’s a very impressive museum with public access to just about everything – a good move on the part of the curators.

It was nice to see so many Hurricanes. The major problem with restoration was always the lack of spar material – a complex system of formed tubes decreasing in size towards the tips of the wings; the same for the tailplane. During my time at AJD Engineering, I believe an investor was found to finance a minimum order from a potential manufacturer which equated to enough material for 40 Hurricanes. Out of that, Hawker Restorations was formed and continues to produce the type today.

Wandering around the hangars and looking into the Blenheim and Fury cockpits, the reasons for my decision not complete the revalidation of my license, became clear.

I’m at home with this vintage stuff – it’s infinitely more comprehensible to me than stacks of gizmo’s which keep your head in the cockpit instead of looking where you’re going. I know I was learning to fly for a test and being up to speed on new procedures – especially in comm’s – was essential. But it just didn’t have that allure anymore and 747 style circuits in an old aeroplane were, in my book, asking for trouble.

The Spitfire is a very comfortable aeroplane to sit in. In exchange for a trip in my Avro, I was offered a flight in one of the 2-seater Spitfires that was around at the time. I still have the letter with the offer but I never took it up – that was dopey – though I wonder if it still stands?

I’m sure I had more hair than that not so long ago.

I always dreamt that one day I would be able to afford to do a twin rating on the Dakota – now an unlikely event – but if the chance came up to get a front seat, I wouldn’t hesitate. We were treated to a wonderful display by this Dakota and 3 Beech twins. Radials are always a treat to hear start up, especially if there are lots of them all at once.

I had an excellent burrito for lunch – it was so full of goodies that I didn’t need to eat in the evening – and, as vintage aircraft buzzed about the field practising their routines in preparation for the days ahead, I headed home where, appropriately enough, I settled in for the next episode of ‘Narcos‘.



More Development.

I noticed the last time I was out in the Hillman that there was a misfire, not on one cylinder, but all of them. It was an extremely hot evening and I immediately suspected fuel vaporisation. Just to make doubly sure it was that and not the coil, I put the meter across the + and – connections and sure enough, the 3 – 4 ohms (normal for electronic ignition systems) was present. It had to be the fuel.

I knocked up a stainless steel air intake from a couple of bends that were lying around and set off to see Awkward who commented that it was highly unlikely that much air was going to get up to the carb body without some sort of duct on the side of the bonnet. He showed me what he’d done to good effect with his Avon Special bonnet.

So I spent a quiet afternoon with my new metal-shaping hammers getting it wrong and then trying to correct it – I shall go on the course and get the basics weighed off a bit later in the year. I tried to stretch the metal round the back to close the trumpet off but was defeated by having cut the material a bit too small. I’ve got to de-rivet the assembly and put a blanking piece in the rear so the air can go only up the tube to the carb. I’ll know next time. A test run was falter-free but I could have made better connections with the coil wiring – only a long fast trip to the coast in the heat will prove the system.

I’ve been working on the bits that’ll raise and lower the anvil on the wheeling machine – I should get all the laser-cut plates towards the end of the week. These bits came from an old wallpaper bolt lifting mechanism so is very substantial – the bolts each weighed at least a quarter of a tonne.

I also picked up a motor and gearbox ready to fabricate a motorised bead roller. The dies are incredibly expensive at around £60 a pop so I had a search on the internet to get some basic dimensions so I can sort out gears and axles. I came across only one set of drawings with measurements so these, possibly scaled down a bit, will have to do. Interestingly, I tripped over a video showing a chap machining dies from hard PVC – that’ll be a huge saving if that works.

I popped in to see Learned Counsel to get the Lamda sensor and boss from the now defunct Mazda exhaust system. I’m going to fit it into the Hillman exhaust because I’m still not convinced about the mixture being right. Awkward and Leon have got a box of tricks with flashing LED’s that I should be able to plug in and sort it out once and for all. Meanwhile, the Mazda Locost is coming on…

… and the Jowett Jackanapes’ hood is finally finished and tucked away.

I’ve moved a little bit further forward with the Alvis – this is a half plan view with the Speed Twenty bonnet, the Charlesworth wing and an unknown windscreen from stock, blended in. I think I’m going to have to make a clay model of this one but it’s good to see the idea is slowly developing.



Another Trick….

… up my sleeve. I don’t have many of them. It was Christmas 1984 when I last cooked a piece of fillet steak and, as it was Beef Wellington, it probably doesn’t count. The steak I mentioned in my last post was cooked following the instructions of the Chef on the Nexans Skagerrak (see July 2017, There’s Always Someone). Served with new potatoes, spinach, Chantenay carrots and a caper sauce, I couldn’t have wished for a better result. Try it; if you start with a decent piece of meat, you can’t go wrong.

A friend gave me a photograph the other night, one that I’d completely forgotten about. My passenger, Mike, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of some specific actions during the 1st World War. A couple of us went with him to tour some of the battlefields near Albert on the Western Front and despite the sombre subject matter, we had a rather jolly weekend doing something which I wouldn’t ordinarily think to do. I remember the trip also because I bumped into a very glamorous cousin of mine in the duty-free section of the Channel ferry. Anyway, Mike was delighted to pop around the houses with me in the Avro one evening; the date on the back of the photo puts it 22 years ago. It seems like yesterday, now I’m reminded of it.

Friston, just off the road to Aldeburgh, hosts annually a come-and-go-as-you-please all-comers classic and vintage show on the village green. Traction engines to NSU Quickly’s and everything in between turned up and it’s one of those get-together’s where you see cars that for the rest of the year, seem to vanish. The meeting at Ufford is similarly attractive. The weather was perfect and that brought everyone out. My favourite of the day was this very rakish Lagonda saloon.

A trip to a chum’s workshop to collect some bits and bobs from his Sunbeam for nickel plating. It’s the sort of job which I’ll have to do quickly otherwise, like the Le Mans Jowett’s engined-turned dash, I’ll be shifting it from one end of the shop to the other for the foreseeable.

The body work has been removed from the Rover and these bits…

… plus a few others, have to go in this hole here…

I think we could be missing a gear from the front of the box, the one that engages with the dogs on the right hand cluster, otherwise I think it’s largely complete.

Having failed miserably to bleed the new brake system on the Hillman when I changed the master cylinder, I’ve since learnt that it’s standard practice to prime a new cylinder. It’s very easy and I happened to have a modern plastic reservoir into which a tube is fed from the other hole (or two tubes if you have a dual system). Fill the reservoir and pump the plunger until all the air’s out – that’s it. I’m going one better and I’ve made up a pressure cap for the Autovac (which is employed as the brake reservoir on the Hillman) and I’ll pressure bleed the system with a few lbs from a foot pump.

Always a plan to have a trick or two up your sleeve.

In For A Penny.

We had a 3:00am start from Halden to catch the 7:00am flight from Oslo to Gatwick. Allowing for BST, that got us home by midday last Saturday. I unpacked, got the dhobi going, made some bread, enjoyed a pint of stout in my local and then settled in at home for an evening’s TV – during which I would no doubt, fall asleep. I switched on the box and the next thing I knew, I was dashing out of the door with the set belching smoke and flames!

That was a bore. Still, as I didn’t leave my tablet on the aeroplane, I wasn’t without. I bought a new TV from Amazon and – you know when something’s not quite right? Well, as I remarked to the carrier, the box looked a bit suspect and then, unusually, there wasn’t one of those annoying plastic things on the plug but, I persevered and set the thing up. It was like a visitation from the Mysterons; there were 4 rings of white light in the top left of the screen which wouldn’t go away. There was also a band of light down the righthand side of the screen. I think this wasn’t the first time this TV had been out of the box. It’s gone back.

I fitted the NOS brake master cylinder, despite the fact that there was something in the back of my mind which told me that this cylinder was, like the TV, also suspect. I should have listened to my inner voice because no matter what we tried, Counsel and I couldn’t get anything to even remotely come good. I’ve ordered a new 3/4″ cylinder and I’ll go through the priming process properly this time so there’s no mistake.

In the interim, I drew up the English Wheel following the guidelines set out in the Spring 2016 Practical Classics magazine. Theirs is a bit of a monster so I’ve scaled mine down so it has a roughly 26″ throat. I went up to the Other Wright Brother’s factory in the week and pulled out of the scrap bin a hefty threaded bar and bearing block, complete with spoked wheel, which will do for the anvil lifter (the lathe tail stock isn’t man enough for this job). A set of heavy-duty castors and a single phase motor and gearbox (for the motorised bead roller) were another couple of prizes to carry home.

And my new-to-me chop saw will make a nonsense of the 80x80x5mm box for the basic construction. I’m thinking of 4mm sheet for the sides but, I’m wondering if I can get away with 3mm.

A sunny afternoon with The Great Collector, Counsel and the Hillman 14 tourer ended in us ordering a new distributor cap, points and condenser – the blinkin’ thing just didn’t want to know. There was the occasional spark – enough to keep us interested – but nothing else.

So, what do you do if your car doesn’t work? Get another one! In this, The Great Collector is impeccably reliable and he now owns this very pretty Wolseley Hornet.

I bought a piece of fillet to celebrate –  I don’t know whether it was the marinade or the price that made my eyes water but – in for a penny.

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 anvil – 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.