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.

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.