Do Well.

Although it’s closed at the moment, I stopped to take a picture of the front of the Royal Navy Museum in Hartlepool – for the sharp-eyed it’s a relatively easy landmark to spot. Not that long ago a derelict dockside, it’s now a re-creation of an 18thC port complete with period shops and the oldest British man-o-war still afloat. Situated next to the splendid marina, it’s also a successful tourist attraction.

To keep me amused at the dockside, Leon reminded me that 7 years has passed since he went to pick up his Austin 7 Special from Royston in Hertfordshire.

For a return journey of nearly 70 miles in an unknown homebuilt car, it was unlikely that something wouldn’t go amiss. This is breakdown number 5 of several where a rarely pictured Awkward is seen interviewing the chief suspect, the fuel tank.

Breakdown number 6 occurred outside Highpoint prison and it would have needed only Alastair Sim and Terry Thomas looking furtively from behind the tree to complete the picture.

A few miles further on and with the day’s end in sight, help had to be summoned. The Special travelled the last few miles home on the back of a truck.

The culprit – a pile of rust that had collected in the bottom of the tank.

Currently sporting a polished finish and fitted with a Coventry Climax engine, Leon’s Special has taken on a new lease of life and, despite the lack of a steering wheel, is said to both go and handle extremely well.

To further entertain myself in my hut, I decided to investigate computer programmes that can turn photos into sketches and watercolours. There are plenty to choose from – too many in fact – and I started by reading the reviews. As it’s something that I would rarely use, it had to be a free application (a free download is not quite the same thing) so it was unlikely to be over-sophisticated. Just for starters I downloaded a free trial of one of the top-rated paid programmes; it was excellent. However, the reviews complained of advertisements popping up every time a new command was selected. As if dealing with computers in any case doesn’t drive you to distraction, I can’t think of anything more certain to make you want to kill than ads at every turn while you’re trying to concentrate.

After some more research, I picked what seemed the best of the bunch and, although as usual it was a minefield sorting out which download button was the one I wanted, I eventually managed to get it up and running on my laptop. It took a couple of hours to understand the controls and the limitations of the programme, but taking everything into account, I’m very impressed. If you start out with a good composition that has clarity and contrast, that seems to return the best results. The final images are fairly low resolution so I don’t know how they might reproduce in print, but for birthday cards and whatnot I think they could work rather well.

That Works.

Stripping out the reclining chair motor was a simple task and revealed an Acme thread in the linear actuator. With that made into a simple shaft, a direct or geared drive would be simple.

My lathe didn’t have all the right accessories to keep the shaft steady and turn the thread off accurately, so a quick trip to Chumley with a bag of sausages sorted that out and also furnished me with a couple of bits of 8mm plate and some hefty angle from the scrap bin to make the motor mount.

With the motor and transformer back together, I discovered it ran too fast, but luckily, I had a pair of 2:1 reduction gears in store. It was still too fast, so I’ve ordered a 24v speed controller with reverse function to replace the existing hand control.

The stand was welded up with bits from the come-in-handy department. All I’ve got to do is secure the motor to the mount – the trickiest bit because it’s all plastic. Tie-wraps may play a part in that exercise.

In the process of reshaping the model I began to wonder whether the front wing was right. Both examples work though the top wing I find a bit lumpen. The lower wing works better with the rear wing but starts to look a touch ‘applied’. I’ll think on that before I do any drastic surgery. I also need to do something about the pointy bit above the windscreen.

Hats off to Leon who spent a day polishing his Special. I sometimes start on the Hillman – one wing is shinier than the other – and soon give up.

In my favourite supermarket, there was on offer a negative and slide scanner. I used to have one, but it became obsolete when XP went out of the window – so to speak. I snapped up one of the few then remaining kits and at home, loaded the software disc into the CD-ROM drive. As usual, there were some initial frustrations culminating in the drive taking umbrage and locking itself up for two days before telling me the programme was incompatible with Windows 10. I was on the phone at the time the message flashed up on the screen and, in my fury, pulled the USB cable out of the back of the computer with such force that the end of the cable hit me in the eye, scratching the retina and piercing a blood vessel. The disc compartment still refused to open. This last inconvenience translated into the computer’s general slowdown and, in conjunction with a Windows update, a refusal to reboot. The temptation to lob the computer from my office window to the concrete below – as I’d done with my idiot printer – was almost overwhelming. However, with the aid of kitchen knife and small screwdriver, I calmly removed the back of the screen – it’s an all-in-one affair – extracted the CD-ROM drive and recovered the CD. Guess what – on reboot, the new scanner and software performed faultlessly. How does that work?

Shore Leave.

One afternoon, as the weather started to deteriorate, we left the field and docked at Harwich in the late evening.

Around 7:00 the following morning, I slipped off the ship and strolled through the dock to a supermarket some 15 minutes away. After buying a magazine, I made my way back. The security gate through which I’d left was now locked and the guard had disappeared. Not to worry, here’s a full height turnstile. I stepped through – CLANG – trapped! Hmm, this was a bit of a pickle. Aha! there’s a panel just here, it must have an alarm button. No. Anyone about? No. Some sort of emergency release anywhere? Yes. Fortunately it worked, but I was still the wrong side of the fence. I found another gate – with a guard – about 5 minutes walk away. Did I have a pass? No. Go back to Freight Security – about 10 minutes walk – and they might give you one if you’re on the crew list. I got back on board about an hour later.

The striped fish are Pout. Mackerel look in on the going’s on around the cable; dogfish, akin to miniature sharks, slide by, starfish potter about minding their own business and occasionally a supermarket trolley turns up. The ROV men are constantly entertained.

I mentioned making cardboard mock-ups of brackets before cutting metal and this is one I made for the throttle cable at the carb. This must have been a tricky one as there’s evidence of prototypes in the background.

The tail was finished off with a piece of aluminium which neatly covered up the ends of the plywood strips. This was before I understood how to shrink metal, but I got there in the end.

It’s always the detail that takes the time and it would have been useful if I’d had my TIG equipment (and known how to use it) instead of having to wait for someone else to weld up things like this rear mudguard bracket.

To accommodate the rear mudguard brackets, I’d thought ahead and had run a tube of slightly larger diameter across the rear chassis extensions.

Things like bonnet stays were easy. I was working part-time at AJD Engineering at the time (now Hawker Restorations) and I took the bonnet along so we could flush-rivet the hinges to the panels with the proper tools over a lunch break.

Then it was time for a trial fit of the body on the chassis. Having built it on an A7 chassis, it slipped on very easily.

Brackets to secure the body – and look a bit racy – were made up to fit the existing chassis out-riggers. I think there were six 1/4″ bolts in all that held everything together – aircraft spec of course.

The rear light extensions concealed the wiring and were bolted to part of the rear mudguard bracket. It was a bit of a fiddle to assemble, but it was worth it to keep the weather out.

My design for the headlamp stalk and mudguard stay as one unit overlooked an important point – be sure to leave enough clearance between the wheel and mudguard.

Steady As She Goes.

It took about three days before I could walk from the crew room to the rear deck with the ship rolling and pitching without spilling my cup of tea. I have acquired my sea legs! The antics of the ship have also intruded on my dreams – the other night, wrestling with uncommanded pitch and roll inputs from a faulty autopilot, I managed to land safely, a 737.

I don’t know why, but there’s something almost Athenian about this sunrise. If I half close my eyes there’s an amphitheatre with a hint of the Parthenon behind…. Looking through the build pictures of the A7, I’ve jumped the gun a bit.

Before the stringers and the first layer of ply, I tackled the bonnet, cowl and side panels. I spent quite a lot of time working out the height of the side panels in relation to the top longerons and making sure that the bonnet panels would close flush with the wooden structure. It drove me a bit nuts and in the end I just went for it.

A detachable panel for easy access to the starter motor was pressed with a couple of bits of plywood and attached with Dzus fasteners.

The height of the bonnet was 2″ more than standard so I let in a piece either side of the cowl….

… and hammered out the dents in the top before finishing off with lead.

After a lot of huffing and puffing – I had only some bits of wood and a piece of scaffolding pipe – I managed to get two bonnet panels almost exactly mirrored. The bending wasn’t particularly difficult, it was cutting profiles, setting them up, clamping them down (and rejigging them when it all collapsed under load) that took the time.

Similarly, the bonnet hinges were a bit of a trial and only successful when I made up a jig to go in the vice to get the right clamping radius.

The battery box turned out rather well after I’d worked out how best to fold it up and a friend in the village obliged by welding up the seams for me. At this stage, I didn’t possess a welder of any sort. The farm had an ancient arc welder that I’d put to good use (though I hadn’t a clue what I was doing) when exhausts fell of tractors and farm implements needed patching up. It wasn’t until some years later that I went on a welding course and learnt some of the basics of TIG which in turn helped me understand something of stick welding and subsequently, MIG.

The surrounds that finished off the floor mats were fun to make. A pair of roller bearings arranged on separate spindles and overlapping each other did the trick. With the gap set at the thickness of the aluminium strip the overlap was gradually reduced as the joggle began to form. The curved corners were cut to shape before forming the joggle and overall, the results were better than I had expected. Taking your time is the key.

Ahoy There!

A couple of hours aboard a Crew Transfer Vessel (CTV) saw me 20nm off Southwold and clambering up the side of the Ndurance for my first taste of offshore work.

The shift supervisor recognised me from loading the Willem de Vlamingh in Corinth 2 years ago where thankfully, everything had gone smoothly. Small world.

I’d often flown over East Anglia 1 (EA1) but at 30,000ft a wind farm doesn’t look that impressive. Get in amongst it all and you’ll think again. At £2.5 billion and 102 turbines, it’ll be the world’s biggest wind farm when it’s finished and my part in its success…… will be quickly forgotten.

Another old friend – I seem to remember loading her in Norway or Sweden – was the Maersk Connector, now busy laying one of 2 export cables from the offshore substation (OFSS) that will carry 714MW of electricity back to Suffolk’s coast – enough to power half a million homes.

And the evening and the morning were the first day – only another 27 to go.

Though the sea is as hypnotic to watch as an open fire, it’s just as well that I decided to include the Austin build in these notes because other than the weather, there’s little else to write about. I was determined to have the steering wheel at as ‘vintage’ an angle as possible. Many A7 Specials I’d seen hadn’t bothered with this detail, ending up with wheel positions more suited to a lorry. A Suzuki Jeep steering column universal joint was introduced to the A7 column to give me what I wanted.

It’s difficult to remember quite what order I did things, but by the time the instrument panel had been wired up, I’d obviously attended to the battery box – let into the floor beneath the seat – and formed the propshaft tunnel. The latter was in two parts, the rear half being tapered and flanged (and difficult to get right by hand – there’s a ‘test-piece’ still under the bench).

The fuse boxes and other electrical bits likely to give problems were housed in a compartment immediately accessible by opening the bonnet. I worked up an indicator and high beam switch using the innards of the Ruby steering column – LED’s lit up the lenses….

…. and the turned panel set everything off nicely. The two holes housed the choke and starter knobs.

The seat base was a sheet of 12mm ply with cut-outs and rubber strapping for suspension. The seat was very comfortable. My only complaint was that I’d not sloped the rear bulkhead which would have made longer journeys easier.

The steering wheel was a laser-cut ring with 12mm ply applied to both sides, then shaped. I think I used 30m of ‘cod-line’ to wrap the rim.

And before I started to panel the outer skin, the main cables for the rear lights were installed – that would have been a ‘gotcha’!

With the stringers attached, the first layer of 1.5mm ply panels were scarfed and glued with waterproof wood glue. The cardboard strips were there to keep the staples from denting the surface. Scarfing was done with the same converted drill-stand I used for doing the engine-turning. A wedge was introduced on the bed to give me about a 10:1 scarf – and sandpaper stuck to an old router bit did the rest.

Plain sailing, as they say in these parts.

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!

What’s Happened Here?

Before I skin up – so to speak – I have to get the wiring and plumbing done and, before I do that I’ve got to correct a mistake I made a while back and, at the time, I had an inkling that there was something that hadn’t gone quite according to plan but didn’t really stop to think about it. I can see what it was now.

When I was originally messing about with the steering box and the drop arm and getting the whole thing sorted out so that it worked, I remember making the comment that the drag link wouldn’t be parallel to the chassis rail – it would be a bit on the skew. What did that matter? Not much at all. Then I got involved in another job and came back to the steering scenario a bit later on. Of course, by then I’d forgotten what my original plan was and went ahead with the assembly which I now discover (having rigged the steering to roll the car out for a photo session) works well on full left lock but the tyre clangs up against the drag link with some distance to go before full right lock.

Steering box

Here above is the original jury rig – which worked as expected and below, here’s what dopey did when he wasn’t paying attention:


So that was going to be a bit of a face up – and just when I thought it was all going so swimmingly. I’m beginning to recall that one of the things that I’d listed (mentally – big mistake) as perhaps needing to be done was to turn through 90 degrees one end of the link to accommodate the reversed ball on the drop arm. Whatever… the lesson learnt was that if I start a job, it’s best I finish it before I get distracted. As it turned out, the alteration was relatively painless and involved only reversing the drop arm and refitting the ball in the other side of the socket; this took no more than an hour early on Sunday morning and thankfully, it didn’t involve an alteration to the drag link itself.

As it should be

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was also up early on Saturday morning; a distractingly beautiful dawn was an invitation to take to the lanes in the Austin which is running so well after the rebuild and the fitting of the water pump. We bowled along at 45 – 50mph and even on a trailing throttle, it felt like there was bags to go.


There was a slight misfire which disappeared with the application of a small amount of choke – indicating a weak mixture – so I stopped and wound out the jet nut a couple of flats to take care of things and Learned Counsel and The Navigator had a trouble-free run to Snetterton for the last of the season’s VSCC races on Sunday.

Racing at Snetterton

Just like last year, Snetterton was a tremendous spectacle, marred only by the news that a driver had died after being involved in an accident in the morning practice session. Despite this, the remaining competitors put on a grand show and there was a lot of spirited racing, much appreciated and applauded by an excellent turn-out of spectators.

But that’s enough distraction, I’ve got to get on.

The Interesting Bit.

I’ll probably be cursing about it in a few weeks but I’ve made a start on the bodywork.

Bodywork begins

It may not look much but it’s a bit of a giant leap when you put up the first piece of cardboard. Immediately things you fretted about fall into place – the 3-dimensional tangle you had in your head unravels and you see that it’s not as complicated as you first thought (I was concerned about the pedal travel, especially the clutch and how it might go too far into the engine bay). The other thing I was concerned about was the flow of air through the bay and out under the floor. I think I got this a bit wrong with the Austin and ended up cutting great chunks of metal out of the returns on the side panels and adding louvres on top of the bonnet. I don’t think it’s helped particularly and the real problem is more likely to be the lack of a seal around the radiator – something I shall address when it goes back together again.

I shouldn’t be having the same cooling problems with the Hillman. I pulled an old thermostat from one of the spare engines, cleaned it up and tested it. It’s an 82 degree one and I suddenly had a thought; if these engines are a bit prone to burning out valves because of cooling problems, why don’t I fit a 74 degree thermostat and it’ll open earlier…. Good thinking Batman but it don’t work like that. The engine’s still going to heat up past the 74 degree mark isn’t it? Oh, yes. I had a quick chat with Pro Alloy (the chaps who built my fabulous radiator) and they’re sending me an electric fan (the mounts are already on the core) and an inline switch for which I can cobble up a pipe and union and put between the thermostat and the radiator inlet. I did that on the Austin… I think that was one of my first pieces of TIG welding and it didn’t, and hasn’t leaked – beginner’s luck!

Austin temp guage pipe

In fact, if the radiator is especially efficient, it might be that the engine’s going to run too cool. That’s the sort of problem you want, according to Learned Counsel.

I spent most of the weekend on detail work and finishing up jobs I’d left because there was something more interesting to get on with. You can do only so many split pins before dark thoughts begin to blur your vision….. but the job is done and the cable side of the brakes is finished, as is all the gear-change linkage.


I’ve taken the plunge and ordered the alternator I was talking about, it should arrive in the next few days. I’m also putting in the fuel line a decent on/off valve. The little brass tap I put into the Austin system is suffering – leaking a bit – because of the ethanol content in some fuels – apparently. A lot of vintage car friends are using the more expensive unleaded fuels and seem to have great success with it; perhaps I’ll give that a go with the Austin. I’ve already got one of those lead/tin pellet fandangos in the tank but I don’t know if it does any good because I fitted it from new. The Hillman tourer’s got one too and it seems to go alright.

I’m, once again, at a stage where I need to do everything else before I can get on with the bit I need to do first. That always makes life interesting.

Design And Build.

This week, the final assembly on the front hubs and the knocking-in of the kingpins would see a major part of the chassis schedule put to bed. That all went without a hitch and I was happy to see that there was almost no play present in either side. Then I put the nearside kingpin cap on – fine – and the offside cap…. Blast! That wouldn’t go on because the root of the steering arm fouls the cap and to get the steering arm out of the way, I have to dismantle everything again. I remember thinking that it was a dopey bit of design and that I should remember this little ‘gotcha’ when I was re-assembling the hubs; I should have written it down.

Nearside hub and brake cylinder

This is the nearside front hub which demonstrates the brake cylinder set-up. The cylinder itself has a capacity of just over 20cc so, although I’ve yet to read up on the form, I’m guessing that a master cylinder of about 50cc should be adequate to operate both cylinders with a bit to spare. It’ll be interesting to see how they behave because, as they’re clutch slave cylinders, they have a larger capacity than a normal brake cylinder and so might be a little be slower – or softer perhaps – in operation; pure speculation, I haven’t a clue but I’ll find out soon enough.

And, still on the subject of wheels, I’ve been wondering what to do with the spare. Originally I imagined that I might be able to tuck it out of sight behind the seats somewhere or, failing that, the more traditional position – hang it on the back. The former takes up too much room in the cockpit – the hood mechanism and Miss X’s wardrobe take priority, and the latter spoils the line so it looks like I’ll be strapping it to the side – the nearside in this case because the handbrake is the feature on the offside. I did this on the Austin Special by constructing a pillar with a hub welded in the centre and then secured the top and bottom of the pillar to the floor and upper longeron with one-piece brackets. I carried the load to the opposite longeron by means of a tube running across the cockpit. It was a rather neat solution and I think I’ll do something similar on the Hillman.

Austin spare wheel carrier

I think it’s one of the best bits on the Austin.

Austin spare wheel carrier 2

Fortunately, on the Hillman, just eyeballing where everything might fall, it looks like I’ll be able to utilise the bracing between the firewall and the windscreen pillar post to anchor some sort of fandango that’ll do the job. It’ll have to be a fairly robust affair as a wheel weighs a ton. I’m hoping that the cross-brace falls in the right position and that the line of the wing won’t be compromised – if it is, I’ll just have to design and fabricate something to get the wheel in the right place.

Spare wheel position

And you’ll notice I’ve drawn in the seat position. I wasn’t able to get hold of the actual Avro drawing for the bucket seat but, I have in my paperwork a copy of the relevant page of the Schedule of Parts for the 504k. The seat is illustrated and I’ve been able to source enough basic dimensions to work up a sketch.

Avro seat dim's

The high sides of the seat made me feel very secure, especially when in the height of summer, I had to get across the country in the middle of the day and we were being shoved from pillar to post by the thermals. The sides are probably a bit too high for a car seat but a compromise between this and the Bentley seat, I think, is going to be just the ticket.

Maybe ‘Design and Build’ is a bit high-falutin’. ‘Cut and Fit’ is probably nearer the truth.