Rear lights and Number Plate

Not the most exciting of titles, I grant you but in the holiday period I had a day to tinker in the garage and thought I would finish off the panel that supports the number plate and the lights.

The issue is of course that the number plate needs to be mounted on the rear spare wheels in such a way that it is removable but is solid enough to not swing about under the throws of ‘spirited’ driving. The answer is to utilise the spare wheel mount in such a way that a substancial rod can be used to clamp the panel onto the outermost wheel. You may recall that I fitted this rod and the machined chrome cover many months ago because I have had the design in mind for a long time now.

Step one – the design:
The actual number plate is made from cast alluminium and is fairly strong by itself so all I really needed was an aluminium panel strong enough to mount the lights onto and to be used as a hanger from the ‘rod’ on the spare wheel carrier. The plate was to have a lot of curves that flowed around the lights and around the wheel hub and would have an extension that just fitted into the inside of the wheel hub to provide a level of rigidity to the fixing handle.

Step 2 – drawing it all onto the panel:
I am running low on 3mm aluminium sheet but had just enough to make one panel. A silly error would mean the purchase of more metal so right-first-time was the order of the day. To start with, I loosely laid out the D Lamps and the number plate to get a feel for spacing. The lamps need to be close to the number plate but the LED lighting negates the need for regular access to the bulbs so they can be fitted tight up against the number plate.

This gave me the shape to cutout with an electric jigsaw

Step 3 – cutting it all out…
Which then had all the edges filed down to a semi round shape and all the holes drilled for the lamps, number plate and the securing bolts for the extension into the spare wheel hub. The panel was then sanded down smooth so that it can age naturally.

Below you can see the extension as it is inserted into the wheel and the second picture is the whole thing clamped into place. The extension is not load bearing in any way, realistically it merely supports the long steel rod that goes through the centre of both spare wheels and is screwed into the welded on spare wheel mount.

I may well fit a rubber spacer onto the back of the panel so that it absorbs some of the damage from clamping it onto the wheel. Below is the final fitment with everything bolted into place. All that is left now is the wiring and the car would then be legal to go on the road. The wiring will be fed into some flexible stainless steel tube with sufficient length to allow the removal of the light panel when access to the spare wheels are needed


Rear lights

Ok I am getting ahead of myself a little but I find I do my best work when my heart tells me what to work on next. That, and the weather was cold and wet and I could do this part in the warmth of the office.

Originally the Falcon would have had rear lights mounted on the wings with a separate arrangement for illuminating the number plate. The rear of the car now bears very little resemblance to the original car and the lights can’t realistically (or aesthetically) be mounted on the tiny rear mudguards. They now have to fitted to a panel that has to be removable because it will be fixed onto the twin spare tyres…

I have not completed the fabrication of that panel yet so you will have to wait to see what it looks like.

Another problem is that vintage cars utilise an old design of a dynamo which barely generates much of an electrical charge. To make matters worse, the dynamo is bolted onto the front of the crankshaft and Riley’s are low revving engines – tickover speed is 400rpm. If you couple a poor design with a low rotation speed – the end result means all the lights are barely visible when stationary. The answer is to ignore period fittings and resort to modern technology and replace all the filament bulbs with an LED equivalent.

The rear lights are arguably the most important because drivers behind the car need to be able to see the car. The answer then is to replace the single bulb with 30 bright LEDs. This then is the subject of today’s blog.

The lamps of choice are a pair of genuine 30’s D-lamps. So called because they are shaped a little like the the letter D. Below you can see the lamp swung open on its hinge. The paint was probably white once. Step one was removing the old lamp fitting which is simply held in place with two small copper rivets which were drilled out.

Below is the LED light board which merely requires two small holes to be drilled into the casing and the board is then bolted in.

This board provides the rear light, a brake light and side illumination which will light the number plate.

Below is the test of 12v being fed into the lamp. You can see the clear window which will light one side of the number plate.

Yes you can argue that originally the lamp was lit by a single bulb but trust me looking at the light straight on, they are properly bright and being LED they consume a fraction of the power a bulb would suck out of the dynamo giving it a fighting chance of powering the headlights. Bright means safe. I think it’s a fair trade. Finally below is the pair of lights which are now both converted.

A later post will show these on the actual panel.

I then moved my attention to the front of the car and converted a pair of side lights to be dual function side AND indicator lamps. This nearly needed the internals being replaced with a modern conversion which will also be LED when I get around to buying the ‘bulbs’. The original figment is on the right.

Antiquing the instrument panel

After much consideration, I have decided to leave the instrument panel to mature naturally but in order to stop it looking brand new and too bright, it needed to be slightly distressed. An orbital sander generates a smooth finish that *could* be polished to a high shine, but I chose instead to merely create a mild satin finish that looks like it was polished at some time in its life. It was then waxed which will be occasionally repeated over the coming years.

The next challenge was to necessary to meet MSA (Motor sports Association) regulations – competition cars need a master battery on-off switch accessible from outside the car. Seeing as the Falcon will not have a roof, I can mount this on the instrument panel but I wanted it to look old. The answer of course was to manufacture an on-off designation plaque out of brass and then antique it. A few designs were played with in a digital drawing application and a final solution chosen. The design was transferred to a small brass plate using the technique I developed before when I manufactured the coach-builders plate for Bespoke Bodywork.

Below you can see the plate in its etched form with the mounting hole cut to shape for the actual switch. What followed was a lot of cutting and filing to get to the finished form.

At this point the plate has only been slightly distressed to look ‘used’.

The switch rotates clockwise about 90 degrees from off to on and for a moment I will use the provided control knob with the addition of an engraved white line on one surface to indicate whether the switch is off or on. This was simply achieved by using a triangle profile file and filling in the groove with white paint.

Below is the completed switch suitably distressed and in the ‘off’ position. Anyone who decides to try the switch whilst we are driving will not be popular – it literally turns off all the electrics…

Next I moved my attention to the key operated ignition switch, which is a new Lucas item used to isolate the ignition and fuel pump. There is a separate start button. The switch is located on a brass washer the same size and shape as the battery isolator. This is a small detail but it ‘looks’ right.

Finally I made a small filler plate to fit beneath the steering wheel and the instrument panel strengthening bracket. The sole purpose of this is aesthetic – it makes the panel look neater. The entire support bracket is removable from the instrument panel just in case I need to remove the whole panel at some time in the future. All that is left now is to distress the small panel so that it is the same colour as the surrounding area.

New Boots

Well not actually new, I am owner number 2. All four of the Falcon wheels have a few loose spokes necessitating each wheel needing to be stripped down, shot blasted, re-spoked and setup by a wheelwright and then painted and shot-blasted. Then the wheels need new tyres, the current ones are at least 35 years old and are re-mould crossplys – possibly the worst combination possible.

A new wheel is circa £400, a new tyre, new rim band and inner tube circa £250 plus fitting and balancing but lets call it £650 a corner. I have 6 wheels – four on the road and two spares which equates to a lot of pennies to splash out. Rebuilding a wheel is around £200 minimum so lets call that £450 a corner – still a couple of thousand hard earned pounds. Or I could wait until someone wants to sell a set of rebuilt wheels with racing tyres which have a few years life left in them.

It is the later option I have had in mind for some time and only recently found. After some negotiation a price was agreed and I now have Four rebuilt 18″ Riley wheels, restored and painted in Riley dark blue fitted with a set of Blockley racing tyres with 5-7mm of tread left. That’ll do and they were duly collected from just outside Silverstone today which is strangely appropriate.

I know they look huge in comparison to the ones on the car but thats just an optical illusion – they are slightly bigger in circumference and width but only slightly.

The picture below has the front one fitted  – and I think it fills out the mud shield perfectly – they look really purposeful. There doesn’t need to be much room between tyre and mudshield because they are both fitted to the same brake hub and will rise and fall together when going over uneven ground. This is another of my design features which wasnt hugely common in the 1930’s but it *is* in period.

And below is a picture of one fitted to the spare wheel mounting so you can see what it looks like with the two spares in place
At sometime in the future,  both the spares will actually look like the one closest to the body work – the more knobbly tread is better for off-road, muddy hill climbs and realistically the spares are for that purpose. Those ‘trials’ wheels have slightly thicker, stronger spokes which will help when I have willing ‘bouncer’ passengers in the back seat bouncing up and down to try and get the rear tyres to grip in the mud.

Fitted across the rear spare wheel will be a light board carrying the number plate and rear lights. I have designed that but not yet fabricated it. You can also see why I had to be so careful when planning the position of the fuel tank filler – it is angled to be close to the tyres but there is plenty of room to insert the fuel nozzle. Perfect.

Next post will be an update on the instrument panel which is coming along nicely…


Fuel enrichment

For a car to start from cold, you need a richer fuel-air mixture, modern cars use a computerised engine management system. Classic cars had a cable on the dashboard that pulled a lever on the carburettor(s) which allowed more fuel into the air stream. Guess which system is more reliable. Sometimes modern is not better.

Vintage cars are a bit light on engine management computers so a trusty cable system with a Bakelite knob mounted on the dashboard is in order. However, I really want to keep the instrument panel simple and elegant, a choke control is necessary but ugly. What else could I do instead?

Like a modern Grand-Prix car the Riley steering wheel has a bunch of control functions. Within a non-rotating central hub are controls for all the lights, the indicators, horn, distributor advance-retard and a hand throttle. All this is neatly wrapped in a Bakelite casting (unlike a modern Grand-Prix car). The existing hand throttle is connected via brass levers to the carburettor throttle linkage and is only used to increase the engine speed whilst it is cold. So that is part one of the enrichment solution inbuilt already.

The distributor advance-retard control is redundant because I have upgraded the ignition to modern distributor. So this gives me a control on the steering wheel that I could re-purpose. If you look at the picture below, the control in question is the metal item at 9 o’clock. The large teardrop ‘switch’ controls the indicators (non cancelling) and the control at 3 o’clock increments through side, dipped beam and full beam light selections. All of these controls connect to tubes inside the steering column and re-appear at the far end. You can just make out the hand throttle – its the black lever at 11 o’clock. That is actually mounted on the steering column just in front of the rev counter having been repositioned when I lowered the steering.

The challenge: the control on the steering wheel rotates (conceptually think left-right in an arc) but the fuel enrichment levers on the carburettors need to be pulled back, towards the driver. So how to convert a rotating left-right movement into a forward-backward movement. This took a fair amount of thought, because in addition I had to stay visually in period.

Below is a view of how the carburettor linkages are connected together and how they need to move – this is viewed from the side of the car


I then had a Eureka moment fuelled by (sorry for the pun) an understanding of how Etype Jaguar throttle linkages change the direction of motion a number of times. A quick sketch later and I had a conceptual solution.


If I inverted the rotating lever at the bottom of the steering wheel it would point outwards instead of inwards – so now when I move the steering lever the motion moves the relocated lever in an up down movement albeit in an arc. Converting an up-down movement  to a forward-back motion flipped at 90 degrees is easy if you understand lever principles and hopefully the drawing above explains it a little easier. There was a handy bolt on the steering box that just happens to be in a usable position. The ‘L’ shape lever needed to be fabricated from 2mm mild steel with the addition of a 20mm tubular spacer brazed on to the back to space the whole thing out from the steering box. All the parts were then connected together using spare throttle linkages and the result is this:


Oh I almost forgot, Part of the challenge was to get the linkages to miss the immovable engine mount!

I am jolly pleased with the results of this weeks challenge 🙂 Maybe I should have made everything from brass? No that is perhaps a step too far…


Instrument panel

After an awful lot of filing and shaping, cutting and drilling, the instrument panel is now taking shape. The position of the instruments is partly down to available space either on the actual panel or behind it. The positioning of the steering wheel and the intended priority of use.

The tachometer (rev counter) is more important than the speedometer so the speedo is smaller. Good job really because it is a perfect fit into the available space.

The other instruments are positioned so that the driver can see them 🙂

Also fitted is a battery cutoff switch (to meet race regulations) and a big Claxon button for the big Claxon ah-ooh-ga horn.

I am trying to keep the panel uncluttered but I imagine it will fill up over time as needs must.

The panel will be highly polished only once and then be allowed to mellow with age until it reaches a soft satin sheen.

Next steps are to build in reinforcing strips and a soft rolled lower edge to protect knees from abrasion.

I am quite please with the half way stage…

Aeroscreen glass

Well this evening was different and another step into the unknown…

The replacement glass for the Brooklands screens (actually called aeroscreens because they were fitted on WW1 aircraft) was of course new, the period 1930’s Brooklands frames are not new. Ipso-Facto naturally, the replacement glass doesn’t fit. It is very slightly too big for the original frames. Deep sigh of frustration – what to do?

I cleaned out the channels in the frames until they were spotless – but the glass still didn’t fit. Also, I discover that strangely one Brooklands frame is fractionally larger than the other. Strangely? Perhaps not, I have to remember they were made in the 1930’s when the quality mantra was probably “near enough is good enough”. Actually I should adopt that phrase at work, life would be far less stressful. But this doesn’t help me –  i need custom fitted glass.

I then had a thought – the people that created the replacement glass have ground the edges smooth. So if *they* can grind the edges smooth – then I can grind the edges back until the glass is smaller… This for me is a pretty scary idea, I dont even know if it is actually possible in a home garage. But when did that ever stop me?

My weapon of choice is of course my trusty angle grinder fitted with the most evil,  sanding disk I could lay my hands on. Spinning at 14,000rpm and with a light touch, I approached the glass with a degree of nervousness and gently brushed the leading edge  with the grinder… to my surprise, it *did* leave a sanding mark… so I continued gently stroking the glass with the evil grinder over quite a period of time until I had removed close to 3mm off one edge of the glass.

Below you can see the laminated glass held securely in a vice so that I could sand the offending edges. The ground areas are not visible so they dont need to be pretty.


I then did the same on the horizontally opposed side. Although this was jolly boring (and noisy – sorry neighbors) the glass now slid about 75% of the way into the frame. Fast forward a few hours and I now have 2 fully fitted Brooklands aeroscreens.


And in case you ask – yes the passenger aeroscreen *IS* supposed to be at an angle – If it was mounted horizontally true – the gap underneath would make it nigh on pointless. So nobody does that.

So far, i am properly pleased with how the car is progressing – our vintage sports car is beginning to emerge. IMG_3706

Poop Poop!