Speedometer fabrication

A long time back I purchased a 30’s speedometer that was a little bigger than the standard Riley one with a view of having a cable made up to suit the connection to the gearbox and to the gauge. The trouble is that ‘someone’ made the cars instrument panel to look nice but totally missed the fact that the speedo when fitted was so close to the bodywork that the cable drive could never actually be fitted to the gauge. As Homer Simpson would say – Doh! But at least I never commissioned someone to make a custom speedo cable for me.

By chance a fellow on the VSCC forum recently mentioned fitting a GPS driven speedometer when it was needed for long journeys and that triggered a thought – what if I could modify the GPS speed instrument to fit inside the vintage gauge I had? Nothing ventured, nothing gained so I ordered a very modern looking GPS speedometer from China because it was cheaper.

Whilst I was waiting for it to arrive, I started work on creating a new fascia for the gauge so that it was in keeping with the original Jaeger instruments. These are fairly complicated visually but over a three week period using Adobe Illustrator, I managed to produce something that was pretty darn close to the original ones. The part that took the longest was the Jaeger logo – that took several days to produce. The entire image is produced using vector graphics so every single curve or straight line is produced by hand and the software uses mathematical co-ordinates to create the visual side. Because these are mathematical co-ordinates and not coloured in pixels – you can enlarge the image to the size of a house and all teh edges will still be just as sharp as you can see here. Why is this important? Because I may want to re-use the image to make other gauges of varying sizes which I am hoping I may be able to sell one day.

Around the time of finishing the image, the modern speedometer arrived – looking very modern (and plastic) indeed.

Now to take both gauges apart and create my own one. Below is the GPS version dismantled into its component parts. Not exactly clockwork is it?

Using the Vintage fascia as a guide (seen near the metal shears), I marked out the shape I needed to cut from 1mm alluminium, onto which I would stick my laserjet printed ‘Jaeger’ fascia

I now discovered I had two problems – one the plastic casing from the modern, would not fit into the case of the Vintage. This took some head scratching but luckily all I need to keep is the glass front of the Vintage version along with the chrome bezel and ‘some’ of the original case, so I cut a hole in the back of the vintage case then machined out the opening on a lathe until the plastic housing just slid in.

Once the aperture was the right size, the remains of the old case were sprayed black inside and out for no other reason than it looked better. The plastic enclosure was then glued into the Vintage casing.

Problem two: the spindle that the indicating pointer fits onto was too short for the Vintage version to reach so I needed to fabricate an extension sleeve. This requires a tube with one hole that matches the spindle and a slightly smaller hole for a new spindle pin to match the pointer. The spindle was 1mm wide, the pointer has a 0.75mm hole. Ah make that 3 problems, how on earth do I fabricate a 0.75mm spindle that is only 1cm long.

Luckily in amongst my spares I found a number of thin brass rods, one of which was 0.7mm wide. Not perfect but a small amount of glue would fix that. To fabricate the sleeve I cut down the pointer bit off the original sleeve.

Next problem drilling a 0.7mm hole into the end of that little piece of plastic in a straight line with the original hole. This is where life got jolly fiddly but I mounted a tiny drill into a handle and manually, twisted the drill into the plastic extension until I had produced the new hole. You get a better view of the original fascia in this photo. I could have used it and not bothered with my Jaeger version but it is not as pretty as the correct gauges

The new brass pin was then glued into one end of the extension and the extension pushed onto the original spindle. Next the fascia plate was fitted into the housing. The electronics were powered up and the gauge naturally set itself to zero, I then carefully fitted the pointer so that it indicated 0mph. The rest of the speed markings are then in the right place for the right speed.

And here we have the finished gauge which I am actually quite proud of. I am thinking of finding a company who can professionally screen print my fascia directly onto alluminium sheet, but for now – this is perfectly good enough.

The gauge is back in the car and once the device has found the satellites – it works rather well. Driving through tunnels of course means I lose my speedo, but it will not take long to match a known speed for known engine revolutions.

Jaeger also made a racing version of the gauge that went up to 150 mph. Seriously? in the 1930’s cars with vague steering and a nod towards brakes doing 130mph? I dont want to think about that…


Grand Prix de Farnham

A rather special day out in the Riley…

A few months back whilst attending a classic car show in the Riley, I was approached by one of the organising members of ‘Friends of Mike Hawthorn’ who asked if I would mind bringing my car to a forthcoming local event which promised to be a bit special.

The Grand Prix de Farnham was that event – a celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Mike Hawthorn  winning the Formula 1 World Championship. On 19 October 1958 the Moroccan Grand Prix was held on a circuit near Casablanca.

Mike Hawthorn driving a Ferrari, attained pole position but the race was won by a certain Stirling Moss driving a Vanwall. Mike took second place. Rather excitingly that second place was enough to make him the first British driver to become Formula One world champion which he achieved by a single point! Having achieved this accolade, Mike then retired from F1. Interestingly this was the only time Morocco have hosted an F1 event, but I have no idea why.

Why was the celebration event at Farnham? Mike’sparents moved to the town when he was two, and opened the ‘Tourist Trophy garage’ in Farnham, which became the base of his motorsport activities but was also a local garage open to the general public. Mike lived in Farnham for the rest of his life.

The people of Farnham celebrated the world championship win with cars from Mike Hawthorn’s era driving through closed streets in the centre of town on a wet Sunday afternoon. There was a fabulous range of cars from the Riley Imp he used to compete in the Tourist Trophy competitions, numerous Jaguars right up to the thin wall Vanwall used in F1. I think my favorite car of them all though was a huge 1930’s V12 Lagonda special running no silencers whatsoever. I was lucky enough to follow this car throughout our laps of the town and at times, I could barely hear my car above his bellowing exhaust,  I think I have mentioned my own car is rather noisy but it paled to insignificant in comparison.

I am pleased to say, this was my first event where the car was running properly, allowing me to red line the engine for the first time and to increase the fun, I was joined by a fellow Jaguar enthusiast Lewis, who excitedly took the passenger seat plus the son of the fellow owning the car next to me in the paddock took one of the rear seats. The weather was horrible, it pretty much poured with rain all day but because I was an early bird I was offered a ‘garage space’ in a long gazebo which kept the car dry. Early on in the day, I was approached by a gentleman gesturing with a large microphone, who went by the tag of ‘Mr T’. But sadly it was not BA Barracus from the A-Team, this Mr T produces ‘entertaining’ PodCasts, mostly about grand railway journeys in foreign climes, but he asked if I would mind being interviewed for a new PodCast, to which I agreed with mild apprehension.

What I didn’t appreciate when I agreed to the interview was just how difficult it is to simply talk, without coming across as a complete idiot. Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much (or maybe I did), I am sure you will tell me. I rather suspect I would not get a job on TopGear either way.

You can hear the interview here: Mr T Podcast – Grand-Prix de Farnham.

I also mounted the Go-Pro onto the car for the first time and uploaded the unedited video onto YouTube. You get a drivers eye view of a couple of the laps through the town with the V12 Lagonda in front of me – turn up the volume and dont forget to wave to the soaked spectators…

YouTube Video of GP De Farnham

I had a great day, The Riley did what it was designed for; having fun, being noisy and entertaining people. It was cold, very wet, the windscreen did nothing to stop the rain or my lap gaining a puddle, the tyres threw up a magnificent plume of water behind me and we had constant grins. Marvelous aah-ooo-gah.

Below are a few pictures from the event:

The Blue Riley parked next to mine in the first picture belonged to Mike Hawthorn – note the ceramic bow tie on the radiator grill.

The V12 Lagonda

Mike Hawthorns D-Type Jaguar, which won at LeMans, following his Tourist Trophy garage van

An unknown Ferrari that I simply liked the look of. A Monza perhaps?

Inspection light

A fun distraction. I bought a vintage inspection lamp at Beaulieu many many months ago. It was looking very sad and not working but was priced cheaply because of that. I took a risk with the mindset of how hard can it be to get it working. Two wires and a lamp plus a bit of grease to get the winding handle moving.

Turns out I was right. The original lead is stored inside the lamp and pulls out when you want to use it. It was jammed in but some patience saw it coming out eventually. The brass connector plugs into the instrument panel and is as simple as that.

It took a bit of work to free up the handle workings and resoldering the wires made the connections less resistive but essentially that was all it needed. Oh and a new lightbulb, which I will probably replace with an LED version. The nice bit is I managed to retain the patina of the copper housing. The lamp is now part of the in vehicle toolkit. I need to form two bars to protect the lamp in use but it’s nice, I like it.

Night driving – Indicators


Sadly…. the reluctant fitting of indicators.

I love the clean lines of just having headlamps at the front of the car. Brake lights at the rear of course are a legal necessity – indicators though? Nasty ugly things that never look right on vintage cars, historically and legally I didn’t need to have any. But as mentioned in a previous post, if the lack of having them means there is danger to others then I feel obliged to swallow my artistic pride.

After much Internet research, for the rear I finally settled on a pair of subtle 50mm motorcycle ‘pods’. These are black painted brass in a sort of a torpedo shape and are unobtrusive apart from the bright orange lens. These have been mounted onto the chassis rails alongside the spare tyres. This position was chosen following a series of ‘how-do-they-look-there’ temporary placings. I will probably soon forget they are fitted but for a moment its a shame.

The front indicators though – I am rather pleased with because you cant see them!

I have a pair of original side lights that were (one day) to be mounted on the front cycle wings – I thought I could probably convert them into being sidelights AND indicators. I stumbled across an LED bulb that could be used for sidelights and indicators and this is what triggered the design thought process. When they are ‘off’ the sidelight lens is an opaque white. When the side lights are on they shine a bright white. But when the indicators are enabled the LED bulb is orange. So conceptually all I had to do was remove the original bulb holder from within the period sidelights and convert them to the modern LED version. Simples (ish).

However… the period Lucas lamps have a flat bottom and the cycle wings are of course curved around the circumference, curved across the width of the tyre AND they have a ridge running down the middle – a flat surface it is not! I have seen the Lucas sidelights fitted off centre, i.e. to the side of that central ridge but to me its a lazy design. The right solution is a fabricate a complex curve ‘spacer’ that matches the contours of the ridge and the cycle wing and has a flat top. Much head scratching ensued, with a number of potential solutions being tried and rejected. I tried carving a strip of hard-wood, grinding out nylon blocks, grinding rubber blocks (exceptionally smelly). None of them were satisfactory and I was becoming slightly dispondent.  It was then that my eye fell on a tin of fiberglass saturated with resin. All I had to do was mix some of that up and plop it on the wing and it would naturally flow into the correct contour. However, resin is sticky so the ‘dollop of resin’ would adhere to the aluminium which is not good. The solution was laying a piece of plastic film over the cycle wing and placing the  fibreglass on to the top of that. Once hard, the fibreglass should in theory peel off the plastic film, then it can be machined to match the shape of the sidelight base. We had a plan.

Pictures paint a thousand words but basically a big dollop of fibreglass reinforced resin became a fairly small spacer.

Here is the dollop covered in clingfilm – I flattened the top of the resin using a handy spirit level – that’s the easy bit.

Below is the sidelamp base rubber washer that I am using as a template to carve the spacer. As you can see – I have plenty of resin to work with.

Below you can see how the hardened resin formed itself around the wing contours – it is of course a perfect fit.

Next – mark out the basic shape

…Cut to size. Its about 6mm thick on the outside long edge and about 4mm thick down the middle…

…machine to shape… as you can see it fits really nicely.

And here we have the converted sidelamp come indicator bolted to the cycle wing (mudguard)

Next is working out and installing the wiring.

Night driving

Last week I took the Riley down to the local VSCC meeting at the Phoenix not really thinking about the early sunset or that the rain had only stopped half an hour before. A pleasant evening ensued, chatting to other like minded enthusiasts and the time came to head off home. Stepping out of the pub I saw that the heavens had been rather open for a while, there were large puddles in the car park AND sadly inside the Riley, especially the seats. Normally vintage car owners would fit the waterproof torneau to prevent such a thing occurring. I of course have not got to that stage yet, nor have I trimmed the seats or fitted any interior panels. So the inside getting wet was not that big a deal.

I merely lifted out the seat cushion and tipped the puddle onto the ground and jumped into the car. It probably took all of 5 minutes before I was soaked but I had no choice I had to drive home in the rain. One thing that had never occurred to me was how painful rain hitting you in the face at 50mph is. It stings! 40mph(ish) was more comfortable and the flying goggles did their job. I learned several things that night:

  1. Soggy seats are not a great experience
  2. Rain makes your face sore
  3. My hemp wrapped steering wheel is fantastic even if it gets wet
  4. Not having any instrument panel lights means you have absolutely no idea how fast you are going – although the bellow of the exhaust is a decent clue
  5. Not having any indicators means that at night, people behind you cant see that you were indicating with your arm out. My neighbor followed me home from the VSCC and knew all about arm signals – but he simply couldn’t see me doing them which is of course dangerous.

Lesson one will have to wait until I can afford the trimming. Lesson two I will have to learn to love. Lesson four, means I had to fit the period instrument panel light which at night looks like this. Illuminated oil pressure, temperature and RPM is all I need to see.

Lesson five is the subject of the next blog post.


Say what?

It is a nautical term for the ‘string’ wrapping on a boats ‘helm’ (steering wheel). You will have seen it on many yachts. You may also have seen it on sporting vintage Bentley’s and a number of other vintage racing cars.

The steering wheel on the Riley was quite tired and the original lacquer finish was breaking off leaving sharp edges which were decidedly unfriendly to your hands. So one way or another the surface of the wheel had to be removed or re-finished. I decided to follow the vintage sports car look and conducted some research into its durability, style, materials and the obvious how-to-do-it. Not surprisingly the best sources were of a nautical nature because yachts have long had a string wrapped wheel for good grip in wet conditions.

Many vintage sports cars also have a string wrapped suspensions as that stiffens the springs to some degree and those generally have a nice zigzag of knots running along the top surface of the springs. But such a zigzag or spiral of knots was not to my liking for a steering wheel, I wanted something that was visually smooth. But what was of interest was the tutorial said in order to change the direction of the zigzag knots you merely  wrapped the cord in the opposite direction after tying the knot. So logically… if I changed the direction of wrapping on every single knot – the knots would produce a straight line and if that straight line of knots was on the back of the steering wheel – then the front would look smooth. Some testing with simple butchers string proved my theory to be correct.

Why have knots at all? If you simply wound the string around the wheel with a knot at the start and finish and the string wore through for some reason – the whole thing would unravel. If you tie a knot every time you loop the string around the wheel, then the most that can come undone is that single loop.

Next what material to use. Butchers string is 1.5mm thick which produces a nice smooth finish but after getting the hang of actually doing the coxcombing, and after about an hour of doing it (which created about 150mm of wrapping), I snapped the string which meant I had to remove it all and start again. The whole point is that the job is done with a single length of string. After doing that for the second time, I decided butcher string simply wasn’t strong enough. Back to more research and I discovered that natural hemp is the material they used back in the day. So a 100m reel of 3mm hemp cord was sourced and I restarted the process. Hemp, I discovered, has been used in rope making for hundreds of years because of its strength and durability. It has of course been replaced these days by lighter, stronger man made materials. The sailors of old must have had hands like leather as I discovered it is quite hard on the hands when you need to pull the cord tight on about a thousand knots. I therefore wrapped the wheel in several one hour sessions because my soft fingers became sore quite quickly. About half way through I discovered wearing a pair of gloves helps.

Today, I had a helper in the form of Bobby the cat who was rather taken by the smell of the hemp and decided it would be fun to rub his face all over it. Eventually he settled down for a snooze on the passenger seat but looked up occasionally to check I was progressing in the right direction.

In the photo above you can see that hemp is a little ‘hairy’. These will I am told wear away quite quickly which is good because the wheel will need to be sealed with linseed oil which soaks into the string and then sets, locking everything into place.

Below is the finished ‘coxcombed’ wheel:

Right now, it is of course far to clean and new looking… so it will need a little bit of aging when no-one is looking.

When driving, the feel of the wheel is actually quite nice and certainly more ‘grippy’. The row of flat knots were purposely placed to be in the fold of the fingers. So there we have it, one period steering wheel completed. Now to soothe my aching fingers.

Post Racing diagnostics

The source of the engine misfire has now been located and I have to confess the discovery was more by accident that deep found engineering knowledge… Each cylinder has 2 valves, one to let the mixture of fule/air in and the other to let the burned gases out. The adjustment of those valves is fairly critical if you want the engine to perform at its optimum but it will quite happily run below optimum if those adjustments are not ideal.

It transpires that 2 of the 4 exhaust values had decided to slowly un-adjust themselves over time so although I was pretty confident I had adjusted them correctly over a week or two they slowly opened up the clearances which is why I was struggling to get the engine to perform like I thought it should.

The exhaust valve clearances should have been 4 thousands of an inch, but over time these opened up to over 25 thou and then stopped. This didnt stop the engine running but it was not happy.

To adjust the valve settings you loosen a clamp bolt and then turn up/down and adjusting screw which sets the clearance. When I tried to tighten the offending clamp bolts, they both snapped. Oh how I laughed. This of course left both of those adjusters with zero clamping ability and a dead engine until fixed. Resolution necessitated removal of the shafts and rockers from the engine, a full strip down of those components and then a gentle oh so gentle tickle with a tiny grinding disk on the ends of the broken bolts in the vague hope that the resultant machined slot would accept a screwdriver to un-do them. Luckily, with patience (and a fair amount of time) the snapped bolts were removed.

Funnily enough, bolts should not snap, what I found was the thread they were screwed  into was damaged so they were locking up partly but not quite clamping the adjuster screw. At that point I decided to remove all the clamping bolts and replace them with new ones as a just-in-case. All I then needed to do was adjust the ‘tappets’ to the required 4 thou clearance on the exhaust and 3 thou on the inlet.

Except… after 80 years the rockers that push the valves open get worn so inserting a measuring feeler gauge gives you a false reading because the feeler gauge spans the groove worn by the valves. I have an engineering solution for that which requires a Heath-Robinson contraption of steel plates and a highly sensitive dial gauge that measures movement. So if I put the dial gauge on the rocker, I can measure the actual vertical movement regardless of the wear !

Those pesky valves have not un-adjusted themselves since and engine having received some love is quieter and now happily revs beyond 2000rpm. All I need to do now is sort the carburetor settings which are too rich – the car is leaving a hazy blue smoke trail sometimes.

Of course – all this doesnt mean the aging engine is good and will last some years before needing a rebuild, but it does mean…. we are back on the road!