Engineering solutions

Popped over to see Chris and Dan, the artisans at ‘Bespoke Bodywork’ yesterday to see how they are getting on… its nice to see progress being made so quickly so I will continue to visit weekly to capture a few moments in time of the build.

We chatted about relocating the handbrake lever as it currently projects up vertically from the middle of the floor stopping just short of where the instrument panel will be. In its current location it limits passenger leg room and may actually hinder getting in and out of the car so my thought was to move it to the outside of the car. Right now its not too difficult to relocate but a decision had to made there and then as the floor and ultimately the bodywork will be built around all the mechanicals. An engineering discussion ensued and we agreed it would be reasonably easy to extend the main control bar out sideways, crossing above the floor just in front of the drivers seat, through the side panel and then reconnected to the handbrake lever mounted onto the outside of the chassis. You will have seen this style on many vintage sports cars and I now appreciate why they used to do it. Mounting the new extended shaft with bronze bushes will keep everything strong, secure and moving. The crew have all the tooling to make the mounts and bushes so I left the task with them to do.

The basic floor panels (18mm marine plywood) can be seen test mounted onto the low and quite subtle aluminum transmission tunnel. The artisans pointed out the tunnel was necessary because the driveshaft from the back of the gearbox to the rear axle needs to be able to move up and down to accommodate the vertical displacement of the rear axle when the car goes over jumps! (yes seriously, that’s what they said, but then they use their cars in hill climb competitions so I bow to their experience). The subtle transmission tunnel will accommodate the ‘jumping’ eventuality because it is preferable not to find out the hard way that there was insufficient room under the floor. Who knows what damage they  have avoided simply by having this foresight

Also in place for a trial fitting was the base for the rear seat area which is mounted to give 6″ of space above the rear axle (again to cater for a significant compression of the suspension). Realistically this means rear passengers sit approximately 4″ higher than the front passengers so whilst I sat in place, checking out legroom etc, we also mapped out where the top of the bodywork side panels will be on the assumption that passengers will probably rest their arms on it. I am sure sitting there will be quite an experience as the rear wheels will be literally bouncing away directly below your elbows.

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What else… oh yes attention is being given to building the replacement petrol tank at this time, with a wooden former having been made to shape the aluminum around and I was shown the substantial brass hinges for the bonnet  which have arrived (very nice they are too). Delivery of all the metal to create the bodywork is imminent. The decision has been made to fabricate all the framework in aluminum which will be strong and light, both factors are important in a sports car with this much power


Let there be light – dipping headlamps

It was interesting to find that the Riley has the King of the Road ‘dipping’ headlamps. These are 9″ in diameter, enormous chrome bowl things with genuine silver reflectors. But thats not the interesting part – the dipping feature refers to a solenoid operated mechanism that literally tilts the reflector downwards when operated. The solenoid is quite clever in that once operated it switches to a separate winding so that it draws only a small amount of power. That is pretty important when you remember that these cars only had a slow running (and noticeably poor by modern standards) dynamo to charge the battery with.

Oh and the other thing is that only the nearside headlamp dips, the drivers side one is turned off when in the ‘dipped’ mode. So that means just one headlamp is on at that moment. I imagine that meant quite a few accidents  so this is now illegal (spoilsports). So somehow I have to find another dipping headlamp or some way of modifying the offside headlamp to house a dual filament bulb.

The silvered bowls are in…. an okay condition, the silver cleaned up so that you can see your reflection but i can see it is only a micron thick coating because it is dead easy to polish through to the brass. Luckily it is not expensive to have them replaced but thats a job for another day once i see if I actually use the car in the dark…

Naturally getting the headlamps to work is a serial restoration project – the switch to operate the dipping mechanism is mechanical and sits on the end of a number of rotating shafts that run down the centre of the steering wheel. Putting an electrical meter across all the contacts i could see resulted in my realising that none of the Rotax switch mechanism worked (no surprise!). But how to get the switch off the steering column… much head scratching followed before deciding that i would take the electrical part off the steering column first and take a look at that. Naturally i had no idea how that came off either but the tactic i have learned is to look at things from all angles – loosen screws that ‘appear’ to retaining something and giving the item a wiggle and see if it moves. It took me a while but eventually i worked it out. Weirdly I now know how these things work and will probably always remember how to remove it again. Interestingly once the electrical part was removed I could see that all the tube mechanisms were now also free and they simply pushed up the steering column and out the top.

The electrical switch is fairly simple – it is basically a cylinder with a number of which flat brass ridges that run in short lengths around it. The lever on the steering column rotates the cylinder bringing it into contact with various brass contacts, each of which have a separate purpose. Luckily under the thick grease were some letters that were fairly obvious in their meaning. I degreased the cylinder, cleaned up all the brass contacts and shot blasted the brackets, cylinder and the brass cover.

In the picture below, the switch mechanism is remounted on the steering column controls so that i could test it. You can also see the brass cover. The wires come out of the end of the tube are for the indicators and are controlled from a bakelite switch also in the centre of the steering wheel. I would like to keep all these features because its quite a nice thing to retain.

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I had to put back some tension into the brass contacts but now the electro mechanical with works again so its onto the headlamp solenoid…

In the picture below you can see the mechanism bolted to the back of the headlamp bowl. It looks like there is supposed to be a fuse also mounted to it. I will temporarily place one there but will rebuild it so that the fuse is actually in the cockpit and not inside the lamp itself. In the photo at about 8 o’clock you can see one of the 2 hinge pins. The entire headlamp bowl rotates on those with maybe about 1cm of movement. It moves quite freely and I can see what ‘should’ happen. The solenoid is bolted to the frame and when electronically operated, it will drive a pin against a solid bracket, effectively pushing itself and the headlamp bowl away from the bracket forcing it to rotate around the pivot. Easy. I just need to get the solenoid working then. Luckily I found a wiring diagram on the intraweb that told me what all the terminals were for so I could put 12 volts in the right places. A good clean of all the sprung contacts and little bit of lubrication inside the solenoid for the shaft meant I soon had it working again. Naturally I will be replacing all the grotty pieces of wire with a more modern substitute

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This is the front side of the headlamp bowl.

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The lamps I will replace with LED bulbs primarily because they consume significantly less power than real light bulbs and they are also much brighter and I suspect i will need as much light as i can get…

Major Milestone

There is no going back now… the Riley has been shipped off to the coach builders who will weave their magic and take sheets of flat aluminum and my rolling chassis and turn them into a ‘vintage sports car’.

Over the last few months, I have been creating sketches of my ideas for the overall shape and whilst not every tiny detail has been thought through yet, I know things like the angle I want the bonnet to slope up towards the passengers, how much the bonnet needs to curve to wrap around the engine, where I need power bulges to create air space for the two carburetors, the lines of louvers to release heat, the height of the passenger area sides, the cutouts in the side panels for my elbows to flap around whilst heaving the steering wheel about, the shape of the foot-wells and pedal area, how the exhaust will exit out the side of the bonnet and run down the side of the car, wind deflector positioning (cant call them windscreens they are far too small), the dashboard shape, firewall positioning etc etc.

Over the next few weeks I envisage I will have more than a few visits to Bespoke Bodywork  (follow the link to see some of their work) in order for many smaller decisions to be made. Its one thing creating  drawings of what you think looks right – but its another to see it in the flesh. I am told they expect to complete the bodywork towards the end of January.  It will come back with the entire body hand built and ready for paint, complete with wings, vintage bucket seats, headlamp mounts, exhaust system etc all in place. All I need to do then is take the empty shell and build up the car…

It’s pretty exciting…

What will it look like? you will have to wait and see… but it will be unique – in period style, in period build methods and in period build quality <coughs>

I will of course be taking pictures of the work as they progress but here it is in its nakedness… the piece of wood is pretty much the line of the top of the bonnet