Its Alive…

I am pleased with the recent work, the engine is back in, fully connected up and all the bodywork has been put back on. I will admit to mild trepidation with the very first start up but a little diligence with ensuring I had a good fuel supply and the ignition was producing a spark – all that was left is getting the ignition timing ‘about right’. That is not so easy on vintage cars – they dont have any timing marks and in the good old days you just rotated the dizzy until the car started then locked it in place. But initially I had to guess the setting which to be fair was close and it resulted in the engine trying to start so I tweaked the ignition until it DID start. I had forgotten how loud the car was but it was firing on all cylinders and the oil pressure quickly came up to 55psi (I will adjust that later).

I had been given a ‘running-in regime’ by the engine builder which was simple to follow – start the engine and let it run for up to 1 minute then turn it off. Do this a few times until the engine has got a reasonable amount of warmth into it. Torque all the head nuts down to the factory setting of 45lb per square inch. The next step is to fill the engine with coolant, start it up and bring to running temperature, keeping an eye on the oil pressure and the water temperature.

Okay easy enough – garden hose goes into the top of the radiator [oh pants the water pump is leaking profusely again]. Quick fix then – bypass the water pump and simply allow the engine to thermo-syphon (hot water rises, cooler water drops – this creates a natural flow of cooler water through the engine. This is why vintage cars had such large radiators because thermo-syphoning is not a fast flow

[tighten a few more nuts until the leaks stop]. Start the engine again. Oil pressure good, temperature coming up, a few minor water leaks which a coolant seal like rad-weld or similar will cure. At this stage the engine could easily overheat, which is highly likely with a new tight engine, no radiator fan and a lower rate of coolant flowing, with the water temperature reaching 85 degrees, I turned the engine off and again rechecked the torque of the head nuts – a few needed a tweak. So before taking the car out for a drive, there were a few things I wanted to put right first. The waterpump leak was found to have the carbon seal spring missing and with no pressure against the seal – water was free to flow past it – i put that down to a schoolboy error, i have had the water pump off enough times to know I need that spring!

But the next thing needed a bit of creativity. The exhaust manifold was custom build and when it was made – insufficient room was left between the pipes and the studs that bolted the manifold to the engine. This meant that it was literally impossible to put the retaining nuts onto the studs. Previously I worked around this by using high tensile steel hex head bolts which require an Allen key to tighten them up. The heads of these bolts are much narrower than the original brass nuts so the solution worked but over time they rusted and were a real pig to remove when I took the engine out. My new solution was to make some brand new studs, seal them into the cylinder head plus manufacture some special brass fixings that would be sized to ‘just’ miss the pipes. I got the idea from the nuts that hold the valve covers on – although they do have hex sides for a spanner – they are installed into a confined space making the use of a spanner rather difficult so they ALSO have a slot cut in the top so that you can actually tighten them with a large screwdriver… that was my eureka moment.

The good part of all this is I get to play with the lathe AND make some more bits out of brass (which doesn’t rust so wont seize). I needed 4 brass ‘nuts’. Below you can see what I produced, 2 of them are upside down so you can see each end.

The screwdriver slots are 2mm wide and about 5mm deep. The base is intentionally wider than the top to cater for the slight angle of the exhaust pipes and there is plenty of meat in the tops for the screwdriver to get a good purchase. They do not need to be tightened too much so I know this will work.

To cut the slots I went old school and used the lathe as a milling machine. Usually the part to be machined is placed in the lathe chuck and you move the cutter across it forming the shape you want. To convert it to a milling machine you insert an end-mill cutter into the chuck of the lathe and move the part to be machined across the cutter. Holding the part to be machined is the tricky part – it needs to be held very securely so this does need a special holder which to be fair I had from my old lathe but never used. Nothing like learning new skills as you go along.

A 2mm end-mill is fragile – if you apply too much sideways pressure onto it – it will snap. Larger diameter end-mills are of course much stronger… below you can see the milling clamp in the centre of the lather and in the picture below the end-mill in the lathe chuck

My Myford ML10 with milling adaptor.
Close up of the 2mm end mill and the brass component waiting to be worked

The milling clamp allows me to move the component to be machine up and down until the brass bar was in the right place for the end-mill to cut through the centre of it. By using the lathe cross-slide, I could now move the brass towards me so that the end-mill touched the side of the brass bar and then onwards to cut a slot. I took this slowly and carefully but it was fun to do and its a pretty decent job.

Below you can see one of the new brass nuts in place and you can also see what the challenge was. There were another 2 ordinary nuts on the manifold which were perfectly fine as-is but they now looked different to the ones I had just made so I manufactured a slightly larger pair of brass nuts to replace those too – they do not need a slot because you can pop a spanner on them.

I am rather pleased with the outcome – most people will never notice but they do the job just fine and look nice. I think I might replace all the steel valve cover nuts to match when I get some free time. You can never have too much brass on an engine.

So the engine was now almost leak free (vintage cars always leak oil), it has decent oil pressure and the moment had come for it to be tested on the road. This is always a nervous time, what if it seizes up – how do I get it home? So i nervously drove it up the road a few times first. My confidence quickly grew so I drove it around the block, then 2 blocks, then a 5 mile round trip. Coming home I re-checked the oil, water, fuel, head nut torque, slightly adjusted the timing and the carburettor mixture and the engine felt good to go out again. So all in all – we covered 15 miles today in ever increasing circles.

I am pleased to say the rebuilt and modified engine is so far noticeably more responsive, it definitely has more torque and very easily keeps up with modern traffic even at the reduced ‘running in’ speeds. After 100 miles I will change the oil and the oil filter. After 500 miles I will again replace the oil and filter but this time also remove the sump and give it a good clean out. Refill with new oil again and simply drive the car as normal after that…

The engine is back!

I finally got the call to tell me that the engine build had been completed, the engine had been started and it had oil pressure. Post build checks had been completed so I can pick up the engine. So thats what I did today – popped down to Chippenham with a trailer on the back of my trusty Jaguar. A straight forward 2 hour drive at the legal limit of towing. By 11:20am the engine had been picked up, money exchanged hands and I was on my way home again.

Below you can see the ‘semi race’ engine in its ‘Riley Blue’ livery. Not quite a crated Corvette Engine but this is old school and still exciting.

Whilst I remember below is a shot of the reconstructed Centrifugal clutch – completely refurbished with all the wear welded up and re-machined, all the moving parts have new bronze bushes (and the correct springs) then it was fully balanced. It should hopefully last another 80 years and I hope this is the last time I actually see it. Under rotational force those heavy bob weights fly outwards and clamp the clutch – when the engine is at approximately 500rpm – the weights have returned to home and the clutch is released – automatically. Its impossible to stall the car – A wonderful old technology but it is really heavy!

Following a quick break for lunch, it was back to work on the installation which went relatively smoothly, the engine has to fit into a small space and it is properly fiddly trying to align the spline of the gearbox into the clutch plate AND squeezing the engine in. But saying that by 2:30pm it was back in the car. A good days work. The follow on work is of course connecting everything else up to get it to the point of a safe test start…

After that comes the running in regime, so that the engine components all bed in properly.

Engine Rebuild

Most people will know that my riley was recovered from being in storage for 35 years and was used for spare parts. The engine, called a “12/4” because it was 12horsepower / 4 cylinder, had a large hole in the side that had been poorly repaired at some time but I repaired that, it was coaxed into life and was driven for a couple of years in its as-found state. Finally in mid 2020, the oil pressure would drop to near zero after a 45 minute drive which was its way of telling me that it was time for a rebuild. I covered this in an earlier post and since October 2020, the engine was been on holiday…

Now vintage cars are simple in design but it probably comes as no surprise that technology has moved on. The crankshaft, conrods, camshafts etc all have bearings. But in a vintage car – you cant simply ‘replace’ the bearings like you do in a modern engine. The bearing is made of white metal (or babbit as it is sometimes called) it is a tin based alloy that is melted and whilst in liquid form it is poured into a mould around the part that needs the bearings so basically the white metal bearing becomes part of the actual component. Obviously it is then machined to size and made smooth etc.

Machining tolerances in the 1930’s were bigger than they are now so throw in 90 years of wear and those tolerances are somewhat generous – but what was originally acceptable? Similarly with the oil pump, any wear has to have the worn components replaced by fabricating them in a machine shop – you cant ‘buy’ a new oil pump. So all things considered, whilst I am perfectly capable of building my own engines – having someone with vintage Riley experience is fairly logical and that is where Steve comes in. He owns several Riley specials that he competes in and he has many years of experience rebuilding Riley engines so that they perform better than they did new.

Riley engines when released from the factory were hugely under-stressed, but their fundamental design was way ahead of their time – it had 2 camshafts, overhead valves and a hemispherical head design. Many people cried out for the factory to build in more performance but the Riley company had no interest in performance or racing (as a manufacturer) so private owners made the modifications themselves and in a number of cases – they could exceed double the engine power! A number of Rileys competed at LeMans so you can sense there was some potential to be gained.

But I digress: Step 1 – the 12/4 crankshaft was worn and needed new white metal bearings. There are a couple of companies that manufacture a replacement crankshaft which can take replaceable bearings but at £3000 that requires deep pockets – granted they are stronger than the original so they can take more power but thats a lot of money. Step in Steve – he had stumbled across a complete engine, gearbox and ancillaries from a later Riley RMA (1950’s), he stripped the engine down and found that the crankshaft and conrods bearings were in as new condition but there is no real money to be made rebuilding RMA engines so he advertised it for sale as-is.

In Riley circles – The RMA crankshaft will with a little bit of machining fit the Riley 12/4 engine block but it is bigger and stronger than the 12/4 version so it can comfortably handle more power and rev to a higher level than the original. The cost for the entire collection of RMA parts was less than a quarter of the cost of buying a new crankshaft plus I could sell all the parts i didnt want so a deal was struck.

Although I have shown this before – below is the crankshaft when it was taken out of the RMA engine

My 12/4 engine block was stripped down revealing a number of horrors which I will touch on as i go along. First thing to do was send off the engine block and cylinder head for acid cleaning to get 90 years of grunge out of the oil galleries. It then had a 25 thou rebore to smooth out wear in the cylinders, the top face of the engine block was lightly machined flat. The Cylinder head had a skim and it was machined to take larger valves. A previous owner had simply fitted bigger valves in the space where the smaller valves were. That was pointless without machining the cylinder head to take them! Steve took the opportunity to replace a few of the head bolt threads which at some time had been bodged and were now not only worn and loose but the wrong size too. The engine now has correctly sized head bolts so the clamping action is uniform across the head.

Below is the re-engineered Crankshaft inserted into my 12/4 block – looking very nice and strong. The oil pump (seen centre left) had a lot of end float and was found to have significant wear internally – luckily Steve had the experience and knowledge to be able to machine replacement parts and ‘refurbish’ it. With the worn bearings and a worn oil pump replaced – that should mean an end to the poor oil pressure.

The Riley Register manufacture replacement pistons, and the decision was made to go for the high compression sports type. The cylinder head has a hemispherical shape to it which creates an efficient gas flow but the original pistons have a flat top. That combination wastes a lot of the compression space. The new high compression pistons have a dome on the top that fills that space. Higher compression means more power is created each time the fuel is ignited and that in turn results in more engine torque.

Below you can see a couple of the repaired threads and 2 of the domed pistons which have small cutouts to prevent the valves hitting them.

In the image below you can see the new timing gears which link the crankshaft to the two camshafts. The ones on the engine had badly worn teeth and the engine idle speed wandered up and down a fair amount. More importantly it is these gears that control the rotation of the camshafts and hence the inlet and exhaust valves. If the timing of the valve opening/closing is wrong against where the piston is – you lose power output. You can also see that the crankshaft has a number of holes drilled into the outside face – these appear to be random but are there to balance the crankshaft, 5000rpm is a lot of rotations per minute and if the rotation is out of balance you get vibration which if not controlled stops the engine rotating any faster and destroys the engine over time. I had all the moving parts of the engine balanced including the flywheel and the very heavy clutch.

Below are a number of images of the engine coming together which hopefully will be started for the first time this week (June 2021). What you cant see is the competition camshafts that lift the valves more than standard which in turn increase the speed of the combustion – more efficient means more power.

It is very close to coming home now. Exciting? You bet it is…

Re-purposing seats Part 2

I want to sit as low as possible in the car because it looks better and the aluminium seats had a design flaw – the seat base was completely flat and with the car being so narrow, the seats had to be raised up around 100mm to clear the central transmission tunnel, add in the seat cushion and the seat was now around 150mm off the floor. That is fine by itself but it meant the passengers ‘looked’ like they were sat on the car rather than ‘in the car’.

The original Falcon seat base was slightly bowl shaped – so I theorised that with the seats now cut in half, I could enhance that bowl shape and push the seat base down towards the floor even further, knowing full well that this being a bowl temporarily held in shape by pressure alone would make the welding even harder. It did take a while but the seat base accepted its new shape is around 3mm off the floor – I then patiently welded it all back together. This was an overlap weld and as envisaged, it was impossible to produce a weld of any length because the thin metal could not take the heat and melted through producing holes. So I had to revert to what I call blob-welding – creating a small blob of weld then let the metal cool – repeat. Time consuming and my Mig Welder didn’t like doing that. I will admit it was not as pretty as a normal weld *but* it did weld back together and is perfectly strong enough for the purpose. I then ground the welds back more for vanity reasons than any other purpose and gave the who seat a coat of anti rust primer.

Below you can see the first seat loosely in place because I still had to work out how to solidly bolt the passenger seat to the floor and to have seat runners for the driver. You will notice how much the seat overlaps the transmission tunnel.

Basically I had to create a seat support that would bolt to the floor and be cantilevered up and over the transmission tunnel to bolt onto the actual seat frame. My chosen solution was to cut a series of strips of 15mm thick marine plywood, then shape each one to fit the contours of the seat bowl until the seat gained sufficient clearance. There is an awful lot of wood dust in my garage now. Each of the strips of plywood were clamped and glued together to create a single ‘block’ of wood. It was then bolted to the seat and the seat runner fitted. With my theory proven, I mirrored the solution on the passenger seat but instead of having adjustable runners, I fabricated some steal mounts into the wooden support and bolted the seat directly to the floor.

That will do nicely – once trimmed they will certainly look the part

I am custodian of a set of seat covers from a 1930’s Riley saloon car and like the original seats they are much too big for the modified frame being at least 100mm too wide but the seat base cushion roughly fits the seat and with the vertical covers in place, I can at least still drive the car. Yes, the leather covers are way too big, they are filthy, the leather is dried out and looks rather scruffy – but as an interim solution they are certainly ‘old car’ seats.
When I can afford it, once trimmed the seats will look similar to this but very much tidier

As a foot note: Rather interestingly – the original Riley seats didn’t have foam inside them – they had a rubber air-bladder which you could inflate to make the seat as soft or hard as you wanted. One of my seats still had that bladder but sadly the rubber hasn’t aged well and it is falling apart. . I very much doubt it is of any use to anyone but I will reach out to other Riley owners.
Here is a picture for posterity

As hoped, I definitley sit much lower in the car now – my eye line is below the tiny aero screens so I now look through the glass rather than over it which may possibly means it is a little less windy to drive.

Re-purposing seats

As much as aluminium seats are nice and light and racing bucket seats were a period fitting, somehow they just didn’t look right in our car. Being a 4 seater touring body, it was really crying out for proper period seats but they need to be pretty narrow and sit as low as possible. When I bought the car the two front seats were still there, albeit with some very badly damaged leather that was probably lunch for rats over a few decades. You may be wondering why I didn’t use those in the first place rather than forking out for someone to make me some aluminium seats. The short answer is that the original seats were designed for a saloon car and they are approximately 150mm too wide (each) to fit into the new ‘sporty’ bodywork so I could not use them.

I don’t know if it was a Eureka moment or the fact that I have never been able to sell the original seats meaning they didn’t hold much value to me, but the thought occurred that with a bit of effort, I could in theory, make the seats narrower which would give me a pair of genuine period seats that DID fit inside the bodywork… the question now was how on earth to go about taking 150mm out the middle of the seats.

Below is my influence – which happens to be a vintage Bentley, but it gives you a feel for the overall idea I have in my head along with the back seat which would be trimmed in a similar manner.

But I get ahead of myself I still have two seats that are too wide. Obviously neither seat can be wider than the centre line of the car because at least the drivers seat will need to be able to slide past its neighbour. Below you can see the challenge – the seat base is basically a shallow bowl shape fixed to a supporting hoop that forms the back of the seat. One thing was immediately apparent – that hoop is not vertical on both sides, one side angles out at 15degrees which is no good to me, so basically my worksheets is:
1. Cut a 150mm section out of the middle of the hoop, the back brace and the seat base,
2. Rebend the tube so that it is vertical on both sides
3. Adjust the hoop curvature so all the parts line up
4. Weld it all back together again.

How hard can that be (coughs theatrically).

So lets get to it… find the middle of the seat then introduce the angle grinder to it…

No going back now…

Next challenge… being absolutely certain that I don’t remove too much metal from the hoop, I don’t know how many times I measured 75mm from each half before committing to the cut.

In the picture below, you will see the tubes no longer line up which is no surprise because I have to re-bend the tube to make both sides vertical (when viewed from the front). The tubing is approximatly 3mm thick so it doesn’t take kindly to being bent, but being steel it succumbed to an oxygen-accetalene torch heating it up until it was cherry red and then using a little force, I convinced the tubing to take on the correct shape

at first they don’t meet…
After heating and reforming – now they do…

Finally above you can see the tubing has been fully re-welded and smoothed off. It doesn’t need to be perfect as its hidden inside the seat, but I cleaned up all the surrounding surface rust too and gave everything a coat of rust preventative paint.

Next step… welding the seat base back together. Now that is going to be a real challenge to my welding ability. Its very thin ancient metal, much thinner than car body work metal. I have never welded anything that thin before so I will need to go seriously slowly and carefully to prevent blowing holes through. A consistent bead of weld is likely to be impossible – it will almost certainly have to be a series of overlapping blobs which will then need grinding back. Thats fine but its not pretty, luckily it won’t be visible as its inside the seat…

Time for a new engine

To be fair to the old girl, the existing engine has done rather better than expected. According to a small brass plaque on the side of the engine, it was rebuilt in the late 1960’s, driven then the frost punched a hole in the side of the block rendering the engine useless and it was pushed into storage until I bought the car. Having got the engine running and because it wasn’t smoking too badly, we drove it for a few years and gave it a darn good thrashing in a few motoring events. The engine compression was not great but it ran and that was all that matters. I always vowed that one day, when the engine deteriorated, I would rebuild it ‘properly’.

Well over the last year the oil pressure has been slowly getting lower and lower which is a sure sign of a worn engine. Initially I converted to using a modern oil specifically designed for vintage engines and that helped – I could drive the car for about 1 hour before the oil pressure dropped from 40psi at 40Mph, down to 10psi at 40mph (it had near zero oil pressure at tickover). I then moved to an even thicker vintage oil which meant I could drive the car for 1 hour and a half before the oil pressure disappeared. Obviously that’s not great because it meant I could not wander too far from home and that is no use to anyone.

So with a deep sigh – I dropped the oil sump off the bottom of the engine to take a look. The con-rods that connect the pistons to the crankshaft clearly had more movement than they should have (not a good sign) and dismantling the first con-rod meant that I could take a look at the bearings (which is where oil pressure is at its most important). Vintage cars have white metal ‘bearings’ that are an integral part of the structure as opposed to modern engines that have separate (and replaceable) metal bearings. The white metal was a dark grey and had a number of deep scores and wear marks. The white metal was still in one piece but it was very clearly worn. Whilst I was under the engine I needed to push a piston up into the bore in order to be able to disconnect the con-rod from the crankshaft. Rather worryingly, it moved up into the bore with the pressure of one finger. Thats not a good sign of a healthy engine as it implied the compression was not as it should be.

Luckily I have a compression tester, I saw readings across cylinders 1-2-3-4 of 92psi, 110psi, 121psi & 101psi. That sounds like a fair amount of pressure but in reality it is rather low. To be honest, I currently don’t know what the compression should be in a Riley 12/4 engine (probably around 140psi) but each cylinder should definitely all be within a few PSI of each other. So, in summary, no oil pressure, low and varied compression, cant be driven for more than a hour – yep the engine has passed its best and needs to be revitalised. Darn – that’s money that I didn’t want to spend but I guess it is an investment as far as the cars value is concerned and to be fair, it will definitely make the car far more usable.

Quotes for engine rebuilds varied significantly from specialist to specialist. Not surprisingly none of them were cheap. Part of the challenge being that these engines are very old and not too many get rebuilt, so the components are less common. But, they are also extremely upgradable – William Riley had no interest in motorsport but he was a very good engineer – the design was ahead of its time, reliable but hugely unstressed, which meant that there was significant opportunity to gain more power from the engine. It is quite common to hear of people literally doubling the power output which is unheard of in modern engines. So the quotes for rebuilds vary depending on what you want to do… I wanted to find a way of gaining power improvements but without the high cost.

It was at this point, I was chatting to Steve at ‘Brooklands Enginecraft’, a renowned specialist in Riley engines and saw that on his website he had a complete Riley RMA engine (1940’s) along with a manual gearbox. I cant fit a 1940’s engine to a pre-war car but I was aware that the crankshaft and conrods were stronger than the ones in my 12/4 version and with a little bit of machining, can be made to fit. This conversion would mean the crankshaft was capable of handling (a lot) more power. Also the valve train in the cylinder head was of a strengthened and improved design and was practically a straight swap. Steve checked over the state of the RMA crankshaft and bearings and was surprised to see that the white metal bearings were still a bright white metal and were unmarked and by all appearances looked like they had very little use. The cost to buy the engine (and gearbox) in entirety was approximately 25% of the cost of just purchasing a new crankshaft so a deal was struck. Considering I could (in theory) sell all the parts I didn’t need – this appeared to be a no-brain decision. I now had a cunning plan – Game on, time to check out the engine myself…

Above you can see the removed crankshaft on the left (I need that bit) separated from the engine block (which I will see if I can sell)
Above are the extracted, improved and stronger Conrods (completely reusable as-is which saves me more money so I need those)

Next the strip down of the RMA cylinder head. I want to extract the RMA valve rockers and push rods (which I am told were used in the ERA (English Racing Automobile) engines used at LeMans). These are definitely an improved design and much stronger too, I will also need the valve spring retainers so that I can ‘upgrade’ to better valves, the push rods and matching cam followers.

Above is one of the 2 cylinder heads that came with the engine, this one is totally scrap but I want the components mounted to those 2 shafts. I will strip down both cylinder heads and use all the best bits (after shot blasting them clean)
Here you can see me removing the valve springs (throw those away)
Once the springs are removed, I can keep these spring retainer caps and collets which are a better design than the original ‘pin through the valve’ design.
and here is the ‘converted’ RMA valve train fitted to my existing engine as a test to verify that it does indeed fit and works on my engine. I am pleased to say this was a remakably easy ‘upgrade’ albeit I had quite a lot of work to do to clean up the components first.

So the plan…
The RMA crankshaft will be machined by Brooklands Enginecraft to fit my engine, I have test driven the converted, better, stronger valve train, the 2 camshafts will be sent away to be re-profiled (to give more mid range power), we will rebore the engine to increase capacity slightly and fit high compression pistons for increased mid range power, skim the cylinder head a little (for even more compression) and fully balance the engine so that we can sure it is happy at high revs. Steve will re-build the engine for me, checking everything over and replacing things like timing gears and oil pump as needed and give me back a ‘tested’ running engine for me to enjoy. Whilst I am fully capable of building an engine, I am not familiar with vintage engines and their quirks so it will go to Steve at the beginning of October and I will work on other parts of the car whilst the engine is out.

Trimming the interior

The Riley has always had a stripped back look but the inside of the car looked unfinished to me. The seats are still untrimmed and whilst some people have mentioned that the seating arrangement is rather “hard-core”, you do need a little comfort but thats a job for another day because it costs decent money to have custom leather seats made up. So one step at a time, trimming the inside of the ‘tub’ i.e. the bodywork.

As is my style this took a lot of thought about how I wanted it to look, what materials should I use and fairly importantly ‘how’ I could do it. The problem is the car is built around a tubular frame which the panels will have to screw onto but if the trim panels sit proud or high – they will get damaged and/or it will simply look wrong. This calls for a nice mug of coffee and a bit of YouTube watching on how to make car interior panels. It was soon fairly obvious that no-one makes them like they used to and no-one ever fits them to a tubular frame. But there was at least a common theme of making cardboard templates.

In the two photos below, you can see the main challenge. The top of the bodywork is rounded so there is nothing flat to screw into. The panels will need to come about half way up the tube to prevent them being damaged but that means drilling into the tube off centre which is never easy and nigh-on impossible to do consistently but this was something i had to achieve.

So I made a tool. Basically a flat bar of metal that would sit on the outside of the car, carefully bent to follow the curve of the bodywork into the interior with some pilot holes that I could use to guide the drill to ensure it will always be in the same place on the tube. Having made this and decided a 3.5mm pilot hole gave enough wriggle room for the drill – I covered the bar in heat-shrink tubing to protect the aluminium and gave it a try. See below and trialled with a piece of scrap mill-board.

That should work.

There was much talk in the vintage forums of using 5mm plywood for the panels but that would be a nightmare to make follow the contours of the curved bodywork so I chose automotive mill-board used not surprisingly to fabricate car interior panels. At the time of writing this was during the Covid-19 pandemic so going shopping to work on the car was not a great idea so it was Internet to the rescue – ‘two five foot sheets please’. Whilst I waited for them to arrive, i made a start on the cardboard templates. Cardboard is of course easy to work with and cut to shape. To be fair I made a few because I could not work out how to make a complex shape that would fit neatly into all the nooks and crannies passing over the handbrake rod and under the instrument panel etc. If cardboard was difficult – then the actual panel was going to be jolly fiddly (and it was).

Below you can see the (final) cardboard templates in place – it looks so simple…

Next I transferred the cardboard shape onto the (now delivered) mill-board which brought me to my next challenge how to cut the darn stuff.

I figured a Stanley knife would do the job – and it did but oh so slowly as I had to repeatedly slice the 3mm sheet and knowing that one slip of the blade would slash across the board ruining it. Patience is a virtue and I had the time. A couple of hours later I had a panel. Which didn’t fit first time, or second time, or the third time (you get the idea) – much fettling with a file and sandpaper was needed because the mill-board is less flexible than cardboard and easing it into position was a PITA – guess who is pleased they didn’t use 5mm plywood.

I then remembered that i had lent my electric jigsaw to my neighbour – surely that would be easier to use than a Stanley knife. I had to try a few different types of blades in the Jigsaw so that it didn’t rip through the sheet as opposed to leaving a clean cut but it was certainly easier so I moved onto the rear panel and placed them into the car as a matched pair before drilling any holes in the bodywork.

I will admit to some nervousness around drilling into the tube space-frame but my drill guiding tool worked like a charm – all the screws are the same distance from the edge of the board AND they all drilled straight into the slopey part of the tube neatly. Quite chuffed really.

Below is the finished article , note how they sit neatly below the top of the rolled panel – quite pleased with that.

When the seats get trimmed, I will cover these interior panels in matching vinyl.

Now onto the other side…

The adventure continues.

It’s that time again. Sunny June – except it was raining. Time to drive to Brooklands for the annual Double 12. So named because back in the day, the race was supposed to be a 24 hour event like LeMans but no, the local populous that moved to live near the racing circuit, thought motor racing was jolly noisy and they wanted to sleep at night so the 24 hour race became two 12 hour races, hence Double 12.

Anyway, earlier in the week, the Riley decided that keeping all the water in the radiator was a bad idea and so dumped all the coolant onto the road instead. The cause was a worn carbon seal inside the waterpump which naturally as it wore down moved the rotating impeller closer and closer to the inside face until it was grinding the inside of the water pump housing at which point the carbon seal decides not to seal any longer and out goes all the water!

Replacing the carbon seal was easy which is a good thing as I only had 5 days left before the event. The car was back on the road but to be fair it still leaked. About 1 pint in 24 hours – that’s enough to last a race though so off I went – in the rain. With no roof. Or windscreen. Rain is quite spikey at 40mph.

Scrutineering was a breeze. Sign-on wasn’t. They had changed the rules and now you needed to take your driving license. Naturally I had not actually read the reporting instructions. “You can’t enter the event sir”. “Oh I said”. Luckily dutiful wife was at home and sent me a picture of my driving license by text. “Very good, that’s a driving license” they said, run along and play….

So I did. At least for a while. I had recruited a navigator for this event. A fine chap I have known for years and jolly pleasant company, we both own Etype Jaguars. So we sat down together and read through the race directions, made sure we committed the tricky routes to memory, donned our goggles and joined the queue with the other keen motoring fellows.

Event 1. ‘Test hill’. Historically used to test cars ability to climb stepp hills and to test brakes in the opposite direction. It has 3 distinct gradients, starting fairly easy but the last is 1 in 4. Which is pretty hard to walk up actually but we were in the the car which has so much torque it can probably drive up a vertical wall so it doesn’t mind. Last time up the hill I set a personal best. This time my friend (who strangely seemed to be occupying almost all of the cars interior) was next to me rather than my good wife but he had a huge grin on his face so all was good. It was raining and we were about to drive up a jolly steep hill at speed then stamp on the brakes and come to a full stop across a line at the top before racing onto the finish line. The flag dropped and we slithered up the hill. It felt slow but… I carved 4 seconds off my personal best – clearly the car is getting better.

Onto the next event and the clerk of the course pottered over for a jovial chat. Lovely man, has seen it all and has probably driven more old cars than I will ever know about. “Car getting a bit hot?” he asks. “Not really” I replied. “Well you are losing a lot of water” he says. “Pants” said I, trying to lean out and look under the car. I could see steam but the temperature gauge was okay so we moved on to the next driving test. A convoluted twisty route around a set of cones that had clearly been scattered about at random by a drug crazed maniac who then scribbled a route around those cones with his eyes closed.

‘Your car is leaking water’ said the next marshall, thanks I said. ‘It’s okay’ glancing nervously at the temperature (still okay but definitely warmer). So we forged on. What my esteemed motoring companion failed to mention tome was that he was dyslectic and struggles with left and right. Some people might sense a problem at this stage and it did occur to me that perhaps that’s not great news when you are expecting him to tell you which way to drive around the cones from hell. One mistake on the route and you fail the test….To be honest – it was a great laugh. He trying to remember which way left and right was and me grinning like toad of toad hall having fun in the rain with only having a vague memory of where to go. But we did okay. It was fun and nobody got run over in the process.

But the car was now getting hot so I decided not to continue and we pulled out of the competition to take a look at the car. It needed more water. Lots of water. We had lost over 5 litres of water in 20 minutes and there was now a constant and rapid drip from the water-pump casing. One fine fellow, who I had never met before, said he would look around Brooklands for some water bottles and in the end returned with seven 2 litre milk cartons which he had filled up with water. Emptying the contents into the radiator I felt it was perhaps a little unreasonable to mention that maybe he should have washed them out first. I imagined having steamed milk wafting out from under the car on the drive home….

Cutting a long story short – the drive home was fine. I let the engine cool down then took the water-pump apart again. It was then that I saw the problem. The new carbon seal had punched its way through what I now realise was an exceptionally worn aluminium casing. Years of churning water had cavitated the casing down to a wafer thin dimension. The new seal backed by a brand new spring was clearly too much for the antique which surprisingly had let go gracefully. The new seal was smashed into 5 parts and how it held ANY water is beyond me. But it got me home! Thank-you mr Riley and whichever motoring god was looking after me.

Below you can see the hole that was created. It should be about one third of that size…. time to visit the Riley Register for a new casing.

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?