It has been another eventful year, as some of you may know this year I took the difficult decision to close my workshop, so this is a slightly self indulgent look at the last three years projects that have been through the ‘big shed’.
The first occupant when I moved from my old workshop in Coventry was my beloved Jaguar XJ-S V12 race car. You might think racing a V12 is a bit opulent, but it was one of those things that I really wanted to have done, even if it turned out to be just one race. The car itself took a fair amount of work but having bought a sound ebay car for £1500 it only cost a further £1500 to get all the bits to make it into a race car, so that’s a V12 on the starting grid at Silverstone for 3 grand, which I think is a bargain. As it turned out I did three years racing and even slipped in a bigger 6 litre V12, I sold it last year and it is now back as a road/track day car in Scotland.
Next in the shop was my long suffering Comp Safari racer, if you don’t know what that is then I strongly recommend you Youtube ‘Comp Safari’ and be prepared to be amazed. I built this car using my old Range Rover as a base, then bought lots of nice bent tubes and fibreglass bodywork from Tomcat Motorsport, Comp Safari racing is intense and punishes the car massively, it is both a technical and a physical challenge, this car is now running somewhere down south with its new owner as a road and play day car.
My toys were swiftly followed by the first customer project, this Volvo C303 6×6 army ambulance from the ’60s had the Volvo straight 6 petrol carb engine and a four speed box, oddly enough the fuel consumption was horrific. The customer wanted it as an expedition vehicle he could live in, so I raised the roof by just over a foot. Then I fitted the 2.5 Tdi
diesel engine and 5 speed gearbox from a Land Rover Discovery, which really doesn’t fit! After modifying the turbo, the manifolds, removing the water pump and fitting a remote electric pump, moving the alternator, shortening the bell housing, making new drive shafts, designing a new gear selector system, converting cable clutch to hydraulic, moving the brake servos, raising the cab, making new bodywork over the engine…… oh loads of stuff, did I mention it really didn’t fit? Anyway, it now works, has an MOT and is somewhere between Coventry and Africa.
The donor for the Volvo was a 300Tdi Discovery, bought for 500 quid with two months MOT left, it was a classic rot box and would never get through another test, ideal really.
Whilst I was modifying the body of the Volvo I tried a few ideas out on the Disco including a quick pick-up conversion (about an hour with an 8 inch angle grinder), I quite liked it and it was used on the farm for a few weeks before its engine was required. Fancy doing one?
Another interesting project was the PalmerSport Jaguar XK-Rs, all converted to LPG only, no petrol system left at all. My job was to re-tune the engine management, which obviously involved a lot of thrashing the cars round the race track, it’s
a hard life.
The next little project was a two pronged ebay ‘bargain’. I wanted to make a track day car for Di who loves E30 BMWs. I couldn’t find what I wanted so decided to make one using the tried and tested method of buying a car with the ideal shell but wrong engine plus a rot box with the desired engine. As luck would have it I found a mint 316 two door non-sunroof with MOT, plus a utterly rotten 325i with a really good engine and gearbox. Blending the two had a few problems but resulted in a track car at a fraction of
the cost of a mint 325. All the bits left over went back to ebay and paid for extras like the roll cage, which was nice.
Another purchase with only a few weeks of MOT was a rather pleasant Range Rover classic. It was just a few hundred quid because it wouldn’t start, the owners ‘mechanic’ friend told him it needed a new fuel pump, ECU and some other expensive bits, but when I got it back to the workshop I found it was just a corroded wire on the ignition, a few
minuets and a new spade terminal and it fired up. I had only bought it for spares but with a few weeks ticket left it seemed rude not to drive it, surprisingly it drove very well, even Di who is a sports car fan liked driving it.
The Range Rover’s engine and auto gearbox was due to be fitted to a rather tidy two door Range Rover Classic belonging to the editor of PPC magazine, I also fitted the stainless exhaust that the donor car had plus the fuel injection. The resultant car was a rather pleasing blend of ’70s style and ’80s performance, it was also more economical.
Sometimes I end up with a car that I have fixed for someone, such was the case with a Frontera that belonged to Di’s uncle. The car was at that age when one thing after another breaks, and after several trips to the workshop the owner got fed up and bought a Freelander instead, which needed less frequent mending. He offered the Frontera to me for a bargain price, I set about overhauling a few of the remaining items and sold it on, but not before driving it round for a few weeks and being surprised how much fun it was.
Some of the project cars are more interesting than others, one of my favourites was the Escort which came in for a suspension conversion. The engine was a big turbo Saab unit capable of over 400bhp, to cope with this I fitted a narrowed Volvo 740 axle with a classic four link set up. The front received Group A rally suspension. This was a thing of beauty.
Occasionally I get called by magazines to help with their project cars, if you follow Practical Classic you might know of their very long term restoration of a MK2 Jaguar to which I fitted the wiring and a few other bits. A more curious call was from Evo magazine who were running a ‘Grand Challenge’ where they bought a shed of a car for under £1000 then raced them. One car, the BMW 325 cabriolet had virtually no brakes so it trundled into the workshop for a rebuild, I was not allowed to spend any money on it as this was against the ‘rules’ so I stripped and rebuilt them to stop the callipers sticking and resurfaced the discs and pads. This worked well, but when the young Evo staff member drove it back on a cold and frosty night he managed to loose it on a corner and crash it. Undaunted, for the next trial at Bedford Autodrome race track we recovered the ‘scrap’ from the insurance company compound, at the pits with the 325
firmly strapped down to the trailer and the trailer brakes applied I asked someone to stand on the brakes of the Range Rover tow car, meanwhile I attached a tow rope to the crumpled bodywork that was crushing the front left wheel and had smashed the front of the engine, the other end of the rope was attached to my trusty Discovery which I drove in the other direction with some enthusiasm, repeatedly wrenching the bodywork out until the wheel was free. I dropped in the radiator and intake from our E30 and fired it up. The only thing preventing the wreck from an outright win on the test track was the fact that it was snowing! Ever done a track day in the snow? You should!
My trusty Disco has a hard life and needed a major overhaul, so to keep myself mobile I put the word out on social media that I needed a short term banger. This Volvo 940 turbo was offered to me for £50, only snag was it had to be recovered from a secure compound on a military base! A few tweaks later it was roadworthy and its remaining month of MOT was well used as I travelled the country for various photo shoots, it even managed to survive driving round a quarry when I test drove a Bowler Nemesis for Evo. After a few weeks I had patched up my Disco again and the Volvo was surplus to requirements, now this left me with an expendable car with a turbo engine, you can guess what happened next, up went the boost in stages, testing the performance then upping the boost a bit more. Obviously eventually it went pop, but a lot of fun ad occurred.
A frequent visitor to my workshop was Di’s BMW 635CSi, one of my all time favourite drives but by crikey does it need a lot of maintenance, and the bits aren’t cheap either, a genuine set of spark plug leads is over 80 quid! The car arrived with the original metric wheels with odd sized and very old tyres that made the car lean to the left. I bought a set of BBS wheels with decent tyres and unsurprisingly the handling improved dramatically. These are lovely cars to drive, but if you get a cheap one be prepared for a lot of work.
The Saab 9000 was an accidental purchase, or possibly more accurately incidental. It had been converted for track day use and was offered to me with a view to me breaking it up. All I wanted was the seats! Anyway, it had the big turbo engine and a few tweaks, it went like stink and handled OK, after a short period playing with it I swapped the seats back to standard and put it on ebay, two young lads bought it. I explained that it was a bit swift and that they should take it easy but I never heard from them after they took it away, don’t know whether they got home….
As my workshop was on a farm I occasionally got called upon to fix farm vehicles, tractors, a combined harvester, Teleporters and even crop driers. They also had two very rusty Toyota Hi Lux pick ups, these were rarely used on road, they are registered ‘agricultural vehicle’ and don’t need an MOT. Which is just as well because this one would never pass one. Being caked in mud and farm waste permanently had rotted nearly everything, it was held together with wood and good will, it had structural bailer twine, it was a shed. On this particular day the brakes had failed and the car had been stopped by driving it into a steaming mound of farm waste and poultry entrails. The car arrived on the end of a fork lift truck and was dumped in my compound. Taking the wheels of resulted in a splash of what I at first thought was mud, but as soon as it started running off I realised was in fact cockroaches, woodlice and maggots. The brakes had failed because the pistons had fallen out of the callipers due to the discs having worn down to 0.9mm thick!
Another odd thing from the farm was the Kubota lawn tractor, which had a problem with the hydrostatic drive. The engine just drives a hydraulic pump and the wheels are driven by a hydraulic motor, in between are two swash plates so the gear ratio can be infinitely varied between two limits. You can drive along and steadily drop the engine revs whilst increasing the gearing to maintain a constant speed, if you wanted to.
With the arrival of our baby, our transport needs changed. Di heroically continued to use the 635 with a baby seat in the back but the contortion needed to get a baby into the seat eventually wore her resolve down, so she decided to get a Disco like mine, only cheaper.
It had a worn cam and a host of problems caused by years of neglect. I fixed most of them but when it became clear a new engine would be the best rout she decided to sell it, there comes a point when it is better to get rid and start again, the art is to recognise when this is and not get trapped into spending a fortune.
Another example of this was a Fiesta I bought with a view to doing up and selling on. It had been parked on grass, which is the worst thing you can ever do to a car other than burning it or rolling it! Grass creates a very humid atmosphere that eats very quickly into every nook and cranny of the bodywork, it eats the brakes, the fuel lines and every fixing that is in anyway exposed. Up top the car had been regularly washed and appeared to be looked after, but once back at the workshop and up in the air it became clear that every mechanical part under the car needed refurbishing or replacing. Both sills had rotted from the inside leaving a thin layer of paint to make the outside look ok! I decided to cut my losses, strip a few spares off for ebay and weigh the rest in for scrap.
A better choice was a lovely green XJ-S 3.6, bought with an engine fault that was reasonable easy to fix. These 6 cylinder Jags are lovely to drive, quite nippy yet very smooth and capable of returning over 30mpg on a run. Once it was all running well it was bought by a chap wanted it as a first car for his son, how fantastic is that!
I have also done a few experiments in the workshop when people have asked me to investigate theories or product claims. One of which was the idea that you can improve mpg by using hydrogen obtained form on-board
electrolysis of water. I tried several variations and ran systems on my car for many months. Guess what, it doesn’t work!
Customer projects continued through the workshop including a rather cute MGB, it had a Lancia twin cam 2 litre engine and a Fiat five speed box. To get the power down I was asked to fit a modified Rover SD1 rear axle, parabolic leaf springs and convert it to use a Watts linkage. I was surprised how much difference it made, particularly entering fast corners where it settled in instantly rather than the traditional MGB rear end wobble. Must do an article on it one day.
To replace Di’s Disco she returned to her trusted BMW, this time with a 535, similar to the 635 but with 4 doors making fitting a baby much easier. These cars are often kept in very good condition but have amazingly low values, this one was under £300 and only needed tyres and front dampers for the MOT. Eventually she sold it to a collector in Dubi!
At this time I started doing higher mileages as my technical consultancy work really took off, I needed something a bit more economical so I bought a Rover 420 diesel. Fantastic car and cheaper than the smaller 220 for some reason. In a year of motoring it only
needed routine servicing and one new wheel bearing. I absolutely thrashed it, including a few laps on race tracks and running down the beach at Pendine. Only down side was I found the seat very uncomfortable.
I got a call one day from a bloke who wanted me to get his MGB working, this sounded ok until I saw it parked in a hedge, one side rotten the other side missing! I declined to fix it but did use some of its parts on his other MGB. Amazingly this chap bought two identical
new MGBs back in 1980, he used one (the one in the hedge) but kept the other one under wraps in a dry garage. It had last ran 20 years ago and had a few thousand miles n the clock, even the running in instruction sticker was still on the windscreen. I changed the expired fluids, cleaned the plugs, stripped and rebuilt the carbs to free them up, fitted a new battery and threw some fresh petrol in. Amazingly it fired up first time! I freed off the brakes and took it for a drive round the farm access road (private land), it was an utter time warp car and an amazing experience.
As time passed Di’s BMW started to show its age, and in the winter snow it was a bit to lively so she decided to try a Disco again, this time a ‘spares or repair’ Discovery 2 V8 with a faulty LPG system. The car was basically sound but had suffered from a lack of maintainance and a botched LPG conversion that had damaged the engine electrical system. It was a mash up of random LPG parts that would never work together but the tanks were ok, so I first reworked the wiring to get it back to standard and running
properly on petrol, then fitted new brakes and gave it a full service, it passed the MOT with ease. I then bought a second hand LPG front end kit to get it all running properly.
If you follow Twitter you may know @onecarefullowner, he has a dream of fitting a Rover L series Diesel engine into one of his beloved Allegros. I like this idea, double the power and also double the economy, double win. The target for his Frankenstein concept was a slightly battered white estate which in tru tradition ‘looks worse than it is’. The engine donor is a Rover 220d, it is always best to have a complete car to take the engine from so that you
get all the ancillary bits needed for the conversion. One small problem is that the L series doesn’t fit in an Allegro engine bay, you have to cut off the chassis rails! The solution would be to weld in a space frame front end, but this was beyond the scope of the original project and Richard took the difficult decision to quite before we ran out of time.
Other vehicles that have gone through the shop include a variety of bangers, the Audi 80, Pug 206, Freelander and my Rover 75 plus @petrolthreads E30 race car and a few prototype cars for OEMs, but that’s another story.
With my time totally consumed with consultancy work and writing I closed the workshop for the last time in October, it is sadly missed.