Sunday, 7 November 2010

From Kit Car Journey to Southern Hemisphere Journey...

Well, I'm afraid that this is likely to be my last post on this 'ere blog for a while.

Kate and I finally head-off travelling tomorrow.  The last Gemini-related job was to finish rubbing-down, oiling and wrapping the chassis and then inverting the whole thing so that it could be ratchet-strapped to the ceiling beams.  Not as easy as it sounds - particularly with just two of us.  Anyway, 'Mission Accomplished' as they say.

Going Up:
Enough room to pop the run-about (read post-travel interview transport) underneath:
So, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia await.  Guess what....?!  There's a NEW BLOG to chronicle our trip.

I'll ensure that I update my ramblings here as soon as we're home and things start happening with the car again.

Until then, Ciao.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Angles of dangles and mummification...

A bit of catching up to do... I picked the chassis up from the very amiable Dave Gallop some three weeks ago. I'm really pleased with the work that they've done. The combination of a beautifully welded and arrow-straight chassis from Autotune and the revised geometry is quite exciting!
Once I got the car to the garage I started to worry a little bit about the engine; or rather if the engine would fit. Unlike on a Seven-ish, Striker or Fury the car stays the width of the rear bulkhead until the end of the footwells. The chassis then tapers quite severely to form a rectangular engine bay. Because bike engines effectively have the gearbox and clutch pack bolted to the side of the motor, the whole unit needs to be offset to the passenger side in order to run a propshaft off the output shaft. My concern was that I wouldn't be able to offset the engine by enough to get a straight or even near-straight run for the prop.
My solution was to borrow a 5VY R1 engine (my chosen powerplant) from my mate Ed. I lay the chassis on what used to be Ikea shelves and dropped (not literally Ed) the engine into the engine bay onto an identical shelf. This effectively represented the flat floor. Initially, things didn't look great. With the engine shunted against the footwells it was debatable whether or not the propshaft would interfere with the tube at the front of the tunnel. Of equal concern was the high angle that the universal joint would need to run at the centre bearing. Not great.
However, having stared at it for a short while and having taken some photographs for reference, I decided to shunt the engine forward in the engine bay. This had the effect of reducing the angle on the prop to something that, intuitively at least, looked a bit more sensible. The picture below shows the engine at 85mm forward of the bulkhead.
Once I got home, I did some web-based research into prop phasing and angles and also posted a question on Locostbuilders to see what the general thinking was. The other consideration that also comes into all of this is the angle that the engine is mounted at, that is, the degree to which it is canted-over. There seems to be two schools of thought on this. Fisher and Dan B advocate mounting the engine so that the sump flange is parallel to the ground, as seen here (from Dan's site.)
I gather that Andy Bates also favours this approach. However, MNR mount the engine so that the bottom of the sump is parallel to the road as in the bike.  What concerns me about the former method is that the oil pickup is halfway along the bottom of the sump and is therefore not at the lowest point. Both Dan and Andy Bates (for Ed's Phoenix) have used an extended sump to solve the issue. However, I was never convinced that all this was necessary. I then met a local chap who runs a Caterham with a supercharged 5VY engine. Winston has run this car competitively for several years on slicks with the sump bottom parallel to the road; with no issues. His only mod is a dressed version of the "Nitram" sump baffle that everyone seems to use. As I understand it, his son holds a number of course records in the car too. What was also apparent is that he knows the motor back-to-front and inside-out. Hence, if its good enough for Winston, its good enough for me. This is good news as if the engine was mounted in the more upright position it would be more likely that the sump would need to protrude below the floor. Having just spent a serious amount of cash getting the pick-up points moved to run with the floor at close to 75mm, needing to run the chassis higher to accommodate the sump would have been pretty joyless news. Also, in the more upright position it is very difficult to see how the exhaust primaries would route - in fact they'd more or less come out of the head and want to go straight into a chassis tube!

Aside from resolving the prop angle issue, moving the engine forward has some other positive and negative impacts. On the negative side, it moves weight towards the front of the car and therefore affects the weight distribution of the car and increases the polar moment. The convention with bike-engined cars seems to be to move the engine in the other direction. However I suspect that it is possible that moving the weight forward a little might actually aid front-end grip and also steering feel - which is generally relatively absent in a BEC. The other positives from a 'packaging' perspective are that it gives me room to mount the starter motor for the reverse and also means that the exhaust primaries can be a little longer. The overall consequence is that I'm not all that bothered about it, particularly when I can move my short-arse 90kgs self back in the car by mounting the pedal box further back.  What I will probably do is modify the very large footwell slightly (as shown in the Microsoft Paint-modified pic below) to give everything a bit more room. The webbed portion at the top of the footwell should even provide a suitable place to mount the fulcrum/pivot for the rod-operated gear change.
All of this will of course have to wait for my return from travelling (plus subsequently finding a job and somewhere to live!) With the departure date ever-closer, attention has turned to storing the chassis while I'm away. When I collected the chassis originally, it had been stored for a year in a timber garage. This meant that it was virtually free of oxidation, except for a few finger prints. It hasn't fared quite so well since it has been at Track Developments and in my tin-roofed garage so I'd planned to give the metal a bit of a 'polish' with some wet'n'dry and a wire brush. Stage Two is then to give everything a damn-good coating of oil before wrapping it all in stretch-wrap.
I'm about halfway through and am really pleased with how its gone. It's quite time consuming and I've exhausted my supplies of contour sanding blocks and a can of spray oil but tomorrow should see the job finished.
The last job will then be to suspend the chassis from the garage roof. That could be quite exciting.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Progressing Pick-Ups…

After fairly extensive analysis and drawing from Dave and his associates at Track Developments a plan has now been formulated. What is rather pleasing is that the rear geometry is apparently very good, with a low roll centre and a good amount of anti-squat – all at circa 100mm ride height. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting such good news and anticipated having to get all of the pick-up points moved.

The front-end wasn’t quite as perfect and clearly wasn’t designed to run at c.80mm ride height. Hence, the original pick-ups have been removed and new ones are in the process of being welded on.
As part of the process of correcting the geometry Dave has also had to turn-up new inserts for the bottom of the uprights – it’s a bit of a pain as it means that the original ones I had made were effectively useless. Its fairly small-change compared to the overall loss as a result of aborting the last project though so I remain philosophical(ish)…

I should pick-up the chassis next weekend and then just need to get it wrapped up for storage while we’re away. A covering of oil and then stretch-wrap is the favoured method of keeping the rust at bay at the moment. If anyone has a better idea, please let me know.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Out with the old and in with the… errr... old skool!

So, five kit cars/projects in five years; ridiculous right? I quite agree, so I’ve solved it – by buying another project. What?

Allow me to explain, or at least try. I’ll be honest – I was a bit frustrated that the chassis still needed work. I tried to suppress it but the feeling was too strong. I feel like I should be saying that like James Brown… (Good God!)

Anyhoo, it led me to ask if I was going to be really happy with the car; did I really want another 7ish? Well, the problem is that I’d found my head being turned by all sorts of racers from the 50s and 60s. So, I did the sensible thing (?) and put the chassis and associated parts up for sale on and phoned Westfield about their XI kit.

Unfortunately they only wanted to sell me a complete kit for £8.5k. As I still want to race the car in the RGB Championship I’d be throwing half of the stuff away. I thanked them and moved on. I spent a few days thinking about cars I really liked but had never considered building. A Lola replica would be nice, as would a one of the Lotus 15 replicas or even a Jag D-type or XKSS. Unfortunately these are all BIG money and not terribly suitable for a 1000cc bike motor and racing.

Next thought was the Autotune Gemini which uses an exact copy of the Falcon MkII bodyshell from the late 50s (as used on a relatively famous Elva racecar.) I contacted two people before speaking to the factory. Firstly, the only person I knew of who was building one – a chap called Dave Beddows and secondly Matt Gilmour from Procomp. The car uses a live axle and Cortina uprights, much like a Locost, so I thought Matt might have an opinion.

Dave came back with good reports and then mentioned that his lightweight (18G) chassis was untouched due to family commitments and that if I was interested, he’d sell at a favourable rate.

The reports from Matt were less good – he said something along the lines of “People have tried to race them but I can’t see why.” Another shattered dream; I contacted Dave and said that I wasn’t interested.

Then I thought about it some more. I respect Matt’s view an awful lot. If he says something would need a lot of work to be race-ready, it needs a lot of work to be race-ready as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, I’d rather set my heart on the thing. The picture below may go some way to explaining why.

I thought about asking Matt to do the necessary mods. However, I suspected that he would talk me out of it – the sensible option would no-doubt have been one of his LA Golds….

So, I made another call. I’d read about Track Developments  in one of the kit car magazines years ago. They’d been involved in a feature where they analysed a V8 Fisher Fury with dodgy handling traits. They eventually determined that only major changes (moving the pick-up points) would make any real difference. Apparently the owner wasn’t impressed. I liked their honesty.

Anyway, I spoke to Dave Gallop, who boosted my confidence in their abilities, and eventually agreed to deliver the chassis straight to him for analysis and potentially to make some of the necessary physical changes.

This is where the chassis sits now. I’m going to be a little bit limited in terms of what I get done in the short term however as I’ve finally booked for Kate and I to go and see a bit of the world… we fly on the 7th November. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia here we come.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010


I’m sorry that I haven’t posted on here in nearly two months. A few days after my last instalment a close colleague and friend tragically died after a terrible accident at work. I just haven’t felt like reporting on the car’s progress since. My mate Gav mainly got his kicks on two wheels – he was an outstanding bike-trials rider in particular. He really liked his cars too and had helped me with one or two little bits relating to the new build. Hence every time I hold my Moto-Lita wheel (which he drilled much more confidently than I’d have managed) or pick-up my repaired C-spanner my thoughts will no doubt turn to Gav. You’re very much missed Mate!

Rather in the spirit in which Gav lived his life (Carpe diem) it seems right to get this blog and life in general moving forward again.

The chassis and other parts are now in South Wales. A plan was hatched for me to take a van up to Lancashire and for Steve, Joe and I to finish the fabrication that day before I brought it all home. These things always take longer than anticipated and I came home with a few jobs still outstanding. These include:
  • Fabrication of the upper front wishbones
  • Steering rack mounts
  • The addition of anti-roll bar tabs on the front and rear wishbones
  • Some tidying of the chassis
Not so long ago I’d have got quite upset about the chassis not being finished. While “right-first-time-on-time” is still a bit of a mantra, if one accepts that problems are part of ‘life’s rich tapestry’ then such problems should, almost by definition, be viewed as precious. This is very much a new perspective for me! I’m off to see my friendly local fabricators to chat about the outstanding jobs shortly.

I had intended to take a raft of photos yesterday. Unfortunately Sunday’s wedding (congrats Mr & Mrs Breakwell) had taken its toll on the camera batteries so I only managed a few shots.  The first shot was taken after I’d roughly positioned the steering rack to check that the steering column would pass unhindered through the chassis bars – I needn’t have worried.
The other photos show some of the thought that has gone into making the subsequent build up and use of the car as easy as possible. Where body parts will be removable, these special tabs have been added to facilitate the use of Dzus fasteners. These are to be used all over the car including on removable sections of the flat floor, the nosecone, bonnet, scuttle and rear ‘boot’ cover(s).
Next are these tabs, made from folded washers. These will carry the cables (electric and control), and fuel and brake lines and largely remove the need to drill the chassis tubes, except for when attaching fixed sections of bodywork.
This final picture shows the result of my decision to rose joint each of the linkages to the front upright. Douglas at Westgarage again did the machining work which should both remove any slop and allow fine tuning, by moving the stub axle in or out using the adjustment in the rose joints, or indeed up or down (by using different tapered inserts.)
More photos should follow over the next few days.

I really should update on the position relating to the RGB regulations. The committee has been busy drafting a revised set of regulations that basically centre around 1 litre engines. The regulations freely permit one-off cars and hence the ‘Paradign Locost’ fits into the new structure quite nicely. This has left me positively enthused about competing in the championship. I’ve just seen that a draft version of the new regulations can be found at

Monday, 14 June 2010

Series of musings / Musings on series

The plan has always been to compete in the 750 Motor Club’s RGB Championship. It’s a well established championship with lots of friendly folk involved. However, I have a couple of concerns. Central to these concerns is the fact that I’m now not leaving for my 9 months “gap-yah” until September/October which means that I’ll almost certainly miss all of the 2011 season. If the truth be told, I’m not entirely sure what the championship will look like in 18 months’ time. The regulations are being debated at the moment and I think there is a possibility that ‘one-off’ cars could one day be excluded from a front-engined class. This is far from certain but it has meant that I’ve started to consider what else is out there; and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
I’d heard about the Classic Sports Car Club’s Magnificent 7s series over 12 months ago but hadn’t given it too much attention. A few weeks ago, prompted by Matt Gilmour at Procomp, I started to look into it in more detail and contacted the series organiser Peter French to find out more. After some correspondence regarding the eligibility of the Paradigm, I decided to drive up to Cheshire this weekend to watch the race at Oulton Park. I dragged Steve along for a second opinion. We arrived mid-morning and post-qualification so were able to wander around the pits, look at the car and have a chat with some of the drivers. Most of the cars were Caterhams with a smattering of Westfields and derivatives of the Stuart Taylor Locost thrown into the mix too. Most of the cars had Ford or Rover K-Series engines but there was a good selection of bike engines from Suzuki (Busa), Yamaha (5PW R1) and Kawasaki (ZZR1400) too.
Everyone seemed very friendly.
What was immediately apparent was that the regulations were far less strictly defined that in the 750MC series. As long as the car is 7-shaped and isn’t covered in aero-addenda, basically, anything goes. Talking to Peter, if you are an outlier in terms of your pace within a class you should expect to be moved – sounds simple enough. This flexibility is born out of the fact that ‘Mag7s’ does not have Championship status. This keeps costs down, but does mean that awards are strictly informal. The race format is also very different to RGB. Races are 40 minutes long and include a mandatory pit stop. This can either be a simple timed stop-and-go, can involve a driver change or a complete car/driver change. This therefore provides an opportunity to share entry costs and get involved as a team entry. This got me wondering about value for money. If I add up the cost of entries and divide this sum by the time racing in RGB this season, even allowing an extra 15 minutes across the season for the +1 lap format, each minute of racing costs £11.30. If I add in qualifying, each minute of driving on track costs £6.34. In Mag7s, each minute of racing costs less than £7 and each minute driving (either qualifying or racing) costs less than £4. That’s a hell of a difference!
So what of the racing? Well I’ve been lucky enough to witness some great battles in RGB. However as one competitor observed recently, there isn’t really that much overtaking evident at the moment. This I believe is a function of increasing speed differentials and a grid of often only about 25. While one cannot really make a judgement on Mag7s on the basis of one round, the grid was full and this led to a lot of action. The pit stops also seemed to add something too and I like the fact that you at least have the option to share the costs, for example if funds at the end of a season got a bit tight. However, the speed differential in Mag7s is much greater than in RGB with the top four cars lapping faster than a RGB car has ever gone around Oulton and the slowest three lapping at speeds similar to a quick 1300cc Locost! That said, I liked what I saw and will certainly be looking to get involved.
The only question that remains is whether or not to continue to build the car to RGB regulations or whether to plan for the greater freedom of Mag7s. Of course, if the car is built primarily to meet RGB regulations then it is possible to enter Mag7s as well. The same is not true the other way around. Hence, Plan A remains THE plan.


Friday, 4 June 2010

44 months on…

06:30hrs Friday 4th June 2010.
A thirty-year old man yelps somewhere in a sleepy former mining town in South Wales. A black and white cat leaps for cover, unsure of what caused this most unusual of sounds. The cat peers from around a corner to see the yelping man holding aloft two reams of white A4 paper. He looks happy. Over 3 ½ years of endeavour has all but come to an end. His Masters in Business Administration degree is finally finished!

I’ve just got back from the binders having dropped-off two copies of my final and most extensive piece of work. Joy fills the room. There’s more good news; my chassis is nearly finished as well. Joe and Steve spent an obscene amount of time getting it welded-up last weekend. The hope was to have it finished. The reality is that there is probably another five hours of work to do, mainly focussed around the front suspension. In any case, here she is with Joe ar the wheel

I’ll get some better photos when I go up to Joe’s for final fitting for the headrest and steering column. I should hopefully bring it home the same day which should be good. Then its off for powdercoating. Splendid!

I haven’t forgotten about the exhaust end pipe that I mentioned in the last instalment but I’m now going to hang-on until I’ve got the slice of catalyser to fit it before I try to explain the issues and plan on here. I’ve sourced some very smart aluminium bearing carriers for the back to replace the heavy cast iron ones, which I hope is going to make my drum and hub assembly somewhat lighter than even posh Wilwood billet calipers and the associated bracketry.  That’s the plan anyway.

Enough for now; I feel knackered! That’ll be the lack of sleep resulting from the final push to get the dissertation done!  Plus, I’d better do some proper work…


Thursday, 20 May 2010

Dissertation Distraction.

Apologies for the lack of updates.  I'm rather busy trying to finish the dissertation for my MBA (sooooo bloooody close now!)  Anyway, today we got news... the chassis has gone off for final welding.

There she goes:
Steve has enlisted the help of (total star) Joe the Welderman.  Here's the two fine specimens concerned - engaged in some fetching hand-on-hip action:
My own efforts have been limited to devising 'an innovative tail-pipe solution.'  More on this next time.  Do not get excited; you will be disappointed.


Thursday, 22 April 2010

Paddling (Upstream.)

I’m quite proud that I’ve managed to use the verb ‘paddling’ as both a metaphor and in a literal sense in the same post. I never claimed to be terribly normal….

In the literal sense, we now have a ‘flappy-paddle’ (do I need to credit Clarkson for that term?) and rocker assembly - two of the major components to be used in the rod-arrangement paddle shift system that we’re employing on the car. These aren’t just ANY old components however. They’re not made from steel or even aluminium. There are made of kevlar composite. Steve created a sheet of suitable material by building up layers of matting, sheet and resin. I’d love to tell you more about the process put it might as well be juju for all my knowledge of it. Anyway, I’m told that it is very light and should be more than strong enough to do the job. The sheet was then cut to shape by AndyW7de using a water-jet cutter. Here are the results:
The sheet was big enough to get couple of sets out. My paddle is the larger one. I’ve experimented with wheel sizes and have found that I don’t get on terribly well with tiny wheels. My wrists are increasingly prone to aches and pains (no lewd remarks necessary!) and I just feel a bit more comfortable with a 12” wheel. The intention is to finish the edges either with gel coat or possibly by polishing with cutting compound. I did the same on the carbon back panel on my MNR with good results.
I use the paddling upstream metaphor in relation to Steve’s activity on the chassis of late. I really do not envy him trying to find time to work on the car and help look after a new baby and work full time. I’m in no rush so everything is fine my end – I just wish I could help a bit more. The two Ds, distance and dissertation, don’t lend themselves well to this unfortunately.

That said, I’m hoping to have a day off studying to go to Brands Hatch on Sunday to see the RGB race and to have a look at some of the new cars that are joining the Championship. Hopefully, Saturday’s race will be without incident and I won’t miss anyone.  My old comrades from the Locost Championship are there too so it should be a good day.


Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Top ball joints. Or not.

‘Plan A’ to connect the upper front wishbone to the Cortina upright had been the usual Locost method of using a ball joint in the form of a drag link or track rod end from a Ford Transit. We’d also intended to use a ‘quick camber adjuster,’ essentially a threaded sleeve that sits inside a 1” inside diameter (ID) tube and allows you to move the ball joint in and out without removing any parts. However, there has recently been some discussion about the fragility of these items following a total failure on a road car. In addition, 1” ID tube was proving frustratingly difficult to obtain. These considerations, along with the fact that the rest of the suspension uses rose joints, were enough for me to look at replacing the upper ball joint with a suitably tapered pin and rose joint set up.

My MNR had used this system. However, I had a feeling that they no longer offered the parts to use the Cortina upright – in the back of my mind I was pretty sure that I’d had the last set for my old car. I contacted Chris Nordon to see if this was the case and indeed it was. My next port-of-call was the ever helpful Matt Gilmour at Procomp. I had a chat with him about design and joint heights and he made it clear that he could make the parts. However, I was also pretty conscious that he and Ivan are up-to-their-eyes in work. No surprise – they really do sterling work. So, I started to investigate alternatives. I had a look at some of the Westfield specialists like CAT Motorsport but had little joy. I then found a post on the Locostbuilders forum by someone calling themselves ‘mintici.’ The post showed a very similar set up that had been machined for a Westfield. On further investigation, it turns out that ‘minitici’ is Douglas Anderson, proprietor of Westgarage Engineering Services.  Douglas usually specialises in chain drive differentials, carriers and associated parts for mid engined cars. However, it’s clear that he can turn his hand (pardon the pun) to most things.

After some efficient communication via e-mail, I sent one of my Cortina uprights to Douglas so that he could be sure that the taper was right. I also sent him the relevant measurement from Steve’s suspension drawings. The great thing about this setup is that the height of the top joint can now be changed relatively easily to aid fine tuning of handling characteristics. Good news all round. Douglas’ pro-forma invoice suggested that delivery would take up to 4 weeks. No great problem for me. However, just two days after posting the upright I received some pictures of the first pin, top-hat and rose joint assembly. It’s clearly a relatively simple job for Douglas and I’m likely to get the parts much sooner than expected.

As Douglas says in his e-mail, “The pin and top hat have been shaped to allow maximum articulation of the rod end.” This can clearly be seen in the pictures.

One other thing that the pictures show quite clearly is the casting marks on the upright. If I was in any doubt before, these are definitely getting powdercoated now. I know that it’s a race car, but cosmetically that just will not do!


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Safe and Sound...

Few words this time around; just a couple of snaps.

Cage from 'Caged' - rear supports yet to be installed:
And an apparently foggy shed:

If anybody reading this has access to 7/16" high tensile bolts with a 2" shank/shoulder and overall length of 2.75"-3" could they please let me know?  The only ones I've manged to source would cost over £15.00 each - and I need 22 of the things so that just isn't going to happen!

Thanking you!


Monday, 22 March 2010

The other consequence of tobacco advertising…

Let me be clear: I am not and, aside from a few experimental puffs as a teenager, I never have been a smoker. In fact I intensely dislike the habit, in particular what it does for the smell of one’s clothes when in close proximity to a smoker. And then there are the health implications! Despite this, Tobacco advertising is good for a few things. Who could forget some of the brilliant Hamlet TV adverts of the 1980s? Well, me actually although a quick search on YouTube brings it all flooding back.

Tobacco advertising has been good for something else though, and it can be summed up in three little letters: JPS. The John Player Special livery was on the first ever race car I can remember seeing. I had a model of what was almost certainly a Lotus F1 car when I was quite small. I can still remember it to this day. I don’t think I have it any more, but I might raid my parent’s attic in search all the same. Anyway, it has always struck a chord and when it came to selecting a colour scheme for my new race car there was only really one option.

Below are a couple of pictures borrowed from the excellent website. I’ve picked these in particular as they show gold wheel rims and black centres:

I’ve been fortunate enough to come by (via Steve) as set of Superlite’s Ultralite 3-Piece wheels that are in need of a refurb. As such the idea is to replicate the wheel design seen above.
I also had in mind that I wanted to have the chassis powdercoated in gold too. This I felt was a bit of a risk as the car might end up looking like a complete ‘tart’s handbag.’ However, my mind was finally made up when I saw the vehicle below on the MEV stand at Autosport International in January.
Now, admitedly, this is still a bit 'in ya face' but there will be a lot less tube visible once the racer is clothed.  Essentially the roll cage will be the only expanse of gold chassis visible.

The wise Tim Hoverd is a keen advocate of lighter finishes on chassis as it allows easier crack detection, so as well as looking great I’m hoping that it will be relatively practical too. That said the wishbones will be black as anything else on a ‘7ish’ just looks wrong to me.

Steve has been busy again. Yes he did do some work on the car, for example finishing off the radiator mounts as seen below.
Much more importantly though, he’s been busy after his lovely wife Milenah gave birth to their first son, Josef. Many congratulations to all concerned!

In other news, there is some steel tube sat in my garage that is hopefully going to come together to form my roll cage. More detail on this at a later time.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Paradigm Shift…

After much debate, Steve and I have decided to call the new car the Mercury Motorsport Paradigm. defines the word paradigm as: “a set of forms all of which contain a particular element, esp. the set of all inflected forms based on a single stem or theme.” This rather sounds like the ‘sevenesque genre’ of cars to me and hence it stuck. The same source also gives the following as synonyms: “mold, standard; ideal, paragon, touchstone.” Well, we hope so.

I said that I’d give a few more details about the car. There is absolutely no doubt that the car is a risk, or at the very least an experiment. Steve and I (particularly Steve) are pouring everything we know about these cars in to this new build in the hope that we make something which is greater than the sum of its parts. My input comes mainly in the form of knowing what I like, and more importantly knowing what feels comfortable for me on track e.g. pedal arrangement etc. Despite all this, we’re still researching as we go along on some stuff. The majority of the mechanical spec became apparent in my last post. The final departure from convention is that we are going to use (Sierra) drums at the back. We could have easily used Sierra disc brakes but they weigh a shed-load. The alternative would have been aluminium callipers and light weight discs. The cost would have been considerable though and there seems to be some concern over mechanical advantage for the handbrake no matter what brand of calliper one uses. And so, having overcome a totally illogical hatred of drum brakes - largely through great experiences with both Striker and Locost - we decided to give drums a try. We then had to decide whether to use 8”, 9” or 10” drums. Taking some advice from RGB racers, we concluded that 8” drums were a bit marginal on some cars so we went to the next size up. It should be interesting if nothing else.
My original plan for bodywork was to use aluminium alongside a Locost nosecone, scuttle, bonnet and wings. The idea was that it is cheap and easily replaced. Unfortunately, because Steve had made the chassis an inch taller than the standard Locost to help accommodate a tallish bike engine, the nosecone looked ridiculous. Fortunately Steve had a couple of Westfield nosecones that he was prepared to sell to me. These look great, and are very (VERY) light since they are pimpy (PIMPY) carbon fibre. They aren’t perfect but since I’ll need to paint the aluminium side panels, bonnet etc this is no great problem.
Here’s a few more pictures – very little has full welds as yet – the idea has always been to tack it together in case we incurred unexpected interference. That said, apart from the roll cage and some of the smaller parts like harness mounts and earth points, it’s almost ready to weld-up.

Custom-cut brackets:
Radiator and Oil Cooler mounted:
Pedals mounted:
So, there we have it... most of the big decsisons are now made.  This includes the choice of colour.  Given my penchant for retro race liveries, what do you reckon I've gone for?  It won't be Gulf-colours again though.  Those colours are cursed!


Thursday, 25 February 2010

What do you get if you cross a Ford Cortina, a Ford Sierra, a Landrover Freelander and a Kawasaki ZX-10R?

There’s no other way of putting it. I’m back on the road to ruin! I was finding it impossible not to have at least a fledgling project on-the-go and had a few options:
  • Another Locost racer
  • A BMW powered kit car to race in the Welsh Saloons and Sports
  • A RGB car 

Well, I guess Fate played its hand; you remember Steve Hignett? Regular readers will remember Steve as being the chap (read Godsend) who helped me so much in progressing both the MNR build and the Locost refresh. Steve had been researching and scheming in preparation for his own lightweight bike-engined car for some time. In fact, he’d made a start on the chassis. Unfortunately for Steve, the prospect of a new baby (that’s obviously not the unfortunate part!!) on the way meant that his vision was unlikely to reach its full potential for a long while. However, he was keen to see his own design of chassis built and in use and hence he offered it to me.

It seemed like the push that I needed. I’d always wanted to race in RGB and this would give me the chance to do so. While common consensus suggests that a traditional 7-styled vehicle is at an (aerodynamic) disadvantage against some of the other cars, I’d never had an interest in full-bodied kit cars and as Steve’s car was a 7ish, everything seemed to make sense. Not wishing to make myself out to be some sort of idealistic zealot, but I also think the series could benefit from a few more shapes familiar to bike engined MK, Mac#1 and Locost owners.

So, on the basis of the picture below, a plan was hatched whereby the chassis and associated parts, including wishbones and rollcage would be completed and then put into storage awaiting my return from travelling.
In order to complete the chassis, Steve would require a list of parts so that the correct mountings could be fabricated. First job was to select an engine. Steve had originally planned to fit a ZX-12R which would have put me in Class A with the fastest machinery out there. I took the view that a Class B ZX-10R would be better for my purposes. This also worked well with the Freelander diff that Steve was planning to employ, giving a maximum speed of about 134mph, which should be about right.
Suspension will be double-unequal-length wishbones at each corner, using Sierra hubs at the rear and Cortina uprights at the front. While this build is not expected to be cheap, it is not a ‘money-no-object’ exercise either; hence the donor-sourced parts. In addition to the shape, we’re also departing from conventional wisdom with the reversing mechanism. Many have tried mechanical systems and have had issues. We are using the relatively new MNR reverse box. The issue for me is that if my storage remains the same or even similar to how it was this year with the Locost, it would be virtually impossible to manoeuvre the car towards the trailer and back into the garage on my own without a robust and reliable reverse. My experience of the starter-motor based electric systems is that they’re just not man-enough. One piece of encouragement is that Redback Racing are utilising the reverse box in Australia with no apparent issues. Fingers crossed! 
So there we have it: a new project. I’ll explain a bit more about the spec and issues thus far next time. As I type this, the chassis is probably 4-8 weeks from being powdercoated

Monday, 15 February 2010

Hair-dresser's car...

At Snetterton a couple of fellow competitors had a chat with me about the future of my car, with reference to family and friends looking to enter the championship. One such person was John Bunce, who we’d been camped near. John shares a MK chassis’d car with his mate Anthony May.  2009 was their first season as well and they had encountered a few issues with their box-fresh car and had also struggled for grunt (and revs) from the motor.  There’s no denying that it looks really good though in bright yellow.

John had another good mate who was looking to join the series after dabbling with Formula cars for a number of years. Hailing from only an hour or so down the M4 they were quite keen to see the car. I still had the issue of the failed gearbox/selector to deal with. I contemplated swapping the gearbox myself as I had a spare. However, the fact that I didn’t know if it was serviceable and the usual pressures of MBA work meant that I decided to outsource the work.  I had a think about who could do the work and remembered that there was a RWD Escort aficionado in the form of just 20 minutes from home. I gave Bob a call and arranged to drop the car and spare gearbox down to him the following Saturday morning. He removed, stripped, inspected and reassembled the gearbox, effectively making one really good unit from two. The cause of my gear change problems was found to be a snapped selector pin. The cost was pretty reasonable and aside from needing to readjust the clutch cable, everything was perfect. Just moving the car around the yard and into the garage the gearshift felt better than ever.

John and his (hair-dressing) mate Kev were still keen to see the car. They were also interested in the trailer which was a bonus and asked me to bring the trailer over to the car (it was stored elsewhere) in anticipation of a sale - Excellent. I cleaned the car and organised the spares into three sections: bits that should go with the car; bits to scrap and; odds-and-sods that I was keen to keep. When the following Saturday came around, having chatted about all things motorsport-related and a good look around the car, a deal was struck, I had a figure in mind, and having sold the car and trailer to Kev and my wheel straps to John I was bang-on target. I’d made nothing but had come out of it ok. Only the costly gearbox rebuild meant that my ownership period resulted in a net outflow of funds, and even then it was marginal.
This obviously doesn’t include the cost of actually racing which was never going to be as cheap as fishing, golf or salsa classes.

I was of course sad to see the car go and had toyed with the idea of keeping it. However, I knew that I didn’t have the room to store everything while travelling so it was the only practicable solution. I hope Kev goes well in it. While I’ve met some great people racing, I imagine that competing against ‘proper’ mates-since-school must be brilliant. It should be an exciting season for Kev, John and Anthony.

What about me? Well, the problem is that I’m totally obsessed with all things automobile and now racing so I was already thinking about keeping an eye-out for a few bargains which could be used on a future project. As it was, I was soon accumulating more stuff than originally anticipated…

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Norfolking way; not now!

Another race day was upon us, the last of the season and the first 750MC event to be filmed for television (Hi Mum!) I really was pretty desperate to pick-up where I had left off (in terms of pace) at Oulton. More importantly, I was determined not to make a daft mistake and spin. I hadn’t in testing, although I’d pushed a bit hard into The Esses on one occasion so knew my limits there.

Scrutineering went without a hitch, although the gentleman looking at my car wanted to ensure that there was brake fluid in my integral master cylinders. Of course there was, but I had put the caps on a bit tight so they were not easy to remove for inspection. Qualification was soon upon us. I was lined up in the holding area about mid-way down the field alongside friendly faces in the form of Mr Boucher and Mrs Stafford. Oddly a few of the cars required bump-starts which raised a few eye-brows. Later checks revealed nothing untoward but it can’t help driver confidence if your car struggles to splutter into life.

I’ve found that I seem to take a long time to get up to speed in any session. This could be down to a number of factors:
  • Car set-up and the way that I warm my tyres
  • Depletion of fuel load
  • Growing confidence, made all the more prominent by my inexperience
I strongly suspect that it has more to do with the latter.

The result was that I was nowhere near as smooth or committed as I was during the last two sessions on the Friday. The lower track temperature may have played a part too but I wasn’t terribly happy when the chequered flag was shown at the end of the session. It was still my best grid position; sixteenth.

As usual, there were a few hours before the race. I made the usual checks to fluids and bolts and tried to chill-out a bit. Kate and I also packed the van so we were more or less ready for the off as soon as we could strap the car to the trailer after the race. It was soon time to get togged-up and strapped in. For once I had a nice clear view of the starting lights. I was very pleased with my start; using just 3000rpm to get off the line. Ideally I should have squeezed the power in a bit sooner than I did but it was a 'good un' none-the-less. I was conscious that I didn’t want to throw it away in the melee that is lap-1 and, as a result had lost a place by the time we crossed the stripe for the first time.

The next few laps were typically hard fought and I found myself as low as 17th and as high as 12th by the start of the sixth lap. I felt like I was ‘getting into the groove’ too. My pass on Campbell was shown on the Motors TV footage and I remember throwing the car into Riches to make it stick. I had a good run to Sear and braked, went for third and was inexplicably unable to move the gear stick from fourth! This unsettled the car horribly and I had a huge tank-slapper which carried me well wide onto the run-off area. Thankfully nobody was really near me. Campbell, Vicky Pickles and others shot up the inside as I yanked at the gear-stick to try to get it out of fourth. Eventually I was succesful and I set off in warm-pursuit. Not having any speed to carry down the Revett made it excruciating. Even the Monkey-mascot on my dash appeared to glaze-over. My subsequent shifts felt only a little awkward - at least until I tried to short-shift to fourth for the Bomb-hole. Again, it was wedged in gear and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and pulled off the circuit half-way around Coram. I was able to drive onto an escape road and a friendly Marshall then opened the gate allowing me to drive onto the infield and back to the trailer, all in third gear. I launched the car up the waiting ramps as best as I could and headed off to find Kate. I was disappointed but my race was effectively over at Sear so I was pretty philosophical by the time I got out of the car. Kate was relieved to see that I was ok – it’s clear that I do her nerves no favours when stopping out on track!

So, just when I was finding my feet and on the cusp of the top-ten, the car let me down for the first time. Still, I consider myself lucky, particularly given the problems that Sian has had with the more expensive car that I almost bought! As for my general outlook, after the lows and highs of Oulton, the events at Snetterton meant that I felt pretty peeved. I still feel a little glum when I think about it now, some five months on. This probably isn’t helped by the fact that I won’t get a chance to put those feelings ‘to bed’ in 2010 due to the sale of the car and travel plans.

On the plus-side, the weekend had resulted in some strong interest in the car. Presumably though, any prospective buyer would want a car with a functioning gearbox.

More on that next time.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

After Oulton and Snetterton Test afternoon.

We had two weeks between Oulton and the last round of 2009 at Snetterton. Fortunately, there wasn't really anything to do to the car. Things outside of racing had rather changed. As per previous posts, I knew that I would be made redundant at a point in the not-too-distant future. What had changed is that I'd stopped looking for work and Kate and I had instead started planning a 6-9 month career break and some travelling. This meant that I was actually facing a situation where this would be my last outing in my Stuart Taylor Locost #41. This wasn't at the forefront of my thoughts at this stage however. There was a race weekend ahead.

I originally thought I'd be unable to find time to test at Snett on the Friday but as we approached the race weekend it became evident that I would have time. Daily phone calls to MSV finally resulted in a booking for the PM session. Kate and I arrived after a long west-to-east journey to Norfolk to find a paddock bristling with all sorts of machinery. There were clearly some on budgets much bigger than the usual 750MC clubbie crowd.

Amongst the cars testing was a Caparo T1 (the car that set fire to Fifth Gear presenter and BTCC racer Jason Plato) as well as a Mosler MT900. These are some of the fastest cars it's possible to buy and pretty much the exact opposite of my Locost. Pictures can be found on Dan's write up of the day here: DanB back in RGB. Fortunately, the T1 had been moved into the single seater sessions, but for some reason the Mosler had stayed with us in 'closed wheel.' Already there from Locosts were Sian Stafford, Dave Boucher and Campbell Cassidy - all supported by the good folks at TMC. After a quick chat with them, I got myself signed-on, got the car unloaded and got myself kitted-up.

The test day was different to the one at Oulton in that the afternoon would give me just two fifty minute sessions. The difficulty with this is that my fuel tank wouldn't hold anything like enough juice for that period, particularly as so much of the lap is at full throttle. I'd thought ahead and had velcro'd a stop-watch to the dash. The plan was to do 15-18 minutes, come in, refuel and get back out again giving myself four smaller sessions in the afternoon.

Initially, the other Locosts were much faster. They had been testing all day and, in some cases, using data logging and comparison against multiple race winner Matt Cherrington to help them improve. As the time went on though found myself keeping pace, only occasionally unsettled by the Mosler. That thing is ridiculously quick. I was exiting Sear Corner onto the long Revett Straight and checking my mirrors: nothing to report. Then, BOOM the Mosler would explode past on my left and thunder down the straight in front of me; truly something to behold.

At the start of my last mini-session David, Campbell, Sian and I were all bunched-up having a mini-race of our own. It was great fun - Campbell later gave me a bit of a ribbing as he made a lunge for a pass at Coram and I backed-out fearing that he was following Sian and not wanting to turn-in on anyone. As it was Sian had fallen back and I needn't had worried. Campbell was quite happy with that though (the swine!) and it set the tone for the race on the Sunday.

The following lap, as I accelerated out of the Russell Chicane something started making a horrible noise and I thought I'd lost power. I pulled-off into the pits wondering if my season was over. Once parked-up I called Matt at Procomp and explained the lawn-mower-like noise. He suggested that I find Tony from TMC and ask him to check the rockers on the engine. I hadn't really met Tony and felt a bit cheeky asking for help, but he didn't hesitate to assist. On hearing the noise, the rocker cover was removed and all of the clearances checked. Everything seemed to be fine. If it was the bottom-end it was game over! I considered going home. All that made me stay was the fact that we weren't racing for 48 hours so that gave me some time to find a solution. Even so I was less than happy. After finding a good spot to camp and getting the tent sorted out, we spent the evening in the bar with our fellow ‘Locosters’ and had a good chat with some fellow 'Welshies' who raced in SaxMax and Stock Hatch.

The following morning I got up and started the engine.  The noise seemed to have gone. I had a look over the car and spotted that the rear exhaust mount was broken. I must have grounded-out when running wide at The Esses where there is a big drop from the race circuit down to what may be the surface of the original airfield. I checked the rest of the exhaust and found that number one primary was no longer welded to the flange; result. Easy enough fix. I went and found Tony again and asked for his help in welding it up. I went and removed the exhaust while he got his welding gear and headed for a pit garage. I then rang Matt and asked him to bring a replacement exhaust mount. Later that day, the car was all back together and clean (Motors TV were filming the weekend for their 'Race & Rally UK' series.)

Job jobbed (this is becoming a bit of a cliché on this blog I think?) I showered and Kate and I then took a drive to Strada in Bury St Edmonds for dinner which was nice. I was fairly tired by the time we got back to the circuit and was looking forward to my sleeping bag. I certainly needed to get some rest ahead of another race day.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Oulton Park

Not to put too fine a point on it, the weekend of 4th-5th August at Oulton Park was epic. It felt like a coming of age. While Silverstone was a hugely important day for me, the combination of the ‘newness’ of it all and what is a pretty featureless (National) circuit meant that things hadn’t really sunk in. After Oulton I felt like a racer and was totally addicted.

Things didn’t start well. By the time I’d completed my first lap on the Friday test day I’d been off the circuit, the back window of the van was broken and my mate’s posh gazebo which I’d borrowed had collapsed in the wind. Ah yes, the weather – blowing a gale and streaming with rain. I was just about to write it off as a bad job and go home. A big hug from Kate and a stern talking-to from myself had me mostly sorted out. As the day went on the weather improved and I seemed to be finding my way around a bit better. Even so, all the Locosts there seemed to be much quicker then me. Not a surprise but I’m not good at dealing with ‘personal failure.’

Apart from being an amazing (and long, at nearly 2.8miles) circuit set in rolling parkland, the other good thing about Oulton is that it’s close to Steve’s house. I’m very grateful to Steve and Milenah for their invitation to stay as that meant good company, a Chinese take-away, a DVD and a warm house rather than a wet tent.

Race day loomed and a ‘double-header.’ Qualifying would take the normal 15-20 minute format but with the best two laps being counted for the two races. I was still struggling; spinning a couple of times and making a hash of Lodge in particular. I never really got a good lap. Frustratingly, I nearly did – I followed Dave Black for nearly a whole lap with him on a flyer, only to throw it away at Lodge again. If I hadn’t have spun on the last proper turn, I think I’d have been far enough up the grid to give myself a nose bleed. As it was, I was 23rd for Race 1 and 21st for Race 2.

Race 1 saw a couple of big incidents. In the end a total of 10 of the field didn’t finish. I had worked my way into 19th at the end of the third lap before throwing it away at, you’ve guessed it, Lodge. Annoyingly, on this occasion I was forced wide by what was some erratic driving in front. Some useful advice, having viewed the footage from Campbell Cassidy’s car, came from experienced hand and front-runner Matt Cherrington. I should have allowed a bit more room and concentrated on putting myself in a position to pass the two cars in front on the start-finish drag rather than get involved at the point of turn-in. Lesson hopefully learned! I didn’t hit anything but flooded the carburettor and stalled. The car just would not restart so I watched the remainder of the race with the Marshalls, who were great. After a push start I was able to make my own way back to the paddock. At least everything was in one piece. I did have a small oil leak beneath the rocker cover but that wasn’t anything to worry about and just really needed a wipe down.

I effectively started in 18th for Race 2 as three of the guys in front didn’t make the start following incidents and problems in Race 1. I’d passed Max Lees by the end of Lap 2 and was going pretty well. This was pleasing as both Kate’s Mum and Dad and my best mate, Karl and his girlfriend came to watch. I was excited; maybe too excited. I was on my own as I entered the Knickerbrook chicane. I made a total hash of it and spun, stopping in the middle of the track. Now the car had at times felt unforgiving and I put some of my spins to-date down to that. Not this one; just a total lapse in concentration – idiot! I’d stalled as well so it didn’t take long for Max and the others to be on top of me. I’m massively thankful that all of those behind me showed great skill in scattering either side of my car (onto the grass) and didn’t hit me or anyone else. Sorry!!

This was Silverstone all-over-again. Dead-sodding-last! To say that I wasn’t happy would be something of an understatement. I had the bit between my teeth. I made one pass on lap 4, two on lap 5, one on lap 6 and a further two on the last lap; finishing in 18th. My best lap was a 2:08:43 which made me the 10th fastest car out there. It’s a shame I couldn’t be consistent! What is more, that best lap is over a second faster than Tony’s fastest lap when he drove the car at Oulton in 2007 – and he finished 8th! Clearly, everyone has moved on and got faster in the last two years and the conditions may well have differed but that gives me hope. The fact is, I seem to have some raw pace but I’m absolutely full of ‘rookie mistakes.’

Still, onwards…

I've been trying to take some screen-shots from Real Player but that's been a disaster so instead I urge you to check-out Steve’s great photos at