Videos – they may be sporadic

I guess that writing about cars is an art form of sorts, though it never really feels like it. It’s just something I do. Making videos feels a lot more like art. Artists labour and strive, look at what they’ve achieved, consider that it is all complete rubbish, get upset, try again, give it up as a bad job and go and do something else, then have another go when the passion returns.

The inlet manifold is successfully removed.

An artist, last week.

Well, that’s very much the creative process I go through with my videos. It’s why some take an absolute age to appear, while some never appear at all…

I’ve already got two Omega videos sitting there unfinished, while I attempt to judge their worth. At the moment, that judgement isn’t particularly kind, so they get published, or they may not. Work’s about to get in the way, so at least I’ve got some enforced thinking time. Maybe I’ll view them more kindly after stepping away from the edit suite for a while.

I’ve also still got a video on the MG GS that needs assembling and editing, and another on the Nissan Qashqai. I’m not very happy with that one either, and I filmed that back in November. I’m also aware that I could do with a better laptop. This one is getting on for eight years old now, and it’s not really cut out for editing high-definition videos. The fan reaches revolutions I wasn’t sure were possible. Normally, it wafts gently, like a Rolls-Royce, but video editing can leave it revving harder than a Honda S800. I think “surely, this isn’t possible?” It’s a bit like hearing your dad singing Mariah Carey. Disturbing. Sorry dad.

Anyway, my point is, videos will be forthcoming, but not to any set schedule. Thank you for all positive feedback over the years. As my 400,000th view approaches, I really must think of a nice way to mark it. For those who haven’t fallen asleep yet, you can find all of my many videos here. Tesla Model S, Mitsubishi Pajero Junior, electric Volkswagen Beetle, BMW-engined 2CV, Peugeot J7, Jaguar XJS, a load of buses, a caravan, Nissan Skyline, Perodua Nippa, Volkswagen e-Up! – off-road. Who else has got variety like that? No-one sensible, that’s for sure.

Travel planning – what a faff

The fleet has had a pretty quiet day today, other than me discovering that yes, the Omega’s battery is flat again. I’ve ordered a new one. I hope it isn’t just a drain. I probably should have checked that. I don’t think it is though…

So, another day driving the laptop only, as I gathered tasty motors for Japfest in April, wrote features for Classic Car Buyer and Retro Japanese and tried to plan the far end of the week – which is approaching rapidly.

A lovely train, just like I'm not catching.

A lovely train, just like I’m not catching. Lovely pantograph wiper, V16 engine. YUM.

You see, I’m at the London Classic Car Show on Friday, which means the awful bother of having to get myself to London again. For half a nanosecond, I contemplated driving, and when the crying stopped, I sat with Google maps and tried to work out the most economical way to make it all happen. To aid with decision making, I went to the National Rail website. I’m not sure why I decided to see how much it cost to get from Coventry to London, but it was probably because I once ended up passing through Cov on a very fancy Chiltern train – I think it had a V16 engine. Anyway, I discovered that I could get to London from Coventry for just £6! DONE! Ignoring the fact that I had no other plans, I booked it.

Of course, it wont’ be a lovely V16-powered loco, it’s a London Midland train, which I think will probably be a commuter-class electric with hideous, green seats. At least they are quiet. It isn’t that quick, but I don’t really care for £6. I can get a nicer train on the way back on the Friday. I think.

The plan is to drive to Coventry, find somewhere to abandon the motor car (not decided which one yet) and enjoy not having to travel on an Arriva Train Wales rattlebox. AirBNB has found me somewhere to stay in London for all of £23, so we’ll see how that pans out too.

But, it’s all terribly frustrating really. Finding cheap railway tickets really is far too reliant on luck. There’s no magic ‘super cheap’ website. The Split Ticketing one I sometimes use wanted over £40 for the return journey, rather than the £22 I’m paying. So, you have far too many decisions when it comes to just picking which website to use, let alone then deciding which journey is best.

It really isn’t good enough, and is a stark reminder of why so many people just think ‘sod it’ and take the car instead. Only the horrors of London driving (and parking!) convinced me to seek an alternative solution.



Project OMG: More like Project Ugh

Shopping needed to be acquired, so I jumped into the Omega this morning, and discovered that the battery had not yet recovered from its previous death. This time, I decided to jump it with the Nippa. It did quite well given that the engine almost stalled when I connected the jump leads…

I wisely put the jump leads into the Omega and headed to the shops. While there, I paid the Sunday tax by grabbing a pair of wiper blades from Halfords, discovering that their easy flip-chart to find the correct blades had been replaced by computer touch screens. That don’t work…

Once a man finally managed to coax his own computer into giving up the useful info (I was by this stage wishing I’d just brought the old blades in with me, or looked up the info on my phone), I found that a pair of Bosch blades cost the same as Halfords own. Job done. £19.99 not too bad. Also grabbed some glass wipes, because I was seriously struggling with vision on the way in.

On returning to the car, I found this happy scene.

Kia Pride, H-reg Land Rover and my mighty Omega.

Kia Pride, H-reg Land Rover and my mighty Omega.

I went to do a bit more shopping, came back and discovered that the Omega still didn’t have enough juice to get it going again. Huge, heavy automatics do have their disadvantages.

Oh gawd. Dead again! Panda proved helpful.

Oh gawd. Dead again! Panda proved helpful.

Thankfully, the owner of that Panda was kind enough to give me a jump – I was glad I’d packed those leads. I decided to head off for an extended drive home, to hopefully get some charge into that poor battery. Not easy with headlamps, wipers and blowers all working hard, but it seemed to do the trick. It was as I was many miles from civilisation that I remembered I’d forgotten to buy lunch. Bother. That Kia Pride had obviously distracted me more than I’d thought.

About two minutes after I had that thought, the Omega started making an alarming noise under throttle. I was starting to wish I’d stayed in bed. I turned around, and decided the best idea was to drive home as quickly as possible before it broke down. It was pouring with rain, and I had no appetite to investigate.

It was quite an enjoyable hoon, and when I got home, the rain had eased enough for me to investigate. Forgetting about the tired bonnet struts of course. Ouch! It didn’t take long to spot the issue. The EGR valve clamp had come adrift. I clearly hadn’t tightened the 13mm-headed bolts sufficiently. Idiot.

I abandoned the Omega and jumped into the Honda to get lunch. I’m hoping this afternoon will be less problematic.


Project OMG: Stopping the leak

Now with video! See lower down.

There was a bonus this morning, when the seal kit for the Omega arrived earlier than expected. To recap, the Omega had a declared fuel leak when I got it, which I just about managed to stem for an MOT, but which very much still needed doing. Leaks from these Bosch diesel injector pumps seem very common – to the point that you can’t help thinking there must have been a better way…

Having already removed the inlet manifold, it didn’t take long to pull the pump to bits. I first marked the sides, as positioning is very important (as I’d soon find out!). I’d already smashed a 7mm socket onto the anti-tamper screw, and cracked that off, so it really was just a simple case of undoing four bolts, removing the lid, then undoing three more to get the next level off. I used plenty of blue rags to catch the diesel that spills during this operation, and I’d thoroughly degreased the pump and surrounding area. Cleanliness is good!

The new seals were fitted – one of the old ones just fell out, and the other didn’t need much coaxing. The new ones simply push in. I put the pump back together, but didn’t fully tighten the base screws. These need to be left for fine-tuning. In short, if this part of the pump is not exactly where it needs to be, the fuelling will be out. At best, the car will run poorly. At worst, the car won’t run at all.

It was at this stage that I discovered that the battery was flat. It just about had enough juice to illuminate the dash lights, but not enough to turn the engine. Unfortunately for me, the car was parked in a manner that left it impossible to get a car in front of it. The 2CV (just because it was there) was just able to pull the Omega backwards, so I could then squeeze the Honda S-MX in to provide some much-needed charge.

My black, Japanese jump pack.

My black, Japanese jump pack.

Incidentally, the tiny li-ion jump pack I have was not even remotely interested in starting a high-compression, 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine. Nor was my ancient Halfords lead acid jump pack, though that hasn’t been that keen on starting a 2CV engine lately…

The Honda hurled volts at the Omega, and it then burst very noisily into life – on account of having no inlet manifold fitted, and also the EGR pipe venting to atmosphere in the engine bay. It sounded awful, not settling to an even idle. As the pump filled up with fuel again (replacing what was lost), the revs suddenly rose alarmingly. I quickly turned off. This is a real danger, so never walk away from the car if starting it in these conditions. Keep your hand on the key!

I then slackened off the lower pump bolts, and gave it a few taps forward using a wooden hammer handle. Don’t hit the pump with the metal part of the hammer, or you’ll damage it. I tried starting it again. Uneven and awful. Off again and a further tweak. Now it seemed to run nicely. Brilliant! I then set about tightening the bolts and refitting the inlet manifold. I missed a key stage here, which we’ll get to in a minute!

Refitting the manifold was a right faff, as it’s very easy to lose the nuts that hold it in place. Six are easily accessible above the manifold. The other six require you to get them in place where your hands can’t reach. I lost two and had to remove the manifold again. Stuffing a bit of rag in the socket helped keep the nuts in place until they were seated. I wish I’d thought of that earlier…

I also wish I’d taken more photos, but time was very much being munched away. I needed to crack on.

With the engine back together again, I fired it up. Oh dear. It was lumpy, prone to surging and chucked out loads of soot. This didn’t look right at all. The problem is, you need to keep the engine running while you tighten down those pump bolts, as even that slight movement can disrupt the fuelling. I was going to have to pull that sodding manifold off again.

With the pump now accessible once more, I loosened the bolts and started the engine. Still lumpy, so at least I knew the problem wasn’t manifold related. I tapped the pump forward, it was still bad. I kept going (we’re talking very small movements here) and bingo! Suddenly it began running sweetly again. I left the engine running this time, and tightened the bolts. That upset it again, so I backed them off once more and nudged the upper pump section forward a little more. Tightening it this time made no difference to the running. Success!

Back on with the manifold and, despite my best efforts, I still managed to lose a manifold nut. Like my old XM, this is one of those annoying bloody cars where if you drop something, the chances of it reaching the ground are pretty much nil. I couldn’t find it but thankfully, a 13mm-headed nut with washer was a fine replacement. Reaching the rear-most nuts is a particular challenge, that left me ‘planking’ atop the engine. I’m glad no-one saw me.

With it all back together once more, I could hook up the jump leads AGAIN and bask in the cheering warble of six happy cylinders. A test drive revealed that all was well, and no longer was there a hideous stench of diesel every time I stopped. The test drive was about four miles, and I left the car running to hopefully recharge the battery. That’s two batteries out of four on the fleet that are far from happy, and both are on cars that were off the road for over 18 months…

Fixed! No leak, smooth running. Phew!

Fixed! No leak, smooth running. Phew!

It’s all very pleasing, and leaves me looking forward to cracking on with other jobs. This poor car really is overdue a service, and I’d still like to sort out the unchanged rear spring. It is rather overdue a wash too. I’m sure that’ll remind me of how big it is!

A video of today’s adventure will be forthcoming. EDIT – and is now here!

The Art of Bodgery – aluminium tape

When you drive old cars, you’re forced to be resourceful. You need to be able to diagnose noises. Is that a ‘stop right now’ sort of a noise, or a ‘push on to the next safe stoppign place’ noise, or a ‘meh, I can safely ignore that’ noise? You may also need to deploy cunning fixes to get you on your way. I once had to tie on a shock absorber with speaker wire after a mounting snapped and have become quite good at driving a car with a broken clutch cable.

One of my favourite ‘bodge’ materials is aluminium tape. It can cover holes in bodywork if you’ve got leakage, and, as I discovered this weekend, you can just about use it to stem a leak from a diesel pump. It isn’t ideal for that though. Where it really scores is for exhaust bodgery!

The bodger's friend - aluminium tape.

The bodger’s friend – aluminium tape.

For the second time in a week, I was forced to deploy this most marvellous of materials, as the Nippa was getting noticeably throaty in the exhaust department. Not a bad thing perhaps, but the neighbours might not agree.

The exhaust system is utterly shot to be honest. It had a welded repair last year, but the whole system is flaking away. There was a hole just before the rear silencer though. Perfect for a bit of tape!

Who need's a proper bandage?

Who need’s a proper bandage?

Now, you can get exhaust bandages to offer a more robust bodge, but they’re not necessarily very cheap. At £7 for a roll, this tape offers great value. There’s enough to ‘repair’ several exhausts! I wrap on a few layers, and try to get high-tack tape. Ultimately, this exhaust still needs to be replaced, but this is good enough to pass an MOT, and saves you the embarrassment of driving around in a car that sounds like it is farting loudly. A few seconds’ work and it’ll sound good as new. It is no longer an immediate concern.

I know it’s good enough to pass an MOT, as part of the Omega’s work was doing the same.

Omega passed an MOT like this.

Omega passed an MOT like this.

The MOT merely states that there should be no leaking gases, so it’s absolutely fine. As you can see, the Omega’s patch is still holding up, even after 100 miles of driving. It gives me the luxury of time to find the best deal on a replacement system, and, more importantly perhaps, it enabled me to drive home legally.

Sure, the aluminium tape wasn’t enough to really fix the diesel leak, but it did slow things down a great deal. That was a more temporary bodge solution, but one which achieved the desired response. I far prefer this stuff to gaffer tape, which can leave particularly nasty gluey mess where used. In fact, aluminium tape has become an essential part of this bodger’s toolkit.

Magazine news: Feb 2017

I’m still balancing Classic Jaguar and Retro Japanese magazines at the moment: two wildly disparate worlds, and two I enjoy very much. It messes with my head a bit, having to focus so intently on one world, then put it aside and leap whole-heartedly into the other. Sure, a few thoughts about the ‘off duty’ magazine creep in while I’m working on the other, but when magazine production is in full-flow, there’s little room for anything else. It’s pretty intense.

Which is why the Blog will have its quiet phases this year, and likely my YouTube channel as well. I’ve been pleased at how well I’ve managed to keep both ticking over this year so far, but reality is bound to strike at some point, especially once the show season starts to kick off again. I’m currently drawing together a list of display cars for Japfest Silverstone and Japfest Donington, just in case I wasn’t busy enough! Retro Japanese will have stands at both. After the success I had last year at the Fast Car Festival (this year, the Sunday after Japfest Donington), I’m really looking forward to it. From my own shambolic Mitsubishi Colt to a fiery Toyota Supra Twin Turbo, the mix was good. We even had a Datsun Cherry Europe!

Retro Japanese display at the Fast Car Festival 2016

Retro Japanese display at the Fast Car Festival 2016

At the moment, I’m also putting the next issue of Retro Japanese together. We’re exactly one month from deadline and there’s an awful lot to do! As usual, I’m trying to put together a blend of features on the cars you’ll probably know about, and those that you probably don’t. Whatever your automotive interests, I always try and give plenty to read!

Alongside this, I’m finishing off the admin for Classic Jaguar magazine, with the next issue going on sale on Friday. I do like beautiful things, and they don’t get much more beautiful than a Jaguar XK120 fixed head coupé on steel wheels and hubcaps.

Just gorgeous - XK120 in Classic Jaguar

Just gorgeous – XK120 in Classic Jaguar. This copy on sale Friday 17th February 2017

How many other people get to create features like the above, but also features like the below? Welcome to my world.

Nissan's fascinating electric history, by Eddie Rattley.

Nissan’s fascinating electric history, by Eddie Rattley.

This happy place seems a suitable way to mark the fact that as of next month, I will have been in this business for a full decade. I’d had a few features published prior to this milestone, but March 2007 was when I started work as a features writer on Classic Car Weekly. I’ve driven some amazing cars for sure, but I’ve also written hundreds of features, using hundreds of thousands of words. No wonder the keys on my laptop keep wearing out!

I’ll never be a rich man in financial terms, but I’m very grateful that this is what I do. Oh, and don’t worry. The 2CV news will keep coming. Things have been a bit quiet for the ol’ girl lately, as she’s mostly been hiding from evil weather. She’ll be at the Practical Classics Restoration and Classic Car Show (there’s a mouthful) towards the end of March though, on the 2CVGB stand. If you’re there, do come and say hello. Hopefully, I’ll be fitting some much-needed sound-deadening! Fatmat have delivered something that should take the edge off, and save my hearing! Elly will also be scraping her doorhandles at Coventry Motofest in June.

It’s all looking rather busy, which is nice! Having had a few years to learn how to relax again after that stint on Classic Car Weekly, it’s definitely time to do more of what I love doing. Writing about old cars.