Beyond the pride of Norfolk..

Whilst the RF84 is off being finished I’ve been looking at projects beyond the pride of Norfolk.. (I’m not blogging about the Van-Diemen as I couldn’t think of anything more annoying than working on a project whilst somebody else writes a commentary. Hence the lack of blogs recently.)  When the car is together and running I’ll put a proper update together on what was done, by whom, how and why… it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the RF84 continues to surprise as to just how ‘individual’ a design it is.. But to other things.

Since I started drawing a Formula 750, on my board, in the 1980’s, the idea of a Laurence Marks penned car hasn’t ever, fully, gone away.  (I even bought an engine, gearbox, uprights and an axle before giving up on that idea in the early 90’s.)  Playing with the new DS product, Xflow, got me interested in external aero again, and to do that properly I needed to draw some decent car models. A project that I’ve got lined up (hopefully I’ll be showing some of it off before too long) means decent geometry is essential. So to prevent me wasting too much time I created a carline template.  Its got wheels that can be varied in size and position, and the track and wheelbase are set up so that they can be varied by simply editing a value.  It also plainly needed a driver, and all too rarely in the history of motorsport, I was the obvious choice.  So for the second time in our married lives Mrs Marks had to help me measure myself in a driving position. This time the result is parametric, useful if I start growing again I guess, and can be moved around for various seating position options.


I also added front and rear wings, mainly to look at the options for parametrically changing wing section, position and angle.  By now you can probably see where this is going. A little idle hacking around and a bit of downloading from Grabcad and I’d got something that looks a bit like a hillclimb car.


If you’ve read the Newey book you’ll see where I got the idea for the wing fences that extend to the front wheels.  At this stage the idea of the model was primarily to look at aero, and the initial runs are very interesting, hampered though they are by the fact that I can’t get on a machine with a useful number of processors at the moment.  I’m working on that one..


Now this thing (it hasn’t got a name or number yet) is starting to have a life of its own.  Works in progress now include reading the blue book, especially the rops bits, drawing a parametric space frame that can be optimised and crash test analysed, and obviously there’s lots to do on the aero side and then suspension.  I don’t think that I’ll be able to resist blogging what happens as I progress with this.

Anyone spot that the day job doesn’t have much engineering in it any more?






So that was hillclimbing a Panda

For various reason’s, mostly nothing to do with cars, its taken me an age to get this posted.
With the end of the Van Diemen build in sight the end of my time Hillclimbing the Panda has come. I rounded off with a visit to Gurston and then a final run out at Shelsley.
As I’ve mentioned before I had already achieved the benchmark times I’d set myself, so these runs were largely to try to beat Andrew Till in the HSA Championship. The Gurston meeting at the Bank Holiday weekend lucked into near perfect conditions. I’d driven straight to Salisbury after getting home from a family break to Amsterdam; so after all this effort it was really very annoying to have the throttle sensor fail on the line during the first run. Cue a slow drive home, followed by a much faster drive back on the Sunday in my road car.
There is much talk in the paddock about what you could summarise as “too much safety”.  Anyone who saw Alex Summers’ crash on the Sunday would probably loose their enthusiasm for that line of argument.  Watching from the spectators enclosure at Carousel I saw the DJ Firestorm at some considerable height, and even worried that it might land in the public area. After the crash the engine raced until marshalls killed it.  I feared the worst, but after a little while Alex walked from the remains of the car.  If I had been involved in the design or manufacture of the tub I’d have been quite pleased, and I probably wouldn’t be complaining about how safety regulations are being tightened all the time.
Replacing the throttle pedal sensor wasn’t a big or expensive job, which enabled me to be out at Shelsley for the last run out in the Panda. There was nothing too special about my performance in the event, and the threat of rain never really went away.  In fact the Esses were literally green for the early runs, and I couldn’t get over the thought of having to advertise the Panda as suitable for panel beater. Very enjoyable day but average performance. (Car is for sale now – £4000 – full spec available on request!)

SSA92 (15)

SSA92 (1).JPG

Good runs at Prescott.. and cop out time..

I’m about to cop out big time..  But before we come to that some more on this season’s competing in the Panda.

JP136 (1)

Since I last posted I’ve done a couple of events at Prescott.  A barely believable run of wet afternoons after dry practices meant that my PB, on the hill I’ve run at most, was only 60.00’s.  My best time up the hill in practice is 58,54 – nearly 11/2 seconds faster.

JP136 (15)

Rain wasn’t a likely prospect at the June HSA round.  It was really hot. maybe not as hot as the Midland Gurston round last year, but the temperature reading on the dash still showed 32 degrees.   For the only time in my hillclimb career my first run was red flagged, and unusually I drove back and was directed straight on to the start line.  As nothing had a chance to cool down I managed to put in a respectable sub 59 time.  Which I didn’t manage to repeat all day – I’ll blame the high temperatures. Still the 59.02 I did do was OK.  That did however leave some unfinished business.  With any luck (see below) this will be the last season out in the Panda.  And my target was a sub 59.  So I signed up for the Bugatti Owners Club B license series and got an entry for early July.

JP136 (18)

Practice for this meeting was wet – so I just took it easy to ensure I had a car for the dry runs in the afternoon that the weather forecast seemed to predict.  Sure enough the track had dried over lunchtime to allow me to put in my first ever sub 59 in an event.  This also put me a reasonable way up the 27 car class field, so for my last run a bigger chunk off my target time would have been nice.  I knew that I was losing time at Etores and the Esses, and sure enough with a bit of effort and commitment I managed to claw a few more tenths off my time..  58.68.  Good enough for 7th in class on the handicap system and overall faster than a good few cars, many of which are generally known to be faster than a FIAT Panda.  Really very happy with that.  And now I’ve achieved my personal target times at a number of places: sub 42 at Curborough, sub 59 at Prescott, sub 47 at Gurston..  Possibly time to move on.

As I write the other computer in the study is showing the live timing from practice for the Gurston Formula Ford Festival.  Which was meant to be the first meeting for the RF84.  And as you can see from this blog it’s not exactly ready to go.  Progress is much slower than I expected for all sorts of reasons.  So I’m going to see if I can get somebody to finish the car for me.  Its a cop out – but if I carry on like this I’ll be sitting here next year wishing I was running at Gurston..



Kentish man..


The Ford crossflow engine looms large in my family history.  We were a Ford family. My Grandfather had a V8 Pilot, later a Cortina and then a Mk1 Escort.  My parents had a MK1 Escort, then two Mk2’s.  In fact I inherited the Mk1, and used it to tow my kart to meetings.. (see ancient picture below). And all bar the Pilot had the crossflow engine.  And it only dawned on me as ordered gaskets for my FF engine that the Kent engine was the crossflow.


Progress on the Rf84 means that fitting the engine is looming large, and therefore I’m having to reacquaint myself with the Dagenham power unit.  Some aspects of the engine are obviously familiar.  Others less so.  Whatever; the plan with the engine is to leave it pretty much alone, or as alone as possible, and use it, as it is, to power my first goes at driving the car. If necessary I’ll get it rebuilt next winter.

Those not in the know may not appreciate that oil pumps come in two types – front mounted and side mounted.  The Gatmo engine I’ve got, shown below right, has a front mounted pump, and I’d hoped that was what an RF84 needed. But it turns out that what you need for an 84 Van Diement is a side pump.  Which meant changing the pump and a load of other stuff.  A continual and almost certainly tiresome aspect of this blog is how much I didn’t know, and the oil system isn’t going to buck that trend.

Luckily when I called Neil Bold (I’d heard his engines were good so I thought that by buying the pump from him he’d be able to help me choose the right one) he told me I needed a five port pump. This piece of information was almost self evident; when I sent him a picture (above left) of the original engine there were obviously 5 ports on the pump.  I also sourced a new cam chain cover from Neil.  I thought the cam cover might pass over the water pump drive pulley on the end of the crank.  Meaning that I’d not have to remove it.  But it wouldn’t and I would. Cue deep depression only deepened by watching a series of you-tube videos in which gentlemen called Jed or Earl from the Mid-West of the US remove the pulley nut from engines using rope, or the starter, or a hill and a pickup.  OK these did make me laugh, but none got me nearer solving the problem.  Only cheering up and thinking like an engineer did that.


I needed to lock the flywheel, and it turns out the internet is awash with flywheel lockers that you can buy.  For almost any engine.  I’m sure you are ahead of me here; the Kent engine didn’t seem to feature in any list of supported options.  If I couldn’t design and make a decent flywheel locker.. well.. I wouldn’t deserve the respect of my peers.  As soon as I’d made the locker I had the bolt off the end of the crankshaft without so much as a look at a length of rope, or ride down a hill in a pickup.  Moral of the story – get the right tool for the job, and if you can’t, make it.  Much better than getting stressed and bodging it.

With the pulley nut removed and the pulley extracted with a puller I removed the pump.

But at this point I started measuring stuff.  And it became evident that the engine won’t fit with the current sump.  So time for a new sump, I just don’t have the time or equipment to remove the necessary 6mm from the trough..  Hopefully by the time of the next blog I’ll have the engine in.




The Gurston HSA Round and the rebuild moves up a gear

The time to beat at Gurston was my decent practice time from last year, which, by some way was my best ever. So a sub 46.5 was needed.

Unusually for Gurston in April it wasn’t freezing cold.  In fact in the corner of the paddock reserved for the HSA field the sunshine was actually quite warm. So much so that a least one competitor seemed to be getting some serious Z’s in at one point, possibly if my memory serves, whilst the marshal’s rebuilt a barrier after the close attention lavished on it by a TVR.

Without going into too much detail I managed the sub 46.5 time and PB I wanted – 46.49!!  And I also managed to score a decent crop of HSA points – 10 to add to the 15 I scored at Harewood.  25 points after 2 meetings is good enough for me.  The Owen Motor Club Graham Hill sprint next.


The Formula Ford is starting to actually look like a racing car.  The requirement to be able to sit on the trailer was achieved after some intensive work, even though the front corner had to be re-rebuilt around some new wishbones, when I discovered that the thread retaining the pull rod was stripped.

The latest status is that I have now riveted all 4 ally side panels, refitted the dash and some of the clocks and even the front bodywork brackets.  The list of obvious jobs still includes refitting the engine and plumbing both hydraulics and electrics.  And repainting – in red and yellow.  But progress is certainly being made and I have at last been able to sit in the car again!



Harewood, Henderson’s, Uprights and Trailers

If Hillclimbing gives me a problem its the serious business of choosing my favourite hill. Gurston helps in this, as for me there isn’t enough to get your teeth into, especially for the driver of a lower powered car. But Prescott, Loton and Shelsley are up there on the list.  And now I have to add Harewood.  The HSA round at the Harewood Spring National meeting attracted a few of us from the south, several for the first time.

Harewood is an amazing hill. From a drivers point of view it’s challenging and an exciting drive, and spectators can see nearly all of the hill from the paddock.  Well worth the 3hr drive there and back. The drive was also made a lot more palatable in hindsight, as the fact that nobody from the HSA has attempted Harewood in a roadgoing 1.4 before meant that I scored a pretty respectable 15 points. Another highlight was the team of professional Yorkshiremen in the next paddock space musing on the fact that their car would go faster if they put the legendary Henderson’s Relish in the tank.   We’ll be going back to Harewood…

Work on the RF84 continues. In fact one noticeable thing is that the plastic boxes I used to store the parts are becoming emptier and sparser(?). The main focus is still on the rear end. Recently I’ve been rebuilding the rear uprights.

The trick of putting the bearing in the freezer and filing a small lead really helped assembling the whole thing.  Locking the locking ring (sounds a bit belt and braces but I’ll go with that..) is achieved using lockwire which passes through the upright and into a hole in the locking ring. Simple. If there are holes in the upright.  Which on one there weren’t.  It took a reasonable amount of nerve and commitment to drill them. As usual preparation was the key to not screwing up.  And amazingly I didn’t.

So once the upright and hub assemblies were back together I could properly rebuild the rear suspension.  Which was relatively straightforward, even though I’m yet to fit the rear anti-roll bar assembly.


The pace of the rebuild is being forced by two things.  One is the approach of some events I said I’d do, and the other is the fact that the trailer I have ordered is now complete and ready for collection.  The great thing about this trailer is that it will fit in the garage, but only with the car sitting on it.  Which means that the car needs to be in a form that can sit on a trailer by Wednesday.  That’s the Easter break sorted.





Uprights part 2. And drawing to understand.

I took something of a break from the RF84.  Lots of the rear end was away being plated and re-bearinged and the time of year meant that when I measured the temperature of the car recently it was -1.  Too cold to handle.  But this week the parts returned from Universal, and the weather also took a turn for the warmer.  So its all back on in the Marks garage.

I’m beginning to think that it might actually be easier to re-manufacture the rear uprights than strip the paint off them.  That possibly isn’t the case, but it feels like it.  And it does illustrate the issue with the rear uprights.  They just sap the hours of this rebuild project.

The last big issue with upright 2 was the bearing retaining collar. (The sectioned view shows it in light grey.)  Its not easy to tell how long the upright has been together, but it has to be some time, as removing it was impossible.  So I sent it back to Universal to be machined out.

Now I’ve got the paint off the upright (well most of it) I’m agonising over something that may or may not be a crack.  I’ve already ordered a dye pen kit from the retail heaven that is Demon Tweeks. As I said the time spent on rear uprights seems endless.

The CAD drawing of the RF84 has suffered somewhat.  Basically the system I chose to draw it in couldn’t handle a complete car, so I’ve returned to Solidworks.  And for various reasons I wanted a car model for work, so I drew a simplified 70’s style car.  A bit like a Lola T340.  What it taught me was frightening.  The front suspension bump steers like crazy, the rear locked up at until I totally redrew it.  And it taught me that I didn’t really know much about suspension geometry after all.


Time I re-read Staniforth. .  If there’s something I need to know, and need to know relatively quickly its how a double wishbone suspension works, and what setting it up entails…

In Panda news I’ve topped up the charge in the battery, before I refit it (probably next weekend) and move the car out of the lockup.  I need to check it all out and give it a run, and I’ll need the space to store the new trailer when it arrives. And the first meeting (Curborough 19th March) is only a month away.





Rear uprights.. part 1

This project is something of a rollercoaster ride. Everything you do, you do for the first time. So I guess it isn’t a huge surprise that occasionally things don’t go as smoothly as you’d like. Rear uprights are a case in point.

The rear upright of the RF84 is an aluminium alloy casting, unlike the front uprights which are steel fabrications.  Given the nature of the rebuild everything is being replaced and as usual Simon from Universal supplied advice as well as the components.

Undoing the central bolts wasn’t simple. The impact driver from HSS gave up the ghost instantly.  Just what this project needed – 4 pointless journeys too and from Oxford.  Anyway they were really decent and gave me refund. As is becoming routine I then ordered a mains powered impact driver from Machine Mart.  And this removed the nuts with relative ease – £70 – but £70 well spent.

Removing the bearing and central hub was less straightforwards.  The hub pushed out with the inner race still in place (destroying the bearing wasn’t any sort of problem) but the outer race stayed firmly in place in the casting. Heat is what it says in the email from Simon.  I heated it in the oven, and tried to push it out with the press.  But the piece of steel box section I used to press on the race collapsed.  One of the good things about eBay is the variety of things you can order.  So I ordered a 20mm thick aluminium disc of the right diameter to fit in the inner race.  After heating the casting to 120 degrees in the oven I dropped the disc into the race (I’d put it in the freezer to help cool and therefore shrink the race – possibly not very effective but not exactly difficult to do.) The race pushed out with the pressure gauge on the press registering negligible amounts of load .. Right size, right shape, right strength.  There might be something in that.

The old paint was then stripped from the upright.  The bearing would then be replaced and the upright painted – I didn’t want to heat the new paint.  As seems usual this wasn’t as easy as I’d expected.  A couple of brushes with thinners had the paint off the front uprights.  More like a couple of days with a wire brush and paint stripper on the rears.


Heat the casting then the bearing will just drop in.  That’s what Simon said. As did a few people on the internet. Well it didn’t.  So I thought that the press would help push it gently into position. The long and the short of it was that I got the bearing stuck, and when I pushed it out there was a ridge around one side of the bore.  Pretty depressing.  In fact I was beginning to question the wisdom of the whole project.

Whilst waiting for my daughter to arrive at Oxford station I started researching people who might be able to sort the problem out.  The first I called, John from Mamba Racing in Farringdon, suggested I have another go but only after scraping the bore to clean it up, filing a small lead on to the bearing bore, and cooling the bearing  in the freezer. I also bought a infra-red temperature gauge so I could ensure that the casting was actually up to temperature (120 c).  When I did all this the bearing just dropped into place.  Upright, confidence and optimism restored. Thanks John.


Removing the race from the hub also proved successful, and above all rapid.  Rather than using the silver steel rods I used to push the race off last time, I used some countersunk screws.  These were better and more effective for a number of reasons.  One, they were a smaller OD, so didn’t stick, were made of a decent material so didn’t bend, and had a big head, so the end was restricted from rotating and hence they didn’t buckle. The inner race was off in minutes.

So I guess the moral of this story is that this was always going to be a lot of work, and that it is probably innocent to expect it all to be plain sailing.  It was also a bit adventurous to try doing this restoration without a proper machine shop on hand.  Still nothing ventured..

Next time I’ll hopefully be able to look at the rebuilding process.. ..the new bits (obviously sourced from Universal) are shown below.










Comparing cars 4 years apart..

I’m currently at one of those points where the rebuild is held up because I haven’t got the right bolts in my possession.  This time I’m waiting for some 1/4 UNF x 1’s and some 7/16 UNF x 2’s to arrive.  I made the decision that all nuts and bolts will be replaced in this rebuild (as well as all bearings, paint, piping and plating… ) and shortcuts are only really cheating myself.  So I’ll finish the section I’m working on in the evenings next week.  I’m also waiting for HSS to come up with a 450Nm impact driver, which is what I think I need to undo the hub bolts on the rear uprights.  But this all good stuff – since the rear end bracketry came back from the platers I feel that the project is moving again.


So this hiatus gives me a chance to think.   At the HSA season closer at Curborough a couple of weeks ago I got to sit in Richard Summers’ RF80 and it was a great opportunity to look at how the car compared to mine. Plainly something was driving the development of Formula Fords quite hard in the early 80’s.

The RF80 (I stole this picture from an advertising site – so if you think I’ve infringed your copyright I’ll take it down and find another one..) has a very simple rear end. Everything seems to be focused on the rear beam which is bolted to the brackets on the output castings. The initial impression you get is that the Mk9 must be highly loaded.  But the top wishbones are hinged at the beam/chassis interface and “toe” loads are resisted by the trailing link which connects to the chassis at the base of the roll hoop, so it might not be too bad in that respect. Above all this is a simple car.


The RF84 rear end has a higher part count for a start.  And the overall theme seems to revolve around providing greater rigidity, whilst possibly taking the load off the VW manufactured gearbox casing. There may well also have been an aerodynamic drive to get the shocks and suspension links out of the airstream.

The RF84 uses aluminium plates to mount the suspension to the spaceframe all round, and two of these plates are used in the rear suspension; one as a sort of rear bulkhead and one which is bolted across the rear of the gearbox.  Surrounding these are a number of fabricated brackets, and below the box a plate and machined aluminium sections take the load and provide rigidity.  The picture below shows the main bulkhead and its associated bracketry.  The whole thing is quite complex, but very nicely manufactured. rear_bulkhead


The following pictures (obviously pre-rebuild) give a pretty good idea of how complex the rear of the car is compared to the RF80.  The competition between manufacturers was pretty intense at this time and it really shows. Its why Formula Fords are so fascinating.



And in closing, looking at some pre-rebuild pictures is a great motivator – the car is really looking much better.