More wet runs at Prescott and a vist to Universal


First some Panda stuff.  Having had an encouraging run out at Curborough it was time to try the new cam at Prescott.  My first run up the hill was a PB at 59.39 – 1/2 a second up on my best time from practice last year.  My next was even better – one of those all too rare runs where you feel that you had it nailed and everything flowed properly.  58.89.  (I’m sure there’s a 57 something to be had!!)   Then the inevitable. Rain, in fact heavy rain.  So 60.00 remains my fastest event time, although my wet runs did win me a few useful HSA points, temporarily lifting me to second in class A1. I must remember to email C&B and tell them how happy I am with their work.


Now Formula Ford progress.  A work visit to Lotus allowed me to drop in to see Simon and Ken at Universal Racing Services. What an amazing operation those guys run.  The pretext was to pick up the newly plated and re-bearinged (is that a word?) front suspension and pedals.  Simon also managed to sell me a GRP moulded suspension cover – necessary when running an RF84 in competition these days.  I was planning to make one myself, but for £35 it was crazy to do anything other than buy it.   As the plan is to change every bearing on the car I also purchased a set of front wheel bearings.


Fitting these bearings needs a press.  A week or so ago the problem of finding a press was solved by the “Machine Mart VAT free weekend” which legally is probably more of a 20% discount weekend.  Anyway the press was delivered and I spent last weekend making an appropriate stand and assembling it.  By the time that was done there was precious little time to actually do anything on the car. Hopefully I’ll get time to work on the uprights next weekend, before helping run the Dreaming Spires model aircraft competition.

Things are changing on the RF-84 project, until a week or two ago I was waiting for parts to come back in a refurbished condition; now they are either back, or in the case of the gearbox almost ready to come back.  A plan to take a few days off work to make some progress on the car may need to be put into action. Soon.

The Graham Hill Sprint and other diversions

Again limited progress on the RF84.  I did pop rivet the name plate to the firewall, the importance of which is almost purely symbolic. The gearbox is off at MBR and the front suspension and pedals still at URS.  Pressing the bearings out of the front uprights is still a work in progress.  Finding a time that is convenient for everyone involved with the press is proving a bit difficult – so a 20% off offer on a 10 tonne press at Machine Mart will have to be bought into play this weekend.


Recently I’ve had a bit of work done on the Panda.  I’ve probably mentioned the Ragazzon exhaust here before, but I’ve also had a set of Columbo and Barriani cams fitted. I called C&B a little while ago and they suggested a cam profile which would give a small increase in top end whilst improving torque and driveability.  So after these had been fitted by Bradleys in Shipton Under Wychwood; great job Adam and hope the finger is on the mend; getting out seemed like a really great idea.  Good job I’d entered to Owen MC Graham Hill Sprint at Curborough, on the figure of 8 course. I also needed the HSA points, being stuck somewhere near the bottom of the table. (As an aside Hill is probably the first racing driver I can remember being aware of.)

On the morning of the event I woke to possibly the worst cold I’ve had in years; tempted not to go I instead starting consuming industrial quantities of Lemsip Max and got in the car.  As you’d expect when there isn’t a single raindrop on the weather apps it started pouring just before my run.  90s was a pretty terrible time, but I wasn’t exactly 100%.  Second run – still wet and I managed to knock off about 5s and put in a respectable time.  The combination of exhaust, air inlet and cams seemed to have transformed the car. Still a 100hp Panda (now up to around 113hp if the Bradleys Dyno is any judge of these things) but now one with a motor which revs cleanly and enthusiastically, and sounds the part too. The people at C&B had been spot on. By my timed run the track was almost dry, so I could go for it a bit more.  Upshot: 8/10’s off my dry track PB, and with a stinking cold.  When the rain started again I abadonded any ideas of a final run – I’ve thrown it away at Curborough in the wet before. I was more than happy with the time, but much happier when I saw the number of HSA points that I’d scored later in the week. From the foot to the middle of the table in one event!! 3 more HSA events should improve the table position some more by the end of the year.  I might even consider others, depending how class A1 looks just before they hand out trophies..

Grahah Hill

Fast lap from Graham Hill Sprint



A visit to MBR, RF-84 pics, hub woes.. and solutions..

Lots to report on the RF-84.  Firstly the trip to visit Mark Bailey on Friday.

I was under no illusions about the state of the Hewland MK9 that I bought last year.  It was always going to need new bearings, seals and a stack of other bits. And as Mark stripped it it was evident that this was the case.  It also needed a little welding, and the bolts needed replacing with studs as per the original. The job list is extensive, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll have a decent box which will last a few seasons when the work is done.  As we talked as Mark worked, it became apparent that we knew a lot of the same people, and had even raced at many of the same Kart meetings in the 80’s.

When I bought the car Dermot said he’d bought it from Mark.  That was indeed the case, and the pictures shown here are a small selection of those that I took away with me on Friday.  They are both useful for the rebuild, and a great record of the car as it was raced a few years back.

A great way to spend a morning.


A job that needs doing before I complete the rebuild of the front suspension is to change the wheel bearings.  This involves a lot of a work and a press.  Having lined up the use of a press all I needed to do was undo the bolts which pass through the hubs.  Simon from Universal said something like “this should be straight forward”. Well it wasn’t.  The bolts must have been torqued to something like 400Nm and it was simply impossible to undo them. I spent a good part of Saturday trying. And then I spent the evening working out what to do. I came up with a fixture which would hold the hub whilst I undid the bolt; sometimes when I’m working on the car I forget I’m an engineer.  When I remember what I do for a living some of these problems are easier to solve.  By Sunday evening I’d undone the bolts. Quite a sense of achievement.







Unknown Hero

I’ve been travelling with work so here’s a blog inspired by the book I took to read on the plane..  You have to focus on the positives where you can.

If I look at the obsessions which dominated the first 20 years of my life, the list goes something like this; racing model aircraft, karting, and helping out at motorcycle meetings.  (Studying is notably absent from this list; a point I try to hide from my son as he takes his A-Levels.) At the heart of those obsessions is one piece of technology.  The two stroke engine.  But not just the two stroke; the two stroke equipped with an expansion chamber exhaust. When my Dad bought a BBC Micro computer home most people my age would have started gaming.  I wrote a program to design two stroke exhausts. Woe betide anyone who told me that two strokes were simple…


And at the time I had a two stroke tuning hero, but more of him later.

A story on the Motorsport website about Frank and Rita Perris contained a reference to Stealing Speed by Matt Oxley, who also wrote the article;  I found myself reading it as we waited for the flight to Boston. I’d finished it before the return flight took off.

So the long and the short of it is that I possibly had a vague recollection of the name Walter Kaaden. I’m possibly being too kind to myself here.  Whatever, I would have been pushed to tell you what he did.  What he did was invent the rotary induction valve, the boost port (sometimes called a TT port.. mm…might have an idea why now)  and critically the expansion chamber exhaust. Pretty much a description of a racing two stroke engine, whatever its scale or application.  Here is a man who should have been my hero throughout the late 70’s and 80’s and I couldn’t even recall his name with any certainty. The picture is put in even sharper focus for me. Kaaden’s theories on resonance were developed whilst he worked at Peenemude in the 40’s, and one thing Oxley is wrong about in his book, is that at least one wannabe Kaaden in the 80’s had heard of the place.


But Walter Kaaden was East German.  And whilst the cold war was still a real and present part of everyone’s lives it was incredibly unlikely that we’d have thought much about him, as I, and many of my friends, lovingly fettled engines which were based, almost entirely, on his pioneering work.  So to the hero I did have.  Dr Joe Ehrlich.  The man who had legendarily got 84hp from a 250 in the 80’s. Boss of the EMC company, which also made racing cars. The man who supplied Kaaden with many of the components he needed to make his MZ’s the unlikely world beaters they were. A man Kaaden called “the charlatan”.  My immediate reaction was to replace one hero with another.  But in 1984 when the 84hp 250 ran, Kaaden was already in retirement and behind the iron curtain.  So I need to think about that one..

All this has fired up my interest in 2 strokes again, although designing and building a 2 stroke engine has never been far from the top of the to do list. And now I’ve discovered that there is a 50cc racing scene, and somebody made a 50cc 4!!!  Just what I need, another obsession returning.








In which I knock 8/10’s off my PB at Loton, talk to some Formula Ford drivers and line up a gearbox rebuild.

Not much RF-84 rebuild news as in all honesty there hasn’t been much action on that front.  Too many hillclimbs and other stuff for that.

The Midland Champs event at Loton last weekend was fantastic, even though as Bob Ridge-Stern reports on his site, you’d go a long way to find many people who prefer a 2 day event to a 1 day one. I for one would prefer to do all my runs on one day and get home; the gap between runs is just too much over 2 days.  But when an event is as great as Loton was, I can’t complain that much.  Weather was fantastic and the venue was as fantastic as ever. It ties with Prescott as my favourite course.  As I mentioned in the title I managed to knock 8/10’s off my time, which I was really very happy with.  Looking at the numbers some can be put down to the car going faster because of its new exhaust and some, I hope, can be put down to me. When I got back I extended the results spreadsheet to include all the split times and speeds, and hacked around to create some sector times. Which showed me a lot.


Essentially, the run made of fastest sector times isn’t much faster than my best time.  And I could see just how completely I messed up my last run.  But then I had fallen asleep just before it.  See comments on 2 day meetings.

The good thing about a 2 day meeting is the time you’ve got for talking.  I managed to hook up with some of the Formula Ford drivers. One of them seemed to think the RF84 was ugly. Ugly or not it will be out in their class next year.

So coming up?  The Graham Hill Sprint on the Curborough 8 and a visit to Mark Bailey Racing to look at what needs doing on the MK9 Hewland.  Exciting stuff.






Some hillclimbs, the gear linkage goes in and I attempt to cut out a new firewall.

A good few weeks.  Hillclimbs at Gurston and Prescott, the model aircraft indoor nationals (happy with 5th there), I managed to fit the gear linkage, and got stuck into making the new firewall.

I just wasn’t going well at Gurston, and was in fact slower than last year, when I wasn’t as fast as I could have been.  We’ll put that one down to experience, and I’ll hopefully put in a better performance when I go back later in the year. At least I opened my scoring in the HSA championship.

Prescott was much better. The intense cold meant that I was somewhat surprised by the lack of grip at Etores the first time round. I set myself two targets – faster than last year and sub 1 minute.  Achieved the first and nearly the second. Last run 60.00!!!   I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (I chose the former.)  This was my first Midland Champs event – there aren’t any other 1.4’s in the production classes, so I’m using these as practice for the HSA rounds.

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The very wet bank holiday Monday allowed me some time to get on with the RF84.  The next tasks on the list were to fit the gear linkage and make and fit a new fire wall.  Apart from the tedious task of re-tapping the holes (that again) fitting the gear stick and linkage was relatively straight forwards.  Re-tapping the holes was not helped by the fact that tubes prevented the tap holder making a complete turn – deep joy.

Cutting the fire wall out was more straightforwards than I expected. I screwed the old one through the new material into a sheet of MDF.  Then used the old firewall as a drilling jig. It was suggested that I use a jigsaw to cut it out by a friend who restores Austin 7’s and Wolseley Hornets, and this worked really well – thanks for that one Jack.  Some filing remains to be done, but the new firewall is looking OK, and certainly neater than the old one.

Next weekend is free so I should be able to finish the firewall and move on to some other tasks.  And I may be putting some new cams in the Panda – we’ll see how that one pans out.

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More progress.. and formula ford festivals

I’ve been making steady progress with the RF84, although everything takes longer than you expect.  But for an unexpected reason.

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This project is a one man band thing, like I guess, many many others. You have to be engineer, mechanic and driver.  But the role that dominates everything, at this stage at least, seems to be buyer.  Today I wanted to re-assemble the steering and front arb properly, which I did.  And then I wanted to put the gear linkage in.  And, as previously, it turned out I needed a UNF tap to clear the powder coating, and guess what? (Last week it was 1/4UNF nylocs) I don’t have a 3/16 one.  Even with the impressive turn arounds at Tracy Tools its a couple of days away.  With the pedals and front suspension away at URS, and no means as yet of cutting out the new firewall, work stops again.

I can’t remember where I first heard the idea of a hillclimb Formula Ford Festival, though it was certainly in a paddock somewhere.  So it was great to read the there’ll be one at Gurston in July.  July… given current rates of progress 837 is never going to be there this year though there is a temptation to have a shot at it; OK it’s futile.  If they run it I’ll be there in 2017, and as I intend being at the 2016 meeting in the Panda, I’ll at least be able to watch.

Talking of the Panda there are a couple of performance mods planned for this season, one being a Raggazon exhaust.  This is being fitted tomorrow, and if it results in any form of power increase it’ll be money well spent.  And if it doesn’t the car needed a new one anyway.


Lots of effort, seemingly little progress..

It won’t come as a surprise that I’ve been working on the RF84 this weekend. However it seemed like I didn’t achieve that much.

First thing to do was to fit the front rocker and shock units properly (they were only trial fitted previously.) That went relatively well, although using the right bolts meant that I had to clear the powder coating from the holes again.  Much quicker this time.

The job list (yes I do it that way) then had “paint and refit the gear linkage” as the next job.  I read that John Barnard invented the semi-sequential gearbox because he didn’t want to route the gear mechanism on the 639 in the late 80’s.  I now share his low levels of enthusiasm for that part of the car.  Its taken me an age to strip the gear lever mechanism, and repainting bits has been something of a trial.  I’m there with the gear lever; its start again with the gear actuation rod (or whatever its called)  as the paint finish isn’t great, and the rod is quite visible. Hopefully I’ll get it done this week.

I also stripped the pedal assembly ready for replating, and measured centre distances of all the front suspension components. These will all be off to Universal for plating and new bearings next week.

The other thing I discovered is that all it takes is an absence of something like a 1/4unf nyloc and pretty much everything stops.  I really am a beginner at all this.  And it all seems to take much longer than I expect, although I hope that progress will be a bit more rapid as the car goes together.

Something I’m less of a beginner with is CAD.  The model of 837 is progressing well, with the rockers, shocks, front beam assembly and anti-roll bar now in place.  The springs have been a bit of a trial to fit, and I might have to get some help at D3D Live on Thursday.







Starting with the front suspension

Having had a go at fitting the rockers last week, I decided the next thing to do would be to trial assemble all the internal suspension components at the front end. Trial assembly would allow me to check everything went together, sort out any issues, and then finally torque everything up properly.

The main lesson of the day was that the powder coating process makes everything a bit tiresome.  Its also really quite impressive how a couple of holes that are too small for the bolts that go through them can slow up a whole days work.  After I realised that I could get a drill at the troublesome holes, and that a knife is the best way to remove powder coating from an anti-roll bar, things moved on.  In fact I managed to trial fit the entire front suspension set-up today, which was really pleasing. That included assembling the front shocks with the newly powder coated springs.  These look really good and must be a significant improvement over the somewhat tired units on the car when I bought it.

The CAD model is lagging the real thing by some margin now.  This could be put down, at least in part, to putting a few tubes into the space frame in the wrong place.  A couple of evenings should see the model catch the real thing.  In terms of developing an understanding of how the car works, and why its like it is, the rebuild and modelling process seem to be working really well.

The next move is to visit John Young’s shop in Witney (amazing place) to source as many new bolts and nylocs as I can.  As soon as I’ve got them I’ll break the suspension down again and put it together properly. That will possibly be next Saturday, but preparing for my first event of the year at Curborough (the only Shenstone event I’m doing this year) may have to take priority. That assumes that the dodgy throttle pot can be fixed in time – what ever was wrong with a cable?



Space Frame Back..

Last week I drove to GT in Newark to pick up the refurbished space frame. They’ve done a fantastic job.  The dodgy repair has been done properly, some of the sections have been replaced and the whole thing powder coated.  It, as the pictures show, looks brand new.  (The garage needs a bit of a tidy; things got a bit out of hand whilst it was away..)IMG_0956

And today the re-plated and re-bearinged (is that a word?) suspension rockers arrived back from Universal.  These look pretty much perfect too, so the aim of making the car look like it did as it was pushed out of the workshop in Norfolk in 1984 doesn’t look too unrealistic.

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This evening I tried a trial fit of the rockers in the chassis, not as straightforwards as it might seem as the powder coating had somewhat reduced the size of the gap into which they fitted.  An hour with a file and emery sorted this out and the parts went together.

The decision to draw the car as the rebuild progressed will make for more work, but ultimately will allow me to plan the rebuild better and have a more complete record of what happened. This is what the partially completed model of the space frame looks like.

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