Thursday, 22 May 2014

Earned a beer

I'm no great drinker, but somedays you really feel like you've earned a cool tinny. Fitting the oil pipes and cooler to the 911 turned out not to be the work of a moment. More accurately, it was the work of a fortnight.

I faced a number of 'challenges' (as us rank amateur car restorers like to call major SNAFUs) to do with attaching 30 year old used parts to a car that didn't have them fitted in the first place. Firstly I had to enlist help to get the remains of the flexible oil hoses off the solid hoses, and galvanic corrosion between the steel pipe fixings and the aluminium diverter valve meant another £300- into Porsche's coffers for a new one. It also took me ages to find the correct adaptor for the oil cooler to replace the one I'd butchered freeing it from the old pipes.

Fresh aluminium gently reacting with steel
Attaching the pipes and cooler without the benefit of the brackets, fittings and holes Porsche thoughtfully provided on the 911S and RS models (the ones with front oil coolers from new) took a number of goes and (oh the shame) a visit to B&Q for the necessary hardware. 

B&Q's contribution; coach bolts
I used 50mm coach-bolts to fit the three shaped clamps under the sill, taking the positions from a photo of a un-messed with 2.7RS. I used a modified galvanised heavy duty shelf bracket to support the bottom of the oil cooler, and made a mild steel bracket (well, several, actually) to support the cooler at the top. There are metal/rubber bobbins at both points to protect the cooler from vibration.

The Mk7 oil cooler mounting bracket
The one fixing that was on the car. Thanks Ferdinand.
Oddly, the captive bolt needed to support the pipes as they run under the rear wheel arch had been fitted when the car was built, and had spent 40 years sitting quietly waiting to fulfil its reason for existence.  Oversight? Standardised assembly? In any case, it's now reached the top of Maslow's triangle, fulfilled and holding up the two pipes it was born for.

One week in, all flattering to deceive.
Early 911s have two batteries, each held in boxes let into the front inner wing. The right hand one sits about where the oil cooler should go, so as I didn't want to make any changes that couldn't be reversed at some point, I had to fit the cooler in front of it. 

It took many goes at getting the oil pipes in the right place without interfering with the wing, and at the same time placing it as close to the battery box as I could to stop any fouling on the tyres. 
Sufficient clearance around the tyre
That box does stop a clear airflow to the cooler from the horn grills under the headlight, but I reckon its going to be much more effective at keeping the expensive engine happy than not using one. Airflow from the front of the car into the wheel arch is turbulent in any case - spinning road wheels cause a build up of high pressure under the arch in all closed wheel cars.

Finally, after many, many test fittings the assembly was fitted.  As an afterthought I fitted the front wing. 

Its all looking a bit more car-shaped. 

The beer was good. 


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A Very Sensible Hatchback

'Fast' is a very relative term. On a horse, 25mph is exhilarating while 500mph in a 747-400 all the away to Australia is literally soporific. Nearer the ground, I'm looking forward to being re-united with my Porsche 964 soon, its brawny 3.6litre engine punches out 250bhp, quicker than most cars on the road and capable of pushing the 911 to 160mph. But I was reminded how things have moved on since 1990 by a recent try in a 5 door hatchback.

I have a vague recollection of handing over my details to a cutie on BMW's magnificent edifice at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last July and asking about their 135i. There has been something of a buzz about the M-Light version of their visually challenged hatchback and I was curious enough to want to try one. Ever since then a persistent salesman from my nearest dealer has been on my case. He called me again recently and announced that he was able to offer me a car at a "silly price" so I thought I'd go along and waste some of his time.

I dug out some decent clothes and turned up at the dealership promptly at the agreed 11am. The forecast was for a bit of precipitation so I took the Golf, not the bike. At least that meant I was able to put some light go-faster shoes on - all the better for stepping lightly on an over-servoed brake pedal. 

There were a couple of new 1-Series sitting in the showroom when I arrived, so while the salesman was girding his loins for our encounter and the pleasant receptionist was rustling up a cappuccino, I had a good look around. I suspect this most recent iteration of BMW's smallest is a bit bigger than the 130i I looked at buying a few years ago. Unlike that car (which I remember as being an almost completely pointless four doored two seater) this has near Golf space in the rear with the front seat in 'my' position - and I'm a lanky six foot one-and-a-bit on a good day. As expected the boot is shallow - what with a diff and multi-link rear suspension set up under the floor 'n'all, but the five doors would be a practical plus over the somewhat limiting three of my own Golf. At least that upside banana 'character line' under the doors has been banished - I always thought it made the car look as if its spine had been fractured - but even without that obvious flaw the 1-series remains slab sided and moonfaced.

Inside, the steering wheel is a big chunky for my tastes, while the dash architecture is generic BMW - functional, classy and with some nice details. As some compensation the road wheels are relatively sensible 18's. BMW have even finally binned the inadequate sliding calliper brakes of 'M' cars in the past for a decent 4-pot set up in a fetching shade of blue. 

The two cars in the showroom were laden with options; both had the 8 speed autobox that Chris Harris likes, a £2k nav system and a load of 'convenience' doo-dahs for people who are unable to operate their own wipers & lights or park(or change gear...). However, in contrast to BMWs of old the standard level of kit is generous and includes such niceties as Xenon lights, a large screen+mouse interface, a DAB radio and dual zone climate control. 

Sadly, this generosity extends to the nasty Dakota leather that also comes as standard - presumably this reflects UK buyers' misguided preference for dead cow skin under their backsides. 

There is no cloth option.

After a half decent cup of coffee (it wasn't as nice as the one Porsche Portsmouth give me when I pop in to buy four quids worth of parts) the determined salesman and I went out in their demonstrator, a black 5 door with that 8-speed autobox. Mr Persistent went first, demonstrating a nicely refined BMW approved driving style; 45mph through the village's 30 limit, binary pedal technique, seat nice and high, and a good arm's stretch to the steering wheel for the 'full Stirling' driving position.

At the handover I levered the seat to the floor, pulled the fat wheel into my lap and raked the seat's back up. Much better.

First impressions were dominated by the variable assisted steering rack; turning out of the handover car-park and the steering lock was noticeably not directly related to my input -  the car adding exponentially more lock the further I turned the wheel. Not really very re-assuring and I ended up zigging and zagging down the road until I got dialled in. The assistance is of the electrical variety, and like some many of these systems it really only appeals to drivers who think 
steering 'feel' means how the your fingertips like the cheap leather covering the rim. Any connection with the road surface that allows to you judge grip and balance is almost entirely missing. 

The first few miles were busy 'A' road and second impressions were of a controlled but acceptable ride - even on the standard 18inch run flats - and a refined, even hushed lack of noise. In Comfort mode (alternatives are Eco and Sport - more later) the changes were smooth and plentiful as the box hunted for the highest possible gear. However, unlike my Golf's DSG system, it was willing to drop a gear or two (or three or four..) at a slight prod of the gas pedal.

After a while we turned onto the fast sweepers of the dualed A24 north of Worthing, and as the road opened up I pushed my right foot to the stop.

Feck me.

BMW claim 320bhp, but my seat of the pants dyno tells me they're telling porkies. There's a lot of accelerator pedal travel, but get it anywhere near the floor and it feels almost as quick as the 991 I 'owned' for a week last year. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the thing grunts out well over 350bhp, meaning it would be knocking on the door of 170mph without the limiter. I wasn't about to confirm this on the A24 but 3 figure speeds were horribly easy to achieve, all accompanied by a delicious yowl from the straight six that's only partly synthesised through the car's ICE system. This is some sensible family hatchback.

It was also pretty easy to waft along at normal motorway speeds, but after a few miles I left the open spaces of the A24 and joined a familiar A road heading back south towards Angmering. In 'Sport' mode the ECU delivers sharper throttle response and quicker changes,  responding rapidly to commands from the paddles either side of the wheel. In fact I suspect BMW have engineered a little 'thump' into the system just like the faux racers from Maranello. 

The steering still felt a little numb, definitely the weakest part of the dynamic equation. I suspect traction in anything but perfect conditions would also be a challenge; even in the dry, more aggressive use of the available torque produced flickers from the ASC light on the dash as the car went light over brows and lumps in the road. In fact, the chassis seemed not quite up to the standards of the drive-train. It lacked an ability to flow over a road like the best fast cars; as the pace increased the body moved around more than felt comfortable, affecting my confidence to push very hard. Poorly specified damping? Lack of suspension travel? Mind you, even at 8/10ths we were travelling at speeds I wouldn't like to have to justify to a member of Sussex's finest. 

On the upside it was lovely to feel the balance of a rwd chassis again; get all the braking done before the corner, turn in and pour on the power and there's no sign of the Gti's perennial understeer - in fact  the little Beemer seemed to pivot gently through neutral into a slight oversteer attitude before the blinking light cut the power - I suspect any attempt to turn the electronic stabilisers off might have been greeted with some resistance by my now strangely subdued company.

A bit more of this and we were back at the dealership. I'd nearly forgotten the pushy salesman  but as I popped to the loo (its an old man thing) I overheard him discussing our little test drive which appeared to have left something of an impression. I sympathise, I'm a poor passenger and I'd hate to be at the mercy of any test pilot who came into my showroom - especially one who fancied themselves as a wheelman/woman. I did apologise, and he claimed to have experienced much worse - in fact he was charmingly complimentary.

Sadly I then had to put up with a lot of sales bullsh*t over the price. The stock cars are not the strippers I'd specify at £30k, but fully dressed £38k jobs. A lot of money for a 5-door hatch, even one that's borderline ballistic. Even at the 10% discount he inferred might be do-able - without much prompting on my part. While I *might* just have a word with myself at £27k, at a lot more than that I'll hang fire and buy one on a couple of years.

On the other hand, if any of you want Cayman performance with hatchback practicality and understated looks I give you a shortlist of one. Oh, and I'd tick the box that removed the M135i badge and replaced it with a 116i one.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

Eight weeks….

Well I must admit, even by my standards it's been a while. The muse had abandoned me for nearly six months, but as spring settles in Sussex here we are again. So I thought I let you have, dear forgotten reader, an idea of where I've got to with the old 911's light refresh.
Old 911 sitting on its dolly tries to eat mechanic
Before winter set in last year the car came off the metal dolly used to move it about when just a shell and landed back onto its wheels.
Back on its wheels again after blast-cleaning and the application
of lots of lovely Gulf Blue paint
The suspension set-up now includes the new Bilstein Sport dampers, turbo-specification track rod ends, standard anti-roll bars front & rear, and big fat hollow 28mm Elephant Racing rear torsion bars. I've also replaced all of the bushes with stiffer SuperPro polyurethane. It was a shame the latter wasn't done by the specialist who had the car when I first had it - the rear set in particular were in a bad way. The standard brake callipers were rebuilt - one replaced when it was seen to be cracked - and with uprated pads, race-spec fluid and a trick pedal box should give power and feel.  
The engine takes up residence in a DDK workshop
Bigger holes; six of them. New JE pistons and cylinders with an 86mm bore
 will give a small increase in capacity (up from 2.3 to 2.5litres) and added 'zing'
My original intention was to replace the engine with a larger unit from a later model, but a re-think was forced on me over the winter. Partly this was because expensive mechanical disaster overtook the 'other Porsche', and partly because steadily rising values of old 911s are dependent on their having the original engines in place. I was also helped immensely by the offer of help from some DDK mates with a re-build. 

The challenge with the 1973 2.4T's engine is that firstly the specification was changed to make it cheaper to build, and secondly it was Porsche's first effort to meet newly introduced US emission regulations by adopting the K-Jetronic fuel injection system. The result is a motor that, while under-stressed and delivering of good mid-range performance, has little of the early car's zingy top end. Mine also suffered from a poorly maintained injection system. 

After much debate, the engine committee has agreed on an approach that keeps the original engine in place, but adds missing 'zing' while keeping a tight rein on expenditure. I was lucky in one respect, when the old motor was dismantled it was discovered to be in excellent condition; there was very little sign of wear to any of the major revolving bits. So good was it, that we've decided to take the calculated risk of leaving the bottom end untouched.  The smoke that plagued me when on the motorway was the usual air-cooled problem; a couple of fairly minor leaks caused oil fumes to get into the heating system, resulting in a smokey interior. In hindsight I was doubly lucky that my earlier efforts to sell the engine were unsuccessful.

The recipe will include high compression pistons in slightly larger bored barrels, camshafts from a 2.4E, heads that will be gas flowed and have the ports opened up, fat PMO carburettors and, should budget allow, a less restrictive exhaust.  With a bit more luck that lot will deliver plenty of zing and knock on the door of 200bhp. Oh, and my run of good fortune extended to the gearbox, wear was limited to the synchromesh on 3rd gear, which meant the re-build was about as straightforward (and cheap - although that's only in context of old Porsche prices) as a 915 re-build gets.

Heater, tank and wiring
Meanwhile I continued to bolt all of the bits that were being stored around the house back onto the car. All of the wiring is in place, the dashboard and instruments are fitted, the heating system is in and the fuel tank now sits back in the front. Which was good as the thing was a perishing nuisance to find a place for.
The superbly fitted headlining and 10kgs of sound deadening
The latest area of focus is on the interior. I used many, many coats of POR15 to protect the floor and vulnerable areas around the rear seat wells and parcel shelf. To replace the sound deadening that I removed, I installed a good few kilograms of bitumen-based sheet around the interior, including the roof. The aim is to cut down noise without encouraging more corrosion in the longer-term, and many, many cans of Dinotrol have been exhausted down hidden box-sections to help that cause. 

With some more help from the DDK crew, the headlining (white now - to lighten the interior) was installed and carpet is on order. When I found the car in Florida the interior was a horrible concoction of cheap after-market man-made materials that emitted the stale smell of oxidising plastic and damp carpet.  I find nothing puts me off a car faster than an interior with a bad odour, so the new one will contain more in the way of natural ingredients.
Looking car shaped with doors and wings
More recently, the panels that made my dining room look like a Porsche dealer's parts department store have found their way back onto the car; doors, sunroof and the wings were test fitted. After more debate I've decided to award the engine's new lease of life with some additional cooling. Oil pipes, cooler and thermostat were sourced via ebay from an mid-80s 911 and they will be fitted to the car. It represents a slight challenge as the spot where the oil-cooler would naturally want to sit is taken up by the early car's battery box, so a fudge will be sought.

Suspension and brake bling and trial fitting the oil cooler pipework
In a few sentences then, that's about where I've got to. Looking back it doesn't seem to represent much for nearly 18 months effort, it surprising how much time you can lose cleaning up bits and pieces, planning the next move, waiting for various specialists to do their thing, and for the weather to improve - a tiny garage means most operations involve wheeling the car outside.
Details, details; the engine shroud after removing the old yellow
paint and revealing dull gel-coat

After several hours with wet and dry

More bling; engine pulley and bonnet latches

The eight weeks? Well, its now the beginning of May, and Classic Le Mans (and boy #1's summer prom) are both in early July. The race is on.