Wednesday, 21 December 2011


With my proper job occupying a good deal of time at present, not a lot has happened in my workshop, but quite a lot elsewhere.  The body is starting to take shape at Auto-Bodycraft with endless trial fittings of various bits, until they are happy that it will all go back together properly, before starting work in detail.
The block and head are at AMAC Northallerton awaiting the arrival of pistons, valve guides and a rear oil seal conversion from Classic Jaguar Texas, due any day now.
The rear axle is being re-assembled at Gearbox and Diff specialist Lagonda Garage Billingham with all new bearings, having had the axle casing soda blasted and re-painted.  Lots of assorted brackets plates and suspension parts are being powder coated at Romax in Stockton and a big box of fasteners have been cleaned and zinc plated at Cleveland Chroming. 
I have however, managed to find time for a trip to Coventry to collect my bonnet from Leaping Cats who have pressed in 48 louvres.  At the same time I called in to see Stuart at Coventry Auto Components who did me cracking deal on a front disc brake conversion, T5 Gear Box conversion and a couple of hundred other assorted bits and pieces. 

In addition to the front disc brakes and five speed gearbox, its time to start thinking about other alterations and additions.  Driving a fairly broad selection of old cars over the past 45 years has given me a reasonable insight into whats generally lacking in terms of comfort, reliability, usability and safety.  Being an inveterate tinkerer, I've added all manner of gadgets and upgrades to past cars, some awful and pointless (at seventeen, a set of Colonel Bogey Horns were the ultimate accessory) but equally, some, really worthwhile.  I am aware that at 63 I ought to be subscribing to the "original is best" school of thought and enjoying the contrast with modern cars - baulking gears and misting windows, but if I can improve on things without it being too obvious then I will. 

Performance and handling mods are generally well known in the XK fraternity and are often a question of what can be afforded, from super spec motors to all manner of handling and transmission upgrades.  What is more interesting I think are the little things that can be easily added at relatively small cost.  They can enhance daily usage but also make long distance trips much less wearing and consequently safer.  Many involve alterations and additions to the electrical systems and can be Incorporated into the existing (in my case new) loom or added and powered by an auxiliary loom, all totally concealed.

A good example of such an addition is the Mazda (yes - Mazda!!!) MX5 Heater blower installed under the nearside wing of my XK140 FHC where one of two six volt batteries previously lived.  This feeds huge volumes of air into a modern heater matrix (Mazda again), with the original XK heater front cover concealing the dastardly deed.  Total cost didn't exceed £85.00 with the bits coming from EBay and RS components.  It took three attempts and countless hours of enjoyable fiddling to get it right, with the big pay off coming from almost instant window de-misting and if required, more heat than even I can handle.

Mazda MX5 modified blower unit ensconced under wing.  Will
disappear from view entirely once the inner wing panel is fitted.

Original XK Heater front cover re-finished in crackle black with
small panel where control paddles exit to direct air flow.
 My wish list of electrical alterations and additions seems endless, even excessive, but almost all exist in some form on my 140 Fixed Head already.  Unusually, some were genuine period accessories fitted when I bought the car, with the rest added during my 3 year "rolling" restoration. 

1950's style accessories in 140 as bought - all quite ergonomic
but not very pretty.  Extra gauge is oil temperature.
After restoration.  Only additional gauge now is voltmeter.
Face changed by me to match other gauges.

Even more accessories and knobs - as bought.  One very handy item
is the rear screen demister in the form of a long heating element at the
bottom of the rear window.  Takes a while to work, but very effective.

Again, after restoration and back to factory original including
steering wheel.  Radio Head unit sits behind dummy draw front.
Centre arm rest now contains some badly needed lockable
storage space, plus an IPOD connection, USB 5Volt charger
and switch to disconnect fuel pump.  Also essentials for JDC
steak & kidney pie monthly meetings - indigestion tablets.
First owner of my 140 was Sir Robert McAlpine but it was mainly driven by his brother Kenneth who was a works driver and financial backer of the Connaught Racing Team from 1949 to 1957.  In the history file is a letter from Kenneth to a previous owner warning of brake fade "if one needs to stop quickly from 100MPH"!
The old wiring for all of the additions shown in the pictures of the car "as bought" was contained in a properly made PVC covered loom and I would say it was mostly installed at the same time and most likely by Coombes, who supplied the car new.

So, whats on the 120's electrical alterations and additions wish list.  To start with, the usual major items: Conversion to Negative earth, an alternator or possibly a "dynonator" - apparently an alternator which looks like a dynamo, high torque starter motor, Facet fuel pump, electric fan and electronic ignition (123).

A single 12 Volt Battery re-located under the off side wing, with cut off switch and charge socket (for winter storage).

Lighting upgrades to include halogen head light bulbs with relays to switch a heavy feed cable direct from the battery.  To avoid lots of arm twirling I suppose indicators are essential but will need a loud bleeper to ensure they are not inadvertently left on.  A super bright LED brake light incorporated into the reversing light might be sensible if the rear indicators are somehow incorporated into the tail lights.  It would be good to somehow fit front indicators into the existing side lights - possibly very bright orange LED's - needs some research.  A map reading light under the dash also sounds handy.

To slow down any opportunist car thieves and reduce my insurance premium, a high tech Immobiliser will disable the fuel pump and ignition. 

I'm not really sure about Radio's in open cars. The cacophony of wind noise and exhaust note usually negate the requirement.  But just in case, it may be sensible to include basic wiring for a radio head unit with IPOD connection, audio Amp / 4 speakers and an aerial possibly located in the windscreen surround rubber.

The one additional gauge which I would find very useful is a voltmeter, to monitor Alternator / Battery performance. Question is, where would it live?

Minor but essential details would include an ancillary equipment fuse panel, relay switched ignition feed, starter solenoid and ammeter wiring re-configured, a modern horn relay located in the original housing, manual switch disconnect for the choke (starting Carburettor) and a windscreen washer pump. It would also be good to have the dash and ancillary switch panel on modern connectors for easy service / removal.

The correlation between classic car breakdowns and flat mobile phones is well known, so a 5Volt stabilised USB socket in the arm rest storage box, is I think, the most likely and obvious way to avoid them.
Likewise, a 12V socket behind the seats to provide power for a cool box full of beer will make the wait for the breakdown truck that much more enjoyable, especially as you won't be driving anywhere for a while.

One other upgrade I would like to play with is a Davies Craig electric water pump with Electronic Control Unit.  It seems to me to be such an obvious solution to absolutely control and optimise all aspects of engine temperature.  Conversely, it may be a total waste of time and money, but it does sound interesting.  I will cover the installation in some detail when I get around to it - I would estimate July / August 2012, and eventually report on the effectiveness - or not.

I will hopefully have some real progress to write about at the beginning of January 2012 having had a few days to "get properly stuck in" over the Christmas break.

Just been to collect my suspension bits from the powder coating company to assemble over the hols - Sign on the door says - Closed until Jan 3rd !!!