Saturday, 28 February 2009

1986 Triumph Dolomite 1850HL

I bought this car in March 1999 for £1,000. The bodywork was in excellent condition with only a small welded patch in the passenger foot well. It had been very well resprayed a year earlier.

There was an enormous amount of history with the car from its first owner. He had recorded each long journey in it to France, the mileage at the start of each year, servicing, etc. There were also a worrying number of receipts for spare parts.

The mechanical side of things seemed to be in sound condition, although there were a couple of lights not working and the throttle didn't open as much as it should. Both problems were sorted out a short distance into my journey home.

I used the car as my every-day car for the next three years. It was not the most reliable of cars, but it was a wonderful design and when it worked, it went well and it was very comfortable and luxuriously equipped.

On one of the few occasions that Claire, my wife, drove it the clutch master cylinder failed, leaving her stranded (luckily not too far from the house).

Shortly afterwards the exhaust manifold gasket started to leak and I discovered that the threads into the alloy cylinder head were stripped. The engine had to be removed to put Helicoil inserts into it. This didn't solve the problem long-term as I had to replace the gaskets again only a few months later.

The join from the manifold to the down pipe continually leaked and proved impossible to permanently sort out.

I had problems with the front brakes binding, which progressively got worse. Eventually I traced this to the master cylinder, which I overhauled. I also had to replace the clutch master cylinder as the clutch started to play up again.

There were other minor problems such as corroded electrical terminals, the brake switch self destructing and the temperature sender failing, but they were easily sorted.

One lunchtime while at work, in an attempt to sort out once and for all the electrical problems I started to remove some surplus wires. This started because I noticed a wire sparking against the screw holding on the parcel shelf. I ended up taking out about 100 feet of wiring and various electrical items such as an old alarm system and an amplifier.

The final straw for the car was when the gearbox gave up. I think it was second gear that seemed to have the problem first and then gradually the whole thing got worse. Foolishly I asked a specialist to come and pick up the car and repair it. In hind-sight I should have ordered a second hand box from them and had it fitted by the local garage. An overhauled gearbox was fitted at a cost of over £500, but unfortunately the overdrive then didn't work. This then made long journeys harder on the car and more tiring. As my work required me to travel to meetings I decided to trade the Dolomite in for a modern Ford Escort in May 2002. I only got £500 for it.

It was a shame that I had so many problems with the car. It was a lovely car, but it was the poor build quality that let it down. I think a Dolomite 1500 may have been better with the more conventional engine. I ended up driving 10,508 miles in the car in three years and two months and the total maintenance costs were £1,843.45. When the £500 lost on resale is added to this, £2,343.45 is not too bad compared with the depreciation on a modern car.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

My Current TR3A

My current TR3A left the factory on 22nd December 1959 and was shipped to the USA. Its first owner was a young lady living in Memphis Tennessee. She ran the car as her daily transport for 15 years and it was parked outside in all that time. Eventually, she gave the car to her brother-in-law, who sorted out some electrical issues and taped the top up before driving it to Oklahoma.

There it lived for another 15 years, while slowly being worked on. He re-trimmed the car and painted it in its current two-tone colour scheme. The car was in use in all this time.

In 1991, after 15 years, he decided to sell the car because he was building a house and the TR just sat in the garage, not receiving enough use and at risk of having building materials dropped on it.

I bought the car to use while I was restoring my other TR3A. When it arrived in the UK, I discovered that it was not in as good condition as I had thought. The paint was crazed, there was some old accident damage to the rear of the car, the engine was not running well and numerous rubber items needed to be replaced. This was unfortunate as I had already entered the car into a rally!

Three months of hard work had the car on the road with a fresh MOT and we made it to the rally. We even managed to finish the rally, although by then the TR was only running on three cylinders and the dynamo had stopped working.

Over the next few months I had the rear bodywork repaired, fitted a new cylinder head and rebuilt the engine and generally overhauled the car. This was not all without its problems. Two memorable ones were losing a manifold nut while replacing the cylinder head. It turned out to be inside cylinder no 4 and was the catalyst for the engine rebuild. The other was driving the car home after having the bodywork sorted, only to spin the car on a corner and smash up the front end.

That was all within the first year of ownership. The subsequent 16 years have been a lot less painful and we have completed many trouble-free miles and various rallies together.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Circuit of Ireland Retrospective Rally 1987

It was the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Ireland. We were both exhausted and as we drove round a corner I pressed the accelerator only to hear a horrible knocking noise from under the bonnet. “Oh, what are we doing?” I thought. In fact it wasn’t the first time I had thought that, it must have been about the twentieth time that day, not to mention during the previous year.
What started it all was a casual conversation with my friend Graham the previous October. He had just returned from competing in the Circuit of Ireland Retrospective Rally. He was the first over-seas competitor to have competed in the rally, and he brought back tales of the friendly reception he had received on this most enjoyable event. I couldn’t quite understand how he could treat his car so harshly, but more out of politeness than anything I said how it must have been great and how I wished I had been there.
Later that year Graham handed me the regulations for the Circuit of Ireland rally. There seemed no going back now and in a wave of enthusiasm I sent off my entry. There were a few logistical problems. Firstly, in the two years that I had owned the car I had hardly managed to drive it for more than a couple of days without something breaking. And secondly, I had just had the bodywork rebuilt.
However, I thought if I drove carefully, the car should be reasonably reliable and I wouldn't do too much damage.
For a navigator, I thought that my good friend Mike was just the person. Unfortunately he was in Australia at the time but he liked old Triumphs and adventures.
The months passed by and before I knew it we were only a few days away from the event. To my relief Mike arrived home from Australia on the Wednesday and at 6am on Friday the 9th of October we had the car loaded up and ready for off. I had been working on the front suspension on the car up until 11pm the previous evening, and hadn’t had much sleep that night due to the excitement of the forthcoming event. Mike was feeling rather sorry for himself. He had a cold and jet-lag and having just arrived home from an Australian spring to a Scottish autumn he was feeling the cold.
Graham arrived on time and we set off in convoy to catch the ferry from Stranraer. This was a bit of a cross-country trek and took longer than we expected. Towards the end of the journey we really had to push on in order to arrive in time for the ferry which we only just caught.
On the ferry we were able to relax with a plate of sausage, beans and chips and a glass of Guinness. At this point Mike asked, “Now, what exactly are we doing?”
Graham explained the rudiments of navigation to him and I realised that we hadn’t brought any navigational equipment with us.
We arrived at Larne and had to drive through Belfast to get to the start and so we were able to stop at a newsagent and buy a clipboard. Graham lent us a pencil and I found a pen in the glove box. We arrived at the start at the Balloo House Hotel near Comber and found all sorts of interesting cars parked in the car park. Competitors’ cars ranged from a 1928 Austin Chummy to a brand new VW Golf GTI.
We went into the hotel and bought a pile of twelve maps and were given an enormous bundle of papers. These included Route Instructions for Friday and Sunday, Final Instructions (No. 2 and 3), Calibration Check Route, Amendments to Instructions, Driving Test Instructions, Map of Athlone, Hotel Allocation Vouchers, Driving Test Diagrams, List of Entrants, Route Cards. (Nos. 1 and 3 to 8) and some numbers to stick on the side of the car.
Mike and I sat down in a quiet corner with a couple of glasses of Coke and plotted as much as we could onto the maps. Every so often there were big gaps in the route, which we initially thought we would just find the best route between, but then realised that there were to be navigational tests and regularity sections to be plotted later. The maps of Northern Ireland were fairly decent but the maps of the republic were awful. It looked like the next few days could be very interesting!
We then went outside to have a look at the other competitors’ cars. There seemed to be quite a number of cars that looked very well prepared and everyone seemed to be doing something to their cars. We topped up the oil, but couldn’t think of anything else to do. There were 42 cars starting the event and we were starting near the back. The advantage of being a late starter was that we were able to watch most of the other cars leaving. The disadvantage is that there are not too many people behind you, so if you go wrong or break down there are fewer people to help.
The first car set off at 6pm just as it was going dark and cars set off at two-minute intervals. Our start time was exactly 7pm, which made working out our times a little easier. We stood and watched the other competitors zoom away out of site until it was near our time to start. It was very exciting as we handed over our time card and were counted down. Almost immediately we got stuck behind a tractor. It didn’t really matter as the first time control wasn’t until after the first two driving tests. We arrived at the first test, and it was now completely dark, so it wasn’t possible to see the route before competing. It was held in a livestock yard. The next test was held in a wood yard and involved driving backwards and forwards amongst piles of wood. The combination of darkness and the dust thrown up made visibility a little difficult. I think I did OK and realised that all thoughts of driving carefully had gone out of the window. In the mean time Mike had been given the instructions for the next part of the evening - the navigational section, and at each test he sat at the side of the road with a torch plotting away. After the tests his neatly arranged piles of maps and paperwork were scattered all over the car, so there was a real panic when we arrived at the time control.
Most of the other competitors seemed to have illuminated magnifiers, stop watches, rally trip meters and all sorts of equipment to help with the navigation. We were relying on a small map light, Mike’s watch and the speedometer. I now wonder at how well Mike managed to keep us on route and on time with such basic equipment.
The navigational section was murder, but at least it was held in Northern Ireland, so the maps were up-to-date and legible. I don’t think we did too badly. We were stumped when we arrived at the first intermediate time control to be asked what time we wanted as we hadn’t realised that we should have worked this out. We just said that we didn’t know and took the time they gave us, only to discover that we had clocked in a minute early. At a couple of other time controls we arrived from the wrong direction. We quickly discovered that there were different routes and approach directions for cars depending on whether their competition number was odd or even. To the uninitiated (us!) it seemed like total confusion with cars going in all directions.
Still we survived and continued on to the petrol halt where we were able to have a quick chat with the other competitors. Things seemed a little more relaxed after that. In fact I was so relaxed that I almost ran down the soldier at the border crossing. After that we started on the real Irish roads. Single track, very bumpy and a multitude of junctions and we didn’t see any other competitors all night. I was almost beginning to doubt Mike’s abilities, but sure enough in darkness the headlights would pick out another group of friendly marshals. This would be a time control or a driving test set up at a road junction in the middle of nowhere. We would arrive, take a look at where the marshals had placed the cones, compare them to the driving test diagram, belt round the cones, be given our time and then continue along the road. It all seemed a little unreal and I think we were running on auto-pilot by then.
Anyway this is where we came in. In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Ireland. We had just dropped down into a dip and were accelerating out of the other side when a horrible knocking noise started. What were we doing? All sorts of thoughts ran through my head. Where were we? How would we get home? How badly damaged was the car? When would I get to bed? I lifted off the accelerator and was about to coast to the side of the road when the noise stopped. Mike and I looked at each other but we were almost too tired to worry. We pressed on and the noise didn’t come back.
We continued along the route and came across our last test for the night. That completed we were told that it wasn’t far to our hotel in Athlone which we found without too much of a problem. So at 4.30 am we arrived at the hotel. We had been on the go for over 24 hours now and were exhausted. We walked into the hotel and booked in, and on the way to our room we spotted Graham and Vans propping up the bar with a glass of Guinness each. The offer of a pint seemed too good to miss and suddenly all thoughts of tiredness were forgotten. We were in Ireland after all and we had just survived our first day of the Circuit of Ireland Retrospective Rally. Now we knew what we were here for. After all, the regulations for the rally did emphasise the fact that the event was primarily for having fun.
The following morning we were up reasonably early, but again being one of the last cars we had a later start. It is amazing what a good sleep can do for you and the morning seemed so much more relaxed than the previous night. We had a lovely cooked Irish breakfast, and I was a little concerned that we may miss our start time. Had we worked out our start time properly? Would the car start after all of yesterday’s exertions? Was there a petrol station nearby?
But I didn’t need to worry. The oil and water levels in the car were fine, and she started first pull. The day continued with four more driving tests all at junctions on single-track roads. During one test an old lady in a Metro drove straight through the junction not realising that there was a driving test going on. We did reasonably well throughout the day and were only beaten by six people on the regularity test. I don’t know how much this was by luck or through navigational skill. Half way through we encountered a herd of sheep being driven down a road and had to reverse back and wait about five minutes. We were now running quite late and had a lot of time to make up. We came across a straight section of gravel road and I said to Mike that I wasn’t going to try and make up any time on it due to the extreme camber as I thought we might slide off. Graham and Vans had not resisted the temptation and we found them stuck in a peat bog having crashed into the only rock for miles. We offered help, but they were stuck fast and waiting for a tractor to pull them out.
It was amazing how rural the scenery was. All of the roads were very small and most had grass growing up the middle of them. It was difficult to imagine how anyone could average a speed of 30 miles per hour on them. In fact at one point Mike said, “Take the next left, in about half a mile.” All we could find was a gate into a field so we continued straight on. There was no junction to be found, so we doubled back and checked out the gateway. There were fresh tracks in the grass so we gave it a try and, sure enough, this turned out to be the correct route and we emerged out of a gate on the other side. Unfortunately some of our maps were a little out of date and so a couple of controls appeared to be in the middle of fields which made it difficult to not only find them but to also arrive from the correct direction. We were forever coming across tractors, donkeys pulling carts, and herds of cattle, sheep or horses on the roads and at most farms a collie dog would come running straight out and stop just short of the car. You had to be brave and trust that the dogs would stop in time, as there was no room to swerve. As we passed through villages or farms there would be groups of children sitting on the fence, shouting encouragement. At junctions kids would be pointing in the direction we should be going, but we couldn’t always believe them!!
That evening we joined in the fun at the bar and listened to all of the stories of people’s adventures. Despite our tiring day we stayed up into the early hours again.
Sunday was taken at a much slower pace. The route took us up the Healy Pass, which is an amazing Alpine style road with several hairpin bends on it. We got a little lost in Kenmare as the map didn’t really resemble the town layout and after trying just about every exit from the place we discovered that a road was almost completely obliterated by a market stall. This didn’t loose us too much time though. But after lunch we got a little blasé and got lost on the regularity section. Unfortunately we were just following the tulip diagrams and hadn’t transferred them onto the map. So once they stopped matching up we were totally lost. We eventually found ourselves back at the start and so retraced our tracks and picked up 1460 penalty points.
The last two tests were held in a car park and as we arrived early, due to our previous misdemeanour, we had the opportunity to watch some of the other competitors for the first time during the event. One Sunbeam missed the brakes and reversed straight across the grass verge and onto the main road. They just returned over the same route and continued the test much to the bemusement of the locals. Mike told me that the marshal was concerned that my car was going to tip up as is was leaning so much on the test, which may have slowed me down if I had known. Graham and Vans arrived with steam pouring out of their bonnet. Apparently they had a blown head gasket and had been stopping at ditches and streams all day to fill up the radiator.
We were all invited to the Killarney Motor Museum for a wine reception and it was strange wandering amongst the cars supping wine. The prize giving evening was enormous fun with the whit of the Irish, and it continued once again into the early hours. We ended up second last, but did not mind as we had had such an enjoyable three days.
On Monday morning we rose a little late nursing sore heads. Graham and Vans had some work to do before the return journey. By the time that Mike and I had had our breakfast they had already managed to find a Massey-Fergusson cylinder head gasket. We helped them fix this to their car and try to re-attach the exhaust system using a Coke can. They followed us back up through Ireland and I watched in the mirror as they tried to negotiate corners with their loose steering. As darkness fell, because their headlights were pointing at the ground about six feet in front of the car they relied on following our tail lights. Just as we crossed the border into Northern Ireland the wipers stopped working on our car and as the rain got heavier we too had great difficulty seeing where we were going. The light reflected off the road signs blinded us and so we missed several turn-offs. We had a lovely Chinese meal in Larne while we waited for the ferry and then slowly made our way back across Scotland. I think it was about four in the morning when we arrived home again.
Unfortunately I was working the next day, but I think the adrenaline kept me going for about the next week. What an amazing adventure. So good in fact, that I have competed in another five Circuit of Ireland Rallies since, but none of them had quite the thrill of my first every historic rally.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Triumph TR3A

This was my TR3A when bought in 1989. I was looking for a car to completely restore, and that is certainly what I got here! It was a Californian import and I was completely won over by the relatively rust-free condition of the car. I knew that it required a total re-trim, new outer sills and repairs to the boot floor and floor pans, and I expected to have to restore most of the mechanical side of the car.

Unfortunately, though, it turned out to have bent chassis and the engine block and crank were beyond repair. Other interesting features were the gate hinges holding the bonnet on, a length of wire and six inch nail for a choke cable, short lengths of hose pipe used as suspension bushes and an MGA rear bumper on the front of the car.

The chassis was repaired by welding in the front of another chassis. A new boot floor was welded in and various repairs made to the floors. The outer sills weren't too bad, but they were removed and replaced in order to check out the condition of the inner sills. The car was then re-sprayed. A replacement engine was fitted and virtually every other item was either replaced or overhauled. I re-trimmed the car and fitted a new top, side-screens and tonneau cover.

Eight years later I had completely rebuilt the car, but by then I had bought another TR3, which was meant to be a temporary fun car. However, I decided that it would be more sensible to sell the rebuilt car, which I felt was almost too good to drive. I sold it in 1997 at a great loss, but I enjoyed the experience of completely rebuilding a car! This car is now in a private collection in Denmark.

Triumph TR4A

This was my first Triumph. I bought it in July 1985 from a friend of a friend for £1,650. I knew absolutely nothing about TRs, but for some reason I had always wanted a 4A. Once I sat in it and saw the wooden dashboard, then heard the engine running and then discovered the overdrive, I was hooked.

I wasn’t put off by the scruffy appearance or the fact that the drivers-side window wouldn’t wind down, and the split seats and the leaking hood did not seem to matter. I was completely unaware of how many other TR4As there were or if I could have bought a better one anywhere. The fact that it had no MOT did not seem to worry me either.

The car was gradually done up over the next few months and used as my winter transport. I fitted a new exhaust, new battery and new front springs.

Unfortunately the following summer a lady drove her Volvo into the TR, crumpling the only steel wing on the car and bending the front suspension. The repairs turned into a body-off rebuild, which involved repairs to the chassis, renewal of most of the rear bodywork and new wings.

I had terrible trouble with the ride height of the car. The original springs were very tired and initially I replaced them with standard replacement springs. Strangely this pushed the car up to maximum height, against the bump stops. It turned out that a previous owner had put TR5 spacers in to revive the old springs and I had refitted these when I replaced the springs. It took me a long time to work this one out, though!

I became quite an expert at dismantling the front suspension as I later had to replace the worn vertical links.

In 1987 I entered the TR4A in the Circuit of Ireland Retrospective rally. This was an amazing event and a real baptism of fire for someone who hasn’t any previous rally experience. The car survived intact, despite the rough roads and fiendish navigation.

Over the next couple of years I continued to improve the car. I had the seats repaired and fitted a new double duck hood.

We missed the 1988 Circuit of Ireland Rally due to the ferry being cancelled because of the storms, but we competed again in 1989.I was always a little unhappy with the panel gaps on the car. The sills had been welded on in the wrong position before I bought the car, which meant that the wings and doors could not be lined up. As the only way to really repair it properly would be a total rebuild I decided to sell it and buy a wrecked TR3A to rebuild instead.

I sold the car in June 1990 for £6,300. This was the one and only car I have ever owned that I made a profit on!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

A little history

Amongst the classic cars I have owned, so far I have had nine Triumphs. I still have four of them in various states of repair. In fact I am begining to think that I am adicted to Triumphs! I bought my first in 1985 and I haven't been without one ever since. Over the next few days I hope to post details of them all and some of the adventures I have had with them. I am sure that some other old friends will also appear here in time.