Thursday, 16 February 2017

It's Been a While


Well, it's been rather quite in the garage recently, and by recently, I mean it's been over a year since anything has happened on the car front. The reason is the arrival of this little fella; it's just impossible to get anything done with him around, attention seeking little wotsit! He's about to hit his first birthday and I can now crack on, but getting started again is almost as daunting as build day one. I have no idea where I left off!

I have done a couple of car-related things in the meantime, the first being a day spent learning to drift a Caterham at Donnington racetrack. Seeing as I have never technically driven a Seven, I thought it might be wise to actually have a go in one, just in case it was horrible... or something... which might be a thing... I suppose? Never fear though, it was quite possibly the most fun imaginable and I think everyone should be forced to have a go, whether they want to or not. I even got a trophy for bestest, most driftiest driver ever! There were also some showroom cars to take inspiration from over lunch.

It WILL Look Like This!

My other grand achievement was this, every kit car fans favourite recently released Lego set!

See, I Can Finish Something!

It was a mammoth build, spanning 3 whole evenings and required skill, tenacity and wine. The living room at Christmas is a lot more inviting than the garage. At least this one came with instructions!

My first job in the garage will be to finish off all the bits I started and then abandoned. These include (but are not limited to) the rear suspension, the brake lines, the pedals, the side panels and the fuel system. Better crack on then.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Suspension Issues Put A Dampener On Things (Part 1)

Lovely, lovely, lovely

After all that suspension bush malarkey, I thought it would be good to start to build up the rear suspension and make it look like I had actually done something. The biggest lesson learned during this stage: Never tighten anything up, because it will inevitably be coming off again... twice... if you're lucky.

I concentrated on the driver's side to begin with and the first stage was to attach the upper and lower wishbones to the chassis; a simple case of lining each one up to the existing mounts I hear you say, adding a washer either side and sliding a copper grease covered bolt through? Not really. Not every wishbone wanted to play ball and required quite a bit of force to fit. This was eventually achieved with an endless ratchet strap wrapped around the length of the chassis to provide some purchase.

It's in

You may notice from the picture that this was done before I fitted the rear cabin panel, which was described in an earlier post (not everything written here is in completely chronological order!). This would've been much harder had the panel been in place as I looped the strap through the chassis. The bolts in this picture are also round the wrong way, as with the rear panel mounted, you would never be able to remove them.

The next stage was to get the coilover in place. Now, I was quite excitable at this stage, so I didn't give much thought to this initially and, as there weren't any instructions, I just grabbed one and bolted it on, brilliant. It did seem a little loose at the top for a precision item, so I hit the internet. It turns out that the top mount uses a 1/2" imperial bolt, rather than the initially more logical M12, this being a hangover from ye olde days of suspension and is kind of an historical standard. Bugger. I didn't have any 1/2" bolts. Once they arrived, I swapped it over with the M12 one I had bodged it with previously.

Damper adapters

Now, each end of the damper has the same size hole through it, but uses different size bolts (1/2" at the top, M10 at the bottom), so mounting adapters are supplied. My initial thought was; if all the adapters are doing is compensating for different bolt sizes and fit into the same size hole, why are their external profiles different (see picture)? Nobody has yet been able to answer this question for me. The 10mm ones (on the left in each image) don't seem to hold the O-rings in place firmly like the 1/2" ones (on the right) do due to their greater taper and the 1/2" ones are physically taller when sat side-by-side. It doesn't matter too much, it just strikes me as odd.


With the damper in place I could trial fit a hub, which was very exciting (it was, honest). If you looked at the picture on the right and thought that the top bolt through the hub looks way too long, have a star. A call to GBS soon had the correct length bolts in the post. Interestingly, a chat with a new member of GBS staff at the Stoneleigh kit car show later in the year about which parts of my kit seemed to be wrong or missing elicited an initial response of "let me guess, the rear hub bolts?" or words to that effect, so obviously, I'm not the only one who has had this issue.

After I had received the new bolts and refurbished my hubs (see earlier post) I could try and mount one properly for the first time. As with the earlier wishbone issues, this was not as easy as it should have been. Unfortunately, something is not right with my set-up somewhere, as bolting the hub straight though on the lower wishbone means that it won't sit where it should to line up with the top wishbone. I needed to use a lot of force to get the hub in at the top, which meant the whole system twisted up at the rear and made it very difficult to get the top bolt through.


I tried taking everything apart and flipping the wishbones over, to see if I could gain anything, but they seem to be symmetrical, so that did nothing. I tried different combinations of washers, to try and shunt things along a bit, but again, it didn't work. Leaving it like this will wear the bushes very quickly, so I will need to find a solution before I go any further. Having looked around on the internet, it would appear that some other people are having the same issue, so there may be more to it than simple pilot error.

Part 2 coming soon...

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Steering Would Help

Right, catch-up post number 2. I wanted to fit the steering column so I could start to get an idea of the proportions of what would go where in the cockpit (alright, all I really wanted to do was fit a steering wheel so I could sit in it and make racing car noises). The column from the donor had a bit of surface rust on it and, in reality, no one would ever see it so I could have just used it as is, but that’s just not how I roll (word).

Before it could be fitted though, modifications had to be performed, so I broke out the new angle grinder (or it could have been the one I stole from work until it was my Birthday)! The original end mounts from the Mazda needed to come off and the lip that surrounded the plate needed to be ground very flat, as I had heard tales of people not having columns quite long enough to reach the steering rack. Another mount from underneath needed to be removed to prevent it fowling on the Zero and I also trimmed back the flanges on the side, to more closely match the contours of the bracket it would be mounted to.

Stock photo showing where I cut
Trial fitting

The column needs to be bolted to the Zero at the bottom, so I had to drill a couple of holes through the newly flat plate. You may notice they are nowhere near central though, as it was the only way I could get the column far enough across to stop the lower column rubbing on the side of the hole through the footwell panel. I was also having an issue with the column resting on the cross-member just in front of the master cylinder mounting, so I needed to make a couple of spacers out of 10mm internal diameter tube to raise it up a bit at the top mounts. Once all this was sorted, it was sanded and painted and now looks great.

Ready for fitting
All done, bring on the engine sounds!

The steering rack fitting was going to be easy… or so I thought. Urgh, more “modifications”. In the first instance, the drivers-side boot was touching the lower suspension mount, so it needed raising. This meant filing out the corner of the plate to get it higher. The plate also ended up being too wide for the bracket on the rack, I’m presuming because of the powder-coating, so that needed some action with the file too. Once that was done (and re-painted) the rack went on easy. Then it was just a simple case of painting the lower column and bolting it all together, I had no problems with the column being too short.

It now fits

I also decided to try and make a sort of gasket to fill the huge hole that the column passes through in the footwell panel, as I can see it letting it water. I bought a 100mm x 100mm piece of 10mm thick rubber and proceeded to cut round it with the grinder along the edges, so the one piece of rubber straddles the metal surrounding the hole. One thing to note when cutting rubber with a high-speed cutting device: it stinks, really stinks.

This stinks
Finished gasket

After making a hole in it for the column and trimming a couple of sides to fit the chassis it seems to fit quite well. I don’t know whether this will be the final article or not, so I won’t glue it in yet.

Looks quite neat...
...and should keep my feet dryish!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A Bit More Panelling

It’s been a while since the last update, so I need to catch up a bit! At the moment I keep flitting between different jobs, mainly because I keep getting stuck and having to wait for small parts to be delivered, usually nuts and bolts but, occasionally, tools (grrr).

I’ve recently (well, it was ages ago, actually) done a bit more panelling. To start with I installed both footwell end panels, which were pretty simple, just requiring a bit of trimming here and there.

In progress

Then came the drivers-side tunnel panels, of which there are two, a main section than runs almost the entire length of the tunnel inside the cockpit and a smaller section that is affixed on the other side of the chassis member to give a bit more room for your feet and the pedals. The only problem was, I couldn’t initially work out how they joined together, I thought I was missing something. After a bit of internet research (seriously, how did we function before it?) it dawned on me that both panels needed bending towards each other and riveting together. The only thing I could find with a strong, straight edge was a spirit level (note to self: buy some angle iron) so I used that to bend the panels over. Not the greatest bit of metalwork ever, bit it sufficed.

It's crude...
...but functional

The larger panel was simple (after the now obligatory trimming and filing), just requiring a simple bend halfway down to match the flare of the tunnel, but the smaller panel needed some bending and then beating with a rubber hammer to mould it to the shape of the different angles of box steel that meet on that corner. Again, I don’t think McLaren will be consulting me on the intricacies of modern panel construction, but I’m happy with the end result (the inner side will be covered in carpet and the outer will mostly be full of engine anyway, so if you can’t do it properly, hide it!).

Cleco's are invaluable here
Looking good

I’m going to leave fitting the main panel on the passenger side for the time being, because I may make it removable, for maintenance of the propshaft. I’ve also decided to paint the engine bay panels, which is a simple case of using a scotchbright pad to key the surface, cleaning it with panel wipe, a couple of coats of etch primer and then 2 or 3 coats with a nice black gloss. I’ve just got to be careful not to scratch it now!

Does this count as advertising?
Happy days

I have also installed more Dynamat on the rear of the main tunnel panel to make the interior feel more solid. So far, so good.

Monday, 30 March 2015


Obviously, when you tear external parts from a 15-year old car they are not going to look like new but realistically the brakes and hubs from my MX-5 were not in a bad state and could have been used as-is. But where is the "fun" in that? I had originally planned to either buy myself a small sandblasting cabinet (more expense) or nip down to a friend's workshop and us his, however, the discovery of a hand-held sandblasting gun and a huge compressor at work unleashed the inner cheapskate in me. A few things I have learned:

  • Sandblasting without a cabinet is not pleasant
  • Doing it after work, in winter, in the dark, is worse
  • No matter what you try to keep it out, sand will get into your eyes, ears and nose...
  • ...and down your back, and in your shoes, and your hair
  • You can quite easily turn the area directly outside a fire exit into a small beach

Front caliper piston removal

Before anything can be sandblasted though, it must be stripped down to its constituent parts. The brake calipers were fairly simple, the fronts just needing some compressed air to get the pistons out and a screwdriver to prise out the seals. The rears were a bit more complicated, with the pistons needing to be unscrewed from the handbrake adjustment mechanism, but once done blasting could commence. Considering they are relatively small, these parts take a while to blast as they are a very complicated shape with a deceptively large surface area. They also start to rust immediately afterwards, so they need painting or powder-coating pretty quickly. I painted mine and am very happy with the results. I used a brush-on caliper paint, which is very thin and tends to run easily, but with patience and multiple coats, the finish is very nice.

Before, after and painted

The rear hubs were a little more work. I wanted to replace the bearings, so the wheel hubs had to be removed from the main uprights. This was a simple case of placing an appropriately sized impact socket on each hub shaft from the rear and hitting them repeatedly with an FBH (... Big Hammer). The hubs came out, but unfortunately with the inner races of the bearings still attached to them.

Impact socket from behind

Now, I was prepared for this, having done plenty of research (well, watching a couple of YouTube videos and reading some forum posts) and the wisdom of the internet surmised that you could remove this half of the bearing with a hammer and a flat bolster of some kind to get in the join between the two parts and prise them apart. Well, I think I need to correct the internet on this point, because two ruined bolsters and a lot of swearing proves you can't. A little lateral thinking is actually required: A wheel bearing is made of hardened steel and whilst very strong, it's also relatively brittle, so a score line with a grinder and then a single whack with a hammer and bolster splits it like butter. The outer races still in the main uprights were then removed in much the same way as the hubs, just with a slightly bigger impact socket.

This does not work
This does though

At this point I also cut off the old dust guards as they spoilt the look of the hubs. The only other parts to remove were the old wishbone bearings, which was simply accomplished by bodging a 51mm hole saw and G-clamp together to push them out.

Bush removal - simples
Old bush and it's replacement

Once sandblasted, I used an etch primer to get a good bind to the metal and then a gloss black finish to match the wishbones. Reassembly was straightforward; luckily for me a colleague at work owns a hydraulic press, so he inserted the new bearings for me and I fitted some nice new strongflex poly bushes to the top mounts. The only other modification required was the addition of a length of tube to reduce the size of the bolt holes on the bottom of each upright as the GBS wishbone system is based on 10mm bolts whereas the original Mazda was 14mm.

Before, after and painted

I think the finished result is rather good.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A Bit of Panelling

Progress hasn't been as fast as it could have been recently (damn these small children and their ridiculous need for Birthday parties!), but I have made a start on some panel work. The most sensible panel to start with seemed to be the large piece that sits behind the seats which, along with keeping the water out, provides a fair amount of strength to the torsional rigidity of the rear of the Zero.

Panel ready for drilling

To get it right, the panel work is slow and a bit tedious. Each panel is cut-to-fit, but doesn't quite, as most seem to foul on a weld or overlap the edges of a support by a few millimetres, so each has to be carefully sized up, marked, filed down a bit, re-fitted, marked, filed down a bit, and so on. Once the correct shape, it can be clamped in place and all the beams and cross-members can be marked out, ready for drilling. It's then removed again and all the hole positions measured out and drilled (I've been using 1/8" rivets, so a 3.5mm drill bit works well) and then de-burred afterwards. The panel can then be clamped back in place again and the holes used as a template for drilling the chassis. Some people seem to only want to drill the square section tubing and not the round tube diagonals for fear of drilling off-centre, but I didn't seem to have any issues with it.

Because the chassis is mostly constructed of box-section steel and the car cannot be made entirely of right-angles, the panel wouldn't sit flush against the top and bottom rails. In these cases I either bent the panel slightly on the workbench whilst it was clamped between two straight edges or I just used a soft mallet to form it around the chassis itself. The finish is relatively neat but as this particular panel is going to be covered in carpet, it doesn't really matter too much.

Cleco pins in place

To be sure of drilling the chassis holes in exactly the right place, and to assist with fitting the panel later on, I purchased a set of "Cleco pins" and their respective tool. I had not heard of these little marvels before starting this project, but they are used extensively in metalwork and the aviation industries. They are basically a temporary rivet that is insert and removed with a special set of pliars, with each size of pin a different colour for ease of identification (1/8" is copper, 5/32" is black, 3/16" is brass etc). After each hole was drilled, I inserted a Cleco, therefore making the panel rigid very quickly. I should also point out here that a right-angled drill attachment is very useful, if not invaluable, for getting into some of the tighter corners of the chassis.

Riveting finished

At this point I may have gone a little over-the-top, but I decided to paint the insides of the holes in the chassis with a bit of Hammerite, to help protect against future rusting. Whether this makes any difference or not, I doubt I will ever know. The final stage in the panel preparation is the removal of the protective film, which is a pain. Where the film has been burnt by the laser cutter it's edges are melted and stuck to the aluminium, so it takes rather a long time to pick it off. Again, as this panel will be covered in carpet, the final finish is not too important, so I experimented with a few things such as wire wool, a knife, solvents and sand paper. Nothing really worked as well as my thumbnail, although I may try a hot-air gun or some IPA next time.

Along with being held in place with rivets, each panel is bonded with the notorious (in these circles anyway) GBS-supplied "Black Stuff", otherwise known as polyurethane sealant. This stuff is very tough and I would strongly suggest you apply it wearing gloves, as if you get it on your skin, it won't come off for weeks unless you bathe in white spirit. Before applying the glue, I cleaned both the panel and all the chassis parts with a degreasant to make sure the bond took well, then it was just a case of applying a bead of glue over every chassis part, making sure to cover every rivet hole, and re-fitting the panel, hopefully for the last time. Now, you could be quick with the rivet gun and hope for the best, but the easiest solution is to use the Cleco pins again. Once the pins are in you can have a cup of tea and replace each one with a permanent rivet at your own pace. After all the rivets were in, I applied a bead of Black Stuff along all the chassis rails in an attempt to make the panel water-tight. It's just like using silicon sealant on your bath, except you need to dip your finger in white spirit rather than soapy water!

Dynamat installed

I had also recently been thinking about some sound-deadening within the car, to try and make the finished product feel a bit more well-built and a little less tin-canny and after experimenting with different types of foam my mind wandered back to my in-car hi-fi days and the wonder that is "Dynamat". It's basically a squidgy, sticky rubber bonded to an aluminium skin and is designed to dampen the ringing of large metal panels and therefore tighten up the bass frequencies within a car when you install a ridiculous great sub-woofer. It's quite expensive and relatively heavy, but you don't need to use much and a few extra kilos doesn't really bother me. It's very easy to apply, you just cut it to shape with a knife (careful, the edges can be sharp) stick it to the panel and then for maximum effect squeeze all the air out with a wallpaper seam roller. Once finished, the result is really quite impressive, with a loud clang being replaced by a dull thud, just the result I was looking for.

First panel finished, bring on the rest...

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Trialling - Part 2

After my last post about trials cars, Richard Lincoln (see his blog in the links on the right) sent me a link to a good little video which explains the Lotus 7's place in the history of trialling. Thanks Richard!