Oohh, it’s been a while…

January 8th, 2017

I realised recently my last update was more than a year ago. Apologies for that. I’ve been busy! Well, not on car stuff.

I moved from Auckland, sold my house and bought a new one here. I’ve been at Weta for over a year now and, as you’d expect, I’ve worked on some cool stuff. Animatronics for the new Ghost in the Shell film, the electronics and code for the animatronic tiger for World of Wearable Art  (we spent hours recording the face and lip sync movements on that and I ended up in that tiger on stage a few times debugging during the shows!) and finally a bunch of electronics and code for the Bug Lab Exhibition on at Te Papa currently. I worked on the giant zoetrope, several interactives and a farting kids slide! There we other little interesting bits and pieces too. It was a very busy year.

Work is either full on or dead quiet and now is one of the quiet times so we all had a good break over christmas/new years. I go back tomorrow but I have finally started working on the cars again. I’ve been busy looking at building the Austin engine as I have everything I need to do that, or so I thought.

Before I left Auckland I had the block machined and some modes done to the crankcase so I can fit the blower drive. That included a mod to the front nose cone to add extra mounting lugs. The welding done on these (not done by me) was solid but not pretty so I used some of the aluminium solder available to add more metal I could then grind back to make things tidy. This is before I soldered over it and smoothed it off.


I also completed what Ian had started for me on my block which was fitting larger intake valves and porting the block. The cutter he uses leaves a step in the block so you need to grind that out and blend things in smoothly.

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I finished smoothing things out using tungsten carbide burrs on my Dremel. I recently bought a cheap, 2 speed Dremel I was going to use on my 3D printer to CNC cut things (I decided not to because of the dust) and it works great for grinding the cast iron of the block. I just have a cheap set of burrs but they work fine. I got mine locally but then realised they are cheaper direct from China.


Ian had done the first half of the block for me so I just copied what he did on the other side. It’s just a matter of removing any steps or rough spots and opening things up slightly. You do end up with two small pockets at the back of the inlet track that apparently you can fill with epoxy (JB Weld would probably work well) but I would worry about that coming loose and the engine injecting it so I will leave them. I just smoothed things out as best I could. I was cautious as I am not sure where the water jacket goes to so I didn’t want to make things too thin.


After grinding the ports I also equalised the combustion chamber volumes on the head. I am not sure how much difference this will make on a side valve but I did it anyway! To do this you measure the volume of the chamber using a liquid, I use Methylated Spirit. You use a flat piece of clear perspex over the chamber as a cover so you can completely fill it. In the perspex are two holes, one to inject fluid and one to let the air escape. You seal the perspex to the head with smear of grease. I used Vaseline.


You fill each chamber in turn and find the volumes then you carefully remove material from each until the volumes all match the largest one. It’s a very long process. Measure, clean up, grind, clean up, re-measure. To do this properly you use a burette. I don’t have one so I used a syringe. All I had was a 10CC one so it took multiple squirts to fill the chamber. I did multiple measurements so I could average things out to help remove errors.

In the end, after much messing about, I got all the chambers to measure 33.5CC volume which I think is close to what it should be, maybe a little less?

Of course on a side valve other things affect the chamber volume, like how far into the chamber the valves sit. It didn’t hurt to do it though and it is more in the interests of balancing things out so they engine runs more smoothly.


I also fitted the cam follower guides. The guides hold the followers which are what actually rest on the cam and are moved by it. This is fairly easy but you do need to make sure they are aligned correctly. I used a clamp to push them home and seated them firmly with a hammer and a block of hardwood. I used a square to check things were straight and made tweaks with an adjustable spanner to turn the guides if needed. The cam followers have straight sides and you want these perpendicular with the cam. Mr McW had previously ground the followers for me to suit my new cam but I moved before I could get them of him so he kindly sent them down to me.

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After doing all that I realised I had forgotten to drill the hole for the extra stud I had fitted to the crankcase to help hold the block down. I put some engineers blue on the hole and some masking tape on the block and dropped it into position over the studs. That left a mark on the tape I  could use to find the middle of the hole to punch then drill.

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The other thing I did was refit the code plugs into the head. Since there was a little pitting I used some epoxy around the plugs that I hope will help seal them. I only installed 2 of the 3 plugs. I left the back most one free since I am doing a small mod to help with cooling here that I will describe further down.


I then painted the block with engine paint. I used a non gloss black Duplicolor paint (with ceramic apparently?!) from Repco. I masked things using the same technique you use for making paper gaskets by tapping around the edges of what I wanted to mask with a hammer (I use my curved panelbeating hammer) to cut the tape. I used some old spark plugs to block those holes and tin foil stuffed into the tappet chest to mask that.

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After painting I baked the paint in my oven. I let the block get to just over 110 C and left it for 1 hour.


The fumes weren’t too bad!

After the paint dried I was going to fit the tappets but I discovered that mine are very worn and some are pitted. I did try grinding them back to flat but I think they are a bit too far gone. I tried a punch test and that left a mark so I think the hardening has gone on them.


I will need to get new ones from the UK. Until they arrive I can’t finish the block.  You have to insert the followers then the tappets screws and lock nuts before you install the valve springs. If you put the springs in first I don’t think there is then room to get the tappets in and you can’t insert them from underneath. The tappets themselves will fit up the guide but the lock nuts don’t. Unfortunately there is no Haynes manual for assembling an A7 engine and the books there are are somewhat vague. A lot of it seems to be knowledge you just have to have so I am not sure I am doing things correctly. I am just going by what seems sensible. Please let me know if I am going wrong!

So today I spent some time working on the head rear water takeoff. I drew the correct shape on the computer so I can use it to laser cut the gasket and also so I could make a template to cut out some aluminium to make a water take off plate. I started making the plate by hand and had roughed it out then realised I have the drawing on the computer now and I work somewhere that has CNC machines. With little work on at the moment it might be a good chance to learn how to use them and CNC the plate at the workshop.

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The other thing I did today was spend quite a bit of time cleaning the crankcase and nose piece. The crankcase was full of swarf from the mods I have had done and, even though I have cleaned it before, it was still dirty. I used some oven cleaner to remove the tough burnt on oil then scrubbed everything with a Simple Green solution and a stainless steel brush. After much washing and rubbing I finished up with a brass brush and some steel wool. It came up rather well! A better solution would be have it soda blasted as that leaves no residue to get into oil galleries as sand blasting of glass bead blasting would do but with no work on (so no income) I have to watch my spending and a few hours hard work was much cheaper and easier! I need to save my pennies to get the new tappets.

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I still need to make assemble the block and also insert and set up the oil jets in the crankcase as well as make an oil windage tray to fit in the bottom of it. I also need to work out how I will mount the blower and make a manifold for it. I also need to get a new fan. I had a new fan pulley made to suit the blower drive that runs off a V belt instead of the normal flat belt. Because the blower drive is off another gear driven off the cam gear it means the fan actually goes the other way around to normal. On a coil engine the fan goes anti-clockwise from the front. I need one to go clockwise. As it happens the fan off a magneto car goes clockwise. So I thought be able to use one of them. I think. I need to work all this through again. As well as the ratios to make sure I don’t overdrive the blower or the fan. I am sure I must have worked all this out before but I should probably check it all!

I have also started doing some research into the Riley. I have started cataloguing all the parts I have (and don’t have).  I know what brackets I am missing, I just need to work out how to make them. I’ve been in touch with some of the UK Riley people and they’ve sent me some helpful photos. From them, as well as others I have, I can see more or less what the brackets need to do. I can make out some of the details. I just need to make something suitable.


The first to tackle are the brackets that go into the chassis rails at the front as shown above. These brackets are where the engine mounts sit as well as where the back of the front spring shackle mounts. The RHS side one also holds the steering box in place via the circular clamp bracket you can just see on the steering box on the left  in the picture. I have lots of photos as well as detailed body drawings showing the mounting points in the chassis so I know exactly where the brackets need to be. I will 3D model them first so I know what I am making.  If I get really keen I can 3D print mockups on my printer to check they fit properly.

The Riley engine is still seized up. I keep squirting diesel down the bores and onto the bearings. It will need totally stripping at some point though but I want to get the Austin engine done before I tackle that one.

In the mean time I will finish cataloguing and start cleaning up some of the parts I do have. We have sandblasters in the workshop I can use to start cleaning up steering arms and linkages and rear axle mounts and so on.

I also need to start working on finishing the Austin body. Still to do is boot, bonnet, wings, seat, petrol tank and some of the floor in the firewall. I did buy myself a bead roller earlier in the year and I have my English Wheel and slip rollers as well as all the aluminium I need so no excuse for not starting.

2 Responses to “Oohh, it’s been a while…”

  1. Tom Martin Says:

    As I live vicariously through your blog, welcome back.

    Christmas has seen a multitude of fart based devices arrive in the house. Usually targeted at muggins here.

    I can only imagine a fart slide is the very pinnacle of gaseous development!

  2. renaud in Brittany Says:

    Hi Simon,
    Very pleased to have you back AND motoring! Very good new year to you and your cars! We will follow progress on them here I hope.
    The picture industry is probably very exciting to work for indeed.
    You spent a lot of work on your ancient workshop and I was wondering what you’ve got in the new one? It seems there’s plenty of opportunities to use the workshop at work?

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