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.

Chummy sold! And other news…

November 14th, 2015

Yes, the Chummy has gone. I also have some news on a new project and some other news of a more interesting nature.

First the new project. Anyone recognise this?

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Here are some more parts.

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What I have there are most of the bits to make a Riley Nine Brooklands. The chassis is an exact copy of an original Brooklands, chassis 8075, which was a car that was in NZ for many years and in which Arthur Dexter won the Prosperity Week Grand Prix in 1933. I have the door skin of that car hanging on my garage wall apparently.

When that car was restored the chance was taken to have several exact copy replica chassis made. This is one of them. Also alloy copied of the rear axle casing were made and I have one of those too. The other parts are all Riley Nine including the engine, which was rebuilt some time ago but not run. The gearbox has close ratio gears in it. And the engine has four Amal carbs.

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When I had the Chummy wheels blasted I had the Riley ones done as well.

There are a few bits missing. Some of the chassis mounts for the engine and suspension and I am trying to find out details of them now. Real Brooklands are few and far between. I think there are between 100 – 200 originals. But there are quite a number of replicas and recreations about.

The lights I got from TradeMe and were the first purchase for that car (although I did pick up a black out light earlier that might make a nice instrument panel lamp). I had also started to clean up and examine the parts and workout what was there. The Riley isn’t much bigger than an Austin 7 but it is a much more substantial car. And they were very well built. A lot of the parts are interchangeable between models which is why many replicas are around. I think Rileys look good with big lights so those should work well.

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The Riley rear suspension is interesting. For a start it is under slung, that is the chassis rails go under the rear axle. And the rear axle is on a torque tube. The Austin is too but it has a drive shaft between the gearbox and torque tube with universals on it. In the Riley the torque tube attaches at the back of the gearbox. On the sevens the axle attaches to the end of the springs on a pin running in a bush to allow for the rotation of the axle in relation to the springs as it moves up and down. On the Riley the axles on top of the springs in special blocks that hold the axle but let it rotate as the axle travels. The whole car is low. You sit just above the and the top of the body is about 36 inches off the ground (less than 1m).

So this will be an exciting project and I was looking forward to doing some simple clean up on it while finishing off the Austin Seven special.

But then life does have a way of taking funny turns. I had mentioned I had lost my a few posts back. I also mentioned finishing the Turing Bombe. I ended up sending a link to that to Richard Taylor, he’d seen an earlier project of mine via my boss at a previous company who knows him. I knew he’d be interested. We chatted a bit and I mentioned I was between jobs and, half jokingly, said I had always thought I should ask him for a job. He said if I was serious I should come down to visit them in Wellington.

So, booked a train ticket (I prefer the train to flying although it does take all day), packed my Steed puppet that Richard said he was interested in seeing, and arranged to stay with a friend for the week and went to visit them. We had a chat, they showed me around for an afternoon then the next day the offered me a job! I said yes of course. I then spent the rest of the week figuring out how to make that work. I found a flat on The Terrace, arranged to lockup my house, shipped down a few essentials (tools, camera and film developing gear, model making stuff and a microscope!) and basically moved to Wellington a week later to start work. I also sold the Chummy. I didn’t want it sitting unused and someone was very keen so the timing all worked out. The money helps too.

Because now I am working as an independent contractor to Weta Workshop doing animatronics!

If people have followed my other blog and projects they’ll know this is pretty much my dream job. Quite a change from IT I must say. The salary is about 1/3 of what I am used to. The hours are much longer (10 hour days) too. But I am loving it, and the time just flies by.

Unfortunately I can’t say what I am working on exactly for confidentially reasons but this project has about 6 months work. After that I am not sure. Weta work depends very much on what projects they have on. And it can be very feast or famine.  But I can see how it goes for six months and then see. I always have the chance to go back into IT as well of course. Wellington being the only other place in NZ that has a lot of good (high paying) IT jobs.

It’s very little risk for me. No dependents, bugger all mortgage, the perfect opportunity. There was no way I could pass it up!

So, all car projects are on hold for now. Actually life is somewhat on hold. I am liking Wellington. I’ve never really liked Auckland and over the years have been liking it less and less as it grows and the character changes. Wellington suits me more. I could see myself selling up there and moving. In fact my sister just has, leaving Auckland for Hamilton of all places. If my parents follow to be close to Sophie, their granddaughter, there is no family to keep me there anymore. Will see how it goes early next year I guess! Selling my over priced Auckland house to move somewhere cheaper where I could maybe build a big garage/workshop (and have money in the bank) is starting to appeal!

I will keep writing in my other blog about what I am doing and how I am going here in Wellington.

Here are some final pictures of the state of the special.

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And even though I am away from my Austin there is a reminder just down the road!


Chummy back on the road.

October 4th, 2015

This weekend I finished fitting the new (although it was months ago we got them!) tyres on the Chummy. That didn’t work out to be too hard. No tyre irons needed, just walking them on a  big, rubber mallet to help them along. Hardest thing was getting the inner tubes in place. I ended up trying a string to the valve and feeding that through the rim hole so I could pull it though. That worked well.

I then had to touch up the paint on the rims, not from damaging them getting the tyres on, but because of all the places I had missed when I painted them before! If you think painting spoked wheels is a going to be tricky you’d be right! Since I had the paint spraying gear out I cleaned up and touched up the inside of the wheel wells.

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I finally got them back on the car today. I was supposed to go on a club run but I had other things on in the morning and couldn’t get there in time. I wouldn’t have been able to take the Chummy anyway as it’s been off it’s wheels so long the warrant expired! With the wheels on I drove it outside for the first time in months and gave it a bath.


I then went for a quick (naughty) drive around the block to make sure everything was still fine. I’d like to say the new tyres have transformed the handling and roadholding but those are two words that don’t really apply to a Chummy! Nothing fell off, no noticeable vibrations or wobbles, no spokes broke (I think, better check!) so we’ll call that good. One day I really must take the thing on the motorway and see what it’s top speed is. Can’t be too many cars around where you can say and do that and still be under the legal speed limit (100kph here). Not sure this one will reach that although there is a big down hill a few miles up the road from me, perhaps if the wind is just right….

I still need to rebuild the spare wheel but I don’t need that for the WOF so I will go do that tomorrow and be all legal again.

People probably wonder why these things take me so long. It’s because I have too many other hobbies so I chop and change what I do. I also do things like this: http://www.asciimation.co.nz/bb/2015/10/04/bombe-completed



Chummy wheel painting.

September 28th, 2015

Let’s see, it’s been a while and a few things have happened. Mainly I got made redundant again, along with 2/3rds of my colleagues. we consider ourselves the lucky ones! It’s amazing how little clue these small start up companies have. After going live the company had barely any sales so some investors (not being totally stupid) pulled out. I suspect the company not having a real sales team might have had something to do with it. Oh, and no planning. Apparently the CEO doesn’t believe in project planning! So, job hunting again.

In the mean time I have done various things. A few weeks ago Joss, Ian and I went over to visit Colin who builds vintage Alfa Romeo Monza 8Cs. It’s a small outfit but it’s extremely impressive what they achieve there and  a lot of hard work and research has obviously gone into doing things properly. They build new chassis, new front axles, bodies, steering wheels, fuel tanks, manifolds and all manner of other things. All done using the correct materials (you can’t just build a chassis from mild steel – they had to source the correct steel called Optim 700 MC apparently) and all properly tested and certified so as to be fully road legal here (convincing the authorities your cast axle is safe can not have been easy) but Colin did it.

He very kindly showed us around and let me ask all kinds of silly questions. Was very inspiring! I took a few photos there. There are a couple of cars being build (one with a blown 6 cylinder Alfa engine) and lots of interesting bits about.

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That same trip was also a bit of an excuse to surprise Joss. For some time he has been waiting to take ownership of a new car, an Austin 12/4, bought from Richard in the car club. Without him knowing Ian arranged the hand over to take place at his place after our visit to Colin. Quite a few other club members were on hand to watch!

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Joss drove it home with me following in my MG to pick up an bits that fell off. Nothing did! Joss has been busy (with Ian’s help on the engine) readying it for a road trip he is doing with his family this week.  One of the little jobs was swapping over the ammeter for a silver faced one to match the rest of the instruments. I unsoldered the back of the gauge and gave it a light clean (mainly just the glass) for him and that is now in the car.


Since Joss is busy on that we haven’t started on the bonnet/boot lid yet. Instead I made the most of the first good spring weekend to paint my Chummy wheels finally. I trued them as well as I could on the car. The dial gauge is just used as a pointer, there is no way I could get them accurate enough to need a gauge like that to measure the runout! They aren’t perfect but they are much better than before. The Chummy is hardly a performance vehicle so they should be fine I think.


I then painted them outside with my usual Killrust black paint. You don’t want too much paint on them. You still need to be able to adjust spokes if needed and also if you put too thick a coat on you can find the wheels won’t go over the hubs! I had that issue with the ones I had blasted then painted by the blasters. I won’t do that again. Better to have them blasted then get them to spray them with a protective coating and paint them yourself. The Killrust paint is good since it doesn’t need a primer on nice, clean but keyed steel so you don’t have as many layers.

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Since it was easy to do I painted the brake drums too. The wheels are now inside and hopefully next weekend I can finally get the new tyres on them. I still need to rebuild the spare wheel. I made a wooden jig to do that but I think on my first attempt I didn’t make sure the hub was fully flat down so the whole thing came out wonky. I need to loosen it all again and readjust it. I don’t need a spare for the car to be usable of course.

I also went to see Brian the engineer the other day. He wasn’t able to fit the bar in the base of the crankcase that the studs fit to. There just isn’t enough room there to get the studs to thread fully into the bar. Where they hit it is right on the edge of the reinforcing block. Instead he has had large lugs welded into the case and threaded those. Hopefully this will work fine. It is certainly going to be stronger than just attaching them to the top of the crankcase which is the original issue we are trying to solve. Hopefully I can collect that soon and start building an engine!

Engine building.

August 30th, 2015

Well, not quite yet but I am preparing. I sorted out all the bits and pieces and made a list of what I need doing  so I can start. I am hoping I can go see the engineer this week some time.

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I also bought some tungsten burrs so I can tackle the rest of my block.


Other than that not much has happened. I spoke to Joss and we’ll be making bonnets/boot lids next weekend. I am still busy doing so many other things. Splitting and stacking wood, working on the Turing Bombe, trying to catch up on reading (I think I now have 5 Automobile magazines I haven’t looked at as well as a couple of Beardy Wheels (it’s actually ‘Beaded Wheels’ but I’ve always called it Beardy Wheels because before I even got into vintage cars I always got the impression the people who are into them all have beards) and a VAR club magazine to read. As well as this I have a new (old) book of Edwin Smith photos to look at, a book about the Apollo moon missions and another one specifically about the Apollo guidance computer which is fabulously technical! As someone who has made his own computer that stuff fascinates me. I promise I won’t start building one though. It’s been done already!

Despite all this Joss thought I needed more and gave me three Hornby model railway magazines! I think it’s a not too subtle hint I need to finish my railway table next.

Do you ever get the impression you have too many hobbies?

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