Build Your Own Car – More on the Chassis

February 25th, 2008

Another episode in the Build Your Own Car saga.

Although the major part of building the chassis was done, there were still many jobs left. To avoid rust, the chassis was painted with a rust inhibiting paint which was bought from Screwfix. (Great if you want to build your own car. Loads of fixtures and adhesives and tools etc). The chassis was de-greased using white spirit and all surface rust was removed before painting.

The back axle was also painted and trial fitted, along with the front stub axles and hubs and steering rack. All of the braking components had been refurbished with new seals etc, new pads and shoes and new discs.

The next stage was fitting the steering rack, an Escort Quick Rack which John the welder just happened to have about his person. I had bought new mounting rubbers as the old ones had seen better days, covered in oil and very soft. New ball joints were fitted to the ends of the rack. The next problem was fitting the Ford Sierra steering column. For the SVA, the column had to be collapsible and also had to have a kinked joint at the bottom where it attached to the rack. The column had to be extended as the standard column was too short for the Locost. This was done by cutting the end off the column and welding a piece of seamless tube between the shortened column and the end which had been cut off. Getting the position of the spider joint that connected to the rack correct was difficult to say the least. There was not a lot of clearance between the chassis and the engine, but with some tweaking and modifying one of the chassis uprights we got it in.

The engine and gearbox were also trial fitted and the mounts adjusted (with a file) to line up with the mounting blocks on the engine and gearbox. I didn’t have a lifting tackle (owned one once, but lent it to a friend who left it in the boot of a car that he sold). So I tried to find, (remembering from the past) a cheap and cheerful hoist made I believe by a company called Haltrac but they seemed to have disappeared of the face of the earth. Soo, I went to a local boat chandlers and got him to make me up a block and tackle with bits normally used for hoisting up sails. Effectively, it was the same idea as the Haltrac hoist with stainless steel pulleys and a cord which was probably nylon or polypropalene. It worked brilliantly and enabled me to lift the engine and gearbox in and out of the chassis with little effort. Fortunate, as I subsequently found I had to do it several times.

I now had a chassis that could be wheeled around which made life a lot easier.

Below are some pictures of the rolling chassis at this stage.

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Build Your Own Car – Making the Locost Chassis

December 11th, 2007

All of the steel was cut for the chassis, but I was not confident enough to fabricate the front wishbones.. These, along with the suspension bushes and panhard rod were bought ready made from Martin Keenan. Great guy and incredibly helpful. The welding was done by a friend of mine, John who is an absolute whiz with MIG.

Initially, the chassis shape was marked out on a large piece of blockboard and the bottom rails were laid out. All of the joints were first tack welded, working from one side to the other to avoid distortion. The bottom frame was the checked for squareness and adjusted as required. Once we were happy with it the joints were fully welded, again working from side to side and again, checking for squareness as we went.

The next stage was fitting the uprights, again tack welding and checking for squareness. It’s amazing how much things distort when they are heated up. The top rails were then tacked on.

The most difficult things were the front frame and trying to get the angles correct and correctly positioning the suspension, trailing arm and panhard rod mounting brackets. Both of these jobs were accomplished by making up jigs to hold things in place when they were tack welded. Once all of the chassis rails were tacked in place the laborious job of fully welding all of the joints began. Again, this was done by working from one side to the other, continuously checking angles and squareness.

A couple of things were done differently to the book. The engine mounts were slotted to make it easier to get the engine in and out, the gearbox mounts were drilled and tapped for the same reason. Also the angle of the back of the chassis was steeper than the book. I can’t remember why we did this, but there was obviously a good reason.

Brackets had to be welded onto the Escort rear axle. I had read that some people had problems with this. Mainly because the axle distorted. We didn’t have any problem at all.

Although it took several weeks of part time work the chassis wasn’t too bad a job to do. Below are a few pictures of the finished chassis. Also a couple of pictures of the Zeemeride coil-over shocks that were bought for the car.

Nearside 1 Nearside 1 Nearside Rear Rear 1 Rear 2 Front 1 Front 2 Engine Mount 1 Engine Mount 2 Gearbox Mount Rear Axle 1 Rear Axle 2 Rear Axle 3 Trailing Arm Mount Zeemeride Shocks 1 Zeemeride Shocks 2

To be continued…..

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Build Your Own Car – The Locost

November 18th, 2007

If you have read my previous posts and still feel you want to build your own car, then you are probably as crazy as I am. The problem is, that once you have done it you are hooked.

I went for many years driving various production vehicles and had absolutely no intention of doing it again. On October 5, 1996 my wife pointed out an article in the Daily Mail “Schoolboys Make Classic Roadster From Scrap” featuring a book by Ron Champion called “Build Your Own Sportscar for £250”. At the time I was working for a large book wholesaler, so I bought the book (at discount) and read it and thought “I can do that”. The Locost book sat on my bookshelf for 2 years as I didn’t have a suitable garage, or the time. In August 1998 my wife and I moved to a house with a garage that was large enough for “The Project”. In December 1998 I ordered the steel for the space-frame chassis and started to cut it according to the dimensions in the book.

Meanwhile, I was also on the hunt for a donor. The book suggested a Ford Escort and I managed to find an Escort Huntsman estate. This is not the actual car below!!

Ford Escort Huntsman estate

All the major were stripped from the car, engine, gearbox, back axle, radiator, instruments and anything else that may be of use. The engine was shot, but I managed to find another 1300cc one that had been rebuilt. The carb on the old engine was virtually brand new, so that was cleaned up to be used. The rebuilt engine was stripped down and checked as it had never been run. Whoever had rebuilt it had done the bottom end, but not touched the head. The bottom end was stripped down just to check that all was OK. I’m very glad I did as although it had been re-bored and new pistons and rings fitted, several of the rings were broken!! I also had the crankshaft polished, but re-fitted the bigend and main shells which looked new. The head was stripped down , new valves and springs fitted after de-coking. They oil pump was also badly worn, but I managed to purchase a brand new one at a reasonable price.

Many other new or refurbished parts were bought including Cortina hubs and stub axles, alternator, battery, electric fan etc etc.

Next epsiode: The building of the chassis.

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Build Your Own Car – Rear Suspension & Trimming

November 13th, 2007

So the Gentry was finally on the road. I proved that it is possible to build your own car.

Although she was now legal, she was still not finished. Various bits of chrome needed to be re-done, the rear suspension needed sorting out and the wire wheels were still waiting to bit fitted. Below are a couple of pictures before these things were done.

Before the chrome Another view

Sorting out the rear suspension was a priority as the ride was putting it mildly, somewhat uncomfortable!! The rear suspension on all of the Triumph Herald based cars is somewhat unusual. It is a weird form of independent suspension, but unlike most IR, instead of having separate coil springs and dampers it has a tranverse leaf spring. Anyone who has cornered any of this range of Triumph cars at speed will tell you that it is to say the least exciting. It isn’t like any other car I have driven. It will stick to the road like glue, no sign of the backend sliding, so you can’t get it to drift like other cars. Then, all of a sudden the rear wheel will tuck under and you completely lose control. I did this in a Spitfire I owned while I was going rather quickly round a roundabout. The backend let go and I ended up with the car facing the wrong way. Fortunately it was early morning, so there weren’t too many people about and there was no major harm done apart from my wounded pride. Back to the suspension of the Gentry.

In the build instructions it was suggested that from a Vitesse spring which I seem to remember had twelve leaves you should remove three of them. They also said that it should be flattened by about one and a half inches. I took it to a local blacksmith and had this done, but the rear still sat very high and the ride was hard. I then removed two more leaves re-fitted the spring and took the car out for a test drive. The difference was amazing. A more comfortable ride and the ride height now looked OK. The old steel wheels were taken off and replaced with the re-furbished wire wheels. It was starting to look more like the MG TF.

The interior trim was next. The original modified Herald seats were replaced with new ones in a red leatherette. I recall the company that made them were called Cobra. All of the interior paneling was covered with a matching leatherette. She was starting to look great. I had also purchased a hood and sidescreen kit from RMB so that she could be used in inclement weather!!

Below are some pictures taken by a friend of mine, Rob Large on Ashdown forest when she was finally complete. I think anyone would agree that the Gentry is a very pretty car and is and excellent way of re-cycling a donor that has seen better days.

The completed Genry 1 The completed Genry 2 The completed Genry 3 The completed Gentry 4

I ran her for about two years, until finances dictated that I had to sell her. I had a great time building and driving her and was sad to see her go. I would love to know what happened to her and where she is now, if she is still around. I believe that the person who bought her from me fitted his own personalised number, but I have no idea what it was.

Next epsiode, the Locost!!

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Build Your Own Car – After the MOT

September 25th, 2007

I felt elated. To build your own car is an achievement, but to have a professional mechanic give positive comments and to pass the MOT was the icing on the cake.

On the drive home from the garage, I noticed that the water temperature gauge was starting to rise at an alarming rate. I thought, only about four miles to go, so keep on and investigate when I got home. Wrong!! There was a loud hiss from under the bonnet and clouds of steam.

The overheated Gentry

One of the convoluted hoses had decided to burst. I let the engine cool down and wrapped a piece of rag around the offending hose. The water was topped up and I continued the drive back home with no further problems. My first job was to check all of the plumbing and I ended up replacing all of the the convoluted hose with proper reinforced radiator hose. It meant I had to fabricate more pieces of copper pipe to accommodate the hoses I had available. Before I did this, I went to the post office across the road to get my road tax. This was on a Saturday and the post office closed at 1pm. I arrived ten minutes before they closed, armed with my V5 registration document on which I had changed the body type from a four seater saloon to a two seater sports car and the name was changed to a Triumph Gentry. This would be forwarded to the DVLA by the post office after they had issued the tax disc. I also had the insurance certificate and the MOT certificate. I presented them to the post mistress along with the appropriate fee. She was what is known as a “Jobsworth”. “I can’t give you a tax disc. You will need to send the V5 back to the DVLA yourself as you have changed the body of the car”. After some persuasion, she reluctantly issued the disc and agreed that it wasn’t a problem and they would forward the V5 to the DVLA.

I now had a road legal car that I had built myself. The reflectors were found and fitted to the rear bumper as requested by the MOT mechanic. A few weeks later, I received a letter from the DVLA. I was expecting it to be my registration document updated with the changes I had made to the car. Instead it was a letter from the local office asking if they could inspect the vehicle. I telephoned the the office and arranged for the inspector to come and look at the car. I had no idea why they needed to do this, but he turned up at the appointed time (with his dog) and said that it was necessary to check the identity of the car. It was possible that if there were not enough parts used from the original donor vehicle it would need to be re-registered with a “Q” registration number. These are issued when the age of the vehicle cannot be accurately determined. As this was a TF replica, I didn’t like the idea of a “Q” plate as it detracted from the authenticity of the car. He also needed to see the receipts for the parts that had been bought and for the donor vehicle to make sure that it wasn’t built of stolen parts. He was a really nice guy and incredibly helpful. As far as he was concerned, there was no problem and he would arrange for the issue of the changed registration document. He also made some very nice comments about the car.

About a week later the registration document arrived, so the Gentry was finally completely legal. My next jobs on the car were to sort out the rear suspension and do the trimming.

Come back for the next installment
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Build Your Own Car – The Gentry Has Its MOT

September 23rd, 2007

To build your own car requires dedication, time and patience. Fortunately I have all of these in abundance. Well maybe two out of three:-)
Below is a picture of the car just before we set off for the MOT. Click for larger image.

The Gentry On the day of the MOT

We arrived at the garage and parked the car outside. The mechanic who was doing the test had a good look round the car to make sure there was nothing obvious wrong. After satisfying himself that the car looked OK he started the test. First thing was the braking efficiency. The car was driven on to the rolling road and I sat in the car following his instructions to hit the brake pedal when he asked me to. First the front brakes, balance OK, efficiency well within the limit of the test. Next rear brakes and again no problems. Finally the handbrake which also passed. So far so good. Off the rolling road and the exhaust emission tests. No problem there. Headlights next. The aim was slightly out as I had set them up by eye, sticking a piece of tape on a garage door and adjusting the beam. This was easily corrected with a few turns of a screwdriver until they were correct. Indicators OK, side lights OK, indicators OK. Horn fine. He now needed to check the underside of the car for any problems, so it was up onto the four poster lift with me still inside

.On to the fourposter

Checking the steering

In the photo above, the front wheels were raised so the steering and front joints could be checked for wear and play. All the steering joints were new so no problems. The wheel bearings and oil seals were also new so again OK. He also checked the run of the brake pipes to make sure there was no chance of them fouling on the suspension or bodywork. The same with the fuel pipes.

Top of the lift

The lift was then taken to the top and he continued to inspect the underside. Chassis OK, could I wiggle the steering wheel from side to side. He checked all of the other steering joints and found no problems. Pull the handbrake on and off. Again no problems. Push the brake pedal up and down. All OK.

Fairly confident!!

At this stage everything seems to be going well , although from the look on my face and that of the mechanic you wouldn’t think so!! The car was then lowered back down to the ground and the mechanic went off to do the paperwork. Had it passed?

The Celebration


He was impressed with the quality of the build and congratulated me on what I had achieved. The only thing that he could have failed it on was the fact I had forgotten to fit rear reflectors. I had them, but it had just slipped my mind. He issued the MOT certificate on the condition that I would fit them as soon as I got home.

More to follow….

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Build Your Own Car – The Saga Continues

September 16th, 2007

I have to say that when I lusted after an MG TF and someone had said to me “Why don’t you build your own car”, I would have thought they were crazy. Although both my father and brother were engineers, I was to put it mildy, useless. I was hopeless at school in both woodwork and metalwork. Give me a piece of wood and some tools and you would end up with a pile of sawdust and shavings. Give me some metal and tools and you would end up with a small pile of swarf and scrap.

Back to the story. From what you have read so far, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is all going rather well and the progress is quick. Wrong!! The build of the Gentry continued over two years, each week doing a little bit more.

Various brackets had to be fabricated, the brake and clutch pedals needed to be modified,, bumper irons were made. I seem to remember the body being on and off the chassis several times. One of the biggest challenges was finding an exhaust system that would fit. At a rally, I managed to find a complete system for a Bond 2 litre which was brand new and with very little modification was persuaded to fit. Another problem was the cooling system. I mentioned before that it used a Morris marina radiator and a Triumph Spitfire header tank. The header tank was required to get the water above the engine so that I would get a decent flow and the engine wouldn’t overheat. With this combination, it was impossible to get standard hoses to fit, so I went to a local motor factors and rummaged through their odds and ends hose box. I took away a selection of the correct bore and cobbled together the system, also using bits of copper pipe and some convaluted hose. All seemed fine and the engine stayed at the correct temperature.

Wiring was not too bad as I could use the original loom that came from the Bond with a bit of modification. The instrument panel used all of the original instruments, but the speedo had to be re-calibrated to match the GT6 diff.

Straps had to be made to hold the Spitfire petrol tank, but it fitted beautifully. Initially I used the seats from the bond, but had to modify the sub-frames to fit them.

The windscreen was fitted using the very nice cast alloy brackets that were supplied with the kit. Fitting the wipers was difficult. Getting the motor in exactly the right position and cutting down the rack to the correct length so the wipers wiped the screen and not the bonnet!!

All of the trim was removed from the car, along with the windscreen and was then taken on a trailer to a bodyshop to be sprayed. I had thought about the colour for a long time and had decided on Old English White, as far as I was concerned the classic colour for the TF. I seem to remember that the paint was a two part mix, as the bodyshop didn’t think it was a great idea to spray with cellulose and then bake the glass fibre body in the oven. The car was then re assembled with no interior finishing done and the old Triumph steel wheels. I was saving the wires to fit once I had done the interior trim.
By now, my other half was getting fed up with me spending so much time on it and said you’ve played with it long enough. Get it on the road.

So, I bit the bullet and booked it in for the MOT (UK road worthiness test). This was before you had to have an SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) test. The MOT was far less stringent. I set off for the test, with my other half and my boss following behind. The car drove like a dream, the only thing I didn’t like was the ride was a bit on the hard side and the rear end looked too high off the road. More about this to follow.

Next instalment, the MOT.
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Build Your Own Car – The Gentry Arrives

September 11th, 2007

Build your own car Part 3

As you may be able to see from the photos in the previous entry, the house I lived in had an attached garage which like many attached garages in the UK was SMALL!! There was no way I could build a car in the confined space that was available, but luck was on my side. The electronics company I worked for had as it’s manufacturing base what used to be an old garage. It was a very old building on two floors, the top floor being the production and office area and the basement comprised of several units, not all of which were being used. The wonderful managing director said that I could have one of the units to build my car in. I chose the one with the inspection pit.

Now with somewhere to build the car, I placed my order with RMB for the kit. If you would like to see the history of the Gentry, While waiting for the kit to arrive, I took the opportunity to strip the Vitesse engine down to check it out. The bores were slightly worn so I decided to have it re-bored and get new pistons. I also had the crankshaft polished and fitted new bearing shells and oil seals. I now had a re-built, freshly painted engine to fit in the car. I also decided to buy a second-hand rear axle from a Triumph GT6 and the ratio was better. This was drained, cleaned up and painted as was the gearbox. I also stripped down the suspension which was cleaned and painted. Among the Triumph bits and pieces I had collected over the years was a set of wire wheels. These were sandblasted, painted and lacquered. Two of the hub adaptors were worn, but I managed to find new replacements at a reasonable price. The spinners were re-chromed. New tyres were fitted to the wheels. A friend of mine who is an ace mechanic, fabricated new brake pipes for me from cupro-nickel. I didn’t want them to rust. The front brake callipers were stripped down, cleaned and fitted with new seals as were the rear cylinders. New pads and shoes were fitted. Everything was assembled on to the chassis, so I now had a rolling chassis which could be wheeled around.

try Chassis

A tip for anyone who needs lifting gear for getting engines in and out of cars. I went to a ships chandler and bought some heavy nylon cord, normally used for rigging sailing boats and some blocks and pulleys. This allowed me to lift the engine into the chassis without too much effort.

After a few weeks, the kit arrived and four of us lifted it off the lorry that had delivered it. The brilliant thing about this kit was it didn’t need a great deal of assembly. The body was in one piece with the doors fitted. It was painted in grey primer and would just need very light rubbing down before it was painted. The only thing that wasn’t fitted was the windscreen.

The Gentry Bodyshell

All I had to do now was to fit the body on to the chassis. This involved cutting off the side rails and shortening the outriggers. Once this was done, four of us lifted the body onto the chassis. The body had angle iron down each side where it met the chassis. Holes were drilled through the chassis so that the body could be bolted on. At each mounting point there were rubber pads between the body and the chassis.

It the kit instructions was a list of suggested parts required to complete the car, so if was off to the breakers yards to seek them out. Mini door handles, Triumph Spitfire petrol tank and filler cap, Triumph Spitfire header tank, Morris Marina radiator,Morris Minor bumpers and over riders (these were re-manufactured pattern ones), Hillman Imp wiper motor, Morris Minor rear lamps, MG Magnette grill. plus many other bits and pieces. One interesting thing was the headlights. The instructions said use Morris minor chrome bezels. They didn’t fit the body as they were slightly large, so at great expense I bought Lotus Elan bezels and fitted them to Ford 105E Anglia sealed beam units.

Just found a photo of one of those funny little Bond three wheelers. I believe this one had a 250cc engine and you had to kick start it through the bonnet!!

Bond 3 wheeler

To be continued ………..

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Build Your Own Car – The Demise of the Bond

September 5th, 2007

Welcome to Build Your Own Car Part 2.

The Bond was a great car and even with the 1.6 litre lump still performed well. It always used to get admiring looks from people who couldn’t work out what it was. “Is it Italian?” “It can’t be British!” “Who makes it?” etc etc. They were surprised when I told them it was a Bond. “Aren’t they they company who make those funny little three wheelers?” Yes, they do make those funny little three wheelers, but they also make this and a smaller version called the GT4S.

I digress. The Bond served me well for two years, but then the dreaded MOT decided it wasn’t fit for the road.

Sad Bond 1

You can see from the above, major work.

Sad Bond 2
Nice chassis, shame about the body!!

No problem I thought, I’ll just rebuild it. So, the body was taken off the chassis, remember when you could do that? The chassis needed a couple of outriggers replacing and also the two tail sections. New pattern parts were bought and welded on. It also required a couple of patches on the main backbone, but nothing too serious. I then looked at the body. The floor pan at the rear needed some repairs done and the windscreen surround was also rotten. I found another 2 litre Bond which I used for parts, grinding off the windscreen surround and welding it on to my car. Meanwhile, the chassis had gone off to be sandblasted, zinc metal coated and then painted with epoxy paint. My thought was, that will now last forever. Back to the body shell. It all seemed to going well until I got to the doors. The doors on the 2 litre Bond are a concoction of Vitesse/Herald inners and a Bond outer (made of steel). The inners were fine, but the outers were beyond repair. This was also the case with the doors from the other car I had bought. I attempted to locate some repair panels, but had no luck.

So what to do?

I looked at what I had that was good.
Rear axle

What was bad?

The body.

Then it came to me. There must be some way I could use the good bits and build my own car. I looked at the various kitcar magazines that were on the magazine shelves of the newsagent and bought most of them. Somewhere someone must make a kit that will fit either the Triumph Herald or Vitesse chassis. Then I saw it. The RMB Gentry!! All my dreams had come true. It was a replica of the car I loved most as a kid and never thought I would be able to have. The MG TF.

All I had to do now was to save up the cash to buy the kit, which was around £800.00, (can’t remember exactly).

Meanwhile, I came across a Bond GT4S at a very silly price. No MOT, non-runner, but the body and chassis were excellent. And only £100!! A friend and myself towed it home and with very little work, brake pads, news points plugs and condenser, an MOT and she was on the road.

Bond GT4S

Apologies for the picture quality!!

Part 3 to follow.

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Build Your Own Car – How It All Started

September 3rd, 2007

If you want to build your own car, then read on.

When I was a kid, back in the 1950’s, I was bought up when cars looked like cars. I loved the flowing lines, particularly the sportscars. One of my absolute favourites was the MG TF, which for me was how a sportscar should look. My dream was one day to own a car like that. As the years went by, and the TF became rarer and more expensive it seemed my dream would never come true.

I went through the usual array of old bangers, bought for £50, and the thought of the TF went to the back of my mind. Some of the cars I owned, I wish I still had as they have now become collectible classics.

What were they? My very first vehicle was a Ford Thames 15cwt van. This was bought because I was in a band and we needed transport to carry our gear to gigs. Other vehicles owned were a side valve Morris Oxford, a pre-war Austin 8, a Ford Consul, a MK1 Ford Cortina, and a whole array of Triumphs including 7 Heralds including a coupe and an estate with a 2 litre Vitesse engine and a Spitfire. All very much run of the mill cars.

Then I saw my first Bond Equipe GT 2 litre. I fell in love with it. I kept looking at the ads in the Exchange and Mart and finally bought one for £300. Basically the Equipe was built using the Triumph Vitesse chassis and running gear, but clothed in a fibre glass body. The one I bought was the coupe model (they made a convertible as well) and had a 2 litre straight six engine .

Bond Equipe GT 2 Litre

This isn’t a picture of my car, mine was black. Very sexy.

When I went for a test drive, the guy seemed very keen on showing me how loud the radio was. What with that and the load exhaust, I didn’t notice the noise coming from the engine. I guess you know where this is going. Yep, the engine was shot. It was burning oil and the ends were not very happy. I’m a little wiser now when I buy a car. Anyway, a couple of months later I managed to find a low mileage 1.6 Vitesse engine at a breakers yard at a reasonable price, so this was fitted in the car.

I’m sure that you’re wondering what the heck has this got to do with building your own car. All will be revealed in the next episode:-)

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