Finding a Unicorn Car for a Friend.

I’d put it off for far too long.  Early January and my friend wanted to replace his very high mileage Toyota Yaris with something a little better.  To be fair, we found him the Yaris about 5 years before and it had provided amazing service yet now at almost 200000 miles, the end was nigh. That amazing little engine had developed a death rattle…

Over the last year or so my friend had mentioned how he would like a 4×4. Now I’ve had Tug, my little Suzuki Vitara at that point for 18 months. So, I do feel that  I can comment. The trade off for 4×4’s is the extra weight of the internals, extra driveshafts etc… That some have separate chassis, the fuel consumption is bad. They handle worse on road. Now if you have a use for one, like I do, they are amazing… But.

I’d already talked him out of a Jeep Cherokee… Too big, expensive to run, and Jeep reliability.So not ideal. 

At this point. I thought I’d put him off the idea… Yet, once again here he was asking me to help. We are good friends, what could I do? The gardening doesn’t really start until the first full week in the new year. So first it was research time. The only choice that really covered the bases was another Toyota, this time the Rav4. Oh, and just to make life a little more interesting, my friend wanted an automatic.

Why a Rav4? Simply because Toyota made its best cars from the 1990s to the middle of the first decade of this century and they were the most reliable in the world.

We both live in Cornwall, which means that once you find a car, the chances are that it will be at least 2 to 3 hours away… I found a couple of auto MK2 Rav4’s listed, one near Taunton, the other near Bristol. The closer one had just been sold, the seller in Bristol didn’t get back to me… Facing a dilemma… Then I found an MK1 Auto Rav4 at a dealer in Honiton, in the pics it looked really clean… My friend now was in a meeting for a couple of hours… So I rang the garage, explained the situation. They said they would hold it until 1 pm.

We left at 1.30 in Bel, my little MX5, roof down, of course.

The garage was a Rav4 specialist with mostly MK2 models. There in the furthest corner, she sat. Clearly had not been moved since before Christmas. Her body looked clean, and underneath, for her age, she was amazingly tidy.  The salesman came out and was about to start her, but I got him to open the bonnet. First, I placed my had on her engine, it was stone cold. Then a quick check of her fluids, all looked good… As I was doing this, I explained what I was looking for and why. The salesman made a joke about dodgy second-hand car dealers. Then he turned her key and she burst into life. No smoke, no hassles.

I jumped in and we set off on a quick test drive that included a blast down the nearby A30. She ran like a dream, at first the brakes ground a little, but that was just the surface rust coming off. We then swapped seat and my friend had a little drive.

Thumbs up…

We left with the car an hour later. I fear my I might have inflicted my friend with the classic car bug. We drove home in convoy, Bel in front and the Rav4 that now had been named Phoebe following. Inside I felt a sense of relief. I’d pulled another out of the bag.

My friend Andy with his new purchase…
Phoebe and Bel at Victoria Services.

Finally, Live, What Next?

Classicaraddict, why live now? How did I become the Classicaraddict, what has been going on in the very large gaps between posts?  Now it is live what do I intend to do with Classicaraddict?

Classicaraddict came out of the first few weeks of my master’s in professional writing.

We were asked what we really knew, arguably what we could be considered experts in… Now my friends would think, making a mess, perhaps bull sh tting, etc, etc. The lecturer assumed I knew about gardening. She was initially very dismissive of me and any idea I had.

Historically I’ve avoided writing about my automotive addiction. Perhaps considering it too easy, or maybe I’m just stubborn…  But, elsewhere within Classicaraddict hopefully my hands-on passion does show. After she accepted that I might know a little about the subject and that my local nick name of Petrolhead Alex was not meant ironically. She then used her very real publishing wisdom to guide me into a more traditional blog form. 

Of course, I ignored her and started creating this blog. About this time we had a tutorial on creating a specific blog site, during this I had a brainwave. Being dyslexic has its advantages sometimes, which when combined with instinct can lead to novel ideas. I always remember as she spoke about the importance of domain names the idea for the name Classicaraddict came about. She was very dismissive until it was clear that no one had misspelled it quite that way. Arguably it looks better than the correct way to spell it with the two c’s next to each other. There was a little a thawing between us as I quickly hoovered up the name and created the blog.

The lecturer was away the following week, during which I had bought Tug, my little Suzuki Vitara on impulse.  The following week was funny, as she asked each one of us what we had been doing for our blogs. She got to me, and of course, I  said, I’d bought a project car. Very classicaraddict.

I  even won her with my content, she said that my style was different to most and that it could lead to a publisher being interested.

The gaps are perhaps best explained with  the link to another blog, https://westcountrywriter.tumblr.com/post/183847615524/paddle-boarding-why.

Why live now? This one is much simpler.

Unless I can hit it with a hammer, I struggle to make IT work properly. The blog was there but I couldn’t share it on social media. When I asked for help it didn’t arise and as I was struggling in other areas it was one more thing that fell by the wayside. It  doesn’t mean that I wasn’t still owning, driving, breaking and fixing my little fleet, it just meant that I wasn’t writing about it.

What’s next?

This one is little more difficult, yet after two other blog sites have closed along with all my and other’s posts, I’m going to continue writing and publishing on here.

There are post’s I’m due to write on my little fleet.  After finding a friend an immaculate 1998 Toyota Rav4 auto in January this year, expect a few posts on that car. I’d also like to explore other aspects of owning an older car and the importance for instance of the friends we make. I’m going to start looking at doing Vlogs… But first I need to learn a little about that.

Finally, there is another idea to do with automotive history that I will try to launch here. But that is a story for another day.

Thank you for reading this and please feel free to comment below.

Alex Small , aka Classicaraddict.

There is a postscript to this.
I just want to say thank you to those kind souls who have comment on some posts. Your words of encouragement and support mean so much.

Thank you.

Classic Chainsaw for the Classicaraddict?

I work outdoors, when asked, the nature of it is best described as hack & slash…What this means is that small urban gardens are best left to others with nice little vans.By choice I prefer larger properties, this is where my little Suzuki 4×4 comes in. It has changed how I do my job, and never ceases to amaze me where she goes. Often called my workmate and she really is.

Today the starter cord broke on my law mower snapped just as the client was bringing a mug of tea out. We chatted as I quickly sorted the issue. The mower looks old, scruffy, yet cuts wet grass like nothing else. A few years ago I was given it along with a strimmer after they got thrown out. Sadly, the strimmer died after a couple of years of sterling service.

Late last year one of my clients gave me an old Echo CS330EVL chainsaw. It had sat in their shed for quite a few years. They said that it had an issue with the chain brake.  I did fire it up a few days later, it ran, but the brake didn’t work, and the starter got stuck. After putting it down, it sat, forgotten once again, until this evening. Sadly, once again the need for a reliable small saw has risen. For 3 years I used a beaten-up Stihl 009, this little saw was amazing, but finally died last year.

People assume that bigger chainsaws are better, yet I would argue that say one with 12inch to a 16inch bar is far better for 90% of all the jobs you need to do. Unless you are felling bigger trees, then, of course, a larger saw is better.  I don’t and when most of my use is logging and only small trees, a lighter saw is far better. First, you don’t get so fatigued using one, and second, they are cheaper to run, less hassle to maintain.

This evening, I dug the little saw out, got my socket set from the truck and set to work. The chain brake was simply down to being clogged solid with fine sawdust.  This is where the Echo reveals its older design. Modern saws have the chain brake on the inside of the bar cover. This means that every time you take it off it is a simple job to clean the brake. With this Echo, the chain brake is behind the engine drive sprocket and stays on the machine. Hence, it is far more difficult to keep clean, which then reduces the performance until it stops working.  After cleaning, it now works well, which means the saw is safe to use again. It is a little more complex than more modern designs, yet the quality is clear to see, and I’m impressed compared to cheaper, newer saws.

After sharping the chain, I then found the second major fault…

The starter cord was jammed, so once again, my tools came out, pulled it apart. Only to find starter drum was cracked. A quick look online proved that this a rare part. Only available from the States. Cost £6 and £16 for postage…

Tomorrow I’ll test the saw and if it runs well, then it will become my everyday one.  I’ll order a couple of spare chains, for £15 which will mean that for £40  I’ll have a good saw…

And that is a bargain.

Classic chainsaws for the Classicaraddict… Of course.

Quick update, the day after writing this post I did try the little saw.
Considering how long it must have been sitting, it did really well. At first a little smokey and until the fresh fuel worked through a little rough running. It now seems to have settled down and after  I get a spare chain, this will be the saw that lives in the truck, (Tug). I also would like to thank my clients for giving me this saw. They are truly good people.

Time to Confess… Cars or Bikes

I have a confession, some of my friends might want to disown me after this…

Yet, it is time to come out…

 

Most people assume that I love bikes more than cars, even many of long-term friends still think this, despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Within the biking fraternity, there is an assumption that any bike must be more fun than a car. For those who think this, I suggest trying a Suzuki Gs 500. Then you will know that watching paint dry is more fun than riding one of those. I think it might be better to say that generally, bikes are more fun than most cars.

Yet, whilst I do love bikes…

For me cars, well classic ones are more than just a mode of transport. For instance, my little Suzuki Vitara is not only work’s vehicle but also my friend. She has transformed how I do my job and if I was not impressed before it snowed I was certainly after. Every time I sit in her I smile, then I have to put fuel in her and the smile becomes a little smaller.  I’ve had an old beaten up Mercedes estate car that somehow was special. I’ve owned some cars that are so bad I lost the will to live, for instance, a Hyundai Lantra estate. After driving it to South Wales I pulled into a local supermarket and when I came I’d forgotten where I’d parked it. How bad does a car have to be that after driving it for 4 hours you cannot even remember what you had been in?

 

I’m writing this after buying a bargain Mazda MX5, a car that somehow has already wormed its way into my soul. It reminds me so much of my much-missed Triumph Spitfire. Yet with the bonus of being reliable and dry. Driving should be fun; the safest cars are often the ones that engage the driver at lower speeds.  Anyone who has driven a classic Mini knows this or the much-maligned Metro. They are safer because the driver is engaged in what they should be doing. With the added bonus the more passionate driver is rewarded with car that is fun at legal speeds.

For me, cars that do this are more fun than bikes, the view over the bonnet of a sports car sends a shiver through the soul of the enthusiast.

So I’m sorry to confess, but at heart, I’m a car guy and not a bike one…

Mazda MX5 First Driving Impressions

 

What is an MX5 like to drive?

 

Having not had a convertible in almost 2 years and a two-seater one in almost 8 years, having the roof down is such a joy.  But, then if you have ever gone topless, you will know that.

In my first blog post, I wrote about how I was not impressed 12 years ago after borrowing an MK2 1.6 MX5 for an hour or so. This experience put me off them for a long time. A few years later I did get to drive a much later MK2 1.8 model with low profile wheels and tyres and a six-speed gearbox. Sadly, I could only drive it at 40 mph…. But it did seem a lot better.

 

After buying my MX5 (Bel) on impulse, and at the time on a purely rational basis what is she like to drive?  In one word, sublime. Write I’m done now…

 

OK, a little more, let me explain.

First, Bel is a driver’s car, she talks to the driver who wants to listen. The experience is completely immersive. Most cars, well modern ones are like driving less interesting video game, and by doing this, they make the passionate driver want to slit their wrists.  The other type of car seems only to become interesting at speeds that either mean an instant ban and you are travelling too fast for the safety of others.

 

Bel is not like that, at normal and legal speeds she is fun. I do a lot of driving on tight, narrow Cornish back lanes. Often getting close to the speed limit is far too fast. Here her poise and well-balanced steering is a joy. On faster roads, she is lovely and stable at 80 mph, at 100, very skittish. I will add that I only hit that speed for about 3 seconds before dropping back down to more legal speeds. Sorry officer.

 

They have been described as minimal when compared to modern cars they are. Compared to my much-missed Triumph Spitfire, even a basic spec MX5 is loaded with such features as no leaking roof, stereo, a handbrake that works, etc, etc… It is only a question of perspective… Not only does all that tec weight a lot, it is more to go wrong.

One such feature that is outstanding and is important for driving a convertible in the winter… Her heater is amazing, the best I’ve ever felt. Toasted feet on the coldest of days, or nights.

 

I still think that space wise they are cramped and carrying capacity is a joke, compared to my Spitfire there is hardly any at all. I would argue that some bigger touring bikes can carry more.  A little creative packaging will be required when I go away to see my mother later in the year.

Yet…  Those downsides are nothing compared to the driving experience.

What are MX5’s like to drive?

 

Amazing… They are driver’s cars.

 

 

Project MX5

I have an addiction, a lifelong one. Ever since the age of 4 months old I’ve loved cars, well old cars. Sadly, for me, modern ones just don’t hold that much interest… Except now at the age 46, yes really, how did that happen?  I find myself driving cars that at were new when I was younger.

I’m writing this as the latest product of this expensive habit is being tested for it’s first MOT in my hands.  The car in question is an 18-year-old Mazda MX 5 Isola. One of the lesser special additions of the most popular sports car ever made.  For Ford fanatics, yes, I know the Mustang has sold millions and millions.  But apart from perhaps one or two models have they ever really been a considered a sports car. A muscle car, pony car certainly but not a sports car.

Every petrolhead knows that back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s Mazda started looking at the small sports car market. They wondered if they could take the essence of the classic British sports car, front engine, rear wheel drive and joyful handling. This combined with just enough power to have fun, but not so much to become a handful. Let’s be honest just making it reliable would have been a major improvement…

This they did, and the result was the MX5 being launched in 1989 to much acclaim, with the affordable two-seater sports car was back after almost a decade. Now I should make a confession here, about 12 years ago I borrowed an MX5 to picked up a fuel pump for a friend’s MG MGB. I had the chance to drive it alone… And despite trying to like it, I just couldn’t. In fact, a month later I went and bought Triumph Spitfire 1500. A car that I loved very dearly for 5 years, but certainly was a classic British sports car with both rust and the ongoing personal development program that is such an essential part of the experience.

 

I always said that I should have bought an MX5, but never could. Until last week that is. After being asked to start a car for a friend, an MOT failure, one that she was trying to get rid of, but not get ripped off with. I duly started the car, drove it around the car park and felt that there was a good car just waiting to get back on the road.

A couple of days later I found myself handing over not that much for the car and taking it to a safe place where I could work on it. The half-mile drive was so much fun, a grin was on my face.

I’ve just driven the car far further than have since buying it (about 4 miles) to the place I always take my cars to.  The garage is firm but fair and are all petrolheads.

The heat wave has gone, it is the finest Cornish mizzle. So of course, I had the roof down as I threaded her through the winding back lanes.

From being a hater, or perhaps not fully appreciating just how much fun an MX5 can, I think I might have been converted, no pun intended.

I now await nervously for the result… How much more will I need to do to get her back on the road…

PS….

 

IT PASSED… 

Motorcycles and Renewed Friendships

When was the last we rode together?

The question hung in the air, the years had passed, more than we cared to remember.

An unexpected opportunity meant that 3 friends replicated a photo taken 29 years before.

Then there was 5 of us, each on a moped, a total capacity of 250cc and 5 cylinders. Now there was a total engine capacity of 2500cc and 7 cylinders. Where before there were 4 Japanese bikes, well one with an Italian engine and one East German one.  Now there was two from the land of the rising sun and one wearing a German badge, with an Austrian heart and a frame built in Italy.

The changes in not just the bikes, but in the riders, spoke volumes.

Middle age has crept up,  it seems bike clothing shrinks for all of us. Surely that must be the reason why once loose fitting jeans seem tight? Hair has become flecked with white, faces lined with experience. Yet, if you look closely, you will see the pleasure in friendship and motorcycles. A few moments before, we had been making a temporary repair to my bike, a little alternative engineering (bodging) that is such a part of motorcycling. Another aspect that bonds us together in more ways than we care to imagine.

Roads have become so much more dangerous than ever. The amount of traffic now combined with the brain numbing effects of satnav means that riding is more a lesson of risk management than enjoying the open road. The bikes we now ride reflect this.

Well for two of us anyway…

One of my friends has owned his 1200cc Suzuki Bandit for 10 years. The bike still looks as good now as it did we he first got it. One of the ultimate expressions of the once was known as a UJM, or universal Japanese motorcycle. But that would be unkind, the 1200 Bandit was as hooligan’s bike when introduced and can still surprise a few now. Like all things it seems, motorcycles have become larger and the 1200 bandit has shrunk, but now it is condensed, focused and understated.

My other friend has owned his Honda 650 Deauville over 3 years, has toured all over the UK and Europe two up on it. The bike is typical of the Honda being well built and thought out. Based on the long-running NTV 600/ 650, the engine will last forever. For today’s roads, it is ideal and I have no doubt my friend will still be riding it in 10 years’ time.

I was sitting on the joker of the pack, my newly acquired BMW F650. Unlike my friend’s bikes, I’m starting my relationship with it. It has already done more miles than their bikes. Being unlike anything I’ve ever owned before yet seems to work for today’s roads. I’d only ridden about 200 miles over 5 days at that point. After not been on a bike in about 2 years and enjoyed riding for far longer, I’m rusty, unlike the BMW.

Shortly after we left for a ride (scratch), clearly my friends have ridden together often. Their close formation and fast, but safe pace only one expression of that.  I was tail end, Charlie. The spot allowed me to ride at my own pace without the pressure of holding someone up.

With old friends, we have no need to prove anything. We can all ride or drive just about anything quickly, but understand it takes a few miles to truly settle down on something new. I sat back and enjoyed my own pace, keeping up, but not too closely.

With the promise of a mug of tea and bacon sandwich, we pulled into the café near Kit Hill.

The three of us once more riding together. Almost 30 years may have passed, but for us, it seems like only yesterday.

For the record, the line-up is the same from the left to the right.

A Little Fun, Off Road Playing in a Suzuki Vitara

‘Fancy a go?’

My friend asked if I wanted to try his newly acquired MK 4 Golf, it was nothing special, but then that often does not matter.  What did surprise me was just how cheap it was.

Now, old cars are worth next to nothing in the UK. A good one with a long MOT can be bought for what is little more than pennies. In this case, a car 14 years old with almost a full year’s road test was£300 pounds. Yes, it does have a few issues, including needing a heater matrix changing. I suspect my friend has never changed one, for one the first things that goes into an empty body shell during assembly, is the heater matrix. I once did one on a MK 2 Golf, never again, as complete sod does not even start to describe how difficult it is.

It seemed only polite to allow him to have a go in Tugg, my little Suzuki Vitara. In past, he has owned a Mitsubishi 4X4 pickup and a Unimog. So, he knew a bit about driving 4×4’s.  He and his family are converting an old NATO pumping Station to apartments. What this means that their property is not overlooked and is about 3 acres in size. With a high bank on one side. After a little go on the tarmac, his next suggestion was that we tried the track up the bank, so swapping over I went first.

It turned out that the test drive was a little more extreme than either of us expected. Tugg, climbed the slippy bank with ease and then with her small size, she squeezed through the gap at the end. Then it was his turn, same route, but with a steeper bank at the start. Yes, we were both very surprised and my friend could see why I like the Vitara so much.

Just as I was about leave, he suggested I tried the really steep bank. After Scraping her tow bar, we finally got Tugg stuck, but on a dry day he thinks she would get up there… Unhooking her tow bar was fun, both of us simply  lifted the rear wheel arch and Tugg rolled back as if this was normal.

There is a real importance to sometimes kicking loose. I would not let everyone drive cars and bikes, but to those who I trust there is real joy in sharing the magic.

The best part is my friends laugh at the end of the short clip.  Sums up friendship and the joy of both us simply taking a few minutes out from adulthood.

Welding One Small Patch?

Welding…

Older Suzuki Vitara’s have a reputation for rusting, well the bodies anyway.

When I bought Tugg, I did miss a couple of holes near the rear seat mounts. Now removing the seats was an option but would mean notifying  DVLA this would not be an issue for the MOT or annual road inspection. But then Tugg would become a commercial vehicle and that would affect insurance etc…

There are a few basic rules to welding, the first is that any hole will be far bigger than it initially appears. Many years ago when welding a friend’s Ford Escort after tapping a small area almost 2 foot of rust landed on my head and in my eyes…  So yes the holes did appear a little larger than expected, but not overly so.

After being taught to weld by a friend 10 years ago I enjoy it much more a lot of mechanical work. I still use the same second-hand Cebora 130 Mig welder I bought then. Over the years I’ve welded on a fairly regular basis and have slowly increased my skill level.

Along the way, I’ve acquired a few tricks. One is to disconnect the battery. This is becoming increasingly important with the increase in sensitive electronics. Perhaps the most important trick I’ve learned is to prepare the metal really well. I use sanding disks on my angle grinder as they give a better finish than grinding disks.

Having prepared the areas that required welding I started work. After cutting a patch to fit I then spot welded it into place. Metal expands and contracts as heat is applied, so almost fitting is good enough in the tacking process. You can either hammer down each section as you work along the edge or press down using an old screwdriver. Once the patch is spot welded in place it is simply a question of then joining them up using little beads of weld. To avoid overheating an area it is best to weld on alternating sides of the patch. I was taught to weld on the lowest setting to avoid blowing holes in the metal. Sadly this means that good penetration is not always achieved. With experience, I now weld on a higher power setting.

Once done, I ran over the welds with the sanding disk. With a coat of black paint, the job looks fairly tidy for MOT test next Thursday.

Yes, the holes are a little bigger than expected, but now they are done.

A good afternoon’s work.

Cambelt Change…Finally Suzuki Vitara

 

I will admit to avoiding major mechanical work whenever I can. Simply put I don’t like going into engines any deeper than changing spark plugs.  Yet even I know that you cannot avoid going into the bowels sometimes.

Having not changed a cambelt in more years than I care to admit, it was time to enter the dark bowels of the Vitara and changed it for peace of mind. Having a friend with not just the tools but more importantly the knowledge as well I decided to do it there. Sadly, my friend was called into work that Saturday morning and I was left to my own devices in an alien workshop. With a deep breath, I started to remove the radiator. Avoiding the face full of antifreeze as the bottom hose was released. Normally I would try from the top but sadly, in this case, it was better from under the Vitara.  The cooling van was unbolted to allow the radiator shroud past. With this done, it simply became a question of removing the power steering belt and the water pump/ alternator one. Then off came the cambelt cover with the aid of an air gun.  At this point and with a sense of panic I decided to change the rocker box cover.

Of course with that off, I then decided to check the valve clearances and promptly got stuck as the feeler gauge was nowhere to be found. So now I had two jobs halfway finished and my friend was still at work…

After a cup of tea and a quick check on YouTube, I decided to carry on with the cambelt.

Checking the timing marks, the old belt came off and then my friend turned up.

With the immortal words, “that now will be easy” the new belt and tensioner turned out to be a complete sod to put on. Then with the cover on and after struggling to find the right feeler gauges, I checked the valve clearances. There was one too tight and a couple a little loose, but mostly they seemed fine.  When doing this I was turning over the using the crank pulley bolt and a socket. The benefit of doing is that I knew that after the cambelt change nothing was going to interfere with each other.   The new gasket was put on with a fine smear of normal grease to help seal it. After that, it was a question of reassembly.

My friend with more years of experience than we both care to admit made a rooky mistake by saying that refitting the radiator would be a simple job… 20 minutes later and with my head under the front valance the radiator was finally in place. The joy of old cars is that sometimes a difficult job will be easy and an easy job, well less said about the better.

 

With everything finally done and with a sense of relief the Tugg started and settled down her high idle.