June 14, 2014
We're back! It's been four months since we officially licensed the M.G. Locost for the street, and we thought it might be a good time for an update, although as always you're free to disagree. We have much to report, and only hope we have enough pictures to go along. Probably not, though. Ever since that fateful day back in February when we bolted license plates to the car, we've taken it on dozens of trips, possibly even hundreds, and in all that time the Locost has proved to be incredibly reliable. So far.
Among those many trips were several drives with the local M.G. Owners club. Members of the club seem to be okay with us tagging along so long as we stay in back. We've also enjoyed weekend runs up north with a local British car club, the NOBBC, who travel at a much more spirited pace and have less of a problem with our car, even if they're not 100% sure what it is. We did paste a couple of tasteful British flags on the sides, in an effort to emphasize the car's proud English heritage, in case the oil dripping from the undercarriage wasn't enough.
We've taken the car on several long trips of over a hundred miles, all in total comfort, based as always on our own definition of comfort. And total. Our foamy seats have been remarkably plush and supportive, wind noise and buffeting have been non-issues, and we finally managed to install a clutch dead pedal to support our left foot on those long drives. Although calling it a pedal might be a slight exaggeration. It's actually more like a tab. So even now we're still adding tabs to the car, as we predicted we would all those many years ago.
In addition to all of the fun drives, we try to attend our local Cars and Coffee meet every month at the Vintage Oaks shopping center in Novato. These events attract every type of car nut known to man (or woman), from hot-rodders to vintage racers to muscle car enthusiasts and even exotic car owners, who don't always know a whole lot about cars but it's hard to argue with their wallets. Unfortunately we don't actually get to drive at these meets, but we do get to park next to the really cool cars, and stand around and answer questions about the Prisoner TV show.
Another one of our many trips in the Locost was a drive down to the Bay Area Maker Faire in May. Long time readers may recall that we attended this event as spectators last year, when our car was still in the rolling chassis stage and unlikely to ever be completed. This year our Locost was proudly on display, and except for a slightly dented bonnet that we removed for most of the show, was looking mighty complete. During the two-day event, thousands of visitors wandered by to look at the car, or possibly one of the other cars parked nearby.
In case you're wondering about the dented bonnet, not to worry. A Locost bonnet sees a fair amount of abuse, because it's off the car a lot and unlike most bonnets, when it's off the car it's not attached to anything, so it's free to fall over, roll around, and get in the way of other objects. Ours was actually in pretty decent shape until the morning someone forgot to close the latches and it flew off on the freeway. We managed to find it on the side of the road, and it's since been repaired and repainted, and so it's too late now to assign any blame for the incident.
As we write this, we've logged over 3000 miles in the Locost, and in all that time our driving impressions haven't changed a bit. The car still handles unbelievably well, going around turns with a distinct vintage quality that's totally unlike that silly glued-to-the-road feel of modern cars like Miatas and BMWs, but still pulling a lot of Gs as both ends of the car skitter across the tarmac with equal abandon. On several occasions the car has taken a severe beating over bumpy back roads at speed, but it continues to feel completely solid with zero squeaks or rattles.
We still regularly inspect the Locost for imminent catastrophic failures, and haven't seen anything yet to worry about. Our front fenders (wings) are still rigidly attached, the rear axle is still firmly located, none of the running lights has fallen off, and the engine is right where we left it, our uber-tall motor mounts apparently doing the job we always hoped they would. The steering is still crisp and direct, the brakes are good, the tires fair, and the wiring harness hasn't burst into flames, not even once.
We have a couple of repairs that we need to take care of at some point, but we currently find ourselves inexplicably unmotivated to do anything that might take the car out of action for a few days. Or a few hours. The biggest task we have on the schedule right now is replacing the valve seals. This job will entail removing the cylinder head, and then figuring out how to replace valve seals. Once the new seals are in place we expect them to cut our oil usage so that we're only adding a quart of oil at every fill-up, instead of every stoplight.
Because of our reduced work ethic we've made very few changes to the car in the last four months. The most prominent change is a digital clock installed on the dash where the brake warning light used to be. This seemed fully warranted, because the brake warning light never worked and the clock was only $4.95 with free shipping from Hong Kong. Amazingly, the clock keeps perfect time, and despite its futuristic appearance we like having it in the car so we can tell when we're running late, and also when it's time to add oil.
We also bent our gearshift lever so we could reach third gear without having to lean forward, although we didn't actually bend it so much as cut it in half and welded it back together at an angle, which seemed to work out about the same as bending. We were slightly concerned at the time that our welding skills might have deteriorated to the point where we'd be able to snap the lever off during a brisk downshift, but I think we melted enough metal and we certainly added a lot of filler, so we're probably okay. It's looking good so far.
We also built a new exhaust hanger. We learned very early on that the Locost book's bobbin-type exhaust mount is a joke, having destroyed two of them in a matter of weeks, so we had to come up with a new design. Drawing on all the experience we gained from two years of fabricating car parts, we stole a design from another kit maker. The new design is slightly heavier, or maybe a lot heavier, and sharp-eyed readers may notice that it still incorporates a bobbin, but we think being loaded in compression rather than shear will be an advantage.
Meanwhile, our Lucas alternator still has us worried. It's been flaky from the start, sometimes registering a full 14 volts and other times taking the afternoon off. We are not sure yet what to do about it. The one reason the original alternator is still in the car is because the battery remains fully charged and the ignition light on the dash stays dark most of the time. And a new alternator is $80. So I guess there's more than one reason. But every time we get fed up with the alternator and threaten to buy a new one, it works okay for the next couple of weeks.
One job we managed to talk ourselves out of was installing a radiator baffle. The Locost hasn't yet succumbed to overheating issues, even when stuck in Sacramento rush-hour traffic on the hottest day of the year, and so we now plan to use the area below the radiator for an oil cooler. We have an MGB oil cooler in stock—a gift from an old friend in the M.G. Owners club—and it turns out it actually fits in the car. But it'll probably take a couple of hours or more to install it, and right now the weather outside looks perfect for a top-down drive to the coast.
So it seems we've grown increasingly reluctant to work on the car, and the further we get from those long days and nights in the garage cutting, grinding, welding, sewing, and painting car parts, the harder it is to imagine ever doing it again. In fact, it's sometimes hard to imagine we did it the first time. Looking over the dash, or the engine bay, or the rear suspension, it seems crazy that anyone would've spent that much time and effort on any of it, never mind putting together a whole car. When we first started out on this project three years ago it all seemed impossible. It still does.
But we're not complaining. We have the car of our dreams and we're not going to ask too many questions about how it got here. We seem to recall there was a lot of work involved, and a certain amount of cussing and throwing things, but it turns out that even though on balance we enjoyed the time we spent putting the car together, building a Locost is not as much fun as driving a Locost. So we'll keep on driving it, every chance we get, and if all goes well we'll check back in another couple of months to let you know how it's doing.
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