January 19, 2015
Good news. We found our camera. Since our move last August we have suffered way too many poor quality photographs on this site taken with our dying first-generation iPhone, which as we explained earlier does not have an actual camera, but rather a somewhat realistic simulation of a camera. Our trusty Canon G10 was resting all this time behind the driver's seat in the Miata, a place we never knew existed. We apologize for the unprofessional look of this website over the past several months, not that we expect better photographs to help.
Since our last report we put another couple thousand miles on the Locost. During this time we have driven the car in the cold, rain, fog, and snow, although not on purpose. The car doesn't seem to mind the elements, but apparently we do. In all of those miles, we've had to make only two repairs. The first was something we thought we'd fixed for good 5000 miles ago, and the second was not our fault. We think that two minor repairs in the span of three months means we're back on the road to automotive reliability. Although probably not.
Our first repair involved replacing a part that had exceeded its operational lifetime, which is approximately six months in a horizontal configuration, and about ten days when installed vertically. We're talking of course about the exhaust bobbin, a part that was clearly never intended for use in automotive exhaust systems. This particular bobbin that failed was not the standard $2 part from Moss Motors, but rather the extreme temperature, maximum-flexibility, $10 vibration isolator from McMaster-Carr.
As a temporary fix, we bought a rubber hole plug from our local Ace hardware store and safety-wired it in place. The plug insulated the exhaust pipe from the chassis perfectly, and the wire provided lots of flexibility, and if we had any reason to believe the wire wouldn't completely disintegrate in a matter of hours, we would've left it there. Instead we replaced it with another bobbin, and because we no longer have any faith in bobbins we ordered half a dozen, which should be good for the next three years or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The second repair was something of a surprise. One morning we were cruising up to our state capitol from the Bay Area, and about 60 miles into the drive we pulled off the highway to stop for gas. We quickly filled the tank and got ready to leave before anyone had a chance to start asking questions, but when we turned the key the engine spun, backfired loudly, and then quit. All subsequent attempts to start the car failed to do anything more than spin the engine. Not a single pop from any cylinder. So obviously the ignition had failed.
It's a well-known fact in the M.G. community that 90% of all ignition problems are caused by bad carburetors, and vice versa. Our carburetors obviously weren't the problem because a) they were still attached to the car, and b) we have two of them. Even if one failed completely, we would expect the second to provide enough fuel to elicit a pop or two out of at least one cylinder. Plus, the loud backfire we heard just before the car died clearly indicated something was amiss with the ignition timing.
We fiddled with the ignition system at the gas station until it was determined we could do no more without tools, then got the car back to the homestead and carefully reset the dwell and timing to the exact specifications called for by the M.G. Car Company. This required a disturbingly large adjustment to the distributor, which indicated that either a) the timing was way off, or b) we didn't know as much as we thought about setting dwell and timing. Ignoring both possibilities, we hooked all the wiring back up and confidently turned the key.
Of course nothing happened. The engine rotated quickly, but wouldn't fire. Unwilling to admit that after 40 years of fiddling with M.G.s we still didn't know what we were doing, we followed the same procedure we developed during our Locost building days for dealing with insurmountable problems. We gave up and went inside. We're not sure exactly how many days later we wandered back out into the garage to take a look at the car, but when we did we found the problem in about five seconds.
The intake manifold on a multi-carbureted British car is a simple pipe with holes and flanges along its length for each carburetor and inlet port. Like most pipes, this one has openings at each end. This could be a disadvantage if it allowed the engine to draw in fresh air from the open ends, instead of sucking it in through the carburetors. Having identified this issue early on, or possibly having learned it from working on other cars, the M.G. Car Company machined the ends of each intake manifold to accept steel plugs that could be hammered in place. The factory reasoned that these steel plugs would never be in danger of coming loose, because a) the intake manifold operates under a constant vacuum, and b) they're hammered in place. The only possible exception to this would be when the manifold is not operating under a vacuum, such as for example when a cylinder backfires through an open intake valve.
We never found the plug. It's probably still lying on the ground in a Chevron station near Dixon, California. We ordered a new one from Moss Motors and hammered it in place, and after that the car fired right up, and not only fired right up but idled smoothly at 1000 RPMs, and revved freely all the way to redline. This isn't something the Locost ever really did before, and as a result the car is now a rocket. We're not sure it was ever this fast. Obviously the timing was way off. We thought we'd set it in the donor a couple of years ago, but maybe not.
Meanwhile, it hasn't all been fun and games. We started two brand new projects on the Locost last month, both of which required minor purchases, which explains why we didn't start them sooner. The first project is a car cover, something we thought would be nice to have on those hot days when the Locost is left to bake in a dusty parking lot, or on those misty nights when we park the car outdoors. Unfortunately, sewing a complete car cover for a Locost is well beyond our fabrication capabilities, so we thought instead we'd put together something to cover only the interior. This of course would still be well beyond our fabrication capabilities, but wouldn't take as long to make, and as a bonus would be a lot cheaper. We figured we could sew this smaller and lighter car cover out of just three pieces of fabric, which shows how little we know about car covers.
Our biggest problem with making a car cover was finding car cover material. Any Google search that contains the words "car" and "cover" brings up every one of the three hundred billion companies that sell car covers online. If you search on any of the top material brand names, like for instance DuPont Tyvek, you'll get the same three hundred billion companies, plus a few more that sell home building supplies. Eventually we limited our search words to "fabric" and "weather" and found material that appears to work.
When we got the material and threw it over the car, it seemed to do the job, and for a brief moment we entertained the idea of just leaving it as is, thereby avoiding any sewing. But it looked like it might fly off if we left it that way, so we cut out pieces for the windshield and roll bar, and pinned them to the big piece that was draped over the car. This actually looked pretty good, but we didn't think the pins would stay attached if we just left them there, and we also noticed they made the car cover pretty much impossible to handle without cursing in pain.
So we dragged out our big Singer sewing machine and stitched up the seams. The cover didn't look quite as good sewed together, mainly because the mirrors got in the way, so we cut a couple of holes in the cover for the mirrors, and it didn't look a lot better because the mirrors stuck out through the holes. But we still have a few pieces of leftover fabric, and we think we can make a couple of pockets for the mirrors, and then somehow figure out how to attach them to the cover without the seams being completely wrong.
The second project we started last month is stripes. We like our all-green car, but we've always known that a proper Lotus—and therefore a proper Lotus replica—is actually green with yellow stripes. And not just any yellow, but Sunflower Yellow offered by 3M in their legendary Scotchcal vinyl automotive film. So we bought a 10-foot roll of the stuff, and we have to admit it looks pretty darn good on the roll.
We haven't gotten quite as far on the striping project as we did with the car cover, but we did start cutting out the vinyl, which as you know means we didn't actually cut anything out so much as mark the lines for cutting. We did, however, Photoshop (TM) a picture of the car to see what the stripes will look like, although we don't actually own the Adobe product, so we made the picture as best we could with Microsoft Paint. We think the stripes look okay, even if Microsoft Paint didn't quite capture the correct shade of 3M Sunflower Yellow.
So we're expecting our Locost to actually look better than the picture, assuming we can get the stripes on straight, which admittedly is asking a lot. We expect applying the vinyl film to be easy, except for the nose, which we expect to be impossible. But time will tell. We do have a little bit of experience with applying vinyl film, having once owned a vinyl graphics business, not that we were ever very good at it.
Winter has made driving the Locost a little less fun than normal, but we still go on the occasional weekend cruise, and take it to work every chance we get, i.e. whenever it's not freezing outside or pouring down rain. We're really looking forward to spring. We have a couple of more projects planned for the car then, which we'll hopefully be discussing at some future date.
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