An M.G. Locost Build

March 9, 2018

We are finally out of hibernation mode for the winter. Okay, maybe not. We still sleep a lot during the day, but we've found ourselves rummaging around the garage lately looking for something to do. Something that wouldn't be too difficult. Or expensive. Nothing on the Locost needs work, although we don't expect that to be a problem. We have a lot of half-built exhaust components lying around the place, so we could always do something with that. We could also dig out the windshield wiper motor we've threatened to install for the last four years. On the other hand, why risk it? One more thing to go wrong.

  Still running after all these years
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Even during hibernation we drive the Locost to work at least once a week, sometimes more, and it's still a blast to drive, especially compared to the parts car which is big and soft and slow to react. Although the parts car does keep us warm and dry. When it runs. Unfortunately the parts car has turned out to be a lot less reliable that the Locost, wearing out several key components in the last few months and getting towed twice. Besides minor issues with the windshield wipers and rear windows, the car has blown an oil cooler line, fried an alternator, killed a distributor, and broken another speedometer cable.

We're keeping the parts car running, though, and we just need to get it through the winter. We installed a new alternator, distributor, and oil cooler line, as well as a new oil cooler because the old one broke during removal. Don't ask. We also deleted the passenger's windshield wiper arm because it wasn't moving very fast and interfered with the other wiper, and not in a good way. The biggest problem with the parts car, though, was a water leak in the engine bay that would douse the coil, wiring, and distributor cap, killing the engine instantly like you turned off the key. Replacing the distributor cap and wires with a dry set would always get the car running again, although we didn't always have a spare distributor cap and wires in the car when it broke down.

Testing heater valve integrity with plastic baggie  
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We initially blamed the radiator for the water leak, then the heater valve, then a few other things, but extensive testing with baffles, baggies, and plastic sheeting exonerated these usual suspects. This left us with few possibilities beyond a cracked cylinder head, or worse. Fortunately, before we did anything drastic, we decided to try re-torqueing the head. We think this solved the problem, for a couple of reasons. One, some of the nuts were loose, turning three or four flats before reaching 50 foot-pounds. Two, the car hasn't died since. So we're holding our breath on that one.

Meanwhile, we once again entered the Locost in the Bay Area Maker Faire, which takes place this year on or about the 20th of May. Fingers crossed while the event organizers decide whether or not we're qualified to display our homebuilt Lotus Seven replica that doesn't drive itself or run on electricity or have any of those other forward-thinking modifications that are so in vogue today. Despite its shortcomings, the car has always been a popular exhibit at the Maker Faire, and we think the fact that we built it from scratch should play a role in the decision, but you never know.

  Big Locost is somewhere in the background
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We decided against bringing the junior Locost to the Maker Faire this year, for a couple of reasons. One, we haven't worked on it all year. Not even once. It's still just a bunch of loose parts sitting around in the garage. Two, the junior Locost takes away a lot of time and attention from the real Locost. During our four days at the Maker Faire last year, three and half were spent assembling, modifying, fixing, adjusting, and disassembling the junior Locost. Visitors with questions about the real Locost were routinely ignored as we coaxed junior into making a few more laps around the fairgrounds.

So this year we're going to focus on preparing the real Locost, so long as it doesn't cost a lot and can be done with little effort in a couple of weekends. Falling outside those requirements, yet still begging for attention, is the bonnet. We'd like it to be the same color as the rest of the car. This of course would require paint, which opens up a host of options regarding how that paint should be applied, and what kind of results we can live with. We'd want it to look at least as good as the vinyl, not a particularly high bar, but we also want it to last for more than a couple of weeks.

As you may recall, we had many fun days building the M.G. Locost several years ago. None of those days involved any kind of painting, however. We painted when we had to, and we never finished a single paint job with any sense of satisfaction. Or accomplishment. We used many different kinds of paint and application methods, and they all had problems. We don't expect the bonnet to be any different, although it's hard to predict where the problems will occur. Or actually not that hard. If we use spray cans, the paint will refuse to dry. If we use a spray gun, we'll end up painting half the neighborhood.

Heat shield making its own hanger clearance  
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So we might work on the exhaust system instead. Maker Faire visitors won't notice if the exhaust is quieter, because we're not allowed to start the car while the Faire is in progress. But they might notice if the heat shield is bent, which it is now because our new uber-reliable exhaust hanger gives the tailpipe enough freedom to bounce around and bend the heat shield against the uber-reliable exhaust hanger. This would not be a problem with the new exhaust, which would either not have a heat shield or would place it so far forward it couldn't possibly interfere with the uber-reliable exhaust hanger.

  The effect of sunshine on upholstery vinyl
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We're also thinking about recovering the seats. After four years of baking in the sun, the top of the seat back has dried up and is threatening to split. If we do this job, we'd like to add piping to the seams, assuming that's not beyond the capability of our cheap Singer sewing machine. Or us. Recovering the seats is not a terribly expensive proposition, but it is a lot of work, although it's mostly indoors where it's warm and dry. Still, in the grand scheme of things where we try to do as little as possible, this is unlikely to happen before the Maker Faire in May.

In any case you won't have to worry about missing out on any of these projects, because we're not going to do anything right away. It's still too cold and rainy. In a couple of weeks we'll be in a much better position to decide how we're going to proceed, because for one thing we'll be fully awake by then. With luck, the parts car won't be making too many more demands on our time, and as the weather warms up we'll be motivated to do some welding, sewing, or worst case scenario, painting. As always, we'll try to remember to take pictures.


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