Wheel alignment

Monday, 26 September 2022

The MGB - 60 years young!

Last week was 60 years since the first MGB rolled off the production line.  The Auckland chapter of the MG Car Club marked the occasion yesterday with a drive-in for MGB owners with the hope of having at least one car of each year and variation - MGB Roadster, GT, 1800cc, V8 etc.  Jennie and I decided to do the 360 km round trip to represent 1972 and to meet other members, seeing as we live out in the boondocks!

A great drive to Auckland using twisty country roads, with city driving for the last 15-20 minutes - perfect!  In lovely spring weather, close to 100 MGB's turned up, plus a handful of older models from the 1940's and 50's - amazing!  

Our 1972 GT in Blaze Orange

There was even a vary rare Costello MGB V8 in attendance.  Back in the 1960's, enthusiasts pushed hard for a V8 version to complement the 1.8 litre 4 and the 3 litre straight 6.  Senior executives at British Leyland were adamant that this was not feasible.  Enter Ken Costello who was an engineer and successful race car driver.  In 1969, he shoehorned a Rover P6 V8 into an MGB chassis which was favourably reviewed by the motoring press.  He decided to put it into production which inevitably attracted the attention of British Leyland.  BL started producing their own version in 1973 which effectively killed off the engine supply to Ken Costello.  Incredibly, BL didn't consider selling the V8 to the US market which I guess was a good example of poor decision-making endemic in the British motor and motorcycle industry at that time.

A V8 example

The 3 litre straight 6 was somewhat problematic because of indifferent handling when it was first launched and production only lasted for a couple of years.

The MGC 3 litre straight 6

The following photo shows a metallic blue V8 which I wish I'd paid a bit more attention to the detail of in retrospect.  It had clearly undergone a major (and phenomenally expensive) ground-up rebuild with the interior completely modernised as shown by glimpses of the bucket seats and roll cages.  Everything under the bonnet was polished alloy and chrome and someone remarked that the engine put out about 380 bhp.  Not a classic restoration but it was a real work of art.

Electric blue MGB V8 special (photo: Roger Fleming)

Some of the MGB's on display

MGB's of all sorts are active in classic racing and in the photo below, a number of them are on display at the left end of the line-up.

Part of the line-up including race-prepped versions

Other members of the MG car club turned up in their MGA's and older T-series cars which made for a colourful spectacle.  Considering that there are branches of the MG Car Club in many other regions of NZ, it looks like the future of this make is in good hands.

T-series MG's and MGA's - beautifully restored

Just as we were about to head home, who should turn up to have a look but my Institute of Advanced Motorists mentor Philip McDaid, who coached me from someone who thought he could ride but couldn't, through to an IAM Examiner in the space of 6 years.  As well as his voluntary work with IAM, Philip runs the renowned Riderskills motorcycle training school in Auckland.  Unquestionably, the best rider and coach I've ever encountered, as well as the most ego-free.   All in all, a wonderful day and kudos to the organisers for putting it on.

Yours truly and Philip McDaid

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Classic car ownership - the first 12 months

As the title says, it's been 12 months since finally taking ownership of the MGB GT.  It's good to take stock of how it's gone and might be of interest to anyone who entertains the thought of classic car ownership at some stage.

Regular readers will be familiar with the thought processes which helped to decide what to buy HERE and the handover problems we had with an unhelpful government transport agency HERE .  The purchase of a vehicle in good condition was the primary consideration as I didn't want to spend vast amounts of time and money stuck in the shed doing a major rebuild.  I had enough of that building and campaigning a drag bike decades ago and it wouldn't be fair to Jennie who's suggestion that we buy a classic car kicked the hunt off.  Hitting 75 next month meant that actually getting out on the road and using it was the priority although routine tinkering is just fine (and fun, although the CEO just rolls her eyes).

The 1972 MGB GT on a sunny day at Te Kouma

Making the purchase
My close friend Rick in the UK and an acquaintance in NZ both recommended an MG as they were generally reliable and parts available internationally at reasonable prices.  It also appealed emotionally in terms of looks - an important factor.  The car was spotted for sale online and had been restored by the previous owner in 2017/18 with all receipts available for the work undertaken.  It was in pretty much stock trim apart from 185 section tyres which were standard on the V8 version. It also had Spax adjustable rear shocks and electronic ignition to improve reliability.  There was no rust whatsoever, it had been rustproofed and the original Blaze Orange livery respray used an expensive 2 pack lacquer.   We paid NZ$22,500 for it (Approx. USD/EUR 14,000, GBP 12,000, AUD 20,000) which we thought was a very reasonable price for something so beautifully restored.  The interior is flawless and is like new.

Immaculate interior

New carpets and interior linings throughout

Building up knowledge
In terms of reading material, it came with a Haynes manual and a full parts list from an MG specialist in Auckland.  YouTube is a fantastic source of knowledge for MGB's and there's nothing like watching someone doing a job to avoid all the potential pitfalls through just reading about it.   However, it didn't stop me spilling oil from the upright filter on my first oil change all over the concrete drive! Fortunately, it cleaned up ok.  Another awesome source of knowledge is the MG Experience international website forum.  The members have decades of experience and go out of their way to help.  The NZ MG Owners Car Club is also a great source of knowledge.  Chewing the fat with my classic car and bike-owning mate Rick in the UK has also given valuable insights.

An engineer's porn - a parts catalogue

Part of the knowledge-building is the ability to have a good poke around in the car and underneath it.  A normal roadside jack isn't a safe option for grovelling under the car so I bought a good quality 3 tonne trolley jack, not an el cheapo from popular auto store chains.  I also bought some good quality adjustable axle stands for further confidence.  If greater access is required, then it's off to our village garage owner and his hoists for the price of a few beers.

The 3 tonne trolley jack

Any classic car is going to require more maintenance than a modern one but one of the positive aspects is that much of it can be done by the owner without too many special tools or an electronics degree!  I ended up supplementing my meagre collection of Imperial spanners and sockets plus one or two other odds and ends which didn't involve much expense.

The previous owner mainly relied on one of his local garages for routine maintenance.  I can't be sure whether he got value for money or not because the Zerk grease nipples on the suspension and driveshaft looked dirty and dry of grease.  Based on these observations, I started keeping records of the maintenance I performed to set up a baseline maintenance schedule - all done on an Excel spreadsheet, sad bugger that I am.

Many (most?) classic vehicle engines require a high zinc content non-synthetic oil and the priority was to find a reliable local source, which was less challenging than expected. The oil was changed just after initial purchase as part of a routine maintenance timeframe, along with the filter.  Part of the reason why I dumped oil on the driveway when removing the filter was that with its vertical orientation, the anti-drain back device didn't appear to work properly. It was replaced with a filter which received favourable reviews from MG owners.  We'll see how good it is when the oil gets changed in the very near future.  

Easy access under the bonnet

Incidentally, the car has covered a little over 3000 miles/5000 km in the last 12 months.  In that time, I've topped up the oil with ~300 ml, which is fine.  There's a slight weep from a pushrod access cover but overall, it's pretty good.  There's also a very slight weep from a cover on the overdrive and steering rack but neither require my immediate attention. All part of classic car ownership!

In the last 12 months, we've spent a little under NZ$2000 on the car.  This includes oil, filter, antifreeze, spark plugs and other items required for scheduled maintenance, plus a USB port for phone charging.  The biggest single expense has been a complete rebuild of the SU carbs by a specialist in Auckland.  This was prompted by a constant slight smell of petrol and evidence of leakage on the overflow pipes.  The rebuild cost was a shade over NZ$1000 and was worth every cent.  Far more bottom end and mid-range performance than previously.  The photo below shows the carbs cunningly braced together for removal and replacement to stop the linkages flying apart!

A strategic bit of fencing to stop the carb linkages falling apart

Now that we have a routine, maintenance shouldn't be too onerous in future.  There's one job which is being left for the Auckland MG specialist but isn't urgent.  Changing the diff oil revealed some small amounts of copper/bronze swarf.  

Diff thrust washer bits

It's common for diff thrust washers to progressively wear out.  With the aid of a proper vehicle hoist, they can be changed in about 4 hours by someone who knows what they're doing so I'll be taking the easy way out!

The choke cable didn't lock out and a replacement was purchased at a very modest cost.  The manual simply says "remove choke cable from the dashboard".  No mention that you need hands of a 5 year old and that you're going to bleed profusely whilst attempting to loosen the locknut.  Fortunately, one of the MG Experience forum members posted a photo of a tool he adapted from a cranked ring spanner.   I made one too and even at one flat per movement, it made life so much easier.  Told you they were great people!

Special choke cable locknut removing tool - easy peasy!

A few minor improvement opportunities have also been implemented.  The battery on the MGB GT is a bugger to get at (a technical term).  I've made up a power supply attached to the battery which can be easily accessed from inside the car for trickle charging if the car isn't going to be used for some time.  I've also made up a funnel attached to a length of fuel line for filling the gearbox on some future occasion.  Access is behind the lower part of the dashboard in a cramped position which is perfect for spilling oil everywhere.  Far better to have the funnel tied to the steering wheel with clear access!

Ready for future gearbox lubrication

So what's it like to drive?
The million dollar question, seeing that we bought it to drive and not be worked on.  In short, it's great fun and brings back waves of nostalgia.  The steering effort is ok when you're on the move but the lack of power steering makes it hard to park in restricted spaces.  Not a big deal though.  As you might expect, handling is harsher than modern cars but roadholding is surprisingly good.  I had to stiffen the damping of the Spax aftermarket rear shocks but it's good now.  The brakes don't have power assist and were initially a bit daunting.  However, it didn't take long to learn to leave a bigger gap when following other traffic!  The motor has a reasonable amount of grunt and there's no issue keeping up with traffic and tackling decent gradients, especially with the electrically-operated 2 speed overdrive.  It's a car that rewards well-considered driver situational awareness, just like a motorcycle and is a lot of fun to drive.  Absolutely no regrets buying it.  Mind you, in another 5 years, I'm not sure that an 80 year old body will find getting in and out of it a piece of cake.  Better keep up my fitness routine!

The MG was originally designed to run on 100 octane leaded fuel.  It runs just fine on 95 octane with a small amount (1ml per litre ) of lead replacement additive added to the fuel tank every time it's filled up.  No hassle at all.

Where to from here?
At present, Jennie isn't keen to drive it because of the extra physical effort required in combination with a manual gearbox but is more than happy to be a passenger so that's ok.  We have near-neighbours who own classic cars and the Coromandel Peninsula is a perfect venue for impromptu runs.  

Social run to Cook's Beach with neighbours Vic and Denise

The MG Car Club run regular events and later this month, it's the 60th anniversary of the MGB.  We'll be attending a gathering/photo shoot in Auckland of around 100 MGB's representing every year and model variation.  In February next year, we'll also be attending the Brits at the Beach 3 day weekend.  Should be a lot of fun!

As a final remark, insuring the "B" was extremely reasonable.  Fully comprehensive insurance for any driver over 25, limited to no more than 10,000 km annually was approximately NZ$250.

So that's the journey so far - plenty to keep occupied after a lifetime of motorcycling.  I also hope it's been of interest to anyone who might be considering a classic car purchase at some stage.

Thursday, 28 July 2022

When life hands you lemons.....

Fate has a funny way of dealing the cards sometimes.   I've been really enjoying the new e-mountain bike.  Fresh air, getting fitter - what's not to like?  I haven't been on any demanding trails but felt quite comfortable on the ones I've tackled.  It's much closer to home where skill improvements are clearly required.

Coming home from a ride 3 weeks ago, I went to dismount right outside our garage and the elastic lace on one of my cycling shoes caught on one of the serrated pedals.  Time slowed down whilst I slowly toppled over and smacked into the garage door opening and felt a rib let go.  Pain and a lot of bad words!  It's not been as bad as expected, just a bit uncomfortable in bed, with sneezes and coughs to be avoided.  Under normal circumstances, I'd be chomping at the bit to get out again but for the last few weeks, the NZ winter has been horrendously wet so some enforced chilling hasn't been a big deal. 

A ride along the coast on the fateful day

As mentioned in a recent blog, Jennie and I are celebrating our Golden Wedding anniversary (actually tomorrow) and as part of those celebrations we invited our friends to lunch at a local restaurant last weekend.  It was a wonderful occasion, full of laughter and irreverence.  Not that we needed reminding, but we're genuinely blessed to have such great friends.

Mercifully short speeches

Cutting the cake, 50 years after the last one!

From that high point, things went downhill the next day with me testing positive for Covid.  Couldn't believe how quickly it came on.  Jennie tested positive shortly after.  Fortunately, the symptoms have been relatively mild with fatigue being the biggest issue.  Very sad that a number of our friends also became unwell although not seriously so.  It would appear that we became infected at a pub quiz earlier in the week but at least we won the quiz!  We've had to postpone a family gathering this weekend but not a big deal in the scheme of things as we'll get together again quite soon.

We had an email from friends in the UK who married a few weeks after us in 1972.  They attached a photo which we hadn't previously seen which was taken at their wedding.  It has Jennie standing with some mutual friends, Roberta and John; and it has special significance.  Roberta and Jennie were good friends at uni and John and I were mates at school.  They married the previous year and Roberta decided that Jennie and I would be good together.  We only found out later that Roberta pulled a number of devious tricks to make sure that it happened.  Pretty good judgment on Roberta's part!

Roberta, John and Jennie - 1970's fashion icons!

So there we are, a bit of serendipity to offset the curse of Covid!

And in a non-relevant moment yesterday, we were blessed with a flock of Royal Spoonbills feeding in the harbour at the front of our house.  That's the first time we've seen them since we bought the place in 2003.  Absolutely majestic birds.

Royal Spoonbills - Coromandel Harbour

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Where did the time go?

Well, 2022 has been a year of different events so far including retiring from motorcycling and buying an e-mountain bike to explore the cycle trails, both in our area and in other scenic locations.  However, the most important event of all is celebrating our Golden Wedding anniversary at the end of this month.  Fifty years together without me being stabbed or disposed of in any other way is a minor miracle.  It speaks volumes about Jennie's tolerance!  Mind you, it's probably been a close-run thing as I recently said to Jennie that I don't know what she saw in me all those years ago and she said she didn't either.  That's me firmly put in my place then, sigh.....  She once said that it was like living with a 5 year old but I put that down to her being a primary school teacher and me doing "guy stuff" at the time.

With all the Covid lockdowns, one of the things we did to keep occupied was to scan and digitize about 2000-odd photos, 35mm slides and negatives which were scattered around the house in various boxes.  If only I could find the 1969 Isle of Man TT photos and 1970 Transatlantic Match Race Series which I took, but I digress.  We decided as part of our anniversary celebrations to select about 50 photos from 1972 to 2022 and have them printed as a coffee table book.  This has come out impressively well so I thought I'd share just a small selection of  them here.  My dress sense in the early days is a bit cringe-worthy but how come that Jennie always manages to look so elegant?  Maybe that's guys for you!

We met in 1971.  A mutual friend thought we'd be good together and as part of her cunning plan, she organised me to take Jennie to her upcoming wedding in Wales.  Here's Jennie in her "flower power" finery at the wedding.   The scheming to get us together didn't stop there and the rest is history....

1971 - the days of Flower Power

We were married the following year.  I caught a stomach bug the day before the wedding and it was touch and go but everything worked out ok.

Cutting the cake

We honeymooned in Yugoslavia and Venice. This was at a time when Yugoslavia was ruled by a communist government, albeit with a very light hand.  The local airport was a dual civilian/military base with strictly no cameras in the vicinity.  Rows of MiG fighters parked on the taxiway.

At a Roman Amphitheatre in Yugoslavia

Piazza San Marco, Venice

We emigrated to NZ in 1975 and bought a bright orange Mk 1 Ford Escort which carried us reliably all round the north island. 

Geothermal area near Rotorua.  The era of flared trousers and sleeveless sweaters - ewww....

Sailing at the local yacht club became a passion and I switched to single handed yachts when we started to raise a family.  Haven't sailed for many years but still retain a strong interest in the Americas Cup.

Our first yacht in NZ - Frostply class

Raising a family and building a career were the priorities.  The next photo was taken at a friend's party in 1982.  Noteworthy only for my appalling taste in beer shirts and for Jennie condescending to be seen in public with me.

That shirt - oh dear......

Skipping forward to 1998 which was the year the first of our 3 children graduated.  The last of them completed her postgrad qualifications not that many years ago and I'd hate to total up how much their education cost.  Well worth it though to see highly motivated and caring young individuals succeeding and contributing back to society.

Proud Mum and Dad with the first of three to graduate

When the last of our kids headed off to varsity in the south island in 2001, we took a month off to tour down south in the first of Jennie's MX 5's.  One memorable activity was riding quads into the foothills of the Remarkables mountain range on 2 stroke Polaris "screamers".  Jennie took to it like a duck to water and left me for dead on a rock-strewn downhill section.  Massive pride in her giving me a riding lesson!

Riding quads near Queenstown in 2001

Jennie was a regular pillion on my bikes.  In 2003, I sold the BMW K100 RS and bought a Honda Blackbird.  A friend from the UK was visiting and the mate I sold the Beemer to loaned it back for the friend to use during his visit.  Here we are at Wairakei near Taupo.

With the K100RS and Blackbird in 2003

In 2012, we were driving past the Warbirds base just outside Auckland.  They were closed to the public on that particular day but we were invited in anyway which was great.  They were preparing a P51 Mustang for flight and we were allowed to park Jennie's limited edition MX5 alongside for a memorable photo!  

A great shot with a P51 on the tarmac

Retirement at 60 in 2008 gave us the opportunity to travel extensively and we had some fabulous trips through Australia and the Pacific islands, Canada, Alaska, Africa and much of Asia. As they were all so different and enjoyable, it's genuinely hard to pick a favourite which is as it should be.  Everywhere we went, people were really friendly and helpful, just wanting to get by.  I guess it shows that most of the world's troubles are largely caused by a tiny percentage of the population, not pointing the finger at politicians :-).  On our China trip, we were in Wuhan not long before Covid was first reported - a lucky let-off!

2016, standing either side of the Equator near the Rift Valley in Kenya

The Great Wall, China in 2019.  Temperatures in the high 30's C

In 2019 before the pandemic brought travels to a shuddering halt, we were travelling around the top of the south island of NZ and stopped off at a motor museum in Nelson.  They have an amazing range of vehicles but the one which meant the most to us was a Wolseley 6/110.  This is the car we did our "courting" in (such a quaint term).  Ahhhh.... happy days. The wheel had come full circle, so to speak.

Wolseley 6/110 - much merriment over the memories

As already mentioned, 2022 is the year that I hung up my motorcycle helmet.  Absolutely no regrets as I'd done everything I wanted to during a 58 year riding career and figured that it was better to stop on my terms than be forced to due to health or other reasons.  I suspect that Jennie is secretly relieved.  I still retain a strong interest in bikes though.  It is perhaps fitting that the KTM 790 made me laugh more than any other bike I've owned.

Yours truly and the KTM 790

With the bike gone, Jennie and I spend time together sea fishing from our boat and exploring the back roads in our 50 year old classic MGB GT -  a fitting way to celebrate 50 years of marriage.  May there be many more years of action-packed adventure.

Waitete Bay - Coromandel Peninsula

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Back on 2 wheels - first impressions

 Well after a 4 month wait due to international supply chain problems, I'm back on 2 wheels of the powered variety (sort of!).  I picked up my Giant Talon e+1 mountain bike a couple of days ago and have spent a few hours getting used to it.  Already, there have been various learnings, some unexpected; so I thought it would be worthwhile documenting some of them from the viewpoint of a complete newbie.

The 2022 Giant Talon e+1 mountain bike

Why an e-bike and why a mountain bike?

I already have a 30 year old Diamondback mountain bike which was purchased for road riding before retirement and way before moving to the Coromandel Peninsula.  In our area, there's very little flat terrain which makes it hard on a 74 year old body with pedal power alone.  Also, there are some fantastic mountain biking trails on the Peninsula, both of the family scenic flattish gravel type and and proper graded MTB trails of varying skill level requirements.  After lots of reading and watching YouTube videos, it appeared that an e-MTB offered the best "fit for purpose" option.  The Talon e+1 offered a good specification against what I was happy to pay (~NZD 4400/USD 2700/AUD 3970/GBP 2280).  I bought the bike from a family business in a nearby town (The Bike Man, Whitianga) because they have a well-deserved reputation for great service.  Sure enough, they threw in a brand new helmet and a quality adjustable stand as part of the deal.  Unexpected and very generous. 

Some of the features

I'm not about to get all nerdy and trot out all the specifications, just the things which caught my interest as a complete beginner.  It's easy to find full details on the internet.  Firstly, it's an alloy frame and even with the lump of a battery, the weight isn't too bad at all.  It has a 500Wh battery, ensuring a decent range.  Giant claim that in the eco mode, it could deliver around 150 km on a single charge.  A balls-out challenging MTB course will drop it down to 50-60km.  The powerplant is made by Yamaha with a 10 speed rear cluster - that's good enough for me!

Yamaha hub drive

The controller has a colour TFT display, new on the 2022 model.  As well as the normal speed and distance data, battery state etc, there are various power modes which can be selected on the move.  The default is Smart Assist which basically measures the effort a rider is putting in at any given time and uses an algorithm to supply the ideal power delivery.  It also has walk assist, presumably to help if you need to dismount and push the bike any distance.  You can also link it to a phone app for monitoring other data such as heart rate etc.  Something for another time, methinks. 

Controller with colour TFT display

The bike has a solid rear end but fully adjustable 100mm travel front forks in terms of preload and rebound rate.

Fork adjusters for preload and damping

There are heaps of other features but they currently mean little or nothing to me as a newbie and possibly nothing later in ownership either.  I chose to go for conventional pedals as with stuffed knees, I have no desire to be cleated onto the bike during a mishap!

First impressions

In terms of frame size, I chose a Medium.  At 170cm (5'7"), I was on the crossover between small and medium.  Like off-road motorcycles, MTB's are quite tall and with the correct seat height, I can't touch the ground whilst the bike is vertical. This lead to a certain amount of embarrassment on the first ride when I rode round to show a mate.  My technique for coming to a stop was found wanting and I ended up sitting in his driveway with the bike on top of me.  No damage apart from ego.  Like mates everywhere, he laughed long and loud - bastard!  I've since developed a better dismount technique which works just fine.

So far, I've tried Eco Mode and it works fine by providing a minimal level of assistance.  Probably ideal for longer flat riding.  I haven't tried Tour, Active or Sport Modes yet.  The default Smart Assist is great, providing as much or as little power as required.  We have a steep concrete drive around 50 metres long. In bottom gear with Smart Assist, climbing it is fine.  I did have one anxious moment riding over a green patch which the sun doesn't reach in winter where wheelspin actually set in.  Fortunately, it quickly gripped again so there were no ungainly dismounts.  First time out, I walked the bike downhill to the bottom of our drive as I wasn't sure how the disc brakes would perform in those conditions.  I remember an incident on my old MTB with caliper brakes where I applied a bit too much front brake and had the rear end come a long way off the ground.  Not to be repeated.  Just like motorcycle disc brakes, they improve with use and towards the end of the first day, they were noticeably more powerful and progressive.  No problem riding down the drive now!

In terms of ergonomics, the bike feels pretty good.  My wrists ache a bit after about an hour of continuous riding, as does my butt but neither are show stoppers.  I've still got to fully adjust seat height and position but it may simply be a case of putting in the hours and getting used to it.  Easing the fork preload might help too.

The manuals which come with the bike are surprisingly light on the level of detail I was expecting both as a professional engineer and motorcyclist.  I'll be spending a bit more time researching on the internet and building practical experience.  Maybe it's just me.  Jennie would say it's definitely just me, sigh.....

Outside a 100 year old working gold ore stamper battery in Coromandel Town

The large wooden overshot water wheel at the gold stamper

A big climb from sea level

In summary, I'm delighted with the purchase and it ticks all the boxes in terms of both road riding and modest off-road trails, which is all I want.  Perfect for staying fit as long as there aren't too many face plants and cycling will definitely be kind to my damaged knees.

Recent early winter weather in NZ has been mild in our area but the rainfall has been biblical, accompanied by very high winds.  This has meant that our classic MGB GT has stayed in the shed.  On its last outing, the rear SU HIF carburettor was overflowing slightly and a cursory inspection didn't reveal the problem .  Because of the weather and as the carbs hadn't been serviced at the time the previous owner restored the car in 2018, I decided to have them inspected by an Auckland MG specialist.  He reported back that there was considerable wear so I asked for a full restoration for peace of mind, particularly as we live out in the countryside.  The cost was NZD 1044/AUD 941/USD 650/GBP 541.  Didn't think that this was too bad for a full restoration.  All that remains is to put the carbs back on and tune them in anticipation of better weather.  Plenty to keep this retiree busy!

MGB GT and mussel harvesting boat at the town wharf