Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Great Birmingham to Wales Distance Trial

Having completed all the repairs to the car, we decided it would be a good idea to give it a long run to see if any other problems would surface. As we had finished the repairs by 5pm on Saturday, we thought we could run it up to Wales to stop with my family for a couple of nights. 112.5 miles to Aberdovey is only about three hours drive, and about 1/88th raise distance but we've got to start somewhere. So we loaded the car up, dug a map out and set off. First we had to get some fuel for our shiny new fuel tank, so we tootled off to Harborne. Things were going swimmingly until we hit a bump in the road. Well not really a bump, more of a slight undulation, but still enough to cause us some problems. We heard a grinding sound as we drove over the bump and a few other times as we cornered, braked and accelerated. We assumed this was just our slightly oversize tyres rubbing on our slightly loose front bumper. Not to worry the noise would go away along with the edges of the bumper.
We pulled into the petrol station in Harborne and filled up. Just as the pump clicked off I looked down to see petrol pouring out of the rear wheel arch. When we replaced the tank we'd not made sure the filler pipe had enough clearance from the tyres and the wheel had eaten straight through it thin plastic corrugated pipe. So we pushed the car to the side of the forecourt and sprinkled sand everywhere. We also jacked the car up and took the back wheel off so we could try and save some of my new fuel which was running everywhere. In case you hadn't guessed this kind of a problem isn't really sortable. Not at 5:30pm on a Saturday. So our long distance trial was over. We had covered the awe-inspiring distance of 0.5 miles. For those of you with poor maths thats 1/20,000th race distance. This was an unimitigated disaster, a real failure, a big kick in the guts.

The evening wasn't made much better by the constant stream of sniggering chavs, who seem to hang out round the petrol station as part of thier saturday night build up.
Well at least Rich had AA membership, so we waited for two hours for a nice AA man to come and tell us what we already knew. He couldn't 'fix' the pipe, it must be replaced. He couldn't even tow us home, the best he could do would be to follow us home with the promise that he would leap out with a fire extinguisher should we burst into flames.
After wishing us luck with the rally, our chuckling Knight of the Road drove off into the night. We were left to drown our sorrows, with a couple of bottles of lager and three bottles of wine. Nice though the wine was, it couldn't shift our sense of failure. Oh well, tomorrow would be another day...
Today was another day. A day characterised by storming hang-overs, raging thirsts, stinging eyes and closed Fiat Parts Desks.

Putting it all back together again

Rich and I have spent the last two days dismantling and re-assembling the Panda. The two main jobs we did were to replace the fuel tank and the cylinder head. The toughest part about the cylinder head was replacing the cam belt. We just couldn't work out how to keep the crank wheel still so we could slacken the nuts off it. In the end John came to our rescue by shoving a screw driver through the clutch inspection panel. We had to get a few replacement bolts for the cylinder head as a couple of them had corroded badly. We also managed to shear a few nuts and bolts on the inlet manifold and rocker head but it wasn't two much of a problem sorting that out.

At the same time we were wrestling the old tank off. This was nightmare job as every time you touched clouds of dirt and rust fell off the tank straight into your eyes. Disconnecting and reconnecting pipes was also a bit of a struggle.
After putting 5 litres of fuel back into the car and replacing the coolant, John timed it up for us and we started the engine. It ran perfectly, for five minutes, and then concked out. We'd run out of petrol in the tank as we had it up on stands. So I nipped out to get some more fuel and put that in. But by this point the battery had gone flat and even with jump starting we had massive problems getting it started. We worked out that fuel lines were probably restricted, so I dropped the new tank down a bit and wiggled them round a bit before re-tightening. This seems to have sorted it, but we still have few nagging doubts about the fuel pump pushrod. Anyway, next weekend John is going replace the pushrod and tune the engine for us, so this should sort out and remining problems.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Spontaneous surgery

The panda is lying motionless over in Ben's garage. It is mid-way through a big operation...its status is stable. First job, open doors, bonnet, boot and spill coolant everywhereAfter tootling over to see a nice mechanic called John (a friend of Ben's) - we came back with instructions to strip the engine right down and take the cylinder head back to John for skimming. He'd had a look around and decided it needed skimming. Having been told the job was "a piece of piss, 15 minutes tops" we settled in for what turned out to be a 4 hour marathon engine strip!

Where to start?We took a while to get going, consulting the Porter manual, then the Haynes manual, staring at the engine again, then back to the manuals. But after giving the floor and ourselves a good coating of coolant we got going.

Bits were coming off here and there, there were ratchets going, spanners being whizzed around and allsorts.

Shift, dammit!It was hard work undoing some seriously rusted nuts, with the exhaust manifold and cylinder head being the hardest bits to crack. But with 3 of us there (me, Ben and his brother Ross) we persevered and cracked it in the end.

It doesn't goSo the net affect of all this is that our little panda now has a half empty engine bay. The cylinders as you can see here, are all present and correct. So we pushed the Panda into its new home (Ben's garage) and carried on with some other tasks - I did another 25 letters asking for sponsorship, whilst Ben began the secret project which we hope to show you soon.

Skim meMeanwhile today - the cylinder head, now separate from the rest of the car made it over to the garage for skimming.

We have the pleasure of putting it back together again soon, before we move onto other areas, namely gearbox and fuel tank.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Parts buying frenzy

I toured the Birmingham scrap yards yesterday and only found one Panda. Managed to liberate the radiator fan, HT leads and air box. The fan was just because I could get it but the other two parts are for secret projects which I will announce when they are completed. Ooh the excitement.
We are also still yet to fit the rocker head gasket we bought the other day.
Today I ordered a new fuel tank from BuyPartsBy. Amazingly cheap. So far very pleased with them. Delivery and VAT included, the whole thing has cost me about £49. I was quoted £279 by a Fiat garage. Don't know how they are going to get it through the letter box though.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Birmingham Meet

On Monday we held the first meet of Birmingham based Mongol Ralliers at The White Horse in Harborne. It was attended by me, Rich and Chris Pelly. Chris is taking his blue panda (see above), and proudly informed us that he was planning on driving it to South Africa this summer before he had even heard of the Mongol Rally. Nutter.
We swapped ideas over a few pints and we are planning on trying to create a larger Team Mongolian Job with three cars. We just need one more Panda, preferably red, to join us.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Upgrades, decisions and modifications

Snowy PandaAfter heavy snowfall through the night on Friday - we had a really productive weekend on the Panda front. First of all was the decision about the route we will be taking. Of the three options we've plumped for the northerly one - passing through Moscow. The chance to screech the Panda through Red Square is one not to be missed. We can also make use of the travel guides for Latvia and Lithuania that we already have - and the map of Western Russia.

During the day on Saturday Ben and I did a tour of local car spare and repair shops in the hunt for useful bits and bobs. Then we proceeded to modify the car.

Bumper offThe 95-piece toolset came into its own as we replaced the fuel filter (with a new see-through one), the distributor cap, rotor arm and air filter. We also ran a piece of ducting up from the manifold into the air intake to give the engine some warm air for these cold days.

Now look, doesn't it just scream high-performance
Here you can see how the engine looks with all it's shiny new bits.

Naked Panda After that, we replaced the lame "meep meep" horn with a real "hooonk hooonk" air horn, so that we can be heard as well as seen.

We've also got hold of some other bits and pieces for our next workshop session - including radiator cleaner, a rocker head gasket and some rather natty orange plastic paint which will be adorning some parts of the car (its a surprise!).

Friday, March 04, 2005


The event organisers played their joker last night by announcing the route for the event. There was always a chance they'd do something out of the ordinary - and they didn't disappoint. Obviously they didn't get enough buzz from the 8,000 mile trial run across 11 countries last year - and have 'modified' the route to incorporate a minimum of 13 countries (plus 1 repeated) this time round.
The options are outlined on the home page of this site, but they are broadly as follows:

1) Start in London - progress through France, Belgium and Germany, then the Czech Republic to the first 'checkpoint' (a teashop somewhere!). Then - roar up through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia to Moscow - before descending south through Kazakstan, into Uzbekistan and the second checkpoint - onto the moutains of Krygyzstan, back into Kazakstan, Russia and across Mongolia.

Sound tough...hmm....maybe look at option 2

2) As with 1, through western europe and to the tea shop in Prague, then across Poland and the Ukraine to Kiev - then joining route 1 to take in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Krygyzstan, Russia again and the sprint finish to Mongolia.

Interesting...but the coup de grace could be option 3

3) The same initial route to Prague, but then a dramatic dip southwards through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan and then to Uzbekistan to join the other racers for the final flurry across Krygyzstan, Russia and Mongolia.

So we're left pondering those mighty options - in the meantime thanks to my former colleague Chris who kindly donated to the cause.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Escort has been sold

In order to make room for the Panda in the garage I had to make the ultimate sacrfice and sell my Escort. Birchy and I are off to the pub to drown our sorrows.

Please feel free to leave comments below, and maybe share some pictures.