Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Brakes International

Brakes International Many thanks to Brakes International for their generosity. They are importers and distributors of quality braking components and offered us their support without a moment's hesitation. Richard Bowen at Brakes Int was really kind and got some heavy parts to us by post in no time. We've yet to fit the brakes as it seems only right to get the car 'going' before we worry about getting the car to 'stop'.

Magnecor - technically advanced ignition leads

Electrosports 80 cablesLast weekend the Panda officially became a racecar! Sure we've got stickers and have done a few modifications here and there - but our official arrival on the racing scene began on saturday as we proudly unveiled another sponsor. Magnecor. They make high quality HT leads which maximise the performance of the car's ignition system. Equally important, they are blue. None of these boring conventional black leads - we have racing blue ones now.

Phil, the MD over at Magnecor has been really good, custom making the leads to fit our requirements and spec. Unusually, he'd not had a racing Panda before!

Altitude testing!The race tuning didn't stop there, as we spent the afternoon of Saturday over at John's garage, replacing the petrol tank (once and for all) before having the engine properly tuned so that not only are we slow, but fuel efficient too! John also kindly pressure tested the radiator for us - establishing beyond doubt that it is broken. At one point, with the Panda raised in the air, it was wetting itself from three separate places, leaving 2 blue puddles and a clear one to be swept up.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

New News Subscription

I think I've just set it up so you can subscirbe to this new page. Basically, once you've registered you'll get an email of any new posts we send. If you want to join send a blank email to mongolianjob-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. You'll get an auto-generated email, just follow the instructions then your in.

Longbridge Tyres

As the panda was running again, I decided to take it for a spin to Longbridge Tyres. They had kindly offered to have a look at our tyres and cure our leaking air problems. I met Paul, one of the directors, and a great bloke. He was really interested in the rally and wanted to know all about it. His guys quickly stripped the tyres off, took them off the rims, polished off any rust, checked the valves and put them back on the car. Took about fifteen minutes to do all the wheels, not exactly Ferrari pit crew pace, but more than enough for a Fiat Panda. I've got a photo I'll put on the site as soon as I've got it developed. In the mean time, here's the promised plug. If you're local to Birmingham and need anything tyre related, then give them a bell on 0121 457 7582 or visit their web-site www.longbridgetyres.co.uk. Ask for Paul and tell him I sent you.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Panda is roaring again

At the begining of the week I went back to Mark who's broken the Sisley and managed to get another distributor complete with leads and coil for a fiver. So I popped it on the Panda and turned the key. No success, the engine would run really roughly then die. I kept trying different things all week, going out in the cold rain. Anyway, today after three days of chin scratching I sorted it. This distributor had to be put turned 30 degrees further round than the last one. The stalling was due to a blocked idle nozzle in the carburretor. So a quick spray of carb clean and the engine ran perfectly. All this and sun was shining.
Don't you just love sunny days?

Monday, April 18, 2005

100 days to go

We've done a quick interview to let you know what we are thinking about the rally at this particular milestone.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Success ratio

We've just arrived back from London and the National Pre-Rally meet weekend, and have achieved undoubtedly our best fuel efficiency stats to date. For the journey of around 120 miles we used probably less than a quarter of a litre of fuel. How? Well, because 99 per cent of the journey was done on the back of an AA van.

Yes, we have once again experienced a spectacular failure on a test-run, taking our tally to a thoroughly un-reassuring 2 failures in our first three trips.

So, what's going on then? In short, our car is showing its age. Its pretty much falling apart, and its our job now to break as many things as possible in the hope that we can fix them for good prior to departing for Mongolia in July. On a positive note, the thing that went wrong today was a new failure, and almost certainly unrelated to any blind tamperings we've done to date. And in the spirit of eternal optimism, it provides us with an 'opportunity' to upgrade the car yet further.

The first warning signs of our impending failure revealed themselves just after fueling up in North London. After initially thinking that Ben was applying an 'advanced' driving technique by kangarooing the car violently - he told me that all was not well - and that the lurching was nothing to do with his tunure at the wheel. I made some feeble effort to ignore the problem by mumbling something about dodgy fuel and that it would clear up. Seconds later, and in the spectacular surrounds of 10 lanes of traffic (yes 10 - 6 lanes of North Circular merging with 4 of A1) the Panda decided that its work for the day was done.

Amid a hail of horns and swerving cars we leapt out for some now well rehersed under-bonnet diagnosis/chin scratching. After a few unsuccessful minutes we then did what can only be descibed as some extreme urban manoeuvering, with Ben pushing the car across the aforementioned lanes of traffic, whilst I steered and counter-gesticulated.
Chin scratching not working

After a bit more chin scratching, the AA man turned up and spent a good while with us trying to revive the patient.
He even plugged it into a heart monitor type machine
He was, to use a cliche, a very nice man. He explained what he was up to and showed us a systematic methodolgy for fault finding, finally concluding that our 'ignition amplifier' was broken. As we had already discovered, this had the effect of making our car not work.

We then had to await the arrival of a second van, to relay us back to Birmingham, and spent the time watching 'Long Way Round' (The Ewan McGregor documentary where he covers most of our route to Mongolia) on Ben's laptop. Whilst marvelling at his hopeless predicament at the far end of the earth, we were living out our own, on the North Circular.
The steepest angle this little 4x4 has climber in years
Five and half hours after setting out from London we finally get home.
At last

National Pre-Rally Meet

Rich and I set off for London on Saturday to meet up with some fellow ralliers. The meet had been organised by Tom at the Fat Cat Cafe in Bow. This was great for people from London, but battling through London traffic in a 1 litre car with a dodgy cooling system wasn't the best. The engine got hot, really hot. We also got lost, and at one point in the middle of a massive crossroads, we lost all engine power. We limped through to the other side of the junction to a hail of horns from our fellow motorists. As I was in particularly good mood I gave them a few pips from my air horn and a few friendly gestures. Note to self, air horn and gestures don't generally calm people down. Anyway, we parked the car and had look under the hood. After a couple of minutes chin scratching we noticed a pipe had come off the air box, the other end of the pipe went to the carburettor, so we thought it must be fairly important and put it back on. The car started and ran fine, we are now officially mechanical geniuses. The car broke down, we diagnosed the problem and fixed. We are invincible... ish.
Eventually we found Bow Wharf and rest of the ralliers, we got there around 4pm. It was really good to meet up with a few more teams and quite reassuring as lot of these guys haven't even got the car yet. Don't know wether this is good thing or bad thing. On one hand this time is letting us fix our car, but on the other hand this time is letting us damage our car more. Anyway Send-a-cow gave us a talk about what they are doing in Africa, which was really good. I didn't realise as part of the deal the cow's first female calf must be given to another family in the village. That familyis chosen by the women of the village depending on who they think is the most deserving. The cow's make a massive difference. In some villages the increase in income has helped found schools.
We also met Tom and Jen who are two of the people organising this event. Worryingly they are also both planning on doing the rally on a couple of mopeds, carrying spare fuel on their back.
Spoke to Ren and Mel, who are doing an amazing job fundraising. I think we need to change tactics as despite Rich's furious letter writing we are not getting a huge response.
Celebrity PA Rebecca Loos was also at the launch. With a huge pair of sunglasses and a mediteranean tan she certainly managed to bring an air of elegance to the whole event.
Oh, and in the last post I thought we might have seen the last of leaks. Not only had I forgotten about the leaking petrol tank, but it seems we also have a leaking radiator. After a couple of hours parked outside the Fat Cat Cafe, despite lots of admiring comments by passers by, the Panda decided to embarass us and itself by wetting itself. Like angry parents we quickly dragged the sheepish looking Panda away from the party and took it home.

2 steps forward 1 step back, 1 more forward.

Last weekend I replaced the thermostat and vacuum advance, hoping to solve overheating and fuel efficiency problems. I managed to get both these on, but then found a nozzle from the top of the radiator was bust. As a result I couldn't put it back together. I spent a fruitless day searching scrap yards but no luck. In the end I ordered the part from Fiat, but before I could find it, I met a guy called Mark who was breaking a Sisley in Birmingham. I got another nozzle, a spare filler pipe (extra life), a bumper bracket and rotten roofrack. Amazing. With the roofrack on the panda looks amazing. This saturday John replaced the inner driveshaft gaiter for me, and for the first time since we had the car, it no longer leaked transmission oil, and the gearbox felt healthy-ish. Could this be an end to leaks...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Cosmetic surprises

Well, after our successful road trip to London and Longleat, normal service has resumed and the panda is again temporarily immobile. This is a 'planned immobility' - just until friday when Ben's friendly garage mate John will be tuning up the engine and fitting a new gaitor - which should hopefully keep the gearbox oil in and around the gearbox, rather than on the garage floor.

Given the mobility interlude, it gives us chance to mention a few cosmetic upgrades that have occured. The first is the conclusion of a secret project Ben has been doing. After shiftily nipping to the garage and back for 5 minute periods, every few hours for a couple of days - he finally unveiled the masterpiece that is our rally airbox. Formerly just a lump of boring plastic, we now have our own orange spray-painted rally airbox!

See the ceremonial fitting below.

Proud, so proud

Within the next 48 hours, I hope to announce our second underbonnet surprise and indeed our second corporate sponsor (out of over 200 approaches made now!). There's also some external cosmetics that Ben has been sorting....so much to tell.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Distance Trial Part 2 - South West Meet

After getting the old fuel tank back on, we decided to give the Panda another go at a long distance. It was the South West meet up at Longleat on the Sunday so we decided to go via London on Saturday night. The car had no problems on the 120 miles of motorway driving down to London. But it did heat up a bit sitting in traffic when we got there. To get to Longleat in time for the meet we needed an early start the next day. So we went to the pub for a couple of quiet pints, then stayed up drinking whisky till the small hours.
Despite sleeping through our alarms, throbbing headaches and stabbing pains in our kidneys got us up in time to dash along the M4. The meet was pretty good. James and Jamie had done an amazing job of organising the event, and six teams turned up on the day. We got some really good team photos, which I've put up in a gallery for your viewing pleasure. We failed to make it into the Safari, because Paula The Panda overheated, but we did make it to the pub. We're we spent an hour or so in the sunshine swapping tips and advice. Mark from Team Reliant was incredibly helpful, as he was the only person there with previous Mongol Rally Experience.
To round the day off, we even made it home in one piece. 341.3 miles travelled in total. At this rate we should make it to France.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Fuel Tank Mayhem

Last Friday Rich and I replaced the broken fuel filler pipe and realised that the same thing would happen again. The new fuel tank we ordered was simply the wrong shape. It brought the pipe about 2 inches closer to the wheel. So we had no choice but to take the new tank off and replace it with the old leaky tank. We then took the new tank to a local garage who said they could fix it for us. This was done with the handle of a sledge hammer. Now all we have to do is flush it to get rid of any lingering petrol fumes, have the solder repaired, and refit it. Simple. Whenever anybody heard we wanted to replace the fuel tank, the stock response was "Simple, that'll only take you an hour so". Two and half weeks and still going.