Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Bodger's Guide to Spanners

The adoption of a set of spanners over clumsily-wielded pliers is the sign of graduation from green amateur to seasoned bodger, prepared for anything.

Tools maketh the man. And sometimes a mess. Admire the shiny racks of Snap-On lovelies in the tool shop. These are not for you.

You'll most likely have a motley assortment of bent and rusty (but faithful nonetheless) Sidchromes that you found in the shed of a house you used to rent. The sizes will mostly be worn off or rusted in to oblivion, but given they were wrapped in a 1948 copy of Autocar, the smart money is on "nothing useful". These will be augmented by most of a $10 set of metrics you bought once, seduced by the shiny metal and the mysterious CHROME VANADIUM stampings.

Let's consider classification for a moment. Nominally, there are three types of spanners. The first is Whitworth, an ancient British standard of measurement, the distance across the 'flats' of the spanner based on the size of the oil leak left under a Brough Superior motorcycle in an hour.

Imperial is slightly less complex. The sizes of these spanners are measured in fractions of inches. Inches are what were used to measure small distances before the invention of Japanese cars.

Finally, we have metric spanners. Metric spanners are sorted by the amount of millimetres between the flats of the spanner before you used it to undo an imperial bolt. Never mind - the answer is nearly always 13mm.


Ah, the "Magic Thirteen".

A confession: I was not always destined to be a bodger. I once owned a full set of vintage Sidchromes in metric and imperial and prided myself on having the right spanner, socket and driver for every job.

One day, a stranger turned up to remove an engine I'd sold him from a doomed Fairlane. We were chatting away, merrily disconnecting bits and bobs when I said "Damn. Can't see the 1/2 inch spanner."

The stranger extended a shiny tool and said "This will do. Magic Thirteen." I looked askance. A metric spanner? On a gen-u-ine Made-In-The-USA half inch bolt?

I gingerly applied it to the unsuspecting fastener. It fitted snugly. I applied pressure, apprehensive, waiting for the ghost of Smokey Yunick to strike me down. The bolt gave and wound out without fuss. With a metric spanner.

The Magic Thirteen. It was a revelation.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Bodger's Guide to Oil

Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle. It lubricates, it cools and it provides hydraulic pressure. Or at least it should.

We all know that oil fails us every now and again. Sure, the "professional" mechanics will blame bearing wear or faulty parts from eBay or all those third-gear burnouts. But somewhere, lurking in the back of the mind, is the idea that maybe the oil has let us down. This gives rise to another phenomenon - the grasping, desperate hope that oil can fix the problem.

Let's examine the details.

Mechanics and oil companies will tell you there's a multitude of oil grades, differentiated by SAE numbers like 20W50.

This is a lie. There are only two grades of oil - too thick and too thin.

Oil that is too thick will make the top end rattle when the engine is cold, as the goop doesn't thin out enough to get to the cam and rocker gear. There's two bits of good news though - the bottom end, close to the oil pump, has plenty of pressure, and the wear that the unlubricated top end is experiencing will soon mean you need the thick oil anyway.

Oil that's too thin is worse - like middle management, oil is the cushion between big stationary objects and things that would otherwise pound against them. When the cushion gets too skinny or has a long lunch at the pub, carnage can result.

Fortunately, oil that is too thin can be easily replaced with oil that is too thick.

Here ends the lesson. Next week, we'll take a look at nuts and bolts.

A note on the disposal of oil: Recycling is important in this environmentally conscious age. This correspondent has successfully drained oil out of a Kingswood, used it for 5000k's in a Falcon, then used it for years in a mower. I wouldn't recommend recycling any more extreme than this.

Monday 9 January 2012

Going Fast

When we automotive types browse the world wide web, we often come across a stack of meaningless and/or obscure claims to fame. One guy might claim he has the fastest manual Commodore in South Australia, and another might say they own the fastest purple-and-orange-striped-non-turbo-pod-filtered-leather-wrapped Skyline in the world.

All credible claims, I’m sure.

But how often do you come across a legitimately impressive claim? I was watching the telly late one night and came across a TV show about salt lake racing, Bonneville in particular. They were following the progress of a lady by the name of Leslie Porterfield, who had entered herself in the over 1000cc Production motorcycle class.

Leslie is no stranger to salt lake racing, having competed in numerous Bonneville Speed Week events, but this time she was determined to go hard or go home, preferably in once piece.

And go hard she did.

During the closing stages of the event, she rode her unfaired, but otherwise stock standard Suzuki Hayabusa to 209MPH (336KPH), backing it up for a second time to set the class record. Not only did that earn her a spot in the Speed Week record books, it also earned her the accolade of being the first woman on a conventional motorcycle to enter the Bonneville 200MPH club.

Subsequent attempts at Speed Week has yielded her two more noteworthy accolades, firstly setting the world record as the fastest woman on any motorcycle at 232MPH (373KPH) and secondly, the Top Speed of the Meet award (man or woman) at 240MPH (386KPH). Needless to say, she isn’t scared to twist the throttle or to push the limits.

Being the fastest person at a Wednesday night Test and Tune is one thing, but being the fastest person in the world is something that requires some serious dedication.

I tip my hat to you Leslie, I really do.

Friday 6 January 2012

The Bodger's Guide

Of course, we'd all like to think that we work on our cars with clinical precision. An orderly, measured affair with the kind of attention to detail you'd expect from an aerospace engineer. I do it all the time.

Immaculately suited in monogrammed white overalls and gloves, I enter the garage to find the car parked on a 4-post hoist. It's clean, inside and out, the bonnet is up and the engine is gleaming. I lift the hoist, extend my right hand and pick up a Snap-On 7/8th spanner out of the second drawer of the tool chest.

Stepping under the car, I admire the paint on the sump for a moment before undoing the plug and letting the clean-but-4999-kilometre-old oil drain in to a funnel on a stand. I then spin off the oil filter, which comes away easily with but a few drops in to a second drain pan. Someone passes me a cup of tea and a saucer with a biscuit while I wait for the sump to drain.

Tea finished, I dispose of the oil in an enviromentally friendly fashion. I take a new copper washer from a drawer, a new sump plug from an adjacent drawer and wind them back in. The final tighten is then done with a torque wrench - 30ft/lb. With some thinners on a rag, I wipe the face of the oil filter pad. The seal on the fresh oil filter is lubricated with a few drops of fresh oil and spun on firmly.

I safely lower the car to the ground and select a bottle of 20W50 Penrite from the rack. A spotless, white funnel is used to empty 4.5 litres exactly in to the engine. I replace the filler cap and shut the bonnet. Another cup of tea appears. I fill out the logbook as the tea cools and admire my handywork.


In here, nothing ever happens like that. We adhere to strict standards - do your best, silicon the rest. It would be wonderful to have racks of shiny tools, but I'm yet to find a task worth doing that can't be completed with an angle grinder, a shifting spanner and a can of brake cleaner.

Anyone can write a Haynes manual dream sequence involving use of the Ford Special Tool #3490 (Puller). The rest of us just want to know how to get the job done.

For us, there will be The Bodger's Guide. Stay tuned.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Nice Arse

More great shots from the DJR workshop - I think Dan is hoping one day the team will be packing the truck to leave for a round and throw him in by accident.

The top one is Dick Johnson's Fox-body Mustang from the '85-'86 Touring Car Championship. The Group A car was an American body, built in Germany and raced to no great effect in Australia. Best forgotten, apart from Dick's classic comment that "It wouldn't pull a sailor off your sister"

The Falcon is an AU XR8 that ran in the 2001 V8 Supercar series, driven by Steven Johnson. Not sure if it won much either.

Still, a great looking pair of race cars.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Mr Reliable

A friend just told me that this beautiful Norton Commando is an unsuitable mount because it may be prone to breaking down. The comment came from a man who owns two Alfa Romeos, so one would presume he's  familiar with the shame of standing next to a stricken vehicle whilst those who chose more wisely swerve around you.

But since when has mundane, depressing reliability been such a virtue? If we're all striving for turn-key, fill-up, set-and-forget operation from our vehicles, why isn't the 2002 Toyota Camry the world's most desirable car?

People who ride or drive old stuff are pioneers and adventurers by nature. No one would remember Livingstone or Stanley if they journeyed to the heart of the Congo in air-conditioned comfort behind the wheel of a beige sedan. Manfully (or womanfully?) tackling adversity armed with nothing more than a shifting spanner and a can-do attitude develops our character. And often an odd limp.

The zen of breakdowns is the topic of a short column that will hopefully appear in print very shortly, accompanied by an excellent photo Dan took. We'll keep you posted.