Saturday 19 October 2013

A Trip to France

When building the Zero, one of the things on my list of things to do was to take the car to France.  I love the country and the roads are great for open top motoring.  The chance came my way when a post appeared on the Robin Hood Owners forum, RHOCaR, for a 1 week trip to Normandy.  I checked my diary and the dates were clear, so I booked the time off work and put my name down.  This was originally in January 2013, so waiting until September was going to take some doing.  I paid my deposit, booked my ferry ticket and set about waiting.

Friday 20th September

8 months of waiting and the day finally dawned to head off for France. The car had been serviced and prepped.  Insurance was sorted as was European breakdown cover, just in case, although I thought I was going to need the AA before I even got on the boat!!  I had left home mid afternoon to head for Portsmouth and had been having a very good run until I ended up on the A34.  There was a 3 to 4 mile tailback from the M3 junction and it was stop start for what seemed like hours. As I got close to the M3, that battery warning light came on and the alternator didn't look like it was charging properly, sitting at 12 volts instead of around 14 volts.  I decided that I didn't want to risk stopping and, with only 25 miles to Portsmouth, I carried on.  I got there without any issues and once I was parked up I had a look under the bonnet, but there was nothing obvious.  No missing belts or loose wires so I tried re-starting the car and it was fine.  The battery light went off and the volts went up to 14 as normal.  Following some discussions later, we think it may have been caused by the fan being constantly on with the engine just ticking over, but that is just a theory.  It never happened again for the rest of the trip.

A couple of hours later I met up with some more of the party and we finally boarded the boat.  1 Zero, 2 Robin Hood 2Bs and a big E class Mercedes support vehicle.  The driver, Kevin, would have been in his Robin Hood but a replacement hip op 6 weeks earlier put pay to that.  The crossing left England at 22.00.  After a quick drink in the bar and a round of proper introductions, I settled down in my cabin for the night.

Saturday 21st September

6.15am French time (so 5.15am UK time!!) and I am woken by the Brittany Ferries announcement that we are near to the port and need to be out of the cabin.  We docked in the port at 06.45 but it took until around 07.30 before we were off the boat and through customs and heading south to our gite.  First problem was getting the 4 cars together as we had gone through the customs checks at different gates and different speeds.  I was not to worry as we soon all found each other and we set off.  The roads were pretty empty and I settled in very quickly to driving on the right!

It was a very straight forward run and we arrived at the gite at around 8.30 am.  We were welcomed by the owners, Andrew and Janette, who made us feel very welcome.  They had even set a log fire going as it was a cool morning.  After a tour of the facilities we set about allocating rooms.  All were couples except me and I ended up in the children's room on my own.  It had 3 single beds to choose from and was more than adequate for the stay.  After a refresh and a brew, we set off to find the nearest town to find a supermarket to stock up on essentials such as food, wine and beer.

Once we had returned we had some lunch and sat and waited for the rest of the people to arrive.  Another 2B, a home built based on a 2B and another tin top all turned up and we all settled down for a night of food, wine and talking.  After the early starts, there were a few people early to bed, yours truly being one of them.

This is the Zero in front of the gite.

Sunday 22nd September

Today was the first touring and sight seeing day and we all left the gite in convoy behind our esteemed leader. It was overcast but dry.  As it was Sunday, we had been warned by the gite owners that the local police would be out in force looking to trap unsuspecting speeding motorists to help top up their pension funds.  The only Gendarme we saw was in a van going in the opposite direction and he was too busy waving and giving a thumbs up to be checking our speed!

As we progressed through the country side we came across a line of Porsches, all 924s or 944s going in the opposite direction.  They all flashed their lights and waved and, naturally, we did the same in return.  There must have been 20+ of them.  This was my first real experience if the attention these types of cars get in France.  It is very hard to build a kit car in France so our cars are quite rare.  There may be a lot of them during the weeks either side of the Le Mans 24 hour race but other than that, not many at all.

First stop of the day was Pegasus Bridge at Ranville.   This was the site of the first landings by gliders by the 6th Airborne Division.  The stories told were quite amazing and it is well worth a visit.

This is the original bridge which has now been replaced by a replica.

This is a replica of one of the Horsa gliders used in the raid.

After the museum we had lunch and had the usual photos taken of the cars, then set off for our next stop.  This was Site Hillman at Colleville-Montgomery which was a German command post and there was not a lot to see here.  From here we headed to the German radar station at Douvres-la-Delivrande only to find it had closed for the season.  We were a couple of weeks late!!

The final stop of the day was meant to be the Mussee du Mur de l'Atlantique, also known as the Grand Bunker, at Ouistreham.  Unfortunately we had picked one of the busiest day of the year as there was some sort of festival going on, so parking was a complete nightmare.  We drove round for a while but decided that we were better off heading home.  The return journey started OK until our leader had trouble with his sat nav and we ended up going round several roundabouts and getting lost.  I had always thought that we should stick in a group but my sat nav was telling me to head off in a different direction, so I decided to peal off and head for home.

Monday 23rd September

Today we headed towards the American sector.  The first stop was Sainte-Mere-Eglise and the Musee Airborne.  The church here is famous as it is where one paratrooper got caught on the tower, which is replicated to this day.  He actually did get down and survived the war.  There are some wonderful stained glass windows inside the church that feature paratroopers all over them.

Then there was a look around the airborne museum.  There wasn't a huge amount to see in there other than a C47.

From there we headed to the Batterie D'Azeville.  This was a fascinating place.

We needed a group of 20 to get the discounted rate to get in and there were 13 of us.  One of our group had noticed a group of bikers who were also doing a tour of the sites so she went off and enlisted the 8 of them to make up our group.  We were given audio guides to talk us round the site and the story was truly fascinating and possibly one of the best tours of the week.

This is one of the buildings on the site that were painted so that from the air, in reconnaissance photos, they would just look like ruins and be ignored.

Here are the cars lined up in the car park as Azeville.

We then hit the coast road and made our way to Omaha beach for a quick stop before heading back towards home.  We stopped at a large supermarket to stock up on provisions and then fuelled up ready for the journey back.  We all decided to make our own way and not worry about being in a convoy and it ended up being one of the best runs of the week so far.  Good, clear open roads with little traffic.

Tuesday 24th September

Today we visited the Musse de la Batterie de Merville (Merville Battery).  This had a fully restored Dakota C47 (military version of the DC3).

We were also able to go in to a bunker and, through a sound and light show, re-live what it may have been like during the battles.

From here we went to the Musee du DeBarquement at Arromanches.  The cars caused quite a stir in the car park, with tourist getting off coaches to go to the museum but making a b-line for our cars first instead.  We stopped and had ice-cream on the sea front before heading home.

This is where I had my only real issue of the trip.  The car park was a pay car park and I had got my ticket by one of the other members passing it to me.  Going out was harder as I was on my own now.  I was able to pay but couldn't put the ticket in the machine at the gate to raise the barrier was on the left and I was strapped in to my car on the right.  I had to practice my best schoolboy french and was able to describe my problem to one of the staff there who, rather begrudgingly, stood by the gate and put my ticket through for me.

Wednesday 25th September

This was a day off and a day for everyone to do their own thing.  I chose to drive south in to the Foret Auvray area as all our trips so far had been north of the gite.  I found some nice open roads for a drive and then a Le Clerc in a town to get some lunch.  I decided to drive back out of the the town to find somewhere to park up to eat.  Out in the forest I found a suitable parking area.

However, I was not alone.  At first I thought it was just a delivery driver, white van man, stopping for lunch, except it was white van lady.  A man approached the van from the forest and tapped on the window and the delivery driver got up from the front seat, went to the back, opened the side door and let the man in.  It was only then I remembered my ex sister-in-law (who lived in the south of France) telling what these white vans were.  They are mobile brothels and the man was a customer!

I took my leave to let them get on with whatever it was he was selecting from the menu!!

I drove back a different route and found a wonderful lake which was really nice to stop at and just look out over.

Thursday 26th September

First stop of the day was the Batterie de Longes-sur-Mer.  Here we were able to see some of the actual guns still in place.

This is the group of us by one of the guns.

From here we went on to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.  This is an amazing place.  It is immaculately kept, everything is spotlessly clean, all the grass is cut, the borders are weeded, it was amazing.  The visitor centre was just the same.

This exhibit, for me, really struck home.

But it is the grave stones that really make a statement.  They are all perfectly aligned and really are something to see.

Friday 27th September

This was our last day of visits.  First stop was the village of Chambois for coffee.  I am not sure the little village cafe had had 9 people descend on them in one go for coffee and 'le patron' ran for cover to get his wife to sort us all out.  I think we doubled his trade for the day in one go!!  We just happened to park up by this castle.  I can't remember much about it but it was relevant in some way.

Next stop was the Memorial de Montormel.  This is the site that was held by Polish and Canadian troops and was probably the best museum we visited.  First off we were shown an interactive map that re-lived the events of the time and then we were able to go and look out over the battlefield.  A guide then talked us through the events.  I won't go in to the stories but suffice to say it is well worth a visit.

These are the cars looking down from one of the memorials on the 'corridor of death', as it is known.

After all the history, it was time for something a little different, so we made our way to the village of Camembert, where the cheese comes from.  We parked up under some shade and had lunch.

This is in front of the town hall in Camembert.

Next stop of the day was to see the tiger tank at Vimoutiers.  This is only 1 of 2 in France and only 1 of  9 left in existence.

Finally we went to the Musee Memorial D'Omaha Beach.  We decided not to go in as by this point we were all museumed out!!  We all made our own way back to the gite to prepare ourselves for departure the next day. The gite had to be tidied up and packing had to be done.

Saturday 28th September

Some of the group were up and away early to catch the early ferry, leaving the rest of us to leave around 10am.  My ferry wasn't until 4.30pm so I had plenty of time to just meander through the country side and then end up at Caen Ouistreham.  I had lunch, during which I was sheltered from one of only 3 lots of rain we had all week.  The other 2 had been at night, so we had done pretty well.

Finally I boarded the boat and headed back to Portsmouth.  Upon entering the port this is the sight you see.

A 2 hour blast back to Gloucester in the drizzle with half hood on, and I was home.  I didn't clock the actual mileage but I think it was around 1000 miles.

It had been a wonderful week and this is really what I built this car to do.  Others build them for track days, I built mine for touring.  The attention it got in France was amazing and I can't wait to do it all over again, hopefully next year.

Sunday 9 June 2013

More Upgrades - Half Hood and New Seat

Half Hood

When I had my car put through the IVA by GBS, I opted to have them fit the windscreen and the weather gear.  I have a full hood and once it is on and fitted, it is pretty good at keeping things relatively dry.  However, getting it to fit is a right PITA (Pain in the ****) as the material shrinks when it is cold. You fit it at the front and then the rear poppers don't fit or you fit it at the rear and you end up struggling to get the fronts clipped in place.  I think it took me best part of 20 minutes to fit it last time, but at least it was still in the garage at home.  It would not have been fun trying to fit it with the rain lashing down.

The solution is to have a half hood fitted.  These clip to the windscreen and over the roll bar and then are held down with straps which you tighten up.  Fitting takes a couple of minutes max.  I could have had a go at making one myself but decided to hand it over to the experts and went to visit Jill and Nick Judd at Soft Bits For Sevens (  They had the car for the day as it was the first half hood they had made for a GBS Zero and I think they have made a cracking job of it.

It has a small window at the back so rear visibility is not compromised.

When not in use, it can either be kept in the boot or if you think it may be needed in a hurry, it rolls up neatly in to a cover which in turn clips to the roll bar stays.  It may be better to position it on the inside of the stays, but you get the idea.

I am really happy with the finished product and would thoroughly recommend Jill and Nick.

When I fitted it at home, although I didn't time myself, I reckon it took me about 2 minutes to fit as opposed to the near 20 minutes it took me to get the full hood fitted.  In my mind that is a proper result!!

New Seat

When I was building the car, I was conscious of the budget.  It would have been very easy to go for the higher spec items at every turn but it would have sent the budget through the roof, which in turn would have delayed getting on the road.  It would also have deprived me of the upgrades I am doing!

One of the budget spec items I chose initially were the seats.  They are OK for short journeys but the cushions dig in to the backs of my legs on longer journeys.  I looked at lots of options to replace them from the likes of Westfield, Intratrim, Interiors Seating and looked from full leather seats to Carbon Fibre race seats.  I trawled the Internet forums looking for advice and also tried out many different seats.  The net result was that I decided on race seats.

Next was which ones.  You can buy single skin ones from eBay for about £90 but I am a firm believer in that you get what you pay for, so discounted them.  I considered a pair of JK Composites as they have some very favourable reviews, but would have had to wait 4 or 5 weeks.  In the end I decided to only replace the drivers seat (I very rarely carry a passenger) and go for the best I could afford and justify, so I bought a Tillet B6 GRP seat (I couldn't justify the Carbon Fibre version!).  I took advantage of a 15% WSCC discount and the fact that the seats were in stock and placed my order.  3 days later I collected a very big box from my local FedEx depot.

Once home, the first job was to remove the old seat.

Here are the seat runners all laid out ready to fit.

These are the runners fitted.

You can see a number of spacers are used to avoid the runners hitting the indentation in the bottom of the seat.

Finally, the adjustment bar is fitted.

Next job was to fit drill the holes for the bolts.  I made up a template based on the dimensions given in the instructions and placed it in the car.  I put the seat in place and played around with the position of it so I new where to place the template.

Four holes later and it was ready to fit.  One of the options I took when I built the car was for a lowered floor so that I would sit lower in the car.  This is fine with the normal seats but with the Tillet seat you sit even lower.  It was actually too low for me so I fitted the seat on to some 1 inch box section to raise 
it up.  It may only be an inch but it makes all the difference.

Here it is fitted.  Looks the mutt's nuts doesn't it!!  I can also assure you that it is surprisingly comfortable.

If you are interested in Tillett seats speak to David at Nationwide Technical Products or look here I would highly recommend them.

Monday 22 April 2013

On the Rollers

One of the things I have been waiting to do is to get the car on the rollers to see what BHP she has.  The local branch of the Westfield Sports Car Club (WSCC) had arranged a trip to visit Bradley's Garage, also known as BTEC Racing ( to do an engine check and also a suspension set up check.  The garage is situated in the village of Shipton Under Wychwood in The Cotswolds, so it is a very nice place to have to get to ... well except for the pot holes in the road which I think we are all having to dodge around at the present time!!

The weather for the drive over wasn't too bad and at least the rain held off and I was there for about 11.00am.  There were a few cars already there but I didn't have to wait too long before it was my turn.  The front wheels were clamped in place with the rears on the actual rollers.

Here you can see the technician giving it some beans.  I have never been so nervous in my life as he revved the nuts out of my engine.  I kept waiting for it to go bang, but it didn't!!

Here is the result from run number 2 163.6 BHP @ 6067 rpm

Here is the result from run number 3 167.6 BHP @ 6182 rpm.

GBS had said that the standard 2.0 Zetec fitted with their plenum chamber should put out around 165 BHP so to get just shy of 168 BHP was very pleasing, especially as it is a bog standard engine.

On the basis that the car weighs 630 Kg (not the lightest of Sevens), that is around 265 BHP/tonne.

After the rolling road, I put the car on the ramp to have the alignment and geometry checked.  Now I have to be honest and say that this is all a bit of a dark art to me and all I really wanted to hear from the guys was that the set up was 'OK for the road' as I don't intend putting the car on the track, well not at the moment anyway.

So the strange thing on the steering wheel simply to set the it in the right position to measure where the wheels are pointing in relation to where it looks like I am pointing them, if that makes sense!

They then attached one of these units to each wheel and set about taking lots of measurements.

The net result is that it could do with a little bit of tweaking here and there but nothing massive and he did start talking about caster angles and toe in and degrees of this and degrees of that and I think I nodded in the right places so it looked like I understood.  I didn't really and when he said it is probably good enough for the road, I was happy.  I could book it in to them to tweak it, but it would end up costing me a lot and I am not convinced I am a good enough driver to really notice the difference.  Perhaps I will think about it one day.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable day even though I had to put the roof on to drive home as the rain had started to come down.  Oh well, you can't have it all!!!

Saturday 9 March 2013

Quick Release Steering Wheel

A quick release steering wheel is a great anti-theft device, especially whilst the car is left out in the open or in an unfamiliar location.  I am planning on using the car a lot more this year (weather permitting), including a trip to France, so this seemed like an obvious security upgrade to make.

There are 2 types of quick release that you can fit.  One requires a splined shaft to be welded on to the existing steering column and the other is bolted on.  I opted for the latter.  All it takes is the kit and about 20 minutes of your time to fit.

This is the starting point.  First thing to do is remove the steering wheel from the original boss.

Here are the parts laid out.  It is a very simple mechanism, but it does the job.

Next job is to fit the steering wheel part (I can't think what else to call it!) to the steering wheel.   There are wires to enable a centre horn push to be fitted but as my horn button is separate, I didn't worry about these.  This is it from the front.

And this is it fitted from the back.  It is all held together with 6 Allen screws.

Next job is to fit the boss part (again, not sure what else to call it!) to the existing boss.  Again this is by way of 6 Allen bolts (supplied in the kit)

And finally, push the steering wheel in to the quick release and turn the securing ring and lock in to place.  Here is is fitted.

And another view.  You can see that it only bring the steering wheel closer to the driver by 25mm, it is the shallowest on the market.

All I need to do now is find a break in the weather to try it out!!

Sunday 10 February 2013

iPod, Sat Nav or Both??

I managed to take the car out for a spin last weekend and had my 'in ears' (headphones) plugged in to the iPod as usual.  If you have read, or at least skimmed through, the blog you will know that I have built in the iPod and also built in the Sat Nav.

This is all well and good but when you are using the Sat Nav for directions, you can't hear the instructions over the music and the general noise in the car.  I needed to find a solution that wasn't going to cost me a lot of money and would give me the best of both worlds.

The first thing to consider was an all in one unit.  After a lot of research, the only Sat Nav unit I could find with a headphone socket that came close to what I wanted was the Garmin 2585TV which is a Sat Nav with TV tuner and can play MP3s etc.  However at £250 it was not really an option.  Anyway, I already have a Sat Nav and an Mp3 player so what is the point.  I needed a way of hearing the Sat Nav in my 'in ears' along with my music.

I decided that the only way was to get the soldering iron out and make up a one off cable to do the job.  Now first off, I must apologise that I didn't take any photos of the process, so my words will have to do.

I needed a mono out from the Sat Nav to link to a stereo out on the iPod to the stereo in on the 'in ears'. First job to tackle was the Sat Nav.  On YouTube you can find numerous videos of how to replace the battery on a Sat Nav and I used one of these to show me how to get in to the unit.  Once in, with it suitably dismantled, I unplugged the speaker plug from the circuit board and cut the wires.  I then soldered on some single core speaker wire.  I drilled a small hole in the outer casing of the Sat Nav for the cable to be passed through and set about putting it all back together.  This was an easier process than I thought it was going to be and within about 30 minutes the whole process was done.

Wiring up was straight forward.  Take a cable with a stereo plug for the iPod and cut one end of it off.  Each side will have an inner cable and an outer cable.  Twist and join the outer cable from both sides so you end up with a single outer, a single red and a single white cable.   Do the same with a cable to go to the 'in ears'.  Next join the red to the red, the white to the white and the out to the out on the 2 cables.  Check at this point that it is all working.  Finally add the left and the right from the Sat Nav cable to the red and the white of the combined cable and check again.  I now have music in stereo from the iPod and instructions over the top from the Sat Nav.  Finally solder all the joints, insulate and bind it all together with tape.  Job done.

Final job was to fit it all back in the car.  At the same time I took the opportunity to change the charger option for the Sat Nav so it uses a USB cable and not a hard wired cable.  This is so I can plug the Sat Nav in to a laptop for updates as they are required.  The iPod already has this type of cable so I can update the content without having to dismantle the car each time.

So there you go.  A simple job.  Total cost, including a new soldering iron, £20.  And it took about 3 hours total time including taking the car apart and putting it back together.  Just need to get the volume levels right on the road and for that, I need some more good weather to take the car out!!

UPDATE 17th Feb 2013

So, finally, a decent day to take the car out and see what the finished product is like.  I set off with neither iPod nor Sat Nav on, as neither had any charge in them, so I knew I needed a good run to put some charge in them.  At a convenient point, I pulled over and set about putting in the 'in ears' and switched on the Sat Nav.  First thing was it couldn't get a GPS signal.  That has worked in the past, but has never been 100%.  Anyway, I turned on the iPod and ..... nothing .... well a lot of static and nothing else.  Disappointed, I carried on on my journey and went home.

My wiring had worked on the bench, but the real world test had failed miserably.  I suspect it was a combination of the location of the Sat Nav and the fuse box and electricity etc causing the interference, which, of course, I didn't have on the bench.

So, the conclusion.  Unless you are some sort of electrical genius and understand these things and are prepared to spend some money on posh kit, stick with the Sat Nav mounted to the window!  It is now back to the way it was before for a while,and I think that is where it is going to stay. I have admitted defeat!!!

Saturday 2 February 2013

Rear Suspension and other bits.

On to the rear suspension.  This is a lot more of a palaver than the fronts as access is a lot harder.  First thing is to remove the rear arches and store them out of the way.

Next is to gain access to the top mounting bolts.  Now on the first image below, you can see a nice little access hole to get at the top mounting bolt, and it is easy to get at with nothing else in the way.

 The problem was that I had added the boot panels and the access hole, where the clamp is in the picture, has now gone.

Add to this, I then covered it in carpet!!

To get access meant pulling back the carpet and going postal on the panel.  It is not a very neat job, but at least I have access.  I will use some Velcro so it gets put back in place but can be accessed later if needs be.

In fact it is so nasty I am ashamed to put up a picture of it!!

So, after all that faffing about, I finally got to fit the new DamperTech shocks.

Once fitted I lowered the car back to the floor and started to wind the shocks up to get the ride height right.  The rear needs to be between 130mm and 140mm to the bottom of the chassis rail just in front of the rear wheel arch.  As much as I wound up the springs, they weren't going over 120mm, which is just way too low for my driveway access, not to mention speed bumps.

So off they came.  You can see in the image below, that they are not far off, in fact only about 1/4 inch short, but that equates to quite a bit on the ride height.

Anyway, they had to go back to GBS to be sorted out.  They were really good about it all although with Christmas getting in the way, they did take a few weeks before they were returned to me.

I finally got round to fitting them and getting the car back together and also added a couple of other small parts.  The first was a new gear knob from GBS.

Next was a map pocket.

Then a phone holder.

And finally, a GoPro Hero 3 camera.  Here it is fitted tot he roll bar.

I decided it might be better hung under the roll bar.

You can just about make out the GoPro app on the phone which is used to control the camera and also acts as a view finder using a wi-fi connection.  All very clever.

Once all this was done, I was able to take the car out for a drive, the first in about 3 months.  The good thing is that I can feel a definite improvement with the suspension.  My fear was that, after such a long time getting them sorted, I might have forgotten what the old ones were like, but this was not the case.  I am not clever enough to say exactly why, but they just feel better.  The ride is smoother and they seem to absorbs the bumps better.  That is the best way I can describe them.

Anyway, I hope to new continue the blog but for it to be more of a drive blog than a build blog.  Roll on the better weather!!