From racer to tourer and back again

The car has spent the last 10 to 12 years getting further and further away from one in which you would want to go touring. Noisy, hot and uncomfortable, why would you want to spend hours on end, mile after mile, driving around France in what has become a racing car? Well, the answer is that it would be huge fun. The car is so drivable on the road but also goes like stink when you put your foot down; its addictive. Linda said she was happy to go provided that I behaved myself and didn’t do anything daft. As if! So how to make it a bit more comfortable?

The idea was to drive down to the Loire valley with friends, spend a few days with them at a château near Blois and then get back up to north Brittany for the Saint Goueno hillclimb the following weekend. The need for comfort and also for the car still to be safe when doing the hillclimb meant that a few compromises had to be made. Clearly the plumbed in fire extinguisher system would have to stay but, on balance, I decided that I could safely remove the full roll cage and refit the FIA roll-over bar in its place. I had no plans to be too competitive after last year’s crash at La Pommeraye so, in some ways, not having the roll cage would keep me sensible. The full screen also had to stay which, although probably costing a bit in terms of top speed, the comfort factor far outweighs the benefit of fitting a wind deflector instead.

That just left the unbearably noisy straight cut Quaife gearbox which I decided would have to be replaced by a semi-helical unit and which would give not only much less noise but also a better 5th gear ratio for cruising. I had planned to buy the bits from SPC and build a new box but unfortunately Steve’s delivery date just went further and further out so I abandoned the idea and had to stick with what I had. In fact, with the Terratrip full headset intercom, the noise is reduced to a reasonable level and we can hear the TomTom and each other talking. The gearbox will probably be a winter project now.

All up, the whole trip was a great success and the weather kept fine for the entire two weeks. There were a couple of evenings on the Loire phase when getting into the 7 would have been a nuisance so we blagged a lift from a friend in his AM Rapide. Boy, what a car that is!

Saint Goueno was its usual few days of partying with the Brits, Irish and French and remains the highlight of the motor sport year, as always run with great style and humour by John Lloyd, Olivier Henri and the people of Saint Goueno.

Next up is the Etretat hillclimb over the August bank holiday weekend and I simply cannot believe how quickly its come around again. As I can feel the competitive gene lurking in the background, I think its time to refit the roll cage, remove the screen and prepare to go racing again.

Progress

We got through the MoT ok, even though it poured with rain there and back. The self cancelling indicators work a treat so really pleased with that.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever get around to it but I fancy having a go at redoing the whole electronic indicator system using a microcontroller – something new to learn about but it would be a much better way of doing it than it is now. It could also result in a saleable unit which I suspect might be of interest to 7 owners as they’re always complaining about leaving the indicators flashing, which is why the time-out version was so successful a few years ago. We’ll see – a winter project perhaps.

The year so far…….

Well, I’ve been getting the car ready for the 2012 hill climb season which I had hoped would have started by now. This has proved more challenging than in previous years as we are planning to do a bit of touring in France as well as some hillclimbs, both over there and in the UK. Its only when you contemplate touring in what has become a bespoke competition car that you start to realise how uncomfortable this could be.

For a start I’ve refitted the windscreen in place of the aeroscreen as driving public roads like this is plain madness. Wearing a crash helmet would be a minimum and I don’t think I would be able to persuade my wife to wear one. Another problem is the full roll cage which makes the car a sod to get in and out of and precludes the use of any form of wet weather gear. We’ve toured before without a hood and it wasn’t at all nice – okay when you’re moving, but stuck in traffic…………..! I’m reasonably happy to compete at Saint Goueno with the FIA rollover bar fitted, so that should make it a bit easier, and the weather gear will fit over it. Mind you, it takes so long to fit its often stopped raining by the time its on. Best thing is usually to stop and sit it out under a brolly until it stops!

Then there is the gearbox noise. Fabulous gearbox with excellent ratios, even though first is a bit long at 2.04:1. But it is incredibly noisy until you get into fourth due to the straight-cut gears. We do wear intercom headsets so we can communicate without screaming at each other and can hear the TomTom instructions, but even so the noise can get pretty wearing after a while. I do have plans to build a new gearbox with helical-cut gears and have procured a standard Ford Type 9 box for modification. SPC offer a helical gear set which have reasonable ratios but they’re currently out of stock. If they get some in by early May I’ll see whether there’s time to build and test and get it installed before we’re due to set off on May 23rd.

Other projects have included some electronics to detect the selected gear from the position of the gearstick, to work with the MBE ECU traction and launch control software. I’ve built a couple of working prototypes that show promise but haven’t had time to test them for real yet. I’ve also built an electronic indicator controller which, instead of the usual two-way and central-off toggle switch on the dash, uses a couple of steering wheel mounted buttons. The electronics causes the flashers to time-out after 20 seconds if you haven’t already cancelled them by pressing either button. I’ve also added a self-cancelling device which kills them after you’ve turned the wheel past a certain point and back again. Seems to work rather well but needs road testing to ensure that the wheel angle sensor is optimised for cancelling angle. The circuitry is discrete ICs and would be done better (and has been) using a programmable microcontroller but this is a bit beyond my competence at the moment so I’ll stick to what I know will work for the time being.

But before we do much more the car has to be MoT’d so I’m trying to spot a dry day in the next week or so when I can get to the MoT station in the dry.