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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some impressive videos I've viewed lately

I like this one in particular:


This one is vertigo-inducing.


This one is just cute.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Steam turbine designs

I've posted a few times before about steam turbines, here, here, and here.  One of the things I find fascinating about steam turbines is how vast the variety is among them, depending upon the application.
  • Steam turbines that are used for marine propulsion will have stages to turn them in the reverse direction, and a separate astern steam throttle valve.
  • Steam turbines that are used in power plants for generation of electrical power come in a stunning variety of shapes, sizes and designs.
  • Steam turbines that are used provide cogeneration for other processes are often very compex and unique.
  • Turbines can be designed for various operating pressures and outputs, making each design slightly different and interesting in its own way.
Below: An early steam turbine diagram from 1905 for shipboard use.  The astern steam throttle is at top left. These two stages turn the shaft in the opposite direction than the seven forward stages.  Only two stages are used for astern movement, because it is not used often and so efficiency is not necessary.

Friday, February 20, 2015

LED Lighting conversion

No, I am not talking about some high-tech electronic thing I did.  Several months ago we switched the entire house over to LED lights.  It took over a hundred light bulbs and a couple hours' time to accomplish this project, but it was worth it.

I was an early adopter of CF bulbs, back when it cost over $10 for each one.  They probably paid for themselves quickly because at the time I was a Southern California Edison customer.  SoCal Edison probably has the highest electricity rates on the planet.

The refurbished curio cabinet

My wife has been looking for a curio cabinet for several months on Craigslist.  The style she wanted, and eventually found, was a curved-front type like this:

Swapping out bootable hard drives, Windows 7 edition

250th Post...

For nearly a decade now I have been building my own desktop PCs.  A friend showed me how easy it was to do, and after that I was done buying machines from Gateway, Dell, etc.

The PC that I am now using was built about three years ago from Newegg parts.  It's not a bad little machine, but it developed an issue.  I originally installed a smallish Solid State Hard Drive that was just for the Operating System (Windows 7 64-bit).


Sunday, February 15, 2015

19th vehicle - Honda CBR 1000... and we are done with vehicles!

This is the Honda CBR 1000 I picked up in 2006.  It had 1100 miles on it, and it was on consignment at a dealership in Boise.  I picked it up pretty cheap and it needed nothing.  I got another 1100 miles before the rear tire was gone.

18th vehicle - Christine

Link here:

Me and Christine, a 1979 Kawasaki KZ 650

17th vehicle - F-250 Powerstroke Diesel

I overheard a couple of guys at work one day talking about a vehicle they had seen for sale.  Both of them liked it and wanted it, but one had no money and the other wasn't really in the market for it.  I liked what I was hearing:  A Ford F-250 4x4 with one of the new Powerstroke Diesel engines.  I asked the guys if they were interested in it, and they were not.  I asked about where to see it.

Over the years I'd test-driven a couple of Ford diesel trucks at dealerships and liked them.  The trucks I had driven did not have turbochargers though, so they weren't very powerful.  The acceleration wasn't much to write home about on those trucks, and they were more expensive than a large gas motor, on account of the diesel engine.  So I never really was interested in a Ford diesel, until the Powerstroke engine came out.

The Powerstroke was Ford's answer to the Dodge Ram truck fitted with the inline 6 cylinder 5.9 liter Cummins turbo-diesel engine.  Dodge came out with the duo in 1989 and the trucks sold like hotcakes.  Ford had a diesel truck, but it didn't have 160 horsepower and 400 ft-lbs of torque like the turbocharged Cummins.

The Powerstroke was introduced in 1994.5.  It was a 7.3 liter V-8, and it arrived with a turbocharger and electronic fuel injection.  The engine produced 210 horsepower and 425 ft-lb of torque.  Torque (or twisting force) is important for towing, and why so many tow vehicles use big block engines.  Engines with a longer piston stroke typically have bigger torque than small ones, which are optimized to make horsepower at higher RPM.

15th and 16th vehicles - Other Kawasaki Triples

My 15th and 16th vehicles were bought on a whim.  They weren't very expensive, never got registered, and one of them was pretty much a basket case.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fourteenth vehicle - 1995 Ford F-150

Buying this vehicle was a mistake.  Let me start with that statement.

The big blue Ford was not a *bad* vehicle.  It never gave me a problem or any trouble whatsoever.  The problem was how it was configured, and that led to really poor results.  I had gotten married and the little Bronco was aging, and I liked the idea of having a real, full sized 4x4 truck.  We test drove it, liked it, and within a few days, bought it.

The truck looked about like this one in color and in backdrop :)


Thirteenth vehicle - 1985 Ford Bronco II

The thirteenth vehicle I owned was a 1985 Ford Bronco II that I purchased used while I lived in San Diego.  I traded TR-6 number three in for it at a car dealer down inn Mission Valley.

The Bronco II had the same paint scheme as this one, with similar-looking aftermarket wheels.

Twelfth vehicle -1972 TR-6

I purchased the final TR-6 shortly after selling the Yamaha XS650.  I still owned the Corvette at the time, but I really missed having a little sports car.  This little Triumph was red.


The top and interior weren't in great shape, so I just left the top down with the cover over it (like in the above photo), and let the San Diego dew soak the seats.  It was under a carport, so nothing got *soaked*.  I kept an old towel behind the seat to wipe things down before going anywhere.

It let me down only once, and that was when the transmission failed.  If I recall correctly, something had been wrong with second gear.   My roommate was driving when it gave up the ghost.  Neither of us was very surprised.  I found another transmission, and this one had an electric overdrive!  That made everything even cooler.

TR-6 transmission with overdrive.  The two overdrive sections bolt on to the standard 4-speed at the right.

The new transmission required a little extra work, but it was worth it.  I installed the new transmission and built a little electric circuit with a toggle switch on the dash to engage the overdrive solenoid.  That solenoid is a little black cylinder at the lower right side of this transmission.

There are two electrical switches on top of the gearbox.  One is to turn on the back-up lights, and the other is to prevent the overdrive from engaging unless the car is in 3rd or 4th gear.  I guess the torque of lower gears would damage the overdrive unit.  Anyway, I was really happy with that car, and kept it for several years, until I decided to get my first 4x4, which I traded it in for.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Eleventh vehicle - 1976 Yamaha XS 650

At the same time I owned the Corvette, I found myself owning another motorbike.  A fellow submarine sailor begged me to take this bike off his hands as he was leaving the Navy.  He did not want to take the bike along with him when he left the service.  I bought it for a song.

Below: 1976 Yamaha XS 650

The Yamaha was basically a refined Japanese version of a classic British twin, the 650cc Triumph (Below).

The Japanese were in the process of destroying the British motorcycle manufacturing industry by building better and less expensive motorcycles.  The Triumph had an overhead valve engine, and a drum brake up front.  The Yamaha had a superior single overhead cam (SOHC) engine, and a front disc brake.  So the Yamaha ran better and stopped better than a generic British bike of the same size.

There were probably a huge number of other improvements the Yamaha had over a British bike, but I'm not familiar enough with the Brit bikes to point them all out.  One thing is certain:  It needed WAY less tinkering to keep it running.  The Yamaha was not a finicky bike at all - valves, points and carburetor adjustments were rarely needed.  Nothing ever came loose or fell off the Yamaha.

The Yamaha had an electric starter, but it also had a kick starter in case the battery died.  It was a very nice running and handling motorcycle, with no quirks at all.  The power delivery was good from bottom to red-line, and it didn't vibrate excessively (for a twin cylinder).  It always started right up.  If there was a down-side to this motorcycle, it was that it was pretty damn boring to ride - especially after having owned a Kawasaki Triple.

At 50 horsepower the engine wasn't especially powerful.  In addition to the mild engine, the bike was heavy, so acceleration wasn't this bike's strong suit.  Nor could you corner it too hard or you would find yourself scraping the foot-pegs.  It was probably not a bad machine for commuting to work, but I found the bike to be very uninspiring, and eventually I sold it to a shipmate.

Tenth vehicle - The 'Vette *Updated*

The tenth vehicle I owned was a 1971 Corvette.  What I really wanted was an old Jaguar.  I was pretty certain that a Jag would be expensive to own, unreliable, and difficult to find parts for.  So I decided to get a Corvette.  It was expensive to own, unreliable, and difficult to find parts for.

I traded my 1981 Z28 Camaro straight across for the 71 'vette.  The owner of the Corvette couldn't get the car certified for the California emissions "Smog Check", so he couldn't register it.  I, on the other hand, was in the military.  I could register the car in my home state and avoid the issue entirely.  Of course it would still be polluting the pristine California air, but it would be registered (and I would be paying licensing fees) in Idaho.  The trade was on...

*UPDATE* I found and scanned an old picture of the car:

The pokey old Z28 was gone, replaced by a Corvette with a big-block 454 cubic inch V8 with a 780 CFM Holley carburetor and a 4-speed Muncie transmission.  It also had independent rear suspension.  The engine was rated at 365 horsepower stock (which it was not).

The one redeeming feature of that Corvette:

The 'vette turned out to be an unreliable piece of crap, but it was brutally powerful, and it handled really well :)  There was so much *wrong* with that car that I had a list of stuff two pages long that needed to be corrected.  Sadly enough, I made that list long after I had fixed a bunch of other things and overhauled the engine.  To make this car right, it would have taken so much money that it would have been cheaper to purchase a different Corvette in good condition.

This is what the car *should* have looked like:

The car had been crashed at some point, the front end was a different style, having a later-model grille.  The new front end had also been damages slightly, with repairs made using Bondo dent filler up at the nose.  The replacement front end was probably from a 73 or 74, and the grilles were uglier than those of a 71.  The grilles were poorly installed, and one of them fell out and got damaged.  I ended up throwing both grilles in the trash.

This is the plain-jane front end my car had, lacking the cool '71 bumper or shiny grilles

The previous owner had installed flared fenders, added massive tires, and painted it with gel-coat, which is really soupy paint that is used on fiberglass boat hulls.  It looked pretty cool with the huge tires, although I actually prefer the stock look.

Below, a Corvette with flared fenders and very wide tires.

When I took possession of the Corvette, it had some awesome 4 inch side pipes on it.  I drove it for quite a while with those pipes, until I eventually ended up with a girlfriend, who kept burning herself on them.  In any event, they were starting to rust, as all exhaust systems eventually do.  I figured that if the exhaust system were going to rust, it would be best for that to happen under the car where no one would have to look at it.  I replaced the entire exhaust system, then I had to purchase the stainless steel side trim pieces to hide the bottom seam of the body (see the orange car in the third image).

The rear fiberglass of the 'vette had been modified too.  71 Corvettes have cool cut-outs with metal bezels for the exhaust pipes to exit the bodywork.  With side-pipes you don't need that, so these cut-outs had been filled in.  This is how it should have looked, but it didn't.

So far I have only discussed the car's basic appearance and what I didn't like about that.  There were also a plethora of mechanical issues that I worked through, and some that I never made it to.  I guess I should start at the front of the car.

The engine always had a miss, and I assumed that it was due to worn valve guides, a worn cam, or something to do with valves or compression.  As a result I decided to pull the engine and go through it.  What I learned was that the previous owner was an idiot.  Chevy Big-Block cylinder heads that were made for passenger cars have two types intake of ports:  The lower-performance oval port, and the larger high performance (but not very good for street use) square port designs.

Oval port:

Square port:

The Corvette had the oval-port cylinder heads.  While taking the engine apart, I was startled to find that the aftermarket intake manifold had square ports!  Stupid owner.  The inlet air was rushing down the huge square-port runners of the intake manifold, then hit the restriction of the oval port head.  The airflow *had* to experience quite a bit of turbulence where it hit the restriction.  You want the smoothest possible airflow into your engine, so somebody had screwed up, badly.

This was an unexpected cost to an already expensive rebuild...  I ditched the single-plane square port intake manifold for a dual-plane oval port manifold.  I also replaced the 780 CFM carburetor with a Holley 650 double pumper with a mechanical secondary.  The goal was to get away from high-rpm components, because it was a big block that wasn't even built for high RPM.

The Holley carbs were both a pain in the ass.  The old one leaked gas on the engine.  The new one leaked gas on the engine.  Both of them would get the float stuck and overflow gas on the engine.  They needed constant adjustment.  After owning two different models of Holley carburetors, I realized how awesome the Rochester Q-jet is.  It's nearly maintenance-free and rarely leaks or gets a stuck float bowl.

I went through that engine and didn't find anything else irregular, except that the rod bearings were .030 smaller than stock.  So the motor had been damaged at some point also.

Shortly after finishing the rebuild, after I had run the motor in, I found myself driving along near Seaworld, trapped behind a lot of cars that were moving way below the freeway speed.  I got really annoyed and impatient.  Another freeway lane opened up on the left, and nobody was getting into it.  I pulled over into the open lane and floored it.  The vette squatted down and the engine roared.

Immediately I heard a massive "thump" and saw parts come out from under the hood and go flying in the air overhead.  That wasn't very reassuring on a new motor rebuild.  Soon after that, steam started billowing out of the hood and blocking my view.

I pulled over and assessed the damage.  One of the motor mounts had failed, and the engine had lifted up on that side.  The radiator fan had hit the hood, cracking it open, and two fan blades had come off.  One of them punched a hole in the radiator (an expensive four-pass radiator), and the other fan blade had come out from under the car and gone flying overhead, caught in the wind.  It took a lot of time and money to get the car running again after that.

The car pulled hard to the right most of the time, unless you were accelerating, and then it went straight.  So depending on whether you were just going along, braking or accelerating, you had to make pretty big corrections in the steering.  I had always thought this veering around was due to front or rear wheel alignment, and I had the car aligned several times, with no improvement.  After several years of putting up with this, I finally figured out that it was the power steering pilot valve was out of adjustment, and just needed to be screwed in to a neutral point.

When I got the car it really handled poorly.  It was god-awful, and a real handful to control keep in a lane of traffic.  Part of that handling issue was the problem described above.  The other part of the problem was that it was riding on cheap-ass bias ply tires.  Bias Ply!!!  Eventually they wore out and I replaced them with pricey Goodyear radials, and the difference was amazing.  It was like going from a truck to a sports car.

The alternator caught on fire once, shortly after I replaced a different one that had simply quit working.  That was one of the few things the 'vette had in common with other GM models, so it didn't cost me a fortune to replace.

The transmission always crunched going into 4th gear.  The synchro was probably in the bottom of the Muncie.  I just double-clutched it like I was driving an old school bus when going into 4th.  It was one of the many problems that were just too minor to worry about on that car.

The rear window on some Corvette models was removable, and there was a little compartment to store it in.  Cool.  The rear window on my Corvette had been broken at some point, and the guy replaced it with a sheet of blue plexiglass.  Uncool.  I never got around to getting a piece of automotive glass for that.  It was so far down the list of things to do...  Things that kept the car running, for instance.

One night a buddy and I were headed down to Mission Beach when an ominous grinding sound came from the back of the car, and it stopped dead in the middle of the street.  I clutched it to keep the motor running, then had to really give it a hell of a lot of gas to move again.  I nursed it over to a parking spot using a lot of gas and clutch, as the rear end ground and popped.

I knew this was going to be bad.  I had it towed back to Sub Base until I had enough money to replace the guts of the rear end.   The ring had broken in the ring and pinion.  The positraction unit was also smoked.  That was a pretty expensive and long down-time event.  Since it was ruined, decided to replace the tall 3.08 gears with a lower 3.77 ratio for faster acceleration, which was not a good pick for a big block.  I probably should have gone with something in between, because at freeway speeds the big engine was running pretty fast.

At one point I had to rebuild the brakes, because they reached the point where I had to stop the car by pushing the brake pedal to the floor, and then stop the car by using the emergency brake.  The brakes were horribly complex.  Each brake caliper had four(!!!) cylinders and pistons that needed to be cleaned, honed, and repaired with parts from a kit.  The cylinders were so corroded that even after the rebuild, the brakes were still only so-so.  The aftermarket sells stainless steel sleeves that can be inserted in the cylinders, so I'm probably not the only one who had to deal with this issue.

The worst fuel mileage I ever got out of that car was 8 MPG, blasting up the road to Big Bear Lake.  The best fuel mileage I ever got was 13 MPG, gently cruising down the road from Big Bear Lake.  There have been times when I missed that car.  It really rocked when it was running.  But damn, it failed so often, so massively, and so expensively, that it wasn't very fun to own.

Inside view.  Just behind the shift lever is the engine nameplate data, with displacement, compression ratio, horsepower and torque ratings.


The car ended up gathering dust in the garage for a decade before I ended up selling it.

Ninth vehicle - 1981 Camaro Z28

The replacement for the Triumph was a VERY reliable car, and my first Chevrolet.  It was a 1981 Camaro Z28 with a 350 cubic inch V8, quadrajet 4V carburetor, and dual exhaust.  It had an automatic transmission, my first auto since the old Cougar.

It was really a pretty car, and looked just like this one.  To these older eyes, it looks a bit gaudy, but I really liked that car.  It was quiet, handled really well, and went reasonably fast without a lot of fuss and rattling.

The interior was pure 80's.  Nothing very inspiring about it.

When I bought the car, radar detectors were illegal in several states, and I still had a tendency to drive a bit over the speed limit.  I installed an under-hood radar detector and placed the remote up under the dash.  It would always give a little OK beep when I started the car, so I knew it was operating.

I liked this car a lot, until I got in a stoplight drag race with a shipmate back in in 1984.  He was driving a 1969 Mustang with a 302 2V, and I couldn't beat him...  He couldn't beat me either, but that wasn't the point.  I immediately wanted a faster car, and started looking for it.  I just now learned that the claimed output of this engine was only 173 horsepower!  That passed for a top-line performance car in 1980.  Good lord...

It wouldn't be too long before I started missing the old reliable Z28.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Seven and a Half: The dream car that got away...

Shortly before I joined the Navy, when I was "making a living" as a full-time short order cook and going to Boise State part time, I saw an ad in the paper that I had to check out.

A divorced lady with two kids was selling off the husband's E-Type convertible Jaguar.  It had a few minor dents and was missing the front bumper, but it was a solid car otherwise.  I test drove it a couple of times, and OH.  MY.  GOD... it was magnificent!  It was like the TR-6 but with twice the power and a hundred times the class.  People stare at you when you are in a convertible Jag.  The feeling I had while driving that car must be what heroin junkies are after when they shoot up.  It was heavenly.

The woman was asking $6000 for the car, and I would have bought it in a heartbeat for that much.  Problem was, nobody would lend me that kind of money, and it would have taken me years to save it.  I stayed in touch with the woman after joining the Navy, hoping to eventually save enough to buy it...  But she sold it before I ever got the chance :(

Here's what it looked like, color and all, although the paint wasn't quite as shiny:

This is the dashboard of the big cat.  Yes that is milled stainless steel, and yes you start it with the pushbutton on the dash after turning the ignition on.  250 kilometers per hour = 155 miles per hour, which the car can probably do.

This is what lurked under the hood:  A 3.8 liter, Triple carbureter, Dual Overhead Cam, Inline 6 cylinder engine, producing 265 horsepower.  A thing of great beauty, inside and out.

And... the experience was about like this:


The early Jags were awesome machines, but the later ones became heavier and even lost their great looks.  The headlights were raised up and lost their glass cover.  The dash became 100% vinyl and the cool toggle switches were replaced by cheesy rocker switches.  The motor went to 4.2 liters, but lost a carburetor, so the power stayed the same.  Eventually the inline 6 was replaced with a SOHC V-12, which still didn't make any more power than the original DOHC L-6.  Sad stuff.

Look at the poor fugly thing below, with its hideous hubcaps and ridiculous bumper.



Eighth vehicle - 1973 Triumph TR6

After my first Navy technical school in San Diego, I was going to be sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Station, just north of Chicago, Illinois.  This training would last for a couple of months.

Following the school in Chicago would come a six month school in Orlando, Florida.  After I finished class in Orlando would come the final school, a six month class in upstate New York.

At that time, the only transportation I had was the unreliable but wickedly fast KH 500 motorcycle, which I was NOT going to ride on a long distance trip, ever again.  Instead I had the bike shipped back to Idaho, which cost about as much as I paid for the motorcycle.  A high school friend kept the bike for me as I flew from school to school.

In the Chicago area I didn't mind being without transportation; they a have wonderful commuter train system there.  Things changed when I got to Orlando, however.  There wasn't much opportunity to get out and explore places without a vehicle.  Soon enough I began looking for sports cars in the newspaper.  Eventually I found a 'decent' 1973 TR-6.  It needed a bit of work.

It looked about like this, right down to the aftermarket wheels that I very much disliked.

I was very fortunate that Orlando (And later, San Diego Sub Base) had "Auto Hobby Shops".  These were places where you could rent a stall on a daily or weekly basis, borrow tools, and repair or maintain your car - if you didn't happen to be out to sea.  I don't know if the Navy still does this, but for me and my problematic vehicles, it was a Godsend.

The first problem with the new TR-6 was the front brake rotors.  They were massively warped, so slowing the car down was pretty exciting (and I don't mean "fun" exciting).  While braking, the steering wheel would start rapidly pulling one way and then the other, all the while the car was shimmying to a stop.  I had the brake rotors turned for the price of a six pack of Budweiser, and the brakes were never an issue again.

Next was the ominous "clunk" whenever you got on the gas or let off the gas.  I jacked the car up and found that the Independent Rear Suspension universal joints were sloppy.  I ordered replacements, and as soon as they arrived I removed the old universal joints.  A universal joint is supposed to look like the one below:

The TR6 being a Florida car had a fair bit of rust, but where I found the most rust was where the Needle Roller bearings once were.  I found rust powder and a few loose rusty pins that looked like they might have once been needle bearings.  Once I replaced the universal joints the car handled and ran pretty well... but it still had those god-awful magnesium wheels.

After a lot of scraping and saving, I replaced the awful smaller rims with stock rims and new Michelin radials.  The car didn't corner as well, because it now sat slightly higher, but it looked and ran right, finally!

 I drove this car from Orlando, Florida to upstate New York with no problem whatsoever.  I drove it all over in both places.  It was a great little car once I got all the problems ironed out.  It didn't even have any electrical fires!

For reasons I can no longer recall, I decided to trade this car in on a brand new Ford Mustang GT...

... but this was not to be, because Ford Motor Credit wouldn't front me the money.  Their loss on a car sale and on the interest they would have earned from making the loan.

Instead, General Motors was willing to make an auto loan to me, and so they got to sell a (slightly used) car.  This one.


Seventh vehicle - 1976 Kawasaki KH 500

The seventh vehicle that I owned, and bought in 1980, I still have today - it has been my baby since shortly after high school.  That is the 1976 KH 500 (link is to a 1974). The engine in this bike is the notorious two-stroke Kawasaki Triple.  Wikipedia says this about it:

Sixth vehicle - 1978 Kawasaki KE125

The sixth vehicle I owned was a brand-new Kawasaki KE125.  This was an awful, under-powered motorcycle with a six speed transmission (to make the most of its meager 13 horsepower).  This was a dual-purpose bike.  It had suspension and tires for off-road, but it also had a headlight, horn and turn signals.  That way you didn't need to haul the motorcycle to the off-road trail in the back of your truck (which I didn't have).

The bike looked like this:

There were a couple of good things about this bike.  It got me around reliably, and without too much expense.  But the most important thing about this bike is that it taught me that I was dreadful at riding off-road.  I didn't own it very long, and did not miss it in any way.

Fifth vehicle - 1969 Triumph TR-6

Possibly one of the coolest cars I ever owned was a Triumph TR-6.  There was a lot to like about the Triumph.  It had a 2500cc inline 6 cylinder pushrod engine that had a ton of torque, and developed 125 horsepower.  The car had wonderful handling and was pretty reliable, in spite of the Lucas electrical system.

Part of the reason the little TR-6 handled so well was because it had independent rear suspension. Most rear-wheel drive cars have a solid rear axle and a differential.  The solid axle means that whenever one of the rear wheels hits an irregularity in the road, part of that force is transmitted across the axle to the opposite rear wheel, and this does nothing for handling.

Below, a typical solid rear axle with differential.  These are tough and strong, but they don't have great handling.

An independent rear suspension (IRS) has two half-axles, connected to the differential through a pair of universal joints.  Each rear wheel can move up or down with the road surface, and not impact the other wheel's up/down motion.  This reduces chassis roll whenever one wheel hits a bump or a dip, and contributes to a huge improvement in the vehicle's handling and road grip.

Below is a video of a guy driving his later TR-6 through his neighborhood (It has the fugly federally-mandated 5 MPH rubber bumper guards).  At about the 5:25 mark he gets on the gas a little and the inline 6 makes that awesome sound.


My first TR-6 (I have owned three of them now) looked just like this.  Notice the bumper doesn't have the goofy rubber things that you saw in the video.

The TR-6 has a nice open and simple engine bay.  Front is right.

The car had some serious electrical issues, as British cars usually do.  When I first bought it, I didn't notice that the ammeter constantly was showing a slightly negative current flow.  After I had owned it for about a week, the car died suddenly, and I was clueless as to the reason.  I got a buddy to bring me some gas.  It started, but only ran for a little bit before dying when I turned on the headlights. That's when I figured out the charging system had an issue.  After getting a spare charged battery, I was able to drive it home.

The charging system had two issues:  A fried rectifier and a fried solid-state voltage regulator.  A very knowledgeable friend helped me identify and then correct both issues without having to buy expensive parts.  The rectifier we replaced three diodes on, and the voltage regulator we replaced with a Chrysler mechanical type that cost $3 at the junkyard.

The Chrysler regulator is simple and rugged.  As the voltage gets too high, an electromagnet pulls a contact open, which de-energizes the alternator field winding.  When system voltage drops back to normal, a spring pulls the contact closed, re-energizing the alternator.  This happens several times per second, and you get a fairly constant output voltage.  Tabs to adjust the spring tension adjusts the 12V output voltage.

With that fixed, I had many years of happy motoring in the TR-6.  One thing it always did was pull to the right a little bit, and clunked when I turned hard right.  I never understood why this was until after I had sold it.  The guy who bought it came back and told me that the upper A-Arm mount was broken off from the frame.  I honestly didn't know what he was talking about, because I didn't know anything about suspension at the time.  Hopefully he got it welded for cheap.

Another time one night, I went to go somewhere in the TR-6.  As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, massive amounts of smoke started pouring of the dash.  I shut off the ignition and checked under the dash, but could still see wiring glowing red-hot under there.  I quickly popped open the hood and disconnected the battery before the car could burn to the ground.

The following day I looked under the dash and found a few burned up wires, and wrapped them in elecrical tape, so they could not touch one another.  Crossing my fingers, I re-connected the battery.  Happily there was no further smoke, the car started fine, and everything electrical still worked.  It was just a weird isolated electrical event.

Below is the international warning symbol that the TR-6 contains British electrical components.


One of the things I liked about this car was the cool fuel filler - the design was right out off the race track.  It was spring-loaded had a quick-release lever, so that when you moved the lever with your thumb, the cap would pop open.  Also, it was located in the middle of the rear deck of the car, so you could fuel from either side.

None of these pictures give you an idea how small and nimble these cars are, so here's a perspective shot.  I'm not sure what's going on with this guy's hand - maybe it's slipping into another dimension...

I loved that little car.  It had enough torque that if you were decelerating in first gear and then stomped on the gas, the car would squat down in back and chirp the rear tires.  After I sold it, I missed it so much that after a couple of years I bought another one.  And later on, I bought a third.  I may get another one at some point.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Fourth vehicle - 1969 MGC GT

The third car I had access to (alas, I didn't own it) was a 1969 MGC GT.  This was a highly unreliable car that was super-fun to drive whenever I could get it to run.  A friend of my mother's had left it with us while she was on sabbatical for a year.  I took care of it for her by keeping it running and repairing it when it needed to be fixed, which was most of the time.

During that period of time, the MGB was one of the most common sports cars around.  If you said you had an MG, people would assume you had a B.  The MGB had a 4 cylinder 1800cc pushrod engine that developed 95 HP.  Not too shabby for such a small and light weight car.

On the odd occasion you might see an older MGA.  You will likely never see a MGC, and if you do, they are easy to mistake for a B.  Only minor differences in the hood (to accommodate the 3000 cc straight six engine) and the badge identify it.

1956 MGA

1966 MGB

1966 MGC.  The only difference is the hood - and what's underneath!

Here's the difference:
MGB: 4 cylinder 1800cc 95 Horsepower

MGC: 6 cylinder 2900cc 145 Horsepower

Unfortunately the inline 6 cylinder engine weighed about 200 lbs more than the 4 cylinder one.  The car under-steered... a lot.  It got a poor reputation for handling, but with modern tires it apparently makes a fine machine.  The engine had lots of room for performance improvement and modded versions can make about 30% more power reliably.  These cars are now quite rare and collectible.

Driving this car was like being in a go-kart.  It felt like you were barely off the pavement, and it had an awesome-sounding exhaust.  Factory dual exhausts, in fact!  I learned how to synchronize carburetors on this machine, and learned a little about British automotive electrical systems (they suck).  The car's battery was two 6 volt cells.  One battery in a compartment behind each seat, connected in series for 12 volts.  The batteries were back there to improve weight distribution and handling, on account of the heavy engine.

The MGB and MGC came in two body styles - the roadster (convertible) and the GT (Gran Turismo, or hatchback).  The one I had the opportunity to drive was a GT.  It looked identical to the one below.  A very tiny and fun car!

It was a very cool car to drive - when it ran.  I loved it.


One really bad experience I had though, was when the left front wheel came off.  The wheels are held in place by a screw-on center spinner cap that you tighten up using a brass mallet (supplied with the car).  The wheel has very shallow splines to keep it from spinning around on the hub.  On this occasion the splines wore out, and when I put on the brakes, the hub stopped, but the wheel did not, because hub and wheel splines were sliding over each other.  It made an alarming growling sound as the splines wore down - and then the wheel popped off the car.

Below, the parts that almost bankrupted a teenage kid back in the 1970s.





Fortunately the accident didn't cause any damage to the bodywork.  I still had to replace the wheel (splines ruined), the brake rotor (the car fell on it), and the hub (splines ruined).  Of course none of the damaged MGC parts were the same as the more common MGB :)  It was hugely expensive, and the replacement parts took a long time to arrive.  Fortunately I got it all back together and didn't have to explain anything to the absent owner.