Saturday, 10 December 2011

Short blat to collect the christmas tree

Short blat to collect the christmas tree:

It was a beautiful day today and I hadn't been in the car for a couple of weeks, so I used it as an excuse to go out and get our christmas tree. We have two saloon cars, neither of which have folding rear seats, so the Caterham was a surprisingly practical alternative. I managed to combine this with a short blat around some of the local lanes, but gave up after half an hour because my hands were getting pretty cold. On the way home with the tree sticking out of the top of the car I got some pretty funny looks, but who cares....tis the season to be jolly, and I felt jolly today!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Collecting the Car

Collecting the Car:

This morning my long suffering wife took me down to Caterham Dartford to collect my car following it`s post build check and IVA. To say the location is less than glamorous is an understatement, especially on a Saturday morning where the place looks deserted.  I got to meet the chap who had been working on my car, who said it was a good build, which was nice to hear. I suspect they say that to everyone who comes to collect their new-build after it's post build check, but it put a smile on my face none the less.

There was another owner there collecting his R500 after a service, so we had a bit of a chat. It turns out he has had endless problems with the car miss-firing, so is actually looking to get shot of it, which was a real shame. Still, I couldn't have been more excited to get in and drive mine away, even if it did take me a good 10 - 15 minutes to get in and buckled up (they may be quick cars, but you certainly don’t make a quick getaway). The drive back home was rather dull, round the M25 and up the A10, but driving a Caterham is such an event it makes even the most boring drive into a mini-adventure.

Initial impressions of the car are very good. It has strong acceleration up to 80mph, after which it tails off noticeably like all lower powered Caterhams with a windscreen in place. The engine sounds fine, with a nice exhaust roar and some lovely pops and bangs on the overrun, which give it some real character despite the humble origins. The most impressive aspect, as always, is the immediate response from the steering, throttle and brakes, which make you feel absolutely connected to the car. Even the ride is ok and certainly better than my last 7, but I haven't really pushed the handling too far as yet to see if this will cause compromises elsewhere.

Later on in the day I took the car for a proper blat along some of the narrower country roads around home and it came alive......there really is nothing like driving a Caterham on a pleasant evening with the roof down, the engine singing and the smells of the country filling your nose. It has been 5 years since I last owned one, but all the fantastic memories came flooding back in an instant....most fondly the easily controlled oversteer out of each and every roundabout! Goodness only knows how much fun the racing is going to be J

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Academy Seminar & IVA

On Saturday I went up to Caterham Midlands for a seminar on the Academy with my fellow 2012 Academics. It was a fantastic day and a great opportunity to meet many of the guys that I will be racing with throughout 2012.....they are a diverse, but great group, united by a shared passion. It was fascinating to compare build stories with those that are building their cars and share our fears as well as excitement for the year ahead. If truth be told I think we were also starting to eye each other up and work out who our main competition was going to be :-)

The Caterham team did a fantastic job of giving us an idea of what to expect from the year and answering all of our questions, no matter how silly (do we have to bring our own brolly girls? being the best). The highlight for me was having a couple of the guys from the 2011 Academy come and talk us through their experiences. What was absolutely clear was that it had been a great experience for them and that they had formed some fantastic friendships along the way. It was really apparent that they had caught the racing bug badly and were looking forward to their 2012 season.

We had presentations from Book a Track on track days and tuition, REIS on Insurance, PRG on trailers and Demon Tweaks on race wear. These were all really useful, but also highlighted how much money there is still to spend getting ready for next year. I hadn't even considered things like Hans devices for my helmet, but it became clear that it is something that I should really consider. However if I do go for a Hans device I also need to get my seatbelt mounts modified at the chassis manufacturer, for yet more expenditure in time and cost. At least I now know what I need to do between now and the first sprint in March and that I need to prioritise the key decisions. First off.....what colour race suit do I go for (as Simon said on Saturday, if you aren't winning, you need to be looking good!).

Today I got an e-mail from Caterham saying that my car had failed its IVA on a seatbelt issue. Being confused and slightly concerned as to exactly what the problem was, I phoned Kate at Caterham Dartford and she told me that the seatbelt buckle was faulty (a manufacturing issue) and that it needed to be replaced under warranty. Later that day I got a call to say that they had fixed it and put it in for a re-test, which it had passed. I have to say I am really glad I decided to get Caterham to put the car through for me, as it saved me the time and cost of taking time out for two tests as well as getting the faulty part fixed, which would likely have taken me several weeks in elapsed time and a couple of days out of really was money well spent!

I am obviously delighted and am now itching to pick the car up and get driving as soon as possible. Caterham are also doing the registration for me and if the DVLA are on top form there is a chance I might be able to pick her up on Saturday. I really do hope so as I started this journey over a year ago when my wife and little girls came down to Caterham with me to put the deposit down on the car as a birthday present (the photos below are of that day and are where I got the idea for the colour scheme for my car). The waiting has been painful at times, but as they say....good things come to those that wait....and I have done enough waiting :-)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Post Build Check Update & Time Lapse Video)

Post Build Check Update & Time Lapse Video:

I heard back from Caterham today on my post build check, which went well, but highlighted a few issues that needed sorting. The comforting thing was that almost all of them were items that I had pointed out to them as being required because I had run out of time, but there was one of concern, which was a cracked A-frame. Caterham claim this was due to the diff not being properly spaced, but I am adamant that it was +/-2mm as per the instructions, so will have a chat with them about it. The rest are related to tidying up the engine bay wiring and replacing a couple of washers that were the wrong size, so not too bad a result for someone that has never done something like this before and did it largely un-aided in two weeks. I am pleased.

The car is booked in for its IVA test on the 22nd, which Caterham will do for me. Having thought long and hard about it I decided that the lack of time and lack of brownie points with the family made this the sensible option. They will also register the car for me, so it will be ready for collection from the 29th November onwards. To say I can't wait to collect her and go for that first drive is a massive understatement!

In the mean time I thought I would put up a link to the time lapse video of the build, which seems to show me displaying copious amounts of builders bum......enjoy :-) It is certainly a nice memory of the whole build process and I really enjoyed watching it back last night.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 16)

Day 16:

Yesterday was my last day working on the car before Caterham pick her up on Monday to complete the post build inspection and put her through the IVA. I had originally planned to do all of this myself, but have well and truly run out of brownie wife has been fantastic about the whole process and very supportive, but I work very long hours and don't really see my kids during the week, so being away from them at weekends is just too unfair on everyone.

My brother was over for the weekend, so came to give me a hand. I got him working through the IVA checklist whilst I finished up a number of the jobs I knew I still had to complete. I spent most of that time trying to get the plug out of the diff so I could top it up with oil, which was a bit of a pain, but eventually managed with an improvised tool consisting of a cut down 14mm bolt and some mole-grips (there just wasn’t enough room between the diff and de-Dion tube to get my 14mm socket in). I then wired up the front lights, got the IVA mirrors fitted, put the rear view mirror in and finally fitted the fuel filler cover. All jobs relatively easily and quickly completed. Meanwhile my brother put IVA covers on all of the suspension components, exhaust and all around the cycle looks rubbish and I can't believe that it will really make any difference in an accident, but needs must and I want the car to go through the IVA first time, so on it went. How long it remains on the car I just can't say!

After 5 hours in the garage, we dropped the car down onto her wheels, started her up and drove her outside onto the drive, which was a fantastic feeling and gave me a real sense of achievement. I let her run up to temperature, checked that the fan cut in and that I had no leaks. Everything seemed fine, but there are a couple of small things that are not quite right yet. The oil pressure gauge isn't reading (despite plenty of oil) and the tacho occasionally flickers, which suggests that one of my earths isn't quite right or that a fuse is playing up, but these are small things.

I then drove her to the end of the close and back again......well just because I wanted the satisfaction, before driving her back into the garage and getting the paperwork ready for Caterham. I have left them a list of a few things that I want/need checking/completing. I know that I could do these final few jobs myself in less than a day and am a bit annoyed that I didn't have the time to do them, but my family time is so precious that discretion dictated I leave them to Caterham next week.

This whole process has been hugely absorbing and has given me a massive sense of satisfaction. It has been hard work and frustrating at times, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again and for now I am just looking forward to getting the car back from Caterham and starting to use her in anger. I have been without a Caterham for almost 6 years, but getting into my new baby and driving her to the end of the road and back has made me realise that has been 6 years too long....I can't wait for that first proper drive post IVA!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 15)

Day 15:

Today was my last day on the car before I have to go back to work and unfortunatley I didn't quite get quite as far as was hoping to. I think I am probably 2 - 3 days off being totally finished, but loosing a day to the diff installation and spending far too long on the seats put me back a bit. I also realise that I have probably put myself under a bit too much pressure to get it done in the two weeks available, but with a young family and a busy job time is very limited. Still, I am really pleased with what I have done and know that I haven't cut any corners in anything I have done, which was important given the cost and pride involved.

I started today by securing the front passenger wing and then moving on to the drivers side, which took a couple of hours and, with the exception of the wiring for the front lights, was the last major bit of assembly that I had to do. I then spent time preparing the car for its first start up, which involved adjusting the throttle cable, filling the car with fuel, filling and bleeding the brake and clutch systems. The brakes went just fine, but the clutch was a real pain, with the bleed nipple in a horribly hard to reach. I am not happy with the result and will probably have another go at it in the next week. With the brakes done I could get the rear hubs done up to the correct 270NM and put the wheels on. I then filled the engine with oil and the cooling system with de-ionised water and anti-freeze, which highlighted a couple of unions that needed tightening further to avoid minor leaks.

It was at this point that the day became hardwork and incredibly messy. The infamous gearbox plug required me to take an angle grinder to an allen key and spend a good hour under the car trying to locate and extracate the plug. With the plug out it was time to rig up a real Heath Robbinson combination of pipes and funnels to channel gearbox oil into the gearbox. The result was that after at least another hour I was litterally covered in gearbox oil and not entirley sure how much went in the gearbox and how much went over me. It was a pig of a job and not one I want to repeat, so I will ask Caterham to check carefully that there is enough oil in the gearbox when the car goes in for its post build check. This job genuinley rivalled the diff for frustration!

At this point I dropped the car onto the floor and connected the battery, which scared the crap out of me by sparking visciously the first time I connected the positive terminal. I then decided to start the car up for the first time and after turning her over for a little while she kicked into life on 3 cylinders. I had a good dig around, checkign HT leads, connections etc and gave it another go, at which point she fired properly and settled to a nice idle. There was quite a lot of smoke from the exhaust primaries, which is various oils burning off and it was late, so I decided not to make too much noise for fear of annoying the neighbours.

It was a satisfying point to leave the build on, even if I didn't manage to get quite as far as I had hoped. I still need to do the following jobs, but they will have to wait for next weekend:
- Connect and adjust the front lights
- Fill the diff with oil
- Bleed the clutch
- Adjust the throttle and clutch stops
- Set the suspension up
- Rivet on the heater blanking plate
- Give her a quick run around the block :-)

It has been frustrating, satisfying and hard work, but the reward so far has been fantastic and my appreciation for the car and how it works has grown significantly. Above all I feel as though I have learnt a huge amount and hope it will stand me in good stead when I start racing early next year.

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 14)

Day 14:

Today, well yesterday (I had an old university friend come to stay yesterday evening, so went to the pub with him in the evening instead of updating my blog.....sorry for those avid followers) I got cracking with the bodywork in an attempt to make the old girl look like a real car, or as real as any Caterham ever does!

First off I started with the rear wings, which went on without too many problems. The most time consuming part of the process was cutting out the rubber strip that sits between the wing and the side skin, but it was worth taking time on this to get a decent fit. With that done it was simply a case of bolting the wings on and fitting the rear lights. Like many of the jobs you undertake when building a Caterham it feels as though you need three hands, but it was satisfying to see the end result. I don't think it would be uncharitable to say that the rear lights, well all of the lights on the car, are of rather dubious quality. So many of the parts Caterham use are beautifully finished, but then there are some that look like they have come straight off a 1970's Austin Maxi and in all honesty these probably have!

With the rear wings done I bolted the exhaust together properly and moved onto the front cycle wings, which put up rather more of a fight. I actually only managed to get the passenger side done with the time available, but was pleased with the result. With the indicator fitted to the wing it was a case of lining up and drilling the wing and the wing stays and making sure that the wing fitted properly relatively to the wheel. I phoned Caterham at this point to ask a general question and was told that if I wanted to I could just glue the wings on (I always seem to get these useful insights about an hour too late), which didn't seem quite right to me. In the end I decided to drill and bolt the front of the wing for extra security and glue the back. The most frustrating part of the whole process was trying to feed the indicator wiring through the wing stay and out of the tiny hole at the bottom. After 30 minutes trying I gave up on the day, leaving the front wing loosely fitted and went to see my mate for a beer, but not before putting the rest of the bodywork on to get a first glimpse of what she will look like when finished!

It was a good day!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 13)

Day 13:

After the success and satisfaction of yesterday today had a lot to live up to and spectacularly succeeded in frustrating me. Again, it is the simple jobs that seem to take the time and today it was the seats.

I started the day by fitting the transmission tunnel cover and the gear knob, which were both satisfying and straightforward jobs to complete. I then set about the drivers seat and got thoroughly confused by the alignment of the holes in the floor, which didn't marry up with those of the seat runners on the drivers seat. After a couple of hours of putting the seat in, taking it out and putting it back in again I decided to phone the ever patient Sean at Caterham. It turns out the that holes in the floorpan for the seats had been drilled incorrectly in my car and that I needed to drill out new holes for the front mounting points of the runners. With this done I then spent another hour or so trying to locate and pass through the bolts that hold the seat runners to the floor. I can only liken it to trying to play a game of Jenga, blindfolded with your hand shoved through a letter box! I managed to get all of the bolts located and passed through, but so far have only managed to do the front two up. I can’t work out how I hold the rear two still whilst tightening the locknuts from below.

I then moved onto the passenger seat which put up a similar fight. I eventually worked out that the combination of lowered floors and tillet seats meant that the rear most mounting bracket for the harness was causing it to foul the seat and not allowing it to locate properly. With the harness moved to the front mounting point the seat went in without too many issues. At this point I should have called it quits, but a friend popped around with a brake bleed kit and decided that we should prime the brakes. It was at this point we discovered that there is an issue with the front brake unions where they leave the engine bay and head to the callipers. Basically the female union on both sides is bottoming out before it seals properly. I treble checked the instructions, but it looks as though the combination of washers and locknuts is too thick to allow the male and female unions to come together properly. Another call to Caterham tomorrow should hopefully provide the answers I need.

Tomorrow is going to be focused on getting the wings on and the rear lights attached. After that I am into final checks and hopefully start-up. The end is starting to feel near, which is both a great relief and quite sad. I just hope the last few days go OK and don't flag up too many issues!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 12)

Day 12:

Today didn't start off too well, but actually ended up being very satisfying. My first job was to attach the prop shaft to the diff, but at this point I realised to my horror that the two bottom bolts holding the diff in were fouling the prop-shaft and needed to come out......yep, the diff had to come out for the 3rd time! I really could have kicked myself at this point. It was another pig of a job, but was done in an hour or so and enabled me to finally move onto other jobs.

With the diff back in I attached the prop-shaft, got de-dion tube in, fitted the rear dampers, connected the rear radius arms and fitted the A-frame within a couple of hours. It amazes me how you can spend four hours fitting a boot cover and get the whole of the rear suspension and braking system done in a similar amount of time. I finished up by fitting the drive-shafts, hub mounts, hubs, disks and callipers before calling it a day. It was a really satisfying afternoon and one of those days where you make really good progress with seemingly very little effort.

This now means that the front and the back of the car are pretty much complete and that the remaining major jobs are fitting the seats, sorting out the lighting and fitting the front and rear wings. With those jobs done it will then be into the final checks and hopefully the first start-up.

I am now celebrating a good day with a very large glass of red wine and a satisfying feeling in my stomach which may or may not be alcohol related. I am really looking forward to pushing onto the final stretch and getting the car down onto the wheels and starting her up!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 11)

Day 11:

I was waiting for my new handbrake cable to arrive from Caterham this morning, so got on with some of the other interior jobs whilst waiting for the postman to turn up in rural Hertfordshire.

I started with the boot cover, which looked like a 30 minute job, but took me all morning in the end. I took my time to make sure I got everything was lined up properly and that I didn't miss-drill any of the holes required for the harness fixings or the poppers around the side and back of the boot. Measuring, drilling, fixing, re-measuring etc. took plenty of time, but was well worth the effort, with a nice tight fitting achieved. It also required me to un-do the roll cage to enable the outermost harness fixings to be secured, so I was going over old ground for some of the morning.

I then moved onto the harnesses, which went on without too much of a fight, although it took me a while to work out how to get the crutch straps attached. The postman arrived just after lunch, but I decided to crack on with the interior and get the seats fitted. This didn't go quite according to plan, with the passenger seat putting up quite a fight. I got the rails attached to the base OK, but managed to cross-thread one of the bolts into the rail when trying to fit the seat into the car. To cut a long story short I had to cut the bolt out and will have to order some new fixing rails.....not great.

It was at this point I decided to get the new handbrake cable in and the diff bolted up into position. After all of the faffing around over the last few days this actually took me less than an hour, so was a good note to end on. This means I can crack on with the rear suspension whilst I order some new mounting brackets for the passenger Tillet seat, so although pissed off with myself at making a mess of it, it doesn't stop me from making progress with the build. Here is hoping that the rear suspension goes together without too many issues.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 10)

Day 10:

I phoned Caterham first thing this morning to get advice on the handbrake situation and was advised that it would be a safe bet to change it just in case. I think it is the right thing to do given the hassle involved in changing it now vs changing it once all of the rear end is in. Given Caterham can send me a new one to arrive tomorrow morning it seemed like a good excuse to carry on doing other things, so today I continued working on the interior and weather gear.

First off I got the knee protector panels located and fixed to the chassis rails under the dash, inserting and fixing the rubber trimming that goes along the top of the inner side-skins as I went. It looks like a 5 minute job, but took me a couple of hours by the time I had got all of the holes drilled and the rivets in both sides. Once the inner side-skins were done I could move onto the cage and get it fitted properly, which wasn't too much of a challenge once I had manhandled the rear locating holes into alignment with the mounting brackets in the boot. I am not sure if they do it on purpose, but everything on a Caterham seems to be 1 - 2mm out of alignment, so this took a bit of brute force and some swearing, but at least I know it isn't going to go anywhere now it is in.

With the cage on and all the bolts torqued up properly I moved onto the hood, getting the bars bolted to the mounting brackets at the front of the boot and the tensioning straps attached to the chassis rail at the back of the boot. The hood then went up so that I could line up the doors and get them mounted. This was another pretty straightforward job, but it took plenty of time to drill the holes for the mounting brackets and then line up and attach the various mounting poppers on the chassis rails (which fought a long battle with my drill-bits, blunting a number of them as we went along).

Whilst these seem like funny little jobs to be doing at this stage, there is a method to the madness, as they all need to be done before I can move onto the boot cover tomorrow, which has to go on before the belts can go in and the seats after that. I think there is probably another day of work on the interior/weather gear before it is all finished, but I may leave that for a later day and move back onto the rear suspension, assuming the new handbrake cable comes through on time. It would be great to have the car down on its wheels and started up by Thursday. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Caterham Academy 2012 - Build (Day 9)

Day 9:
I wasn't looking forward to today’s jobs, but in the end I had quite a good day.

Firstly I fitted the expansion bottle and associated hoses, before fitting the wires to the alternator. Both jobs had been left whilst I waited for Caterham to send missing parts through and I just wanted to get them out of the way.

I then got stuck into the job I was looking forward to least, removing the diff to take the handbrake out and swap the cables around. In the end the diff came down without too many issues. I then spent a while faffing around with the cables to make sure they were orientated the right way and weren't rubbing together, as Caterham told me that if they were it was an IVA failure. Apparently the handbrake bracket is slightly canted to one side to hold the cables apart, but only if you cross them over in the right way. Having got that sorted I noticed that the rubber gaiter at one end of the cable was split, which gave me a dilemma. Do I just stick it in and hope it doesn't cause an issue come IVA, or do I err on the side of caution and get Caterham to send me a new one? Being Sunday I couldn't call them, but not wanting to take the diff out again I decided discretion was the better part of valour and I moved on to another job and will give Caterham a call tomorrow to check the best course of action.

I then got de-dion tube out and set about getting the rear brake lines attached, ready for the tube to go in when the diff is finally sorted. With that done I moved onto the roll cage, which is now loosely on the car, whilst I sort out the trim between the chassis rails and the side skins. I think seeing the cage go on gave me a real lift as it is another very noticeable step forward for relatively little effort, whereas the diff was a whole days work and you couldn't really see the difference!

Tomorrows jobs will depend on what Caterham say about the handbrake cable. If it isn't an issue then I will get that in and the diff finally fitted, before moving onto the de-dion tube etc. If I have to wait for a new cable then I will get the cage fully fitted then onto the seats and other interior bits and bats.....basically whatever I can do without the diff being in first.