Spitfire Diary

10th February, 2001 - Spotted advert in North London Auto Trader for "Triumph Spitfire 1500 1977, S Reg, Inca Yellow with black interior, new MoT, restored several years ago now good condition, £1000s worth of receipts, soft top, radio cassette, moving abroad forces sale £1300 o.n.o. Tel 01908 XXXXXX Milton Keynes". Arranged to see it. Bought it for the full asking price. Drove it home in the dark, in driving rain. Terrifying.

11th February, 2001 - Joined the Triumph Sports Six Club via the Internet; subscribed to the Triumph and Spitfire mailing lists.

12th February, 2001 - Attended Herts and Beds branch meeting of the TSSC. Hitchin flooded, so arrived with wet legs. Memo to self - don't drive the Spit through floods at 60 mph. Second memo to self - buy grommets.

14th February, 2001 - woke to find radio aerial snapped off. Decided to treat as consumable item, and replaced it with cheapest alternative (£2.95 from Billy Auto-parts).

19th February, 2001 - Ordered the following spares from the TSSC:

Ordered a set of grommets from Six Spares (£4.80 + VAT, postage a whopping £2.50 + VAT, insufficient quantity of grommets in kit).

Ordered the following spares from T. D. Fitchett:

22nd February, 2001 - new Tax Disc arrives from the GPO. Six month disc sent; twelve month disc paid for. Rang the manager and moaned.

23rd February, 2001 - replacement tax disc arrives, together with grovelling apology.

24th February, 2001 - first day with the top down. Went to Priory Country Park, sat in the car in the sun with a bottle of beer and a couple of cheese sandwiches. Idyllic!

27th February, 2001 - decide to name the new car Carly, partly as an acronym for CAR Light Yellow, but mostly after a girl I had a huge crush on at about the time my car was being built...

1st March, 2001 - woke up this morning to discover that not only was there a couple of inches of snow on Carly, there was a couple of inches of snow in Carly. Some time the previous night, a passing thug - apparently not a fan of convertibles - slashed the roof open (slashing the sun visors while he was at it), bent the front hood strut and stole my tax disc. Swore a lot. Covered the gaping hole in Carly's roof with a plastic bag. Ordered the following from TSSC:

Ordered new Tax Disc.

2nd March, 2001 - drove to and from work in the snow with a plastic bag doing the job of the roof. Stopped three times to re-fix plastic bag. Cold, wet and miserable.

3rd March, 2001 - see 2nd March. :-(

5th March, 2001 - Carly to Ives Garage for carb rebuild, tuning etc. Kevin demands metering needles and suggests replacement of most electrical bits and pieces. Claims Carly is only running on three cylinders (not true - sometimes she runs on four). Says that current fuel consumption of 14 mpg is unsurprising.

8th March, 2001 - woke up to find off-side wing mirror has been stolen overnight. Why me?

10th March, 2001 - chased around town trying to find anyone who stocks chrome wing mirrors. No joy.

14th March, 2001 - Ordered the following spares from Rimmer Bros.:

31st March, 2001 - Carly to Ives Garage for fitting of new metering needles, retune etc. Collect Carly. Kevin points out the problem with the banana-shaped needle. Claims that Carly is not only now running on four cylinders, but is also under the legal limit for emissions. I collapse in shock. Top speed commensurate with sanity now 90+. Fuel gauge needle no longer falling visibly with engine on.

2nd April, 2001 - return bent metering needle to Rimmer Bros. for FOC replacement.

3rd April, 2001 - receive replacement needle from Rimmers. Incorrect part supplied! Ring up in fury. Arrange to swap for correct part.

4th April, 2001 - visit TSSC member Peter Saunders and relieve him of the following:

Cut paper template for Perspex "racing" quarterlights.

No sign of replacement metering needle from Rimmers.

5th April, 2001 - ordered the following items from Rimmer Bros.:






In general, I was rather upset by the way this order was dealt with. I made up the order to a value which qualified me for their interest-free credit (well, why not?), and then discovered that the procedure for obtaining this required filling in several forms, and would take a couple of weeks - time I did not have, since I needed the goods in time for the Easter Weekend. I ended up paying for the whole lot up front. The quality of packing was astoundingly bad, with all the fasteners thrown into one bag, and fragile items packed loose with heavy ones. Eight weeks after placing my order, I am still struggling to resolve the last few outstanding issues with Rimmer Bros.

Ordered quarterlights cut to shape in 3mm acrylic from British Mica Co. Ltd. (£25 + VAT for the pair. Excellent accuracy, and ready within two hours.)

Still no sign of metering needle.

6th April - no metering needle in the post from Rimmers.

7th April, 2001 - paint hard-top with black coach enamel (£5.99 a tin from Halfords). Cut seals for quarterlights from 1.5mm rubber insertion.

Still no metering needle from Rimmers. Was it something I said?

8th April, 2001 - metering needle arrives!

9th April, 2001 - with the top down, and the radio tuned to Big George Webley's 6.00 p.m. show on BBC Three Counties Radio (Chuck Berry today - wonderful open-top driving music), I headed off to the TSSC meeting in Whitwell. Big George is an occasional friend of mine (he's friendly when we see each other, but that is only once or twice a year), and a genuine weirdo muso. He's knocked around in the music business for years, and got himself a slot on as a DJ on the BBC by jamming their signal and broadcasting his own choice of music... Nice to hear a familiar voice on the radio, particularly when it is introducing some cracking records.

Driving down the A600, a nice-looking 1500 Spit went the other way, and we drivers exchanged greetings, at a closing speed of about 160 mph. I think she had red hair, but this could just have been doppler shift.

The meeting at the Bull in Whitwell was the usual mixture of good beer and good conversation, with the added thrill of my having set this month's quiz. Luckily, some people knew some of the answers, so I was able to award the prizes (1960s and 1970s car mags, all covering various Triumphs in depth), which saved considerable embarrassment.

Left the pub tired and happy at about twenty past ten, and had an uneventful drive back in the dark to Bedford. I have discovered the secret of getting decent light out of Lucas headlamps - clean them.

10th April, 2001 - ordered a few more bits and pieces from Rimmer:




13th April, 2001 - 16th April 2001 - The Great Easter Weekend Repair Marathon. With the wife and child away for the weekend, and access to my mother's garage, I set to fixing everything I could think of... 34 man-hours later, I had achieved the following:

None of the electrical work could have been achieved without the remarkable knowledge and helpfulness of Tom O'Malley, who held my hand by e-mail throughout the process. Words cannot express my gratitude.

19th April, 2001 - Carly to Kevin at Ives Garage. I'm off on holiday tomorrow, and Kevin is going to do some of the nasty, dirty, heavy work for me while I'm away.

1st May, 2001 - ring Kevin on my return from the Black Sea. Carly is still in pieces. :-( I had left Kevin with the Rimmer Bros. catalogue, and instructions to contact them for any additional parts he might need. In retrospect this was a bad mistake. Ordered the Butterfly Clamps from Jigsaw Racing Services (£2.50 each - next-day delivery), and cancelled the back-order at Rimmers.

2nd May, 2001 - find that an abandoned Spitfire is being dismantled at my place of work, prior to being scrapped. Manage to grab a few bits and pieces that might come in handy, including the boot light assembly.

11th May, 2001 - collected Carly, and paid Kevin's bill. Despite what he says about losing money on work of this nature, I don't think he can be doing too badly:

He also purchased various parts from Rimmers, and charged them at cost. The sill replacement that was planned didn't happen, because he's got tendonitis in his right arm. He's asked me to give him a few weeks for the pain to subside. I think my bank manager might have a similar desire, so I gladly agreed...

Knowing that Carly was to meet Daffy and (possibly) Sophie the following morning, I fit boot-light assembly and hood bag, and give her a good wash this evening. I also bodged up a hardboard baffle to see if I could block the warm air that was blowing into the footwells through the gaps in the gearbox tunnel cover flange.

12th May, 2001 - Carly finally met Daffy, and I finally met Richard. The weather was absolutely glorious and our two cars were in approximately the same condition (so neither put the other to shame, which was nice!).

We pootled off to TRGB after waiting to see whether Tim Dafforn and Sophie were going to make it (they didn't). What an amazing place! A huge barn full of second-hand Triumph bits kept us both amused for a couple of hours, and we each managed to pick up bargains that didn't fit! (My wiper blades didn't fit the arms I already had, and Richard's tonneau cover had no headrest inserts and seemed a bit small; his hood bag was enormous, and presumably once belonged to a TR6!) TRGB's prices for second-hand goods are spectacularly low - I paid a total of GBP15.00 for a set of chrome wheel embellishers, a pair of chrome wipers, a washer bottle and a complete battery retainer assembly. Their new part prices are pretty good as well - the few bits and pieces I bought averaged 36% cheaper than Rimmer Brothers' prices - and they hold stock of things that Rimmer's list as "Not Currently Available".

Whilst we worked on our cars in the car park, there was a steady stream of immaculate TR6s driving in, plus an MG and an E-type. A very tasty white MkIV Spit also made a brief appearance.

The "meeting" broke up when Richard returned home to relieve his wife from baby-sitting duties, whilst I waited for a chap in a Volvo, who reckoned he had an original steering wheel and gearknob for Carly, to reappear. He turned up eventually, but the steering wheel was too early (it had the slots cut in the spokes). The gearknob was spot-on though, and cost me all of GBP3.00! I'm pleased to be able to report that I can now change into reverse without the gearknob coming off in my hand...

One of the really interesting things about comparing Daffy and Carly was to see where bits were missing and/or had been retrofitted. I had no idea that I was supposed to have engine valances, or a seal on the bulkhead for the bonnet to rest on, or a battery retainer! I also hadn't realised that a previous owner had retrofitted flat-faced MkIV front indicator/side-light assemblies in place of the angled ones that should have been present. I've left them on, because I think they look nicer, and I'm not so much of a stickler for originality that I will remove something pretty and replace it with something ugly.

Very many thanks to Richard and his family for being so welcoming, and to Richard and Daffy for introducing me to TRGB. We must do this again soon, and I must avoid importunate Volvo drivers, and make good on my promise to buy lunch!

13th May, 2001 - Carly has developed a worrying noise over the last day or so - a sort of dull knocking from somewhere at the rear of the car. The noise is a little like the sound of a helicopter in the distance, and it speeds up when I do, and slows down when I do. Hard cornering doesn't affect it, and nor does engaging the clutch. It is not constant, or terribly loud, but it is causing me concern. It doesn't sound like a wheel bearing problem. I address the question to the Spitfire mailing list, and am deluged with helpful repsonses, most of which suggest that I'm about to lose a Universal Joint.

14th May, 2001 - Carly to Ives Garage for UJ inspection. There seems to be no play in any of them, and Kevin advises me to keep driving until the noise gets worse or goes away.

18th May, 2001 - Set off for Richmond in North Yorkshire around 10.00 a.m. I was a little nervous about the ticking noise, but all seemed to go well. Carly drove perfectly smoothly and quietly up to Leicester Forest East services, where I stopped to take the hood down (the sun was threatening to come out...) As I was doing so, I heard the roar of an engine behind me, and saw a peculiar-looking black Spitfire pulling into a parking space a few yards away. I waited for the driver to get out and come and say hullo, but she didn't, so I walked over and greeted her, and we started to chat about her car - which I suppose should be called a Spit Sprint, since it had a two-litre Dolomite Sprint engine installed! The bonnet was from a GT6, and had an extra "power bulge" for the oil filler cap. Nice car, nice girl. I hope the windscreen repairers arrived very soon (a rock from a lorry had pulverised the passenger side of the 'screen).

My next stop was Sheffield, where John and Saskia had kindly offered to meet me, and take me to the Spitfire Graveyard. As you will have seen from John's website, Saskia is in wonderful condition, and John's craving for chrome has made her look far more of a classic than Triumph intended in the late seventies! The Graveyard is an extraordinary place - two inches deep in water, with more dripping from the arched ceiling every second. Dimly lit, dank and strewn with unexpected lumps of unidentifiable parts it was more like a pot-holing expedition than a visit to a parts supplier, but I came away with several original parts which had hitherto eluded me (including the correct steering wheel, and the seat-belt retaining clips), for very little cost. Many thanks, John, and I hope your boss did not complain too much about your two-and- a-half hour lunch-break!

Next stop Richmond, where I stayed until Sunday morning. I had driven up with the speedo needle around 72 mph, the temperature gauge had never gone higher than the middle, and when I filled up on Sunday morning, I discovered that I had achieved 39.4 mpg.

20th May, 2001 - Given that Carly had behaved so well on the journey up, I forgot all my qualms about the ticking noise (which had disappeared), and the fragility of old cars, and bombed back down the A1 and M1 with little regard for my speed. After the first hour of driving, I discovered that my speedo must be reading a little low. I had been keeping the needle under 80 (apart for one short blast to see how fast she would go with the top down - answer, 95mph), but averaged 82mph... One hour later I noticed that the temperature gauge was creeping up, and then, whoosh! - there was a wet explosion from under the bonnet, and I was pulling in to the hard shoulder. I soon discovered that the overflow tank for the radiator had, um, overflowed...

I waited for her to cool down, topped up the radiator, checked the oil (which also needed a top-up), and then tried to get her started again. She was not happy, but eventually she went. Clouds of white smoke poured out of the exhaust, and I was fairly sure I'd blown a head gasket. I nursed her along the motorway until I reached the next services (Watford Gap), called the RAC, who turned up within ten minutes, confirmed my diagnosis, and relayed us back to Bedford.

23rd May, 2001 - called in at Ives Garage to inspect Carly's engine now that the cylinder head had been sent away for skimming. It appears that someone rebuilt the engine fairly recently, as there is little or no carbon deposit to be seen, and the pistons are marked "030" - implying a re-bore, 0.030" oversize. Clearly, either the head had not been torqued down properly when it was refitted, or it had not been retorqued after running in. :-(

Fitted correct steering wheel, and seat-belt retaining clips. Also took the opportunity permanently to fix the hardboard baffle I mentioned above to the bulkhead.

24th May, 2001 - almost all of the back-ordered parts arrived from Rimmer Brothers today. Called in at Ives Garage, and fitted new seat cushion.

Carly will be back on the road by Friday (with a bit of luck), with a brand-new head gasket, and I feel sure will be happy to do 200 miles at speeds in excess of 80 mph for the foreseeable future.


Well, I suppose I asked for that. The problems just got worse (and bigger/more expensive), and I stopped updating this diary because doing so was just exacerbating the misery. The good news is that after a lot of work, and a lot of expense, Carly is now running well, without any nagging problems. One day, I may get around to filling in the missing months...

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