Blog 20 September 2018

Off Piste

This month’s Off Piste is again a non-automotive topic. Sure to irritate the “Remainers”

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Times, They Are A’Changin’


Big changes afoot. For quite a while now, we have been considering a move that will see us seriously downsize our twelve peg tile roofs and seven boilers. Wisdom suggests that the time to move is before one  is in a wheelchair. We are, of course, well aware of what a huge trauma a move will be and have begun to gird our loins. For almost forty years we have been collecting  all manner of bits and pieces. I suppose things have, to some extent, rather got out of hand with far too much accumulated rubbish. Apart from old motors I have collected guitars, ethnic masks, padlocks, novelty teapots and large bronzes. Finding new housing will no doubt be a challenge.


As the cars are the largest items I suppose that it makes sense to start the downsizing exercise there. When we start looking for a new house and, having a score of motors to accommodate, it’s likely that we will end up with finding adequate garaging the top priority and ensuring ideal dwelling, the secondary objective.  So, to reducing the collection seems sensible.

My long term plan is to consolidate my collection of sporting Jaguars from the pre-war SS to the 1974 V12 E. I’m prepared to sacrifice the MK V and replace it with an S1 E. I’ve had an S2 but never quite been happy, so it will have to be an S1.


My personal view is that the ‘120 fixed head is the most aesthetically pleasing of all the XKs and I’d like one but further acquisitions must await the move when I know just how much space I have.


As Lizzie is now flown and away on her adult career, I suspect we have done our last Commercial L2B so the Bradford will be the next to go along with the three wheeled Reliant Girder Fork; we shall see what we will.


Having to start somewhere, I decided that as I used the Cobra (about 2000 miles in nearly twenty years) almost never, it would make a good starting  point for the disposal exercise. Also, sadly, my dear old Rover, that had been a nostalgia buy, and almost never sees the road, was another candidate.


When I pulled out the Bristol after rather a long slumber, I found the brakes a bit of a mess. Being a bit tied up with the MK V, I gave the job to Brian Stevens who skimmed drums, organised a complete reline as well as new cylinders all round. His efforts saw the anchors back up to scratch. While in Brian’s workshop however, one of his other customers saw the car and asked  if it was for sale. Given the circumstances, it seemed an ideal opportunity so reduce the collection further although, given my involvement with the restoration, I felt a bit of a pang when we parted company.  So to date, three old cars down and some to go.

Goes it Badly with the Fleet


The year was well advanced and I was late. Late that is, for getting the fleet into shape for the coming season, my morale not helped by a recent run of roadside failures. It started a few weeks ago with the ‘120. Having decided to give the old girl a chance to stretch her legs, I was somewhat chagrined when she decided to give up the ghost on several occasions a bit too far from home. I thought I knew about sorting out problems but having established that the problem was ignition, it took me quite a while to find what was wrong.

Some bright soul, before my time, had completely changed the wiring layout, installing a couple of modern fuse boxes to handle just about everything that needed current. I didn’t expect that to include the low tension side of the ignition however. A crushed fuse caused the worst kind of failure – an intermittent one. The broken fuse carrier made contact on an ad hoc basis before finally giving up the ghost. Moral of the story – Jaguar didn’t put a fuse in the ignition system for good reason. It took a while to find the problem and a fair amount of embarrassment at several sets of traffic lights.

Someone’s idea of improvements, extraneous fuse boxes

On the way in our Braddie lorry while on the recent London to Brighton Commercial Run, we were stuck in interminable traffic, literally for hours, and the old girl, with no water pump and only a syphon system, gallantly made it through only to suffer condenser failure when the road ahead was clear. I had the devil’s own job identifying and rectifying the problem and had to resort to a somewhat Heath Robinson solution.

Lengthly diagnosis, quick fix

Some time ago, the ‘150 was running a bit rough and when I took the fuel bowl of the rear carb apart (an easy job). I found that the inside was chock full of dirt. Cleaned out she ran well enough but I realised that I would have to see to the front two carbs before I could trust her. So a few days ago I bit the bullet and decided to get the job done. My car is an ‘S’ with triple SUs and aftermarket K&N competition air filters, so getting at the front two fuel bowls is not a job for the faint hearted. It’s bad enough trying to get at the carbs without the bulky filters hanging off the side but near on impossible with them in situ.


On a Saturday evening, feeling strong, I started stripping and found it, as expected, a daunting and difficult task. That night I slept anything but soundly, tossing and turning, my mind filled with thoughts of the next day’s ordeal. I arose early and, working carefully and methodically, had the job done by noon – putting things back together was a lot easier than pulling them apart, I discovered. Irritating however, was the revelation that fuel bowls one and two were as clean as whistles and could well have been left alone. Anyway, the job’s done and I have at least some peace of mind.


On to the next disaster!

I really didn’t feel lke smiling at the time

Goodbye to a dear friend and hello to, what I hope will become, a new one!


After six, trouble free years of superb service my dear old Jeep Grand Cherokee is gone. My romance with the marque started when I was still racing and needed a tow car for the trailer. My original plan had been to acquire an old Land Rover but my good friend Albert Sparrowhawk advised me against it. “You’ll have meetings where everything will go wrong and you will have a completely miserable weekend. The last thing you’ll want is to tow for miles in the pouring rain in an uncomfortable rattletrap. Get yourself a comfortable tow-car with a good heater, excellent wipers and a good sound system; somewhere where you can cocoon yourself and forget about your worries.” Of course he was absolutely right and so I got my first Jeep, a very second hand but eminently useable Grand Cherokee with a four litre straight six that did the job in comfort. I was a convert and we have owned five other Jeeps in succession spanning about twenty years. The last few have been turbo diesels, all of which have been excellent.

Someone likes it a lot

Unfortunately, the government’s hue and cry over diesels has rather got to me and I delayed changing until I could see the way the wind was blowing. It now seems that, for some crazy, political reasons the diesel will be legislated out of existence so my practical choices for a powerful 4 X 4 (I still need to tow) were limited either to petrol or a hybrid. Things in the automotive world move quickly so I may now be out of date but my choices seem to be Jaguar’s quite handsome F Pace or the Lexus RX 450 hybrid. Frankly, I real like the Lexus but for some unfathomable reason the Lexus designers have chosen to standardise on, to my eye, a very ugly front. In any event, my heavy Jaguar orientation on the old car front rather sealed things. Anyway, the three litre petrol supercharged variant does the job. I’ve now done over 2000 miles, including a trip to Aviemore and back, and all seems well. Thirty miles plus to the gallon is better than I’d hoped for but the small tank capacity is a little disappointing.

The highest accolade is, I suppose, Kathleen’s reaction. She was almost in tears when we left the Jaguar dealership as we passed our deal old Jeep parked forlornly in their lot. Within a very few days however she loved the F Pace to bits and had forgotten about her earlier love. I’m just waiting to be replaced any day now!

A Major Refurbishment – Where to From Here


As many of you will know SFF, my dear old XK, has led a hard life but has always given a good account of herself; we have always got around and back under our own steam and have collected a bit of glass and silverware on the way.


Sadly, as my favourite rally organisers have hung up their maps and route books so SFF’s outings have dwindled not to mention the dwindling abilities and enthusiasm of her aging owner. And so my ‘150 hasn’t turned a wheel for too long.  As she is, in my view, the best touring car I own, I have embarked on a second major refurbishment to restore her back to her former glory, which is the reason I need advice. Foolishly, when we first prepared the ‘150, the original 3.4 S was replaced with an E Type unit. Uncharacteristically however, I carefully stored the 3.4 which is currently being rebuilt and will go back in. My question is where to from there?

Unusual shot of SFF taken from a Rome hotel window a the end of the Liege Rome Liege.

Lots of rallying gizmos. The mechanical clocks are for show, replaced  by digitals when in action for real.

I am aware that there is a strong argument for returning everything to its original order but I have to say at the outset, I’m very unlikely to go that way. There are a few existing modifications that include left to right handed steering, upgraded brakes, a stiffer anti-roll bar, an auxiliary electric fan, competition harnesses, a navigator’s foot plate, a set of Cibie spots  and adjustable shock absorbers. I’ll admit that an auxilliary dash is now done up rather like a dog’s dinner – all in the aid of competition. A rally panel, which I’ll admit doesn’t look very pretty, is set between the gearbox tunnel and the dash to hold a range of additional instruments and controls. These include a kilometre speedo, timing clocks and stop watches, navigators’ and driver’s air horn pushes, manual choke switch and a fan override switch. There is also a switch to trigger the built-in fire extinguishing system. Like on most XKs, the windscreen wipers are none too powerful and don’t want to sweep a drying screen.

As, when tightly strapped in, the driver can’t reach the dash wiper control, it has been duplicated in the rally panel. There is also a battery cut out.  In addition, as there isn’t room for a Halda Tripmeter, I have used a slimmer Aifab Gemini, fitted in front of the navigator, under the dash. A few years ago, I wrote an article about fitting radios in XKs and, unwilling to write about things with which I haven’t been involved, I fitted a retro radio on the right under the dash as well an amplifier in the boot. So, as I say, a bit of a dog’s dinner.


What should go and what should stay? I have a soft spot for my rally panel, built up through experience over the years. I think it adds character but have to admit that it’s now redundant and smacks of affectation. The full harnesses are great if you need to strap in tightly but not super-convenient for normal motoring. Should they be replaced by simpler inertia reel belts?

Example of a typical five-speed box used in XKs. Toyota Supra is most likey the way I’ll go.

On the mechanical front, the original close ratio Moss overdrive gearbox is getting sticky when hot. I have installed a modified Triumph, hollow gearstick and a Stag type o/d switch gear knob, which I think makes things easier. I believe however, that my preference would be to install a more modern five-speed. I also rather like the Tilton racing pedal box installed in my ‘120 and I’m minded to do the same in the ‘150. Given my reconditioned engine, should I aid cooling by fitting an aluminium radiator?


Decisions, decisions! I’d be very interested in other people’s ideas. As returning the car to completely original condition isn’t an option, I’ll be pleased to get advice from others who have good ideas and tips on preparing a reliable and effective car for extensive touring.

Tilton pedal box with cable throttle

Very deceiving image of SFF, making one wonder why she’s in for major refurbishment.