Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Noughties: a Decade in Review -Sort Of

London Fireworks
Fireworks on The Thames: New Millennium Eve 1999

I spent New Year’s Eve, 1999, by the Thames at Tower Bridge, London. It was a great party attended by seemingly millions of pleasantly inebriated people. I drank champagne, let off fireworks in St Saviour’s dock, counted out the old year and looked forward with eager anticipation to the New Millennium. The year 2000 eventually arrived along with much merriment and fusillades of fabulous fireworks. As a slight disappointment, the much trumpeted “River of Fire” did not apparently materialize and to my considerable relief, neither did any panicky phone calls from work with the dread news that the Millennium Bug had struck and the lab (or worse, The World) was in meltdown.

Now, ten years later, I feel that those two emotions, relief and disappointment, heralded the "Noughties" (dreadful word). The decade was been dominated by 9/11, subsequent military engagements and a trans-global theo-cultural conflict that will not be resolved until everybody learns to talk to each other and renounces violence as a problem-solving technique. Relief came from the fact that no one actually deployed weapons of mass destruction and geopolitical matters could have easily been a lot worse. Disappointment because things could have been a lot better.

Instant Information
As well as conflict, the Noughties were surely the era of instant information. With ever increasing access to more and more powerful personal computers and broadband connectivity, we witnessed the advent of Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and other social networking sites, blogs (ha!) and micro blog feeds such as Twitter. Just about anything could be sold on eBay and Craig’s List while on YouTube video clips of all manner of interesting things could be found (not to mention a vast load of rubbish).

Gadgets and Technology
All sorts of new technical gadgetry appeared: USB flash drives killed off floppys disks and ZIP drives (can anybody tell me what to do with the case load I have in my basement?), iPods destroyed the Walkman, downloadable digital music files have nearly wiped out the CD and only people of a certain age remember record shops. Electronic readers such as Amazon’s Kindle hope to do a similar thing to books, newspapers and magazines. Curiously vinyl records have made a bit of a comeback, although I can’t imagine why. Digital cameras have become disposable consumer items and we said goodbye to Polaroids and much of camera film. While in the nineties, the mobile phone became ubiquitous, the Noughties saw the introduction and widespread adoption of the smartphone with the charge being led by Blackberry and Apple. As individuals we are now always expected to be accessible and being out of town or out of the country is no excuse for not answering emails. Texting has become so popular that laws are being enacted to prevent individuals indulging in this form of communication when driving (ssshh, but I recently saw an email that the author had written while driving: do NOT try this at home). Furthermore these SMS messages have given rise to a whole new language that is entering common usage. Lord only knows if the apostrophe will survive until 2020. The almost universal incorporation of digital cameras in mobile phones gave rise to a vast population of budding paparazzi with just about any public event being filmed and sent around the world. And not only pubic events were captured; “sexting” became an official new word and if you don’t know what it means just ask Tiger Woods!

Moore’s Law continues to hold true and it’s interesting to note that more computer power is contained in an iPhone than on the Apollo spacecraft that went to the moon in 1969. A few FAX machines are still around as are landline phones but I doubt either will survive another 10 years. Wi-fi, Bluetooth and other forms of wireless connectivity are so common, I fear for the safety of our bone marrow. I don’t miss wires, though!

Television is bewildering. Bulky cathode ray tube sets have disappeared and now everybody seems to possess a digital, high definition, plasma/LCD/LED widescreen TV screen fed with an almost unlimited number of channels, Blu Ray DVDs, hard disks and TiVO. Gone are simple VHS tape recorders and video rental stores -the latter given the coup de grace by any number of download services. Unfortunately, despite all this technology, the quality of programming has declined and the Noughties saw the emergence of reality TV. I don’t understand the popularity of this dumbed down entertainment. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with reality but then maybe I’m showing my age…!

It was no longer enough to have an FM radio tuner (especially in one’s car) -it had to be digital satellite radio and preferably in high definition. As yet I’ve avoided both these items. Furthermore I’ve noticed a trend for car manufacturers to advertise their products as having music servers -I anticipate a lot more of this kind of thing in the next decade. GPS navigation systems or "SatNavs" as they like to say in the UK, went from being high-end luxury accessories to relatively inexpensive consumer items. They really do work (I confess to owning one) but I fear that map reading will become a lost art.

Sadly we said goodbye to quite a few luminaries. Musicians who played their coda in the past decade, include Michael Jackson, George Harrison (The Beatles), John Entwistle (The Who), Syd Barrat and Rick Wright (Pink Floyd) Johnny Cash, Bo Diddley, Luciano Pavarotti, Isaac Hayes, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Herbie Mann (jazz flautist), Nina Simone and Les Paul.

From theatre and film Patrick McGoohan, Marlon Brando, David Carradine, Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, Charlton Heston, Sir Peter Ustinov, Heath Ledger, Christopher Reeves, Paul Newman, Sir Alec Guiness, Sir Paul Scofield, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, David Hemmings, Katharine Hepburn, Cyd Charisse and James Doohan (Scotty in Star Trek) acted their finale. Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Berman directed their ultimate productions.

From literature Saul Bellow, Hunter S. Thompson, Arthur C. Clarke, Harold Pinter and John Updike wrote their last chapters.

Among the world at large Pope John Paul II got promoted, architect of the Northern Ireland peace process, Mo Mowlam, along with US Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan as well as that great old Lion of the Left, Ted Kennedy, all went to the great-parliament-in-the-sky. Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother reminded us that even The Royals are mortal. Yasser Arafat who survived all manner of disasters and physical violence succumbed to a mystery disease in Paris, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi transcended and it was checkmate for Grand Master Bobby Fischer.

We saw a lot of new vocabulary. Computing brought us gigabytes, terraflops, Web 2.0 and enhanced reality. Climate science gave us global warming and carbon footprint. Medicine and microbiology gave us SARS (which came and went) and the molecular nomenclature for naming flu strains H1N1, H5N1 etc as well as bioterrorism. Social trends gave us the Chav and ASBO (which for now appear to be a uniquely British phenomena). Banking, unfortunately, gave us toxic assets as well as providing the concept that entitlement to reward, in the form of six figure bonuses, is an inalienable right, even if said bankers have, through a process of incompetence and greed, rendered the economy into such a moribund state that it required a massive injection of taxpayers’ money (many of whom lost their jobs, houses and credit ratings along the way) to sort it out. I guess capitalism is fine while profits are being made but when it come to losses, socialism is preferable.

I could go on but I think I’ve said enough and further ramblings may require me to take medication. In summary, I suspect we’ll look back on the Noughties and remember it as an era when people still smoked in public places and air travel was a reasonably pleasant experience. If we haven’t reduced ourselves to radioactive white ash by then, please check back in 2020 for my review of the Teenies.

What We Did on Our Holidays. Part 5: Enter The Dragon

Dragons mouth
In the mouth of the dragon, Showa Kinen park, Tachikawa City, Tokyo

Oh my, it's nearly the end of the year and I really should put up a couple of posts before we enter a new decade (or is that next year?). Anyway, I've mentioned on a few occasions that I practice martial arts. I don't talk about it a lot as the techniques are arcane and meaningless to most people and somehow it seems undignified to bang on about and my expertise (or lack, thereof)*. However in 2009 I achieved a significant milestone in my practice. This is the last of my summer adventures in the "What we Did on our Holidays" series: here's the story.

My training in martial arts started when I was an undergraduate. Since that time I've followed "the path" in a somewhat discontinuous and haphazard manner and as a result am a great example of underachievement in terms of rank and physical skill. Nevertheless I have persisted over the years and more recently have been training in the art of iaido or sword drawing. Just over 12 months ago my Sensei (teacher) suggested that it would be appropriate for me to take the shodan (1st degree black belt) examination and that I should plan my preparations accordingly. The test would be held in Tokyo in September (of 2009) and I was quite elated by the prospect, so at the beginning of the year I began training in earnest.
J iaido 405
In training, c2007

While I thought I was capable of making the shodan grade, the reality was that I had something of a mountain to climb: every aspect of my technique needed extensive polishing as did my mental conditioning. Furthermore my equipment needed fettling and my uniform was sub-standard. Iaido puts an emphasis on quiet grace, confidence and absolute correctness of form. Thus sub-optimal appearance, posture and deportment is judged negatively. And so around the beginning of 2009 I began a programme for systematic improvement of all these facets of the art.

At first glance the grading requirements appear quite straight forward. Perform five out of a set of twelve standardised kata or forms as directed by the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) within six minutes. But this to be done with precision and style in front of a panel of four hachidan (8th dan masters -supremely accomplished individuals) at the mecca of martial arts, the Tokyo Ayase Budokan hall. Very cool: but what sounded like a straightforward task at the beginning of the year became an increasingly intimidating prospect as the test approached.

I increased my formal training to three times a week -this included at least one session of intense personal instruction from my Sensei. I took copious, detailed, notes (something very new to me, even after years of training) and even tried practicing with a metronome to get the correct rhythym and timing (for those who are interested in the technicalities of all this, 66 beats per minutes is about right).

As Spring approached, I realised that I needed to improve my physical conditioning. I thus embarked on a supplementary gym regimen that involved cardio training, weights, yoga, balance exercises, core routines etc. My trainer was Michael Schauble, who was not only an outstanding football and track athelete in his college days but also Washington State taekwondo champion. With his martial arts background, Michael very quickly picked up on what I was trying to achieve and designed a custom set of exercises for me.

So with physical training of some type going on every day, I continued other preparation at home. I reviewed videos of the techniques, purchased a new de luxe uniform with a nice secure obi (belt) and organized my equipment. My Sensei lightened my sword by more that 100 grammes (no sense getting a repetitive strain injury -I spent half of 2008 in acupuncture for tendonitis) by swapping my lovely wrought iron tsuba (hand guard) for a plain but much lighter aluminium item. I carefully added some decorative patination with a Dremel tool and finally treated the sword to a new silk sageo (retaining cord) that matched my obi.
This lovely tsuba was replaced with a more prosaic but much lighter and more functional item
Overall the preparation and training took on the feel of a full time job; this was no hobby. September arrived astonishingly quickly. I was feeling somewhat nervous but eager for the trip. The flight to Tokyo was long and uneventful and my dojo mates and fellow test candidates and I arrived at our hotel on a Wednesday evening. We had dinner and turned in: we had two full days to polish our techniques and get over the jet lag before the ordeal of the test. Our Sensei had arragned for us to practice in the Tachikawa City Municipal kendo dojo. The building had a very nice, traditional ambience and after several prctice sessions over the next 48 hours I was as ready as I could be.
John at Tachikawa Shrine_2
At the Tachikawa Shrine, September 2009

The morning of the test arrived. I got up early, took a long hot bath, arranged my equipment and lightly oiled my sword. I didn't want to feel rushed or harried. In iaido composure is everything and I tried hard to be internally quiet. It also happened to be my birthday which I felt was auspicious and this gave me confidence.
Fresh uniform and equipment carefully laid out and checked on the morning of the examination

Our group made its way across Tokyo (the public transport system must be the most efficient and orderly in the world) and arrived with time to spare at the Budokan Hall. The doors were not to open until 9.00am and by the time we were allowed into the building there must have been several hundred iaidoka waiting outside. I've never seen so many swordsmen (and women) in my life. I duly registered at the front desk and presented my essays (formal writing on theoretical aspects of iaido is part of the test) and found a place to get dressed. With around 500 students testing at various levels, nobody bothered with the changing rooms and space was at a premium. I pulled on my uniform: Sensei was there to ensure our sartorial elegance. While shodan ranking semed like a lofty goal, it's the most lowly of the yudansha (black belt) ranks and the examiners conduct these tests first. My number was called quite quickly: I bowed to my group of fellow examinees and lined up on the edge of the arena. At the command of "Hajime!" (begin) I started my kata. I began a little anxiously and then muscle memory took over. This was certainly no time to be thinking through techniques. Then it was all a blur. Even immediately after the test I could remember very little about it other than (i) I'd slightly over oiled the blade of my sword and I was very conscious that I had to be careful not to lose contact with my left hand on the noto or re-sheathing movements (ii) my super new hakama (voluminous pants worn by certain martial artists) was about 1" too long and I should avoid tripping over it at all costs and (iii) the candidate in front of me was performing way too quickly and I felt very confident that I could complete the test safely in about five-and-a-half minutes of the six minutes allowed (if this time is exceeded, the candidate will fail: no clock is visible and practitioners must use their internal timing to gauge the duration of their performance). And then, after almost a year of training, it was all over. It retrospect it seemed like the blink of an eye. There was nothing to do but hang around and wait for the results to be posted.

Fortunately we weren't kept in suspense too long. The results were tacked up as each rank block was completed. I had passed along with most of the shodan candidates although it is worth noting that the failure rate became quite severe around sandan (3rd degree black belt). I was now a black belt in a traditional Japanese martial art. I'd finally accomplished an important objective and was elated. Now it was time to celebrate before facing the long trip back to Seattle.
Outside the amazing Ayase Budokan hall, happy in the knowledge that he is now part of The Dark Side

Post Script. So now, nearly four months after this test, it's important to retain a sense of perspective. Attaining the rank of 1st degree black belt does not make me any kind of expert. It's simply a demonstration of basic competence in the art. Many practitioners refer to it as an "official beginner" -the point at which real training and understanding starts. But more than this, rank is just an artifical system of categorizing students. The objective of training in a martial art is training per se and not material achievement. Nevertheless it's nice to have got to this point and at least I know that I will never again have to change my belt colour. Finally, I must acknowledge all the efforts of my martial arts teachers, particularly those who have instructed me in sword techniques. These include Sensei T.K. Chiba, Dee Chen, Len Bean, Aniceto Seto, Tatsuhiko Konno, Pat Murosako and notably Jonathan Bannister, Kaicho of Tsubomi Dojo, Seattle, who spent a year preparing me for this extraordinary trip to Japan. I must pay tribute to the memory of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei: I saw him give a demonstration of iaido in the UK, c1971, and I've been fascinated by Japanese sword arts ever since.  Domo arigato gozaimashita!

*As I write, I'm thinking that some of my stories from this long journey are worth few column inches of blog so if you are interested, watch this space.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Compliments of the Season to All!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fivolous Friday: The Flying Finns

Just a quickie today. I've borrowed the idea from Chuck Goolsbee. It's a YouTube clip of Finnish rally drivers attempting deforrestation with their cars. Be warned, the wholesale destruction of some classic machinery, not to mention trees, telegraph poles and spectators, is sometimes hard to watch. But I guess this is what happens when you live through winters where there are only four hours of daylight every day. To avoid depression you can either drink industrial strength potato vodka or go rallying. Having seen Finnish rally drivers attack stages at 11/10 in the most atrocious conditions I confirm that they are fearless maniacs when it comes to competitive driving. Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen were both products of this system. By the way, did you notice that the only car to come through that carnage unscathed was a Mini Cooper…? Enough said, enjoy the clip.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Side Bar Tidy Up

I've just had nother of my periodic clean ups of the side bar menu and removed a number of dead links. Caratacus has gone as have Jon Swift, Larry Ayers, Mingshi's Kendo and Green Ink. All have stopped blogging, apparently. The Postman has gone private. Guy Fawkes has taken himself off to another site which I can't be bothered to find. Wonkette has gone too wacky since Ana Marie Cox left. Iraq War News seems a little out of date. Lab Rat has closed his site and is now writing for Nature magazine and Tangled Bank has petered out. A few others are looking precarious but I'll leave them alone for now. I'll be happy to reinstate anyone who reappears or feels that I have been unjust.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What We Did on Our Holidays. Part 4: Sailing to San Juan

OK, I couldn't resist the alliteration and poetic connotations in the title but I didn't really sail -I used the Washington State Ferry system instead

Back in the dog days of this summer the heat became too much. The mercury on my driveway indicated 106°F and the temperature inside my house was higher. Despite deploying every available fan the cloying calidity of the air became unbearable. It was time to get out of town and find a more temperate environment. After a little pondering I decided to visit San Juan Island here on my doorstep in Washington State. A few days later I drove the 90 miles or so out to Anacortes and took the ferry to SJ Island.
A schooner sets sail in the straits of San Juan de Fuca

Sea landscape
Magnificent sea and landscapes

friday harbor
Ferry Terminal, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Honestly I wasn't sure what to expect when I disembarked in Friday Harbor but I ended up being captivated by the town and indeed all of SJI. It seemed like the American equivalent of a Greek island and was quite enchanting. For nearly three days I ate, drank, kayaked, obeserved the resident Orca pod, seals and other marine life and also learned about the Anglo-American Pig War of 1859 (the only casualty was a pig). I also cooled down. Below are a few pictures which convey some of the feeling of the island. With any luck I'll be back again next year...

Kayaking -Vancouver Island is visible on right

Huge kelp beds were visible everywhere

salmon boat
A salmon boat getting ready for work

Gorgeous wooded shoreline

View across the straits of San Juan de Fuca

Can you spot the seal...?

seal highlight
By popular request, here's the seal. There were actually two playing although I can't see the other one, even at hi-res, maybe you can do better...?

Large jellyfish were omnipresent (ugh, no likee!)

MD selfportrait
MD, self-portrait

The Captain of this "vessel" isn't lacking a sense of humour

Monday, November 09, 2009

Postcards from The Road. 4. Humming Birds


I captured this image of a busy little hummingbird when on my travels in California. Not quite professional quality but not too shabby for an iPhone camera...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Thought of the Day: Carbon Paw-print

According to an article in New Scientist, the carbon footprint of my resident feline is the same as a VW Golf. I can't help wondering if this is with or without a catalytic converter...!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NW Classic Rally

As an addendum to previous post on the NW Classic Rally, here's a couple of YT clips. The first is a photo montage of the event made by the rally organizers. The second is a short segment shot by me through the windshield of the car as we blasted through the beautiful Oregon countryside. Enjoy!

Montage of the 2009 NW Classic Rally; the Dave Matthews Band provides a pleasing soundtrack

Co-driver's view as we push on hard: the inline 6 provides an even more pleasing soundtrack

Friday, October 30, 2009

What We Did on Our Holidays. Part 3: The other "Monte"

If you've been reading my previous posts, you will know that I spent much of July of this year preparing for the NW Classic Rally. This event is run by the Oregon Alfa Romeo club and has established itself as one of the most popular Time Speed Distance or Regularity rallys for classic cars in the US. The objective is not to race but maintain precise average speeds (although I can't deny a little, er hum, spirited driving does occur). Overall, while being a serious event, it's great fun and has none of the brutal challenges of something like the Monte Carlo Historique. Interestingly the rally's major sponsor is Portland Jaguar dealer, Monte Shelton, so I came to refer to it as "The other Monte...". Below is a photo essay of this year's 21st NW Classic. The less said about the results the better, but it was Olivia's first rally and our first together as a team. In addition the rules are a lot different from the Monte Carlo and we were on a steep learning curve. But we had a great time, made new friends and most of all zoomed about with the spectacularly beautiful Oregon countryside with great panache in our Great Green Cat...

Note: additional photos from Chuck Goolsbee, Olivia Morrow and the NW Classic Rally organization.

The "Shaguar" dressed up to prior to leaving for Portland

We meet up with another E type custodian and blogger from the Seattle area, Chuck Goolsbee, along with his co-driver father, and drive to Portland in convoy

scrutineering i
MD applies stickers prior to technical scrutineering. Olivia supervises

Mel Muzio and team did a great job in preparing the car -thanks again, Mel

Stickered up and ready for the start

olivia in e
Olivia is excited

Start finish
The Start in downtown Portland

looking mean
Off and running at last -the E type is moody and purposeful

Fighting the elements and motoring hard behind the clock

Olivia is determined to make up time

O on gas
Her right foot is well in...

Getting ready for a loop around the high desert on Day 2

clipping the apex
Clipping an apex

Lunch break
Lunch stop (i)

Lunch stop (ii) -that gorge is spectacular

Lunch break 2
Lunch stop (iii) -how many cars can you name? [Not you, CG]

at roadside
Waiting for our off time at the start of yet another regularity section

E with BNSF
If a train leaves a station and travels at an average speed of 50mh and a car driving in the opposite direction leaves a checkpoint at 47mph, at what time will they...?

MD team happy
MD team happy: we'll be back next year!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Denial is not Just a River in Egypt

I swear that if I read another story about Influenza Denial, Vaccine Denial, Climate Change Denial or HIV/AIDS Denial my brain is going to explode!

Please pass the ibuprofen...I'm trying to remain functional!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Music Blogging: Ray Brown Trio

Before we disappear into the depths of winter take a listen to this -possibly one of the finest renditions of "Summertime" ever. Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What We Did on Our Holidays. Part 3: NW Classic Rally -Final Preparations

E 7.30
Friendly old cat ready to leave California, July 2009

At noon on Wednesday 29th July the E type was delivered to my humble abode by a nice man with a huge truck. And if you hadn't guessed, it turned out splendidly. Mel and Gary and Tina down in sunny Southern California had done a terrific job and the car looked and sounded fabulous. A quick drive around the neighbourhood put a huge grin on my face. The new suspension had improved the handling immeasurably and I felt that I could throw the car into corners with abandon. Gone was the awful understeer, woolly steering and poor braking. It also sounded magnificent. Fantastic! Now I had one week to prepare for the rally.
E 3 quarter
It turned out splendidly after its re-restoration

Before paint 2
It had come along way from this condition when I first acquired it in 1992: believe it or not the previous owner was driving it around in this state!

At a local automotive accessories store I loaded up on some basic tools, engine and hydraulic fluids and repair items. I then thrashed the car around for a few days looking for any post-restoration problems to emerge. The only problem was a clutch slave cylinder that appeared to be on the way out but this was quickly rectified by a visit to Seattle area independent-Jaguar mechanic and E type racer, Rick Korn. Rick also provided a set of essential spare parts. I pulled out my navigator's bag from the basement. This rally would be very different from the Monte Carlo Historique but demanding nevertheless. At least I wouldn't be needing maps of France, pace notes or road book thus co-driver clutter could be greatly reduced. I did need an additional set of speed tables, however as the ones I had were in Km and didn't cover the range of speeds we would be likely to encounter on the NW Classic (generally faster on open straight roads) -a quick call Don Barrow in the UK and the engagement of FEDEX remedied this situation.

Finally I picked up daughter, Olivia, from the airport.

Now Mad Dog rallying was ready for another adventure.

There's nothing like a well-sorted E type to put a smile on your face!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What We Did on Our Holidays. Part 2: Getting Ready to Rally

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was delighted to to be reunited with an old feline friend at the end of July. The 'cat' in question was a 1966 Jaguar E type, or XKE as it's know in the US, that sojourned in a garage in Southern California for a decade. The reason for the Jag's hibernation are complex and I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say that about 18 months ago I made the decision to wake it up from its overly long slumber and prowl around with it on the roads of the Pacific North West.

Now when a car has been laid up for such a long time, even when it's been kept warm, dry and started on occasions, it can't just have a battery charge and be off and running as normal. Rubber and plastic parts go brittle and degrade, metal to metal components get gummed together, fuel degrades, hydraulic systems leak and fail, tyres harden and generally everything becomes stiff and creakey. So back in the spring of 2008 I asked friend and ace Jag mechanic, Mel Muzio, to bring the car back to life. My intention was to compete in the 2009 NW Classic Rally held in Oregon every August. I though this would be a good goal to aim for so work was duly started. The process was meticulous, methodical and turned out to be much more involved that I imagined. Here's an abridged account of the story:

The first job was to replace all the sealing rubbers which had become brittle and useless. The general consensus is that they last for four years. Great! I sourced a supposedly superior brand in the UK but now, a year and a half after being fitted, are already showing signs of degeneration. Oh well...! The chrome bullet mirrors and roof antenna had become quite tarnished and were replaced with new shiny items.
New mirrors looked fantastic and unlike the originals which could never be adjusted correctley, these actually worked

Brakes, Suspension and Handling
Truth be told, the Old Girl never handled that well. It didn't corner impressively, the steering was as vague as a politician making election promises and the brakes were mediocre at best and had a tendency to fade horribly. But now there were more problems. All the suspension bushes had cracked and broken up: this meant that both front and rear subframes had to be taken down and rebuilt (in the case of the rear, twice -I'll get to that): long and laborious jobs on the complex mechanisms. So while everything was apart I thought it sensible to make a few upgrades. I added much more efficient Wilwood four pot calipers to the front brakes and XJ6 series I front calipers and vented discs to the rear. Braided stainless steel hydraulic hoses were added to give a firmer feel to the pedal and in theory should last forever.
Oversize Wilwood four pot alloy brake calipers now pull up the car at the front

Jag RB
The rear brakes received an upgrade too: to balance the Wilwoods, Jaguar XJ6 front calipers were fitted. The disks are vented which helps keep heat away from the differential. The complexity of the rear subframe IRS suspension assembly can be seen -this is no haycart back axle as were most British and American sports cars of this vintage.

Now the car could stop properly, attention was turned to the suspension. Apart from new bushes throughout, I fitted a stiffer, adjustable, front anti-roll bar. When I first restored the car in the early 90's, I'd equipped it with much superior Koni shock absorbers. They were still in good condition so no modifications were needed in that department. After talking to numerous experts I declined to fit hard polyurethane bushes, uprated torsion bars or heavy duty rear springs as they can render the car undriveable by making it too stiff. This was a good decision as the overall feel came out just right. Solid aluminium rack mounts replaced the standard floppy rubber items: these parts vastly improve the precision of the steering and while they transmit a little more road noise back to the driver, I think this is a good trade off.
Solid aluminium rack mounts give the steering a much more precise feel. Parts and photo from Ray Livingston. Unlike claims by others, these items actually fit correctly and are truly 'bolt on' replacements.

The last item in the handling department was an adjustable torsion bar reaction plate that allows the front suspension to be lowered with relative ease (we dropped the front about 1" which gives the car a very mean look). There is a long, painful and expensive saga about this part. I can't relate it here as ultimately it's a tedious story and I'd run the risk of being sued. All I'll say is "Shame on you for selling junky dangerous products" to a California based purveyor of aftermarket Jag parts -you know who you are and karma will take its course. If you want to fit one of these parts, get an original from Rob Beere Racing in the UK. Finally a new set of Pirelli P4000 tyres was purchased to replace the barely worn but dangerously hardened Avons that I had originally obtained back in 1992.

Under the Bonnet
I did a few things under the bonnet, too. In addition to a general tune up, replacement of plugs and dodgy looking HT wires (it seems rats have an appetite for the plastic insulation -don't ask me why), the always marginal cooling was improved by fitting an aluminium radiator and matching header tank.
Al rad
Aluminium radiator and header tank keep the cool cat cool

The unreliable contact breakers (points) were junked and a Pertronix electronic ignition system was fitted unobtrusively in the distributor. Engine breathing was improved with a ceramic coated (JetHot) exhaust manifold ("headers" in the US) and much more efficient ITG air filter. The latter does not look particularly period correct but I always hated the huge ugly 'dustbin' filter fitted by the factory and besides, the ITG system reveals some very cool looking ram stacks if the cover is popped off. The SU carbs were rebuilt and uprated neeedles were fitted to deal with the improved airflow. Finally, the center expansion boxes of the stainless steel exhaust system were removed and replaced with less restrictive Cherry Bomb glass pack mufflers which in addition to improving gas flow, give the exhaust a wonderfully deep sonorous note.

Ceramic coated headers improve exhalation and sound fantastic

Contemporary high efficiency air filter. It will not be loved by purists but I always hated the OEM setup

In any case if the foam cover is removed for display purposes, some very purposeful ram stacks are revealed

The interior also received a few modifications. The most significant was the fabrication of a retaining bar that permitted the fitting of competition 4 point quick release harnesses (design courtesy Chuck Anderson, Port Orchard, WA). The old lap only belts were downright dangerous and offered little or no protection. In addition the new Simpson belts look wonderfully retro.
Interior from rear
Interior viewed from rear showing custom fabricated harness attachment bar

The Simpson 4 point competition harness is a huge safety improvement over original equipment lap belts; they look great too

The original British Radiomobile AM/Long wave (remember that, anybody?) radio was sent off for a service -up to then I could only receive religious stations on the AM band -perhaps somebody was trying to tell me something! It came back with FM replacing the defunct long wave band and a small input jack plug (subtly concelaed in the ash tray) that allowed for an iPod connection. All this is mostly academic as beyond 30mph all anyone can hear is the lovely song of the straight six motor but at least I can have a few wafts of music as I drive around town. The final touch to the interior was another safety feature: a nice period looking fire extinguisher installed in the passenger footwell.
Original British Radiomobile radio subtly converted to FM and now has an iPod connector

Fire extinguisher in passenger footwell is another safety feature

So how did the finished product turn out? You'll have to wait until the next post to sate your curiosity.

To be continued...