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...

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