Foolish Cars

This is a collection of the interesting points from what used to be a very popular set of pages on my personal website. The whole turns into a technical non-fiction article. I may add the pictures at some point.

My first car was a Vauxhall Chevette. It was a P reg, 1976 green hatchback. It was my mum’s boyfriend’s car. When he used to park it at ours I used to revel in how ugly it was, little did I know it would be mine. On the road the gearstick rattled like hell in 4th on the motorway and the rain poured over your feet. The bottom fell out of the boot for the 2nd MOT, amazing it passed the first one I put it through. Still, it only broke down once. Not bad for the £50 I paid him for it.

The next car was not really a step up the ladder, but the whole ladder. A Ford Fiesta XR2, 1985. This I got on my 21st birthday. It was somewhere in the £3000 area. This was 1991. The car was red with steel wheels. I was expecting to respray it and change the alloys straight away, however it didn’t work out that way. It took me a long time to get round to those jobs and so I drove it around in red for a long time, until 1997/8.

The only thing I did to it pre-1997/8 was add a K&N air filter, front strut brace and lowered suspension. The suspension was Boge make, and pretty bad. It started out ok, but got worse quite soon, just too bouncy. Oh yes, this was the days of rave music, so I added a big stereo and a huge bass speaker in the boot that ruined the handling.

First of all I didn’t think it was all that quick for a 1.6 Fiesta, but I think this was because I had no idea how to drive it. Gradually I got the hang of revs etc. Not that I was a boy racer, much! Ok, I drove the wheels off it, literally. More of that later.

I was fired from a job in 1995 and I went off to Goa for six months (read more on this site). The XR2 sat at my mum’s. When I came back from Goa I went to work in London for a bit, walked out of that job and went back to Goa for another six months, 1995/6.

So there was the XR2 still on my return. The red paint was oxidising and I put on some 14” Ford Orion alloys. They needed 5mm spacers (the Orion axel was wider). Spacers are bad news. Setting them right is hard, those alloys were a mistake. The car was still running fine but looked a mess.

In 1997 I met my now ex-wife. She knew a man who did cheap resprays. The XR2 was done in Hurricane Grey. Looked pretty good. I had also changed the suspension to Jamex, much better. I found a set of Sierra Cosworth 15” alloys for sale and put those on. It looked pretty good, those alloys looked big on a Sierra, they looked huge on the Fiesta. However! They again used 5mm spacers. It was near impossible to set the wheels right, I also had to put on longer wheel bolts. I really wanted to have the 5mm added to the wheel and have no spacers, but I never managed it. Also, I found I could run it with 50 profile tyres, also a mistake, it really needed 45 profile. This led to it being terrible in the corners. Two issues that needed sorting but never were.

The milage was quite high now on the engine. I think somewhere in the 130k bracket, not sure, but high. I had a plan, that was to get a new engine that I could either transfer to another car or repair the shell of the XR2 as it was needed. My idea was to have a good engine that I could hold on to.

So I went to Specialised Engines in Grays, Essex. Technically this is a reconditioned engine. They whip out your old unit and put in a reconditioned engine from a previous customer. They also supply 1.9 units upto stage 2. This was very tempting but I could only afford a standard 1.9 engine and I really liked the stage 2 element. In short, stage 1 and 2 are all the mods you do to an engine in Gran Turismo style. Lightened flywheels, polished heads etc etc.

So I chose a 1.6 stage 2 engine. Not sure how much it cost. However, I wish I’d found the extra for the 1.9 stage 2. Another big mistake.

This was the modification list on the XR2:

Engine

Specialised Engines 1.6 CVH stage 2 engine:

Fully lightened and balanced
Gas flowed
Big valve head
Overbored
Enlarged air inlets and exhaust outlets

Kent CVH22 cam
Weber DMTR carb
K&N filter
Facet electronic fuel pump
Lucas electronic ignition
Race coil
Bosch plugs
Hotwires leads

Most parts new, including all cooling hoses, radiator, water pump.

Transmission

Standard 5 speed
RS turbo clutch

Exhaust

Piper tornado system

Suspension

Jamex sportline uprated & lowered 35mm springs and shocks
Front strut brace

Wheels

Sierra Sapphire Cosworth 15in alloys
Goodyear NCT2 195/50 tyres
5mm spacers
Extended bolts
Cut wheel arches

Body

Hurricane grey paint
Clear indicators
Debadged
De-locked
Rear wiper removed

Interior

Mountney 12" steering wheel
Mostly stripped, no ICE
No spare wheel

Here is a list of the engine stuff from Specialised Engines:

01 Standard

  • All parts immersed in acid ‘bath’, then chemically ‘hot’ washed and cleaned, with all core and oil gallery plugs removed.
  • Cylinder Head : Completely reconditioned with new valve springs, stem seals, valves, valve guides and head surface ground as necessary. All valve seats re-cut, valve seat inserted and surface ground where necessary.
  • Cylinder Block : Rebored and cross hatch honed. All new core plugs fitted. New matched set of pistons. Mains checked for alignment and ovality. Surface ground where necessary. Oil pump fully reconditioned or replaced.
  • Crankshaft : Reground and polished. All new bearings, seals and gaskets.
  • Camshaft : Reprofiled with new or resized cam followers.

02 STAGE 1

  • Cylinder Head : Modified and fully gas flowed, with matched spring set, surface ground.
  • Cylinder Block : Rebored to 0.030". Each bore cross hatch honed to exact size of each individual piston. Each ring gapped and graded to each individual piston and bore.
  • Crankshaft : Reground to bottom limits available, with matched set of mains and big end shells.
  • Con Rods : Crack tested and checked for alignment. Checked for ovality in big end housing. Fully balanced and lightened.
  • Camshaft : XR3 blueprinted for BHP gains, or for towing or pulling power, a lower profile camshaft for maximum gains in torque. Plus normal reconditioning process as listed above.

03 STAGE 2

  • As full Stage 1 specification, but including big valve head - inlet valve size 1.710" and exhaust valve size 1.500". Cutting and throating of valve seat areas. Full engine balance included.

 

So I was more interested in tuning the car rather than the looks. After this the car did fly. It was super quick and very revvy. However: those alloys and tyres. Also, the gearbox was just wrong and probably I needed a 6 speed or something, or, the 1.9 unit! And, breaks, they were not good enough.

It was a bit of a mess up. In some ways the car was great, in others it needed a load more money spent. It probably needed a new shell. However, the weak shell may have saved my life.

Meantime the XR2 was featured in Fast Ford magazine. However they didn’t research what a stage 2 engine was, and assumed this was a budget car modification, which it was in some ways, but not as cheap as they made out. The Kent cam being the only thing they listed. I know many guys spend thousands and thousands on modified cars but this was still a lot for a 1985 Fiesta.

Anyway, my ex-wife’s ex-boyfriend said that I probably couldn’t handle the power, perhaps he was right, who knows? Point is, I had a horrific car crash in May 1998. I have no memory of it. The rear end was torn off in the crash. Hence, driving the wheels off it and the rust saving my life.

There in no point in talking about the crash here. I was a very lucky bunny. I have pictures of the crash and nobody should survive that. What also survived was the engine as the main damage was from the doors back.

My ex-wife had a XR3i at the time that we had made to look like an RS Turbo. A few months after the crash her engine blew. Seemed logical to put the XR2 engine in it. The 1.6 CVH engine is the same unit in both cars. The only difference is the XR3i having the injection system. The engine went straight in.

However, the cooling had not been replaced on the XR3i like it had on my XR2. Also the local mechanic was ignorant that the cam belt on the XR2 was adjustable and when I said “tighten the cam belt” he said, “you can’t, you can only replace it.” He was wrong. I was still in a mess from my car crash and agreed. My ex-wife’s dad was paying the bills on the XR3i and got a shock with the cam belt being replaced. Then two further things happened. The Boge suspension on the XR3i broke on one side at the front and the head gasket blew.

Her dad was unwilling to pay for these repairs and they took it to the auction and flogged it for less than £200.

I was still in a mess in the head from the accident. Many years later I realised I should have said I’d buy the car from them. But I didn’t. I imagine the car went to the scrap yard a few years later with that special engine in it. Bit of a waste. The Fast Ford article came out after the car was in bits.

It was also featured in Redline magazine as the crash pictures in “crash of the month”. I was promised a set of alloys for this, which took a long time to get. I then sold them on ebay. The car was then again in Fast Ford as crash pictures.

So onwards I marched to the next mistake.

Following this I had a couple of horrid Fiestas and then a Peugeot 106 1.4 diesel. The 106 was to get to work as my ex-wife wanted to live in the country, about 1 hour 30 from work. The 106 was quite good, but far too noisy. I’d get home with thundering ears. The 106 was very quick on country roads. It also had a habit of spinning off the road if it hit ice. Very hairy.

My ex-wife and I separated in 2008.

Then I made another car mistake: after sometime without a car I bought a Citroen 2CV for £1000 on ebay. Previously I had bid on a white 2CV for £1200. I should have held out for that car and not decided to stop at my limit of £1200 as it was mechanically sound and had a galvanised chassis. My plan was to drive a 2CV around for a year and put it back on ebay for £1000 or so.

The 2CV I got was a yellow and black Charleston, a fairly rare colour. What it didn’t have was a galvanised chassis or very much in the way of mechanical work. I took it to a guy in Suffolk and said, change the wheel bearings. I got it back 6 months later fully mechanically restored and with a bill of £5 to £6k. Not what I wanted. I now realise I should have walked away from him and the car and not paid. He clearly wanted the car. I manged to get the money together with several credit cards. I just managed to pay it off before I left my job in 2011.

I took the 2CV to the International 2CV friends meeting in France. I thought I had bought a slow car, but the 2CV is not slow. The 600cc engine is really revvy and the body light, so they fly on A and B roads. The handling is great. Even on motorways it was quick for what it was. I intended not to boy race, but it was such fun to drive. I then had it stored by a friend for my return. Unfortunately I then sold it for just under £3000 (2014). What a silly mess.

I then had no cars as I lived in Norwich and then London 2014-2018.

2018 my life changed again, but that is another story. Everything until now (2021) is diesel.

A Transit 2.0 diesel, Vauxhall Movano 2.5 diesel, Ford Focus mk2 1.8 diesel, Peugeot 407 SW diesel.

These are all old and cheap, hence going through a lot.

I may add pictures at some point. The crash pictures have been heavily pinched from previous personal websites of mine.

This article is not a bigging up of my exploits, rather, I can’t believe how dumb I was.

 

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