Neil Fletcher Racing
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– Rebuilding my Mexico Part 6.
Story Concludes - well almost.
Last month I finished off with what I thought was a blown head gasket when I started the engine for the first time. The next evening I pulled the head off and had a really good look at the gasket, no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t really see anywhere that there was an obvious problem, usually it is fairly easy to spot where the headgasket has blown. Next I looked at the block which was still in the car, there was a mark about halfway down number four bore, but I couldn’t tell if it was the start of a crack, or if it was just a slight rust mark from water seeping from the gasket and down past the piston, I had another look at the gasket in this area but still couldn’t see anything amiss. My biggest fear was that it would prove to be the start of a crack. There was only one thing to do, I had to remove the rest of the engine, strip it down and send it to a local engineering firm to be properly tested. It was now Friday morning, I was supposed to be competing in the hillclimb 8 days later, on the Saturday. That afternoon I took the engine over to the engineering firm, they told me it would be Monday morning before they could look at the block. The worst case scenario was a cracked block, but even if it was that bad they would be able to bore and liner it, no problem, in time for me racing on Saturday week, so off I went to work (I was doing the evening shift) wondering if it was realistic to contemplate competing a week later when I still had no engine and loads of other small jobs still to do.
I find that I really work best when I’m under a lot of pressure deadline wise; normally I spend far too much time messing about thinking about the job and not enough time actually doing it, but I no longer had the luxury of time. First thing on Saturday morning I started to fit the doors and boot; in between times I was also cleaning all the hastily removed engine components ready to build the engine again. I spent a feverish weekend sorting out all the little jobs that still needed doing, many of the less important items would be left until after this first event, I wasn’t going to bother with door cards, chromework, trim, locks etc. Anything that I didn’t consider absolutely essential to competing on this first event was left for later.
The following week I was working day shift, on Monday afternoon I rang to find out about my block. No, they hadn’t looked at it but they would do it first thing on Tuesday morning, I rang Tuesday morning, they were working on it, ring back in an hour. An hour later I rang to be informed that no, the block wasn’t cracked and they would give it a hone later that day to clean the bores and it would be ready for collection on Wednesday morning. I rang on Wednesday morning. No, they hadn’t got it honed yet but they would get it done this afternoon – only two full days before the hillclimb, time was running out. I rang my mother from work, “Mum” I asked, “Will you go to Commiskey’s and collect my block this afternoon. And please do not come home without it no matter what!” If I was going to compete on Saturday I really needed to start to build the engine that evening. When I arrived home that evening my mum, true to her word, was there with the block in the boot of her Mini, and no, it still wasn’t honed. As soon as I had supper I went out to the garage and got the block up onto the bench and started to rebuild the bottom end. Even though I was short of time this is one job where you really need to take your time and make sure everything is done correctly. For once everything went fairly smoothly and by the time I headed for bed I had the complete bottom end built and sitting ready to lower into the engine bay. As soon as I came home on Thursday evening I started to lower the bottom end of the engine into the engine bay, once it was all bolted in place I put on a new headgasket and lowered the head into place and all the head bolts were tightened to the required torque. An old engine builder once told me his system for doing up head bolts - torque them down and then leave them for half an hour, then slacken and re-torque each one in turn again. He said with this system you didn’t need to re-torque them after a weeks running in, I still follow his advice. After the head was re-torqued I bolted on the rocker gear and set the tappets etc, it was then a matter of bolting on all the ancillaries. By the time I went to bed on Thursday night I was well on my way to getting the engine sorted, but there was still a lot to do and only one night in which to do it – Friday night would be a long night.
Friday night followed the same pattern as the previous few nights, straight after supper I was out to the garage for the evening, the only difference was that tonight I wouldn’t be going to bed until the car was sorted, even if that meant not going to bed at all. The rest of the ancillaries were fitted to the engine, fluids etc were added and eventually the engine was started, everything seemed OK and a little time was spent setting timing etc. The brakes were all given an extra bleed, the slick racing tyres were fitted as the forecast for Saturday was for a hot and sunny day. As the night wore on everything was coming into place, eventually about 3.45 am I reckoned I had done all I could do, but the car still hadn’t moved under her own steam for over four years, so a little test drive was called for.
The garage door was opened, I climbed into the car, fired her up, probably waking everyone in the house, and tried to reverse slowly and quietly out of the garage, not easy with a racing clutch and an engine that only comes on cam at about 3500 revs. I drove to the end of our drive and slowly down the hill leading from our house, the first half mile was taken rather slowly just to check that the brakes, steering etc were all working OK. One thing I did discover was that I had no dash lights and only one spot light. I live on a small country side-road but half a mile away there is a left turn into a single track road. I turned into it and gunned the engine. I built up speed through a series of left and right turns, the car was really coming on song now. All those old sensations were starting to flood back - the incredible noise, the rock solid suspension, the taut gear change and the incredibly precise steering. A long straight followed along the ridge line of a range of hills, I tried a series of very hard, high speed stops to get the brake pads well bedded in, then a slow drive down from the hills to the lough shore to allow the brakes to cool slightly. Coming down towards the lough the lights danced across the water for miles seeming to echo my sense of elation - the adrenalin was really starting to flow. Once more I built up speed, the bark of the engine reverberated off the surrounding hills, I really started to throw the car into the tight twisty bends as the road followed the shore line. As I started to climb away from the shore I could feel the slicks biting the road better and better as they warmed to the task in hand, I was really settling into my old driving style once more. I wound my way round another series of hills, the four years of not having driven this car, of not having sat in it seemed to float out the window, I was back once more in my all-time favourite place in the world, speeding down a tight twisty road in the middle of the night, pleasure beyond measuring, this was what those four years of hard work had been all about, and yes, it had been well worth it.
I drove slowly the last half mile up to the house, clutched her, and coasted into the garage, I let the engine run for another minute or two, cooling down before I switched her off and sat listening to the ticks and crackles of a hot engine cooling. It was now 4-15 am, there was nothing more I could do. In the morning I would check the fluid levels and wash the dust off the car, I would make it for scrutiny at 9 am, no problem. I went in to make a cup of coffee and get my gear sorted. Carmel, my wife had taken pity on me, she had my race suit, helmet, fire proof underwear and racing boots all sitting ready for the morning. At 4-30, with the first streaks of daylight filtering in through the curtains I set my alarm for 7-30 and slipped into bed for a much needed rest, the morning would be a new day, a new beginning.
All the best.
377F - Twin Cam
FMX 800J - RS1600
JIJ 9975 – Mexico
FIA 6386 – Mexico
Membership No. 1472
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