HAVOC Article No 9.

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Dear Mike,

    When last I gave you an update on my Motorsport activities we were halfway through our 1996 season and leading the championship.  Here is a rundown on how the rest of the year went and also some details of a major modification I have made to the rear suspension and axle of my Mexico.

    After the summer break the season restarted in September with a rally in Dungannon, an area where we always go fairly well.  On this occasion we weren't even properly started before we had a major disaster.  Within three miles of the start we were traveling down a very bumpy lane when we landed badly over a yump, there was a crack from the rear axle and I knew with a sinking heart that we had broken a halfshaft.  By going very slowly and not reving the engine too hard we were able to drive to the end of this lane - we had hoped to make it to the next major control and get a lift back to the start venue.  Our LSD wasn't fit to haul us up a particularly steep incline and we had to abandon the car and walk to the control.  Once the control was closed the marshal left us back to the start venue to pick up the Range Rover and trailer and we returned to collect our stricken car, needless to say the journey home was rather quiet as our championship lead had now slipped completely away.

    It a was a fairly straightforward matter to change the broken halfshaft and get the car ready for the next championship event in South Armagh in a fortnights time.  This event started badly for quite a few crews as they had trouble finding the first major control and some even approached it from the wrong direction - at least we found it on our second attempt, it was placed on a road that appeared to be a dead end.  Everything went fairly well for us until after the petrol halt, the following section was in an area called Dead Man's Hill and this is where our fairly good run died.  John had a lot of trouble with the navigation and we lost a lot of time in the maze of roads in this area.

    We never really recovered from this setback and when we got to the finish the news went from bad to worse. Not only had we finished a lowly eighth but the crew who had been lying second to us before the summer break had won this event (they won the previous event as well) and with the cancellation of the penultimate event there was no way any of us could catch them so the race to be champions was over. We went into the final event of the year lying in fourth place but with dropped scores and what not we had every chance of improving on that. As it turned out we had a very good if somewhat uneventful run into second place on this event and with the two crews above us having poor runs this lifted us to second in the final championship standings. The champions elect also won this event, that made it four wins in a row for them and along with one other win they had won five events out of the eight that where part of the championship.  With results like that things looked fairly bleak for the rest of us for the following year but come 97 we would still be back out there trying our best.

    After a couple of months lay off over the winter, the 97 championship started at the end of January.  The first three events of the season went fairly uneventfully for us, we had reasonable scores of a fourth and two thirds but to really stand any chance in the championship you need to be hammering in the odd win.  The fourth event was one that I always organise for my own club and with John my navigator helping me that meant we had no more points to add to our total.  The fifth event of the season and the final one before the summer break was being held in Enniskillen, and we had high hopes of a good result after our second overall the previous year. This event is one of the few in Northern Ireland where the police really make their presence felt, there were at least three speed traps set up, even one on a competitive section, luckily we were going fairly slowly as we were well up on time for once.  There were even a couple of unmarked police cars cruising the route and keeping an eye on various junctions etc. This was to be quite lucky for us, as about halfway through the event we came to an uphill T-junction, I had to stop as there was another car coming, once it went past I came out sideways under full power and within five yards there was a bang and the car lurched to a halt.  Not another broken halfshaft.  You bet it was, only this time it had broken off flush with the outer edge of the wheel bearing and all that was holding the wheel in place was the brake caliper and the bodywork. While we were investigating the problem along came one of these aforementioned Police cars, after a bit of good humoured banter between us, them and two local kids who had been watching us, about whether we came out of the junction “on the handbrake” or not, they agreed to give us a lift back to the start venue to get the Range Rover and trailer, I think we’ve been down this road before so to speak.

    On our way home that night we had a discussion about the merits of throwing away our English axle and fitting an Atlas instead. The next morning I rang round a few people to find out if there were any second hand units available and at what cost etc. I then thought to myself “Why buy something that’s been thrashed around goodness knows how many stage events”, someone else’s trouble so to speak. I then made a few enquiries about getting a new one built, while it would be quite a bit more expensive I also reckoned that with all new parts it should never give me any trouble. So I placed an order for a new one, the only second hand part was the centre bit or “pigshead” as they call it, there were new thick tubes and end flanges, a new 5.1 CW&P, a new ZF diff, Quaiffe halfshafts and all new bearings etc. While I was waiting for this to be done I was over at AVO Day and collected a few other bits I needed like 5-leaf slipper springs, new propshaft and a pair of Sierra Cosworth rear calipers and a few other items I needed to redo the complete rear end.

    On my return home I must have rung about twice a week to enquire about my Atlas and every time there was always some hold up. Finally in late August everything was ready for collection and I hoped that I would have enough time to get all the bits built up and sorted out. There was a lot of frantic activity in my garage in the last couple of weeks leading up to the restart of our navigation rally season in mid-September. At long last I had gathered together all of the parts needed for our Atlas axle. The first job that needed done was to weld on all the brackets for the 5-link kit; I also had to weld on spring hangers.  Following this I then had to build up the halfshafts, fitting the bearings, flanges etc, once built I fitted these to the axle casing and then proceeded to bolt on the brake discs, when I had the brake discs fitted I then clamped on the Cosworth calipers and started to make brackets to hold these to the axle. Before welding on these brackets I removed the English axle from the car, fitted the new 5-leaf springs and did a trial fit of the new axle, brakes etc to ensure that nothing would foul on the body or chassis rails. With everything looking good I proceeded to weld on the rest of the brackets, then removed the axle to give it a coat of paint. Once painted I could start to rebuild and fit the axle, unfortunately anything that could go wrong did go wrong. Firstly the eye in the rear of the new springs was a different size from the one in the single leaf springs which I had been running so I needed new bushes etc. I couldn't buy any and had to make bushes from aluminium and then fit nylon inserts in these. Luckily I had made a few lowering blocks a number of years ago and also made special bolts with very large round heads to hold these to the springs. What I did was remove the bolt in the middle of the spring and insert the large headed bolt right through the lowering block and spring, the head of this bolt was the same diameter as the large hole in the spring saddle. This is a modification that anyone using lowering blocks may find useful, as the blocks are no longer able to work free - the cause of more than one rally accident. A myriad of other little things held me up as I now needed things like Metric instead of Imperial bolts for everything and even the bushes I had made for my Rose joints were now the wrong size. With less than a week to go I finally bought, scrounged or made everything I needed and its finally all gone into the car. With no time to give it all a test it’ll get a baptism of fire on its first event and I’ll let you know how that goes in my next letter, until then,

All The Best.

Neil Fletcher.

XTW 377F - Twin Cam
FMX 800J - RS1600
JIJ 9975 – Mexico
FIA 6386 – Mexico
Membership No. 1472

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