A visit to the body filler mines of Norfolk

Video contains strong language.

And that, kids, is where your P38 comes from!

This was not an act of wanton destruction and savagery. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it, but it was necessary, because my brother's 1963 Land Rover had, as my brother sagely observed, a lot of filler.

Pictured: A lot of filler.

Some time before my brother bought this Land Rover in 2008, someone had tried to make its bodywork a bit smarter, with a lot of filler. I cannot say that this was a terrible idea, because it held up as well as a monstrous amount of filler could reasonably hold up.

It took my brother rolling the car onto its side some years ago to crack it severely, with some help from daily driving for years, three road trips to Africa, and one gentle road trip to China via Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Even then, as ugly as it was, it was not an MOT failure, until someone picked off some bits of it, and then it was an MOT failure because of an exposed sharp edge.

So, with a lot of filler removed, and some help from a blowtorch, soap[1], and a selection of percussive persuasion tools, we had a straight panel again. I say "straight", though I actually mean "straight enough to be presentable on a battered Land Rover". I made sure that Alex was out of arms reach and did not have any power tools to hand when I said "that's straight enough, but do you know how we could make that panel absolutely perfect? If we got a lot of filler..."

Many other things were completed over the weekend, thanks to Alex's superhuman motivation. And also his ability to talk people out of whatever else they wanted to do and into helping him.

But not even Alex can make me miss a British Drift Championship livestream...

I had other things to do with my current project-within-a-project on the P5 (more on this soon-ish), but after the filler-mining was complete of course I stayed up much longer than I was expecting to stay up, helping him wire in a pair of new horrifically-bright LED light bars, because Alex can talk toothpaste back into the tube...

...which took us into the early hours of the morning, and all of that was definitely a good way to spend 14 hours!

Thanks to Alex for the video and a couple of the pictures in this post.

[1] With very thin aluminium such as that of a Land Rover body panel, you mark the area you want to with ordinary soap. Heat that area with a blowtorch. When the soap turns black, it is at a temperature that is more-or-less optimal for percussive reshaping. :)

The little things

I love good documentation.

The Rover P5's workshop manual - the original one written by the engineers at Rover - is the best manual I have ever used. I especially enjoy that the manual sets out exactly what tools you will need including the sizes of spanners in the preface. This is the only workshop manual I have seen that does this, and it makes every job a tiny bit faster and a tiny bit more fun.

How many times did I work on the Mazda and read through a 20-step walkthrough and then in step 19 it says "use special tool, part number F-U, which is obviously completely unavailable for any amount of money to remove this delicate thing that will definitely break if you try to use cruder methods to remove it"?

Good documentation is important, and I believe in thanking people for good work even if I am late to their particular party. So, thank you, Rover engineers from 60 years ago. You did a fantastic job.

Visiting some remnants of the Lynn & Wisbech railway at Magdalen, part 2

Previously, I had visited the remnants of bridge MMR/2333 in Magdalen to document them, as their demolition seemed to be imminent. On my day off today, I revisited them.

They are gone. It's good to document these things while you can.

The other bridge abutment mentioned in that post has gained some railings. Perhaps the intent was to make a nice viewing platform. Or perhaps they were put in place by one of those government departments whose purpose is to prevent people falling off things. It is still a lovely place to observe the Ouse.

About 300 metres to the East of where we started as the crow flies (and about a mile and a half as the person walks) is my favourite bridge.

I have been here more times than I could reasonably count. Every time I revisit it, I still love admiring all of its little details. Such as the remnants of track ballast:

Or, at the eastern end of the bridge, the small patch where this has been eroded and has exposed some brickwork:

Or the expansion gaps like this one and the countless hot rivets:

And the railings on the bridge (the silver square fencing is a latter addition, which is again probably the work of some government department that dislikes things falling off other things):

And, at the foot of an embankment nearby, what seem to be original railway fence posts:

This never gets old!

I am unsure about the history of this bridge. Its deck seems quite Victorian in style. Yet, the Great Ouse Relief Channel it spans was only completed in 1964. I speculate, but do not at all know (and would like to know), that the deck may have been transplanted from some other railway that was closed. This bridge only had a very few years in railway service before the line to Wisbech was closed.

Just a few yards to the East of this bridge, is what I call the Secret Bridge. I disknow that it is actually much of a secret, and it certainly is not now. But, the much larger bridge is well-photographed and this much smaller one, which is well-hidden by undergrowth and has a span a little wider than a modern car, is not.

That's not a great angle. but while the other end of this little bridge is accessible by foot, it's difficult to get a good photograph in full sunlight, while the sun is shining into your camera:


And that, on a warm and sunny April day, was a nice walk. I was pleased I had the foresight in the past to photograph something that is now gone, and I am always pleased to visit my favourite bridge.

In which I make an uncharacteristically sensible decision

The weekend before last, Mazda Amy started making a scary knocking noise at about 2000 RPM upwards when the engine was warm. By "knocking" I do not mean pinking; I mean that scary kind of knocking that hints at a piston being prepared for a journey into earth orbit, and hinting at a full engine rebuild about 300 miles since the last one. Yay, time to throw some more time and money at a 34 year old hatchback.

I love this car. I always will. I'll never sell her, because I know I would regret that forever. She's too rare and she is too special - special in both a "special to me" way and in an "unlike any other car ever made" way.

But...not now. Not this engine rebuild right now, days after I've spent a frightening amount of money on parts for the P5. I made the tough decision to send her away into secure, insulated and dry storage for a little bit.

It broke my heart having to do this. But if I am going to get the P5 done in any reasonable timeframe, I need to sink every spare penny I have into it. And in the meantime, Mazda Amy needs to go some place where she is not going to deteriorate from disuse. This is not goodbye to Mazda Amy; I am kicking the can down the road, and I hope to catch up with that can at some time about six months to a year from now.

Although...even though I knew this wasn't really a goodbye, I will miss her desperately.

I think I only avoided an emotional moment while she was being put onto the truck because I was having a lot of fun talking to the recovery truck's driver. He was a fellow petrolhead who really understood why someone would have so much love for one forgotten rally-homologation variant of a forgotten 1980s hatchback; while he was loading up my car we had wide-ranging conversations about petrolhead topics like the Vauxhall Calibra, the joys of the Rover V8's unique noises, and even our favourite local drift racing drivers. (Quick shout out to Farrow Auto who moved the car for me; I will entirely recommend them to anyone in the area of King's Lynn.)

All of which left me without a working car. And also without a lot of money, by which I mean no fucking money. A brief quest ensued for something on the really really low-budget end of budget motoring.

I wanted something that costed significantly less than a grand. Making it more difficult, I had a few criteria, which would rightly open me to accusations of being a bit of a prima uomo given the price constraint:

  • It must already work. There are huge bargains to be had in the sub-£1000 and especially sub-£500 market, if you feel like doing a bit of work on a car. I don't mind doing any kind of work on cars in the general case, but after three "barely made it home" incidents in Mazda Amy and one bonus "took my chances and can't gauge how lucky I was to make it home" incident in Mazda Amy...I'm tired. I don't mind sinking everything I have into cars. But right now, I just want a working car that gets me to places and then home safely.
  • I must be able to get parts for it, cheaply. Here's a good metric: can you get a pair of brake discs and pads from multiple vendors for less than £35?
  • There must be no modifications. A car with modifications that is worth less than £1000 is modified in ways that have made the car worse. Returning that to standard costs money. I don't want to spend money.
  • Nothing French, because if I had to drive any French car made since about 2003 I would be irresistibility compelled to hate-drive it into a wall.
  • Nothing British. There's no shortage of old Jaguars going for very little money, and those are cheap in the same way "Doberman puppy, free to good home" is actually free. There is also no shortage of cars from MG Rover out there for very little money. They are massively underrated, but good luck getting parts for them.
  • No automatic gearboxes, because I don't like them.
  • No Diesels, out of a misguided sense of principle. (Ask me about that some day.)
  • Not a Honda Jazz, because I am not old enough to legally own a Honda Jazz. The law is what it is; complain to your MP if you don't like it, not to me.

Despite me being too fussy...I found something!

You've heard this one before: Lewis has plans to get a sensible economical daily driver, with a few creature comforts and ends up with...

...something that is actually completely sensible and economical, which was not how you expected that one to end. Meet The Shed!

The Shed is a Ford Fiesta 1.4 LX from 2004. It came with 8 months of MOT and half a tank of fuel. I saw it advertised on Saturday, and I viewed it an hour later. After looking it over for about five minutes, I told the owner I was satisfied it did in fact have four wheels and a working engine, and I handed over her full asking price of...six hundred pounds.

£600! For a working car with no obvious problems! Even if it fails its next MOT, and I decide that it is not worth fixing, that would allow me to have a car for about £75 a month. That is cheap motoring!

It's not just cheap to buy. It should be cheap to own as well. It uses almost no fuel, because it has a tiny 1.4 litre engine and weighs as much as a skateboard. Parts are ridiculously cheap and all of the important stuff is still available brand new, because it is a Ford. And because it's neither fast nor expensive nor desirable, insurance is really cheap too (about half the cost of Mazda Amy).

The Shed is not in bad condition at all. I realise that anyone who knows me, knows that I set that bar quite low, but I think by any reasonable person's standards this is rather good for the money. It is cosmetically imperfect; there are no major dents, but it does have several little scars caused by its time in use as a workhorse for a young family.

The silver colour hides a multitude of sins; I'd call it "20 foot good", in that the £600 car looks like at least a £650 car at that distance. It had a slightly frightening MOT history, but the previous owner's husband is a mechanic; he fixed any advisories & minor faults immediately after they came up.

Most importantly, it is completely solid; there is not so much as a hint of surface rust that would shortly become something much nastier.

The interior is in much better condition.

I was expecting The Shed, as a car that had been used as a child transporter, to have parts missing or broken, and to smell strongly of Fruit Shoots and Marathon bars (or whatever they're called these days). It does not. The Shed is tidy inside and there's minimal wear everywhere.

The Shed is even quite comfortable! It has air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors, and a working (original!) stereo. To most people I'm sure that reads as someone pleased that their hamburger includes bread and meat. Do bear in mind that Mazda Amy had none of these things; The Shed is practically a Bentley in comparison. It's also extremely quiet...compared to a mental turbocharged 1980s rally homologation special with minimal sound deadening and a fucking drainpipe for an exhaust. I reckon if I had someone in my passenger seat I could talk to them without raising my voice!

I'm...somewhat liking The Shed. Or maybe I'm just liking the fact I have a car that works, or maybe those likes are the same thing.

So what's next for The Shed?

I think...pretty much nothing. I will not make any modifications, because modifying a £600 car will make you slightly poorer, increase your insurance costs, and leave you with a £500 car. Except, maybe, if I can find some at the right price, getting some alloy wheels to replace these...

...because wheel trims always look bad. Genuine Ford alloys, like those fitted to the Mark 5 Fiesta Zetec, would look much better and would not look "modified".

Otherwise, I want The Shed to be a car that transports me and objects between places, and it does that just fine, just as it is. I'm unwilling to spend much money on it. But, even though it is The Shed, it still deserves some cosmetic attention. It'll never be an interesting car, but it may as well look as good as its completely-stock slightly-dull self can.

I've set a budget of £100 to improve it cosmetically; if only for my own entertainment, I want to see how I can make the maximum possible cosmetic impact with almost no money. I might even document it here as I go!

Fitting a Chinese-made F10A engine to a Suzuki SJ 410: what you need to know

TL;DR: This requires some amateur machining skills. This also requires the SJ410's sump, oil pickup, and dipstick. It also requires either the SJ410's camshaft or a distributor from a late Vietnamese- or Myanmarese-market Suzuki Carry.

Did you know that the ancient Suzuki F10A engine is still produced today in China? As I write this, they are, because they are still used in brand new vehicles sold in Myanmar and Vietnam. And here's something somewhat more interesting than that: Manufacturers of these engines will sell them directly to customers in the West, even in single-engine quantities. Which is to say: if you need a new F10A engine, you can get in touch with one of their distributors, and have a brand new engine on your doorstep in a few weeks.

That sounds awfully tempting for any owner of a Suzuki SJ410 that has a worn engine; for significantly less than a grand (including the very expensive P&P), you could have a brand new engine in your SJ!

Here is what one looks like after it comes out of its box and goes onto a Draper engine stand:

I did say "box"! Bless these tiny engines; they're small enough that they can fit in a decently-sized, man-portable cardboard box with generous amounts of packing materials.

These Chinese-made engines (which I shall hereafter refer to as "Chinese engines") are designed for various small rear-wheel-drive trucks and vans that are still in use in a couple of Asian markets. The engine differs in subtle ways to the original F10A as fitted to the SJ410. It will require minor modifications to work with the ancillaries of the SJ, all of which I shall detail in this post.

Mounting points, general

Several of the mounting holes were drilled to...well, some thread that wasn't anything in particular. If you get any resistance winding in a metric bolt to any of these holes, don't force it. Use a tap to bring no-thread-in-particular out to a metric thread.


The supplied camshaft will almost certainly be incorrect; the distributor drive splines are angled in the wrong direction and will not drive the SJ410's distributor. Thus, you will either need to use your existing camshaft, buy a new one (available off-the-shelf), or fit a distributor that is appropriate for the camshaft. The correct distributor for the Chinese engine's cam should be the same as those fitted to later Vietnamese- and Myanmarese-market Suzuki Carry.

Alternator bracket

The Chinese engines use a different mounting point for the alternator bracket. This photo should illustrate this:

The spare hole at the top is where the Chinese engines are expecting the alternator bracket to bolt to, whereas the rightmost hole is where the SJ's alternator bracket wants to bolt to. The pegs are still there (presumably from the original casting) to accept a hole, but there is no hole or thread inside it. You will either have to modify your alternator bracket, or drill a hole and tap a thread into the still-extant mounting peg. The latter is what you see in the photo.

Engine mount brackets

You will need to drill out the engine-side holes in the engine mount brackets, because the Chinese engines have an M10 thread and the original SJ's engine uses M8.

On the exhaust-side engine mount, you'll have the same problem as you did on the alternator; the pegs for a mounting hole still exist, but you will need to drill into the peg and tap a thread for the engine mount. Be very careful here; it is easy to drill too far and thereby poke a hole into your crankcase area, and you'll end up with machining swarf chilling in your crankcase.

Sump & oil pickup

You will need to use the SJ410's original sump. This should clearly illustrate why:

The sump on the SJ410 engines has a large cutout at the front to clear your axle, and is somewhat deeper at the back. Of course, this is not necessary on rear-wheel-drive cars, so they have a flat, deep sump. If your SJ410 has a substantial-enough suspension lift kit, you might get away with it. Or you might smash an axle-sized hole in your sump, and not get away with it. It's much better to use the original sump.

For this reason, you're going to have to use the SJ410's oil pickup pipe, too, as the SJ410's picks up from a different place, and the Chinese engine's one will be too long for the SJ engine's sump. This will present you with another problem, which is that the extra length of the SJ's oil pickup necessitates an extra bracket to hold the oil pickup in place. This bracket is attached to a hole on the middlemost main bearing cap...

...which does not exist at all on the Chinese engine's middlemost bearing cap:

Don't try and use the SJ410's bearing cap; the tolerances down there are very tight. It is best to weld a nut onto the Chinese engine's main bearing cap.

Here's what that looks like:

You'll also need to use the SJ410's dipstick, or modify the Chinese engine's dipstick.

Spark plugs

Your Chinese engine may come with spark plugs. If it does, they will probably be mystery-meat spark plugs. They will do fine, in the short term. They will burn out soon enough, so you should definitely replace them at the first opportunity with a set of NGK plugs.

Addendum: the real work here and all of the learnings are those of Maurice Carter, who does not have a website. My contribution is limited to offering bad ideas, offering exactly two good ideas, taking photographs, and arranging some words to form some sentences that you just read.