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AUSTIN 7 SPECIAL ART CAR – Creating a mechanical sculpture

We bought this 1934 Austin 7 special despite it being a horrible confused mess.

I think the worst bit was a rear registration plate hand painted in  “Ye ol’ English Sweet Shop” lettering and affixed to the rear axle with four exhaust clamps.

The nasty ’60s style bullet mirror ( made in China) and inappropriate modern headlamps did it no favours nor the radiator and wheels which appeared to have been painted with a wallpaper brush.

And why do people have to stick silly stickers on their classic cars? But a personal favourite (not) was the raw-ended shower hose used to encase some of the wiring.

But looking beyond the ugly ill-advised accoutrements and some crude engineering was something special. A special special if you like. And it drove very well, and more sprightly than you would think.

After a thorough inspection the workshop confirmed that the engine and chassis has been rebuilt to a very high standard and that the aluminium bodywork had been professionally and beautifully formed by a master craftsman.

We all felt the car deserved better so stripped off all the junk to re-assess the car.

Pushed out into the sunlight we all went “Wow!”

It was beautiful and charming in equal measure.

But the car needed a new focus rather than the previous “just throw a mishmash of twee and cheap and nasty kit-car bits at it” approach.

We decided to create an art car with a polished aluminium and brass theme, a piece of mechanical sculpture.

As the car had been built recently, there was no concern over retaining any “patina” ( and I do love oily-rag cars) but I am not a fan of ageing cars by fakery, so I am happy if it looks like it was built yesterday because it was!

The wonderful thing about an Austin 7 special is that you don’t have to worry about originality so you have, to some extent,  somewhat free reign, which is refreshing in the classic car world.

But its clearly better to acknowledge and celebrate its vintage origins and the many inspired specials built in sheds over the years.

Back in the workshop the car was taken to pieces and all the bodywork aluminium polished. Just the polishing took 3 1/2 weeks.

Then started the laborious process of sourcing period parts and refurbishing when needed.

The dashboard has been a matter of much discussion.  The dash fitted was passable but dull and not in anyway mechanically interesting, a speedo and oil gauge and that was it.

I was talking to a man who restores and sells vintage gauges for a living,  he mentioned that although, on his own car, it would have been easy for him to fit a perfect set of matching gauges on the dash, he chose not to, but selected a mix of period parts.

As someone who loves the old dials and the aesthetic of vintage Bentley dashes we felt this is the look we wanted, as do many Austin specials owners, but the cost of nice stuff has been an eye-opener!

To illustrate some of the trouble we went to the passenger grab handle was a piece of bent aluminium, ugly and uncomfortable to hold.  We bought numerous lovely old door handles in solid brass to try and get one that could be bent to fit but even the engineering shop struggled.

Eventually we had a new one cast to shape to make a perfect fit.

The rubber surround on the rear reflectors just did not suit the car so a retired Geography teacher who engineers model steam engines from scratch, made us some in solid brass.

Finishing the car to a high standard has really been time consuming and difficult and we still have work to do , but already it is looking stunning.

1934 Austin 7 special

Tips for running a Modern Car

If you want to get the best service out of a new or nearly new car , this is our advise, based on real world problems we encounter everyday in the workshop.

  1. Fill up with quality fuel.
    The savings of buying cheap petrol with less modern additives is not worth the risk and the potential savings for average mileage drivers is minimal as there is some indication that premium fuel provides better mpg.
  2. Service the car regularly by the book, and more frequently where extended service intervals are suggested particularly where the car is subject to short journeys in slow moving traffic.
  3. Diesel engines need a long high speed drive down a motorway at regular intervals in order to help clean the DPF which needs a high temperature to self generate. We are finding more and more problems with soot in the system for cars which are used infrequently or for short journeys. And the problems are expensive to fix.
  4. Do not ignore dash warning lights!
    On rare occasions, you stall the engine on take-off for instance, the computer can have a “blip” and put on an engine management light on for no real reason, but the systems are so reliable these days its best to have it attended to ASAP as the longer the car runs with some sort of problem the more expensive is the repair, as one system/sensor down starts to damage other parts of the car.

    The most likely dash lights (RED normally means serious and YELLOW a warning) and their most common problems are as follows:

    • Engine Management Light (normally a little yellow light depicting an engine)
      This normally relates to emissions or the way the engine is burning fuel, normally caused by a sensor or wiring fault. Sometimes the driver feels no difference in the running of the car but the engine could be laying down soot and damaging parts in the exhaust, lambda sensors and the catalytic converter for instance, and these are expensive parts. Some sensors are relatively inexpensive so it’s worth acting on the warning.
    • ABS (normally indicated by a yellow ABS or TCS on the dash)
      Refers to the anti-lock braking system (ABS) or traction control system (TCS).
      Few drivers seem to understand the system so I will do  my best to explain it.

      Essentially ABS only comes into play under abnormal conditions, so in everyday driving it sits inoperative in the background.  But should you have to do an emergency brake and slam on the anchors to miss a stray dog, or you are braking hard in icy, slippery conditions, one or more of the wheels can lock up.
      In short the wheel is braked greater than the grip on the road so its stops turning and the car skids. When skidding the car loses its traction (grip on the road) so does not respond to turns of the steering wheel and the driver cant steer away from the danger but also, the braking distance is significantly increased.  In other words it takes a far greater distance to bring the car to a halt.

      ABS helps to overcome these problems by releasing some of the pressure on the brakes on the wheel or wheels that are skidding. To the driver it feels like the brake pedal is pulsing or vibrating.

      TCS is allied to and works with the ABS system but whereas the ABS helps to stop the tyres skidding under heavy braking, Traction Control System helps to stop skidding under acceleration in slippery conditions or when cornering. There are many types so this is just a generalisation.

    • Brake warning light (normally red or yellow and indicator looks like a circle with two curved lines embracing it each side. Actually depicts brake shoes around a drum).

      Brakes are the most important safety system on a car so this should not be ignored.
      The most common problem is the hand brake has been left on accidentally, or is not releasing properly (seized mechanism or faulty electronics) but it can also indicate a more serious problem.

      It can relate to a loss of brake fluid or brake pads at the end of their life.  Worn pads are a normal wear and tear item but must be replaced with the associated discs otherwise you are to a large extent wasting your money, as old worn discs just tear the new pads to pieces with drastically reduced lifespan, and more brake problems down the road. And really, discs for most cars are relatively inexpensive these days.

  5. Tyres:
    It is unfortunate that most petrol stations have made it so difficult to check and inflate your car’s tyres in order to keep them at the correct pressure but at least small home compressors have become inexpensive even if the readings on the gauge are not always that accurate.

    If the tyre is under-inflated it wears on the outer edges and if over inflated it wears on the middle of the tread, but in both cases rapid wear is the result. Tyres are expensive so it pays to keep a check on them at regular intervals.

    We recommend premium brand/quality tyres for high performance vehicles and luxury 4x4s and mainly mid-range tyres for normal everyday cars, and budgets for little-use older runabouts.

    We do have special agreement with one of our suppliers to obtain a premium tyre at lower mid-range prices. It’s important to note that the margin of profit on tyres is small and really just covers our time so it’s no money spinner, and also we make the same on any tyre we fit so we do give objective advice to our customers.

    All tyres are some sort of trade-off between grip (in dry or wet), tyre life, noise and price. I think it would be fair to say, in general, the bigger the tyre and lower the profile (thickness of tyre between rim and tread)  the greater the cost. We prefer to fit European or Japanese brands we know and some far eastern budget brands. Chinese made products were poor quality products initially, but are improving.

    But as tyres are the only link with the road and critical for braking and handling, buying the best you can afford is wise.

  6. Punctures:
    It is only safe to fix punctures if the thorn or nail is situated in the middle section of the tyre tread. Too near the side or in the side-wall is not fixable, as the potential for a blow out is high.

     If the car has been driven any distance on a flat tyre, the casing will be damaged and it needs to be replaced for safety sake.

Brake Service

Over time, and especially for cars that have been left standing (even for just a week) and especially in the winter months when its damp, brake components can seize up with rust.

The driver will then hear a grinding noise on take-off or, retardation when slowing down, or smell an acidic burning.  Essentially the brakes (or handbrake mechanism) is/are binding and not releasing or moving as they should.

In most cases new discs and pads (drums and shoes where fitted) is the only sensible option.

But where the components are still OK, a brake service can solve the problem and it entails stripping down all the brake components and grinding off any rust build-up and cleaning the sliders and carrier and putting back together with a special grease designed just for this job.

It is time consuming to do properly and on some cars, part of the suspension has to be removed. Also all the bolts and nuts in this area are subject to rust because of road grime being flicked up, so they are often seized.  So the bill can be a little higher than estimated!


Why buy a Classic Car?

It is not surprising that classic cars have become so mainstream when I can remember that messing around with old cars was the prerogative of odd old men in sheds.

Modern cars have become so anodyne and soulless that the thrill of driving or the excitement of planning a road trip has been lost.

I would not recommend buying a classic car as an investment, although over the period 2013 -2016 many classic cars doubled in value and they turned out to be the best investment anyone could make, especially when my bank was offering 0.01% on my savings!

But it is an investment, if you like, in yourself and your family.

There is lots to be said for opening up the garage on a crisp spring morning and giving your pride-and-joy a wipe over before going for a blast down country roads.

 The noise and mechanical feel is addictive (and rewarding) and it feels like fast even when you are well within the speed limits.

 And as you park up at some village or town for coffee, someone is going to come over to chat.

Apart from meeting people and making new friends a whole plethora of events to attend opens up to  you, from the stunning Goodwood events to many top class Concourse de Elegances, but perhaps more importantly, lots of little local meetings often held in stunning estates and gardens so the whole family can enjoy the morning out.

Then there are the organised road trips/rallys and continental touring trips and hill-climbs and racing if you are seriously competitive.

In short, owning a classic car can become a lifestyle that enriches your life . And even in darkest winter (the car tucked under its cover) nothing beats sitting around the fire with a whiskey and the latest classic car magazine or book.

Modern Car Servicing Explained!

There are basically two types of service, Interim (minor) and Full (major) and most manufactures and marques and models adhere to this.

There slight variations but we advise our customers to service their car once a year or around every 10 000 miles which fits in with manufacturers recommendations.

So one year its an interim service and the next a full service, and so on.  For cars that do very little mileage, the service interval can be stretched a bit, but oil deteriorates with time so we do not recommend more than 18 months.

Manufactures started some years ago to recommend longer service intervals and some have gone back on this as the cars started to develop problems.

Our advice is always, at the very least, change the oil regularly as at least the engine is saved from contamination and rapid wear and with some of our customers running cars with over 200 000 miles on them, this good advice is proven.

Interim Service

  • Fresh oil.
  • New oil filter.
  • Some cars require a new pollen/cabin filter.
  • Some diesels recommend a new fuel filter.
  • Visual check-over ( tyres, brakes if can be seen, and all lights).
  • Visual check of suspension components/chassis.
  • Top up levels for the coolant, power steering and brake fluid, and washer bottle.
  • Re-set service light if on.

 Cost at Greenway varies between £100 to £200 depending on car and engine.

I can also mention that you are not obliged to take your new car back to the main dealer for servicing and by fitting OE parts, we can make sure your warranty, if any, is protected.

Full Service

  • Fresh oil
  • New oil filter
  • Spark plugs (for petrol engines, although some have long life plugs that only need to be changed
  • at high mileage intervals.)
  • Air filter
  • Pollen/cabin filter
  • Fuel filter ( Some petrol engines have a long life one that does not need changing)
  • Visual check-over chassis and suspension
  • Test and top up brake and clutch fluid
  • Top up levels of coolant (and test for condition) and windscreen washer bottle.
  • Visual check of brakes.
  • Reset service light.

Cost at Greenway varies between £210 to £350 depending on car and engine.

Pollen Filters 

As there is some confusion about pollen filters, here is a quick explanation.

Pollen filters or Cabin filters are a paper like filter that filters air entering the inside of the car via the heater blower or air-conditioning system.
They can be situated to the rear of the engine in the scuttle or under the dashboard.

They are often difficult and time consuming to fit, in one top selling car , the fuse box has to be removed first.  Not all garages bother to replace them on a regular basis as they add to the cost of the service (they are not a cheap part) and can be fiddly to fit.

We replace them on all major services as they become contaminated with time and build up bacteria (they can get damp)  which means the air entering the cabin can be harmful to the occupants.

If you suffer from allergies including hay-fever please mention this to us and we will replace the filter at each service rather than only at the major one.