Thursday, 30 June 2011

Many Happy Returns!

Following a brief and triumphant hiatus, we must regroup in time to say...

Happy Birthday to 270 KTA, which turns 49 on 1 July!

Next year is, of course, the biggy. It probably won't surprise you to know that plans for a 50th Birthday party (actually, a tour) are already well in hand. More on that soon...

Since our triumphant MOT day, 270 KTA has acquired her first tax disc for some years and has been officially entered for her first rally in my care, on Plymouth Hoe in July.

Keen eyes will also have noticed our new 'Summer' banner at the top of the blog.

We didn't attempt the Royal Blue Run in the end. At 400+ miles, I'd already pretty much decided it would be overly ambitious as a proving run, and a couple of small outstanding issues on MOT day made up my mind to enjoy the ride as a passenger.

Now that she's been certified as safe, the next stage is to get the level of general maintenance to my satisfaction before I venture too far. The Hoe Rally seems like a good first run.

First job this weekend is to investigate a 'tick' which develops when the engine is warm. All ears suggest it's nothing serious, probably an injector, but best sorted. I'm also planning a full oil and filter change in the next couple of weeks.

So we're into a new and happy phase. The joy of many hundreds of little jobs 'to-do', combined with the ability to take the thing on the road.

The best of both worlds.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

We Passed

Today has been a milestone day for our mutual friend:

270 KTA now has an MOT!

I'll bring you some meaningful context when I've had some sleep, but for now, here's how the big day went...

0440 - Alarm clock rings, but is not required. I barely slept at all.

0554 - Depart 270 KTA Towers in blinding sunlight.

0619 - Depart South Brent services with a full tank of fuel. Owner's pocket considerably less full.

0758 - Arrive Sourton Services, having managed not to boil up on the notorious Haldon Hill. Driver realises he's carrying only 86p in cash, so writes off ambitions of a bacon sandwich and instead pursues tea.

0842 - Arrive Guscotts, Halwill Junction for testing. Dave is on good form: "Thought you'd try again, then?!"

0910 - Dave's helper rips his trousers (and skin) on the runners underneath 270 KTA's driver's seat. I hide the corresponding rip in my own trousers in the hope this is not seen as a safety issue...

0959 - PASSED. Dave breaks the good news from the cab window. "It's really nice, ennet".

1016 - Return journey is halted by a man waving his arms in the middle of the road. He tells of a serious accident ahead on the A386 Tavistock road, the one I need. Decide to divert via Bridestowe - looks like a big road on google maps...

1026 - Realise it's not a big road. It's single track, mainly uphill, and I can't turn round because I'm in a coach. After a long slog, we pop out on the A386. Back on course.

1135 - Two women at a bus stop in Tavistock flag me down, retracting their hands and shaking their heads at the last minute. Maybe it's because Bristol SUs haven't run in Tavistock for 35 years; or maybe they decided they didn't want the bus that goes to "Butlins Camp"... (I mean, it's not the school holidays yet, is it?)

1230 - Arrive BBC Plymouth, where I must begin a day's work while 270 KTA waits patiently in the seven private spaces coned off in anticipation of success. Among the spectators is my boss, who later sits in the cab and manages to break the engine stop cable. (Don't mention he's not the first... I might get a pay rise.)

1906 - Driver checks oil and water, mends the engine stop cable and performs a tight 180 degree turn in the car park.

2119 - Arrive 270 KTA Towers, jubilant but exhausted.

Our friend is back on the road.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


It's ready for MOT.

But at 1.21am, I'm ready for something else.

Until Tuesday...

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Slow Motion Denouement: 1 Working Day Remaining

One more day, then.

You know the bit at the end of what seems like most Bond films, where our hero works to the very last second to disarm some kind of nuclear bomb?

I know that feeling. If 270 KTA isn't ready by Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock, MOT tester Dave Guscott probably will explode. All over North Devon.

When I phoned him in the week to say that we were "nearly ready again", he resisted a jibe and just chuckled. He's heard that many times before...

But we are nearly ready, except for a huge 'To Do' list of mercifully small jobs through which I'll be ploughing tomorrow - my last working day if I'm to disarm the bomb.

Today has been productive.

I've solved a problem with the reversing light, which (you may have spotted in previous photos) was shining all the time. Before I had it  the bulb had been taken out, presumably to hide this fact from the MOT men. The original fault must have been so for years: it turns out the bolt which operates the switch was too long, therefore pushing the contacts together even when the bus was in neutral.

Maybe this is why we've been going backwards a lot of late?

I've also properly secured the front number plate, which was previously hanging on by just two rotten bolts. Another little job I've been meaning to do for months...

Tomorrow will be a long day. I'm planning an early start, and I expect I'll still be going when it gets dark.

Or perhaps tomorrow night I'll be winding down to a hiatus on a private yacht somewhere, evading calls from my superiors while I make love to a Martini?

More likely under the SU hiding from Guscott...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

It Stops! 2 Working Days

We've got brakes!

After the best part of a year spent chasing problems from one hub to another, from the exhauster and servo to the handbrake and back again... I am now the proud owner of an SUL coach that both goes and stops

This is quite an elite club!

With invaluable help from the Patron Saint once again, the weekend has been spent rebuilding wheel cylinders (we managed to make 4 good ones out of 8), bleeding and adjusting brakes, readjusting the handbrake linkage and eventually getting 270 KTA back down on its feet.

And after a few white knuckle emergency test stops on the driveway to the farm, it's fair to say that if you wanted to run out in front of a bus, 270 KTA wouldn't be a bad one to pick. (Assuming you wanted to survive, of course...)

It hasn't always been thus. The last MOT (before I owned it) shows brake readings within 1% of a fail. My first drive in it almost ended in tragedy at the Derriford Hospital roundabout. At least it would have been convenient...

You might wonder why putting it right has turned into such a job.

Here's what was wrong with the brakes...

- On the nearside rear, only one-third of a brakeshoe was making contact with the drum. The steady bolts (which should align the shoes with the drum) had lost their threads, so they'd just been tightened right up, pushing the shoes way out of line.

- On the offisde rear, the lower shoe ws sitting badly and had ripped the linings of both the drum and shoes to pieces.

- On the front, the offside top wheel cylinder was completely seized, as was one half of the bottom cylinder on the nearside. Inside, all four cylinders were knackered.

All the adjusters, front and back, were seized.

- The handbrake linkage was seized, and most of the rods were too long, meaning that what the lever was trying to do at the front wasn't necessarily happening at the back!

- Plus the servo assistance was minimal, given it was operating with next to no vacuum. The exhauster was failing to generate even a quarter of the vacuum required.

To see the work involved in a) discovering all this, and b) putting it right, you only have to look back at some of the highs and lows in this blog.

Lots still to do before MOT time... But tonight, we celebrate.

Good idea, 270 KTA...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Unrequited Love: 4 Working Days

Don't even ask.

In one sense - the sense I'm going to completely ignore - things have gone a long way backwards since my update last week. Viewed another way, we're a long way forward down a road that's turned out to be quite a bit longer than it looked on the map.

It was ever thus...

In summary, 270 KTA is facing in the same direction as it was, only now it's missing both front wheels and hubs while Sheppards scratch their heads by night...

Here's a summary of last week's frustrations: (in order of appearance)

- The aforementioned battery charger did its job beautifully on one of the two batteries, but the other turned out to be suffering with not one, not two, but three dead cells. "That's quite uncommon" said the man at the Plymouth Battery Centre, when I eventually got around to buying a new one yesterday for £107;

- In between times, I borrowed a set of batteries from a friend with the aim of at least getting 270 KTA turned round to allow me to work on the offside front brakes. These batteries also turned out to be duff, and so I had to borrow a third set from another vehicle. (Sometime during the struggle, I managed to burn through both my trousers and pants with battery acid, but that's a story for lights out...);

- Having finally got 270 KTA started, I set about turning her round only to find we had NO brakes whatsoever - just a limp pedal. The brake fluid in the master cylinder had somehow escaped, or rather leaked somewhere (more on that to follow), and we were left pumping thin air around a hydraulic system;

- Deciding to save that problem for later and press on with work on the offside front brakes in-situ, I discovered that not only was the top wheel cylinder completely seized (this is the bit that actually pushes the brake shoes onto the drum in order to make the coach stop), it had probably been so for the past 20 years.

Enter David Sheppard Senior - the Patron Saint of Bristol SU engineers and founder member of the SU Owners' Samaritan Hotline - who was supposedly travelling down to Devon to help me to bleed the brakes.

After nearly three hours spent coaxing the front and back pistons out, it was clear the wheel cylinders themselves were completely knackered; and since it's best practice not to change things on one side without doing the other...

Hence we're slightly further back, yet quite a lot further forward, than we were.

We've found new cylinders (£££) and rubber kits (actually they're old ones that have never been used, and so they require careful stripping and rebuilding), and we're currently getting those ready to fit.

The Patron Saint has also worked magic on the fuel pump, which you'll recall was causing industrial quantities of black smoke to billow across Devon whenever we reached a hill. It turns out the cold-start mechanism, which is used to give extra fuel on the first start of the day, was permanently jammed in the 'on' position... Helpful!

We've also sorted a problem with the handbrake linkage which was causing the lever to spring back up a notch or two when released. Not only were the rods incorrectly adjusted (and therefore bending themselves into bananas), but one of the links was completely seized. It would have taken only a drop of grease over the last thirty years to prevent it, but instead we had to strip it all down and start again.

So, about June 18th...

Tempting though it is to stop the clock on our little countdown, I'm not ready to admit defeat on that just yet. This could still be done. But more important is knowing that we've done a thorough job and put right the ills of thirty years of engineering neglect.

Without that philosophy you'll never get an old vehicle to repay any of the time and love you invest in restoring it.

And one day, 270 KTA will love me back.

The b***ard thing.

With eternal thanks, and love, to the 'Patron Saint' who is e'en as we speak hard at work machining down a special locking-bolt for one of the hub nuts, 200 miles up the M5/M4...