Friday 4 November 2016

The Spy Who Loved Himself

Some time last year I got an interesting message via the P1800 group on Facebook.  A film maker was looking for a white P1800 to star in an arts-council feature-length movie he was making.  A spoof spy drama called "The Spy Who Loved Himself".  

I could hardly say no - and a few months later I found myself on the roof of a multi-storey car park in Leicester on a wet Thursday evening.  Nobody said this would be Hollywood!  

The first scenes we shot involved dialogue between a couple of actors playing well-known TV personalities, as they leave a TV studio.  One gets into the P1800, and then the camera stops, we swap jackets, and I drive the car out of the car park and down the ramp, where the action resumes on the street level as I drive out and into the night.  

We then did another scene outside an old concrete factory, which I'm told will double as "The Berlin Wall" in the final cut!  That involved me (again, dressed as the actor) driving at some speed over a hump-back bridge.  

We finished off with a few driving shots, some from inside the car and some from a camera car overtaking us.  

I've no idea how this is going to turn out, but I'm looking forward to receiving my invitation to the premiere!  

The Wedding Car

My brother got married earlier this year, with the "main event" taking place over in Northern Cyprus.  Later in the year, for the folks who couldn't make the trip, the lovely couple (Catherine and David) laid on a party here in the UK.  David said it might be cool if he could arrive with his new bride, in the P1800 - and who was I to argue!  

Congratulations to the new Mr and Mrs F!



When this car was in pieces in the workshop, I had in the back of my mind that I'd finish it off with a set of minilite wheels.  And I still think they look great on a P1800.  But... what are the other options?  

Of course I could leave it on the original Jensen steels with Jensen trims. They're rare.  They look good.  But they also limit me to very skinny tyres (I drive this car a lot, and on some of the twisty lanes around here when it's damp I'm always very aware that I'm on limited lateral grip).   Oh, and then ... there's the rarity and value of those Jensen dinner-plate trims.  Some of the prices I see on eBay are frankly scary, considering that I leave the car parked out in public places quite often (and I suppose also could lose one at speed on the M6)... maybe they are best left in the house until those days when it's at a local car show. 

I've always been drawn to the Dunlop racing wheels, as fitted to various competition Jaguars of the same era as my P1800.  After a lot of research and a number of lengthy email conversations, I discovered Realm Engineering, who make reproductions of the old Dunlop wheel to order.  After some exchange of measurements, they confirmed that they could make a set of Dunlops for the old Volvo.

However - something like this doesn't come cheap.  And I'm not entirely convinced that I couldn't achieve something similar with a wide steelie - at about a quarter of the cost of a set of custom-made Dunlops.  

What do you think of my Photoshop mock-up of the P1800 on Dunlops?  Yes or No?  

Thursday 2 July 2015

When I say stop... STOP

One thing about running an old car and mixing it with modern cars on the road is that although in some ways you are more conspicuous (you see the necks snap as you drive down a high street), in other ways you are less conspicuous... are those weedy little tail lights going to be noticed on a wet night on the M6 by the guy in the Range Rover on the phone as he bears down on you...

Well, after a little debate over on the Facebook forums, I decided to experiment with replacement LED stop and tail lights, to see if the increased brightness and reaction time would make any kind of material difference to visibility of my car.  

Opinions seemed divided on this - some questioned safety (after all the lights on a car are designed for the technology of the time), others pointed out that some LED bulbs are fundamentally different from the filament bulbs they replace, in that LEDs are directional, and filament bulbs shine in all directions.   After a detailed email conversation with Gil Keane at 4Sight Automotive ( I felt confident enough to order a pair of LED stop and tail bulbs.  Total price with tax and shipping around £37.  The bulbs arrived well-packaged next morning.  Gil assured me that if they didn't meet my expectations for any reason, I could have a full refund.  

As you can see, these are unusual looking bulbs.  They appear to be of a good quality of manufacture, and are marked with the CE mark. 

To mimic the omni-directional quality of a standard filament bulb, the LEDs are arranged in a pattern with six "elements" on each of the top, bottom, left and right of the unit, plus a domed lens with LEDs behind it on the end facing rearwards.  

As you can see from the below picture, they are longer than a standard filament bulb, and on comparing them, I was concerned that they may not fit behind the plastic lenses.

Installation was as simple as replacing the bulb!  Note however that replacing the indicator flasher bulb is more involved (as a different flasher unit needs to be fitted - the old style relays do not notice the low current demanded by the modern LED, and so won't flash).

You may notice the the new (longer) bulb stands proud of the chrome housing, but does still fit behind the lens with no clearance issues.  

Note that you need to order red coloured LEDs for use in red tail-lights.  This is because the increased brightness would shine pink if using a white LED bulb behind the red lens.  

The results:

Do they fit / are they easy to swap?

- Yes, couldn't be simpler

Are they brighter?

- Yes, I've included some video below to illustrate the difference.  As well as brightness, it's notable that the brake lights respond much faster. 

Any issues with the light pattern? 

- Not that I can see.  I can imagine that a single, directional LED would perhaps not illuminate the full lens enclosure, but these appear to give a good even light. 

Any other benefits?  

- They run cooler - after a few minutes with tail lights on, I placed my hands on the rear tail lenses, and the lens with LED fitter had remained at ambient temperature, whilst the filament lens had warmed up to the touch.   They are said to last a lot longer, but obviously I can't evaluate that yet. 

By way of comparison, I changed only the right-hand side bulb and then did some video during late evening daylight.  The results in terms of difference may be more noticeable at night, but I wanted to be able to see a material improvement in brake light performance with good ambient light, as this is typically when I'll be driving my car.  I'm not sure how well this will come across in the video, but I think it's appreciably better:  

So - I've put both bulbs in, kept the old filament bulbs in the boot as spares, and I'll get an opinion from my friendly and knowledgeable local mechanic next time I fill up with juice. In the meantime, let me know what you think.  Personally I think this is a noticeable improvement for not a huge outlay and less than 5 minutes of screwdriver time. 

On the Cobbles

Just a few photos of the car in it's new home town of Glossop.  Put these in monochrome and they could have been taken in 1961... 

Thursday 11 June 2015

Second Life

What compels us to do this?  To drag rusting hulks of metal out of the bushes and spend more money that they're worth on restoring them, in order to create a constant drain on our finances and our free time, and invoke the never-ending worry about where we've parked them, whether they're going to break or rust away or get crashed?  


... because it's beautiful.  It's attention-seeking, it's high maintenance, it's unreliable (probably) but I can't stop looking at it, and I can't stop smiling when I'm driving it.  

So what's it like to drive?  

It's solid.  It doesn't rattle or shake - it feels planted and predictable and safe.  The steering isn't go-kart like - it doesn't have the feedback of a true sports car; but it's progressive and after a few miles you just start to trust that it's going to do what you command, and it doesn't fail you.  The brakes are still bedding in - they feel soft at first, but they work well.  It's quiet in overdrive at 75mph, but when climbing above 3,500rpm in third, the exhaust gives a lovely rasp and the engine growls.  What impressed me most on the 200 mile drive home, which took in a mixture of high speed motorways and twisty Peak District passes, is that this car was built in 1961. It just feels much more modern.  I can completely understand why the reviews of the day called it a Grand Tourer - you really could conceivable get in this car and drive across a country, and not feel too shaken up at the other end.  

There will be niggles in the first few hundred miles after a 40+ year "rest" and a complete dis-assembly and rebuild.  In fact, we're already discovered some of them - a bad earth on the alternator left me feeling a bit flat, and there is something loose behind the radio.  Oh and a spring on the boot lid broke.  But all in all - considering the extend of the rebuild and the age of the car, I'm amazed.  It goes, stops, sounds great, and as for the looks ... well, judge for yourself.  

And that brings me to the reactions of people who encounter the car.  I've driven some pretty special cars, but nothing - absolutely nothing - has provoked the reactions that this car has.  

My favourite so far was the guy who told his wife:  "THAT.... IS.................THAT.... IS................. THAT....IS........."

He couldn't find the words.  Kids on bikes stop to ask what it is.  I've lost count of the number of people I've heard (or seen mouth) "The Saint" as I drive along a High St.  

So is the pain worth the pleasure?  I hope so.  There will be skinned knuckles and swearing when it goes wrong and I can't fix it.  There will be garage bills and annoying parking dings and my wife will notice the oil on the driveway.  But one look at that shape glinting in the sunshine when we've parked for lunch outside our favourite cafe - a flick of the overdrive switch as we settle into a rhythm on a long curvy A-road - the warm glow from those amazing 1950's style dashboard gauges on a night-time cross country drive - and it all feels worth it.  

Thursday 2 April 2015


Coming to a road near you, 18th April.... 

We're on the final straight now.  Road-registered and legal, just a noisy overdrive unit (which became apparent on the first high-speed test drive) to sort out.  The Laycock de Normanville will be dropped out next week for further investigation.  

Meanwhile, I don't even care to work out what I've spent here; but needless to say it's enough to give me a keen interest in values of these early models (even though I have no plans to sell).  It appears that the sale of this one caused a few ripples in the P1800 community... could it be that this model is on the verge of going skyward?