IN THE city stillness after midnight I heard the noise coming. A dragging, tearing metal noise that echoed off house fronts and continued uphill, to a cross intersection where I was working yet another all-nighter on a race car. I walked out of the servo bay to see what in the hell was going on.
There was an HJ Holden, no lights on, and, trapped underneath as it crested the hill in a shower of sparks, the remains of a pole-mounted sign. The course was erratic and the HJ veered left, towards a pavement with a pipe railing on the edge of a 10-metre drop into a flat bitumen car park, where workers paid to leave cars all day. At maybe 30km/h, the white sedan arrowed straight for this fence, and I could see in the street light that the car was packed with blokes hanging out of windows, while the driver seemed oblivious to the noise, or where the road was.
Seconds slowed down as I watched the inevitable leap over the footpath and head-on smash through the fence. Then the front dropped and the boot vanished over the edge, and there was crunching and crashing and a final, loud thump, and there was yelling in the stillness.
My God. Just like that.
There were house lights coming on as I ran across the tar and into the car park, where the HJ had somehow landed on its wheels.
Already there were blokes climbing out of doors and windows, some carrying grog bottles, and none of them seemed to be badly hurt. They were maybe mid-20s party animals and they must have really tied one on, as most had trouble staying upright and a couple were throwing up. The back floor was crammed now with broken bottles, swimming in alcohol.
The HJ was leaking steaming coolant and the tyres were flat, the roof had caved in, yet the windscreens were intact. I could hear a siren now and thought: ‘You stupid bloody idiots; this is really going to cost someone.’
Neighbours in night gear gathered around, with women checking for broken bones and men standing, shaking heads.
There was no point in staying around until the cops arrived, as the cause of this disaster was obvious, so I walked back to work as the early morning melted away into a medley of voices. The wreck went away the next day.
I had an odd shock absorber problem last week, where I had two identical telescopic shocks off an older race car – one was okay, but the other tested soft. They were expensive coil-over adjustables that had done a lot of work and were no longer made, so I either had to adapt another design to the chassis, or rip these units apart to see if the problem could somehow be sorted.
Most of these competition dampers come apart reasonably easily, so I carefully laid out the pieces and squeaky-cleaned everything before reassembling them with new oil, but I still had the same hard/soft situation.
I thought: Stuff this, and went through the teardown routine again, this time looking at the bump and droop valving, which is usually quite simple, scratching at my thinning hair while I checked out the passage drillings in the valve blocks.
I have a belief that most of the causes of malfunctions in components are usually simple, and that’s what this was. Ever since this soft shock was built, one of the drilled holes in its valve block had never been reamed out to the correct size, compared to its twin. So I figured I’ll either fix it or stuff it forever, picked the right-size drill and carefully enlarged the hole. Washed all the bits again, assembled both and then had a perfectly matched pair of hard-tofind shocks.
And then I wondered: These came off a serious race car with finely tuned adjustable suspension, where small changes can make a huge difference to a driver’s lap times. With that dud shock, it must have had a really flat corner for years!
I went to another swap meet recently, with an attached show ’n’ shine – mostly to look at collections of old rubbish I wouldn’t be game to sell. But sometimes I walk to a stall where there are genuine bargain bits to be seen, and haggling starts where desire meets common sense and an eventual mutual compromise on price is reached.
I was at one of these blue plastic ground sheets with stuff laid out, and got into conversation with another looker where we were both checking out a selection of alloy inlet manifolds. He was after a big hole piece to fit his 302 Ford Clevo in an XB Fairmont sedan, saying that he had already found and fitted a pair of 4V heads and now the mill had lost all its guts. So he figured a bigger Holley and manifold would solve his problem.
“Mate,” I said, “that won’t fix it. You drastically dropped the 302’s compression ratio with those 4V heads, which came off a 351. Because of their larger-capacity combustion chambers, your engine now cannot burn the full charge of fuel. Either refit the 302s, or get yourself a 351 bottom end.”
And he went away sad. s