Bill Bow­ers’ Ariel wasn’t bro­ken but he de­cided to fix it any­way… and in­evitably it im­me­di­ately stopped work­ing. What was stop­ping it start­ing? The things he hadn’t fixed fixed, or the things he had?

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Bill Bow­ers’ Ariel wasn’t bro­ken but he de­cided to fix it any­way… and in­evitably it im­me­di­ately stopped work­ing. What was stop­ping it start­ing? The things he hadn’t fixed, or the things he had?

My favourite un­cle had an Ariel Square Four in the early 1950s. He used to sit me on the tank, driv­ing round Glouces­ter­shire at high speed. So when a 1955 model came up for auc­tion in 1992, I had to have it. Since then it has been well used, and with my wife as pillion we have had seven con­ti­nen­tal trips and cov­ered many thou­sands of miles. Over the years the en­gine has been re­built and many mi­nor things have been im­proved to suit me e – in­clud­ing in­di­ca­tors and a 2ls front brake for safety, a 12V al­ter­na­tor for bet­ter light­ing and to power heated grips, and a sat­nav for nav­i­ga­tion (espe­cially use­ful in for­eign cities) ).

A while ago some­one called the wiring a mess, and that has nig­gled ever since, al­though it all worked. I planned to ride to th he Ariel Ital­ian Rally in May 2020; im­me­di­ately be­fore that we were to or­gan­ise the Ariel Own­ers’ MCC Long Dis­tance Run in Corn­wall, and near the end of March a lo­cal run had been ar­ranged. So at the be­gin­ning of Fe­bru­ary I ig­nored the old maxim of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and moved the Square into the work­shop.

The wiring did in­deed look like a rat’s nest, espe­cially with all the bits added. The po­lar­ity was re­versed be­cause the neg­a­tive earth al­ter­na­tor had re­placed the old pos­i­tive earth dy­namo. A re­stored Gar­rard GP side­car (found as a to­tal wreck in a field) is at­tached oc­ca­sion­ally to the bike along with its as­so­ci­ated electrics. The am­me­ter had to be changed to cope with the ex­tra out­put of the al­ter­na­tor.

Off came the seat, tank, head­lamp cowl­ing, tool boxes and mud­guards, etc, and the old wiring was quickly de­liv­ered to the bin. Then I looked at the bits I had re­moved. It was very ap­par­ent that the paint was way past its best and of sub­tly dif­fer­ent shades on dif­fer­ent parts of the ma­chine. As the bike was semidis­man­tled, the ob­vi­ous thing was to get it re­sprayed. I took the bits along to the paint

shop, and was firmly told that they needed shell blast­ing. That this and the paint­ing would take ten days or so. Fine, I thought, as long as they are back by the end of Fe­bru­ary. I needed to use the same paint for the fork shrouds and lower fork legs and give them enough time to dry hard. Mean­while I re­placed the fork oil seals, and took off the car­bu­ret­tor with the in­let tract in or­der to torque down the head and check the tap­pets.

Then I got down to the wiring. The first thing to do was draw out a new wiring di­a­gram, which I did on an A3 sheet of pa­per for clar­ity. It was based on the orig­i­nal Ariel di­a­gram of 1955, but looks more com­plex with the ad­di­tions which in­clude two re­lays, a flasher unit, and a fuse box.

I or­dered dif­fer­ent coloured wires, a crimp­ing tool, loads of good qual­ity bul­let con­nec­tors of dif­fer­ent sizes to cope with var­i­ous thick­ness wiring, from Au­toElec­tricSup­plies.co.uk. I read re­cently that crimped con­nec­tors are bet­ter than sol­dered ones be­cause they do not heat-harden t the wire and t there­fore do not s suf­fer fa­tigue breaks from v vi­bra­tion… not t that a Square Four vi­brates, of course.

Lay­ing all the wires out along the frame was rel­a­tively easy. I made sure they were too long to start with, and then pro­gres­sively cut them down as it all came to­gether – this is why you need lots of spare bul­lets. I won­dered where to put the fuse box and re­lays, and even­tu­ally bought a com­mer­cial do­mes­tic junc­tion box which I bolted be­hind the bat­tery on the old coil mounts. The coil was moved to the top of the ex­tra tool box I have on the right hand side of the bike.

In­evitably, come the end of Fe­bru­ary, the painted parts weren’t ready, so I or­dered a spray can of match­ing paint. De­liv­ery was at­tempted while we were away so it went back to the seller, which meant I had no paint for the forks. For­tu­nately the spray shop used two-part paint and, pro­vid­ing you use it quickly, this can sat­is­fac­to­rily be ap­plied by

hand. So I did this af­ter pick­ing up the shiny parts from the paint shop.

By now there were just ten days to go be­fore the first run, but we had guests com­ing to stay for most of a week and

I had to make the most of ev­ery scarce op­por­tu­nity to put ev­ery­thing back to­gether. That is where the main prob­lems started. The back mud­guard wouldn’t fit be­cause the new fuse / re­lay box was in the way. It had to be moved for­ward by a cou­ple of cen­time­tres. Then I con­nected the bat­tery and noth­ing worked. The me­ter showed only 0.6V. A con­nec­tion had come un­done in the head­lamp… still only 0.6V. Of course a fuse had blown, but I never did sort out why it showed that 0.6 Volts. At least the lights and horn now worked.

How­ever… now the en­gine wouldn’t fire. I nearly rup­tured my­self kick­ing it over, and then re­alised that the am­me­ter wasn’t flick­er­ing at all as the points opened and shut. Fuse blown again, prob­a­bly from when I had been play­ing around with the am­me­ter. Still noth­ing.

Then I no­ticed that a spade ter­mi­nal on the ig­ni­tion switch had come loose at the rivet. It was ir­repara­ble, which meant fit­ting a new switch. I tried again and for a brief mo­ment the en­gine roared into life… then rapidly cut out. Noth­ing I could do had any ef­fect. I changed the coil. In spite of us­ing the choke, the plugs seemed dry so I checked the float level. I dis­man­tled and re­built the SU car­bu­ret­tor, which had been work­ing per­fectly be­fore the rewiring. I cut out a new leather washer for the carb slid­ing jet and checked the choke mech­a­nism again. The carb is a pain to re­move and at­tach on the Square Four be­cause the nuts se­cur­ing it to the in­let tract are very dif­fi­cult to reach when the tract is bolted to the head.

No improvemen­t. Even­tu­ally I poured some neat fuel into the car­bu­ret­tor mouth and the en­gine fired briefly, rac­ing so fast I thought it might blow up. I just had the chance to no­tice that there was no charge on the am­me­ter, and then si­lence fell again. By now I was com­pletely fed up, and went into the house to con­sole my­self.

I came back a cou­ple of hours later and hap­pened to no­tice that the coil was hot in spite of the ig­ni­tion be­ing turned off. Could it be the coil af­ter all? I changed it for one that I knew worked off an old car. The points were checked. No luck. I thought again. Some­times cir­cuits can do odd things with a faulty earth, as my friend Pete re­minded me. Check, check, and check again.

When I had moved the fuse / re­lay box

I had failed to re­place the earth, which ex­plained why the gen­er­a­tor had not charged – it is ac­ti­vated through a re­lay which needs an earth to func­tion. Af­ter that the coil re­mained cool, but the bike still re­fused to start. I re­built the car­bu­ret­tor again, dou­bly check­ing that the choke was work­ing. I felt like putting a torch to it.

At this point I was some­what re­lieved when the lock­down came. The March ride was can­celled, which saved me the em­bar­rass­ment of not be­ing able to join in. I was fairly des­per­ate by now, and my friend Mark of­fered to lend me his Square 4 car­bu­ret­tor and in­let man­i­fold while he sorted out the cylin­der head on his own ma­chine. My car­bu­ret­tor had to come off sep­a­rately to the in­let tract as the studs for

the tract are seized in the head. So I started the dis­man­tling, and sud­denly re­alised that the nuts se­cur­ing the in­let tract to the man­i­fold in the head cast­ing were barely fin­ger-tight.

Mark’s car­bu­ret­tor wasn’t needed af­ter all. Huz­zah! Prob­lem solved at last. Nuts tight­ened, petrol on, one kick, and she started!

In ret­ro­spect, I re­alised I had left the bike im­me­di­ately af­ter torque­ing down the head. I had ob­vi­ously just put the man­i­fold back on, and failed tighten it. The re­sult­ing air leak was enough to cause all the prob­lems. Sim­ple re­ally but it took me a week to sort. Thanks to all my Cor­nish friends who made all sorts of sug­ges­tions, mostly help­ful, but oc­ca­sion­ally friv­o­lous!

Pho­tos by Bill Bow­ers and Mark

Ariel Fours are heavy ma­chines, and take a fair bit of stop­ping. Al­though the com­pany never of­fered a 2ls front brake, there are a few around The ma­chine runs a sin­gle coil, re­lo­cated to a cool po­si­tion above a tool box

How to im­prove the elec­tri­cal sys­tem. First, draw up a wiring di­a­gram

Et voila! Tidy new elec­tri­cals

Next, find a neat pro­tec­tive box in which to in­stall your new com­po­nents

The cylin­der head, show­ing where the tract at­taches. Also a view of the neat valveg­ear with the cov­ers re­moved

How’sth­is­for an in­let tract! Thelever be­lowthe SU carb is the en­rich­ment de­vice

SU in place, feed­ing fuel to the cylin­ders via the long tract

De­spite be­ing a full-litre four-pot ma­chine, the Ariel is still sen­si­bly slim, even when equipped for tour­ing

When there’s ade­mand­for more thanjust as­in­gle pas­sen­ger, fita side­car! In this case aGar­rard GP. Well loaded…

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