Computers? Great when they work!
It’s refreshing and relaxing to tackle the black Bentley’s misfire. That’s because there are no computers involved. In 1947 when the Bentley was built, Alan Turing was beavering away in the Computing Research Laboratory at Manchester University, conspiring to destroy my will to live. The geeks have inherited the earth since then, and their inadequate machines make much of modern life a rushed, pressurised nuisance. I am convinced that anything to do with computers requires on average four attempts, and then may or may not work. Moving from 120-volt North America has meant buying various new equipment, and half a day’s work spread out over several frustrating attempts to get a printer working,even when deliberately using a cable because wireless is iffy.
Do I seriously want to get back to a time when there were no computers? Well, I used to write a story or a book and post it to the publisher. I can’t post the stuff I want to post today because the Post Office’s computer doesn’t work and nobody can fix it. People had paid jobs typing and typesetting my story, and then it would be printed, bought and read. Everything worked. I cannot avoid tech – my blog WireWheelsMagazine is digital, because it can only be that way, but it recently vanished from the worldwide web because either a Wordpress computer or a Yumpu computer doesn’t work – but if I can spend time with simple things that work properly, then I’m a happy bunny. I was lucky enough to exchange my big workshop/ garage in Canada for another one in Scotland that most of us would be very happy with. It measures 16ft by 24ft, and that’s plenty of room to work on building a Bentley special, which is indeed the plan.
Pleasingly, the bodywork technology for Beast 1 goes back 100+ years, far away from the irritations of beeping 2023. Getting the Bentley body panels from my Chevy van stored in Surrey patiently awaiting UK registration (presumably HMG’s computer doesn’t work) to Helensburgh involved an unusually successful computer, though. The TomTom GPS works nearly all the time, but best keep a map handy for when it doesn’t.
To fetch the Bentley’s bodywork, I borrowed my brother’s Freelander for a bit. Why did he buy a Freelander when his motoring-writer brother co-wrote a book about the Rover K-series engine with Rob Hawkins, and knows in detail why you don’t buy a Freelander? Maybe he liked the colour. I was briefly quite tempted by his Freelander 2. Apparently it doesn’t have many Land-Rover quality issues, mainly because it’s a Ford platform with a Peugeot/ Citroën diesel engine. It’s a fat saloon, not a real offroader,
“The plan is to polish the finished body; it’s good enough for that”
but it does 40mpg at 70mph, it’s super comfy, and unlike the Fiesta it doesn’t make my bum ache after an hour. It’s nice, I could live with one of these.
And then it didn’t start. There’s no key, just a little computer radio widget which is sucked into the dashboard by a computer-controlled electric motor, and then all its other computers boot up. They’ve all been sitting outside in damp Yorkshire for ten years. Why would I expect them to keep working? Ah, that’s why he gave me both the fobs. I find the other fob, but still nothing. Then randomly the Christmas tree dash illuminations light up and it starts.
Organising continuing insurance for this arrangement took an hour: the insurance company's computer didn’t work, so I had to queue to telephone them. While waiting, I daydreamed about Vancouver gearhead chums obsessed with 1970s Mercedes diesels, rejoicing in 40mpg and 500,000 slow miles with no computers and no problems. Maybe I should get them to send me one.
The bodywork for the Bentley special, Beast 1, had already been assembled and taped together on the rolling chassis for a Vancouver classic car show. Now it’s going back on, but how? A very good framing method is Weymann. That’s a wooden frame with steel plates both connecting and slightly separating the wooden pieces. If glued together, wooden joints eventually creak: a conventional ash-framed prewar car body is actually furniture. As I’m connecting pieces of an aluminium body, that itself would discourage creaking, so that would help.
There’s also the option of aircraft-style construction, with the panels all riveted to a frame made of aluminium extrusion. Stiffer, lighter, easier, cheaper, and the plan is to polish the finished body because it’s good enough for that. If I use flush aircraft rivets, there would be visible lines of rivets in a slightly different metal colour. It could look glorious.
However, that is for the future. Going back to the complete 1947 MkVI rather than the brewing special, and having cleaned the tired engine’s plugs a couple of times, it sinks in that they are not bad enough to cause a major misfire, and if they were fouled, you would get a consistent minor misfire rather than the intermittent whole-engine misfire that is happening. The worn bores should really just mean losing power and oil. The plug leads, cap, rotor, points and condenser are newish, but of course that doesn’t mean they work. The race to the bottom with classic engine electrical spares has meant that condensers in particular may only cost a few pounds, but may have to be bought in quantity to get one that works or will stay working.
The same applies to points, rotors and caps, although for the RR/Bentley straight-six, these items are far from cheap and hopefully are properly made. An MGB condenser costs £2.29, so buy four. For the Bentley, you have to pay £40 each, or £90 for the matched pair that are the correct fitting, so we’re not going to order six. Substitution is usually the way to find out what’s amiss, but my distributor spares are still in a container in Vancouver.
So I start with cleaning and checking everything. The plug leads are new, and the HT lead is clean and making good contact. I chop a little off the cap end of it to ensure the spike is in fresh wire. There is no sign of tracking in the cap. The low tension lead is new and in good condition. The points are not closing up, and the contact faces are not burnt. The rotor looks fine. I have a spare condenser, which I fit. The engine now idles smoothly, but still misfires at higher revs. The remaining likely problem is a bad coil, so I’ll order a new one. Watch this space.