Thursday, 4 February 2016

Project Eighty-Seven - Part Six

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis


When I bought the GTI, it had a number of features that anchored it firmly in period. And not the late-eighties of its birth, but the mid- to late-nineties of its coming of age – the golden era of retro hot hatch modifying. There’s the teeny-tiny Momo steering wheel, the matching aftermarket gearknob, the clear indicators, the bright red Sparco strut brace (OK, it doesn’t have that any more – we threw it in the bin when we realised that its only strength lay in the glue that was holding it on) and, the cherry on the cake, that boisterous Magnex exhaust. Anyone who was anyone was rocking either a Magnex or a Devil back in the Max Power era, it was a badge of honour and a statement of intent.

The guys who’ve worked on our 205 over the course of this project have been very open in their admiration of the stainless system as well. Eliot and Edwin at EDM were impressed with its solid construction and the BTCC-esque bracing between pipe and box; the fellas at Toulmin Motors said the same, and so did the chaps at Pug1Off. The general consensus was that it’s a very good system, a real high-quality effort.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. That exhaust has been on there for quite a few years now, and it’s showing its age. Since buying the car, I’d been struggling to overcome the annoying rasping noise the system made under eager acceleration, thanks to its inability to join properly at the end of the downpipe. Add to this the loose baffles in the centre box, and the venerable old pipework was rapidly descending into a bit of a clanking mess. The time came to sort it all out once and for all.

But how do you replace something that you’re generally pretty happy with (or would be, if it were less tired) with something even better? Well, you go straight to the top, don’t you? I got in touch with Powerflow, knowing that they’d make everything to their typically exacting standards.
Powerflow Exhausts pride themselves on being the UK’s leading custom-build stainless steel exhaust company. They operate through a nationwide network of approved dealers, all of whom have to match up to the strict working requirements and practices mandated by head office. But rather than going to the nearest dealer, I thought I’d go all-in in true Retro Cars style and take a trip down to Powerflow’s head office in Bridport, Dorset, so that our bespoke system could truly have the strong Powerflow DNA! And hey, it was an excuse to take the 205 on a three hundred mile road trip. Oh, go on then, if I have to…

I arrived at Top Gear at about 10am – this is the parent company that bought Powerflow a little while back, and have been working hard to pull the brand out of the girls-and-bling of yore and into a more respectable pan-genre area that complements the quality product they offer.
I was greeted by boss-man Jason Freeman, who talked me through the various options available for the 205. This is pretty standard Powerflow practice; since every system they create is bespoke, it’s a case of hoiking the car up onto a ramp to see how the land lies, and chewing over the customer’s requirements in terms of size, noise, finish and what-have-you. My initial thoughts on this were simple: ‘loud, please, and shiny’. So using that caveman-simple concept as a base, we worked out what would flow best. The old system was removed, and found to have a couple of quite large holes in the silencer welds! But the GTI has a quality four-branch manifold which is in great nick, so I decided to keep that in situ and start the Powerflow system from the downpipe back. My excitable suggestion that we only have one silencer box was (quite rightly) rebuffed on the grounds that it would unusable, so we went for a small centre silencer and a medium-sized rear silencer. The bore of the pipework was increased to 2.25” throughout, and for the tailpipes I opted for something a bit special: a twin-3” outlet. The fun part with this was actually getting the pipes to stick out straight; the old Magnex, as with so many stainless 205 systems, poked out at a jaunty angle due to the relative positions of the hangers and the rear bumper and the necessary dimensions of the rear box. The tricky bit here was to craft a tiny mandrel-bent curve between the silencer and the tailpipes to get it sitting exactly square-on to the bumper (which had a little plastic trimmed out of it to allow the pipes to fit). Looks pretty cool, doesn’t it? It was genuinely impressive watching the system come together too – their fitters are so experienced and accomplished at what they do that they can work out most of the bend angles by eye; they clamp the boxes into position, measure out the bits of pipe, take them away to the pipe bender, and return with a perfectly fitting exhaust. Magic! It was all crafted from straight bits of pipe into a fully functional exhaust in well under two hours as well, which you can’t really argue with.

Powerflow’s offering isn’t just in the slightly hooligan-esque ‘build me a noisy exhaust!’ area that #Project87 sits within, however. They cater for all manner of OEM direct-replacement applications, as well as doing lots of work with more traditional classic cars, 4x4s, various insane custom jobs, and of course race and rally cars. That’s the thing about making systems to order, they can be made to work on pretty much any application you can think of. The prices they quote are unique to your own system, so the £329 cost of our exhaust may not necessarily be the same for another 205 GTI - that’s the nature of custom work, there’s nothing taken off-the-shelf. Give ’em a call and talk it over!

On the lengthy journey home, the key take-out from the performance of the Powerflow system over the old Magnex was in terms of noise. Yes, I asked for a loud system and that’s what I received, but thankfully this hasn’t translated into an inescapable ear-bashing drone at motorway speeds like the old exhaust did. It’s not quite as Jekyll-and-Hyde as, say, a modern supercar system with noise-controlling butterflies in the pipes, but it does carry out the impressive trick of being loud when you want it to be, and not at all annoying when you just want to eat up some highway miles. That’s all you can ask for really, isn’t it? OK, yes, it’s reasonably loud most of the time, but in a surprisingly un-annoying way. If that makes sense. Ever-present, but not overly intrusive.

Another thing that this 300 mile round trip proved was just how effective our switch to waterless coolant is proving to be. What should have been a three hour journey from Wandsworth to Bridport turned into over four hours thanks to agonising stop-start rush hour traffic, followed by high-speed motorway blasts, then occasional detours around winding B-roads (c’mon, I had to – I didn’t realise how beautiful Dorset is!), then closed roads and redirections due to floods, and yet the temperature gauge never wandered into the red – something that it had done once or twice before the conversion. It was the same story on the way back home, the car was perfectly composed and running superbly throughout. Nice to build this kind of confidence in an old car, isn’t it?

A final treat for #Project87 this month is sitting proudly on its nose: a shiny new Peugeot lion badge. This appeared glinting and twinkling in my Christmas stocking (thanks, Santa! Or, more accurately, my lovely wife Jo), but it’s taken me this long to get around to fitting it. Nevertheless, it only took a moment to swap old for new – so, although it’ll probably be April by the time you’re reading this, er, merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Project Eighty-Seven - Part Five

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis


Old cars can sometimes run a bit hot. Not worryingly so, just… y’know, slightly further toward the temperature gauge’s red zone than you might like. And given that I live in south-west London, and consequently spend rather a lot of my time sat in stationary traffic and quietly cursing everyone around me, it makes sense to ensure that the cooling system is entirely tip-top and trustworthy.
The first part of this was to renew all of the 205’s hoses. #Project87 is, as maths fans will assure you, twenty-seven years old now. You’re familiar with The Twenty-Seven Club, right? This is a group of famous people who all died at the age of 27 – Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Kristen Pfaff, Pete de Freitas, Richey Edwards, Amy Winehouse… and as the 205’s twenty-seventh year is ushered in, I’m keen that it doesn’t join the list.
As you might imagine, twenty-seven year old rubber hoses that have spent their life being bombarded by hot fluid aren’t likely to be operating at maximum efficiency. Some will be bulbous and swollen, others will be crumbly and not sealing properly… it makes sense to whip it all out and start afresh. It’s not all that cheap, but it pays dividends in engine longevity. So I got in touch with Baker Bushes & Mountings, renowned Peugeot/Citroën specialists, to see what they could offer.

Baker’s 205 GTI hoses are highly spoken of as being exactly the correct shapes and angles to replace the standard items without any trouble fitting, and their 3-ply (4mm) silicone construction ensures reliability and longevity. They offer a coolant hose kit which includes the ten pieces required, and it made sense to also upgrade to their five-piece breather hose kit as well, along with the supplementary air device kit and stainless steel inner wing pipe, since we were whipping off clamps and whatnot already. Might as well do the thing right.

The fitting of all of this was undertaken by Pug1Off. You probably recognise the name – they’ve had their hand in more feature cars than you can shake a camshaft at, and what they don’t know about Peugeots in general and 205 GTIs in particular probably isn’t worth knowing. Their recent GTI-6 conversions have earned them much notoriety, moving the business into the newly-fashionable arena of squeezing modern performance from standard-looking classics (think Eagle E-Types and the like, but in Peugeot guise), while their form in building show cars stretches back to the zany Max Power era. Remember the twin-engined wide-arch 306? That’s still sitting under a dustsheet in the Pug1Off workshop, parked next to something that neatly counterpoints it - a 207 Spyder. This, for the uninitiated, bears little relation to the roadgoing 207, being a mid-engined, spaceframed track monster. It’s all about the performance for these guys.

This performance manifests itself in a number of ways, however. One ongoing build in the workshop is a Miami Blue 1.9 GTI that is so absurdly clean it makes you rub your eyes in disbelief – every single component is either brand new or rebuilt to brand new standard. Its fresh new engine sits on a stand like some proud, giant trophy. Incredible. It’s a customer build, and the amount of detail that the owner’s specified is utterly astonishing – a standard car, better than new.

So anyway, these were the guys to fit the hoses. But I started off talking about running hot, didn’t I? Well, I wanted to ensure that the stuff inside the hoses was every bit as good as the hoses themselves, so I took a cue from editor John-Joe – you may remember reading a couple of months ago about his Range Rover’s coolant conversion – and got in touch with Evans to talk about their waterless coolant.

If you haven’t heard of it before, waterless coolant isn’t a misnomer, it is a real thing. The basic process is this: you begin by draining all of the coolant out of the system - this is fun on a 205, as the only way to do so is to whip the bottom hose off the radiator and let it all haphazardly splash out. (On a cold winter’s day, and directly after a two-hour drive up from London, this will immediately envelop you in a vast cloud of sweet-smelling steam.) You do your best to catch all of the fluid in a big pan, so as to measure as accurately as possible what the volume of coolant was – six litres, in the case of the GTI. Then you refill the system with Evans’ prep fluid. This is a hygroscopic formula designed to suck all of the remaining moisture out of the system – the fact that we’d already changed all of the hoses made this much easier, as the new ones wouldn’t have any residual coolant in them. In theory, if you needed to for whatever reason, you could then use the car as normal for a while with the prep fluid acting as coolant. We didn’t need to though, as we had all we required for the conversion there and then. The technicians from Evans then measured the prep fluid with Jetsons-like devices to assess its percentage water content. At this point, the waterless coolant goes into the car, wholly replacing the old coolant. After running it up to temperature, the chaps’ measurements showed a water content of below 1%, which is pretty much as thorough as it’s possible to be. It’s important to note, however, that the presence of a technician is not essential to carry out the conversion! We had the guys on hand to offer advice and information so that we’d be able to tell you all about it, dear reader, but this is a job you can easily do at home; it’s no more complicated than swapping regular coolant.

It’s not a tricky thing to do, then. But why do it? Well, waterless coolant has a number of useful attributes. For one thing, it’ll last the life of the car – you’ll never need to change coolant again. (If at some point in the future you find yourself changing a radiator or water pump or whatever, you just catch what comes out and put it back in again afterwards.)
Evans offer various products, and the one in our 205 is called Power Cool 180°. Whereas a 50/50 mix of regular coolant may boil at, say, 120-130°, this coolant has a boiling point of 180°, meaning that your engine is pretty unlikely to ever boil over; it also has antifreeze properties down to -40°. The coolant produces very low vapour pressure too, which takes a lot of strain off the system. You know how whipping the pressure cap off a hot engine will spew boiling water into your face? That doesn’t happen with waterless coolant. And because there’s less strain on the system, the theory is that everything is working more efficiently, so increased power and reduced fuel consumption are logical conclusions. It’s non-toxic, contains no oxygen and thus prevents internal corrosion, and erosion is eliminated. All in all it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? You just have to be careful that anyone who’s working on the car for you in the future knows not to top the system up with water…!

With the coolant in, the engine was run up to temperature to check for successful installation, leaks and what-have-you. The dashboard temperature gauge was still running a little higher than normal, which seemed odd… until the technicians used their magical Star Trek-esque infra-red device to measure the coolant temperatures inside various parts of the engine and found it to be a fairly uniform 90° Centigrade at idle. So it was the gauge that was over-reading after all! French electrics, eh? Bless.

All-in-all, then, a successful operation – Baker’s hoses eased into their respective positions like Cinderella’s slipper, Pug1Off made short work of getting everything together (while also sharing insight into a whole world of Peugeot experience), and Evans’ confidence-inspiring product looks as if it should do the GTI a world of good. Winner all round.

In other news this month, #Project87 needed a new wheel bearing on the front driver’s side. I thought I’d heard a bit of a moaning from that vicinity recently, and having it up on the ramp at Pug1Off confirmed that it was on the way out; not having time to do it there and then, what with all the hose-based shenanigans going on, I drove it back to London to tackle later. It was then left with the guys at Earlsfield Service Station (certainly not to be confused with Earlsfield Car Maintenance Centre, who we had some annoying troubles with last year, as you may recall); I’ve been going to Earlsfield Service Station for about seven or eight years and they’ve always proved themselves to be a good choice. Their bread-and-butter is in modern car maintenance, but they’re certainly retro-friendly and they know their way around a GTI! So a few hours later, the 205 was sporting its new bearing along with a fresh CV gaiter as well. Splendid.

And next time? Well, I still have a few ideas up my sleeve, I’m just deciding which order to do it all in! Watch this space…

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Project Eighty-Seven - Part Four

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis


OK, so some of you didn’t like the wheels. I knew that’d happen. I chose the Wolfrace slotmags on the basis that they’d be deliberately polarising, and personally I thought they looked ace – polished lips, nice juicy wedge of dish, retro looks with a contemporary vibe, what more could you want? Although I have to admit that the relentless onslaught of comments on the Retro Cars Facebook page along the lines of ‘a 205 GTI should always be on standard wheels’ did resonate with a certain deep-seated belief somewhere in the dusty filing cabinet that is my brain. So I looked idly into a few options, just to see what could be done to the grubby old Speedlines that were on the car when I bought it.

Now, I’ve never dealt with wheel refurbishers before. Up until this point, my perception of them was that they were just dudes in vans who’d come along and tidy up your wheels while you nipped out for a sandwich. But when a colleague pointed me toward Lepsons, it became obvious that there’s far more to it if you want to do it properly. Lepsons’ process goes through six distinct stages: they start by inspecting each wheel for wear or damage, and talking through what’s needed with the customer. Then they put the wheels in a sort of heated, agitated chemical bath overnight to strip them right back to bare metal – after washing the stuff off, this is the stage when any repairs are carried out and the wheels are bead-blasted. The third stage is priming, which sees the wheels passed via a conveyor belt through an oven, then into a spray booth for powdercoating, before going back through the oven again. The next stage is spray-painting them in the colour and finish of the customer’s choice, then lacquering them. (Back in the oven again!) Stage five is a fastidious quality-control inspection, and stage six is the refitting of tyres and wheel balancing. With all of that going on, fifty-five quid per wheel sounds like pretty damn good value.

I left the wheels with them on a Friday afternoon, a charming lady named Colette - clearly a huge car enthusiast who really knows her stuff when it comes to the wheel refurb business - gave me a tour around the premises, and then the rims were all ready to go by the following Tuesday. Not bad at all.

I went with a medium anthracite finish – something they call ‘Carr’s Anthracite’ – as I thought it’d complement the lower half of the two-tone paint job nicely, but wouldn’t be so dark as to make the wheels anonymous and indistinct from a distance. I think it’s worked out pretty well – what do you reckon?

…and for those of you who loved the slotmags like I did, fear not – they’re now in the custody of a chap who’s going to be fitting them to a 200bhp MkIV Escort sleeper. A happy ending for ’em.

So, let’s move onto the question of winter. As December drew in with the inevitable frosts, I found myself one day sitting in a recalcitrant 205 that refused to start, or even turn over. The only sound was the horrible tick-tick-tick of the injectors, like those metal crawling things in The Matrix. Creepy. I got on the blower to the AA – the fact that I have Homestart has come in handy on so many occasions – and they were there within the hour, diagnosing the problem as a dead battery. Nice simple fix, then – I was worried it’d be the starter, so was pretty relieved. It transpired that the previous owner had fitted a battery that was too small (and was a Lion brand item, so hardly the last word in quality), and it just wouldn’t take any charge.
The friendly AA man told me he could swap it for a new one there and then, as he had the correct battery on the van, and it’d cost £101. I initially baulked at this, as it seems absurdly pricey for a battery, but when he nipped off to the van to get it I quickly Googled it on my phone (don’t you just love living in the future?) and it seemed to be that the right one would be about £80 from the nearest Halfords or motor factors anyway and I thought, well, if he swaps it over right now then I can get out and drive the thing. So I went for it. Good thing I did too, as my wife had bought a rug that needed collecting and I’d otherwise have had to carry it home on foot… and in the name of sensible grown-up consumer reviewing, you’ll be glad to know that a 2x3m rug will fit in the back of a 205 if you put the seats down. There, never let it be said that these columns don’t give something back.

On the whole this month, it’s been business as usual. The little Pug is proving to be an impressively reliable little thing, and a great winter hack. I can’t really justify the cost of swapping to a set of winter tyres, but the Avon ZV3s are more than up to the job of keeping the featherweight poppet planted on the slippery, frosty roads of south-west London and beyond.
In fact a recent countryside blast in the GTI served as a solid reminder of just why our keenness for retro motoring is so visceral and engaging. One day in early December I’d been driving Ford’s new Fiesta ST down to Goodwood, and had a whale of a time thrashing it down the icy country lanes. But when I got home and swapped into the 205, the differences between 1980s hot hatches and those of today were thrown into sharp focus; sure, the Fiesta ST is a pretty phenomenal thing, but its long-legged six-speed ’box and heated seats are a world apart from the simple, measured purity of the 205 GTI. You know when you have one of those drives when you just don’t want to stop? You find yourself deliberately missing turnings and ignoring exits because you know it’ll become a longer journey home? That was one of those drives – the 205 handles so sweetly on that Gaz suspension, it’s a constant joy to bounce it down country lanes. And stepping into it from a modern hot hatch, you’re acutely aware of just how light and uncluttered the thing is. 130bhp may not sound impressive in a modern context, but it’s plenty in what is basically a small steel shoe with windows. It shrinkwraps around you, it feels like you need to keep your foot planted to keep those eager treadblocks biting into the tarmac, otherwise you may just float away. Fun, huh?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Project Eighty-Seven - Part Three

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis


You may remember Josh Hall’s white 205 GTI that graced the cover of Retro Cars in late 2013. One of the things that jumped out at me while chatting to Josh about his car was the rebuilt distributor. This may sound insignificant, but I was interested to know why such a seemingly humdrum part would command such significance in his description of the modifications. So I got in touch with Lee Hull at H&H Ignition Solutions, the company that carried out the job for Josh, to find out what the deal was. And it turns out that it’s quite a big deal! ‘The main issue with the 205 distributors is the internals,’ said Lee. ‘Because of a slight oversight by Bosch when they manufactured the units, they sleeved the centrifugal advance weights with plastic liners which were very prone to wear; around 80% of the units we have in for reconditioning have to have new weights fitted, and because the deterioration has been over a long period of time most owners haven't realised how poorly the car is running until we’ve rebuilt it. It transforms the driver experience.’ So I sent off the distributor to H&H and, lo and behold, they found that the vacuum capsule wasn’t working – so the shiny, refreshed distributor should be advancing the spark properly now! (I have to extend an extra-special thank you to Lee here as well – given various time constraints and setbacks with the car, I ended up setting him a very antisocial deadline – he managed to get the part reconditioned and delivered back within 24 hours of receiving it. Heroic.)

The most visual change this month, as you’ve probably spotted, is that we’ve gone two-tone! Jazzy, huh? You see, despite being generally solid and free from rot, Project Eighty-Seven was somewhat scabby around the sills and door bottoms. It needed sorting and I thought, well, if we’re fixing rust and then painting it, we don’t necessarily have to paint it white do we?! So while the car was being prepped at Earlsfield Car Maintenance Centre (remember, the guys from Part One who fixed the dials – there was an incident with one of them being gored by a deer…), I suggested we go for another colour from the Peugeot palette. So now everything below the rubstrips is graphite grey, which I think works pretty nicely. What do you reckon? Some people have compared it to a Nova SR or AX GT colour scheme, so it’s period-appropriate for a late-1980s hot hatch…

ECMC were also tasked with fixing a broken brake line as well as replacing the master cylinder, although I’ll refrain from praising them too highly here: they’re nice guys, but stone me, they’re crap at deadlines. Like, no time management skills at all. Of the three-ish months I’ve owned this car (at time of writing), it’s spent nine weeks in their workshop. I won’t be going back there. Life’s too short. It’s incredibly depressing to constantly be told ‘sorry, we still haven’t finished the work, we’ve got all these other cars to fix…’ every time you go to collect a car that’s supposed to be ready but isn’t. Of course you have other cars. You’re a garage. Honestly.
Also, I had to miss Project Eighty-Seven’s first appointment at the exquisite Toulmin Motors - more on whom shortly - because ECMC couldn’t be arsed to send off the distributor to H&H until the last minute (despite having three weeks’ notice to do so), so I had to same-day courier it back at zero-hour at a cost of £150. For goodness’ sake.

But anyway… Another fun visual tweak this month came from RC snapper and Area 52 kingpin Bruce Holder. Having mentioned to him that I’d had some #Project87 vinyl graphics made up for the car, he expressed utter horror at the font I’d chosen, commanded me to throw them out, and insisted on making me something better. And Bruce isn’t really a man you argue with, so I let him do his thing. Somewhat incredibly, what he’s done is adapt the existing Peugeot font to create a few extra characters in order to craft a nicely 205-themed #Project87 logo. Talented, isn’t he? They’re dark grey too, so they complement the paintwork pretty well.

To tighten up the aesthetics, I ordered a set of pressed aluminium number plates. New plates can transform a car, and I reckon these ones are spot-on for the look – they use the correct pre-2001 font, so are totally road legal (carrying the maker’s mark, BS number etc), but they’re just a bit more interesting than your bog-standard modern-font plastic jobbies. Oh yes, and the new foglights are on the car now as well, as one of the old ones had been holed by a stone and gone all rusty. Little improvements, big difference. I painted ’em yellow because, y’know, France.

And now, onto the big news of the month: the brakes. You may remember that last month we ended on a cliffhanger, as I found myself negotiating rush-hour Fulham with no brakes when one of the brake lines exploded and sent all of the fluid gushing into the local water table. Oops. I’d been thinking about doing something with the brakes anyway, but this really pushed the job up the list. So after I’d limped it to ECMC, dodging the buses in terror, I took stock of what needed looking at. The braking system on the whole was a bit tired – the car has drilled and grooved discs, but they’ve seen better days (and, er, whoever put the front ones on managed to fit them backwards), so I was really after new discs and pads all round. So I spoke to TAROX, knowing that they’d be the guys for the job. As the best setup for fast road use, we decide on their Stage 1 upgrade, comprising uprated discs and pads for front & rear, as well as braided lines throughout.
This really is the crème de la crème of brakes; TAROX-equipped cars took more Formula One wins than you could shake a stick at back in the 1980s, and since then they’ve made a name for themselves as a pretty unbeatable supplier of road and race brakes. Safe hands, then.

The next step was to find a trustworthy garage. Enter Toulmin Motors! You may remember these guys from having worked on ex-editor Si’s Merc; their Windsor premises are a mecca for the retro petrolhead, and they’ve currently got a variety of projects on the go which you’ll undoubtedly be seeing more of in these pages in the future; the chopped ’55 Standard Vanguard on the Impreza floorpan is a saucy little thing, and Pete Toulmin’s own Rover P6 is an astonishing sleeper with a hilarious amount of horsepower. There’s a DeTomaso Longchamp that’s had a lot of cash thrown under the hood in the quest for thrust, and even the company hack is a pristine Ford Ranchero.

So, having rescued the GTI from the godawful ECMC, I hightailed it down to Toulmin. In a move of ineffable cruddiness, ECMC’s efforts to fix the brakes had actually achieved the thick end of bugger all, meaning that I had a fun hour-and-a-half of driving around the M25 and M4 in the morning rush hour with no brakes in order to find salvation in Windsor. Fun, huh?
But they’re great guys at Toulmin, and they immediately rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in to bolting on the TAROX goodies while Pete talked me through the various goings-on in the workshop. It really is a fascinating place; the family-run setup has been at the current site for a few years, but their roots stretch back to the renowned Toulmin MG specialist of the 1950s and ’60s. When I arrived, Pete was just in the process of working out the logistics of hauling a prepped Austin A35 shell away in the bed of the Ranchero. As you do. And beside a stack of improbably girthsome period 1970s race tyres sat a gleaming Turbo Esprit, its lovingly rebuilt engine ready to be nestled back within. These guys really love what they do, and they’re damn good at it too.

All the while, the 205 was up on the ramp. It was fighting back, as is its way. What should have been a quick disc/pad swap turned into quite an involved fifteen-hour process, as the ol’ Pug threw up various obstacles. The rear calipers turned out to be knackered, so we had to fit a new set of those, and the handbrake cables were next to useless so they had to be replaced too. All in all, then, the braking system is pretty tip-top now! Those braided lines really give a decent boost to the pedal feel, and the combination of G88 discs and fast road pads has given the GTI a whole new performance dimension. It’s impressive how much faster it is after paying attention to the suspension and brakes, rather than starting off with throwing extra horsepower into it.

It’s also impressive how much of a morale boost can be injected into a project just by going to the right garage. Spending time at Toulmin is hugely calming and reassuring; not only is the place spotless and stuffed with gorgeous cars, but the guys who work there are clearly incurable enthusiasts – they all have their own projects on the go, and will happily natter away about their history with retro motors as they’re spannering away on your car. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Project Eighty-Seven - Part Two

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis


At the end of the last instalment, I left you on the edge of your seat waiting for the 205’s dials to be fixed. You’ll be pleased to know that they’re all functioning now; they had various independent faults, ranging from a snapped temp sensor wire to a partial gearbox dismantling in order to get the speedo working. The car ended up being with the auto electrician for three weeks. Why the long wait? Well, halfway through the job, the mechanic was gored by a deer… this story works best, I think, if you fill in the details for yourself!

So, on to yet more exciting things. The GTI is now sitting rather lower and handling a whole lot better thanks to a fun little package from Gaz Shocks. I went down to their machine shop base in Basildon back in early October to take a look at their premises - and I have to say, what a charming and friendly bunch of lads they are; everyone’s keen to talk you through what they’re up to, and there’s a real sense of passion for the craft.

If you don’t know a huge amount about suspension, you might assume that suspension units are produced en masse in giant machines. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Every single Gaz unit is handbuilt on site, from components which are all individually crafted by the in-house experts. The shock absorber bodies, for example, arrive as long poles that look like scaffolding, and it’s incredible to witness the many stages that occur between that tubular inception and the finished product. These fellas, it goes without saying, really know their stuff; it’s an old family business too, and every part is made with pride and precision in the UK. So who better to entrust the handling duties of Project Eighty-Seven to…?

OK, what have we got? Well, up front we have a set of Gaz GHA fully-adjustable coilovers with 300lb springs, little helper springs, and some beautifully machined roller-bearing top mounts. At the rear – owing to the 205 having torsion bars – there’s a pair of competition-spec shocks. It was genuinely fascinating to see these units come to life, observing the shocks being bounced on the testbed and then built up from the various unique parts. And how has it affected the ride? It’s like a different car! The suspension is noticeably firmer than the Konis that were on it before, but the 300lb springs are a great compromise on the road – it never feels crashy or abrasive, just focused and well-planted. Roadholding is vastly improved, inspiring greater corner speeds and, as you’d hope, widening my grin exponentially. Pretty impressive value for money, I’d say – sure, there are cheaper coilovers on the market, but you really do get what you pay for. I’m a little bit in love with this Gaz setup.

Of course, this fancy equipment had to be fitted to the car by somebody who knew what they were doing. My ham-fisted efforts would undoubtedly have seen the units gummed to the arch tubs with Sellotape, so I entrusted the job to the professionals: namely ED Motorsport in Bicester. Founded by the eponymous Eliot Dunmore, the company deals with motorsport preparation and are renowned Mini & Subaru specialists, but they’re also branching out into more retro fare. ‘I love these older cars, particularly eighties and nineties stuff,’ Eliot told me. ‘They’re the cars I cut my teeth on, and I get a lot more satisfaction working on them than with newer cars. Retro rides are always welcome at EDM!’
You’d do well to bear that in mind, as the service I got from Eliot and Edwin was absolutely flawless. I insisted on sticking around to watch them fit the suspension – I know some spanner-jockeys find this creepy, but I’m just really fascinated to watch such craftsmen at work. The job in total ended up taking over five hours, largely due to the 205’s rear torsion bar setup; those little bars fought the guys every step of the way, and it’s testament to their patience and tenacity that they didn’t do what I would have done (i.e. swear a lot, hit the thing with a mallet and storm off), but instead set about calmly and methodically disassembling and reassembling until everything was just right. The fastidiousness with which everything was checked and re-checked throughout the process, from the initial strip-down to the tracking at the end, was impressive to behold, and I now have total faith in the GTI’s handling. We jettisoned the crusty old strut brace along the way too, having discovered that its main strength lay in the double-sided tape that was holding it on!

End results? We went down two splines at the rear, which equated to around 40mm at the hub, and the front coilovers were set to match – in fact, they ended up being wound down as far as they would go, which should be around a 65mm drop. Godspeed, sump! The top mounts are positioned to dial in a smidge of negative camber at the front too, which should improve turn-in, and the whole thing sits nice and level.
If you’re in the market for getting some performance upgrades bolted to your retro, I’d strongly recommend giving these guys a call. On top of the quality work, Eliot’s pretty generous with the tea and his missus makes a mean walnut cake…
‘The timescale for fitting and setting up a coilover kit varies from car to car,’ says Eliot. ‘On average I'd say it’s normally between 4.5 to 6 hours. Some cars are difficult to quote for due to their age and the expectancy for components to be seized making the job very time consuming! We always partially disassemble the units and make sure that spring perches and adjusters are lubricated and protected from corrosion as much as possible. The beauty of coilovers is adjustability, but they're not much fun when they're seized solid! A little preventative maintenance makes a big difference. This also adds time to the job, but we think it’s worth it.’

And now, on to the wheels. These are going to divide opinion, aren’t they?! It was always going to be difficult to choose a replacement for the standard-issue GTI Speedlines, firstly because they’re such a naturally gorgeous rim, and secondly because they’re so iconic. I’ve already been besieged by people who are shouting words like ‘sacrilege’ and ‘ruined’ at me, somehow forgetting that one of the key advantages of a set of wheels is that they’re pretty easy to unbolt and change… The modern world of sharing photos online makes it ever-easier to receive aggressive criticism for your decisions, but running this car for RC takes it to a whole new level for me – since fitting these wheels, I’ve been exposed to thrilling new heights of abuse from the Facebook masses. All part of the fun, eh?
But I wanted to do something to set the cat amongst the pigeons, so I scratched my head and had a think about what kind of wheels I could fit that nobody had bolted to a 205 before. I considered the cross-spoke rims from a Porsche 924 initially, and that kind of scenester thinking led me to the 0.05 rim by 3SDM (although I’d struggle with the width of those – and the cost). Friend of Retro Cars, Paul Cowland, suggested a set of Saab three-spokes – ‘they’re the correct PCD and the right offset!’, he enthused. But in the end, I got on the blower to Wolfrace. Why? Well, let me explain…

Retro Cars deals with cars of various ages. And back in the 1970s, the Wolfrace slotmag was the wheel to have; from Cortinas to Vivas, Bedford CFs and beyond, anyone who was anyone was rocking slots. Now, Wolfrace may work hard to keep their range contemporary, but I was very interested to note a few years ago that they launched a modern reworking of the classic slotmags. So I ordered a set – they’re the same diameter and offset as the standard rims, and an inch wider, and I was nervous to see how they’d look on the car as a direct replacement. And the answer is… not bad at all, actually. I’m rather pleased with ’em. Their mixture of curvaceousness and severity works well with the lines of the Pug and, while I had a few reservations when they first went on, the efforts of EDM and Gaz to bring the car to the ground have brought those spangly rims to the fore. I think they look ace.

Wheels need tyres, naturally, so this sparked off a whole new round of window shopping. I wouldn’t need anything as hardcore as a Toyo R888 or Yokohama A048R for road use, so I was after something that would offer a decent balance of grip, rain displacement and, of course, quality. I also wanted to go for a slightly lower profile than the standard 195/50 R15s. In the end, I decided to try Avon – I’d had a set of ZZ3s on my old E36 and they were very impressive. And, somewhat serendipitously, Avon’s ZV3 is one of the few quality tyres available in a 195/45 R15. Decision made! They’ve certainly helped to circumvent any tyre/arch interface that might have occurred running this low on a 50-section, and they have the performance credentials to work well with the GTI.

So, we’ve got it looking sharp and rolling hard. What’s next? Well, I’d been thinking about beefing up the brakes, as despite having discs all round, they’re not totally confidence-inspiring. This idea was reinforced by the lady in the Audi TT who randomly pulled an emergency stop in front of me in Fulham the other day: in leaping on the brakes, I managed to blow out one of the rear brake lines. Have you ever negotiated West London in rush hour with no brakes? It’s, er, challenging… Tune in next time for the solution!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Project Eighty-Seven - Part One

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis


You know you've bought a good car when you reach under the seat to investigate what just made the worrying clonking noise, and find a roached pack of king-size Rizla stuffed under there…

I have a patchy past with 205 GTIs. I’ve owned four of them over the years, with varying degrees of success. The first was a black H-reg 1.9, bought sight unseen from eBay. On the plus side, it had an LPG conversion. On the minus side, the engine had what my mechanic described as ‘a death rattle’. It didn’t stick around long. The second was a bog-standard silver F-plate 1.9, which I had a lot of fun in, then sold to buy a MkII Astra cabrio. Not really sure why. The third was a heavily modified J-reg 1.6, with a 1.9 engine from a 405 SRI, 16” OZ Superturismos that cocked up the handling, and a whole load of negative camber at the rear which looked cool, but actually pointed toward a knackered beam on the verge of collapse. And the fourth was a silver D-reg 1.9 on BBS rims, with half the Peter Lloyd Rallying catalogue thrown at it. It rocked. So I’ve had a few highs and lows with these little French poppets.

And this one? Well, we’ll see. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Project Eighty-Seven. The idea here is simple: is it possible to buy a retro hot hatch for under a grand, and then run and modify it for a limited monthly budget on the mean streets of southwest London?
Well, stage one has been achieved. I bought D494 MNW in September for the princely sum of £900. That’s right – a roadworthy example of one of the icons of eighties traffic-light hooliganism for under a bag of sand. It was offered for sale with a year’s MOT and plenty of tax, so what could there possibly be to worry about? It had also received a new clutch, driveshafts, battery, brake pads, ARB links and wheel bearings. And it’s a retro extravaganza of period nineties mods; there’s a full Magnex stainless-steel exhaust with four-branch manifold, K&N induction kit, Momo steering wheel and crusty Sparco strut brace, as well as being lowered (er, a bit, not altogether noticeably) on Bilsteins. It’s got a genuine 83k on the clock too. Could this be the eBay bargain of the year?

Hmm. Time will tell. I’ve made it sound ace there, but it is a bit rough-and-ready. What would you expect for nine hundred notes?
The dashboard is an exercise in guesswork, as none of the dials really do anything. The driver's seat is comically wobbly due to something having snapped underneath. There are one or two patches of cosmetic rust (GTI aficionados will know exactly where to find these – ahead of the rear arches, and above the side windows) and it’s had a minor front-end bump at some point; not enough to cause any alarm, but enough for the repairs to be mentioned on the logbook. The interior trim is… well, it’s made of crap plastic and it rattles like hell, but that’s true of every 205 I’ve ever been in. The passenger electric window motor is either missing or just sleepy. But on the whole, it seems to be pretty solid. Well, £900-worth of solid anyway.
…and forgetting those issues, it’s a hoot to drive! Quick, light, darty, feelsome, reassuringly old-school. And those lipstick-red carpets are awesome too.

So what’s the plan? Well, over the coming months there’ll be all kinds of changes to make. I’ll need to fix a few bits first – a temperature gauge would be nice – and then it’ll be a case of modifying different things every month to keep it fresh. There’s exciting news in the suspension department coming next month, and I’ve lined up a set of wheels that I believe have never been seen on a 205 before.
In reality, though, it could just end up bankrupting me! But we’ll see.

The first job, naturally, was insurance. How easy would it be to find a decent quote for a rather stealable hot hatch, parked out on the street in London, with a few modifications and plans for many more? Would I spend a couple of days on the phone, crying at the absurd four-figure sums?
Actually, no. Brentacre Insurance gave me a pretty magnificent quote, covering the car fully comp for £480, and that includes absolutely any non-horsepower-related mods I may wish to carry out (including the possibility of a rollcage, which is something that often sends insurers running for the hills). I’d love to waft this insurance paperwork under the nose of my seventeen year-old self back in 1999 and say ‘Look, stop worrying, everything’s going to be OK. Just wait till you’re in your thirties…’ I’m sure that’d be comforting.

Second job? Um, I managed to break it on the test drive actually. Chris, the seller, was not impressed. I pulled up the gear-lever to put it in reverse and the cable went TWANG! But fortunately it was just the thingy inside (‘thingy’ is a technical term, look it up) snapping off the gearstick shaft, so I hillbillied it back together with some picture wire. And so it begins.

The car hasn’t been nicked yet, so that’s good. It’s got an alarm and immobiliser, which is reassuring, and I’ve also invested in a Disklok because the general consensus seems to be that they’re pretty damned hardcore. However, I may well fit a snap-off boss at some point soon. It’s got to be fairly hard to pinch a car with no steering wheel, right?

Anyway, the really major task of this month is to get all of those clocks working. For this, I’ve entrusted the car to my local auto electrician, Earlsfield Car Maintenance Centre. It looks like a bit of a mixed bag, with each gauge having a different fault; the temp gauge is easy enough, as the wire had snapped – simple fix! – but the speedo is rather trickier, involving a lot of back-and-forth with Peugeot in Paris to get the right thingy with the right number of splines - it’s still ongoing. You’ll see how it’s all been resolved next time! And also, of course, we can then get on with the task of some seriously cool modifiying…