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?

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