Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ignition system

The Ricciardi has a good old Bosch distributor, points and coil system. When in good order they work well (although arguably the advance curve isn't ideal for modern fuels), but this one shows every sign of having been with the engine since 1970, and could do with some TLC.

It's probably not too bad, since the idle at least is fairly regular, but there is definitely some slop in the bearings, which will likely mean that the advance and dwell are not even across the cylinders, and possibly that the curve is incorrect as well. I pulled the rotor out for a quick look, and in addition to being very dirty it's looking pretty worn as well, as is the cap.

All round it looks like time for either a replacement or a rebuild. A bit of investigation showed that it's possible to get rebuilt distributors, and for a little more Alfaholics in the UK sell a rebuilt one with an ignition curve optimised for modern fuels. It's also possible to get a unit with a breakerless module to replace the points. Sounds good in theory, but Australia has fuel with higher octane than is commonly available in the UK, so I'm not convinced that the Alfaholics advance curve will be ideal.

Further research uncovered a firm in the Netherlands called 123Ignition who specialise in electronic advance systems incorporated into a standard-looking distributor. They have a drop-in replacement for the standard Alfa distributor, and it comes with the factory standard curves for each of the Alfa engine models, plus some of the more common after-market curves for modified engines, all selectable by a switch underneath the distributor body. It also provides spark balancing and a few other useful features. Sounds ideal, and I was leaning towards getting one until I saw that 123Ignition also make a completely "soft" version of the same product that can be programmed via a USB connection with any advance curve you like. This was quite intriguing, since it means you could start with a standard curve, and then optimise to the particular engine and usage pattern, and also easily change the curve to account for modifications. It also offers a rev limiter, and can be programmed with two different curves, switchable from the dashboard. The clincher was that it actually appears to be easier to change between curves on the "soft" version, since you can leave the distributor in the car and just plug a USB cable in. The "hard wired" version has to be removed from the car to access the switch that changes curves. Of course, I wasn't at all influenced by the idea of being able to program ignition curves on my laptop, or watch real time graphs of what the engine is doing. Really...

Despite it being Christmas holidays, and despite me currently being on an island in Bass straight which is only accessible by aircraft three times a week, and boat once a fortnight, I have been able to contact a distributor of the product, confirm which model should fit my car, and place an order. Ah, the magic of the internet. The reseller in question is Leen APK in the Netherlands, who seem to have a good reputation both for service and for understanding the product, and won my business by politely answering all my emailed questions within a few hours of the asking.

In the meantime I've confirmed that I've got copies of all the Alfa advance curves I'm likely to need. The plan will be to start with the standard Bosch curve for the 1750, and then experiment to see what best suits this engine.

Really looking forward to this!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Now that's more like it!

Wow. Suddenly it's all coming together.

Yesterday I adjusted the clutch (remembered to take a torch so I could see what I was doing this time). Big improvement in driveability - clutch pedal doesn't take up so much space, and the takeup in the throw is much less. Could probably go another few mm, but will leave it for the moment.

I also spent ages fiddling about trying to measure the wheel alignment. Camber was no problem - improvised straight edge plus tiltometer on my old iPhone. Castor was hard - couldn't get sufficient access to do it by distance measurements, so in the end I balanced the iPhone on top of the uprights and checked the readings. I couldn't get consistent numbers, but the trend seemed to suggest that there is a fair amount of castor, and that just possibly there's more castor on the right than the left. Toe I needed an assistant for, but to the naked eye it looks like there's some toe out at the front. Need a proper alignment to check all these things.

The real improvement came, however, from checking the tyre pressures. What a doofus - when I put the tyres on three weeks ago, I mislaid my gauge, and therefore relied on a service station gauge to set the pressures. Finally found my gauge yesterday, and it turns out they were all about 5 psi under what I thought they were. Set them all to 32 psi and the car was transformed.

Last night I took another run up to Kinglake, although this time we went the other way - up via Hurstbridge and St Andrews, back through Whittlesea. With the increased tyre pressures the steering came to life - I could feel everything the car was doing, and it turned in beautifully. The suspension is really working well now. You can feel small bumps, but they don't unsettle the car. Even big ones aren't too bad now that the car doesn't bottom out.

With a passenger in the car it became obvious how much quieter it is with the new diff - we could have a conversation at 100kph, which previously was almost impossible. Hugh found a piece of spider gear in the sump of the old unit, so it was definitely time for a change!

Going up the Diamond Creek road was interesting - we were being harried by a group of big bikes that would have liked to get past. I tried to let them by before the really twisty section, but only half of them made it. After that there was nothing for it but to push on.

The road is very narrow (with marker posts right at the edge of the bitumen), and not a good road for driving fast on if you don't know it, so I left some margin, but the car was really good and very smooth through the corners. A lot of the bends are "point and squirt" because the posts stop you from clipping the apex, and the car was fantastic braking hard for those and then punching out again in second or third. On the tighter ones the bikes couldn't stay with us because they couldn't get enough lean, but they were much quicker through the fast corners.

There was one occasion when I realised the corner was tighter than I'd thought, and stayed a fraction later on the brake to scrub speed. There was the slightest of chirps from the inside rear as we turned in, and the car went round as though on rails.

Once we got past Kinglake, the car was awesome on the fast sweepers. It felt very sure footed, and again was telling me what it was doing through the wheel and the seat. A wonderful feeling.

There are still things to do. There are some slight clunks from the front when the suspension goes into droop at slow speed - lower wishbone bushes would be my guess; the car is still slightly inconsistent right to left; the back still doesn't feel as planted as it could - trunnion bushes maybe?; and I'm going to replace the thermostat today and see if the temperature becomes more consistent.

However the Ricciardi is now approaching what it should be, and it can be used with confidence as a fast road car.

Big, big "thank you" and shout out to Hugh and the guys at Monza Motors - they've done a sterling job sorting the car over the last few weeks, and putting up with innumerable calls from the owner with questions and requests. It's been a great effort, and it's reflected in just how good the car now is (now, about that speedo cable...).

Monday, December 20, 2010

A cold gray day...

Today was the first day of my summer holidays, and the designated activities were to finish modifying my Logitech gaming pedals, adjust the throw of the clutch on the Ricciardi, and take the Ricciardi for a decent thrash on a twisty road. Well, two out of three isn't bad...

First up was to get parts for the Logitech pedals (one $5 pair of thongs, as a source of foam rubber). Next was the clutch. However, unpacking my tool box at the storage place I realised I'd forgotten the torch. The light isn't the best there, and lying upside down in the footwell I couldn't see well enough to measure the pushrod length. The clutch will have to wait.

The weather isn't the best at the moment. The hour by hour forecast basically showed a chance of rain at any given time during the day, but I wanted to see what the new tyres are like in the wet.

The intention was to replay the Kinglake drive of a fortnight ago, but I wasn't sure I could remember the various turns we took to get out of Melbourne. In the end it wasn't a problem, and I managed to follow the exact route (with two short pauses - one to fish two spanners out of the footwell before they fouled a pedal, and another for a breath test. The constables thought I was mad to be driving an open top car on such a cold day).

Late morning traffic and some roadworks made the going a little slower, but I didn't really mind. The traffic eventually faded away, and once we got onto the sweeping curves I was on my own. At this point I fished out the plastic safety glasses I'd brought along to trial as makeshift goggles - I've not yet found a set of goggles that really works. At speed the car felt much better than last time I'd passed this way, but with lots of damp patches on the road I was inclined to be cautious. Grip was good, but it's still hard to feel what the car wants to do.

Up above Kinglake it got really, really cold - so cold that the water temp gauge dropped 10 degrees. I've also noticed that the car has been slow to warm up, so time to add the thermostat to the list of things to check. The rain stayed away until the run down into the town, by which time I was cold enough to want a warm fire and a meal, so I pulled in at the pub to sit the rain shower out.

Outside the Kinglake pub

The pub had a fire going (it really was that cold!), and after a hot meal at a table near the hearth I was ready to brave the elements again.

Down the hill toward Diamond Creek the car felt really good. The Falkens hung on remarkably well, and I started to get more confidence in the car. The engine was appreciating the colder air, pulling hard out of the corners and responding instantly to the throttle. The limiting factor was again the driver, in this case not fast and smooth enough with the wheel and pedals when the corners are close together. The cockpit is a fairly tight squeeze for someone my size, and all the movements have to be carefully orchestrated if I'm not to jam a leg under the wheel jumping between brake and throttle, or bang an elbow searching for extra lock. Less haste, more speed, as my old fencing master used to say... More practice required!

The rest of the drive was uneventful, although I needed the auxiliary fan once we hit the suburban traffic again. Definitely checking that thermostat before the next drive...

The safety glasses made great goggles - stayed clear in the damp air, and allow really good peripheral vision. Have to try them at night, but I might finally have found goggles that work.

Oh, and the pedal mod seemed to work - the Logitech brake feels much more like a brake with a piece of heavy foam fitted inside the spring.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shock absorbers Part 3 - (almost) all's well that ends well

After the dramas with the shocks, it was great to speak to Hugh yesterday and hear that the car was ready to be picked up.

New shock towers, newly rebuilt shocks, new rear bushes, new caster arm ball joints and bushes, new diff, new speedo and tacho cables... I was almost expecting the car to look different after all those changes!

It was a pleasant coincidence to bump into Mitch from Monza Motors on the train out to Bayswater, and we happily discussed Alfas all the way to the workshop - I'm now very keen to see his 105 race car in action.

Hugh wanted me to check the Ricciardi out, so after a quick cup of coffee to warm me up, I took it for a spin around the estate.

Ricciardi and cousins outside Monza Motors

Even a quick drive around the block, taking it easy because the engine and gearbox were cold, showed a vast improvement in the car. Small bumps and ripples no longer cause big movements from the back end, and the bump and torque steer are gone. The car still shows a slight preference for left turns over right, and a very slight nervousness when the throttle is lifted suddenly, but in general the handling, ride and road holding have been transformed. It also felt very sure-footed on the wet bitumen, and I think the formerly terrifying wet weather demons might finally be exorcised.

As a bonus, the brakes have dramatically improved, no longer giving an inconsistent pedal height. It was also very nice to have the two big gauges functioning again, and not have to be squinting down at the trip computer every time I want to check the speed.

Test drive and formalities complete, I headed for home, remembering just in time to fill the petrol tank before joining the freeway...

The longer drive confirmed my first impressions - there are still some minor eccentricities to be ironed out, but the handling is much, much better now, the best it has ever been in my ownership. I was really starting to enjoy the feel of everything working so well - and then the speedo died... again.

One of the joys and burdens of older car ownership is the constant struggle to keep all the little things working. Major mechanicals can be dealt with, and once they're correct they'll generally stay in good shape if maintained properly. Things like instruments, wiring looms and the like are a different proposition. They weren't made to last for forty years, and they can be difficult to replace with newer parts.

This particular speedo is proving very recalcitrant. It originally died several years ago, not long before I put the car in storage. Hugh determined that the cable at the speedo end had become slight rounded, and after he crimped it and refitted it everything worked again - for about two days. This time around it got a new cable, and was working beautifully until I got halfway home.

I rang Hugh (I think he's developing a twitch when he hears my voice on the 'phone), and he reckons that this time it's the drive unit in the gearbox causing the issue. Fortunately I'm not working next week, so another quick hop over to Bayswater is in order to see if we can sort it properly. At least I've got a tacho now which is the important thing, speeding fines being cheaper than engines.

The next step is to take a proper drive on a twisty road - I can't wait.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shock absorbers Part 2 - Measure twice, cut once

The mystery of the missing 40mm of shock travel (detailed yesterday in "Shock absorbers Part 1") kept bugging me last night, and I couldn't shake the thought that we had to be missing something. The car couldn't have a design flaw that was so major, and the part in question didn't really look like it had come from somewhere else.

Eventually I hit on an idea. This is hard to explain without pictures, but bear with me....

The upper spring pan and the shock tower are both part of a single bracket. The shock sits inside the spring (as in a standard 105) and pokes up into the shock tower, where it is mounted.

The bracket is attached beneath two of the chassis tubes, bolted to them by 4 bolts, with spacers to set the ride height. The initial assumption was that there was insufficient distance between the spring pan and the shock tower, and the solution was to cut the shock tower and extend it.

What has occurred to me now is that the bracket could have been intended to sit above the chassis tubes rather than below them, but without pictures or access to the car I couldn't clearly visualise whether there was room for it to sit above without fouling anything - there are some diagonal bracing tubes in that part of the chassis and I couldn't recall where they run.

This morning I rang Hugh and outlined the theory. His objection was that the springs would then be too short. This is true, but it was more plausible to me that the springs were cut too short than that the chassis has a major design problem or that the brackets randomly came from another car. Since writing the above I've been in touch with Robert Marsh, the original owner and builder of the car. Rob confirms that both bracket and springs came as-is from the factory, so it looks like this was a design problem. Rob has graciously forgiven me for the implied slur on his mechanical abilities...

Hugh confirmed that the brackets would fit above the chassis tubes, and that this would in fact account for the required 40mm, so this looks like the solution to the problem.

Unfortunately he had already cut the shock towers, and since there are also no correct-length springs handily available, it made sense to keep going rather than change tack now. The car will have stiffer springing than it ideally should (due to the shorter spring), but no more so than before, and extending the shock tower should otherwise be functionally identical to moving the bracket.

For the longer term however, I'd like to put it back the way it was intended. This will mean either modifying the brackets again, or having replacements fabricated. Apart from preferring "originality" where it works, there is a practical advantage to mounting the bracket above the chassis tubes - it makes ride height adjustments much easier, since it won't be necessary to compress the spring in order to add or remove spacers. This is no doubt part of the design, and something I should have thought of earlier. Or not - see note above. This is how the car came, and now it's working I'm inclined to leave well alone. Perhaps if/when I get to the point of changing the rear spring rate I'll look at this again, but until then I'm happy to have a rear suspension that works.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shock absorbers Part 1 - a cautionary tale

A question for the class... Hands up all those who can tell me what happens when a shock absorber is used repeatedly as a bump stop?

That's right - it breaks. However, if it is a well made, high quality shock absorber such as are built by our friends at Koni, it only breaks internally, and the rod and shell remain intact. When it comes to actual damping though, well it doesn't really work any more.

That is what the Koni representative told Hugh today about my shocks. Unbelievably, despite the sorry state of the things (and I just know my shocks are going to become one of those legendary tales told by greybeard shock techs about the Unbelievable Things People Have Done To Their Shock Absorbers), Koni can rebuild them (presumably in slow motion and to the faint strains of the "6 million dollar man" theme music). The interesting questions now are why did this happen, and how do we ensure it doesn't happen again...

On hearing the news from Koni, Hugh thoughtfully took a tape measure to the Ricciardi, and discovered an interesting factoid. Currently the rear shock travel is 40mm less than it would be in a 1750 Berlina, and 30mm less than the absolute minimum required to ensure that the suspension bottoms out on the real bump stops before the shock hits the limit of its compression range.

So, the shock was indeed acting as a bump stop, and in all likelihood the actual bump stops in the Ricciardi have never been used. Every time the car hit a big bump, or even a small bump while one or both rear wheels was already in compression, the shock bottomed out. Interestingly modern Konis have an internal rubber stop to ensure the shock doesn't get damaged if it is compressed too far, but mine are the older design and didn't have it. In any case, it's not designed to be the suspension bump stop, just a safety feature in case the unexpected happens.

This does go some way toward explaining why the transition between "cornering on rails" and "facing the wrong way in a cloud of tyre smoke" has always been very sudden, especially on a bumpy corner. There's nothing like suddenly going from normal suspension compliance to infinite roll rate to make things interesting...

It also explains why the rear shocks are shot but the fronts are fine, but we still come back to the questions of "why?" and "what next?". The car could certainly stand to come up a little in ride height, but 40mm is a fair whack. There would definitely be 105 coupes running around that are lower than that. We could go up 30mm and it would probably be ok, but wouldn't be lowerable again if required in future.

Hugh's view is that the upper spring mount/shock tower assembly is just too short, and at the moment I can't see any other explanation. The rest of the geometry is correct, the ride height isn't ridiculously low, and it's not a mounting problem, because the spring mount and shock mount are the same part.

It's just conceivable that there's supposed to be an extra part between the shock tower and the spring, but it looks correct as-is (the bottom of the tower has the spring pan built in to it). Possibly it's not an original Ricciardi part and was substituted by the first owner during the build - some of the other cars were raced very hard in the 90s, and their owners would certainly have discovered this problem had it existed. When I spoke to David Williams last week he was a bit surprised that I'd had problems with the car bottoming out, and I think that in the context he'd have mentioned this if it was a known issue.

The logical move seems to be to extend the shock tower, as Hugh suggests. That way we can run at any ride height if required. He already had the welding gear warmed up when he rang to give me the glad tidings, and it should still all be done by the weekend.

The good news is that when I get it back the car should handle not just better than it has in my time of ownership, but better than it ever has.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Suspension update & some Ricciardi history

Following the observation run last weekend it was pretty clear that work was needed on the rear suspension, so on Thursday I got up early and drove the car out to Bayswater for further investigation.

Even at urban speeds it was quite challenging to drive, with the car ready to dart in a new direction at any moment as the rear axle reacted to bumps and to acceleration and braking. Nice morning, though, and plenty of commuters seemed pleased to see something a bit different on the freeway.

With the trailing arms coming out to change the bushes, we decided to swap the diff at the same time, and agreed on a second hand 4.3 diff that Hugh has in his parts cache. The old diff has always been noisy, and when the oil was changed recently a lot of metal came out of the sump plug, so it was only a matter of time before it went. It will be interesting to see what the old diff actually was - I believe it might be a 4.55, but Hugh thinks it's a 4.3.

I also want to replace the ball joints on the front caster arms, and the speedo and tacho cables. Driving with just the trip computer as a speed check is a nerve racking exercise these days.

I wrote a post a week or so ago entitled "World's stupidest Alfa driver", and after yesterday morning it might be time to make that the new name for this blog. Leaving the car in Bayswater, I took a train into the city for work. Getting off at Melbourne Central, I put my hand in my pocket for my ticket and felt... the Ricciardi keys. Great. I briefly considered heading straight back, but couldn't really afford the time. In the end I put the keys in a taxi, and got the call 50 mins later to say they'd arrived safely.

The aim was to get the car to Phillip Island this Sunday for the last club sprint for 2010, and Hugh was fairly sure he could get everything done in time. Unfortunately the Italian car gods had other ideas, and I got a call this afternoon with the bad news - the rear shocks are stuffed, in particular the LR, which according to Hugh has no almost compression resistance at all.

While it's frustrating not to be able to take the car to the Island, I'm actually not too unhappy about the shocks, because the car really felt like it needed more bump damping at the back and this explains why. It also explains why I had so much trouble trying to set the rebound rate. I am curious about what happened to them, though. Koni reds are pretty robust, and in the Ricciardi they should get less of a workout than in a standard 105. Maybe they weren't new when they went in the car. Hugh has sent them off to be rebuilt, and I guess we'll know more when we hear what was required for the rebuild. The fronts seem to be ok, but it might be worth getting them checked properly.

The shocks should be back by the middle of next week, so the new target is to pick the car up on the following Saturday. It will be completely transformed at the back, with proper axle location, correct damping and a new diff. Can't wait...

In the meantime I've been trying to get in touch with David Williams, who was heavily involved in building the cars, and has campaigned his own Ricciardi very successfully on the track. Unfortunately he's been recovering from a serious illness, but he very kindly made time for a phone call last night.

David was very helpful in filling in some of the history of my car. I knew already that it was put together here in Melbourne by the previous owner, but I had assumed that it was one of the last cars made. David is fairly sure, though, that it is chassis number 3. He remembers welding up the chassis tubing on it just before he left Australian Technology. The chassis was then painted by other staff before shipping to Melbourne for assembly.

David was also kind enough to talk me through the basic suspension setup, as I want to check what if anything has been changed on my car. Essentially the suspension at both ends is standard 105. David did a lot of development work with various springs and sway bar setups, and discovered that the best springs were standard 105 units cut down to shorten the installed length. Shims and spacers are then used to set the desired ride height. The car seemed to work best with a standard GTV sway bar at the front, and no rear bar.

This matches the setup on my car. I had wondered because of the bottoming out whether my rear springs might be too short, but I think the rebuilt shocks should make a big difference there.

David has very kindly offered to advise me if I want to develop the car for the track. He still has his own highly developed Ricciardi, which by all accounts is a very quick track car indeed, and when it comes to getting the best out of the design he clearly knows his stuff.

I think the thing that struck me most during our conversation, though, was when David told me what his aim had been for the Ricciardi. He wanted something that approached the feel of an early sixties grand prix car and in terms of weight, power (with a developed 2 litre engine), balance and handling it's probably not that far away, with the added bonus that you can carry a passenger and the car doesn't require a rebuild after every outing.

Driving one is a rare experience, and those of us lucky enough to own one of the few Ricciardis built should be very thankful to Rick Hardy, Doug Potts and David Williams for all the effort and ingenuity they put into this wonderful machine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

AROCA observation drive

On Sunday Kylie and I took the Ricciardi on an Alfa club observation drive. Rendezvoused at Campbellfield at 9am, and and headed off into a fairly grey and misty morning.

It was a fairly small group in the end - the Ricciardi, a very nice Guilia Super, a 156, a fwd GTV, a very rorty sounding Sud Sprint track car, and a Subaru Impreza (standing in for the owner's 105).

I was keen to see how the car felt on a longer drive, especially with the new wheels and tyres. The route was great, and the observation component was a lot of fun, although communications are very difficult in a loud open top car at speed, and we did miss a couple of the clues.

The car was fairly good to start with, although the handling issues were clearly still there. The new wheel/tyre combo does give better feel, and the car felt more planted. The engine pulled well, although I'm a little concerned that the oil pressure isn't as good as it could be.

I think putting the LR shock back to the previous setting did improve things - hopefully the rear shocks were set more or less at the same level of rebound. Over the course of the morning the handling did get worse though, making driving a little tricky. Initially it was just a matter of gently accelerating into left hand corners, and trailing the throttle into right handers. After a while, though, the car was twitching quite badly even on gentle gear changes. This does tend to back up my initial impression that something was wrong at the back, but it's unlikely to be the shocks - almost certainly the rear axle is moving around, in response both to engine torque and to bumps. That suggests rear trailing arm bushes. It doesn't seem to move side to side, though, so hopefully the trunnion bushes are ok.

I called up Hugh first thing yesterday and the car is booked in for Thursday to get the bushes sorted and double check the rest of the suspension now that it's had a good workout. I'll also get him to check the rear shocks and make sure they're set fully soft. The back of the car is not handling consecutive bumps all that well, suggesting the suspension is not returning from the first bump quickly enough and either rebound is too high, or spring strength or bump is too low.

Overall we traveled a bit over 200km (with one stop of about 20 minutes), which was a good long drive. Both Kylie and I were perfectly comfortable at the end of the trip, a good endorsement both for the seats and for the ride quality.

Note dead main gauges

It was really good to be involved in a club event after so many years, and to meet other enthusiastic Alfa people. Everyone was very friendly, and very positive about the Ricciardi. Looking forward to more events!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fun with electrical connections

Strictly speaking, the Ricciardi doesn't for the most part have Italian electrics, but today it rather lived up to the Italian stereotype.

It's been a long day, starting with an early morning visit to Vin Sharp to pick up the new wheels, and then to get some tyres fitted. That was all done in the Peugeot - no room in the Ricciardi for a spare set of wheels, let alone with tyres.

Vin also had a mirror that matched the broken wing mirror, so before fitting the new wheels I spent a while fitting that and getting it adjusted. It still isn't angled quite right, so there's some more fiddling to be done.

Then on with the new wheels - reasonably straightforward, just had to remember to glue the magnet for the trip computer to the LR. Probably should have done that before getting the tyres fitted, since it might affect the balance, but it is fairly light.

The GTA alloys look really, really nice (pictures to follow). I had got used to the yellow wheels, but it does look much better with aluminium, and the 195x65s look better than the old 205x60s, as well.

Time for a test drive, and that's when the electrical issues started. The engine was turning over, but gave not even a cough. Popped the bonnet, and started checking all the leads... Spark plug leads good, HT good, LT... Ah! The low tension lead was disconnected from the coil. Plugged it in, and away we went. Took me a little while to work out how it became disconnected, but eventually I realised that the bonnet support had fallen out of its clip, and then when I next lifted the bonnet the support had caught on the wire and pulled it out. Time to make that support clip a little tighter.

Next a quick stop at home to pick up my partner and some supplies, and off to a picnic with friends in Hawthorn.

We were well into the heat of the day by now, and I was glad to have the auxiliary fan working. All was going well, until I realised that the indicators were only intermittently working for left turns, although they seemed fine for right. Probably a loose earth connection somewhere - something else to check.

The next electrical issue was rather more intrusive. We were getting ready to turn right off the Chandler hwy onto Princess st when some poor bloke in an old Camry didn't notice the (admittedly very small) red sports car alongside him, and tried to merge into us. At that point things got rather exciting. I hit the brakes, and the car, which is still a bit nervous at times, darted left, requiring some corrective action. I also tapped the horn button, which was a mistake, because the horn jammed on.

The previous owner equipped the Ricciardi with a quite powerful set of air horns, and they could probably hear us in Templestowe as we proceeded around the corner, with me hammering at the horn button, my passenger blocking her ears, and the poor Camry driver deciding discretion was the better part of valour and vanishing at speed up the Chandler.

Fortunately there is a service station on that corner, and I pulled the car in there, only to have it stall before I could get it parked. Unfortunately the horn isn't connected to the ignition, so turning the car off didn't help.

With the Ricciardi blocking access to most of the pumps, I leapt out, pulled the bonnet up, and reaching far down into the nose of the car was able to pull the hot lead out of the pump for the horns, finally killing the din. Those horns really are loud.

The next issue was that I initially couldn't turn the immobiliser off to restart the car. Managed it eventually, but not sure what's going on there - it happened again later on. Possibly another earth issue.

The picnic was great - wonderful food, lovely company and some very nice rose (although as designated driver only a few sips for me, alas).

I've since sorted out the horn. That was really a mechanical issue - the horn button (Momo, so I guess it's Italian!) had somehow jammed in its housing. Disassembled and lubricated the rubbing surfaces with some baby oil (they're all plastic), reassembled, and all seems to be fine.

Naturally I couldn't reproduce the indicator issue, but I did check all the earth connections and found that the earth lead for one of the left side indicators could be tighter. Adjusted it, and we'll see whether that was the problem.

All in all an interesting day, and a reminder that there may still be more issues waiting to surface. Off on an AROCA observation drive tomorrow, so hopefully they don't pop up there (and hopefully it doesn't rain!).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

World's stupidest Alfa owner

Well, that was a fast return to earth.

The great job I did adjusting the shocks turned out to be not so great after all. Following last night's drive, I had a nagging thought that the odd handling might be a result of me getting the rebound settings out of kilter on the back of the car, so tonight after work I grabbed the toolbox and jacked up the car to double check...

No doubt about it, the RR wasn't engaging the adjuster. It had felt odd at the time, but because the other side had worked well I assumed it must be ok. Doh! What I think is happening is that the shock must have a rubber bump stop in there, as some do according to the Koni website. I was pushing the dust cover down onto the rubber, and when I pushed hard enough it stopped turning - making me think I'd adjusted the shock and reached the end of the travel.

That was the first mistake. Mistake #2 was to have a go at getting the shock to extend far enough in situ to get the bump rubber out... End result, trailing arm at extreme angle and shock binding on shock tower. After a lot of jockeying with two jacks I managed to get the shock back into the tower without (I think) putting undue pressure on anything. Really wishing now that I'd started with the RR on Sunday and then given up before I did any damage...

Now to the LR - same issue there? If so, no real problem because both shocks would be the same, but I suspect that I did actually adjust the LR because of the odd handling. Which would mean that the LR doesn't have a bump rubber. That seems like it could be a problem in extreme bump situations. Well, this saga might turn out to be worth it to find that out. Maybe.

So, jack up the LR, undo the top mount, and... Yup, this feels like it's engaging the adjuster. Ok, according to my notes it was one half turn from full soft before, so let's put it back there. Out of curiousity, I try winding it further, and it stops. Seems like there's only 1/2 a turn of adjustment, which can't be right. Do some more fiddling, but that seems to be it.

That's very disconcerting - either the shock isn't what I thought it was, or it's broken, or I'm really not doing this right. Not much I can do from here without removing the shock from the car, and I don't have the tools with me for that. So, put everything back together and leave it for now.

I wonder what Hugh's hourly rate is for putting the car right after the owner's mucked it up? If I don't want to find out I'd better come back with a spring compressor to get the shocks out and do this properly.

Of wheels and tyres

One of the consequences of leaving the Ricciardi in storage for so long has been the need to replace the tyres. In fact the A509s still have masses of tread, but they were on the car when I got it, and must now be 14 years old or more - long past the expected life for a set of sports tyres. I've always felt that they were too wide for the car (at least on the road), so this is also an opportunity to go down to 195mm.

I've also been wanting to replace the wheels with some suitable alloys, so this looks like the time to do both.

One of the great things I'm finding about the modern Alfa Scene is the proliferation of manufacturers and suppliers of new parts. This is balanced to some extent by the rarity and high cost of many original parts (cough...brake boosters..cough), but it does mean that there are many options for things like wheels. An evening of browsing, and some photo editing with GIMP, and I've made my selection - replica GTA wheels, keeping the 14" size. A couple of Alfa specialists in the UK supply them, and at least one place in Melbourne imports them. Here's a quick GIMP mockup of the car with GTA-style wheels (I did a cr*p job of altering the perspective on the front wheel, which wasn't square to the camera).

Tyres are another matter. 14" is no longer the wheel size of choice for sports car manufacturers, and there are no performance tyres available in 65 profile, the size necessary to keep the gearing correct with 195mm tyres on a 14" rim.

A plaintive cry for help on the AROCA forum elicited a number of suggestions in 195x60, but I'm not prepared to drop the overall gearing any further. I've accurately measured the speed at an indicated 5700rpm as 170kph. The tacho may not have been accurate, but if it was then the diff ratio must be 4.55 - the lowest 105 ratio made, and very rare these days. Hugh reckons it's more likely to be the standard Berlina ratio of 4.3, but either way it doesn't need to be any lower.

Searching the web and ringing a few tyre retailers didn't help much, especially as the immediate response of the latter was to try and sell me a 195x60 road legal race tyre. My actual requirements are very different. At the moment I want, not ultimate grip, but progressive, predictable behaviour and excellent wet weather grip. The Ricciardi has always been an inveterate aqua planer, and needs all the help it can get when the heavens open.

At the moment I'm leaning toward one of the "all rounder" tyre models that are still available in 195x65 - Goodyear Eagles, BF Goodrich Sport/TAs, Bridgestone Turanzas, Yokohama A.drives, etc. Vin Sharp from PACE Engineering has suggested Michelin XM1s - he recently bought an Alfa 75 which happened to be shod with them and said they were surprisingly grippy at a track day. Perhaps more importantly, he found them very progressive, which is music to my ears.

I suppose the other possibility is to go up to 15" wheels and something very low profile, but I shudder to think what the ride would be like.

More thinking required.

First real drive - an evening run to Kinglake

Ages ago I promised my mate Wayne a ride in the Ricciardi once it was back on the road, so yesterday after work we fueled the car up, and after some discussion, headed north up Albert road.

After a couple of accidental turns, and some in-flight consultation of Wayne's iPhone, we found ourselves in relatively open country, with lots of green fields beautifully lit by the late afternoon sun. Perfect conditions for a ride in an open topped sports car.

On a whim we decided to head to Kinglake, and took the Whittlesea road. With little traffic around, and a long straight road ahead, I dropped the car down two gears and briefly let the 1750 have its head in third. Wayne was suitably impressed with the acceleration (and with the sound!), but when I reached the speed limit and backed off the throttle, the car gave a shimmy I didn't like at all. We were running dead straight at the time, so clearly something is awry underneath - a warning I was careful to heed for the rest of the drive.

Once we got to the twisty bits the car should have come into its own, but it really didn't seem comfortable, and I didn't have any confidence in the response if I pushed it.

Getting the car to turn in precisely was tricky - it had a tendency to wander during the turn-in phase, and I could feel a bit of a clunk or rattle through the wheel - possibly that caster rod I spotted yesterday. If I was trail braking, the clunk was more pronounced, and it seemed to mark the end of turn in. The car was also inconsistent right to left, turning in quite sharply for left handers, but understeering past the desired turn-in point going right. Once into the corner, the understeer persisted on right handers, with an odd feeling from the back end as if it didn't want to turn. On left handers the wheel wanted to keep turning, as if the camber was pulling it into the corner.

The upshot was that a Jeep that I had overtaken had no difficulty staying with us, actually closing up through some of the corners.

Driving into Kinglake itself I got quite a fright when a very loud clicking noise started up somewhere in the front, with a frequency that rose and fell with the engine revs. All the gauges looked ok, but I pulled gingerly off the road and popped the bonnet. The noise wasn't coming from the engine bay (whew!), but was clearly audible in the cockpit - tacho? Yes - I put a finger on the tacho face and felt the vibration. Reaching behind I was able to move the cable housing slightly and the vibration went away. Clearly something wrong with the cable or attachment.

Dinner at the Kinglake pub - very nice fish and chips - and then back toward town. This time we chose the Hurstbridge route, which involves a very nice twisty section coming down the hill. The view out over the valley was great, but I was distracted by the tacho vibration, and spent the first few corners with one hand under the dash trying to move the cable around. After a polite request from my passenger to watch the road, I reluctantly abandoned the tacho to its fate and concentrated on feeding the car smoothly into the bends and keeping a sensible speed, with some margin in hand for the unexpected.

On these slower twisting sections the car felt much better than it had on the fast sweepers earlier in the evening. The left/right oversteer/understeer bias was still there, along with a tendency to wander a little under braking, but in general the car felt much happier and more inclined to communicate what it was doing, and I was able to commit to the corners with a little more confidence. It was at about this point that the tacho died completely.

The run from Hurstbridge back into Melbourne was an excellent finale, the car effortlessly running with the traffic in top gear, exhaust note echoing off tall buildings as we passed.

A fun drive, and a useful education on the state of the car. The tacho cable is yet another casualty, but at least it's something that can easily be replaced. A nasty little thought that occurred to me on the way home - could I have stuffed up the shock adjustments and left one of them (probably the RR, which was the most difficult) out of whack? That might explain the strange feeling from the back and at least some of the wandering.

Playing with the shocks

When I first got the car way back in 1998, I felt the back was a little inclined to float at speed, and commented to my favourite Alfa mechanic about it. In response he stiffened the rear shocks, mentioning afterwards that he had to take the back axle out to do it.

That comment made me wary of touching them again, and even though ever since I've found the car a bit too stiff, I've left the shocks alone. Driving it again after six years though, it definitely felt not just stiff, but over-damped, so the shocks went on to the list of items to be addressed.

Sunday had been designated as a day to take the car for an extended drive and see what was what, but with the weather being so bad, instead I spent a few hours just looking the car over and starting to address a few things.

First item on the list was to identify the shocks and confirm how they are adjusted. Turned out they are Koni Reds. The Reds are Koni's direct replacement for the OEM shock. The question remains of how these ones are valved - are they standard 105 Alfa spec, and do they differ front to back (Alfa 105 series cars have very soft rear suspensions and much firmer front).

Reds are adjustable for rebound, although Koni recommend installing them set to fully soft, and adjusting only for wear. Adjustment is a bit fiddly to do because in theory you should remove the shock from the car.

I decided to set the fronts to full soft as an experiment as they are more accessible (rears sit inside the springs), and found that after disconnecting the upper mount I could easily collapse the shock and engage the adjuster. Both front shocks were set about half a turn from full soft, and I reset them to full soft.

Next I confirmed that the rears are also Koni Reds. At that point I was inclined to wait until I had a spring compressor so I could remove the springs and get at the shock properly, but in the end decided that there was nothing to be lost by giving it a go in-situ. Once again I disconnected the top mount. Because of the closed shock tower there was no way to get my hand to the shock body to collapse it, but I was able to use a screw driver to gently push on the top mount stud and collapse the shock. With fingers reaching between the spring coils I was then able to turn the body and engage the adjuster. Again, both shocks were set about a half turn from fully soft, and I reset both to fully soft. Next time I might try disconnecting the lower mount instead, as I think it might be easier to push the shock up from below when engaging the adjuster. It might also be better to support the car on the chassis instead of part of the unsprung mass, which compresses the spring and shock.

With the wheels back on the car, I dodged rain clouds for a quick test drive. Definitely a change - car felt more compliant, and I could feel the suspension moving more. First impression was that possibly the front needs a bit more rebound, but back seemed better. Actually I think that the back would probably benefit from more compression damping, but certainly not rebound.

Test drive showed up another small problem - the gear knob which I had put on the previous day came loose. 5 minute job with an allen key to fix that, and the new knob, with a longer body to extend the throw, is a nice improvement to the shift.

Following the test drive, made an attempt to discover why the auxiliary electric fan isn't working - it will be needed once the weather gets hotter. Traced the wire and confirmed that the fuse is good, but will need a multimeter to investigate further.

I discovered (and created!) two more issues during the afternoon... The wing mirror, which was a bit wonky anyway, caught on the car cover when I was taking it off, and broke off. While doing the shocks I took the opportunity to give the suspension a bit of a shake test at each corner. The FR caster arm has a tiny bit of play in it, which is probably the ball joint and will need to be sorted. Rest of the suspension looked good, but if one BJ is failing there will be others.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Return of the Ricciardi

Today I drove the Ricciardi for the first time in five years or more. A friend gave me a lift out to Hugh's workshop, and I drove it back, worrying at first about the impending rain, and then about all the little things I kept noticing with the car.

Ricciardi and owner in younger days

Amazingly, it's more or less as I remember it from five years ago. Right down to the speedo, which Hugh had fixed but which broke again before I collected the car. Engine felt good, gear shift positive but overly firm (must extend the lever). Brakes aren't quite right though - booster problem I think, as pedal stays firm but engagement point is a little variable.

Back from storage

Car is still too harsh over bumps. Convinced now that the shocks are set too firm, and possibly springs are on the way out as well. Tyres have plenty of tread, but are now at least 12 years old, so time for some replacements.

Auxilliary fan has packed up - must check fuse.