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.