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.

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