SH Garage: Tinkering With Tools Is My Type Of Therapy

“I’m just nipping out to the garage for 30 minutes,” is so often optimistically communicated before getting elbow-deep in CV join grease and metal filings. I don’t intend to get lost in time – it just happens. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun.

To some people, disappearing into a cold box with very little natural light for hours at a time sounds like hell. And while I’d be kidding you if I said it’s all sunshine and rainbows in there, for the most part it’s pure happiness. There’s endless amounts of organising to be done, shuffling around and hitting things with hammers. In a garage there’s a never-ending to-do list, sometimes straightforward jobs on cars and sometimes things to do to the garage itself.


Earlier this month, Mark introduced a new format for projects on Speedhunters: SH Garage. I’m loving this way of sharing car personal stories with you; it means I can show you some of the more obscure things I’ve been working on/struggling with/wish I never started.

Speaking of which, since last time we spoke, I’ve procured a massive red van…


The eagle-eyed among you will recognise it has a South African import front end, and that’s kinda special. The funniest thing about working on the VW Transporter is that it doesn’t even fit inside the garage, so it’s a case of rolling around on the concrete outside.

While not everyone is able to shelter in garages, car people are a pretty resourceful bunch. I’ve seen people changing wheels in multi-storey car parks in London where garage space is unobtainable or prohibitively expensive. I’ve even heard of suspension swaps taking place in public car parks; just bring your tools and jam.

When I lived in East London, one enterprising chap rented three parking spaces and boarded them up to create a workshop in the car park under our flats. It was not until I spotted him carrying a jack into the mysterious plyboard box that I realised he was converting a campervan for a round-the-world trip in there. It reminds me that there really is no excuse for not making progress on a build.

This month I have been mainly picking away at the fun stuff – swapping wheels, selling off any surplus parts to clear space, and getting ready for some more meaty (read: terrifyingly complicated) work.

I intend to convert the lowly 1.9 diesel Transporter panel van into a more spritely 4WD version by removing the diesel engine and sliding in a 2.0 8V petrol engine from a Mk3 Golf. It’s a bit of a weird choice but matches the output of the 2.1L petrol engine that the Syncro drivetrain is designed for. I’ll go into this in a bit more detail in a future update, but it’s been fun trying to get all the parts to convert it. Some bits have come from as far afield as Croatia; even the wheels are from Germany. It’s been a worldwide effort to get all the rare items to complete the conversion and I’m really grateful of the help and advice of some great people. It’s what cars are all about.


Another fun thing to happen this month is the addition of this little guy, a 1987 Vauxhall Nova 1.2 Merit.


I immediately ripped it apart and rebuilt it over the course of a week of evenings, ready to visit my friend Chris in his garage and talk cars.

It’s funny, an open bonnet or open garage door is like a magnet for conversation; I don’t know what it is about them. Luckily there’s a lot to look at in Chris’ VR6’s bay; everything has been smoothed or removed, even the wiper mechanism and scuttle. In place he’s used a Fiat wiper motor, centrally located to get a clean mono wiper look – definitely an idea I’ll keep in the memory bank for future use.


The Nova itself isn’t actually a 1.2 at all; it runs a high-compression 1,600cc engine with twin DCOE Weber carburettors. I drove it around locally for a little while, just as it was delivered to me, but there’s something about having a car with someone else’s wheels that was playing on my mind.


To make it ‘mine’ right away I decided to put on a set of new-old-stock Irmscher wheels. These were an original option for the Corsa C and change the vibe of the car to a more OEM+ feel.

Above, you can just see one of the Compomotive MO5s that the Nova came with, and I’ll be keeping those and refurbishing them to match how clean the rest of the car is. It’s a two owner from new, undersealed at the dealer, always garaged kind of car. I cannot get over well looked after it is; it’s a joy to have around.

Speaking of which, it’s not every day you get to park ‘911 HUL’ in your garage…

HUL was dropped off in exchange for my 996 Turbo, which is probably the most one-sided trade in the history of trades. This deserves a story all of its own, but it was great fun getting to know the 992 Turbo S and have Porsche Classic look after the 996 for a little spa break.


The opposite of a spa break however, is wresting with 30-plus-year-old Vauxhall CV joints.

The downside of a car that has had little use is that lots of things need replacing when you do use it in anger. So far the Nova has required two CV boots, two front brake callipers, a brake master cylinder and a new brake booster. Add to that some routine maintenance of the fuel system and some ‘please don’t burst into flames’ safety measures, and I’ve spent more than my pre-approved quota of time units inside the garage. I’ve absolutely loved every second of it though.


The brakes were a bit of a freak failure and actually worked great when the car was delivered from Scotland. Each time I drove it though they progressively bound more and more, to the point that the car hardly moved. I was the straw that broke the camel’s back on that one.


Naturally, this was a great opportunity to upgrade the brakes and I went with a simple Wilwood 4-pot 256mm front kit. This uses a one-piece disc from an Astra GTE, so replacement parts are not expensive and readily available.


The engine bay is where all the action is on this car though. I know the Vauxhall Nova isn’t quite as popular in other parts of the world, but in the UK it’s the backbone of 1990s/2000s youth car culture. Many people had these when they were younger, and the Nova allowed them to express themselves for the first time with a wide range of tuning options. It is the ‘chav’ weapon of choice.

I myself had a similar 1.2 Merit a long time before I could drive and learned the basics of driving in it. For me, this car is pure nostalgia. My first Nova certainly didn’t have 140bhp to haul the meagre 750kg mass as this one does though. It’s certainly faster than it looks.

The metal valve cover is away having some breather ports put into it at the moment; it looks much better than the plastic item but needs updating to work with the high compression motor.


The most important part of the bay are those twin Weber carburettors, which are a tinkerer’s dream. So many points of adjustment to play with, screws to turn and functions to adjust and improve – it’s about an analogue as you can get and they allow for hours of play time. This Nova reminds me that car joy doesn’t always have to be the undertaking of huge engine swaps or vastly expensive parts being delivered, despite also being knee-deep in those too. Sometimes just improving the cold start functionality of an ancient engine with the turn of four brass screws can be a total buzz.

I’m hoping you like these more general ramblings, and I can’t wait to bring you more from tinker-time inside the garage. If you enjoy this style of update, or even if you don’t, let me know in the comments.

Long live car life, in all of its forms.

Ryan Stewart
Instagram: 7.nth



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That first paragraph hits the nail right on the head! I've heard the sentence "Are you going to loose your sense of time again?" uttered by my better half so many times, when I tell her that I'm going to the garage just for a little while. We both already know that I'm lying but like you said, it's not on purpose!

It's also true, how there is endless amounts of stuff to do, and things to tinker with. If I'm off to a slow start, I walk around the garage, look at the posters, maybe open the bonnet and stare at the Webers hanging of the side of the engine. I'll do one small thing, and pretty soon I get inspired to do more.

After a while I notice that I've been there for eight hours, and haven't eaten anything. There's two missed calls, and a message saying "Did you think about coming home tonight?", sent three hours ago. I've got some explaining to do, again...


My projects are my drugs. They're expensive, they're intoxicating, they're addictive and I lose myself in them. I can't count how many times I've looked up from something I'm building, writing or drawing, glanced at the clock and realized that it's gonna be a REAL long day at work tomorrow.


I'm a little bit long in the tooth for all nighters now, but many a morning I've stared at computer screens wondering why I was spannering away at 3am.


5 minutes is never 5 minutes.

Lovely Nova, these were THE car to have.


I think there is a time warp on the threshold of the garage door. It's so crazy how many people have a Nova story. My next door neighbour stopped and commented on how much she loved her Nova SR that she bought new back in the day when she saw it. Love cars that trigger conversation.


Even the econoboxes looked better back then...

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

HUL was dropped off in exchange for my 996 Turbo, which is probably the most one-sided trade in the history of trades.

No, it's a smart trade actually. By lending someone the latest car, they will next yearn for an upgrade once they get their old car back, and that's when Porsche makes money. LOL!

The 140 hp in a 750 kg Nova sounds like tonnes of fun. What are your future plans with it?


I have another engine to build for it, although it is 140bhp it is limited by the head porting and valve train, they have very soft valve springs and kill stock valve guides. Luckily I have managed to get a ported big valve head with stainless 1pc valves, upgraded valve springs, bronze guides and solid lifters. That thing should be good for 8,000+ RPM!


That was an enjoyable read. Best of luck with the T25/T3 project - look forward to reading more about that.

Mine currently has the front cut off along with multiple 'speed holes' adorning its bodywork. Many a 'quick 30 mins' spent on rebuilding its new EJ25 heart.


I had a nova back 20 years ago, I paid €150 for it. It was tatty, red over black, rostyle wheels from a manta, lowered, a mercedes W123 brake master cylinder (not advised... too much rear brake bias), and a 1.4 engine from a much newer astra fitted. It was a little rocket, one of my all time favourite cars of all time.


I never thought I'd say this but there really can't be many cars that have aged as well as the Nova has!


It's taken a little bit of time to get there but I totally agree, it looks like nothing else on the road and is instantly recognisable.


Working on your car gives a sense of productivity and satisfaction


When you work in an office, the pay may be good - MAY be good - but there's no sense of satisfaction to be gained in processing paperwork all day.

They say that a construction worker can build a house, drive past it for the next 50 years and each time, say to himself with pride, "I built that."

Same with a car.

When was the last time you couldn't take your eyes off a particularly well-formatted document you just put together in MS Word?

Now, how many times have you been out in the garage at 2:15 in the morning, staring lovingly at the old cylinder head you finished wire-brushing an hour ago, unable to take your eyes off it?


You have a good point there but everyone has their own way of pursuing happiness and finding satisfaction
For me I would like to have both sides: one that pays me well and one that gives me satisfaction


You have quite a narrow view of office work. All the cars, tools etc. in your garage have been designed by engineers and designers in offices. Design work is also very addictive and satisfying. There are a lot of times when I can't take my eyes off a particularly well made job i did in the office. I do like working with my hands too and that's a really nice way to wind down and get my mind of from work.


That's also true


Love it ryan! Such cool little cars. I don’t know how you mentally cope with so many projects lol
Just one note.. please bring back B10 WOE


Simple answer - mentally I absolutely do not cope haha! B10 WOE is coming back very very soon. The bottom end is built and we're just waiting for a couple more parts from Alpina in order to reassemble. It'll be a very special day when I get to drive that again.


If I may add, online browsing for tools, or buying tools at store is therapy. ;)


I have a bizarre love for tools that serve only ONE purpose, they are so cool. Things like CV join boot clamp fastner pliers.


Can we get “tinkerer’s dream” as a window sticker?


I put one of those 8v 2.0's in my early beetle, better fit and lighter than the 1.9td I had for a little bit. Are you keeping the fuel injection or swapping it to carburetors?

Morgan Carpenter

Love this. Great to see the random tinkerings of Garage.