“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.