Aston Martin World - Chapter 3 – Back to School - Driving Ambition by Barry Weir
During August and September I spent weeks in Penrith with Timothy going through the car and learning how it was built and how to repair it. It was like going back to school. When I arrived the floor was out so all the joints and the frame could be inspected.
I spent my time re-assembling most of it and checking the electrics. The rear axle had been sent away to be checked and balanced. I had a new prop shaft, balanced and checked. The second fuel tank, covered in leather, was there and was fitted above the rear seat. All fuel lines were re-run in racing specification fuel pipe and run inside the cabin.
The original fuel tank still had to be checked and refitted to the car. Seat belt fixing points had been welded to the car. A bar behind the rear seat had been fitted to take the shoulder straps. A tow eye had been welded to the front of the car, just in case the unfortunate should happen. I left Timothy beefing up the front bonnet supports and hinges. The shock absorbers were still being re-engineered to cope with this event. The second payment for the entrance fee was now due. Bad news.
Another 18 months?
It sounds so easy now and in my ignorance I thought it would be, but then I thought complete preparation of the car would be quite simple for someone who knew what he was doing. I didn’t realise it would actually take another 18 months and several ‘someones’ who knew what they were doing to get the job done.
It was recommended that the fuel pipe was run inside the car for protection and we needed a second petrol tank because we had to carry more than 480 kilometres worth of fuel. At around 16 kpg the original tank would only take us 270 kilometres, and putting another tank in the boot would have meant carrying about 130 lbs extra weight behind the rear axles.
The back seat, in between the axles, seemed the best bet, with better weight distribution.
As the fuel tank was now in the cabin with the driver and co-driver it had to have a firewall. I didn’t fancy being roasted alive if we had an accident. This problem was overcome by building a racing fuel bag inside an aluminium tank. Even the fuel cap was sealed from the cabin. The area around the filler cap and vent was vented to the outside using a fireproof fuel line and bulkhead fittings, creating a completely sealed unit to protect us in case of fire.
I decided to use two Su pumps so that if one failed, with a flick of a switch the other would take over – after all, if it was pouring with rain, or we were night driving, or even just tired, we wouldn’t want to be bothered with changing a fuel pump. The pumps had to be fitted to the bulkhead because there wasn’t room for two on the chassis where the original one had been. We decided to fit shut-off valves so that one pump could be removed for repairs and still allow fuel to be pumped via the other. Fuel pipes were cut and fitted to run inside the car to avoid being damaged. That was when my troubles began.
Bloody fuel pumps
I couldn’t believe it. The bonnet wouldn’t close; it kept hitting the fuel pumps. I re-cut the pipes and moved the pumps to give the correct clearance and this time it closed without a murmur. I tested the pumps and the one connected to the new tank worked well but the original kept clicking. I thought it was probably sucking in air, so I replaced the new fuel pipes again just to be on the safe side. The external vent for the second tank was by the rear passenger wheel, which was fine until we drove round a corner with a full tank and all the fuel poured out. I fitted a non-return valve on it and everything seemed fine, except that when the filler cap was opened, pressure was released from the tank, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. And the clicking pump was still clicking!
At an AMOC meeting it was suggested that the vent pipe should run over to the other side of the car and back again, like a self-bailing system on a boat. This seemed like a good idea, so I decided to give it a go and removed the non-return valve. Safety Devices installed a roll cage and I ran the new fuel pipe along the steel tubing – it worked. At last something was working! Buoyed up by my success I decided to replace the fuel pipes again to try to stop the pump clicking.
When changing the fuel pipes, one of the joints leaked inside the car and petrol flooded the footwell. It soaked straight through the carpet and dissolved the tar-like substance on the matting beneath, which then oozed up into the pile of the carpet. I took it out in the hope that the fumes would fade as it dried out but there was nothing I could do about the stains. I wasn’t having much luck.
While I was changing the fuel pipes I realised the shut-off valves on the pumps weren’t working. After pressurising the system to the carbs, the first pump was pumping fuel back through the second pump and past the nonreturn valve into the new tank. That was why the pump wouldn’t stop clicking. It wasn’t sucking air, it couldn’t shut down – it had to keep pumping to pressurise the other fuel tank.
After all the hassle with the Su pumps I decided to change them for Facet pumps which were much smaller and quieter. Everything was fine for about ten minutes and then one of them failed. That, fortunately, was the only problem I had with the Facet pumps. But this one seemingly straightforward job took days to sort out, during which time I changed the pipes and fittings, a total of 12 times. I also found that the stainless steel braided fuel pipe that I had been using was porous to petrol vapour so I fitted specific non-porous fuel pipe that is impervious to petrol vapour. No one had told me – or they did not know – that I was using the wrong fuel pipe and it cost me dearly.
Knowledge is power
Before the first stint at Timothy’s I knew nothing about the DB 2/4, but by the end of my stay I had learnt more than I could have imagined and I was determined that it was only the beginning. In as much as it would give me greater control over my circumstances, such knowledge was power, and I needed as much of that as I could get.
Numb bums are out
Once the chassis of the car was complete and a new exhaust fitted it was time for the safety items. I had fire extinguishers and sump guards fitted along with a roll cage and safety harnesses, which were all required items for the event. I decided that the original seats, even re-upholstered, would not pass muster. Driver and passenger comfort were very important, as tiredness on long stretches could be a killer. The last thing we wanted were ‘numb bums’. I needed seating that would be comfortable even after many hours’ driving so I was thrilled when Recaro agreed to donate two N-Joy seats for the 2/4.
Original car – you must be joking!
I originally thought that the DB 2/4 would make the 40,000 kilometres with very little being altered on the car. Nearly a year later, with the car almost finished, things had turned out very differently. It had been a very steep learning curve as I had never been involved in this type of event before. There had been lots of advice. Some good, some not so good. It takes time to try things out, but I was getting there. Safety and comfort had been a priority. The car itself looked just like the concours winner of 14th June 1998. But under ‘the skin’ major rebuilds and improvements had taken place.
The car was rattle free, and dare I say it, quiet. The new exhaust from Torque Techniques was superb. Straight through with a gentle purr. I designed finger supports for the ‘feet’ of the front timing case cover. I used some 3/8in copper tube and solder to get the design right, and then it was made in stainless steel and painted black.
A spare car
I purchased another DB 2/4 MK1. It was in bits with the body stripped down to the aluminium. The entire engine was in excellent condition. The car was dismantled twenty-one years ago with the intention of a major rebuild. What an ideal opportunity. A donor car that had been overhauled ready for reassembly. All the bits removed, cleaned, oiled and repaired. Should any fault occur on the trip, parts would be readily available. Tim Stamper was now busily installing shelves in his garage to house all the parts.
Someone to fight the bugs
I had also managed to acquire a medical adviser in the shape of my cousin William Weir, a consultant physician at the Royal Free Hospital and Coppits Wood Hospital in London. His speciality was infectious and tropical diseases, and I was sure his expertise would come in handy on certain legs of the journey. In his spare time he looked after the Saracens Rugby Team and he reckoned if he could cope with them he could probably put up with me.
As for a driving partner, it seemed that all-in-one co-driver-navigatormechanics with 80 days to spare, a good sense of humour, and the odd £30,000 lying around were a bit thin on the ground. But there was still time and I was confident that soon I would find the right person for the job. I was looking forward to 1999 and the next stage of my preparations, a year of road testing and trial rallies. But when I took the car up to Penrith at the end of January I had a rather nasty shock.
Rust, rust and more rust
A disastrous few days. I took the front wheels off and discovered that the polished spring supports had corroded. There was rust everywhere. It appeared that when the car was cleaned in November they had used caustic soda as a de-greaser, which stripped the paint off, and washing it down with water had left bare metal open to rust. As little work was done between November and the end of January no one had noticed the problem. The rear of the car was just as bad – rust, rust and more rust! I diverted my attention to the new shock absorbers. It took hours of playing about to find out how they worked and how to adjust them. They would have been excellent, except for the fact that the holes in the arms were in the wrong place and they didn’t fit onto the car! I sent them back to the engineering company to have the correct arms fitted, and was now having to go back there mid-February to fit them. There was, of course, also the lovely task of stripping the rust from the chassis, treating the affected area and repainting the underside of the car.
It was probably all character building stuff, but the three-steps-forwardand- two-steps-back lark was really starting to annoy me.
The next instalment of £16,000 for the entry fee had to be in by 1 February. Oh boy!
It’s bloody cold
In late February it was back to Penrith. God it was cold up there! I had brought Tom May with me for moral support and an occasional sip from his hip flask. In the DB7, motoring on good motorways takes six hours from Angmering in West Sussex to Penrith, a distance of 560 kilometres. Some of the legs of the Around the World were over 880 kilometres on bad roads. In an old car, I could see motoring times would be twelve to eighteen hours a day. Was I going to be tired or what?
Anyhow, the shock absorbers were all fitted and working – although not tested on the road yet. The rust problem had been dealt with and the underside of the car looked like new. The engine was coming along well and would be fired up and road tested in the last week of February.
My balls were dull and pitted
Tom May dismantled the top of the gearbox. When I had taken it apart earlier that year I had noticed that two 5/8in ball bearings, which allow only one selector rod to be used at any time, were dull and pitted. The ball bearings slid along a ‘tube’ and locked in dishes in the selector arm. If they could not move freely this would cause the gear movement to be stiff. They were not replaced at the time and had bugged me ever since. So it was down to Tom. What he found was that the ‘tube’ in the gearbox casing in which these ball bearings slid was not round or large enough and they were getting stuck. A wider ‘tube’ in the gearbox casing and new shiny ball bearings did the trick. Gear changing improved 100 per cent. Never accept ‘oh, that’s ok’.
The third and last fire
It was at this time while working on the wiper motor that I had the third fire. Everything comes in three’s. The motor would not work yet the wiring was correct. Plumes of white-grey smoke drifted up from the motor. Another job to be done when a replacement was found.
It had finally begun to dawn on me that even getting the car to the starting line was going to be a long haul, and along with that realisation came a tentative, more realistic determination that I would not let this challenge beat me. I would do what I had set out to do.
This was now a very serious attempt at the first world record of “Around the World in 80 Days.” Too much time and money has been invested for it to be anything else.
With this in mind I decided that, ready or not, the time had come for the DB 2/4 to be unveiled to the public. On Sunday 28th March I hosted a ‘launch’ party at my home in Angmering. Some 30 invited guests – including Ian MacGregor, chairman of AMOC and Jonathan Wood, motoring author and joint founder of Classic Car magazine – turned up for an informal lunch and a good look at the car. To my great relief the afternoon was an unqualified success, the weather was mild and sunny and a good time was had by all. The very next day after the party, as I set off to have the silencer adjusted, clouds of smoke started to emerge from the rear of the car. Oil was leaking onto the exhaust where it was burned off, producing masses of smelly fumes and clouds of black smoke. Eventually the fault was traced to a leaking rear oil seal. A simple job, to be repaired later.
The same week I had also arranged for the car to be sprayed with a protective coat on the underside to prevent stone chip damage. The car was taken to the paint shop on Thursday morning. During the day I decided to have a look at the faulty speedo (yes I drove the car to the paint shop without a speedo). A spring was twisted and so it was replaced. At 5.00 pm the car was not done, as the supplier of the paint hadn’t delivered any to the paint shop. I collected the car thoroughly fed up and on the way back tried to set the speedo speed following Roma in the Mercedes. The speedo was hanging out of the dash as I attempted its recalibration. All went well until the traffic stopped suddenly and the pointer fell off. No chance of fixing it on the move! I give up until Friday when I would be in a better mood. Although irritating, the problem with the speedo pointer would be easily fixed. Much more serious and problematic was my decision to replace the engine block. That was to start a year-long headache that would push my strength and resolve to the limit.