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Monday 1st December

I've been getting quite a few emails from nice folks across the globe who've been following the build. Some have been asking "where are the photos of the wing?". I haven't taken photos over the weekend partly as I haven't had much time, partly as much of the time the car's been covered in c**p, and partly because the weather's just been too bad for photos. The forecast for today is terrible too, but I've managed to sneak the beast out for a few pre-deluge pics.

Still a few jobs to do, I'm waiting for a front number plate, the exhausts need tweaking again as they aren't quite central in the holes in the rear grille. I'll also need to think about the ride height, it's still set about an inch higher than the factory recommended 110mm front, 160mm rear. I've been over a few speed bumps and it's OK so long as you go slow, go a bit quicker and the seat mounting bolts hit the deck. The ride's pretty good as it is, but I guess will be a little softer with it lowered a bit. I've got the dampers on the softest setting so far as well, they take a little bedding in. Not that it's exactly wallowy as it is!

As soon as I get chance I'll see if I can get a bit of in car video.

By popular request, some photos of the car with the wing fitted. Sorry about the light, dark and wet in Wales today! (click for larger image)Wing transgforms the look of the car (click for larger image)Polished billet aluminium struts are a work of art (click for larger image)

Another view (click for larger image)Another view (click for larger image)Ride height still up a bit on factory recommendation - I'll wait till I've encountered a few more speed bumps before lowering it. (click for larger image)

That wing again ... (click for larger image)View from driver's mirror (click for larger image)Did I mention I like the wing? (click for larger image)

Tuesday 2nd December

Got home from work at about 6.20. Now experiencing severe withdrawl symptoms, not driven the Ultima since Sunday! the weather's been better today and the roads are dry, so it has to be done. Quick change and get the racing boots on (I've got big feet and tend to get two pedals at once in normal shoes - not a good idea!).

Out onto the dark roads and I just let the car burble along for a few miles warming up. Within 5 miles the water temp is coming up and I'm getting out onto a nice open B road with lots of twisties and contour changes. Can't really push along in the dark, but I can certainly enjoy taking the car through the gears and feeling and hearing that big V8 just behind me. The car certainly feels very solid, and as I've said before is a smooth ride. Since I can't get it down the surgery car park ramp anyway I may as well lower the suspension a bit once I get time. There's a slight rattle - it's coming from the rear of the bonnet on the passenger side, I clearly haven't quite got the relationship between the hinge, the buffers and the latch quite right, and will look at that as well. It's fine parked up but is visibly rattling a bit at the outer edge when driving. It's the kind of thing you won't pick up until you get the car out onto the road.

The dash looks great with the white Ultima dials illuminated in the dark and the instruments are very easy to read at a glance. It's much easier now the speedo works properly. The switchgear is easy to reach - I can operate the indicator toggle switch and the headlamp dip switch with a finger without my hand leaving the wheel. The headlights are good but the main beam needs raising a bit. In the cool evening air the water temp only just gets over 70 degrees while I'm out on the open road, but once in town it gradually rises and the fans kick in at about 90 degrees. Even when I was stuck in a load of traffic in town the other day it didn't go above 100.

A short stretch of M4 and someone in a sporty Alfa Romeo passes me. Each time we reach a stretch of open road he's booting it, the Ultima can easily cope in 5th gear with a slight squeeze of the throttle. I've no plans to get involved in a race, and nothing to prove, just out for a quiet drive.

I arrive back home after 35 minutes driving. It's amazing what a rewarding feeling it is driving a car you've built, can't think of many better ways of unwinding after a busy day in work.

Thursday 4th December

Getting withdrawal symptoms again - was away in London yesterday. I have a short To Do list of little jobs I want to do. First up is adjusting the brake pedal, I can't comfortably heel and toe as it isn't quite high enough. Simple matter of undoing the locknut on the foot pad, unscrewing the pad a couple of turns then retightening the locknut.

Once that's done the cockpit ally panels get a quick clean - I haven't polished the aluminium panels and use spray on glass cleaner which does quite a good job. Also clean the inside of the screen - it's covered in marks from me getting the speedo in and out. Then the cills get a polish.

I also want to tweak the headlights, dip beam is a little low especially on the driver's side. Once I get the cover off I see that using it in the rain has identified a problem with the headlight units - it's not just condensation in there, it's obviously spray from the front wheels. Before fitting the outer headlight covers I'd spent ages polishing up the black GRP inner and the inside of the perspex, and both are now covered in c**p! Also removing the lower nut holding the underbonnet cover on the whole stud came out complete with the rivnut. So this job will be taking a bit longer than expected, and I won't be going out for a spin this evening. Ho hum.

The sidelight and dipped beam are mounted on a bracket with a screw on each side and one at the bottom in the middle. All are mounted via short lengths of rubber hose to allow some adjustment. The lower screw is fully done up and the uppers are as slack as I dare let them go, I was aware of this when I adjusted them for the SVA. The solution is to cut some slightly longer lengths of hose for the two upper mounts and refit. Prior to removing it I shone the lights on the garage door and stuck some masking tape on there to indicate the present low beam position. Once this is done I have a look at the stud/rivnut that's broken out of the GRP. The stud is epoxied into the rivnut, so I decide the best bet is to simply bond the whole lot back in using some JB Weld. I then need to leave it overnight to set and will clean up the unit and refit it all in the morning.

Friday 5th December

Lovely sunny day here today, had a meeting this morning and went in the Ultima. Got the headlamp assembled fairly quickly, and once I've thought about keeping all the water from getting in there in the first place I'll dismantle them both again some time to give them a good clean.

My number plates arrived this morning - plain black border with 'Ultima GTR' discretely in the middle at the bottom. Marked up the front for the vinyl plate, cleaned with meths and got it on nice and straight with no bubbles. Also packed the engine mounts with a couple of washers - filed a small gap in each one to enable fitting without taking the bolt out, then retightened. Also repolished the rocker covers, exhausts etc. while I was under there. Then it's time to go and collect the Evo - it's been in Promax Motorsport for a new clutch. The original one has lasted 26000 miles which is something of an achievement as Evo clutches aren't renowned for their longevity. Of course the boys at Promax reckon it's because I drive like a girle :-)

Jen's out in the evening and I'm working overnight so no beer for me! May as well spend a bit more time in the garage - still a few things on the to do list! I'd nipped out to B&Q earlier and got a length of pipe lagging - unlike the usual stuff this is very soft and is black. Internal diameter is 28mm so it should go on the roll cage OK. I've just lagged the bar on the driver's side, and held the foam on with some tape as it'll cut in less than cable ties.

Next job was sorting the ride height. I'd initially set it almost an inch high front and rear to provide clearance for the rollers and ramp at the SVA station. On checking the rear seems to have settled and was just about spot on, while the front was still just over a centimetre high. It's easiest adjusting the spring platforms without weight on them, but with my quick lift jack under the front of the car I can't open the bonnet! A squirt of WD40 helps the 2 platform rings turn easier, and about 30 minutes and only 2 skinned knuckles later it's done. While I'm under there I see the track rod ends and upper ball joints have turned a nice shade of rust! I should have predicted it really, it happened with the Westy. A bit of work with the wire brush and they soon have a coat of black Hammerite which makes them look much better.

Sunday 7th December

Just got back from my first real trip in the car (the SVA doesn't count!). I'm heading over to see my brother Andy who lives near Yeovil. Andy hasn't seen the car at any stage of the build. I packed together a small selection of tools just in case, but hoped I wouldn't need them! The motorway was quite amusing - I realised what trips in the Ultima were going to be like within 20 miles. I realised the 2 guys in the red Nissan were interested in the car when after following close behind me for a few minutes they pulled alongside while the passenger hung out of the window taking photos with his mobile phone! The car was behaving itself perfectly, no need for a gearbox on the motorway, 5th gear is all you need. Even at relatively low speed a dab of throttle gives a good firm push in the back and cars in the mirrors start to shrink. It's quite comfortable cruising at erm, sensible cruising speeds. At 3500rpm in top the speedo shows 85 mph, no problem, but I can see why some of the guys in the forum hanker after higher gearing.

I pull off at Sarn service area to fill up - no problem having the twin tanks, and from being run dry it takes 37 litres to fill a tank. I'm also keen to suss out how far I've got once the fuel gauge hits the zero mark.

Over the Severn Bridge and onto the M5. By the time I get to Junction 23 and pull of onto the A39 I'm starting to get a bit of a numb bum. The Ultima seats really are very good, but a combination of not much padding on either the seat or me means more than a couple of hours at a time isn't going to be sensible. I'm not at all disappointed, they're exactly as I expected, they're racing seats rather than armchairs and give brilliant support laterally.

Temperature control is one of the things I've been keen to get a handle on. Having read of the hot interior, the need for aircon, and CJ's extensive efforts to lag the colling system pipes you might imagine it's like driving an oven. Granted the weather isn't exaclty a heatwave, but the heater works well and is nicely adjustable, and the helicopter vents really do work well. I'd been concerned that the vents would generate lots of wind noise, but they don't. The aerodynamics of the car are such that there isn't as much airflow over the windscreen and side windows as I expected. I use Rain-X on the windscreen, and although the rainwater does bead up it doesn't clear off the screen anywhere near as quickly as off, say, the Evo windscreen.

The A39 is much more fun than the motorway, although it's fairly busy early on a Saturday afternoon. Good boy though the villages, but plenty of overtaking action on the open road between. I arrive at Andy's and reverse onto his drive only to find that the slope is too great and the front of the car grounds! Park up on the side of the road and Andy comes out to check it out. He's obviously seen all the web photos, but his first comment is that it looks great and that the photos don't do it justice! He says it's lower than he expected. As expected Andy can't drive the car - he can just about get in the driver's seat but can't do the pedals. At 6' 10" he's five inches taller than me, and I'm a fairly marginal fit in there. Fortunately he can just about squeeze himself into the passenger seat. Andy's a professional engineer and no mean motor mechanic, and his approval of my little project is important to me. He's keen to have a look under the rear canopy and isn't disappointed by his first confrontation with the lump lurking beneath.

Introductions over it's time to take him out for a spin. He lives in a quiet village surrounded by miles and miles of twisty country roads. Ideal. After a quick 20 minute blat I think it's fair to say he isn't disappointed by the performance and handling. I'm getting to know it, the overtaking power is truly phenomenal, but it's certainly a more involving car to drive than the Evo. The Evo is simplicity itself to drive, four wheel drive, active diffs, power steering, ABS etc. When the going gets tough you've got to keep both hands on the Ultima's wheel! The Ultima tramlines like crazy, which is probably inevitable given the width of the rubber. I also wonder to what extent it's down to the particular tyres - the Evo tramlined a lot when new, but switching from the soft compound Yokohama original fitments to Goodyear Eagle F1s transformed it and made it much more docile without reducing the turn in. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the Ultima, it's fabulous, it's just not for the faint hearted. The brakes have also improved during its first week of life, still requiring very firm pedal pressure but they've definitely sharpened up and offer serious stopping power when you lean on them, and are wonderfully progressive.

The evening consisted of getting beered up in Andy's local, followed by a good sleep (catching up on the sleep I missed on Friday night). A bike ride with Andy in the bitterly cold easterly wind in the morning then it was time to strap myself into the Ultima for the journey home. A few miles after setting off the engine started to die indicating the left hand tank was empty. Switch over to the other tank and note the mileage - 137, although as I switch the pump over the gauge registers only about half full (actually meaning just over a gallon down from full!). I assume that after filling them both, as the level in one tank drops, the tank link pipe allows the full tank to keep topping it up for a while. The gauge had shown zero at about 105 miles, so there's about 30 miles reserve on each tank after showing zero. The car doesn't miss a beat on the way home, and it's tremendous fun on a bitterly cold but sunny winter's day.

I was wondering how easy the toll booth at the Severn Bridge would be, but it was a doddle, just open the door and hand the dosh over. I make it as far as Sarn again before needing to fill up. The range on the car has thus been about 220 miles, although there was probably another 15-20 miles left in the tank. I'll work out the fuel consumption as soon as I have time.

As I shut the car down on the drive I suspect there's a bit of vibration coming from somewhere behind me. I decide to have a look in the engine bay. All the manifold bolts look fine, and all the bits under the canopy seem in order. A quick check of the alternator belt tells me this needs retensioning, as does the aircon belt. I decide to do the aircon belt straight away, at which point I realise the compressor seems to have a bit of movement. On closer inspection it turns out the main bracket holding it to the block is broken! It's a flat plate with 2 bushes welded on it which the mounting bolts goes through. These welds have given way, presumably due to vibration. I'm not overly concerned, just glad I spotted it. I'm sure the factory will get a new one off to me.

Tuesday 9th December

Parcel arrived today from Ultima with the replacement aircon compressor bracket and harness. The passenger side harness has frayed on each side of the lap strap, not the actual 'load bearing' part as it were, just the wider part that sits under it to stop it digging in. Changing the aircon bracket was a bit of a pain, main problem being that the bolt head impinges on the pulley as you try to slide it out. It was easier persuading it on as the whole thing wasn't bolted onto the engine and sitting in the bottom of the engine bay! I got it out eventually and refitted the whole thing, then retensioned the belt and tightened it up.

While I was on belts I looked at the alternator belt too, this is fairly easy to tension as it has a nice adjuster, but one of the locknuts wouldn't tighten, and I think I've essentially run out of adjustment. I'll need to have a closer look at that, might need to get a slightly shorter belt. Not sure why it should have stretched so much, I guess it implies the belts American Speed use aren't of a very high quality.

Thursday 11th December

Jen's out this evening so I can have a look at the alternator belt. I managed to get it off at lunchtime and sure enough the adjuster which uses a pair of rose joints, one with a left hand thread, had run out of adjustment as I'd wound the roise joint right out of thre threaded bush. I got a belt a fraction shorter from the motor factor this afternoon. I discover a problem - when I shorten the adjustment linkage the alternator is fouling on the block and I can't get the new belt on even though it's only a tiny bit shorter than the original. I then have a think and realise that although one of the rose joints has run out of thread the other hasn't, meaning they were probably wound in differnt amounts. I wind it right out and then screw them both in together so they've both got the same amount fo thread engaged and find I can just get the belt tight enough. Refit the aircon belt and the job's done.

The other thing I wanted to look at is the exhausts - the tailpipes are no longer central in the grille holes at the back, so I want to slacken the clamps, tweak them and retighten. No problem except that when I come to slacken the left hand one the b****y bolt seizes and won't alsken. I manage to slide it off and put it in the vice where my efforts then shear the bolt just like the first set of clamps I had. As has been mentioned in the forum by SteveD what happens is that when you tighten the clamps enough to hold the exhaust securely the bolt gets bent a bit and then binds and shears. Steve reckons the supplied Mikalor clamps are a size too small (73-79mm) and reckons he solved his problems with the next size up (79-85mm). The clamps are stainless with a stainless bolt and are expensive. I also am confident I won't get any locally. I did find that Power Engineering sell them - I initially thought they were cheaper than Ultima but was looking at the cheaper option with a plated instead of stainless bolt. I know of Power Engineering as they do a load of work on Evos. I decide to have a look in my local fastener suppliers in the morning so I can mail order if they're not available. I'm a bit peed off with this - it's been really wet this week and I was hoping to drive the car at the weekend if the rain stops as it's forecast to.

Friday 12th December

Sure enough Swansea Fasteners had never even heard of Mikalor clamps, but I got some jubilee clips anyway just in case a pair of them will tide me over for the weekend as I'm unlikely to get any clamps before next week. Back home I ring Power Engineering who have them in stock, so I order 4 of the 79-85mm clamps - hope you're right about the sizing Steve! They say they'll be going out first class, so I still have hope.

In the evening I spend 10 minutes trying the jubilee clips - even with two on there it's just not secure enough and the tailpipe can still be wobbled about. If one fell off down the road somewhere there really would be tears! Off out for the evening with the boys from the bike club.

Saturday 13th December

My hangover's starting to clear nicely as our postman arrives with a nice padded envelope from Power Engineering. Excellent. Looks like the rain's slowing after falling continuously since before I got up yesterday - the river at the bottom of our drive's almost bursting its banks. Got to go and get a Christmas tree before I'm allowed out to play though.

The exhaust clamps went on no problem - plenty of copper grease on the bolt threads first. They did seem to tighten better. The car looks better from behind now with the exhausts lined up nicely with the holes in the grille.

Changing the passenger lap belts was the next job, and didn't take more than 10 minutes. The weather's nice drier and after a quick polish it's time for a trip out. All was well until I came to leave Halfords (bought a tin of Tyre Weld). The car started fine but I forgot to switch on the fuel pump and it started to die, I didn't catch it in time and when I pressed the starter button it sounded very feeble and barely turned the engine. A couple more attempts and all I was getting was the solenoid clicking. Highly embarrassing, stalled at a junction blocking the traffic. Eventually got a bump start and made it home, puzzled as to why it wouldn't start. The voltmeter was showing a steady 13 volts while I was driving back with the headlights on, so it looked like the alternator was doing its stuff. The battery has always seemed to have a tough time turning the engine, and I reckoned it was probably that. Once home I stuck it on charge overnight.

Sunday 14th December

After a longish ride with the boys from the bike club I toddled out to the garage early afternoon to see what was what. Ignition on, alarm disarmed, press the starter button and ... click. Hmm, could still be because the battery's no good, so I get my jump start rechargable battery pack and try that - still just a click. Maybe that battery's not too hot, so I bring Jen's VW Golf up and use that with the jump leads. Still just a click. Back in the house for a bit of head scratching and ring Andy who knows more about these things than me. Half an hour later I'm back out there with the battery pack directly connected to the battery lead terminal post on the starter - still just a click, which suggests it isn't the battery lead either (I'd been a bit worried about the short extension piece I'd had to add). Next trick is to pull the insulation boot off the wire from the solenoid to the starter motor and try applying the jump lead directly to that. Success this time, and the engine turns over nicely. So, it looks like it's the starter solenoid. On inspection the terminal post on the switched positive side is loose and can be wobbled around ... sure it's not meant to be like that. So, off with the starter motor and take it in the house - run out of time for today. Very frustrating - I'm provisionally booked on a trackday at Oulton Park next Friday, and reckon my chances of getting this sorted in time might not be too hot.

Monday 14th December

I decided that before ringing Ultima I'd have a look at the starter. With the solenoid cover off I could see that the switched terminal had clearly been overheating and had melted its insulation where it passes through the starter casing. A check with my multimeter said it had actually been shorting against the casing! This had clearly only been when I'd actually had the starter button depressed. I decided I might be able to sort the problem out and decided to remove the offending terminal. Once off I realised I could refashion insulation with a short piece of hose, but thought it might be worth checking the local autoelectrical supplier. I wasn't very hopeful, but the guy behind the counter thought there was a chance and went to ask the one who works on them. He seemed to know straight away what he was looking for and within a minute I had a nice little polythene bag in my hands with a complete kit - both terminals, insulation, nuts etc. for less than 6 quid. Very pleased.

Back home it didn't take long to clean up the rather pitted ring terminal and put the whole thing back together and back on the car. The moment of truth ... press the green button and bingo, a very healthy whirring. In fact much healthier than it's ever been, the starter has always sounded a bit marginal, but I can't think why there should have been a problem with it. Anyway, it seems to be sorted, and for less than the cost of posting the motor back to the factory too. Now then, what's the weather forecast like for Friday?

Melted starter solenoid insulation (click for larger image)New terminals and insulation (click for larger image)

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The Build (2003/4): June | July | August | September | October | November | December | January
Updates: 2004 | Le Mans | Sold | New Project
GT3 | Becker TrafficPro Install

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