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  •   Steve Bennett reacted to this post about 6 months ago


    We’ve all worked on #MG s and #Triumph s, or maybe changed the occasional starter motor on a Mustang, These relatively simple backyard jobs give us a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment, especially when they turn out well. Does your car run better when you’ve washed it, waxed it and really cleaned the windscreen? I know it’s mostly psychological, but it does seem to be true.

    My first car was actually a truck. A #1934-Ford-pick-up with a flat-head V8. It was easy to change the plugs and adjust the carburettor. I remember opening the hood of a friend’s #1968 #Mustang at the time and thinking, oh my God, what a complicated mess this is. Compared with today’s vehicles, that ’ #1968-Ford-Mustang engine seems like a single-cylinder lawnmower.

    I have a friend with a late-model BMW . When the battery went dead, the dealer told him not to change it himself because it would negate all the codes on the car’s computer. So he had it towed to the dealer, they changed the battery and it cost $600. Had he known to run jumper cables to the positive and negative terminals to keep the computer codes alive, he could have done the job himself for a third of the price.

    The greatest gift to buy yourself if you have a modern car is a code-reader to plug into your onboard diagnostic (OBD) system. When I took my 2005 SLR Mercedes-McLaren to be smog-tested, the ‘check engine’ light was on. I listened politely as my dealer explained all the expensive parts that needed to be replaced. I thanked him, went back to my garage, plugged in my code-reader and got a reading of 442. That pertained to the EVAP system, which prevents petrol vapour from escaping from your fuel system into the atmosphere. It usually requires no maintenance but can turn your ‘check engine’ light on.

    Your fuel system up to the tank is pressurised, so a loose petrol cap can activate the light, but it wasn’t that. My next thought was the gasket on the gauge sender unit - after all, the car’s 15 years old - but after dismantling the rear of the SLR I found no dampness or weeping there.

    This was getting scary. How much more of this car do I have to dismantle? I decided to follow the fuel lines, and I came to a plastic T-fitting that had a hairline crack in it. Not enough to leak fuel, but perhaps enough to suck air? As I examined this fitting it broke in my hand. Could it be this simple? Never a fan of plastic fittings - after all, this one had lasted only 15 years - I got one made of brass, installed it, tightened all the fittings... and voila! The ‘check engine’ light was out.

    I plugged in my code reader, the code had cleared. I drove it to the smog station and passed the test, the cost, about three bucks. My little $30 code-reader had saved me thousands of dollars. I have to admit that accomplishing this little task was as much fun as actually driving the car. Rather than looking like a rich guy driving it around, I had actually fixed my automobile.

    Old cars are simple but faults can be hard to diagnose. New cars are very complex, but with code-readers you can find the problem quickly. Who’d have thought it?

    My second supercar problem concerned my #2005-Ford-GT . It ran fine but would not pass the California smog test. Once again, I plugged in my handy code-reader and it told me that all my codes were fine, except for the catalytic converter, The dealer told me how much a catalytic converter would cost and how complicated it was to install. ‘After all, Mr Leno, the car is 15 years old.’

    Could it be something else? I took the car for a long drive and noticed the temperature gauge was reading about 160°F. Most modern supercars tend to run close to 200°F. Asking around, I ascertained that the GT was running too cool to activate the computer that regulated the catalytic converter. We pulled out the thermostat and found that a build-up of limescale was holding it open, so it was allowing more cooling water through than was necessary.

    I picked up a new thermostat at my Ford dealer, that’s the thing about a Ford GT: it might be a supercar, but it’s still a Ford. Once it was installed, the car ran at between 195 and 205 degrees. I took it for a drive, about 15 miles at 45mph, plugged in my code-reader and all the codes read OK, including the catalytic converter. I then drove to the smog station and passed the test. Supercars might be complicated, but they’re still cars. And for all the electronics that make supercars complicated, there are other electronics that help make life easier.

    ‘THE CODE CLEARED AND THE SLR PASSED THE SMOG TEST. MY LITTLE $30 CODE-READER HAD SAVED ME THOUSANDS’

    Do yourself a favour. Buy a halfway-decent code-reader and find your modern car’s OBD port, then, the next time your dealer tells you ‘This is going to be complicated’, why not just plug it in and find out for yourself?
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  •   Matt Petrie reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    I often play the same game with friends at auctions or art galleries – if money was no object, what would you take home? It’s a fun challenge that’s guaranteed to focus interest in the subject. I’ve always had a soft spot for early De Tomaso Panteras – particularly before huge wheelarches and wings spoilt Tom Tjaarda’s styling in its purest form, while their tough 5.7-litre Cleveland V8 offered supercar performance without the worry of big bills.

    Ex-Lamborghini designer Gian Paolo Dallara was responsible for engineering the new monocoque and even hero Mike Parkes had a hand in the Gp4 racers before he moved on to the Lancia Stratos. If you can’t have a #GT40 , this is the next-best option. Critics dismiss it as an Italian kit car, but for me it’s a must-have in that dream V8 set with a Cobra 289 and a #GT350 #Mustang .

    When Historics at Brooklands’ latest auction catalogue arrived in the office, lot 282 had me transfixed. Few colours suit the Pantera better than metallic blaze orange, and I looked carefully for any assets that I could quickly sell to fund this low-mileage Californian import. At the earliest opportunity, I was over at #Mercedes-Benz World for the preview day – and even dragged buddy and expert mechanic Colin Mullan along to check it over. Few people have more experience with V8s than the former drag racer and Monteverdi 375L owner. “I worked on a friend’s Pantera once, and the test drive nearly killed me,” he recalled. “At the first corner it just ploughed on. It felt as if I was on ice.” So he clearly wasn’t keen to look at another.

    The Pantera was positioned on the first floor in the immaculate confines of the showcase dealership, where Historics’ specialist Stewart Banks reported strong interest in the dazzling lefthooker. But there was no chance of even starting it, let alone a short drive. Other than its 2013 import to the UK as a project, there were few specific details about the rebuild by a Surreybased serial Pantera restorer who I later discovered had five in his garage, although I wasn’t able to talk to him before the sale.

    The #1974 #De-Tomaso-Pantera-GTS looked straight, its original specification possibly verifying the mileage of just 19,343. The recent repaint was reacting in places, while upgrades included a new aluminium rad and a full retrim. Yet without a test, there was no chance of checking the expensive #ZF transmission. Even with a torch, I couldn’t really assess much of the underside or suspension. “It looks a straight car,” observed Mullan, but specialists maintain that it’s key to inspect any #Pantera on a ramp for the critical rust areas. The crisp lines of the early cars have always seduced me, and Tjaarda once related at a concours that American football players were an influence.

    “Mid-engined cars disturbed me because you couldn’t really tell where the engine was,” he said. “I wanted a simple clean nose with all the intakes at the back to give it a big muscular look. One car was windtunnel-tested, but the front gets light at 150mph. I took one to 125mph and that was enough. My heart was in my mouth!” I’ve yet to drive a Pantera, but the experience appears to be mixed – right back to the original magazine articles. One of the first was by Belgian Grand Prix ace and #1960 Le Mans victor Paul Frère, who collected a prototype with wild twotone hammock-style seats from the Ghia factory in early #1971 . Minor irritations included lifting wiper blades at 125mph and the need for extra spotlights to flash at slower cars, but Frère found the De Tomaso to be utterly stable, including through the fast S-curve on the Torino-Ivrea autostrada. ‘It took it flat with lots to spare even though this was faster than I’d ever taken it before,’ he reported. Several stops from high speeds thankfully proved that the brakes were superb, too. Frère was less happy on winding mountain roads because the car understeered excessively, which he put down to a heavily pre-loaded limited-slip diff. Gear ratios that were too closely stacked with a short fifth that restricted top speed to 137mph in Autocar’s road test (it did 155mph with the later transmission) were other criticisms, but overall the #De-Tomaso impressed. Ford instantly fell for the Pantera and sold it via its Lincoln-Mercury dealers, but soon realised that it had myriad faults – leaking fuel tanks, failed sensors and weak suspension mounts. The man tasked with sorting it was legendary raceteam boss Bill Stroppe, who even tracked down the dozen people who’d bought Panteras before the problems had come to light. He turned up in person and did the work on the owners’ drives!

    That just adds to the mystique of the Pantera for me and I still can’t get that orange beauty out of my mind. I feel really quite envious of the lucky French buyer who snapped it up unseen for £57,120. Just imagine it burbling through Paris on a Saturday night…

    “I took one to 125mph and that was enough,” recalled designer Tom Tjaarda. “My heart was in my mouth!”

    Stunning low-mileage 1974 GTS wowed Walsh at Historics.

    Belgian racing legend #Paul-Frère steps into an early Pantera at Modena.
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