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    A few months ago a car we built was featured at the big #SEMA show in Las Vegas, the initials stand for Specialty Equipment Market Association, and it’s the biggest automotive trade show in the world. It’s held over four days and it takes that long to see it all. Taking up over a million square feet of floor space, it features over 4400 exhibitors and 1500 display vehicles as well as representatives from more than 140 countries.

    / #Ford-Bronco

    SEMA does not open to the public. Its primary function is to help small automotive businesses and manufacturers. You have to be in the trade to gain entry, that said, over 150,000 people showed up this year, those of you who think our hobby is dying, think again.

    SEMA also works hard in the legal field to protect the rights of individuals who modify, or just work on, their own vehicles. I don’t know how it is in other countries but, in the United States, in many communities it is now illegal to work on your own car in your own garage, even with the door shut. Many homeowners’ associations have passed by-laws making it illegal to own and keep at home anything more than just basic hand tools. Screwdrivers, hammers and suchlike are ok; welding equipment, lathes and so on are not.

    On the last day of my late night television show, as I pulled in to work for the last time, I noticed someone had dumped a rather sad-looking #1968-Ford-Bronco in my parking space. On the windscreen was a note from my good friend and fellow late-night TV host, Craig Ferguson, the note said, ‘Dear Jay, please accept this POS [Piece of Shit], the starter motor’s fucked and the electrics are crap. It will keep you busy if you get bored. You’ll be missed. Don’t be a stranger. Your friend, Craig Ferguson.’ the Bronco sat in my garage for a good four years before I could figure out what to do with it. That’s when I decided to call my friend Mike Spagnola. Mike oversees the SEMA product development centre as well as the SEMA garage. He put me in touch with two women.

    The first was Sherry Kollien, whose area is strategy and planning. When you’re dealing with major manufacturers, you want to make sure the people supplying the parts have the proper licensing agreements in place. Use one unapproved part and you’ve seen your last #SEMA-show .

    The other was Teresa Contreras from LGE-CTS Motorsports, the award-winning women-owned restoration shop. I met with her to discuss what we wanted to do. My goal was to keep the Bronco as stock as possible and to upgrade the brakes, the suspension and powertrain as best we could.

    Starting with the powertrain, which I wanted to be all-Ford, I contacted Dave Pericak. If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Dave was the driving force behind the Le Mans-winning Ford GT in 2016. Dave also oversees icon cars like the Mustang GT, the Shelby, the Bronco and the #Ford-GT . We chose a 5.2-litre #Shelby-GT-V8 rated at 760bhp, the most powerful street engine Ford had ever produced. It was designed to be hooked up to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and nothing else.

    'IN MANY PLACES IN THE USA IT'S ILLEGAL TO WORK ON YOUR CAR IN YOUR OWN GARAGE, EVEN WITH THE DOOR SHUT'

    So Jack Silver and Jeff Kaufmann at Silver Sport Transmission adapted a TR-4050 five-speed manual and the heavy-duty four-wheel-drive components to go with it. We knew the original chassis would never handle the torque and horsepower the Shelby V8 was putting out, so we contacted Thomas Kincer of Kincer Chassis, the company has built custom chassis for Broncos for 20 years, is licensed by Ford and was able to incorporate all our components into the custom Kincer frame, so this thing wouldn’t twist itself into a pretzel as soon as you put the power down.

    I then went to my old friends at Wilwood Brakes, who made up the four-wheel discs to make sure it stopped as well as it ran. Dennis Carpenter #Ford Restoration Parts supplied any body panels we needed.

    This project showed how quickly things come together when all the suppliers and builders know and trust one another. Normally it takes us about a year to complete a project like this, this one was done in four months because we didn’t have to check that each component would do its job properly. How many restorations have been ruined because the guy building the engine didn’t know the guy grinding the cams, and when the engine didn’t run properly they all blamed each other?

    The cool part was that Ford was looking over our shoulders during the whole build, making sure everything was up to spec, and the really cool part is that I now have a brand new #1968-Ford-Bronco that looks totally stock, the tricky part is that I now have 52-year-old, 760bhp, short-wheelbase, high-centre-of-gravity monster that can beat a Hellcat. I’m just glad I’m not 16 any more.
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    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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    For most of my automotive life I have been a rear-wheel- drive guy. I knew that all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive provided better traction but, having grown up in New England where snow lay on the ground for at least four or five months of the year, I reckoned rear-wheel drive was just more fun. Doing donuts in a deserted supermarket car park on a Sunday morning, after a Saturday night snowfall, was way more fun than snowboarding or skiing. It’s why I chose the McLaren P1 over the Porsche 918. Hanging the tail out is one of driving’s greatest pleasures. I was well into adulthood before I got near a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

    / #1972-Citroen-SM / #1972 / #Citroen-SM / #Citroen / #Citroen-DS21 / #Citroen-DS / #1971 / #Cord / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile / #Citroen-Traction-Avant-15-Six / #Citroen-Traction-Avant

    In America back then, front-wheel drive was more for economy and practicality than anything else. The first post-war American car to feature front drive was the #1966-Oldsmobile-Toronado , and what an impressive debut it was. At a time when Italian manufacturers said you could never put more than 225bhp into the front wheels because of torque steer, the Toronado’s 7-litre V8 had 375bhp. And the fact it was the fastest stock car at the 1966 Pikes Peak Hillclimb helped to seal the deal.

    This radical automobile made me want to learn more. I set out to find myself the last great American front-wheel-drive car: the #Cord-810 and #Cord-812 from 1936 or 1937. It, too, had a V8 engine. In stock form it made 125bhp but you could have it with a supercharger. I found myself a #1937-Cord-812 , naturally aspirated. It was transformed with modern radial tyres, feeling and driving more like a car from the 1960s than the 1930s. The electric pre-selector gearbox is mounted in front of the engine so there’s a flat floor, freeing up more passenger room in the cabin.

    What killed it, besides gearbox problems, was that American cars at this price range were huge. This was the first ‘personal-size’ luxury car, and you seemed to get a lot more car for your money if you went the traditional route.
    My next front-driver was a #1972-Citroen-SM , Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. Rumour says the editor got fired because Citroën didn’t take out huge full-page ads logging its accomplishments like American carmakers did. Every enthusiast should drive an SM before they die. It has sleek aerodynamics, oleopneumatic suspension, quick power steering and the finest five-speed gearbox I have ever used. Driving in the rain was especially pleasurable because when you hit the brakes the rear end would go down rather than the front end, like a speedboat slowing down in the water. And the unique aerodynamics made the windscreen wipers almost superfluous.

    The excellence of this car made me check on Citroën’s earlier offerings. I soon acquired a #1971-Citroen-DS21 , the most comfortable car in the world. And a #1949-Citroen-Traction-Avant-15-Six , its six-cylinder engine better for today’s roads. Another great front-drive French car is the #Panhard-PL17 . It’s way more fun to drive than a Beetle, with only two cylinders but almost twice the power (60bhp for the Tigre model against 36 in a VW) from just 850cc. It weighs 1830lb [830kg], has a Cd of just 0.26 and can do nearly 90mph. It’s always more fun to drive slow cars fast. By far the strangest front-wheel-drive vehicle I have is a 1911 Christie fire engine. At the turn of the last century, fire engines were still horse-drawn because fire departments didn’t like combustion engines, considering them less reliable than horses. Walter Christie’s first pumper, built in 1899, was a horse-drawn unit.

    As engines gained favour, Christie came up with a two-wheel tractor with a 20-litre, four-cylinder engine and a two-speed gearbox to take the place of horses while pulling the same pumpers. It was much cheaper to operate than a team of horses because you didn’t have to feed the engine when it wasn’t running.

    Christie built about 800 of these until the early 1920s, when purpose-built fire engines finally took over. My strangest front-wheel-drive encounter happened recently, when I went skid-plate racing. If you’ve never heard of skid-plate racing – invented by a man named Robert Rice, aka Mayhem – don’t feel bad. Neither had I. You start with any legal front-drive vehicle, remove the rear tyres and weld a skid plate to the rear end. You’re dragging and sliding your rear end around corners, and it’s harder than it looks. Above 40mph it gets extremely tricky because you’re constantly steering and countersteering.

    In the first ten minutes I spun at least six times. When you come to a corner and feel the tail coming round, there’s almost nothing you can do. Unlike losing an early 911 in a corner, which happens so quickly you don’t realise it, this happens so slowly that you’re laughing the whole time as you try to save yourself. Who knew front-wheel drives could be so much fun?
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    Man & machine a very English hot rod 1960 Henry Harris’s Forrest special

    Posted in Cars on Wednesday, January 29 2020

    Henry Harris’s Forrest special, built in 1960 by an RAF officer, is an Austin Seven like no other. Words and photography Paul Hardiman.

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    Matthew Hayward

    Bricklin SV-1 Buying Guide

    Posted in Cars on Tuesday, December 03 2019

    Has Canada’s safety-conscious Corvette rival finally come of age?

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    Man & machine Peter Vivian - a special sort of Triumph

    Posted in Cars on Wednesday, November 27 2019

    Peter Vivian wanted ‘something more interesting’, so built it. Words and photography Paul Hardiman.

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