Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category

October & November

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

No web updates for three months – what gives? Well, basically October and November weren’t much fun for me..

At the start of October we found an issue with the some of the bracing structure inside the Auster’s port wing. If it needed the wing fabric removed and recovered we’d be looking at costs of around £7k

The very next day I had my Class 1 aviation medical at Gatwick. My Class 2 (Private Flying) medical was due to expire anyway, and as I hope to do flight instruction at some point the Class 1 (Commercial) seemed a good course of action. There are issues with eyesight where there are limits on correction for initial Class 1 medical issue, but not renewal, so sooner rather than later seemed to make sense. However, I failed the Class 1 medical and had a two month limit on my Class 2 due to something called an ectopic heartbeat. These hadn’t shown up on my first ECG in 2006.

My heart was beating early approximately every 10 to 15 beats, and the beat was originating in the wrong place. Stress, alcohol and caffeine can cause these ectopic beats, but in my case only stress seemed likely. The people at the CAA Aeromedical division were great and went to great lengths to assure me these ectopics were the sort of thing that a GP wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at, had no life threatening or life shortening implications, but nevertheless needed investigation for flying.

I had to have a device called a holter monitor fitted for 24 hours that records heart patterns over a long period to ascertain exactly how big the issue was. It would take a further five weeks until this could be done. Cue careful eating, lots of extra exercise and sleep, and avoiding stress and caffeine full stop – not so easy working in IT! In the lead up to this test I was convinced I would probably end up with some serious restrictions on flying.

When the test results finally came though I had recorded 9 ectopic events out of 90’000 heartbeats. Most normal people have one or two every day, but my GP said even 9 was completely normal. A week later and the CAA had the results and verbally confirmed I was Class 1 fit. The same day I spoke with our Auster engineer who told me the repairs were nearly complete, and it shouldn’t be too expensive. (Relatively speaking). Finally at the end of November I had the Class 1 medical in my hand.

Though I had flown on my temporary medical once, I didn’t really enjoy it – at the back of my mind was the thought this could be my last ever powered flight as pilot in command. So today Catherine and I took the Tomahawk G-RVRL for a quick flight out of Ronaldsway to have a look at the snow on the hills, and it felt great to be airborne again without medical constraint. It was also great as this was the first flight where I probably wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t completed the IMC Rating (Instrument Meteorological Conditions – i.e. flying in cloud). Keeping an eye on the outside temperature as light aircraft don’t have de-icing gear, we avoided all the cloud, but it felt really reassuring to have an instrument capability should it be required.

  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow
  • G-RVRL, Isle of Man Snow

Furthermore, with the Auster’s potential massive repair cost reduced to a slightly happier cost, we were also able to buy this:

  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010
  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010
  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010
  • RX8 at the Point of Ayre - October 2010

She’s a 2008 Mazda RX-8, “Rotary Engine 40th Anniversary” Edition, number 31 of 400 in the UK. A rear wheel drive four door coupe with 231BHP that isn’t a dull and boring BMW or Mercedes eurobox. She handles beautifully and promises to be a lot of fun – provided we can live with the fuel economy. 20 – 22MPG. Still, better economy than the aeroplane! I feel a trip to Stelvio Pass coming on…

So December is starting off on a high – New car, new medical, excellent snow conditions in Scotland for Skiing, only two weeks of work left, all Christmas and New Year off work and off island, and a trip to Brussels on the Eurostar just before Christmas.

And then there was one…

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Saturday Morning marked the end of the Sierra Estate. She had been kept at my parents house in a deteriorating state since we got the Freelander in 2006, and it was time for her to go.

J341ESL had obviously had a turbulent past, with extensive damage that was apparently undetected by the MOT testers. Perhaps she had been a minicab, or used as a van, or a skip. I guess she had seen over 250k miles. She was bought unseen, and I was going to just sell her on and forget about it, but I’m a sucker for the underdog and decided we could save her.

Intended as a canine transport that could donate parts to the Sapphire when her useful life was finished, far more expense was lavished on her to make her properly roadworthy than first envisaged. Yet she was always fragile, troublesome, recalcitrant. Perhaps that’s why I kept her for so long…

As well as transporting the dogs around, she accompanied us to Fort William in 2005 for our first ski trip. When we arrived at the Travel Inn car park one morning, we had been left a note by “Kieran” offering to buy her. All polished up under a stormy highland sky far from home, she must have looked 10 years younger. I grinned about that for a long time.

At the start of the year, she fulfulled her original, final job – most useful components were removed as spares stock for the white Sapphire.  She was lifted unceremoniously onto a Ford Cargo by Hyab, and then she was gone.

Fuel Costs

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

There’s lots of bad news in the press at the moment about the continued fuel cost increase. Costs today (10/07/2008) are £1.38 per Litre for Diesel, and £1.26 per Litre for Unleaded Petrol – the last time I filled up the Freelander the cost was over £70, so I thought I’d investigate some alternatives.

I normally do about 19000 miles per year, of which approximately 8000 are trips to and from work, and dog walks. That’s 35 miles per work day. 24 miles are dog-free, and 11 with the dogs.

At the moment, that’s all Freelander miles, my long term Freelander average is 39 Miles/Gallon, or more usefully 11.657 litres / 100 miles. Every 100 miles costs £16.087.

For my 8000 “essential” miles, that’s £1287

Of the small car alternatives, the best choice currently seems to be the Toyota Aygo (1.0L Petrol).  It’s got more seats than the Smart ForTwo, and does better economy too. The Aygo has a stated economy of 61 Miles/Gallon – 7.452 litres / 100 miles. Every 100 miles costs £9.39. That’s quite an improvement on the Freelander. However…

Of my 8000 essential miles, 2500 are with the dogs, so the Freelander would still be needed. So in an essential use only year at todays costs, I would spend:

Freelander: £402.17
Aygo: £516.45

Total: £918.62

If I were to puchase an Aygo, and use it for weekday travel at every opportunity when I possibly could, I’d save a grand total of £368.38 per year. I doubt I could insure, tax and service the Aygo for that!

Even if I add another 10000 non-essential miles, and do them all in the Aygo, the savings over that distance in the Freelander is only £669.70. That’s a best-case saving of just over £1000 at todays costs.

So – it seems it’s currently not financially viable to spend almost £6000 on a new eco/wallet friendly car!

Now, what if 2500 of those essential miles were in a 4 Litre V8 Mustang (15MPG)… £552 extra. That doesn’t seem too bad at all 🙂

MG ZS Hatchback – Mini-Review

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The Freelander was at Mylchreests today for some warranty work (track rod ends) and the courtesy car I got this time was the MG ZS (Rover 45 with boy racer mods). First off, let me say this is perhaps the worst excuse for a sports hatch I have ever driven!

Now I’ve got that out of my system, let’s see what exactly is wrong with it. In simple terms Handling and Interior.

Handling: (Note: handling does not mean “grip” nor “cornering speed”, it means how the car “feels” to the driver.) The MG ZS is a Rover 45 with various suspension tweaks to try and transform this 1995 design into a modern sports hatch. Well, it goes quite quickly both on the straights and corners. But: There is no weight to the steering at speed and it’s too heavy at low speed. This is the exact opposite to what is required. It also suffers from bump steering and (for a small engine) unacceptable amounts of torque steer. The suspension is woeful with any minor bump unsettling the whole vehicle, especially in the town. It feels like the spring rates and dampers are not properly matched. On the open road the suspension is jittery, and the steering feels like it has too little caster. Even with the small power output (I’d estimate this was about 110 bhp, but didn’t look under the bonnet to check), the suspension seemed unable to cope with putting the power on the road – wheel spin and understeer. Ugh.

Incredibly, the consensus on the web forums is that the ZS is the better of the three Rover MG versions, and lots of people compliment the handling. If you’re reading this and you fit into that category – please! – go and test drive a Ford Focus, or Alfa Romeo’s 156 and see what handling really means. For front wheel drive, they’re the best around. Don’t even think about mentioning track days either – nobody buys a front wheel drive saloon for track days. Get a Westfield or Caterham, or even an old 3 series BMW…

Interior: Seriously, who styled that! A total mis-match of styles and materials with no quality in anything, and an ergonomic nightmare. A 1990s Radio/CD with tiny buttons and has the display angled down from the driver (??!?) Electric window switches from the 1960s. Five settings on the heater blower switch, but the blower only knows mouse fart and hurricane. Even the markings on the wiper stalk don’t match what the stalk does (someone confused the symbols for front and rear wash wipe). Cheap, Nasty, Horrible. In fact, it’s only marginally better than an Impreza…

So I’m left wondering if MG Rover didn’t seal their own fate. If we assume the ZS is the best of the bunch, they were doomed for years. This 2005 model couldn’t compete with a 1999 Focus. Fact. It’s for sale for about £6500 – Nobody with any sense would spend their own money on it.

The fans that told their friends, and journalists that tried to help out the failing company by telling everybody how good it was only contributed to the problem: Let’s face it, if someone you trusted told you “This is their best one”, then you sat in it and absorbed the ambiance (!), you wouldn’t consider getting the cheaper one you could afford. You’d head straight to the second hand Focus, you’d even head for the second hand Astra…

Sorry MG, I approached it with an open mind, looking forward to the excellent handling, the MG experience. But in reality, it’s just awful.

Ski Trip (MkII)

Friday, March 7th, 2008

We’re off on the boat tonight for a second attempt at a ski trip to Scotland. Predictably, the weather forecast is for storms!

However, at least this time we’ll have our own skis – well, hopefully. Catherine’s skis were delivered last month, but as the shipping cost for mine was an unbelievable £50 (!) they were delivered to my parents house instead. Catherine’s only cost £10 to ship. Anyway, if they fit in the roofbox, I’ll have my own skis too.

In preparation for the big snow falls (snigger) I decided to get some new tyres on the Freelander. The original front tyres lasted an astonishing 47000 miles, and the rear pair are looking good for 50k. No surprises that I ordered the same type again. (Michelin Synchrone Extra Load 215/65R16). I’ve left the new ones on the front for the ski trip, but they’ll be going on the back afterwards – the Freelander drives the front wheels slightly faster than the rear, and the circumference difference of having new tyres on the front and old on the back increases the speed differential the viscous coupling has to deal with, and may cause early failure.

Anyway, we’re heading up to Aviemore on Sunday, then probably down to Fort William on Wednesday. If the weather plays the game, we should hopefully get a chance to visit Glencoe too, never skiied there before.