A different type of Geek-e-ness.....

As you may or may not know, I'm an all round geek.

I was fiddling with cars and car engines back in the early 1990s when I was studying IT at college and Uni.  It was a nice distraction to go from working on digital (read that as "not-real") things to physical things that tend to give you bruises and cuts.


After a fairly long stint of focusing on the "not-real" during the late 90s/2000s and just "using cars to go from A-to-B"....oh how I miss that BMW 318iS Coupe....
I rekindled my interest in all things cars when I bought myself a "classic car" in 2008.  (That's the focus of a different web-site though: www.lilmerc.co.uk )

Whilst that "classic car" was getting cut up and chopped about at Valley Gas, I was left twiddling my thumbs a bit.... so I happened to spot a little MG Midget up for sale at a pretty cheap price.  I snapped it up.  It needed some fiddling, but it seemed to be enough to keep me ticking over.
Then the infamous MOT came around.  I think it was 3 or 4 pages long....a lot of the work was out of my skill range, so I asked a local classic car garage to do a majority of the work.  It took them a month and I had to sit down when I got the invoice - it was about 3 times more than the car was really worth to me.  The annoying thing was....I now had a "fixed" MG and nothing to fiddle with...

So, I set about lowering the MG Midget.  Yes...yes, it can be done....you "can" lower an MG Midget even lower and I proved it.  Whilst enjoying myself with this task, I noticed that the infamous MG rot-worm was having a wonderful 10 course meal within the rear wheel arches and surrounding area's.  Time to be brave and learn to weld!  I purchased a welder, had a bit of practice, then out came the angle-grinder and dremel and cardboard (to make draft plates of what I needed to weld).  Anyway, after all my fun, the car passed another MOT.  I was pleased as punch that my handy work was not laughed at or had made the car unsafe.  I started to get an intermittent starting problem.  I assumed that it was due to the dual SU carbs having some problem.  Anyway, a long story short and many an hour spent replacing electronic ignition, starter motor, alternator, fuel pump etc... it seemed to "fix itself" (yeah...the last thing you want to have happen, that's like "code" that fixes itself, you are very wary of it, "bugs" don't just disappear, they move.....).  Anyway, I then spotted a request on a fBook group of a chap wanting an old MG Midget and he would swap his 2001 MG F for it.
Many people thought I was mad. (Nothing new there then!).  I was swapping a classic car worth £4-5k for modern style MG F worth about £1k.  Well, the long story being, my missus once drove the MG Midget and nearly got run over (yes) by a very large truck.  She felt too "unprotected" in the little MG Midget (well, the name does kinda give it away!).  We both liked the MG F when it came out back in the late 90s, but couldn't afford to buy one, so it seemed like a good decision.
We swapped the cars.  (Apparently about a year after the swap the chap who got the MG Midget blew the head-gasket, which was diagnosed as the starting problem, he fitted a new head and has been great fun with the car).
Oh, did I mention the MG F was all original, always garaged and had a genuine mileage of 25k..

Welcome to the journey of the MG F - or Lil'Red as I call her.

The missus loved the MG F.  It sort of "cuddled" you when you sat in the cockpit, it felt spacious and not "exposed" or at risk of being run over.  We loved it.  We drove it about 2000 miles in the first month.  Apparently, that was more than it had done in the entire previous year.

One of the things I did notice though was the water expansion bottle had a lot of grot inside it (turned out to be rad-weld), so I thought it was time to replace a few parts.... new radiator, new under-body stainless steel pipes, new expansion bottle.


After much fettling and fun, job done.  Everything was good.  I decided I needed some "shiny bits", so I got some and swapped the black for shiny.
I even fixed the radiator fan not working.  Okay, that was one of the simplest jobs ever....fuse and new temp sender unit:
We even took her and were able to display her at a few Classic Car events!  Didn't win anything, but it was nice to be appreciated.
We drove it about for a year or so, as-is.  No problems.  The MOT only required the handbrake to be adjusted.

Then it happened.  The moment I kinda-knew was going to happen.  We were zooming down the M4, when there was a bit of a sputter and a lot of steam pouring out the back of the car.


We got back, I was being optimistic and thought it was just a blown hose, so I set about changing them...first I had to get access to them...again....  Why did I think it was just a blown hose.  Well, the oil was still oil and the water was still water.  No contamination.



After shrinking my hands to the size of a 5-year olds (it's very tight working in that small space!) I started the car back up...only to be greeted with a waterfall...



I then got an expert in to take a look.  Yep, suspected Head Gasket failure (HGF).  Now, as this is a Mk1 VVC 1.8i MG F, they were prone to this happening and once you get over the initial impact/fear, you realise that it's not as bad as it sounds.  It's just a fiddly job to do.  But that's why you get an expert in to help you.  Only took a single day, job done.

My custom car (lilmerc) moved back into the garage, so the MG Fhad to sit outside on the driveway.  That's when I discovered a little leak on the passenger side window.  I then managed to get myself a rather flash hard-top.  Stopped leaking....but it made it's own problems.  Condensation.  A lot of it!
Sometimes, it looked like there had been a rainstorm inside the car.
Anyway, this meant that if I left the car for 3-4 weeks, it started to go a bit fruity and mouldy.  Not nice.  It also developed an intermittent starting/mis-firing type of problem (hang on a minute, we've been here before!).  I was wondering if the damp was causing electrical problems.  The internet diagnosed it as needing new coil packs and probably new HT leads and spark plugs.  After purchasing these parts, those parts sat in the garage on a shelf for.....about 6 months!


It was time for the custom car (lilmerc) to go visit Mr. Valley Gas again, so I spent the time clearing out and re-organising the garage, so it can house more than one car!

I was then fortunate enough to work from home for a few months, (which is odd for me, as I'd just spent the past 10 years working away from home about 30-40 weeks per year), I now had this odd thing called "an evening at home"....it took a little while to get used to it, but then after watching too many car orientated shows on TV/YouTube (Gas Monkey, Street Outlaws, Roadkill, MightCarMods, Wheeler Dealers, you get the idea), I ventured back into the garage, rigged up my old 90s CD-Amplifier system with mandatory large SONY speakers.  Connected a bluetooth audio box of tricks, so I can stream Spotify to the system, I now had "Tunes" in the garage.
I rigged up some heaters at either end and sorted out some lights.  Heat and being able to see.  Cool!

Now, it was time to look at the tweaks I could do to the MG F.  Pure, Barry boy stuff.

Totally unnecessary and probably adding absolutely no power or value to the car, but an excuse to tinker......
I got distracted by my Lil'Van for a bit.  It's a 1998 Subaru Sambar, everyone loves it!  It's already heavily customised, so my mods will only be minor, but it'll make it's way into the garage soon and end up having a post of it's own.

Back to the MG F......well, it was time to fit a POD air-filter and fit a 52mm Throttle body....for that extra 3-5bhp.... I told you it wouldn't add much, but the throttle will feel snappier, so I've read on the internet.  And the internet is always right.....


First job was to get the existing old / mouldy airbox out from within that tiny little space and to disinfect those mouldy pipes.

Shiny bits arrived!


Now, the outer casing of the throttle body looks exactly the same... it's just that flappy bit that lets in more air inside, it's increased from 48mm to 52mm.  As I say, apparently that makes a lot of difference...  well, if nothing else, it looks cleaner.

Once that was done, it was time to fit the new POD air filter.  I played around with the shiny bends and fancy parts, but in the end I decided it was simplest to just fit the straight pipe and be done with it.  Starting to look much more "bling" now....

I decided that I would run a piece of pipe from the external air-vent up to the POD air filter.  Oh, how that proved fun!

With the wheel off, I could get access to the other-side of the engine bay.  That big plastic box was in the way of the external air-vent....hmmmm....
From inside, that big plastic box that I'm pointing at with both finger and thumb (multi-talented!) was wedged in so well, I had to remove brackets and then get out Mr.Dremel and basically cut it into about 50 pieces to get it removed!  I was not going to drop the rear sub-frame just to remove that box!

After about two hours of cursing and hacking...I got there.  There you can see the end of the pipe!

After some Roadkill style zip-tie p0rn, I had a bracket holding the pipe in place.
The other-end was nicely poked through the external air-vent.  I might get a black plant pot, cut a hole in the middle and slide it in there to go over the top of the pipe and increase the width of the intake radius (blimey, there might be some science involved too!)
 That is why I had to get that old airbox out of the way, I needed to be in the same space.
Now we have cold air pipe blowing directly to the cold air intake air filter!

 Looking smart!

As I say, it'll probably not do anything at all....okay, maybe it'll help the car "breathe" a bit, make a nice sucking noise when you put your foot down and possibly get more air into the engine, so it'll "feel" a bit quicker, but as it's only at around 150bhp, I know what the expectations are going to be.

Right, well, apart from fitting those new spark plugs and coil packs, there's not a lot more to do with this car.  It has an OBD II connector, but as it is a MEMS2J ECU, you cannot plug in and use an OBD II reader to do anything fancy like fit an Android tablet and show fancy stats etc...

The suspension is also that funny Hydragas setup, so I can't replace that with coil-overs.  Looks like I'm pretty much sorted now.  I did think about fitting a Turbo, but measuring up it'd have to stick out through the engine bay cover and would probably suck in too much hot air..... then I thought about a SuperCharger, that has been done before.... but then again, I do have "the" custom car (lilmerc) and the Lil'Van that I could tinker with..... oh, and there is always the Fiat 500 that belongs to my missus, that I could "tweak" without her knowing  :-)

Anyway, as I say, a different type of Geek-e-ness for you there.  If there is only one piece of advice I can offer up for I.T. professionals, it'd be this:


Seriously, when you are not working on the day job, go and do something different, something that does not involve sitting in-front of a computer screen and being all logical and smart.   You'll be surprised at how your mental training can really help you working out solutions to problems in other areas.  Instead of thinking about software architecture and modular design, you could start thinking about 9" rear-end axles with 4-bar cross link suspension, new front-clip, souped up engine and a modified prop-shaft instead.....  just remember to have fun.

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