PILKINGTON AUTOMOTIVE - After a weekend of practical achievements at the HQ, including making ready and the loading the Alfa GTAm, we headed off to Pilkington Automotive on the Isle of Sheppey on Monday. The MD Richard Lawrence had laid on a very special tour of the entire factory for the OUMF team before plant manager Peter Swan retires, after 33 years in this highly specialised niche of the British automotive glass industry - which is very sadly the only such facility left in the UK. Here Pilkington makes new screens for prototypes, one offs - and even the Queen's bulletproof limousines. They also take on the making of laminated replacements for everything from unique historic Le Mans racers to the spherical roadgoing 'Outspan Orange' car of the 1960's; nothing is beyond them. We were treated to the whole process, from making the wooden bucks that provides the exact shape for the creation of counter-balanced metal jigs for each screen, right through to the precision ovens, the highly filtered anti static laminating rooms, and finally the massive autoclave - a heated drum, 20ft in diameter, looking like part of the Channel Tunnel. The tour ended in the test centre, where a heavy spherical metal ball is dropped from up to 7 metres on to a laminated test piece. Even from this height, the ball did not pass through the glass - which was very reassuring!
ALAN AND JO COOMBS - After this fascinating visit, we headed north to Haddenham near Cambridge to stay the night with Alan and Jo Coombs - and their infamous dog Monty. They very kindly provided a delicious dinner for the team, before Alan gave us a guided tour of his huge self-built workshop which now boasts an enormous industrial compressor, and a generator, both in a separate shed he has built to house them. Cleverly, the main barn/workshop is now kept nice and warm by the waste heat from the generator - so its a pleasure to work on the Jaguar Mk2 S Type, the Trabant, the Lanchester, the Humber, the Williams Clio, the Austin Healey Sprite, and the rest of the fleet.
MASS RACE ENGINES & MASS DYNOS - The fun and hospitality continued next morning, with a great cooked breakfast before the OUMF team set off to MASS Race Engines and MASS Dynos which is nearby. Top historic racer Chris Conoley directed us to get the very rough running Alfa GTAm straight on his rolling road, and then took us through the process of setting it up properly. He soon discovered that the timing marks were wrong, and then that the twin Weber carburettors had the the wrong jets in them too - so we hadn't stood much of a chance! By the time he had finished, the car was sounding great and running beautifully. He and master race engine builder John Wright then treated us to an insight into the various aspects of what they do, including 2 Alfa race engines being run in and then power tuned on the engine dyno test cell before our return to Oxford.
AUTOSPORT INTERNATIONAL - Wednesday was spent racking parts at the HQ (long overdue!), getting paperwork together and preparing lists of needs for the Autosport International Racing Car Show at the NEC, and we duly launched in to this huge event at 9.30am on Thursday. It was very difficult to find anyone who was not aware of the OUMF students' race and rally exploits - even on stands that we had never visited before - and offers of help, advice and good wishes met us wherever we went. It was also evident that all the hard work with the Christmas cards and Newsletters had definitely been worthwhile and created a great deal of goodwill. Amongst many others, Tim Howes at NGK, Mike Quaife, Alan Meaker at TOYO, Matt Potter at THINK Automotive, Julius Thurgood, Dave Richards of Prodrive/Aston Martin, Joe Ellis at BTB Exhausts, Richard Fearn at Superpro, Andy Burns of Kent Cams, Paul Hinder at Samco, Janina Shueltche at Schroth, and Formula Junior impressario Duncan Rabagliatti were just some of the pantheon of the main movers in motorsports who we spent time with - and with whom many of the team are now on first name terms. The team did a fantastic job and by the Friday evening we had visited almost every stand at the show, and achieved 95% of what we had aimed to do. We all hope it translates into pledges being honoured, and greater success following through the coming season as a result.
HISTORIC TRIALS - On Saturday, at the kind invitation of fellow HRDC racer Tony Hall, OUMF headed to Donnington near Newbury for its first experience of a classic and historic Car Trial. This is one of the oldest forms of motorsport, and involves competitors climbing a number of 'sections' on a steep, grassy, off-road hillside without being brought to a halt. Tony has a Cannon, which is one of a number of different makes specifically made for this sport - i.e. very lightweight two seater, with 4 spindly wheels, low gearing, and sophisticated braking sytems. Due to a 'no show', Ding unexpectedly got offered the chance to passenger for a chap called Stephen Barnes (also driving a Cannon lent to him by Martyn Halliday who was organising the 35 competitors at the event). Four hours later, covered in mud, they emerged as Overall winners! Even on such a wet and windy day in January, the event was very relaxed and great fun, but drivers require great skill and judgement to do well. However everyone was delighted to reach the inside of the pub at the bottom of the hill for a late lunch!
All in all, a very enjoyable and entertaining action-packed week, and I hope it has given everyone a useful, educational and memorable start to what promises to be a very exciting 2015 for OUMF!