Firstly, I’d like to take a moment to say a big thank you to all of our sponsors and the individuals who made this week possible. Without you, this would not have been feasible and we are all better off for experiencing this opportunity.
Sunday 8th January
The start of action week began on Sunday the 8th of January. We converged at the barn at 11am to begin preparation in order for the week to run as smoothly as possible. Now I must say we were extremely productive and put our engineering minds to the best of use: we invented crutch cricket and kicked an increasingly muddy football around whilst we waited for Ding to get some PayPal issues sorted out with the help of Bobby Bragg. Whilst our own, slightly disorganised, version of the OUMF Olympics was underway we sporadically packed up Ding’s Volvo with the engine blocks that were going to go through the baths at Lenton Treatments, packed laminates of the sprite and team photos
that had been lovingly signed by all the team taking part in Action Week and packed all the teams personal kit. It was a struggle, but somehow we managed to fit all 10 of us into two cars, plus the kit and the engine castings. In Bobby’s car was Marcus Ward, Arran McLuskie, Archie Stewart and myself. In Ding’s car were Seb Paul, Luis Albas, Eddie Scheer and Sean Harvey. Luckily for us, Ollie Raja-Brown would be meeting us at Fuchs Lubricants the following morning so that there would be space for Joe Taylor, and all our kit to be distributed between the three cars.
The drive to the Taylors home in Congleton was mostly uneventful though we now have learnt not to trust Bobby’s navigational skills, with him leading us away from the right destination even though everyone in the car saw Ding take the right turning. ‘Surely he’s going the wrong way?’ No, he went the right way, although we did get a more scenic route seeing all that Congleton town had to offer. Roughly 15 minutes behind Ding the second car arrived and we were shown around Joe’s home. A very warm thanks to the generosity of Joe’s parents for letting all of us stay. They kindly put us up in the garage which had been converted into a lovely den with a pool table, sound system and fridge
liberally stocked with beer – and for that fridge we were very grateful! Before we settled in, John Taylor, Joe's father, offered to show us around his workshop which was a short 10 minute drive away. Here, John supplies used Amada sheet metal machinery, all expertly renovated to ‘as new’ condition. We were shown around machines we could only dream about having at our HQ, and not just because they were all bigger than our workspace! One was probably the size of the shed! He also had some interesting classic cars stashed away, which we really appreciated being shown and of course we all got a closer look.
Back at the house, we were treated to a delicious dinner of chilli con carne with tortillas and dips. Every plate was scraped clean - and then began the party. Beers were opened, pool was played and dancing was done. Even a reluctant Ding joined in the pool table game of Killer with the rest of us. It was a really nice opportunity for the team to relax before the week began and bond. Some questionable dancing and antics took place which understandably Ding declined to partake in, though he could not quite escape the honour of having the triangular pool rack placed on his head. It suited him quite well, don’t you agree?
Eventually, tiredness set in. To sum up, trying to get to sleep, I can only call it a struggle. Once everyone had decided where they were going to sleep - whether it was on the sofas, mattresses or camp beds - it felt like hours until silence descended. There was always a disruption, whether it was someone going to the toilet, or snoring, or Sean refusing to remain horizontal, or Archie on his phone playing first solitaire, then chess, or the temperature of the room, or the gales of uncontrollable laughter. It was not pretty Setting alarms and realising how little we’d actually be able to sleep before our early start the next morning was not a thrill!
Monday 9 th January
We awoke unwillingly to a cacophony of alarms at 7am. Having said that, the breakfast and the tea and coffee that awaited us quickly woke us up very effectively - and then it was a rush to get to Fuchs Oils’ huge Hanley Plant in Stoke on Trent, as we were running late.
We arrived at the same time as Ollie Raja Brown, and were signed in. We were then directed to a meeting room, where Andy Brown, the technical director had created a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of our project cars on track, which was a very nice touch. We were joined by the director of Fuchs Jon Worsdale for a Q&A session. Question after question was asked until we all had a better understanding of exactly how Fuchs runs and how they have become such a successful company. It was interesting to learn about how they test samples of oils from motor racing customers to forewarn them about potential issues in their cars performance. It allows a better understanding of what might be going wrong and to act on it before it gets expensive! We also learned about the five classes of oils that are used in the motorsport industry, and their various suitable applications.
Following this, we were given an exclusive tour of the refinery by the plant manager, Jamie. Witnessing their automated systems in their storage warehouse was fascinating, as was the whole process of blending additives to their many types of oils before being filled into suitable containers by robots. I speak for myself when I say it was enlightening to see these processes and all the hard work that goes into creating and running a company of this size. Before our visit, I had not been exposed to this side of the industry, and I’m sure the rest of the team will agree. Before we left, we were treated to a lovely lunch of sandwiches, samosas, pork pies, cakes and other savoury treats by Jon Worsdale, and could relax and discuss all that we had seen on our extensive tour. The food went down extremely well, with seconds and thirds being devoured. Wishing we were able to stay longer, we had to shoot away in order not to be late for our next visit to GDM Coolers.
When we got to GDM in Rugeley, a 45 minute drive away, we were greeted by the very affable Managing Director Darren Clark. He led us to the meeting room and split us into two groups. Whilst one group had a tour, the other was treated to tea, coffee and biscuits. Darren had thoughtfully left out binders with information on heat exchangers and radiators and how they work and the importance of the job that GDM does to ensure that every item they produce is of the highest quality.
Once, the first group had received their tour it was the second group’s turn. Darren himself showed us around, showing some of the radiators they were currently working on. One of the more interesting applications that I hadn’t considered before, was the use of radiators to create a bubble curtain for underwater drilling to isolate the noise from whales and other underwater creatures. We were shown how the fins were made and how the designs change for different applications as GDM gets a range of orders from one small radiator for a car to radiators the size of a car.
Darren even allowed the team to try their hand at TIG Welding. Thanks to the careful tuition of his staff we were able to get one-on-one directions on the step by step process on how to TIG weld, which is a rare opportunity as some of us have only used a MIG welder before. We were also offered another custom radiator for the Riley, so thank you so much Darren!
The next stop was visiting Bob Kemp (registrar of the Austin Healey Club) in Swadlincote, a 30 minute drive away from GDM coolers. Bob and his wife, supplied us with much needed tea and coffee and two engine blocks whilst also letting us peruse his garage where two gleaming cars (two Austin Healey Sprites) occupied the space where our very own Sebring Sprite had rested in almost two halves before donated to Ding 10 years ago.
Afterwards, we made our way to Bagworth to visit David and Mary Gee, another 30 minute drive away. Now, I don’t condone racing but thanks to Archie, we were able to take an alternate route to Ding and Ollie, cross-country down some undulating B-roads and arrived first. However, once in Bagworth we were totally lost and once the other cars arrived it wasn’t clear where we actually needed to be. Ding phoned David and eventually we found his house. It was nice for Bobby to know we had driven past his house at least twice.
Once parked up, David showed us around his workshop and cars, telling us all about his struggles about trying to find companies that would do curved glass for his Lancias. Despite this, the cars were in good shape and we were able to see one of his completed cars, which was really a sight to behold in all its glory. We were also thoughtfully gifted a spot-weld drill bit sharpener, and that, coupled with the fascinating conversations about his cars and his history as a founder of Classic Silicone Hoses, began to round up the long day nicely.
The last stop before our final destination was the Milestone Pub in Hinckley round the corner from where we would be staying that evening - at Andy and Jackie’s house (Andy being a former OUMF member, now an engine designer at Triumph).
After such a long day, it was nice to be able to relax with a couple of drinks and good food and chat about what we’d learnt throughout the day and also talk about what we all love - cars. Interesting debates were held about what car, if there were no limitations on money, would you love to own, and many variations of this were posed. With full bellies and tiredness setting in we drove back to Andy and Jackie’s house where sleeping arrangements were made. Both Andy and Jackie were very generous in letting 12 people stay in their home, so thank you both, and it was nice to wind down with a couple more beers and chat. We got a relatively early night as we were respectful of the fact that both Andy and Jackie had to be up at 6am, and this gave the team the opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Tuesday 10 th January
After a good night’s sleep, Andy and Jackie had thoughtfully left out things for breakfast and then it was on the way to the first visit of the day - Arrow Precision Engineering. Luckily for us, Arrow was only a 10 minutes drive away, so once everyone was packed up we managed to get there relatively on time. We were met by the sales director James Williams and both him and Stuart, the production manager, gave us a tour of the workshop.
The tour was extremely in-depth and we were shown every aspect of making crankshafts and con-rods, from the CNC machining and tumble polishing, to balancing and inspection using machines and hand inspection. Seeing the blocks of metal, actively being transformed into their desirable products was absorbing and we all had lots of questions about the processes and the difference in designs that customers requested. Interesting debates about the difference between the H and I section con-rods took place, as well as discussions about crankshafts and the various cars that they would be used in. Seeing crankshafts for a blower Bentley, which were sizable, compared to what had been made for the Sprite’s significantly smaller A-series engine was interesting. Also, Arrow’s application of dummy bearing locations to make the crankshaft symmetrical so that it would balance better, and as a result rev at a higher rate, was a design feature that
came up in discussion well after our tour was over.
We then said goodbye and headed to the Morrison’s around the corner for lunch. The infamous salad bar was found, and I managed to encourage a few people to try it and they did not regret it. The amount of food that Ollie and Arran managed to squeeze into the tiny medium box as part of the meal deal was impressive.
It was a 35 minute drive to Lenton Treatments in Leicester. We parked up – when Sean eventually found reverse gear in Ollie’s Mini - and unloaded the engine castings we had bought for treatment that are planned to be built up into race engines.Managing director, Paul Sumpter, took us through the different stages. There was a lot of interest in this process as they used sodium hydride to strip the engines of foundry marks, paint, casting sand, rust, water deposits, and anything else in the engine that shouldn’t be there - and that are impossible to access to remove by hand. The way the process works is a large sodium bath is heated and infused by hydrogen up to a temperature of 450 – 500 degrees C. This reacts to create the super caustic sodium hydride solution into which the castings (engine blocks, cylinder heads, etc.,) are lowered. They are treated in this bubbling cauldron for between 1 - 2 hours, then the castings are hoisted out and lowered into a quenching bath of water to cool, to dilute the caustic solution and to rinse off any excess sodium residue. After our blocks and head were winched out of the water – still too hot to touch – they were allowed to evaporate dry, and we could already see the amazing results. The old, encrusted castings we had bought were absolutely spotless, and like new inside and out. The benefits of getting the blocks cleaned in this unique way are numerous. Most important for a potential race engine is the greatly increased cooling efficiency due to the internal water jacket being scoured and free of all rust and water deposits built up around the cylinder bores over the years. These solid masses can reach a depth of up to 3 inches – in areas otherwise impossible to reach – and once removed greatly increase the surface area of critical metal around the cylinder bores that can then be effectively cooled. It was absolutely clear that any serious builder of historic race engines should make a beeline for Lenton’s
Treatments as a first step!!
Next, it was a 20 minute drive to Bilstein’s UK Technical Centre. We were shown around by Luis Goncalves (Head of Special Projects) where they keep the parts for different cars, like dampers for Ferrari’s, ready for assembly. As most of the products / parts are made and shipped from Germany, they have a small UK workshop which we were shown around which held the necessary tools and machines for assembly. Once the tour had concluded, Dave the workshop manager demonstrated how they correctly assemble a damper and test it using a damper testing dynamometer. We were shown the graphs and a lot of questions were asked about the results and how the graph would look if there was a fault in the damper. It was definitely noticed that the longer we stayed and showed our interest in what they were doing, the keener they were to answer questions and demonstrate their own passion in what they do.
Finally, it was time to take a team photo, say goodbye and head back to Oxford. Once back at the barn, the cleaned engine blocks and new blocks courtesy of Bob Kemp were unloaded and it was time to head to the pub. We ended up at The Britannia, as our first choice, The Plough, was closed for a private function. And that’s where myself, Ding, Marcus, Ollie, Bobby, Arran, Archie, Seb and Sean settled down with a drink and food to see how much we had really learnt from our little road trip. Ding said that you can’t really know what you’ve learnt until you talk about it, and that was completely true. What we had seen and learnt over the past couple of days had us all asking new questions and answering any questions we each had, as factories are loud and there were some gaps in each of our understanding where we hadn’t been able to hear the answer to a certain question. A plan for packing for the Autosport show at the NEC was devised and then we said goodnight and went our separate ways home to bed.
Wednesday 11 th January
We converged at the barn the next day at 11am, to finish packing up the Sprinter and load up the cars to set off to Birmingham and set up our stand at the Autosport Show. It started raining towards the middle of the day, which made work on the T4 camper project particularly wet - as Sean found out. When I tell you it took three days for his jeans to dry, I’m not exaggerating. He lay under that T4 for aeons slowly getting more and more drenched by the continual downpour of rain. He wasn’t the only one that got a little wet, trying to get the Sprite into the closed trailer whilst it was raining cats and dogs and every drop made the mudslide of the drive even more slippery. It was definitely a trial. Although no one else got wet enough to need to strip in the barn. But thanks for the dance Sean!
For lunch at the HQ, an impressive spread was purchased and Joe Taylor led the freshers in adopting the unique method of using an induction coil heater to cook the already cooked ham. The smell that permeated the air after their endeavours could only be described as burnt meat. Though eventually through trial and error they were able to perfect their method for even cooking, who knew there was an art to heating up ham with an induction coil heater?
Once the Sprinter had been loaded and everything strapped down, with the Riley on Andy’s trailer and the Sprite in the covered trailer, the rest of us followed in tow. How long did it take us to set up the stand you ask? Well, it took 4 and a half hours; we were kicked out. It was in part down to typical OUMF faffing, but also the whole team wanted to make sure that the stand was perfect. We also had the fantastic opportunity to meet Tony and Dixine Tobias, and thank them both for their generous support in organising this stand for us. Again, thanks very much Tony!
Thursday 12 th / Friday 13 th January
We attended the Autosport International show for two days; it was a whirlwind! Wesley Thung, Dave Sellars and George Cotton joined us for the event and we all got to speak to our current sponsors and supporters. We also had the opportunity to meet new people and companies who want to help the team be a continued success. It was noted by many, that the passion and enthusiasm that the team showed over those two days was a testament to the hard work and dedication that everyone demonstrated to make the show a knock-out. As the second day came to a close, it was time to pack up - which we did in a timely fashion - and then it was back to Oxford to unpack and head to The Plough for a
Surprise, surprise we were late for our reservation but thanks to the generosity of Tim, the owner, we were served a beautiful meal and then it was time to go through everyone we had spoken to - and there was a lot. Once Ding had the lay of the land, and all of our bellies were full, we headed to our respective homes and prepared for the weekend action days that would conclude ‘Action Week’, during which much progress was made on the Kestrel and its bodywork with the help and guidance of John White. All in all, it was a great week full of fun, laughs and learning; we are all very thankful to everyone who made this fascinating and very enjoyable week possible!
- Bella Cavaciuti, 2nd Year Motorsport Engineering student