Thursday, 17 February 2011

VX220 Turbo: Hax0ring my VX

One "design feature" of the VX is the doors lock as soon as you close them. So if you pop out of the car and leave the keys in the ignition you have the potential of locking them inside. No prizes for guessing how I know this.

This wouldn't be too much of an issue if I had a second key that worked but unfortunately the previous owner gave me a key that wasn't for my car. I didn't think to try it at the time as it had a tag with my license plate number on it. So I figured it must work, after all who would put a tag on a key for the wrong car!?!? Just another thing to look out for when buying second hand.

With the worry of locking my keys in the car and then having to rely on my German breakdown recovery ADAC to gain entry (what can I say, they were cheaper then the AA) I decided I had to get a second working key. Inspired by a forum post on I purchased a spare uncut key from ebay for £9 and an opcom cable which works on most Vauxhall's for another £35. Then a quick trip to Timpson to get the key cut for another £5 and I was ready to hack my car!! well program a key to the immobiliser at least :).

This involves hooking up the opcom cable to a laptop and then connecting it to the diagnostic port under the dash. Turning the ignition on with the new key without starting the car. Then using the opcom software supplied with the cable to program the new key to the immobiliser. After following the on screen prompts which require you to turn the car off and on a few times your new key is associated with the immobiliser and can now start the car, result!! The software even allows you to remove lost keys from the car for added security.

The opcom cable can also display engine and ABS faults. As well as output real time data from the cars sensors, such as air mass and throttle position. I must admit this really appeals to my inner geek and I'm sure it'll come in handy for diagnosing problems in the future.

Monday, 14 February 2011

F355: Optimate mated!

2cm from an expensive mistake!
The F355 didn't get a lot of use over the snow-fest we had during December and January and as a result I had to jump start the Ferrari off my new Fiat Panda. The tiny car's equally tiny battery fired the V8 up no problem but wasn't something I'd want to do on a regular basis. Also, when jumping a F355 you have to make sure the other car is not running as the voltage spikes from the other car can cause the Airbag ECU to fry! (Apparently!) Not a risk I was going to take anyway. Just for fun (or perhaps sublime weight ballasting) the F355's battery is positioned in probably the most awkward place of any car; foward of the right hand side wheelarch! Because of this there is a jump start point in the engine bay, you need to take off the right hand side cover to access it though but you'll see a little black box with a big red plus sign on it. The negative terminal can be connected anywhere on the earthed bodywork but there is is a dedicated post nearby.

So, I purchased an OptiMate 4 Battery charger and conditionerto prevent the battery from draining when the car wasn't seeing much use and uses less than £1 worth of electricty a year according to the manual! The Optimate comes with a permanent plug that you attach to your battery terminals so you simply park up and plug it in or a set of crocodile clips as a less permanent solution. As the battery isn't easily accessible and I already had the cover off the jump points I decided to use the croc clips on the terminals in the engine bay. I reversed the car in as the Optimate wouldn't reach round to the back of the car going in forwards. Once I "jumped" out of the car (by climbing over the centre console and out of the passenger door with the window open) I realised just how close to the wall I had gotten! I must have been about 2cm away from distaster!

Optimate plug in optimal position!
That was a close enough call for me to install the permanent Optiamte plug properly. Although, changing the battery would probably require the wheel to be removed I managed to access the terminals by turning the wheel to full lock. This gave me enough access to remove the 5 screws holding on the panel. Oddly the battery terminals were held on with one 10mm bolt on the negative terminal and one 11mm bolt on the positive terminal. Once I'd sussed this wierdness I fed the cable down behind the pop-up headlamp and attached them to the clamps. I'll velcro the top of the cable to the top of the body section soon so it doesn't get lost down behind the headlamp bay. Anyway, now there's no need for any terrifying reversing into the garage and driving it in forwards now seems like a walk in the park!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

VX220 Turbo: Don't Knock it, it's Knockhill!


After some issues with the brakes involving a turkey baster and a fluid warning light coming on under hard cornering. I finally made it to the track, turns out I hadn't topped up the reservoir enough after my aborted attempt to change my brake fluid.

Firstly the VX's not super car quick and gets overtaken by 4WD monsters on the straights but it is very controllable, predictable and certainly a lot more nippy then my old Mx5. What I had taken to be the car trying to kill me at the start of the day, was actually it's eagerness to do what I was telling it. I wasn't suffering with the under-steer that many reviewers have blighted the car with. Sure you could get it to under-steer if you man handled the controls but using some finesse you could balance the car and inching the throttle down would give you over-steer on demand. In fact out of Clark's I was struggling to stop the back swinging out but when it did, it was easy to catch even in the wet! A slight lift and a small steering correction and another buttock clenching moment avoided.

Not to say the car was perfect, overall grip and braking was below what I was expecting, I believe due to old road tyres and standard brakes; biting well at first but sometimes struggling to stop the car for the final hairpin and causing the ABS to kick in.

Must say I'm quite a fan of Knockhill, it's a bit on the short side but it has a couple of challenging corners to keep it interesting. It's proved to be a useful shake down for the car and thanks to some fellow owners at the trackday, I now have a few specific areas to look at to improve the VX.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

VX220 Turbo: Faults or Character?

I had the phrase "fail to prepare, prepare to fail" running through my head all week and was questioning whether signing up to do a track day a week after buying my VX was a good idea.

The first problem I had to sort was the bonnet release handle. It wasn't opening the bonnet and I managed to pull it off whilst trying, doh!!! Luckily I hadn't broken anything and managed to fit the handle back in place. A liberal dose of white grease on the locking mechanism and wd40 along the release cable and it was working smoothly again.

After this small triumph I noticed a more pressing issue, a hissing sound. Turns out the header tank was cracked. Not what I wanted to hear the night before a track day. Amazingly Evan Halshaw had one in stock for the princely sum of £20 + vat, bargain! I guess that's one of the advantages of having such a common engine. The tank went on really easily. Just a matter of disconnecting 3 hoses and removing a small clip on the front and in the classic Haynes manual way, doing the reverse to put it back together. In fact it was so easy to change it makes me wonder whether they knew this was going to be a problem and rather then using a better header tank just made it easier to replace.

The old tank on the left is really badly discoloured and cracking where the small hoses come in at the top. Nice clear new one on the right, made in Sweden apparently. I wonder if it's a Saab part?

Apparently these are both common problems. I was even talking to a fellow VX owner(friendly bunch they are too) on Saturday who had to do exactly the same fix that morning. Annoying as it is to find faults with a newly purchased car, sorting these couple of problems has really endeared the VX to me. It actually feels like my car now.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

F355 & Elise: Country drive

We took the cars out for a little country drive down the coast to North Berwick. Great fun, but Ross had the fuel light come on with no garage nearby so had a nice stressful time driving like a granny until we finally found one.

I took the opportunity to fill up the Elise too - 34mpg, which isn't too bad. The fuel there was actually cheaper than the Cokes we had at a pub in Gullane - £3.60 a pint! Enough to make drinking alcohol seem the cheap option.

The Lego Elise

Or VX220 as it's sometimes known. After owning a mk1 MX5 for a number of years and then having the rather unfortunate experience of arriving back from Le Mans after the 24 hour, only to find all that was left of my beloved car was a pile of glass. I had to start searching for something new.

The police never did find my MX5 and over 7 months later I've finally managed to find a replacement and its not the car I was expecting. Initially only being interested in an Elise, the natural choice; light weight revvy engine, rag top and amazing handling plus a badge that has racing pedigree. Almost obsessed, I spent hours trawling the classifieds for that perfect example with FSH, sub 60k miles, victory alloys, 160, 135, 111S or 111R. My obsession being catalysed by watching videos like Victory by Design and Lotus Elise Inside Story.

But after many months of searching for my perfect Elise, I came across the VX220 Turbo and what finally swayed it for me was a fifth gear shoot out between the 111R and VX220T. If Tiff can wrestle the VX to within a second of the latest incarnation of the Elise then that's good enough for me.

Besides who doesn't like Lego?!?!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Elise: Needless worrying...

Rover K-series engines have a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to head gaskets. Most of it is justified to be honest and its mainly due to the changes they made to the engine during its life cycle to make it cheaper.

Combine this with the super-accurate temperature gauge in the Elise and you can end up a nervous wreck as the figure slowly rises. 91..92..93 - the beads of sweat form - 94..95..96 - hands grip the steering wheel tighter - 97..98..99 - evasive manouvers are deployed, on goes the heater and the windows opened. Usually around this time you'll start moving anyway and the temperature drops right back down ready for the cycle to be repeated.

As the blog title suggests, this is all needless worrying. The head gasket appears to be fine and I'm always careful to let the car heat up properly before any sort of caning. In the worst traffic, the cooling fan kicks in at around 103 and it always manages to bring the temperature down again.

Doesn't stop me stressing though..

Thursday, 3 February 2011

F355: Washed, waxed and photographed!

I'm quite an avid photographer and I always felt it quite ridiculous that I never bothered my ass to take any decent shots of my old Porsche 993 while I had it. So, I managed to give the 355 a decent wash and wax a few weeks back and decided to take some pictures with my Canon 5D Mark II. The lens used were the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L and the Canon EF 17-40 mm f/4.0 Land a fairly old jessops tripod. I forgot what a stunning look car the F355 is. Will need to get it out for another photography session!