drive in cinema

The last time I was in a drive in cinema was about ten years ago. At the place I was in Volketswil, they no longer organize these events. So I was looking from time to time for another place. The ones I found were too far away. Then I saw an advertisement for Hinwil. It is close enough and on a TCS training area. The slope towards the screen seems to be perfect. We chose a movie that we could watch with the kids: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Because we expected a ton of people, we made sure to be there early. But to our surprise only about 20 cars were lined up. So we got a really good spot in the center of the front row. They didn’t use a projector, but a huge LED wall. That was really valuable for the afternoon kids movie. We tuned the car audio to the provided frequency, and enjoyed the movie.
They had food and drinks and VIP pickups with cushions. The whole event was really well organized. I hope they had more people at the evenings so that they will also organize the event for many years to come.

A holiday that didn't start so well

Büssli

Our camper van suffered three ripped cooling water hoses in the last two months. Together with my brother who is the engineer in charge of maintaining our vehicles, we looked for the source of the troubles. Although not entirely sure, after a test ride I was confident that we found and fixed it. We even exchanged some hoses that looked worn as a precautionary measure.
So my wive and myself stuffed everything for our holiday on the Italian island of Elba into the van. Rather than at 11pm as initially planned, we left already at 4pm. That should give us some comfortable reserve to reach the ferry the next morning. Unfortunately, the cooling water warning light forced me to drive to a service area after only 30km. It was a ripped cooling water hose again. The guy from the breakdown service replaced it and performed a series of tests to make sure the cooling system worked properly. He told us we could move on, but we didn’t trust our Hippie Bus enough to drive all the way, after what happened.

XJS

So we returned home in order to perform another episode of How much luggage fits into a vintage grand tourer. With the Jaguar I drove trough the night. I did a few stops for drinks and toilet. After one stop in the early morning, not too far away from the port, the engine wouldn’t start. Oh shit, I had this a few years ago, and remember just too well, that the highly compressed V12 engine wouldn’t start with an ordinary bridging cable. Back then, the TCS guy had a super thick cable and I don’t know how many batteries in the trunk in order to kick start my car. So this time as a first measure, I bought a 500 Amp bridging cable at the gas station. We tried it with a couple of other cars. But through the narrow contact area of the clamps, there would just not come enough power to start the engine. So I called the breakdown service again. He came with an ordinary booster pack, and wouldn’t believe that an engine could require more energy to start than his booster pack could provide. So he brought us to his plumber shop. I asked them to install a charged battery. But they insisted that the problem must be somewhere else. So he carried us 20km to the next Jaguar repair shop. After a while they fitted a new battery, and all was well again. We could continue our journey with a six hours delay. We missed the ferry we booked, but it was no problem to take another one.

Elba

The time on Elba was great and without trouble. Water and air temperatures were very nice. It was the first time at the sea for Noah. He insisted on bringing his best shirt: “Mom told me it is only for special occasion. I’m going to see the sea for the first time. That is very special to me”. With Levin we were at the Dune du Pyla when he was 19 months old. He only remembered what we told him, and the photos we showed him. The water was super clear and flat for the most part. Only the last two days we got some small waves. To see all the beaches and caves, we went on a full day boat tour all around the island. A couple of times the boat stopped, and we could go for a swim. Another day we visited the oldest city on the island that we still remembered from the last time 8 years ago. But for the most part, we enjoyed the beach. The guys that were next to us at the camp side told us that every time we were away, people would take pictures of our hippie bus tent. Also when I was driving the Jaguar around in Italy or parking it, I often heard remarks containing words such as “belleza”. Somebody liked it so much that he wanted a souvenir, and stole all four tire valve caps.

Trip back home

The drive home was mostly smooth. Only once we had some worrying moments. That was when I climbed a small hill on the highway, and right in front of me there was a plastic gas canister on the road. It would have been too risky to perform an avoidance maneuver. So I centered on it, and hoped it would slip under the car. Instead we dragged it along. I was releaved that only one hundred meters ahead was an exit. By driving the right wheels on the sidewalk for a moment I could get rid of it.

an exact clock for a vintage car

Since I drive my vintage XJS not too often, I disconnect the battery. This is to prevent if from going flat before I want to use it the next time. Of course it would be better to install a special charger for classic cars. But there is no outlet in the underground car park. The car starts when I want to use it, so one could say: mission accomplished. If only there was no clock in the dashboard.  It doesn’t run when the battery is disconnected. Having to adjust the clock every time is not the solution I was looking for.

My first idea was to get a DFC77 radio clock with hands, and put it inside the case of the original dash clock. All the clocks that had hands were too big to fit into the case. So I ordered a small module with an LCD. The problem was that it had good reception at home, but not inside the car. The long waves seem to have a hard time penetrating the Faraday cage of the car body.

The next option that delivers exact time over the air is GPS. So I ordered a cheap GPS receiver from China, and built a prototype with an AtMega microcontroller and a small OLED. The prototype kind of worked, but after the first drive, the GPS module failed completely. So I ordered a better one from an AdaFruit reseller in Switzerland. This module still works very well, but I found out the hard way that it needs a very clean power source. The next problem were random failures and reboots of the micro controller. This turned out to be caused by memory overruns. They are harder to detect on a micro controller  than on a regular computer. The display needs a framebuffer in RAM, and for the GPS I need enough space to store and parse the full NMEA sentences. I tried to reuse and re-initialize the same memory for every reading, but that didn’t work out. Neither didn’t I find a similar controller with more RAM. If I was going to produce a number of devices I would for sure use a better controller, but as it is a one off prototype, I just used two AtMegas. One for the display, and one for the GPS.

GPS has no reception in tunnels and underground parking garages. So I planned to implement a simple counter that just increases the time when GPS reception was lost. But then I decided it was not important enough. Instead I wanted to proceed, and have the device ready in the car. But I couldn’t resist to display a leaper for when there is not reception.

In a classic car, everything should be in original condition, so I didn’t want to destroy the original clock. Instead I was looking to buy a used clock that didn’t have to be in working condition. The ones I found in Switzerland were too pricey for only the case. So I found one on ebay for £22 that was shipped from the UK.

The problem that remains is that the OLED sometimes initializes with a random dot pattern and stays that way until the next power cycle. It happened more when I had it connected directly to the main battery. But since I connected it the the dash back light, it never happened again. So maybe it is important how fast the voltage increases when power is switched on.

As usual, the code is on github.

image20150625_202655132 image20150625_201613328 IMG_2636 IMG_2638

Targeted advertising

It was about two months ago when I first noticed an advertisement on some random web page that contained an image of a vintage Jaguar XJS. It was not exactly the same model as I have, but very close. Judging form the bumpers and trims it also seems to be a HE (High Efficiency), as the second series was called. But the wheels are different. The advertisement was for an online auction platform for cars. I immediately assumed it must me a targeted ad. I was impressed that they must be able to dynamically select the type of car they want to show. How many polished pictures would they have readily prepared?

Last week, the same advertisement appeared in the printed edition of 20min, the largest free commuter newspaper in Switzerland. Now this could not be targeted any more…

2015_09_20minRicardoXJSWerbung

How much luggage fits into a vintage grand tourer?

Our camper has an engine problem, so we had to look for alternatives for this years summer holiday. We looked at last minute offers, but bringing all our own food to Greece didn’t seem like such a good plan. The kids wanted to sleep in a tent anyway, so we went to Tenero in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. We were too hesitant to look for a camp in Italy after spending a night on a horribly disgusting camping in Porlezza a few years ago. With the camper, the space for luggage was never really a problem, but this time everything had to fit inside the Jag. I told my wive to pack only the most necessary things. Men and wimen have different standards as to what is important to bring on a holiday and so I ended up squeezing all this into the small car:

  • two adults and two children
  • a four person tent
  • a foldable camping table with seats
  • a foldable camping grill
  • sleeping bags and camping mattresses for all of us
  • a giant and a regular suitcase
  • four small backpacks and a regular sports bag
  • a small body surf board
  • a box with dishes and cutlery
  • ten liters of water and a bag with food

This was actually the first holiday in 13 years where I didn’t bring my paraglider. But  after the impressive list above, there was just no more room left in the car.

The camping in Tenero was great. It was clean by my wive’s standard which is quite an accomplishment. The camping has a sandy beach to the lake which was also clean and had perfect temperature.

Being so close to the famous hydroelectric dam where James Bond jumped from, we had to visit the Verzasca valley. The water and the stones were marvellous. But it was very hot for hiking.

veteran at last

Today my Jaguar XJS finally gained veteran status. That means it is now officially recognized by the Swiss authorities as an oldtimer car. This in turn means lower taxes and insurance, but comes with the requirement to not drive more than 3’000km per year. Also the rate of technical examinations changes from 2 to 6 years. To gain that status, a car has to be at least 30 years old, and in very good condition. All parts need to be original, and the vehicle is not allowed to have modifications. At the first attempt after I woke it from the winter sleep, the regular technical check was no problem. But it didn’t get the veteran state, as the examiner found some barely visible traces of rust  in the lower fold of the driver door. So I had this fixed by a plumber. And this time it got the veteran status.

Jaguar hast two main model lines, the saloons and the sports cars. Initially, I only knew about the saloons that mostly older executives drove. I always liked these cars, and imagined I would someday drive one myself, when I’m old and rich. Now, I still don’t consider myself neither old nor rich. But at the end of 2001 I ran into a very beautiful XJ6 series 2 with vinyl roof, that was for sale, and even affordable. Too bad, the rust already won on that car, such that it was not worthwile to restore. But that was enough to infect me with the Jaguar bug. Now that I knew that older Jag’s were affordable, I wanted to have one, and the search began. That’s how I found my 1984 XJS HE V12. I bought it in the summer of 2002 when it had 75’000 km. Because there was a strange noise coming from the gear box during the test drive, I got it a bit cheaper. Later we found out that a missing  rubber holder on the propeller shaft was responsible for the noise. This was easy to fix. In fact, I cannot confirm at all the bad reputation that the Germans like to impose on British cars. The biggest repair I had in the 12 years was refurbishing the power steering, because it leaked oil. And the funniest problem was a fizzly sound from the engine, when I had the car only for a few weeks. I thought some pipe of the exhaust gas recirculation was broken. My brother then found out that one spark plug was loose. There was no noticeable reduction in performance. Well with 11/12 of 294 = 270 hp there was still plenty of power. In contrast, when two spark plugs of our camper failed in south America, 2/4 of 95 = 48 hp, the lack of power was more noticeable.

The guy in the tyre shop told me long ago, that XJS were used for racing. But only after owning the car for almost ten years, I found out that they were actually very successful. While reading the book “TWR and Jaguar’s XJS“, I learned, that some of the XJS’s greatest victories were the 1979 canonball race, the 1984 european touring car championship, the Spa 24 hours race, as well as the 1985 Bathurst 1’000 mile race.

The most beautiful car ever built

I usually don’t write about books I read, or even reviews. So, this is a rare occasion, but it’s also a type of book that I only rarely read. Usually I just give ratings on goodreads. This book is about the Jaguar XJ13.  Now, beauty is a matter of taste, so you’re free to disagree, but I for myself have never seen a more beautiful car than the Jaguar XJ13. It was designed by Malcolm Sayer who also designed the iconic E-Type, the successful racing C- and D-Types as well as (my) XJS.

The XJ13 was designed to win the 24 hours race in Le Mans, to carry on with the victories Jaguar had in the fifties. As Jaguar were too hesitant at the time of development and as a consequence of a change in the rules for the Le Mans race, the car never took part in an actual race. Nevertheless it held a lap record for the MIRA test track for 30 years. Only ever one was built and it had a horrible crash while filming for an advertisement. The car was later rebuilt to it’s full beauty. It now belongs to the Jaguar heritage trust, and not even an arab sheikh bidding seven million british pounds could buy it.

As I was never involved in the design or engineering process of neither a car nor an engine, it was totally exciting and interesting to learn how all these processes work. Or should I say worked fifty years ago? No point in listing all the details here, but the book has full coverage of the engine design and testing as well of the body design as well as the testing of the car itself on the test track as well as the race track.

The stuff is especially interesting, as the engine that was developed for XJ13 was Jaguar’s first V12, and a predecessor of the engine that powers my XJS.

At the end of the book there is a short discussion of the die cast models available. By chance I found out that the same model, I own is now on ebay for four times of what I payed ten years ago. Now, I’m still looking for a 1:18 model of the C-X75.

The most memorable quote from the book is when Malcolm Sayer describes how he designed the car to not being negatively influenced by the airflow. No lift, no pushing down and no effects from wind from the side. The wings at the tail of some other cars were unacceptable for him. He described them as a kludge to fix design mistakes. Noone at Jaguar understood how he calculated the shapes. Instead or or in addition to drawings he also calculated books full of numbers. From the descriptions given, it’s hard to tell if his proceedings would today be described as parametric surfaces. So, in a way he performed CAD without a computer.

Jaguar headliners repair

Remember the Asterix & Obelix comics, and that the only thing they feared was that heaven would fall on their heads? That happened to me lately. But it was not as bad as that might sound. Well, the joke doesn’t quite work in English. In German, we call the headliners of a car “heaven”. Last summer, when I had the power steering of my vintage Jaguar XJS repaired, the car was in the sun for a few weeks. Thus, the fabric on the inside of the roof loosened and hung down.

Now, I finally had it repaired. I found a holstery  in Goldau (kk-cabrio). To bring the price down a bit, and also out of interest, we agreed that I would take a day off, and help with the tedious parts. While Kuschj would do the more complicated stuff that requires experience not to break anything.

That worked out really well. I dismounted and mounted the misc stuff from the car, and helped with the headliners. To make sure the new fabric wouldn’t fall off again, I had to scrub off all the old glue from the pressed glass wool mold. Also the trims at the side of the roof got new fabric. There was a spot which had a hole, that was visible for all of the eleven years I have owned that car.

In the afternoon, we disassembled the passenger seat. It was in need of sewing on the side.

After everything is done, it’s now much more pleasant to sit into the old cat.

Jaguar drivers club excursion

It’s almost ten years ago, when I bought my vintage Jaguar XJS. And in two years time it will turn 30, thus gain official classic status. That means a huge drop in insurance and tax fees. It’s a grand tourer coupe with an incredibly smooth running V12 engine, sporting 294 horsepower. Because it shares the same comfort suspension with the XJ saloon, the regular version is not so great for racing.

I learned long ago, that there were some XJS used for racing. I saw reports of increasing the displacement from 5.3 to 10 lites or mounting a dual compressor, thus reaching 1’000 horsepower. But only when reading the latest issue of the JDCS Tribune, I learned that the XJS was in fact Jaguar’s most successful racing car. When you read about Jaguar racing cars, what you usually find, are the legendary XK120 to XK150, C-Type, D-Type, the Silk-cut cars, and maybe something about the XJ13. There are some cool old looking videos on youtube.

But the reason I write about all this is that I was, after years of absence, finally driving with the Jaguar driver’s club again. Levin, my older son, is the biggest fan of cars that I know, and he was looking forward to this day for a month. He was totally excited seeing all these beautiful cars. And during the drive he observed every car he could see, following them and trying to identify.