Thursday, March 17, 2011

Two less things to go wrong

Picture this: you're in your Herald or Spitfire, GT6 or Vitesse. Maybe you're in town weaving around roundabouts and other traffic-calming slaloms, maybe it's Sunday morning and you're out in the country. Suddenly the front of your car slams down to the tarmac and you frantically try to steer to the side of the road, hauling on the wheel to stay away from oncoming traffic. As you sit there in a cloud of dust and hot tar, you realise that you've just joined the Broken Trunnion club.

It's not very exclusive.

A well-known weakness of small Triumphs is in their front suspension. The lower part of the cast iron uprights sits in a brass trunnion, and has a drilling up the centre for oil. It's that drilled section that fatigues and breaks, not the trunnions themselves, and there's rarely any warning. A former New Zealand Warrant of Fitness tester told me that when Heralds and Spitfires were new(ish), testers often had the uprights from cars with wide tyres crack tested. The Broken Trunnion club has been around a long time.

Last year I was lucky enough to get a ride to Prescott with Roy Lacey in his white GT6. His car's well cared for, so I was surprised when he joined the Broken Trunnion club a few months later. Car and owner survived, but the poor GT6 suffered a few dents and scrapes. Ouch!

There are several ways to reduce your chances of joining the Broken Trunnion club. Stripping and inspecting the uprights isn't foolproof, as small cracks and rustpits almost too small to see can act as stress risers. New uprights are available, so you can change them every few years. Another solution is to replace the uprights with Caterham 7 ones. You see, once upon a time, Lotus 7s used Triumph uprights. Caterham bought the rights to build 7s from Lotus, and eventually decided to get out of the Broken Trunnion club. Their solution was to replace the trunnions with a spherical lower joint - the rest of the upright's the same - and as the spherical joint doesn't need oiling, the drilling was eliminated.

A spherical joint kit for Triumphs is sold by Canley Classics.When I heard that Roy's car had broken an upright, I decided to try the new uprights on my Herald, and ordered a kit from Canleys. Just knowing that the car doesn't have a built-in suspension weakness any more, and that it's not going to drop it's nose on the ground, was worth the cost. I finally got around to fitting the new uprights the other day - see below. The red tart is booked in for a wheel alignment on Monday.

I painted the new uprights, and fitted the top joints and wishbones originally destined for the GT6 - that now has adjustable top wishbones instead.

My Herald has Vitesse brakes and front suspension, so Herald conversions may look slightly different. The red brake hose is a special braided version. And yes, I cleaned the surface rust off the brand new stub axles before the hubs went on!

Friday, March 11, 2011

You can never go home

So sang the Moody Blues.

Nearly five years ago I left my home city of Christchurch to work in Australia. Aussie lacks the South Island's soaring mountains, green plains and roads made for Triumphs, but it does have a booming economy with more jobs and much better pay. So I traded the mental and physical landscapes of New Zealand for the arid farmlands and mines of inland Queensland.

New Zealand is only three or four hours away, though, so when I'm sick of staring at a brown grassy veldt studded with gum trees, cows, crows and Country'n Western, I fly back to Christchurch. The old home town doesn't change much - while I get lost in Brisbane and only drive there when I have to, Christchurch's roads, landmarks and cityscape are engraved on my brain. I know where the best cafes are, my favourite bookshop (Fazazz, Lichfield St), Filadelphio's Pizzas - all great cures for homesickness.

Not now though. In September, as I was flying back to Oz from a week in the Cook Islands, Christchurch was hit by its biggest earthquake in a hundred years. Buildings cracked, residents had to leave homes twisted and condemned, and people counted themselves lucky that in a city thought to be well away from major faults, no one was killed. From Australia it seemed remote and faded from the front pages after a day or so. I was always planning to fly back this April for my father's 70th birthday, and expected that by the time I returned, there would be little evidence of September 2010. Yeah right.

I'm still flying back next month, but it will be to a city vastly different from the one I left five years ago. The world watched on February 22nd as Christchurch was smashed by a second quake. Technically it was an aftershock, an earthquake triggered by September's larger but deeper quake. From the city's perspective though, last year's quake was merely a precursor. February 22nd's was almost as big, but far closer and shallower, and the damage this time was devastating. Buildings that wobbled and cracked last time were utterly destroyed. The oldest and most treasured, many in the centre of town, fell on people sitting outside having lunch, or inside at their desks. Most new buildings survived, but it's hard to retrofit the oldest, most revered heritage buildings to the same standards. And so they tumbled. Stone buttresses and arches, built by settlers from England and Scotland a hundred years ago, feel permanent, as though they've grown from the earth and are as ancient. And yet they shattered like children's building blocks when the earth flexed its muscles.

When I fly back this time it will be to a city slowly knitting its broken bones back together. Crumpled streets, shattered landmarks, the centre still cordoned off, it won't be home anymore. And as new buildings rise to replace those familiar old stone icons, it won't ever be 'home' again.

The Canterbury Provincial Council Building, built between 1858 and 1865 (from The Press)