Monday, January 23, 2006

All Work And No Jack

I didn't get much done on the bomb this weekend. The right rear tire went flat Thursday. Temporary Use Only. No kidding. With two tires down the thing is immovable.

I picked up a Torin jack from Northern Tool on Sunday. It looked good on the web and the floor model wasn't too bad. After the 40 mile trip, I unpacked the jack. There was hydraulic oil all over the inside of the box and the outside of the jack. The jack was leaking. There's nothing like a second 40 mile drive to scenic Duluth. Northern tool refunded the purchase no questions asked. No jack, no tires, nothing accomplished.

I did find time to organize the second garage bay. That space is reserved for large items like the motor, transmission as well as interior parts that don't go directly to the trash. I had hoped to be able to save at least some of the panels. I now realize that I'm better off replacing just about anything that unbolts. I have located a few parts cars in the UK. Norm has some panels as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dunlop Tires

I searched Dunlop North America tonight. To my surprise, the US OE Fitment guide lists the 2003-2004 London Taxi right after the Lexus SC430 . The guide has a product code for the 175R16 taxi tyre. Fitment guide in hand, I'm going to see how much my local Dunlop dealer wants for a 291121864 175R16 SP Taxi All Season tire.

London Fleet sold a handful of the new TXII cabs here. The new cabs start at something over $40,000 and prices go up quickly. I saw one with a Burbury interior (ick) on eBay a few months ago. Starting price was $95,000 London Fleet is doomed for the same reasons as London Coach. The Taxi is 10 times the price of an ex-police Crown Vic. The limo is nice to ride in but it isn't a driver's car. That's too bad as the TX11 is a much better cab than the old FX4.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Taxi Schlep

There isn't enough room in my garage to work on the bomb. The left doors hit the wall. The bonnet hits the ceiling. With the left rear tire still flat, I had to use my car to drag the thing out. Out was fine, but a BMW is a little big to drag the bomb back into the garage. MLK day I ran out to Harbor Freight in search of a cheap solution. I picked up a pair of vehicle dollies and a cheap winch. The dolly would go under the flat tire so the bomb could roll. The winch was a back-up if we coudn't push the bomb on the dollies.

By the time I got home it had started raining. Not good. The bomb is missing the driver's window. Well some of it anyway. There are small bits of it scattered around.

I unpacked the dollies, put them together and jacked up the left rear. My poor excuse of a jack couldn't lift the wheel high enough to slip the dolly in. Just as well, I doubt the HF dolly would hold up to the stress. My friend Herman called Harbor Freight "the store with the lead wrenches." Their products are terrible.

At this point the rain was really coming down. I was getting soaked. Time to move into the garage and try plan B, the winch.

I used my Hilti hammer drill and set 3 large anchors in the garage floor. Four years ago when I installed a new kitchen range, I was terribly guilty about buying an expensive tool for a single job. I didn't need to be. That drill has paid for itself many times over.
I threaded the cable on the winch, hooked it up to the tow hook on the bomb and started cranking. And cranking. And c r a n k i n g. The cable got very tight. The bomb refused to move. What was going to break first. Not the anchors, they were well set. The tow hook on the bomb is questionable. Once strong, it is damaged from rust and a collision or two. The winch is absolute junk. HF uses a special alloy made from equal parts lead and scrap metal sent from the US to China. The winch cable is made from something similar but designed to snap under tension and hit the user. Time to get Debbie. We pushed. Nothing. I put on all my safety gear, had Debbie stand somewhere safe, and c r a n k e d. The handle came off the winch. I had already given up when Debbie announced "it moved". It finally occurred to me to put some WD-40 on the winch cable. With all that tension, the friction on the cable guide had to be considerable. It worked.

30 minutes of cranking got the front wheels in. The handle came off the winch 5 or 6 times. Another 30 minutes of cranking and I got the garage door down. I'm going to be pumped up by the time the motor is working. Tires and a real service jack are at the top of my wish list.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Open Says Me

The bomb's door lock cylinders are frozen. The driver's door is stuck unlocked. The others are stuck locked. Getting the other front door open wasn't too hard. I just climbed across from the driver's seat gave the handle a hard yank and put my shoulder into the door. Repeat... After a few tries the door popped open. Half a can of WD-40 later, the door opens without much trouble. If you don't own shares of WD 40, now would be a good time to get some. WDFC on NASDAQ.

The back doors weren't going to be so easy. No way was I going to fit through the little window in the partition. Reed Richards maybe. Then I had a bright idea. Hook up a battery and lower the power windows. While looking to see what sort of battery might fit, I noticed the fuse boxes. Or didn't notice them. There was an empty space where they were supposed to be. I found one intact, hanging by some wires. The other box is smashed. So much for idea number one. WD-40 to the rescue. I sprayed the other half a can into the back door locks. Didn't do much except make the yard smell like WD-40.

I still had a Home Depot gift card burning a hole in my wallet. (thanks Mom)

I decided to try and cut my way in. Home Depot's Husky brand air tools are surprisingly good. The cut-off tool is made in the USA. That's getting rare these days. Even more expensive brands like Ingersol Rand are made in China.

The cut-off tool worked well. Another half can of WD-40 and the door came open.

The passenger compartment is in about the same condition as the rest of the bomb. I may be able to save the jump seats.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Taxi Tyres

Taxi tyres are regulated by the Public carriage Office. Small diameter tyres would cause the meter to over charge customers. Wide tyres might interfere with the PCO mandated 25 foot turning circle. When Austin built the first FX4 chassis in 1958, they choose 6.00x16 tyres. The PCO approved the cab for use with this size tyre.

Radial tyres for the taxi trade had to be the same rolling diameter as the old 6.00x16. Dunlop called this size 175R16. The tyres received PCO approval and became the standard taxi tyre. The London taxi was and still is the only vehicle in production that uses a 175R16 tire.

The right rear tyre on the bomb didn't hold any air. I needed to get the car rolling ASAP. I took the right rear wheel off and headed down to my local used tire store. The guy at the shop was certain I had the size wrong. 175R16? "6.00x16 or something close" made no sense to him at all. He kept looking at the 235's on my BMW. Repeating, "Its not for this car" a few time sent him off searching the stacks and stacks of used tires. Eventually he found a T155-85R16. Spacesaver spare off of who knows what. It fit on the rim and I didn't mind if the tire was an inch or two low. Good enough to roll the bomb on. By the time I got back to the house, the left rear tire was dead. The extra load from leaving the right side of bomb sitting on a jack stand was enough to kill it.

I can get brand new Dunlops from Universal Vintage tires. Only $162 each. Time to start e-mailing tyre shops in the UK. One of them is bound to be able to mail me a tire.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dropping the Bomb

The car arrived January 11th at about 9PM, three months after I first saw the LVTA ad. Norm, the previous owner, told me it had been in his barn for the last 10 years. From our correspondence I knew the car was going to be rough. When asked about the condition, Norm replied "Ruff!". I ran the VIN through CARFAX. The car had last been registered in 1988. Actual mileage was a very low 112,000. How bad could it be? What I saw on the car transporter was much worse than I had hoped.

The friendly driver helped me roll the bomb off his truck. Rolled is being generous. More like drag, pull, and finally drive the truck out from under it. Now that she's seen the thing Debbie isn't talking to me. I'm not talking to myself either.

The next morning I got a better look at the bomb while putting some air in the leaky tires. Every panel on this side is dented, full of bondo and rusty. At least the rear wings (fenders) are bolted on. The other side is about the same. I'm really not sure about terminology here. Brits use "near side" and "off side" instead of left and right. But would that be reversed in a LHD car.

The front looks worse in daylight than it did the night before. Lots of rust and bondo here too. This car had a very hard two years before it found a home in Norm's barn. The map pockets were full of old parking tickets and a few trip receipts. The bomb was used as limo in and around NYC.

The bomb has a wood and leather dash. I've never seen this before on a taxi. Most have a metal dash. Taxis built after 1987 have a plastic dash similar to what you would see on an economy car. The leather dash is going to be expensive to restore.

Getting the bomb out of the street and into the driveway was an adventure. The bomb doesn't roll well but it is heavy and the service brakes don't work. I didn't trust the e-brake. I tied a tow strap from my car to the front of the bomb. To prevent a runaway down our steep driveway, I tied a second tow strap from the back of the bomb to Debbie's BMW. It took us about an hour to carefully drag the thing to the bottom of the driveway. With the help of two generous neighbors we managed to shove the thing into the garage.

The Search

Ever since I first rode in one 20 years ago, I've wanted a London Taxi. They are about the same length and width as a small passenger car on the outside, but like Dr. Who's tardus they are huge on the inside.

Last summer Debbie relented and the search was on. Federal safety and pollution standards make it all but impossible to import a taxi unless it is at least 25 years old. Debbie decided she would not be able to drive a Right Hand Drive car. Carbodies made Left Hand Drive cabs in very small numbers over the years. Finding a 25 year-old LHD cab proved to be a challenge. We watched RHD cabs come and go on eBay. I even bid on a few. I joined the MSN London Taxi group and The London Vintage Taxi Association to widen the search beyond eBay.

I found the cab we were looking for in an ad in the LVTA newsletter. It was a London Coach Sterling. London Coach was an American company building US spec versions of the Carbodies FX4 taxi and FL2 limo. Carbodies in England built US DOT compliant LHD gliders and sent them to the US. London Coach put in a Ford power train to get around EPA. All three companies involved (Carbodies, Ford and London Coach) were hoping for a big success. Didn't happen. There were two models. The Sterling was the FL2 limo with leather seats. The "London Taxi" was the taxi. London Coach built and sold about 50 complete vehicles between MY 1985 and MY 1986. I'm not sure how many were completed as Taxis and how many as Sterlings. Carbodies may have made 150 LHD gliders total. I've never been able to find out what happened to the other 100. Various internet sources says there were 150 cars total. Bill Munro's book Carbodies: The Complete Story and both say 50. Perhaps there were 150 VIN numbers issued, but the actual gliders were never completed and sold.