Ford Focus 2

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll remember that we recently worked on a Focus for Alexander which I have been using as a local runabout :
http://v2xs.com/ford-focus/

The intention is that he will take over this car as soon as Laurena passes her test but with lockdowns and other things getting in the way, this may be some time. However, having some four wheeled transport did make it easier for me to get around and try to find another car. I had a long debate with myself about the type of vehicle to go for and was very tempted by the idea of a van. The justification for this was that a van would make it easier to do the summer shade sail deliveries and provide better motorbike transport. But I had to admit that for the rest of the time I just don’t need the space – so the alternative was to go for a smaller car plus a trailer. In the end there were two factors that swayed the decision in favour of the small car :

  1. The times when I need the load capacity are actually quite limited – once per week during the summer for shade sails (I actually take some most days but the big factory delivery of customs arrives once per week) – and a few times a year for various motorbike events. In total maybe 20 times per year – not a huge amount of use…
  2. The clincher was (perhaps surprisingly) driving Alexander’s Focus and realising how much fun a small and responsive car can be in everyday driving. The roads around here are like English B roads and max speed rarely gets above 50 mph, but the Focus has such a nice feel to the chassis and responsiveness to the steering that I really quite like it. I was so surpirsed that I looked up some contemporary road tests and every one of them praised the ride and handling of the car. As a comparison, not long ago I had a Mini Cooper JCW with 250 bhp which was hugely fast but the steering feel and response of the controls was not as good as the Focus.

Decision made I started looking for a small, fun car… and then another Focus came along… The story with this one was remarkably similar to Alexander’s car – English couple came over to France with their Focus, switched it over to French registration, used it for a few years and then bought a French car, the Focus then relegated to a local runabout until expensive repairs and Controle Technique (French MOT) loom and make it uneconomic to keep it.

Alexander’s Focus is a 2003 Mark 1, the new one is a 2008 Mark 2 facelift (also known as a Mark 2.5). The car was 2.5 hours away in the Gers and from speaking to the owner on the ‘phone the main issue seemed to be that it needed a new catalyst. Having done that job on Alexander’s car I wasn’t too worried and went to see the car… This was just before our second lockdown and I agreed to buy the car but couldn’t come back to collect it until just before Christmas.

All jacked up on the lower terrace…
Under cover (just) but exposed to the elements (not great in January)

I couldn’t have picked a worse time of year to be (mostly) outside crawling around underneath a car… Once it was all jacked up I was able to look at the catalyst issue. What I hadn’t realised is that the Mark 2 Focus is actually a different car to the Mark 1 and although both have 1.8 litre petrol engines they are different platforms – the Mark 2 is quite a bit bigger and more refined but it still retains the same suspension design. The engine is different and mounted the other way round which meant that the catalyst was between the engine and bulkhead and harder to access. On the plus side the Mazda designed engine doesn’t have a cam belt so that was one job crossed off the list. A bit of research and I understood the previoius owner’s problem and willingness to sell the car cheap (and it was cheap) – the catalyst is part of a one piece assembly that comprises the exhaust manifold, catalyst and flexible coupling to connect to the rest of the exhaust. A replacement is about 800 Euros and garage fitting might well double that cost. I found a cheaper option and would (of course) be doing it myself but was concerned about being able to successfully remove the exhaust manifold – snapping off a stud in the cylinder head would be a massive job to fix. It did occur to me that the failure (you could hear the exhaust blowing) was probably in the flexible coupling and the manifold and catalyst may be OK. Very difficult to be sure but some grovelling under the car and limb contorsion seemed to confirm the flexible was broken. A bit more research and I managed to find a supplier offering the flexible as a repair section – no need to replace the manifold and cat – I placed my order…

In terms of cost (£70) this was a great solution, but required cutting the pipe between the flexible and the catalyst and that section of pipe is virtually impossible to access. Removing the manifold would make it much easier but carries more risks. I decided to try the cutting route with the fall back of taking the whole thing out. It took two days…

Looking down behind the engine…

The image above shows the problem. The pipe had to be cut after the catalyst and before the oxygen sensor – I have put a black tie-wrap around the pipe (which you can just make out) marking the cutting location. Impossible to access from above…

Squeezing my Dremel in…

Access from below was much improved once I had cut off the rest of the exhaust system (it also needed replacing) – but even so there was just enough room to squeeze in with a Dremel and gradually cut small sections of the pipe. I lost count of the number of cutting discs I got through…

Job done…

Now just need to wait for the bits and refit the complete exhaust system…
The next big job on the list was painting the underside of the car.. It seems that every car that spends a few winters in the UK becomes a rust farm underneath – mostly the chassis/suspension components but a few bits of bodywork too. To stop this getting any worse I rubbed down everything I could get to and then painted it with good old Finnigan’s Hammerite. It was a horrible, dirty, uncomfortable and thankless task – we did the same on Alexander’s Focus – well when I say we that was Alexander’s main contribution to the work..

For the new exhaust I ordered the centre and rear silencer, but only discovered when they arrived that the rear silencer does not include a short length of pipe from the exit of the silencer to the rear of the car – Doh ! To speed things up I ordered this missing pipe from a local supplier on a “click and collect” basis – went to collect and it wasn’t there – they had lost the package! At this stage I was under pressure to get the job finished as I was planning to drive down to Portugal, but then they started another lock down so the pressure was off. Ordered the pipe from my normal supplier and it arrived 3 days later – all correct.

Other items were more straighforward – a routine service, two new tyres, replace split intake hose and general clean and tidy up. Put the car in for the CT and it passed first time. There were a couple of advisories on tracking and rear brake balance which I’ll need to look at…

In terms of driving the car feels like exactly what it is – a larger and more refined version of Alexander’s car. It’s quieter, more comfortable but also a bit bigger/heavier and not quite so responsive. For running around the local lanes I think I prefer the feel of the older model, but not for any longer journeys.

Ford Focus

Having sold the Faithful Freelander I was reduced to using my bikes and the M3W for transport. This was actually quite good fun – not quite so good in the rain and luggage capacity rather limited though. I started looking for a replacement vehicle but realised I would have to ride there and back to look at it which rather limited the search radius. At around this time Alexander mentioned that he was on the look out for a new car too. He has recently moved from the centre of Limoges to a cottage in the countryside and ideally needs a second car for Laurena to be able to get to work without relying on him. There is the small issue of Laurena passing her driving test but he seemed quite hopeful that might happen soon…

It seemed to me that if I could find a low budget car for Alexander I would be able to use it for a while as a temporary runabout until I sorted a longer term solution. Completely unlike the UK, second hand car prices in France are ridiculously high – finding anything running with a valid Control Technique (CT – same as the UK MOT) would be at least 1,000 Euros – somewhat more than Alexander’s budget.

Before long I spotted a Ford Focus on one of our local Facebook Groups – this was a RHD car (which the French don’t want so are relatively cheap over here), but it was French registered. Registering a UK car in France used to be relatively straightforward but BREXIT has made it much more difficult. The car was cheap but had no CT and needed work. I went to look at it…

It was a 150Km round trip but fortunately the weather was kind and the ride was great fun. The car was in a bit of a sorry state – the interior smelled like a dustbin – the lady owner did explain it was mainly being used for trips to the dechetterie (tip) and for transporting what was evidently a very smelly dog. The owner had been to see a friendly local mechanic to see if it would pass a CT and had come away with a list of faults..

  • Driveshaft needs replacing
  • Water leak – possibly the thermostat
  • Two tyres needed
  • A few light bulbs not working

On the positive side the body looked in reasonable condition, the car started and ran OK and had recently had a new clutch. There was no evidence of the cam belt having been replaced which was a bit of a concern – the car was on 129k miles and was 17 years old – a cam belt change should be done every 100k miles or 10 years. What can possibly go wrong ? A bit of haggling and the deal was done…

Went to pick up the car a few days later and managed to drive it home without incident – apart from needing to put some oil in it (was below minimum) and the fact that it drank a litre of water on the journey. Let the fun strip down begin…

Over the next few days I stripped the car down and made a list of eveything that needed doing, ordered the parts (which cost more than I paid for the car) and generally had a great time. The pictures below tell most of the story…

Battery earth terminal is missing the clamp
Looks like someone has had a go at sealing the thermostat housing..
..with lots of sealer, and it was still leaking…
Timing belt not looking too bad so probably has been replaced…
Rear seat belt has been cut – that will be a CT fail…
Gearchange linkage missing a bush…
This is the knackered CV joint..
Made up a bush replacement…
Cloudy headlights – another potential CT fail…
Polished up quite well though…
Several of the body earth connections need work…
Lots of new bits…
Spot the difference…
Small oil leak from sump – bolt sheared off…
Spot the difference #2…
An original Ford oil filter – don’t see those very often. Hope it hasn’t been on there from new…
Wheels cleaned up nicely…
No wonder this fog lamp bulb wasn’t working – it’s full of water. How is that possible?
Before – lots of rusty bits to paint…
Alexander getting stuck in…
After – that looks a lot better…
All done, ready for the CT…

If at first…

Not too surprisingly it didn’t pass the CT… Fortunately it only failed on one thing, unfortunately this could have been quite expensive. The failure was on emissions – the Inspector thought it may be a pre-catalyst air leak but there was also the possibility that it might need a new catalyst…

Running the engine and examining the exhaust manifold didn’t reveal anything, so I borrowed Susan’s leaf blower and plumbed it in to the exhaust – in fact it was a perfect fit..

Exhaust blow job !

The next step was to cover the manifold and catalyst in soapy water and look for a leak…

Now just need to find a leak..
Eureka !

So I found the leak, but after several attempts at welding it up in- situ I gave up and decided to remove the catalyst to get better access. Unfortunately I then dicovered that the catalyst was fractured and in several pieces. I may have contributed to the damage during the removal process…

Part of the broken cat in reasonable condition..
This doesn’t look quite so good…

So it appears that although there was an air leak there was also a significant problem with the catalyst which looked like it had overheated and melted in places. So I ordered a new one…

New catalyst fitted…

Pleased to say that on the re-test the car passed and is now good for 2 years motoring….

Freelander Farewell

The Faithful Freelander has now departed to pastures new (not before time many would say). It had completed 310,000 miles which is half a million kilometres and done a superb job as a willing workhorse for my 10 years of ownership. This post summarises some of the history of the car…

2007 Land Rover Freelander 2 with 2.2 litre diesel engine and 6 speed manual gearbox.

We bought the car in March 2010 (from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Land Rover specialist mate in Dorset). It was a one owner company car with a full Land Rover service history.

Half leather trim, electric seats, cruise control, air con, terrain response system, hill descent control, alpine stereo with sub-woofer, Sony GPS/satnav, 4WD.

French registered upon import to France in 2010.

Land Rover rubber floor mats fitted so the carpets are in great condition. I have the original RHD headlights which will go with the car in case you ever want to register her in the UK – or flog them on ebay!

I have now owned her for over 10 years, with almost all servicing and maintenance carried out by me. My habit has been to buy an ex company car at 3 years old and sell it when 10 years old, but I seem to have stretched it to 13 years this time! Car is used every day and I seem to rack up about 15k miles per year.

The recommended service interval is 15k miles, but I change the oil and filter at 10k miles as a precaution. Oil used is the (very expensive) fully synthetic 5W-30, meeting the required Ford spec.

Timing belt, water pump and transmission/axle fluids changed at 150k miles (schedule is 150k miles or 10 years) – this was done by Land Rover Limoges.

I changed the timing belt, auxilairy drive belt and water pump at 300k miles at the start of the lockdown, so is next due at 450k miles.

All brake discs and pads changed at 150k. New brake pads fitted all round May 2018 – discs are fine.

Air filter and fuel filter changes done as per schedule – now fitted with a K&N filter which can be cleaned and re-oiled.

Rear hatch opening switch and handle replaced (a common problem).

Rear wheel bearing replaced.

Clutch replaced in May 2017 – old clutch was fine but the slave cylinder packed up and it’s inside the bell housing, so clutch changed at the same time.

New steering rack fitted in May 2017.

Tyres are top quality Pirellis and are in part worn condition with plenty of tread remaining all round – fronts are almost new.

To avoid any problems with the EGR valve, I have fitted an EGR blanking plate – no issues with the emissions for the CT.

Car has always been run with 2 stroke oil additive in the fuel as this lubricates the high pressure injection pump and helps mpg a bit.

She returns high 30s to the gallon which is amazing for a car of this size and weight. A gentle run to Blagnac and back, crusing at 110km/h will get 40 mpg !

She has a detachable tow bar but has only been used for towing a small motorbike trailer.

She has roof bars which were not a standard fitment.

Aircon works OK, but seems to need recharging every few years – probably will need doing for next summer -c 65 Euros.

Cruise control also works fine.

All electrics working OK, apart from the park distance sensors which have never worked – a weak point on this model. But the high seating position and being able to see all the corners makes this a non issue.

In my pre CT inspection of the car for the last CT I noticed one of the rear dampers was leaking – both of them now replaced.

Control technique…

Passed in March 2019.

Only advisory was some rust underneath, but this is only surface rust on the chassis/subframes and not the body which is perfect. The chassis components are massive and could have come off the Forth bridge so not an issue.

Issues

Some minor car park dings and scratches, as expected. The most noticeable is a dent in the left hand driver/passenger door from brushing against a tree in my drive – Doh !

Mileage 310,000 miles, but it’s a diesel and still going strong. Peak torque is at 2,000 rpm so it doesn’t need to be revved. Top gear is 25 mph/thousand revs so motorway cruising is only 3000 revs.

Rear axle has developed a slight whine – it started five years and 80k miles ago and hasn’t got much worse over time. There is a known problem with the rear axle nose bearing. No rush to fix it but it may need doing eventually – a recon diff is £200. Not a difficult job as it just unbolts after removing the propshaft connection and pulling out the drive shafts.

The manual gearbox works fine but is a bit “notchy” – racing gear changes not advised.

There was an issue with the crank sensor, but after trying two cheap and useless replacements from ebay it turned out to be dirty contacts. It’s now fine and I have a spare OEM sensor just in case.

Post VINCE Trail Riding

After the VINCE we did one more day of riding in the same area (Arnes – inland from Tarragona), then moved 2h North to the Arragon region to join Austin VINCE for some scouting of trails for the VINCE 2022 event – camping this time as we had been staying in the hotel for the VINCE. Well more like Glamping as we were using Dougie’s van which he is gradually converting into a motorhome. We then came back to Cahors for a bit of local riding, then set off for Spain again to Oleana – just south of Andorra for another few days of riding.

Post VINCE Trail Riding in Arnes

We went out following some trails we had not used during the VINCE competition and met up with the VINCE winners who were very helpful in passing on some tips for the future – it was clear they had done much more preparation than we had and we did A LOT.

The Crew – Nigel, Dougie, David and Richard

Gentle trail ride after the VINCE

Trail Scouting

The trail scouting for Austin was great fun as we were given a GPS route to try out – make sure the trail existed, was rideable and legal. Mostly they were OK but we encountered a couple that were “experts only” or “bring a chainsaw or preferably a JCB”.

Base camp
Campsite breakfast
Trail scouting, I’m standing on what used to be a trail which seems to have been blocked off when the main road was widened..
Just managed to squeeze my KTM through the gap between these rocks, but any bigger bikes would struggle…
Amazing views at every turn…
Mountain scenery…
Back at camp every night to share a meal – some of the guys were staying in cabins and we all took turns at cooking…
Austin still going strong but Nigel feeling a bit tired after a long day…
Dougie had a birthday – the guys managed to source a cake and some candles…
This was the toughest trail we scouted…
Taking a break after fighting our way through an unusable trail…
A rumble of KTMs – we met up with Simon and Amaeus(?) on one scouting run..
Time for din !
This is the summary video that Austin produced after the six days of scouting as a teaser for the 2022 event. Drone footage courtesy of Dougie. Austin was editing recorded footage every night and uploading video snippets – extremely well done especially considering this was on a campsite in rural Spain.

Trail Riding Cahors

After the scouting trip we came back to Cahors for a break, some bike fettling and a bit of local riding…

Run down to And Co in Prayssac for coffee..
The beach at Albas on the river Lot..
Trying to wrestle the 950 along the rock garden and up the waterfall just below the house…
Trail ride into Cahors – view from the Iron Cross of the Pont Valentre
Bit of maintenance on Doug’s Freeride – starter problems…

Back to Spain – Oliana

After our short break we headed back to Spain to Oleana (south of Andorra) and the site of a previous VINCE event for more riding. Only about 5h from my place…

Checked into a cabin (shed) this time – very compact but with all needed facilities and more comfortable than glamping.
Susan supplied us with cake for the trip and Doug’s JetBoil meant that a welcome cup of cofffee was never far away…
Freeride broken down (again) – starter motor running continuously…
A bit of trail-side fettling soon sorted it – bump start only from now on as they don’t fit a kickstart…
As before, the views at every turn are stunning…
Way up above Oliana is a remote church clinging to a rock pinnacle. The narrow access trail runs along the side of a cliff and I made the mistake of following the precipitous footpath that runs right up to the church door…
On one day we rode the old smugglers route into Andorra – no customs or COVID checks at the border…
Our shed did allow more elaborate camp breakfasts…
Views and more views…
It’s over there…
A few of the trails we rode….
Not under pressure to collect checkpoints we even had time to stop for coffee and lunch…
Another church (Ermitage) in the middle of nowhere…
On the last day after a month of riding we did “one more trail” which turned out to be the most difficult one we had encountered…. And I fell off and bashed the exhaust…. Doh !

Plenty of time over the Autumn/Winter to do the necessary repairs – the Freeride needs a complete rebuild, but we’ll be back…

The VINCE 2020

This was my second year of competing in the VINCE, a two day navigation event based in the Spanish Pyrenees. Last year I was teamed up with Dougie and Mark and we scored 39 points. This year it was just Dougie and myself and we managed to more than double our score and finished second !

Here are links to blog posts about last year’s event :
http://v2xs.com/the-vince/
http://v2xs.com/the-vince-2/
http://v2xs.com/the-vince-3/

For the 2020 event, the organiser Austin VINCE put together a nice little video explaining a bit about himself, the background to the event and showing the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into creating something like this – now in its 15th year…

The VINCE 2020 SETUP

This year there were two classes for the event – the traditional “maps and compass” class and a new GPS class. Last year we did the maps and found it quite hard work so had intended to switch to the easier GPS class for this year. However, a few weeks before the event Dougie attended a map reading class held by Austin and decided we needed a change of plan… So it was maps and compass again.. This didn’t leave much time and the first job was to find some way of fitting the maps on the bike. Last year we used a road book reader and I combined the target route into a continuous A5 scroll that we could just roll through as we went. However, the huge disadvantage of this system is that you have no flexibility to change from the pre-defined route. Dougie was happy to go with A3 maps and already had a massive windbreaker fitted on the front of his bike. I felt that A4 would be big enough (with a magnifying glass on board just in case)..

A4 Map Board

Our friend David O’Brien (Dangerous Dave) did a great job of scanning the four full size maps, adding the routes already tested by Austin and all the checkpoints (about 80 of them). Dougie did his usual excellent job of planning the routes for the two days allowing for fuel stops – you ride from 8am to 8pm and the best guys are covering 200 miles in that time. Fuel stations are few and far between so careful planning is required. Using Google Earth we were able to do simulated fly-throughs of our planned route to check the trails appeared to exist and to gather additional information regarding difficult junctions. Dave had divided the huge map up into individual “tiles” and I got these printed locally and laminated on double sided A4 sheets.

Maps Galore…
Dougie’s van all loaded and ready for the off…
View of Arnes village from the hotel room – the event was based inland from Tarragona
Final route checking the day before the event…
Our colleagues David, Nigel and Richard doing some last minute prep in the car park…
Early start by the light of the silvery moon – had to be up early as the start is at 8am
Out on the trail – stunning views everywhere…
Quite a mix of teams – this is team “Ape Shit” who did the event on Honda monkey bikes
A classic VINCE checkpoint – tag screwed to the underside of this long abandoned farmhouse doorway
Wow !
Austin VINCE
Short video of three of the checkpoints

Really pleased that our planning and preparation paid off. The number of participants was dramatically reduced due to COVID concerns but more than doubling our score from the previous year was an amazing result.

Until next time…
Here is the link to the sign up page…
http://www.austinvince.com/the-vince