Martyn and Graeme Harvey, at British V8 2003

Canadian Corner (Volume X, Issue 1 - January 2002)

by: Martyn Harvey

(Editor's Note: This is the first in what will be a regular series of contributions from Martyn. In this column, he will be reporting on the British V8 activities in Canada - British V8 related events, club activities, current projects, etc. All Canadian V8 enthusiasts are invited to contact Martyn with material for this column. There are a lot of enthusiasts from North of the border, so let Martyn - and us - hear from you. What about Great Britain and Australia? Any volunteers to provide reports from these countries?)

This summer I completed a long awaited project on HARV8 and once again, I have been reminded of the old adage "change one thing and you change another".

A couple of years ago I bought a set of RV8-style exhaust headers and they have been sitting on a shelf in the back of my garage ever since. I was really excited at the prospect of switching my block-hugger exhaust manifolds to the RV8 style.

The benefits have been well proven and it would enhance the performance of HARV8 in several ways. So why has the process taken so long? I am sure that most MG enthusiasts can appreciate being in the position of wanting to make a significant modification to one's car but taking forever to get the job started. This was becoming one of those projects. Each time I started planning the job I realized how much of a challenge it would be and what the implications of making certain changes would be.

There were also those ever-important factors of time and money to consider. The money question was easy to justify. After all, the headers had already been purchased. The time question was answered last August when my friend (and V8 mentor), Larry, came for a visit.

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Larry had successfully performed the same surgery to his MGBV8 recently and was very happy with the results. He assured me that we could do the same to HARV8. Everything was in place to begin. In theory, it seemed like a fairly straightforward task:

1) Remove exhaust system
2) Remove block-hugger headers
3) Cut holes in inner fenders for new headers
4) Refit new headers
5) Modify and refit exhaust system

In practice, it became a test of skill, patience, and determination. First of all, the car was jacked up and placed on four axle stands so I could slide, uncomfortably, underneath to remove the exhaust system. Since HARV8 is never driven in the winter, any securing nuts and bolts remove easily. The one-piece single exhaust system was unbolted and supported while I tried to separate it from the header down pipes. Although the pipes were clean and un-rusted they proved to be very difficult to separate and I didn't want to damage them in any way. Eventually success was achieved with the aid of levers and sharp, careful blows from a lump hammer! Next, the manifolds were unbolted from the heads and lifted out of the engine bay. This process was not as easy as it sounds. They were originally fitted to the engine before it was lowered into the car. The shape of the pipes necessitated the engine being raised considerably in order for them to clear the frame rails as they were lifted out of the engine bay. This was a time-consuming activity since the engine mounts are a little awkward to access. It is amazing the contortions the MG enthusiast's body can accomplish when asked!

It soon became apparent that the change of headers would adversely affect the SPAX shock absorbers which I have enjoyed since the car was built. Since the engine is located in the original factory position, the header down pipes would occupy the same space inside the wheel wells as the SPAX telescopic shock absorber brackets. Until I can modify these brackets, it is a choice between RV8 style headers or SPAX front shocks.

If anybody has done this modification, I would appreciate hearing from you. In the meantime, I made the decision to return to the Armstrong lever shocks, which meant that I had to flush them out, refill with the appropriate hydraulic fluid, and reinstall the shock valves (the Armstrong shock valves are removed when SPAX shocks are fitted since the damping action of the lever shock must be disabled). I learned a lot about the operation of these shock absorbers, but unfortunately, it was another time-consuming activity. I experimented with different fluid viscosities and decided to use a 30 weight hydraulic fluid which made them slightly stiffer than stock. I also learned the correct way to install the shock valves. I must confess to installing them incorrectly, which, therefore, rendered them completely useless. I couldn't understand why the car was bouncy even though I had used a heavier fluid. Eventually I figured it out, but I must have had the front suspension apart several times in one day!

When it was time to cut the holes in the inner fenders I was wishing we had a template. Larry reminded me that we had something better - his car! After taking measurements from his engine bay, we soon had the future holes outlined with masking tape. The exhaust ports were sealed off with tape and the carburetor covered with plastic to prevent the ingress of any debris caused by the cutting procedure. Of course the battery had already been disconnected for safety reasons at the start of the project. I must say that I was more than a little hesitant about cutting holes in my engine bay but I believed the end result was worth it.

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Four holes were drilled to delineate the corners and then Larry performed the surgery carefully and accurately using an electric hand grinder with a 4-inch cut-off disc. The new headers are a two-piece design enabling them to be fitted without removing the engine. However, the valve covers did need to be removed each time the headers were trial-fitted and we had to raise the engine off its mounts to manipulate the header into the hole. This was a necessarily time-consuming activity because it was crucial that the holes were cut as small as possible. They need to be efficient and have a professional appearance. The holes were carefully shaped into their finished size using a half-round file and emery cloth. The edges were then painted and we were ready to bolt the headers on.

The only thing that prevented me taking a test drive was the lack of an exhaust system. The next morning the neighbors were awakened to the awesome sound of HARV8 heading off to the local muffler shop! I will also be heading off to the local "dyno shop" soon to find out if we improved the engine efficiency. It feels good to have completed a project that was at the top of my "to do list" and my initial driving impressions are definitely favorable. That old adage "change one thing and you change another" certainly rang true throughout the project and caused some frustration. However, I do love one resulting change - that wonderful new raucous V8 sound.

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