Jamie Whitham Column - Jan 2008

James is a self-confessed anorak. If it’s got a motor, he’s into it. This month he’s been poking around an old Vulcan jet bomber. A recipe for disaster...

I have been afflicted for about 15 years now with a terrible, debilitating addiction. At first it seemed innocent enough, a man offered me an FS1E restoration project. It was cheap enough and I thought “what harm can it do?”

I started out tinkering with it in my garage for only an hour or so a week, but before I knew it I was looking for bits at autojumbles and spending every evening titting about with the thing. I thought I could control it. But I couldn’t, by now I was hooked, one thing led to another and before long I wasn’t satisfied with 1970’s mopeds, I needed bigger and bigger projects to satisfy my craving. Soon I was experimenting with an RD250DX and after that I moved on to a 350LC. It was when I bought a 1974 Suzuki GT750 that I finally had to accept the fact that I needed help.

No matter how bad your problem though, you can always find someone worse afflicted than yourself. I came across such a group of obsessed super dedicated people a few weeks ago. Over the years I’ve been to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground loads of times. Bruntingthorpe is an old wartime RAF and subsequently United States Army Airforce base that, since the Yanks left in 1962 has been used as a motor industry test facility. The 3,400 yard runway and old perimeter track is ideal for all kinds of speed testing and photo work. This huge place is also home to quite a few old and sometimes rare military and civilian aircraft. It’s always a good visit.

On a recent trip there I arrived early, and as I slurped at my cup of tea in the on-site canteen waiting for the lads from the mag to show up I got talking to a bloke in overalls sat across the table from me. It turned out he was a volunteer worker, part of a team of people restoring a Vulcan bomber. He was also a bike enthusiast and sensing my interest, said if I wanted he’d ask the team leader if he could show me round.

Now, restoring a Suzuki X7 is one thing. Restoring a 600mph, 80-ton cold war bomber to flying condition has to be the biggest, most challenging project imaginable. It’s only when you walk through the doors of the hangar you begin to realise the magnitude of the project. Funded entirely by public and corporate donation they have checked, restored or replaced (where the parts were available) every component on one of the most complex military machines this country ever produced. And they’ve done it all to the satisfaction of the Civil Aviation Authority. Who can be utter bastards when they want to be.

By the time you read this, XJ 558 (this particular Vulcan’s RAF serial number) will have taken to the skies once again. Gentlemen, you have achieved what most, including the CAA, thought was impossible. I take down the hood off my anorak and remove my bobble hat to you all.

The mistake I made was not getting the phone numbers of some of the technicians, coz I reckon they would come in handy helping to get the aforementioned GT750 sorted. A hydraulics engineer would be particularly useful. The bike looks and runs fairly well but it developed a leak in the autolube system. “No problem, I’ll investigate, find out where the leak is and fix it, it’ll only be a broken gasket.” Bloody hell, you’ve never encountered anything as complicated and annoying as this.

As well as feeding into each manifold, two-stroke oil is also pumped to the main bearings, consequently there seems to be enough pipework on the thing to go twice round the world, and the pump itself is no less confusing. All I can tell you about that is it’s driven off the primary side of the gearbox and when you strip it down all you end up with is a bench full of tiny springs and ball bearings. I even went and spent twenty quid on a manual in the hope it would explain the re-assembly process. All it said on the matter was that the pump shouldn’t be stripped and if it went wrong you should contact your Suzuki dealer! Suffice to say that my GT750 is now a ’premix’ variant.

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