11 December 2011

Another Driver Takes the Wheel

MX-5 Owners Club, Eastern Region member grabs the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Merlot Black at Snetterton and tells his story...

It was my first time in Merlot and I have been wanting to do this for a while now. Robbie and Jon were brillant thoughout the day. After doing the sighting lap and taking Robbie round as a passenger, I was let loose.
The day started pretty damp and track conditions were slippy after a down pour on the way to the track, even Robbie got it sideways comming out of the hairpin turn. But soon a dry line appeared and with the aid of the semi slick tyres I soon started to get a good bit braver.
I really enjoyed the whole day Merlot not once needing attention or repairs, every time I came off the track at the end of my session I had a whopping big smile on my face, but that is what its all about.
Thanks to all Robbie, John and a big thank you goes to Brian Chandler who took me for a spin round as a passenger in his race MX5, great car control and he showed me just what an MX5 can really do.

Jon helps prepare the car for the track.

1 December 2011

Merlot makes the press again, again..!!!

After her epic experience at the MX-5 Owners Club National Rally track day at Silverstone MX-5 Owners Club member Carole Perry couldn't resist sharing her experiences in the Club magazine, Soft Top Hardtop, December edition, centre page spread..... !

25 November 2011

Friends Reunited

Photo by John Gordon

With its new QR code door graphic supplied by Solar Graphics, Team Merlot once again returned to local venue Snetterton for a track day on the fantastic 300 circuit. Although not a first for the Merlot brand, a first for the new car Merlot Black. The car behaved faultlessly throughout the day and along side regular drivers Jon and Robbie, can now add another name to it's list of guest drivers. Eastern Region member Paul Sutton, a track day virgin up until the MX-5 Owners Club's National Rally in September took to the wheel for his second track day experience in Merlot Black. New Owners Club member Peter McNicol, came along for the day too, got himself a passenger wrist band and enjoyed many passenger laps in the car, convincing him to get his name on the list for a place in the hot seat in the future.

15 November 2011

Barr-Tech on Board

Barr-Tech in Cambridge have in the past carried out various bodywork tasks on Robbie's own Roadster and kindly offered to repair the rusted sill on Merlot Black. As you can see form the before and after photos Barr-Tech have done a fantastic job. Cutting out the rust, plating the sills then using lead filler for durability rather than conventional body filler. Both sills were then primed, painted and cavity waxed.

Right hand sill before repair...

...and after repair.

Left hand sill before repair...

...and after repair.

21 October 2011

Merlot makes the press again!

"Project Merlot is Dead! Long Live Project Merlot" reads the headline in the MX-5 Owners Club magazine,  Soft Top Hardtop, October edition. And with that the news of the good old Merlot's demise and the rise of the new car was announced.

10 October 2011


Project Merlot had spent long enough at EMG Motor Group's premises and the Health and Safety people were asking questions! Robbie had pretty much stripped everything he wanted off the old shell so a phone call to a local scrap dealer meant the now legendary MX-5 is now well and truly a... legend!

Project Merlot's remains are fork-lifted to it's final resting place before being sent for scrap.

It's a testament to the car, that it left on the same flat bed truck, to see that same fate as a Ford Ka that is probably half Merlot's age. Who'd bet the Ka hasn't got anywhere near as many stories to tell or had anywhere near as much fun as Project Merlot.


18 September 2011

Back on Track with Black

With the engine and gearbox swap complete it was literally only a few hours later that Merlot Black took to the race track for the very first time. Friday morning saw Robbie, Martin and Jon at Silverstone Stowe circuit for the MX-5 Owners Club National Rally track day with Mazda on Track. With so much work having been recently completed Robbie was visibly nervous, not something we see often, and a few spots of oil on the ground and a leaky brake calliper did not make things better!

So it was with some trepidation that Robbie took to the wheel on track for the very first time on the sighting lap, followed by Martin, and then the final test, the first proper laps with Jon at the wheel and Robbie sitting, still nervous, in the passenger seat. Why were we worried? Within a few laps it was clear that Project Merlot was back. With about 45 full throttle laps being completed in the morning session, in wet and dry conditions, by lunch time there was no doubt about the car any more, and to quote Robbie’s last blog entry, “its just the same as Project Merlot, but Black”.!

The afternoon was sessioned and it gave us the opportunity to put a brand new novice track driver in the seat. Eastern Region member Carole, with Robbie instructing, had the time of her life behind the wheel, and I think Black has a new track day convert at first attempt.

After the high speed action on Saturday it was show time on Sunday. Black was entered in to the hot five competition at Billing Aquadrome. No trophy this time, but then Project Merlot never was about show, but all about go.

Carole had this to say on her very first track day experience:

A big thank you to Team Merlot for letting me loose on their car at Silverstone on Saturday! It was the first time I'd done a track day, and I felt honoured to be allowed to drive the reincarnation of Merlot so soon after its extensive 'surgery'. Robbie's tuition was spot on - I had an absolutely fantastic time, adjectives fail to do justice to the experience. I still haven't come down and am boring all my family and friends with accounts of the day! The car is a dream to drive, so quick and responsive (sorry about the rev limiter...) and I was relieved to see it recovered ok to be at the National the next day. I'd love to drive again (if you'll let me) and would recommend it to anyone to have a go!

15 September 2011

Just the same as Project Merlot... but Black

It was cutting it fine but Merlot Black's engine transplant is complete and the car is ready for a proper track outing at Silverstone's Stowe circuit on Saturday.

Once the engine installation was complete, the car initially failed to start. After a wasted hour of checking the newly installed wiring harness (taken from Project Merlot and which is slightly different to the one that was removed from Merlot Black) the cause was in fact wrongly fitted fuel pipes! "It was a school boy error but once I'd eliminated the wiring harness as the cause, diagnosis was quick" Robbie claims, "With the pipes fitted the correct way round, the engine started on the button!"

With all the parts swapped from Project Merlot, Merlot Black really is a carbon copy of the original car and unsupprisingly feels just the same to drive.

Eastern Region member and previous Project Merlot driver Kevin Shields gave a helping hand all day to get Merlot Black back together for Silverstone. Thanks Kevin.

14 September 2011

Deja vu

The old smokey engine is hoisted out complete with transmission... Now where have you seen a photo like this before?

September 2011

September 2006

By 9:30pm the new (old) engine was in but Robbie knew there was no beer in the fridge so he had to throw down his overalls and call it a night before the local Spar shop shut. In should be fully up and running by the end of tomorrow.

12 September 2011

Powertrain Transplant

After returning from the Norfolk Gala day and discovering an oil consumption figure of 0.8litre/150miles and with less than a week until Merlot Black's track debut on the Stowe circuit at Silverstone, it was decided to transplant the engine and gearbox with the powertrain recently removed from Project Merlot.

11 September 2011

I Love My Chicken!

Merlot "Black" attended its very first event today when it took up a place on the MX-5 Owners Club stand at the Norfolk Gala Day. Its certainly looking good now, but we still have an issue with a bit of a smoky exhaust!

In a moment that would have been even better had someone actually had their camera switched on Eastern Region member John Mellor decided to check out the quality of the smoke whilst Robbie revved the engine.! John waved his hand in front of the tail pipe just as Robbie revved the engine. Rusult: one very black hand, Conclusion: its burning a bit of oil! Well it is Merlot "Black"

The other curious revelation is the front number plate which bears the rather odd message in the small print at the bottom, "I love my chicken" Weird or what ?

9 September 2011

Swap Day

After 8 hours solid work Merlot Black is looking like a track car. Robbie worked all day to fit the lowered suspension, poly bushes, HEL brake hoses and EBC discs removed from Project Merlot. Robbie also replaced the left hand rear wheel bearing and fitted the steering rack from Project Merlot following advisories on it's recent MOT test. Finishing the day off with a steering geomotry set up on EMG Motor Group's Visualiner 4 wheel alignment equipment, he also found time to install the front lip spoiler. Leaving just the smokey engine to attend to. Merlot Black looks all on track to attend the Owners Club's National Rally and Silverstone circuit and Billing Aquadrome on 17th and 18th September.

28 August 2011

Merlot "merlot" The final day!

After a busy weekend of stripping, fitting and sticking Merlot Black is beginning to look a lot more like a track car. If it could be unscrewed, or unbolted from Merlot “merlot” then it was, leaving just enough in place to keep it safe for its final drive to EMG Cambridge on the Sunday. After the major battle that had taken place at an Eastern Region tech day (back in October 06 ) fitting the roll cage, getting it out was a fairly simply task thankfully. Harness bar, seats, and various other “track” parts were detached and piled up next to the Merlot “black” for re-fitting. Of course “black” also had to be stripped with trims, carpets, unwanted electrics and more all being carefully removed as they will all be up for sale shortly.

By early afternoon on the Sunday Merlot “black” was fully stripped, with harnesses, race seat, light weight door panels all installed. In tribute to the old car the original merlot headlamp covers and wing mirrors were fitted to “black”. The jury is still out as to whether these will all stay, but some of us thought it looked cool.

And so it came time for the final farewell to Project Merlot “merlot”. The car left Robbie’s drive way for the very last time, almost 5 years exactly since it had originally arrived as a wrecker. The “merlot” is going to spend its last few days at EMG in Cambridge where it will be stripped down even further, and ultimately just the rusty shell will be scrapped. It may only be a car but a lot of people have had a whole lot of fun sitting in the drivers and the passenger seat, it really has become more than just another car.

This is of course only the end of a chapter. Merlot “black” has the potential to carry on where Merlot “merlot” left off. There is still a lot of work to be done however. “Black” has a number of major issues to sort out, not least of all the smoky engine! It looks like despite all Robbie’s work on the old “black” motor we may still have to swap it for the “merlot” engine. And with “black” currently looking like an MX-5 4x4, especially now it’s a bit lighter than it was, a suspension swap (and drop) needs to be done, and then we will have the battle to get the roll cage in again!

Team Merlot would like to thank the following for all the assistance so far with “black”:
James Huggins without whose invaluable help this weekend we would have made far less progress,
Ady Neill and Solar Graphics ,
Footman James for their very efficient insurance swap,
EMG Cambridge for enabling the final strip to take place,
And Liz Turner “black’s” proud former owner.

If you would like to be involved with the continuing story of Project Merlot then please get in touch.

Awaiting the final strip at EMG.

27 August 2011

11 August 2011

The Rebuild

With the cylinder head back from the engine shop the valves were removed for cleaning and lapping in. It's important that the correct valve returns to its original port.
It's a long tedious process to bring 16 valve seats from this...
...to this.

10 August 2011

Repairs Begin

The first job was to confirm the overheating and water loss problem. The engine had clearly been very hot looking at the melted state of the high tension leads...
...and the stuck open thermostat, a classic sign of an overheated engine. A split in one of the heater hoses (now where have I seen that before) and a failed cooling fan were also found. A new radiator and water pump had already been fitted so the actual cause of the initial overheating concern is still a mystery. Blocked radiator? Failed cooling fan? Split water hose?
A "block test" was carried out to check for combustion gases in the cooling system. This is a sure-fire way of confirming a failed cylinder head gasket. Gases in the cooling system are drawn though a blue coloured liquid which changes colour if combustion gases are detected.

New blue leak detection fluidChanged Colour, bad news!

The cylinder head was removed and sent away for crack testing and skimming.

30 July 2011

Project Merlot "Black". Day 1

With a flat tyre and failed cylinder head gasket Project Merlot "Black" is loaded on to a trailer for its trip to Ely. Author of "You and Your Mazda MX-5/Miata" Liz Turner was sad to see the 1994 Roadster (NA8C-305014) go but excited to follow the progress of the car in the wheel tracks of Project Merlot "Merlot".