Sunday, April 7, 2013

Looking sweet for spring

The golden hour enhances any finish
When the lovely snowstorms of spring make us think of open-top sports cars, picturesque winding roads, and sliding on black ice over the cliffs, it is nearly time to begin the lengthy job of bringing a dusty hulk out of storage and turning it into a sweet ride for the sunny season. I've found that the usual car-care products and practices don't make my car look its best. After a certain age, the Blakely's colored finish needs special care to shine.

The Blakely's natural gel-coat finish is a colored resin sprayed into the parts mold before the fiberglass and structural resin were added. In effect, it's a single coat of resin acting like paint. It's often thicker than a standard coat of auto paint but is really a different sort of material. It ages differently and needs different techniques to keep it looking good.

Factory Blakely bodies are fiberglass finished in gel-coat. Corvettes, also made of fiberglass, are always painted, while fiberglass boat hulls may go either way. A Corvette's (and, in general, any painted car's) paint looks best with regular waxing. You should make little or no use of polishing or rubbing compounds, which erode the thin paint coat rapidly and can expose primer or even underlying fiberglass if applied too harshly. Gel-coat, on the other hand, seems to need the harshness of a polishing compound once it starts to fade with age and sun damage.

My Blakely Bernardi is red in body and fenders, but the finish has historically been far from rich and shiny. For the first few years I owned it, I followed the care routine that worked for the Corvette: a couple of hand-polishes with expensive car wax each summer, and regular brushless car washes with the full set of finishing products (e.g., spray-on 'wax') in between.

In recent years I noticed that the Blakely's finish was much cloudier than when I had first seen it, even though the car is garaged and sees sunlight perhaps 50 days a summer. I tried adding a polishing step before the waxing, using the mild polishes recommended for painted cars at the auto supplies store. Little or no difference could be seen.

Then a friend suggested the 'marine finishes' section of the store, based on the wide use of fiberglass in boating. I went to my local big-box automotive supply store and was able to find several products claiming to be the cat's whiskers for gel-coat finishes.

I bought Meguiar’s 49 Marine / RV Oxidation Remover as a polish, and Meguiar’s Premium Marine Wax for finishing. The neighbor's huge 8" rotary polisher applied and removed the Oxidation Remover, and some rags did the job for the wax. The results I experienced were striking: some milky areas returned to full red for the first time since I had begun working on the finish years back.

I know it's not wishful thinking or an optical illusion, since my sloppy work left a few areas unpolished and they are definitely poorer in quality than the places I did a good job. And it's not just me, as passengers, family members, and other harsh critics notice the missed spots no matter how fast I drive. I will get new supplies and do another round this spring, but I will use a smaller buffing wheel to make it easier to follow the curves and get into the crannies of the Blakely's exterior.

I have also stopped using post-wash chemicals like the spray-on wax in the manual carwashes. I just use a round of soap to start, then clean water to rinse before leaving. I don't know if that makes a big difference, but the gel-coat is certainly not becoming milky as quickly as it did in previous years. I haven't started trying standard automotive waxes again, just the liquid finish recommended by the marine gel-coat suppliers.

These ideas may or may not apply to your car - certainly test any new treatment on an inconspicuous area before tackling the sides and hood. I was surprised to see marine finishes at an automotive store, but less so when it became clear that many towed campers and recreational vehicles use the same gel-coat finish. So supply should be easy to find if you already know your community's auto stores, which you should be very familiar with as a classic car owner!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A pleasant drive spoiled

I'm a film fan. I watch so many films that I am almost naturally endowed with a sharp eye for scenes, settings, sound - name your obscure cinematic trope, I can bend your ear about it over a fancy coffee. So I should be the right guy to whip up a snazzy video documentary on a classic American sports car.

Well, it turns out I am as snazzy at film-making as my buddy J, an avid watcher of sports on TV, is at sinking baskets from the free throw line while sitting on his living-room couch. But Carey did suggest I should share the homely results, about which my mother has been the only person to say something nice. "Those trees - so pretty in the fall!"

I am following Carey's advice in the hope that someone else will pick up the torch and film their Bearcat or Hawk or Bantam on the road. The bar has not been set too high.

I posted a few comments about the process and results on YouTube and will repeat them here:

Taking a 1980s Blakely Bernardi sports car out for the last drive of the year. This model has a Ford Mustang 302 V8, Holley carbureted, with dual exhausts. Dry weight of the car is about 2,000 pounds so it performs adequately even considering its age. For the interested, Wikipedia has more details.

Using a pocket DV camera with forward-facing microphones made wind noise a bit of a problem in the open cab, so the engine sounds were mostly distorted or drowned out. In audio processing an aggressive EQ was used to curb the pops and crackles and sadly little is left to hear. To fill in the audio, we added a take from an earlier cigar-box amplifier jam. It was just the right length, though perhaps not quite the classic soundtrack of our dreams.

While making excuses, we should note that some part of the video processing chain changed the original video aspect ratio from 16:9 (1.77:1) to about 16:12 (1.33:1) and introduced the black bars to right and left. A day or two of naive debugging failed to fix it. As a result, the car (and everything else, but most annoyingly the car) look about 30% narrower left-to-right than they should - more Tonka than Testarossa. The still photos at the beginning of the video have the correct proportions, though, and give some sense of how low the car actually is. I can clean loose ash off a cigar using the ground beside the driver's door - without opening the door.

Cars like these are a real throwback, and in more ways than one. I've had a couple of experienced motor folk comment just on the odor of the car. A rich bouquet of complex hydrocarbons exits from under the hood when it's running, including an occasional whiff of gasoline, a little heated engine oil, faint traces of carburetor cleaner, hot hoses, engine detergent, and other unusual taints we rarely come across these days. It seems an odd thing to notice, but it's very nostalgic to those who grew up with a car tinkerer in the family - it's the smell of an active garage.

Other old-school remnants are not so pleasant. It lacks a radio, much less an MP3 docking station. Its finish is old and seems to require three time the polishing of a recent car just to look somewhat weathered. It makes many noises: creaks, rattles, squeaks, rumbles, whines. Most are thankfully drowned by the engine and exhaust, but all of them are either annoying or actively frightening to a modern car owner.

But these annoyances vanish when actually driving it. It fears few (certainly no Boxster) in a straight run, it hugs the winding road, it makes a glorious noise - you don't need these experiences every day of your life, but it is a great comfort to know they are there when you're ready for them. Don't take our word for it. Get out and hug a classic car, or at least the driver, and take a spin yourself.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A source for some Blakely parts

Blakely Bernardi Front turn signal assembly
Over the years, I've addressed my Blakely Bernardi's safety issues. The brakes work, the steering is tight, springs and shocks have been adjusted to keep the car stable on the highways and byways. The long list of things left to do still has all sorts of interesting items on it, though less critical — and sometimes much harder — to fix. For example, I've always been annoyed by a minor cosmetic flaw: the missing turn-signal lens at the front. It's the sort of niggling thing that you'd normally fix the first Saturday morning after you noticed it, after a triple-shot mocha and a quick trip to NAPA or Pep Boys. But there's no NAPA for some Blakely parts.

Every year, once in the spring and again in the fall, I have spent a half-day or more on Google looking for a possible fix. I would accept (in order of preference) (i) a matching replacement lens, (ii) something that could be modified into a matching replacement lens, (iii) a pair of full turn-signal assemblies (period-correct, capable of installation on curved fenders), or (iv) any other good idea. I would look at new stock, old stock (got a nice pair of 1955 Jaguar wind wings in the original, completely decayed, cardboard boxes), new old stock, car parts, motorcycle parts, 18-wheeler parts (those nice lights marking truck roofs are actually a pretty compatible shape, except for being 3 times larger than the Blakely turn signals), boat parts, and even airplane parts.

After giving up on finding something already built, I would also look at cloning the remaining part using (i) careful hand-machining of plastic rod stock, (ii) casting transparent colored resin in a custom lens-shaped mold, (iii) reverse-engineering the lens in a CAD design tool and borrowing a CAD-driven cutting tool to machine a few new copies of the lens, or (iv) any other good idea. But nothing ever really worked out.

Until this spring's search day on Google.

After a number of hours in futile review of military night-vision lenses and the NASA spaceship parts catalog, I stumbled onto a forum site where folk discussed restoring their post-war Triumphs and MG-TDs and whatnot. Someone was hunting front-mount turn signals for his British-spec MG, which apparently did not leave the factory with any front signals installed and needed them before it could be certified for road use in the twenty-first century. After the usual plethora of non-helpful replies, one of the forum members suggested he obtain parts from a California company that supplies new replica parts for the MG-TD kit car clan.

In all my years of searching, I had never heard of the company and their nifty parts. I went straight to the website and picked through photos on the main page, to find a photo of a replica MG-TD front wing that carried a very familiar-looking turn signal assembly. A quick visit to the catalog found the turn signal lens and I called to order two. A week later, the postman delivered the long-missing lens, in duplicate so I could replace the existing one as well as the missing one. Wunderbar!

The company is MG Magic, in San Diego California. Their website is at and the parts catalog for MG-TD replicas is at I don't suppose too many of their parts would be perfect replacements for Blakely cars, but there are quite a few that would bolt on without raising any eyebrows: dash-mount rearview mirrors, fog lights, dash switches and gauges, fender-mount mirrors, front and rear bumpers, and more. When the snows of spring dissipate somewhat, I will race out to the garage to install my two new turn-signal lenses. Then I will come back to the computer and order the next critical enhancement - perhaps a period-correct cigarette lighter or some such gizmo.

Next installment: making the car electricals work full-time so the beautiful new lenses can be seen! And cigars can be lighted!

===UPDATE=== It looks as though MG Magic is moving toward online sales. There's a new website up at with an online catalog and more parts photos.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A dedicated Blakely Owner

Guest how Santa-Claus is going to deliver your gifts this year? In a Blakely of Course! Ivan spotted Santa in a fabulous Blakely.

Merry Christmas to all Blakely lovers.!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Buying a Bernardi

Many years ago, I was trying to decide whether to restore my 1969 Firebird, by this time carrying a couple of decades of wear and tear, or to try out a different impractical car. The restoration process for most old cars involves a serious investment in body repair, particularly for thin-skinned American cars built in the '60s. I had rust on all four corners by this time and needed the full jolt.

One wintry afternoon, I sat down in one of the local watering holes with all of the estimates I had so far. These covered approaches from American-made full body panels (expensive but basically bolt-on) to nameless third-world country half-panels (much cheaper, but not as good-looking and needing to be carefully welded into place) to "donate this beater to charity". The total project price was daunting, no matter which path was taken. After a couple of years of saving, I had the money in the bank for one of the cheaper approaches. But was this the right way to spend it?

I also had the local used-car classified papers and decided to do a quick experiment. I would circle every car I had even the slightest interest in owning that was posted with a price below the Firebird's most optimistic restoration cost. There were hundreds of candidates: Camaro, Fiat X1/9, BMW 2002, Roadrunner, MGB, Porsche 912 or 914 or even the odd skanky 911, Barracuda . . . The big problem was that pretty much any of these 10- to 25-year-old beauties would require exactly the same kind of bodywork investment I was trying to avoid.

Except for the funky plastic-bodied Corvette. An old Corvette would not be rusted through, although it might be pretty beaten up mechanically. The sweet spot for prices started at about ten years old, which was much fresher than some of the European exotics I lusted after. A ten-year old American car was just getting into its prime - lots of wrecks for spares, mechanics familiar with all their quirks, plenty of after-market suppliers to keep me poor. Genius!

So I started serious shopping. Every Thursday I bought the classifieds, found all the Corvettes in the right price range, called owners, set up test drives, and cajoled my sainted roommate into driving me around. We saw many, many Corvettes. Pretty much all of them had been rode hard and put away wet, most had power windows (!) and automatic transmissions (!!!), few appealed. At the end of the summer, though, we found a fine late-70's instance with the (laughably named) high-performance engine, four-speed, and no options. Perfect.

Typical Corvette

This started my romance with plastic-bodied cars. A few years later, a group of us bought a lovely Austin-Healey 3000 replica based on the venerable VW chassis. This car was a revelation to me, since I had equal fun driving it as the Corvette and spent about one-tenth per year on maintenance (and gas, for that matter). Plus, it was far smoother on the highway and had a certain social appeal the brutal Corvette would never develop. Though we sold it a few years later for a tidy profit, I couldn't get it out of my mind. Skipping ahead a few years, I found myself on Ebay making a Saved Search for "replica and kit cars".

Lovely Austin-Healey 3000

I wanted cheap fair-weather top-down driving fun in a plastic-bodied car. After three years of haunting Ebay, almost closing a deal on another Corvette, I found a fine red Blakely Bernardi for sale. I had never bought anything bigger than a fountain pen on Ebay, had never heard of the Blakely company, had no idea what I would be getting, and forged ahead in a fluffy cloud of ignorance and optimism.

The deal was done and I began the arduous job of getting a car from a distant state into my garage. The owner said the car had an overheating problem and I would not be able to drive it home, much to my disappointment. It later turned out that the car only overheated if you drove it too slowly, so it's probably fair to say that I would never have noticed the problem until I got into my own driveway. On the other hand, its dried-up old seals and gaskets are sorely stressed by travel at speed and joyfully leak about a quart of oil for every hour on the highway. But the car-shipping option worked out very well and one sunny spring morning a few weeks later I received a call telling me to jog pronto to the corner strip mall, the nearest the auto transport semi could get to my back yard.

The Ebay Bernardi

Think "Christmas for a six-year-old" levels of excitement. The tire straps were loosened, the papers signed, the keys found, and the car started. On the first try - FTW! I immediately noted one of the Bernardi's less civilized traits (well - depends on the beholder, I would guess) - a significant disproportion between the engine size and the muffler complement, writ large by being the only object inside a shipping container with the acoustic properties of an ogre-sized subwoofer.

The car rolled out of the truck with no drama, and into my garage a couple of minutes later. Many hurdles lay ahead before it would be licensed and on the road, but those are tales for a later post.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New blog contributor - WF1010

I own a late-eighties Blakely Bernardi and have been actively maintaining and driving it in the sunny months since I bought it a couple of years back. Philippe and Carey have kindly given me the chance to document some of my adventures on their blog.

The car is red in both body and fenders, with the optional "jump seat" feature behind the driver and passenger seat. It has a white convertible roof that defines the term "rag top" in spades. (I haven't had the roof up in nearly two years - thank heavens for a dry climate!) The engine is a Ford 302 V8, with a Holley carburetor to keep the petrochemical industry fully funded.

I have been in email contact with Philippe, Carey, and the other Blakely enthusiasts since buying the car. I would like to recap in this blog some of the information and adventures that I've earlier shared by email, in the hopes it may inform or amuse the broader community. The older emails will get digested and posted first, and I'll work forward in date sequence until I reach the present happy times.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mikes McCully's Hawk

I had these pictures for a long time but I actually forgot about them. Here is Mikes work on a rare Hawk with a V6 a beautiful car. The firs of our litle (growing) group is aware of. Noticeable difference between the HAwk and the Bantam are the front fenders, wider rear fenders, the roll bar and frame suspension design. The rear suspension is using coil overs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Phil's latest pictures Bantam

Gentlemen here are the latest pictures of my 1974 Bantam after a lot of work this winter, new paint, widen fenders, alu fender guards, new engine mounts and suspension bushings... and redesigned oil pan to add capacity. Comments are welcomed!

But here is the bad news due to some power trip and misunderstanding of certain individuals at the Provincial DMV (Quebec) they decided to categorise this car has a 2009 self-built, this makes the car almost unsassurable basically 3000$ a year witch cost me 200 $ in the previous province of ownership in New Brunswick. So I am seriously considering selling the car. Any serious offers will be taken. Note: I paid over 7000$ for the car and put considerable time and money to make ot right, I will also assist the owner with transportation at cost since I have family in the brokage business also getting a car over the border requires very litle papper work and is easier than one might think.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Turbo boost control

This is not related to Blakely car but one day might come in usefull for others running turbos. On my Bantam boost is controlled using an Impco TC" control valve and did not wrok properlly (at all). After wititing Impco and searching the net for months I finally came up with this:

On my car the vent valve was plugged exlanning the valve did not work propelly. I will be trying this solution next weekend.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mike's Bantam not a Bantam but a Hawk

After getting more pictures from Mike I made a discovery his car is not a Bantam but the very rare Hawk witch is belived to exist 5 to 8 according to Carey. From the picture below we notice that the front fender has a diffrent profile and the rear roll bar is different.

Mike's Bantam

Mike was kind enough to send in some pictures of his recently bought Yellow 1982 Bantam. With a litle love this car will be looking great.

This is the first Bantam with a V6 I have seen so far. I have also noticed that the frame design seemed different than my Bantam, The bottom cross member seems much beefier than on my 1974.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bantam in one of the greatest movie of all time (not!)

Some of you requested this video from the movie "Cherry 2000" to be posted on our blog:

In the movie the image is very dark, I tried my best to adjust brightness and gamma value.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Video Bantam Chimney Rock HillClimb 1984

Carey found a set of great videos of a Bantam at the 1984 Chimney Rock Hillclimb:

The orginal files and credit goes to ageci on youtube:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slide shows !

It is also possible to create slides shows for the blogs from flicker using the instructions at:

Created with flickr slideshow.

Blakely Bearcat 78 LtGrn 1a FrQt 1895 cr

This a test from the flickr interface its possible to post from flickr to blogger great news for Peter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Present Day Pictures

Above are tw0 photos from around 2005 showing the car in its present condition. Not much has changed in 30 years except some new wheels and tires. Under the hood the 2.0L has now been built to 2.1L with a bump in compression to around 10.5 to 1. The car now has a Holley 360 CFM 4bbl carb (vacuum secondaries). It is still a lot of fun to drive.

Competition Pictures

This is a picture for an autocross (Solo II) run by the Des Moines Valley Region of the Sports Car Club of America. It was probably in May or June of 1983

Build Pictures

On the left i a picture of the car almost completed in Fall of 1979. I thing the seat were just set in and the bumper was just tentatively bolted on to provide pictures for licensing purposes.
The rolling chassis is shown on the right - probably in early spring of 1979.

I wanted to add some pictures of my 1979 Blakely Bearcat S. This car has always been in my family and I was one of the original builders. Above is a picture of us picking up the car at the factory in Davis Junction IL in spring of 1978. The building was still there as of several years ago.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pictures of a Blakely Bernardi

Here are some pictures of my 1981 Blakely Bernardi.

It is equipped with the Ford 2L engine and automatic, quite likely from the Pinto as they most of them were. At this point, it is still quite good looking for it's age, but does have several items that must be reworked. Well, all in due time. When I start working on it, I am sure that there will be some stories to tell.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Carey's engine bay

Carey was kind enought to send out recent pictures of his "White" Batam engine bay. From this picture and confirmation from Carey it is possible to instal Weber's DCOE carbs witouth moding the body work. The engine bay looks really good compared to mine.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

New Blakely Owner found - 3

I recall that this Bantam was sold and shipped to Oklahoma. A couple months or so after those pictures were taken, a Bantam shows up on ebay, located in Oklahoma, with the same exterior color, but a completely different and new looking dash and upholstery. Then looking closely at the engine compartment, I began to notice too many similarities to be simple coincidences. Looking even closer and comparing the pictures I had taken with the one on the ebay site, I found markings that simply are unlikely to be coincidences. There was enough evidence to indicate that this was extremely likely to be that very same car, but nicely redone. Unfortunately I did not record any text from the ebay site, so today I have no data.
And that is where I thought the story ended, until recently.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New Blakely Owner found - 2

Indeed so. I saw this as an ebay offering, located in the San Diego area, and lost my bid. Very shortly after that I had the opportunity to go to San Diego, and asked if I could see the car before it was shipped to the winning bidder. No problem. Here are some of the pics I took.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Blakely Owner found

A couple days ago a Blakely owner left a comment on one of the post: Peter Kunedt. Peter does not own a Batam, I will let him tell more about his car himself He was kind enough today to send a couple of great pictures of a Bantam last seen on ebay in 2005: