Over the years I have done everything from paint and panel through to a complete engine rebuild. I've laboriously carried out DIY cylinder head porting - that's an electric grinder and a finger pushing wet and-dry - all the way through to brake swaps, turbo upgrades, and fitting sound systems. That's not so say that I am a professional at these endeavours - nope, I am no practitioner of the art.
But I can say that I have genuinely experienced a lot of the ups and downs of playing with modified cars.
And very nearly the hardest thing that I've experienced when DIY modifying of cars is the making of brackets.
(The hardest thing ever I think has to be the modification of an auto trans valve body. I did that with my VL Turbo when it was so young that no one had any auto trans fixes for too much turbo boost; taking that valve body in and out a half-dozen times in a 3-foot pit while I played with valve body spring pressures has to be the hardest car thing I've ever done... it required immense mental and physical grit.)
But back to brackets. They look so simple to get right - but they're such a pain if you want something that's simultaneously light, strong, elegant - and achievable.
If I write with more than usual vehemence it's because I spent most of today making a single bracket. Yep, I know I am a slow worker, but today - a Sunday - after a leisurely coffee, a stretch, some thought, another coffee and some further cogitation, I decided to install my VDO Dayton Navigation System - known as Sebastian to his friends - in my new Lexus.
The system had already lived for nearly 12 months in my now-sold Audi S4; but it was time to make the transplant. Having working out all of the wiring intricacies in its previous installation, it was always gonna be more a case of making it a good job, rather than ascertaining out how to do it.
And I figured that task enough for the day was the installation of the main computer unit - the one that contains the CD player with its CD-ROM of mapping data. To the uninitiated, it looks just like a DIN-sized single-CD player; however the unit needs to be mounted nearly perfectly level - and of course, there's never room for it in the dashboard of the car. In the Audi I'd mounted it under the rear deck in the boot, adjacent to the ten-stacker. However, in the Lexus the much larger boot gave some better options - there was still no room inside the cabin. (The fact that the mapping CD is updated only annually means that the unit doesn't really need to be very accessible - you need to insert a new CD only quite rarely.)
Lifting the boot carpet revealed two further carpeted lids - under these were small compartments positioned beneath the normal boot floor, one each side of the spare wheel well. They were probably left by the manufacturer for the fitting of a handsfree kit, or - yes, an in-car navigation system. But would the VDO-Dayton's main unit fit into one of these recesses? And could the CD still be inserted when it was bolted in place? The answers were yes, and yes.
The floor of each normally hidden compartment was uneven - but even at its shallowest, there was sufficient room for the unit. But how to mount it? Because I don't work for the Australian Tickford factory, I have a real reluctance to drill holes through previously rust-proofed panels - especially on a 3-year-old Lexus LS400. However, Lexus had positioned some threaded studs projecting up from the floor that looked like they could be made use of. Four studs positioned equidistant and at the same height in a rectangular array would have done quite nicely - but instead I had three in a long triangular, uneven arrangement.
I intended mounting the navigation unit on an alloy plate - a neat approach that combines stiffness, lightness and (because I have a heap of scrap metal alloy already cut into squares and rectangles), one that for me is very easy and cheap. However, the shapes and the contours and the stud positions didn't really lend themselves all that well to the use of a single flat plate. I mulled and ho'd and hummed - would it go in the right-hand side compartment or the left-hand side? Because the best template is made in the same material as you're gonna end up using - and because, as said, I've got plenty of offcuts - I kinda made an alloy mounting plate for the right-hand side. But I didn't like it. Too many bends and curves and offsets - most reducing stiffness while increasing complexity.
Then I swapped to the left-hand side. It looked a little easier - plus there was some factory wiring that could provide the power and earth and taillights and reversing signal that the unit needs.
Back to the flat plate I went, in about 4mm thickness - so quite strong. Only two studs lent themselves to use, but one other corner of the plate would rest against the curved inner metal skin of the left-hand side of the boot. Three solid mounts out of four - would it be enough? It was... just. If this were a rally car - or even one with a very stiff suspension - I'd have been looking for those two remaining mounts to be rigidly bolted down, but in the softly sprung Lexus, w-e-l-l, it'll be OK. In addition, the carpet-and-particle-board flap positively clips down on top of the CD-unit, helping to hold it into place.
So by the time I'd worked out the approach, found the plate, cut the insets into the plate that were needed to clear some obstructions, drilled the holes for the studs, then the further holes for the CD unit's mounting bracket, bolted it into place (then unbolted it three times as I got its orientation right), well, that was the rest of the day. Sure, it was a short day... but I am glad that I don't do it on a professional, paid basis...
Course, if I were doing it for a living, maybe all I'd do is get out the self-tapping Tek screws and whack it in - that would take even me only five minutes! But one of the beauties on working on your own car is that you can spend the hours doing a good job on what you think is important...