SVA – The Full Monty

When I bought my body/chassis in August 1998 I was aware of SVA but even so blissfully ignorant of all the detail.  By the ‘Full Monty’ I mean the stricter rules applying from January 2000 which in particular include engine emissions and vehicle interior safety.

A lot of the myth surrounding SVA is really fear of the unknown, but this ‘black magic’ can be dispelled by simply getting the Inspection Manual.  I bought mine immediately and it was £25 well spent.  E.g. in reading the anti-theft chapter you realise that a simple battery isolator switch with removable key is adequate (at least for the test).  I also used it as a definitive reference source when various club members quoted this or that requirement.

The manual is naturally ponderous, and occasionally opaque (I had to read the application of the emission test several times to understand it) but fortunately its generally simple and clear.  I illustrate with an example from lighting, hazard warning:

“ 7. Check the hazard warning device

a.    operates with the ignition switched both on and off

b.    operates all the direction indicators causing them to flash simultaneously

c.     has an operational ‘tell-tale’ warning device

Note: The ‘tell-tale’ device must be some form of flashing light, which may be the same lamp as the direction indicator ‘tell-tale’.”

Reasons for failure: “ 7. A hazard warning device

- does not operate with the ‘ignition switch’ in both the on and off position

      - does not cause all the direction indicators to flash simultaneously

      - a ‘tell-tale’ light device not fitted or inoperative

This is typical of each section so generally I ignored the Reasons for Failure column as it seems self-evident.As you can see though you don’t need a separate ‘tell-tale’ from the normal indicator warning light, so you don’t need a nasty big red illuminated warning switch on your replica dash!

I recommend you beg, borrow or buy the manual. It's available from The Vehicle InspectoratePO Box 12, Swansea SA1 1BP. Also it’s worth a look at their website where latest changes can be seen in summary and for related registration information The VIA website also give you access to the list of test centres.

Back to the plot. In the summer of 99 I thought I might make the pre-2000 test as I was particularly concerned about the emission tests.  I imagined this just possible but, after a realistic discussion with a sanguine Frank Catt, I was apparently only about a third way through the build.  Needless to say he was absolutely right and it was a full 18 months later that I finally took the test in July 2001.

My main incentive was to run Y286 (my 40) on track at the Goodwood GTD club meeting at the end of August, so I cut it fairly fine.  In June I was still able to get an appointment in a few weeks but Chelmsford was a new centre so maybe less well known at that time.  As I ‘only’ had a few last minute items to finish I obtained a date of July 20th and pressed on. Anyway, Roy Snook had kindly offered to follow me to the test and, from his own SVA experience, probably had bargained on finishing jobs at the last moment.  As it turned out the night before we were frantically aligning headlamps on the garage door after midnight (well at least it was conveniently dark!) with a 5 am start the next day.

The dreadful day dawned - you can tell I was really relishing it. You can drive to a SVA test without an MOT and of course without registration (since this would be a Catch 22).  This is quite trusting of the authorities and although I was confident in my build (or foolhardy?) if I was doing SVA again I would certainly put my car through an MOT first to ensure it was basically safe (but then would a MOT tester risk themselves in an unregistered car?)

One reason I chose Chelmsford was the relatively gentle cross country run from home (I didn’t fancy breaking down on the M25 in the rush hour).  On the way we stopped for fuel and very shortly afterwards a strong petrol smell caused me to pull up in a Harlow lay-by followed by a sickening sight of petrol dripping from the passenger sill.  I was just hoping no patrol cars were not about as we jacked up the near-side to investigate.  Fortunately it turned out to be one missing bolt securing the fuel sender and with a full tank it had slopped over – how did I overlook that!  A replacement bolt and the ubiquitous transparent silicone sealant solved the problem -  we did load Roy’s estate with my entire garage’s worth of equipment just in case.  The rest of the trip was luckily uneventful.

Chelmsford SVA (see above) is shared with a truck MOT testing station so the 40 was positively dwarfed and waiting in a line of imported 4x4s.  The car is taken along a line of testing bays, pits, hoists, rolling road as the examination proceeds and then finally outside for sound and mirror tests.

Although the regulations are in black and white I think the testers have a good deal of latitude in their interpretation so it's best to keep on their right side.  Also I believe they put some store by the general presentation of the vehicle.  My tester commented positively on the neat wiring and pipe runs compared to many he’d seen.  I would not say a blind eye would be turned but if there’s room for doubt it might just sway the result, certainly testers can simply fail car if they thinks its basically un-roadworthy.

The testing started.  As I had adapted my own seats and was short of time I omitted the passenger seat, but not the belt so when asked if I would be fitting one I happily said ‘oh yes’!  Failure point 1 – he had to see the seat mountings even if they were to be similar to the driver’s. When I was later asked if I would be fitting side windows (a deliberate omission) I replied ‘oh no, it would get too hot inside’.

He had a good look at the outside of the car.  The 40 is naturally a slippery shape so there’s not may sharp projections (like pouncing jaguars), the manual explains that all surface projections larger than 5mm need to have a minimum 2.5 mm radius plus other more specific dimensions on door handles etc.  I had removed the original fuel fillers and fitted wooden blanks in the holes of the front deck, as the clips protrude too much.  You can put covers over them (or round off the clips) but I had in any case made up new ally filler tubes and used proper sealed and locking aero units which fit perfectly inside the normal fillers.  This means my GT40 fillers are merely decorative. 

In the view to the right you can see Y286 ready for underneath inspection, steering and headlight tests.  You can see the repositioned front indicators and may just be able to pick out the ‘nuts’ replacing non-compliant spinners and the large door mirrors.

From other’s experience I did fit a round horizontal bar across the middle of the radiator intake, though I can’t find anything to warrant this in the manual it would stop the intake swallowing a child’s head; some tight’n’fast is needed to round the edges of the intake surround.  I replaced the Le Mans engine grille with a plain ally sheet as the normal item does have large holes and fairly sharp edges. Shortened chrome tailpipe covers with nice rounded ends were fitted - the standard tailpipe will fail the 2.5mm test.  I also had to discard the knock-on wheel spinners for custom made circular ‘nuts’.  In the end the exterior pleasingly passed without a problem.

On the inside the main issue is the dash switches in front of the passenger.  I fitted mine within the regulation 127 mm of the steering wheel rim (5 inches in real money).  The tester had his 165 mm diameter sphere (head simulator) which he offered up to pretty much everything (the area in front of the driver is excluded) to look for sharp edges.  The excluded area is complicated but the safety intention is obvious.  I had my second failure point here: a bolt holding the nearside top wishbone protruded into the cabin and could cause a nasty leg gash in an accident (even though the tester used his ‘head’ to check this one so some contortion would be needed to end up head first in the footwell!).  Another potential failure point are the tongues holding the door tops down, he looked at these but I had covered their edges with some fine rubber trim – these could gash your head (and have since scratched my crash hat).

Emission. I was very concerned on this point, in fact I rebuilt my engine on its original block to avoid this issue.  Pre-75 blocks only need a ‘black smoke’ test (lack of!), but modern ones need a catalyst or allegedly you can get through with good fuel injection system. Many people are trying to evade this issue by getting arbitrary numbers stamped onto new blocks and claiming an older engine.  So much so that SVA now insists on a letter from Ford (or whoever) stating the age of your block from the serial number – what serial number you may well ask! The unique serial number is on the engine tag on the top of the inlet manifold, though often lost via rebuilds.  For example mine stated it was a Hi-Po 289 incorrectly (shame) but this tag came with the inlet manifold not the rest of the engine.  The front near-side of the block should have a few small stamped characters which encode the date of manufacture.  There are also casting numbers on underneath off-side of the block which do put a year to the manufacture.  I had rung up DVLA and been assured they would accept the information I quoted from a book (How to rebuild Ford small-block engines by Tom Monroe – this book has a whole chapter on parts identification) matched to the cast numbers of the block.  The tester was happy to accept this as proof of age. 

My third point of failure was that when engaged the handbrake cables rubbed on the front sides of the sump.  I don’t know why as it’s a standard small block and engine mountings and GTD handbrake.  To solve this for the re-test I constructed a cable spreader which was wider than the normal pressed steel one.  It was made of a 1/8th steel semicircle covered in two larger aluminium semicircles as cable restraints (see photo).  This passed with flying colours on the re-test.

Finally my headlamp alignment was out. I had totally overlooked this area until late of the day before the test – something that the MOT would show up. In fact even on the re-test, despite my best efforts with a large mirror, the alignment was still out.  However by this time I had built much more adjustment in the set-up and the tester was happy to tune them in on the re-test which was simple with the headlight covers removed.

Most of the test was spent in a large number of brake tests.  Unfortunately things nearly went horribly wrong as unknown to me the alternator was not charging properly and the car would not re-start to begin the brake tests.  It was hot and the radiator cooling fans were on a lot inside the shed (and I had fitted uprated fans which consume twice the current) but in fact I later traced the problem to a blown fuse in the supply to the alternator control circuitry – not embarrassingly until after the Goodwood meeting.  I was allowed time out to jump start the car.  I was asked about how the brake bias operated (a trick question?), I was honestly able to say it was fixed (4 pot Bremsport front callipers with 330mm discs at the front with a standard GTD pedal box/servos and ventilated Scorpio rears).  I avoided an adjustable bias arrangement as I know they will fail these unless you have the adjustment bolted or even welded in a fixed position.  

The noise check should be done at 3/4 engine maximum power speed quoted in your application or if not available 2/3 max engine revs. I had put 5000 as maximum and the tester asked me to hold the engine at between 3000 and 3500, I naturally tended to the former.  It passed, no problem, which is not surprising because the next month at Goodwood the scruntineer even asked what was under the ‘bonnet’; he must have thought I had an electric car as it is so quiet.

I suppose I was relatively happy to go away with a total four failure points, even if all were easily avoidable.   The re-test was a non-event.  I didn’t need a proper appointment as they fit you in between main tests (a full SVA takes about 4 hours altogether) however I was still there all morning and cock-a-hoop to go away with my MAC certificate!