Project Bluebird: Actual roadtrip

Finally, on Friday 21st July, I actually set off to drive somewhere further than 12 miles away in the Bluebird. It was time to test my abilities. Would the head gasket survive? Would the JB Weld Waterweld hold on the thermostat housing? Would I discover that the car was actually completely knackered?

The first destination was SNG Barratt in Bridgnorth, where I had to spend some time peeking at the underside of a 340 saloon.

Success! First destination reached.

That was dealt with quite pleasantly, though the Bluebird was starting to cause some concern over broken surfaces. The front end would shake alarmingly. It feels like the dampers are shot, so the front wheels are ‘pattering.’ This means they’re actually not in constant contact with the road, though thankfully it would still go around corners.

With the visit complete, I checked the coolant level. It had dropped only very slightly, though the heater output had once again gone horribly cold when I tested it. Oh. Bother. After an overnight halt in Buckinghamshire with some friends, it was time to head to Hagerty Insurance’s Festival of the Unexceptional. This is a classic meet I’ve long desired to attend, and it is chock full of the sort of cars I love – ie really ordinary ones. The Bluebird was ideal. Look in the background of the shot below and you’ll see such luminaries as a Volvo 66 estate, a Lada Riva estate, a Nissan Terrano II and a Patrol! People were dead keen to ogle the Bluebird’s immaculate* engine bay.

Bluebird engine

Bluebird at The Festival of the Unexceptional 2017.

It was a great show, though the Bluebird developed a fault, when the sunroof refused to close. Just as it started raining. UGH! An umbrella saved us from a soaking, and, with help from other Bluebird owners, we eventually managed to force the sunroof closed using a screwdriver and the manual winding override.

Oh dear! Sunroof jams open.

I’d been forced to ditch the spoiler on the driver’s wiper blade by this point, as it was fouling on the black trim at the base of the windscreen. Then the wiper started clicking quite horribly. I prayed it wasn’t the usual Bluebird wiper linkage problem, where it falls apart. I distracted myself by leading a merry convoy of Japanese metal to a Little Chef.

A fantastic convoy of rare Japanese metal. And my Bluebird.

Horrible weather, but a lovely mix of Japanese classics, including Dan Hirst’s fabulous Honda Quintet, and the green Sunny of Mark Ashbridge that won car of the show!

After that, I headed to Bromsgrove, for an overnight stay with relatives, before heading to Shelsley Walsh hillclimb and a very different event – Classic Nostalgia!

Parked up at Classic Nostalgia, Shelsley Walsh.

This was also a fantastic event, which I’ll cover in a video shortly. After that, it was just a two-hour drive home, with my sat nav choosing some particularly entertaining roads!

Well, they would have been entertaining had I not been in a Nissan Bluebird 1.6 with knackered shock absorbers. It wasn’t terrifying, but it wasn’t exactly fun. I eventually arrived home, feeling just as knackered as the shocks.

Back home, with milk for tea!

Overall then, a bit underwhelming, though very pleasing that an engine I repaired seems to work very nicely. We covered probably 360 miles, though it’s hard to be exact. The trip reckoned about 400 miles, but the tyres are the wrong size – 65 profile instead of 80 – which means an indictated 83mph is a sat nav-confirmed 70. This means the trip distance is also wrong.

But, I can’t help thinking there’s potential to explore here. Could some aftermarket goodies transform the Bluebird into a car that actually handles? It’s so utterly dreadful at the moment that I can’t help thinking it’d be an ideal guinea pig. I do actually like it, despite its drearyness. On motorways, it’s remarkably composed. Let’s see what happens…

Project Bluebird: Actually works!

Apologies for the delay in updating you on the Bluebird project. Things have been pretty crazily busy of late, especially now there are five vehicles on the fleet to try and keep in working order.

Sticking with the Bluebird, I decided to give it a bit more love before the MOT test. Liqui Moly recommended its mOs2 oil, in 10w40 flavour, which was certainly going to be a lot better than the 30 grade stuff I’d lobbed in as a flush – there was a lot of mayonnaise-like gunk to clear out.

Oil change! Thanks Liqui Moly.

With that done, I could finally drive to the MOT station. A steep downhill section allowed me to clean up the brakes ahead of the test, though I was disappointed to note that the engine was not holding temperature, despite a new thermostat. I’d worry about that later. Now for the test!

On the rollers! MOT time.

Unsurprisingly, it failed. I knew something was amiss up front, though oddly the inner track rod ends are not apparently an MOT failure. The tester didn’t like them though, so I got a dangerous advisory. Rightly so. There was also a split CV gaiter, a loose rear wheel bearing and an insecure headlamp (with the reflector insecure inside it for bonus points). Oh, and a split wiper blade I’d failed to spot.

I gave the go-ahead for the work, which added another £220 or so to the cost of this project, probably nudging me into four figures if I dared add it all up. To avoid upsetting myself, I shall not. However, this was it. I could drive home! So I did.

Project Bluebird has its first legal drive.

I decided shortly afterwards to investigate the thermostat. Sure enough, it had come slightly adrift the last time I took the housing off, so that’s my own fault. However, with everything back together again, the heater just would not get hot.

Today, I finally found out why.

Yes, that’s a lot of silt! Quite tricky to do while holding a camera, but the result is a heater that actually works. Hoorah!

Which leaves me with a Bluebird that now runs nicely, cools nicely and is ready for Festival of the Unexceptional this coming Saturday. I’ve covered about 70 miles in the car now, but this’ll still be the longest trip so far. Before then, I just want to be confident that my cooling issues are now resolved, before trying some Evans Waterless coolant. I’ll let you know how that goes in a future post.

Project Bluebird is ready to go!

EDIT – Now with another video update, including first drive!

Project Bluebird: Actual progress!

There has been progress with the Bluebird! In short, it runs again, holds coolant (after a bit of a leaky moment) and is ready and raring to go for an MOT, hopefully next week.

I haven’t got time to go into the details at the moment, but shall list my most recent videos for Project Bluebird below.

A lot has happened since this photo was taken…

The car arrives.

I start pulling it apart.

I start ballsing things up and generally not having a clue.

A miracle happens. Eventually.

 

Part Four – hopefully soon!

Thank you for words of encouragement and support during this project. It’s the first time I’ve partially-dismantled a four-cylinder engine, and it has certainly been a learning experience!

But what do I do with it once it is finished? I’ve got a Proton awaiting attention now…

 

New arrival: Proton!

Oh dear. I’m way off the pace on Blog posts again. Sorry. Crazy summer. I’ve also been very busy trying to get the bloomin’ Bluebird working. Not without success! Keep up with that and other stuff at my YouTube channel.

But, you’re getting this fleet update very nearly live. You see, when I woke up this morning, I didn’t own a Proton, but now I do! Fed up with people telling me I should buy it, after it was spotted on the internet, I went and bought it. No collection capers really, because it was about half an hour away from home. Naturally, we took the Perodua, another Malaysian motor car, in order to ‘just take a look.’ Having been offered it for scrap value, frankly it was going to have to be pretty bad for me to decline, but it helps to have the right frame of mind.

Nippa Aeroback

Two fine products of Malaysia meet for the first time.

Sure, it was hardly the best example, but then it was £50. With two days of MOT. It had been in the same family’s ownership from new, had fewer than 90,000 miles on the clock and had apparently had a head gasket replacement not all that long ago. Sure enough, I didn’t say no, though I did have a quick test drive first. The seller explained that the brakes were iffy, and needed work for the MOT, but they seemed ok albeit a bit wooden. A tiny amount of money was handed over, and off we drove in our Malaysian convoy.

Proton was the first car manufacturer in Malaysia, in a joint-project with Mitsubishi. Which is why the Proton looks like a Mitsubishi. The Aeroback was unique to Malaysia though – it’s related to the shorter Colt hatchback I owned last summer, where as the saloon was just a Malaysian-built Lancer. Interestingly, if you’re me, there was even a limousine version!

UK imports started in March 1989, with the Proton going down an absolute storm. The importers apparently sold 12 months of cars in just six months. My new Aeroback GLS was sold in April 1990, making it fairly early. The GLS meant you got a UK-fitted Webasto wind-back sunroof and TWIN door pockets. Heady stuff. The sunroof apparently leaks, but that’s ok, because the local garage “fixed” it…

Aeroback styling is smart. Sunroof fix less so…

A sheet of plastic has just been taped over it. It does indeed work, but I like a working sunroof, so will see if it’s possible to repair it. Do Webasto still sell seals for them? We’ll find out…

The smart GLS wheel trims are missing, but I can’t say that’s stressing me all that much given the front bumper and bonnet are the wrong colour.

With the deed done, we then drove home. After some miles, the brakes were getting noisy and, sure enough, the nearside front caliper is binding. Not very surprising given I’d been told there was a problem with the brakes.

Inside, it’s a sea of grey which reminds me very much of the Colt.

Grubby and grey.

The temperature gauge reads permanently OVERHEAT, whether the ignition is on or off. There really isn’t a lot else to go wrong though. Equipment levels are minimal. I like that. Well, apart from the fact that the driver’s window glass tries to fall off the runners when you wind it up. That isn’t ideal.

So, the Proton will now be awaiting its turn in the queue. I’m hoping to get the Bluebird on the road and MOTd in the next couple of weeks, then I’ll start investigating what’s up with the brakes. I think being Mitsubishi-based (rather than the Daihatsu-base of Malaysia’s second car company, Perodua), I stand a better chance of finding correct parts.

I must say though, this is a rather jolly car to drive. It ambles along very merrily, and is a good steer too, even if it does start rolling about and threatens to understeer if you get too silly with it. As a car to simply jump in and drive, it’s exactly what most people want, which is why they became so remarkably successful. It isn’t thrilling, it isn’t fancy, it’s just very competent. I like that.

Blaupunkt stereo still works. Note wiper ‘dial.’

Now with video!

Project Bluebird: Not progress

Well, that’s not entirely true. There has been progress. It just doesn’t feel like it.

Mostly, today has involved putting the engine back together. I decided the cam timing was fine, so set the rocker gaps, refitted the distributor, reassembled the timing cover and set about the truly horrendous business of reattaching the inlet manifold. The bolts would be a lot easier to access if someone hadn’t put an inlet manifold in the way. I was sweating buckets, and as I shed moisture, I decided it’d be a good idea for the engine to do likewise. So, I drained the creamy oil out of it and lobbed in some 30 grade stuff I had kicking about, watered down with some 5w30. It won’t be in there long. It’s effectively a flush. There may also have been tea.

Sun, tea, Bluebird, but little joy.

I then set about refitting the HT leads, though leads 1 and 2 are very similar lengths, making it hard to know which way around they should go. I cleverly marked them at the dizzy cap end, but had to refer to the manual to work out the firing order. It was time to get brave and actually operate The Starter Motor.

The resulting noise was slightly curious, but nonetheless, the engine seemed to spin merrily. I had already spun it over by hand a good few times, to ensure it would actually turn over without going CLANK. But, the battery was clearly rather low, so assistance was sought.

One small jump pack.

I now reconnected the coil king lead, and prepared myself for the truly exciting moment. Actually starting the engine! Only it wouldn’t start. Reasoning that the carb bowls were probably empty after several weeks of being open to the elements (well, air at least), I sloshed a little fuel into the carb and tried again.

It caught, blue smoke poured from the exhaust, but that’s fine – I deliberately left a little oil in the bores when the head was off. It screeched. Er, that’s not meant to happen! It stumbled. It generally sounded like it was running on two cylinders. I turned it off, swapped the two suspect HT leads and it was even worse. I was right the first time! But, it still screeches (stops when you apply throttle) and will not run on all cylinders.

I’ve since discovered that the pipe from the PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valve was split. In fact, I then discovered there was a bodged bit of plastic pipe that was missing. Could that explain the screech? It’s either that or I’ve got a very slight leak on the inlet manifold, and that’s a horror too terrible to contemplate. I do not want to take the sodding thing off again.

At this stage, I completely ran out of time and had to go out to a meeting. Even worse, I had to take minutes, which I need to write up. Instead, I’m writing this. I’m now away for a few days, then seriously busy with work, so have no idea when I’ll get this sodding car sorted out.

This year is not working out very well on the car purchase front.

Video: The Shitefest Series

UPDATED!

Shitefest has been and gone, already a week ago, but I’ve been working hard on getting new video content uploaded since the event. Here’s what I have so far. Do keep an eye on my channel, as further videos will be forthcoming over the next few weeks. I’m afraid the day job is about to get seriously busy again, which may delay things, but there are already three videos for your enjoyment, with a wealth of unusual car content!

First, an overall event report, including my visit to the 2CVGB event Registers’ Day.

 

Next, a thoroughly boring review of a Renault.

 

And for variety, the Innocenti Small 500! Daihatsu power, in a Bertone/BMC spin-off. Wonderful.

Now with more videos!

Do subscribe to my channel, and you’ll automatically be notified when new video content has been uploaded.

I’m quite proud of that channel. It now contains over 120 videos, covering cars as varied as the Tesla Model S, LDV Pilot van, Innocenti Small 500 and Nissan Bluebird. It also now has over half a million views! My videos will never have impressive production values, nor an actual script. It’s just me and my mobile phone. I’m thrilled that folk appear to enjoy them!

A Mini, but with Italian styling and Japanese mechanicals. Pic courtesy Michael Carpenter.

Project Bluebird: Slow going

Sorry for the radio silence, but getting the latest issue of Retro Japanese magazine to the print was rather more important than getting my Bluebird up and running. Mind you, it was good I was in no rush really!

Having discovered that the cylinder head was in no fit state to go back on, with very bad pitting and erosion around cylinder number four, I took the head down to Hargreaves Engineering in Carmarthen. That’s a bit of a trek, but they were recommended by people I know. Recommendations count for a lot in this game. I was impressed as Adam talked me through the work needed too, as per my previous post.

This week, I finally got to return and pick up the head. As the rain seemed to be keeping off, I decided to take the 2CV again, despite the fact the idle was iffy.

Elly at Hargreaves Engineering.

On arrival, the extra work was discussed, payment was made (about £150 worth of work here, the cost of the car keeps going up!) and Adam even cleaned out the idle jet on the 2CV after lending me a spanner to remove it. Very kind! Idle restored, I then drove home.

With the deadline out of the way, I thought I might as well crack on and get the head back in place. The new gasket was dropped on, and that was about as far as I could get until I borrowed a torque wrench (mine is a tiddler that isn’t up to head bolt torques).

Head reunited with car.

Then I discovered that the camshaft timing seemed to be out compared to the belt position. The camshaft pulley only fits in one place, and that place appeared to be three teeth out. Friendly folk have suggested this may be because the belt is still under tension from the ,er, tensioner. Ugh. This wasn’t going to be as quick and easy as I’d hoped.

So, the head is back in place, but I now need to work out how to get the crankshaft pulley off, all so I can remove the lower timing belt cover and access the tensioner bolts. The thought had crossed my mind that I could just drill a hole, but that’s probably silly.

Meanwhile, the Nippa has eaten its brakes, so that’s crying out for attention too.

Eesh! Not a nice discovery.

Bit ashamed of that one, though as low pads weren’t an advisory on the MOT, I suspect that one, or perhaps both of the calipers have begun to seize, hastening the demise. Indeed, Rachel told me it felt like they were binding on her most recent trip – you can’t afford binding brakes with only 40bhp! That is metal-on-metal there, hence the glitter and utterly ruined disc. I now need to source new calipers, or at least a rebuild kit. So far, not had much luck.

Which all means I’m not entirely sure when I’ll get the Nissan up and running. The next magazine deadline isn’t a million miles away, so my window of opportunity is small. Annoyingly, the MOT is up on Monday as well. Going well then!