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…

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 Dirty Daimler: Collection

I’ve edited three different magazines this year, but that’s about to change. Rolls-Royce and Bentley Driver will be passing to a new editor, because I’m busy enough with Classic Jaguar and Retro Japanese. Indeed, Classic Jaguar has been selling rather well, so we’re moving to six issues per year instead of four.

I already have the Honda S-MX (and to a lesser extent the Daihatsu-based Perodua Nippa) for Retro Japanese, but lacked a Classic Jaguar to call my own. So, I decided to do something about it, in the way only I know how. By rushing out and buying the worst one I could find. Not only that, but it was over 300 miles away in Glasgow. Oh, and it had a fuel leak. So, how did that pan out? A full report will be in the next issue of Classic Jaguar magazine (June/July 2017), but here’s my video of the day itself.

Project OMG: Work begins

Now I’ve got the car home, I can focus on making it better. Naturally, curing that diesel leak is a major priority. It turns out, diesel leaks from the Bosch fuel pump are hardly rare. Anyone who has a BMW with the tds engine, or that engine installed in an Omega or Range Rover will be well aware of it. In fact, stands a chance that if you own a Volkswagen diesel, it may also suffer in the same way. There are two seals in the pump housing, and it seems they do leak with time.

I don’t have the new seals, but I thought that I might as well make a start on the job. We’re having a few issues with the paperwork, so I can’t actually tax it yet. May as well take it to bits then. To make life a LOT easier, I decided to remove the intake manifold. There are only a few bolts holding it in place, though access to all of them is not easy. I also found I had to clamber on top of the engine to reach those at the back. It’s quite a long motor!

Eventually, success was had.

The inlet manifold is successfully removed.

The inlet manifold is successfully removed.

I plugged the inlets with paper roll to stop any foreign bodies getting where they shouldn’t be. I also removed my tape bodgery, which had stemmed, but not stopped the flow of diesel. I have since ordered up a seal kit, but it’ll likely take quite a few days to arrive. That’s ok. I’ve got work and minibus duty to attend to this week.

Here’s a blurry shot of the pump though, now access has been granted.

The pump. Note the anti-tamper screw. Defeated!

The pump. Note the anti-tamper screw. Defeated!

While I was here, I thought I’d check whether I could defeat the anti-tamper screw. You really need a special tool to undo it. I smashed a spare 7mm socket over it. Does the same thing.

You can just see diesel pooling in that little recess. There’s one failed seal at that level, and another slightly further up, where you can see the next line. I need to scribe the pump on two sides, so that I can line everything up again. It seems that tiny amounts of movements are absolutely critical here. If I don’t get it back exactly where it should be, I’ll disturb the fuelling settings, which could leave the car not running at all, or producing black clouds of soot. Neither are desirable outcomes.

Incidentally, that black and blue pipe you can just see was not attached to anything. It’s part of the EGR valve set-up, so I think I’d better connect it up when I’m done. EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) shoves some of the exhaust gas back into the engine, to burn some of the impurities. To be honest, they’re a bit of a flaky idea, as you need a valve in the exhaust, and they can get gunked up with time. It seems quite easy to disable the EGR valve, though whether this is desirable is up for debate. It can improve the engine’s performance (especially if you have a faulty EGR valve), but it can also increase harmful nitrous oxides from the exhaust – these are what diesels are currently making the headlines because of. I’ve got time to think that one through.

In other Omega news, I’ve started touching up some of the rust spots with Vactan rust converter, and got the windscreen washers working again. I also found that I’d been sitting on the locking wheel nut tool all the way home. Not sure how I didn’t spot it, or feel it!

You can now also watch the first part of the Collection Caper, right here.

And the second part is now live too!

SUVs – I don’t think I get it

I’ve spent the past week tooling around in an MG GS and before that, I took a Nissan Qashqai on a Tour of the North. Just before that, I sold my own Toyota RAV4. These three vehicles have combined to make me wonder what the point of an SUV is.

Only one of those vehicles had four-wheel drive – the RAV4 – though the Qashqai can be specified with all-wheel power, as can the MG in markets other than the UK. Here’s the thing though – buyers seem to be quite happy to buy SUVs with only two-wheel drive, so what’s the appeal?

The MG GS is very, er, SUV-shaped

Extra height, but is it actually a benefit?

I will say, I do like an upright driving position, with the feet considerably lower than the buttocks. I guess years of 2CV ownership have seen me grow rather accustomed to this. I’ve never been a huge fan of low, low seating positions. I may still be in my 30s, but I really can’t be doing with getting in and out of something that’s low to the ground.

But you don’t need an enormous vehicle to get such a position. The Nippa has a decent stab at it, as did my Daewoo Matiz from many moons ago.

Sure, neither offers the height of an SUV, but what does that extra height actually deliver in the way of benefit? With SUVs becoming ever more popular, it certainly doesn’t necessarily gain you that commanding view over other traffic that you might desire. Your view will simply be blocked by another SUV. It doesn’t get you a nice, low loading lip for the boot either, so you’d better build up your muscles for loading in the weekly shop.

One of the most successful British-built cars - the Nissan Qashqai.

You can’t stray far from the beaten track in a two-wheel drive SUV

It will give you less stability. No, you won’t wobble over the first time you go around a bend, but in a collision, an SUV may be more likely to take a tumble than a regular hatchback. It’s simple physics once you start raising a vehicle’s centre of gravity.

You aren’t necessarily safer either. These cars do a marvellous job of making you feel safer – all chunky styling that looks like it should repel other cars like water meeting the impenetrable barrier of a duck’s back. But, they don’t necessarily protect you any better in a collision than a regular car. In some ways (ah, stability again), they may be worse.

Then there’s the running costs. I was impressed with the 50+mpg of the Qashqai, but that’s pretty dreary these days for a family hatchback. Citroen was delivering such figures in the 1980s in a car with pretty much the same level of space, and a far better ride (though nowhere near the same interior refinement to be fair). The MG seems to be doing a terrifying 31mpg, which can be bettered by my 20-year old Honda with the aerodynamics of a fridge-freezer. I do not see the expected progress here.

It can go greenlaning, but it's not very good.

A pioneering SUV, and one that, despite four-wheel drive, just isn’t equipped for the rough stuff.

You can’t shove an SUV through the air as efficiently as a conventional hatchback. That chunkiness and raised ground clearance do not help here. Nor does the greater weight they have, though some weight has been saved by not bothering with the four-wheel drive system that you’d expect such a vehicle to have. You can even specify a Land Rover Discovery Sport with front-wheel drive only. I just find this laughable. It’s like buying a rain hat that isn’t waterproof. Sure, it might look nice and stylish, but when conditions turn, you’re going to be left looking foolish.

That came so close to happening to me this very weekend. Travelling back from Sussex in the MG, we encountered freshly falling snow. Grip was reduced by a very large amount, but thankfully we managed to get through. However, I can say with certainty that it wouldn’t have taken very much more snow for us to really start struggling. The fat tyres needed to keep an SUV from skidding off the road are absolutely no help in snow at all. Nor is not actually having four-wheel drive (before you query it, four-wheel drive does not make you invincible in the snow, but it can help you get moving).

All three SUVs seemed hampered by their suspension too. With the need to control a high centre of gravity, there’s not as much give as you might hope for. They’re all rather firm in the springing department.

So, they cost more to buy, cost more to run and actually do a worse job of ‘being a car’ than a more conventional hatchback or estate. I shall continue to be bamboozled by the rise of the SUV.

Project Elly: The End!

EDIT – now with video! Scroll down

No, don’t worry. Not The End of Elly, I’m just formally closing Project Elly. She is back on the road and, she appears to be reliable again. Hoorah! Time to step away from the project and steer her back into regular use.

I eagerly awaited the postman this morning, because I knew he’d have goodies for me – or rather, Elly.

Hello Mr Postman! What have you got for me?

Hello Mr Postman! What have you got for me?

I wasn’t disappointed. My ECAS 2CV Parts order had arrived!

Cor! A lovely, new, resin-filled coil.

Cor! A lovely, new, resin-filled coil.

I had to pay attention fitting it, as it seems it’s imperative that the positive and negative connections are the right way around. This differs from the normal coil. In fact, it’s actually sensible to swap the connections every now and then to even up wear on the spark plugs due to the wasted spark system the 2CV employs (in short, no distributor, so it sparks on both cylinders twice during the four-stroke cycle).

With it fitted, and with the ignition now being back on the points-assisted Velleman kit, she fired very promptly into life. Brilliant! Naturally, I ignored my substantial work load and went for a drive. At last! I could drive along with the engine firing cleanly, even after pulling over and letting her tickover for a while as I took photos. There was no spluttering, no misfiring. Phew!

Finally, she is finished and healthy!

Finally, she is finished and healthy!

Of course, there’s not really any such thing as finished. The grey wheels look wrong – they should be white. I also need to get the rear seat fitted, and sort out some sound proofing as she’s LOUD. The grey felt on the interior body sides needs purchasing and fitting, the gearbox oil needs replacing, the reverse light also needs to actually be fitted and I’d like to sort out an interior light. Then there’s the rear wings that need painting, and the side stripes that need recreating (I’m pondering options here – I still fancy a bit of an art project). Oh, and the hatchback kit. That needs fitting, but I also need to get a hinge made up to complete it first.

But, she’s very much back, and that makes me very happy. A lot of people have donated funds, parts, advice and support during this project. I can’t thank you enough. Alan at Citwins turned a complete wreck of a 2CV body into what you see here, with the frightening number of replacement panels needed funded directly by your contributions. That was over £1100. If there’s anything I’ve learnt during this project, it is that the 2CV is supported SUPERBLY well when it comes to parts. We are very, very lucky.

As am I. I’m able to drive my 2CV again. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Thank you!

Thank you!