Offloading via the keys

One of my favourite things to do is write. I have always found it easy to do, though I’d never claim that writing about old cars for a living is necessarily easy. There is research to be done (I get paid to read books!), and an audience to be considered. Plus, you rarely have the freedom to talk about what you want to. For me, that’s dreadful cars. I love dreadful cars! It’s why my video channel is chock full of them.

I just need to vent my mind man!

But, as much as I’ve enjoyed doing the videos (over 160 of them now!), nothing beats the joy I get from chucking on some bass-heavy music and just emptying my brain via my fingers. This is my caffeine. This is my hit. I haven’t planned this post at all you see, I just started writing it at 1956hrs on the 26th October, and am letting my brain run free. It’s an exhilarating feeling.

You see, I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that to be an automotive writer, you must love cars. Well, ok. That bit is true as it happens. It’s be a crap job if I actually liked insects, or clean air. But, you must also dearly love writing. It’s just as big a part of the job spec.

My love of writing began very much when I was at school. The best thing that could happen would be to sit in an English class, get given a spec and told to go write a story. I just would. I wouldn’t think about it, or plan it, I’d just start writing and let the creative juices flow. I’d be lost in my own little world as I constructed storylines. My difficulties came when it was time for editing and proofing. I couldn’t be bothered with that, so I’d just re-write the story completely, changing almost every aspect of it. Thankfully, I’ve got better at that since, or I’d be a pretty poor editor, but back then, tweaking would inevitably evolve into Version 2.0.

I can remember one specific story, which revolved around Macbeth. We had to write a modern day version. My story was based on a girl I knew (surprise) and her horrible boyfriend – the perfect baddie! It opened with a bus ride, because I’m too predictable, an attempted sexual assault (not too bad, because I was squeamish), a girl in a coma and a hero, who caught sight of the incident and is then facing a battle to avoid being killed by our bad guy. Yeah, ok. Shakespeare may have employed a bit more skill and finesse, but then he didn’t have a car chase involving a Land Rover Series III V8 on coil springs and a Toyota Hiace van did he? Bet you didn’t see that coming (no need to guess which one our hero drove).

It had sod all to do with Macbeth really, apart from that attempting to silence witnesses. There wasn’t much killing, because I liked my characters too much to kill them. Even the girl in the coma recovered. I can’t recall what happened to Mr Evil.

I’ve got carried away. However, I’m not editing this post. Either you get all of this, or I’ll have to start again, and I’ve already written over 500 words, and I can’t be bothered.

My point is, writing is simply one of the best things. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like making music too (ukulele and bass guitar, with occasional piano and even more occasional reed organ), which is wonderful when you’re part of a group. It’s collaborative in a way writing just isn’t.

But, fingers flying is what I love most. It feels exactly the same to me as cruising along in a car at motorway speeds. Thoughts jostle in the mind while you focus on the task is hand. As I do this, I have no idea which words will appear next. Usually ones necessary to complete a sentence I guess, or it’d look pretty random.

This is the very opposite of writer’s block.

I wrote that, then immediately had writer’s block. What are the chances? It clearly alarms the brain and causes a mild panic. Don’t even think about it.

I often think I’d like to get back into story writing. I have occasional bursts, like the time I wrote up a particularly vivid dream I had a few years back. If I can find that one, maybe I’ll post it up for your amusement.

The biggest challenge with writing an actual story is that spark of inspiration. At school, we’d be told what was expected of us and I’d run away with it.  Actually, one time I REALLY ran away with it, when we were given a list of typical phrases you’d expect to hear in a TV Holiday programme. I managed to incorporate all of the lines in a typical British spy thriller. I had fun with that one. I wish I still had a record of it.

But, whenever, as an adult, I’ve tried to engage the brain and write a story, it has ended up going nowhere. Writing a novel is SERIOUSLY hard work. I think the people who do it must actually have a bit of a think before they get started. I’m not so good at that bit. Maybe I need a collaborative partner, someone to say ‘here’s an idea…’ and then off I’ll go.

I’ve tried creative writing groups, and once made the mistake of paying money for an online writing course (a COMPLETE farce), but creative writing groups rarely cover the sort of topics I want to cover, which I’m afraid are very formulaic. But, I’d love to write a romantic drama, or spy thriller which was actually chock full of actually-correct vehicle descriptions, or write a chase scene which is actually vaguely realistic about what a car can or can’t do. Maybe one day I will.

For now, I’m just pressing buttons on a keyboard and soothing my own soul. Thank you for reading and welcome to the inside of my head. The next post will be back to cars. Don’t worry.

Why the Lexus is amazing

Now, don’t get carried away. I’ve thought cars were amazing before, but sometimes, a car arrives on the fleet at just the right moment, and I get a buzz that I certainly do not always get.

The XM created that buzz, until the heavy clutch, horrible gearchange and the fact it had four bloody pedals got too much for me (the Lexus has the same stupid foot-operated parking brake, but at least has the decency to dispense with a clutch pedal). My Land Rover Discovery also created that buzz, though it rather spoilt it by frequently going wrong. The Rover P6B definitely had a strong buzz about it, tempered only by the battering my wallet took to keep it on the road, and my inability to put fuel into it (odd filler neck, once had a petrol pump time out on me).

But the Lexus is, so far, ticking boxes aplenty. There’s the whole wiper thing, which I may have mentioned once or twice, but it’s not just the beautiful engineering of the driver’s dual wiper arm, there’s also the way the wipers sweep a vast amount of windscreen, leaving few blind spots (the Honda is good at this too). There’s a mist function on the wiper stalk too and, joy of joys, a variable intermittent setting. Bloomin’ handy when you live in Wales.

Excellent wipers. Mostly hidden.

Plus, and this is my final wiper point, I promise, I love the way they park. The wipers park out of sight, resting in a slightly-raised position when in use. This is nothing new, such wiper behaviour can be seen on everything from a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud through the Rover P4 and 5 right up to the Austin Montego and Alfa Romeo 164 (when that bit actually works, it often didn’t on mine). But, what sets the Lexus apart from all these is that if the wipers are resting, and you turn the wipers off, they just quietly park away. On every other one of the cars mentioned, the wipers will do a final sweep (a part sweep on some) before thunking away to the park position. If you didn’t actually WANT a final sweep, this is annoying.

Moving swiftly on, the interior of the Lexus is a bloody lovely place to be too. It’s surprisingly modern, with lots of curving plastic that feels nice to the touch. It’s amazingly uncluttered too. There aren’t actually that many toys to play with. Look at the interior of a Toyota Century, in production by the same company at the same time as the Lexus, and you can marvel at how different hings are. The Toyota has buttons on top of buttons.

The seats are also beautifully comfortable, in a way the seats in the Vauxhall Omega just aren’t. The leather is soft and caressing, and inviting. Even if the seat heaters do not work. (in the front at least, not tested the rears yet).

Sure, it’s not all good. The ride isn’t perfect, though it is pretty good. The handling is pretty woeful though. Like a CX, it pays to be incredibly smooth with your steering inputs. Make hasty corrections and it all feels as wobbly as a tango on a bouncy castle.

It’s very peaceful, which is always nice on a long journey, though a leaky sunroof seal means there is noise that shouldn’t be there. It’s actually quieter to open the sunroof, though only in the tilt position. Have the ‘moon roof’ right back and it’s louder than the Bluebird was – though the Bluebird was utterly remarkable in that fact. You could drive along at motorway speeds with sunroof and windows open and it didn’t hurt.

It is effortless. Not quite electric motor effortless, but good nonetheless. At 1000rpm, the 4-litre, quad-cam V8 is producing over 150Nm of torque! That’s 110lb.ft, or about 20 more than a Bluebird 1.6 produces as maximum. It isn’t power I’ve been craving, but torque! Incidentally, a 2CV has 29lb.ft of torque, which really is not very much. The maximum the Lexus produces is 365Nm/269lb.ft at 4600rpm.

It’s allied to one of the smoothest automatic transmissions I’ve ever encountered. It isn’t often I drive even an automatic where I don’t know what gear it is in, but this is one of them. The rev counter is necessary for some indication. Often, it’s the only clue that a change has occurred. Even when you hoof it, or double-kickdown, it doesn’t take long to sort itself out.

Oh, some for fun facts – the owners’ manual recommends not exceeding 50mph in first, or 83mph in second. The lever has a nice action too, pulling down through PRN to D, then across to 3, and down to 2 and L (or 1) if needs be. I like that. Approaching roundabouts or sharp bends, I still like to knock it down to third, which it does beautifully smoothly. It gives the brakes a slightly easier time. There’s a lot of weight to haul down! The discs are also warped judging by the judder I get at times.

On top of everything, I’ve always loved the looks of the LS400, even if I prefer the first-generation for its slightly edgier front end. Those smooth looks aren’t just to look good either – this car has a drag coefficient of just 0.29cd – that’s slightly better than a Honda NSX or the remarkable 1983 Audi 100. A Jaguar X300 is 0.37 by comparison, which is a lot. This, more than anything, helps explain why the Lexus can nudge 30mpg, which, even though I’ve really tried, seems impossible with the Jag (27mpg the best I managed, by driving like a saint).

So, it’s a complete package then, that allows me to overlook some of the problems it has – like not fitting in parking spaces. Whether it can maintain this high level of joy remains to be seen, but I’m about to fork out for a timing belt change, so I really do hope it stays in the good books for some time to come!

Why the Lexus might be my final petrol car

The economy of the Lexus really doesn’t matter. Well, ok. I’ll qualify that. The economy of any car should not be the main focus. If I believe the hype, I’d buy some modern thing that claims to do 75mpg and surely be quids in, only I wouldn’t be, because I’d probably be paying what the Lexus effectively cost to buy every two months just to own it. It’d also probably be a diesel, and they’re horrible. Especially modern ones.


Lexus may be smooth, but it’s not Volkswagen e-Golf smooth.

I think the XM was a turning point for me. I got so fed up with the horrible diesel soundtrack that I swore I’d never own another. Which is why, a few months later, I bought an Omega turbo diesel. Yeah, ok. I don’t always get it right. That car really was the nail in the coffin for diesel on my driveway. I’ve decided that petrol engines just sound nicer, drink fuel which isn’t half so disgusting to the nose and rev in ways diesels just will not.

But, I like low-down dirty grunt, which petrols aren’t great at – unless they’ve got capacity on their side. V8s are especially good at torque, so while I didn’t really set out to swap the Bluebird for a Lexus, an LS400 has been very much on my wish list for a while now. It’s been far too long since I owned a V8 (early 2011 when I sold my last), and while economy springs to mind for a lot of people, I bet it’ll still be considerably better than my Land Rover 90 V8. That managed to barely have any power and drink fuel at an alarming 15mpg no matter how I drove it. The 120 odd miles I’ve done in the Lexus so far have proved that it is nowhere near that thirsty.

It will be if I enjoy the revs, but so far, extending the slightly-louder pedal in the Lexus has only revealed that it makes the scenery blur worryingly quickly, and suddenly you feel like you’re trying to thread a needle with a jump lead. This much bulk shouldn’t be travelling this quickly on a Welsh B road. So, it’s not difficult to just sit back and enjoy the torque, which allows you to travel decently quickly at no more than 2000rpm. That effortless torque is what I really want.

Which is why I love electric cars, because if there is anything an electric motor does really well, it’s effortless torque. Frankly, a Volkswagen e-Golf makes even a Lexus seem hard work, because as quick as the Lexus can be when it’s in the sweet spot, there’s still a lag while the gearbox works out how to get it there. Internal combustion engines have peak power and torque in one place. Well, actually, the two are often in different places, and you need several gears to try and keep them between the two if you want to get a shift on. An electric motor just accelerates, and it’s lovely. It is, as the lady from Tesla UK once told me, like the best automatic gearbox in the world. Those who’ve followed me for a while know that I’ve been utterly won over by electric for some time now, and it’s only cost that prevents me from buying an EV myself. Silly isn’t it? I can buy a £50,000 luxury car with all the bells and whistles (and 260bhp) for under a grand, but the cheapest electric cars (that you’d actually want to own) are three times that – at least.

Could this be the future of the HubNut fleet? Possibly. In about 20 years time…

But, having spent several grand on the 2CV, and a huge chunk of cash on the Bluebird more recently, it has occurred to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to save up and buy an EV, maybe next year. Well, I’m not giving up on petrol without enjoying myself first! So, a Lexus it is.

I don’t want an electric car to be green, though that is part of the appeal. I don’t want one to be cool either, because I don’t really understand the concept. Nor do I want one so I can have priority parking at Ikea – I’d rather wear chilli powder contact lenses than go to a huge shop that traps you in a one-way system.

No, the biggest reason I want an electric car is the way they drive. Modern petrol and diesel cars leave me utterly, utterly cold. Electricity excites me. For a start, there’s the ability to generate electricity every time you slow down. Once you’ve experienced this, conventional brakes feel utterly, utterly wasteful. They just make heat! Plus, there’s the efficiency gains. Internal combustion engines also mostly create heat. Less than half of the energy you put in is turned into forward motion.

But really, it’s that seamless power delivery that truly gets me. No turbo lag, no transmission-making-its-mind-up time, no waiting for the engine to hit its sweet spot – just instant, delicious torque.

I wonder how hard it is to convert a Lexus LS400?

New arrival – Lexus!

My last post on here concluded that the Bluebird needed to go. The pleasing news is that it has! I was hoping to get £600 for a car I’d spent considerably more on, such is the way I do things. When I got offered a Lexus LS400 as a direct swap, it would have been foolish to refuse.

My new Lexus. Quite an upgrade!

The Bluebird simply needed too much more work to make it decent. I’d run out of energy and motivation. It needed a new home. It has found an enthusiastic one too – John has already replaced the clutch and is now trying to improve the rather tired interior. I’m impressed, and happy that it found a good home.

I’m also pleased because this was no transfer of convenience. I’ve long admired the Lexus LS400, for reasons of luxury, V8 engines and also windscreen wiper. This was the first Japanese car that really took on the might of Europe and the USA when it came to large, luxury saloons. It had prestige, presence and power. Previous luxury efforts, such as the Toyota Century, Nissan President and Mitsubishi Debonair, were just a bit too Japanese. Well, to be honest, they were a bit too Russian in feel, with elderly styling that was unusual to the point of oddity.

Or, they were simply a class below. The Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima and Mitsubishi Sigma were front-wheel drive and a bit too mainstream. They were rivals for cars such as the Ford Granada and Vauxhall Carlton, not the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Jaguar XJ6. The Lexus LS400, a brand new brand from Toyota, tackled the class-leaders head on. Rivalling the hewn-from-granite feel of the Mercedes-Benz W126 was no mean feat, but Lexus managed it.

It became a success too, selling over 165,000 units for the first generation, from 1989 to 1994. Just to confuse matters, the first generation included a Mk1 and a Mk2 with subtle changes. In late 1994, the LS400 changed to a second generation, but this is called a Mk3. That’s what I have, with a higher-compression, interference engine, producing 260bhp, but also destroying itself if the timing belt snaps. Previous LS400s were of a non-interference design.

This fact is relevant, as the history is a bit patchy on my Lexus, and I’ve no idea if the belt has been changed since it was (apparently) done at 55,000 miles. It now has 156,000 miles on the clock…

Naturally, there really is no comparison with a Bluebird 1.6LX. The Lexus has effortless torque, offers much greater comfort and luxury and is so much more peaceful. Mind you, it is also far, far larger and drinks a lot more fuel. I’d estimate I achieved around 25mpg on my drive home – more accurate figures will have to wait. The Bluebird managed 41mpg on a recent trip…

But, the Lexus offers enjoyment that the Bluebird could not. It offers serenity and easy pace that the Bluebird could not. I’ve decided that greater running costs are worth it (it’s not like the Bluebird has been cheap to revive!). How long that mindset will continue remains to be seen, but as my love for electric cars grows, I thought I’d better make sure I enjoy some more V8 action while I still can.

Sure, it probably won’t offer the same ready flow of video updates as the Bluebird managed – just like the Honda. I’ve barely mentioned that in a year, because it just keeps working. Don’t worry though. I’ll be keeping the dreadful car reports coming. Sure, the Proton is also off to a new home, but there are plenty of cars I have my sights on, even if owning them isn’t a priority right now. I’m not about to ‘sell out’ and go all glamorous just because I have a nice car.

Cor! Delicious wipers.

Anyway, enough waffle. Here’s my latest video on my latest purchase.

Bluebird – time to go?

The lack of recent posts hasn’t been aided by me dashing off to cover 1100 miles in the Bluebird in recent days. It completed the trip with barely any problems really, but I fear I’ve reached the end of the line with this car. I’ve poured money and effort into it, but it’s time for new challenges and adventures, and I’m not sure I’m that keen for the Bluebird to remain part of my plans.

Here’s how the trip went, in video form.

Aside from the issues, I guess the major reason for wanting a change is that the engine just isn’t really powerful enough for the size. Specifically, I want more torque, having been rather spoilt by the meaty 135lb.ft the Honda puts out (at 4200rpm). The Bluebird has just 92lb.ft, to move a rather chunky amount of car. It slows down on hills, and has to be worked hard to build speed. On the other hand, the Honda is pretty rapid and barely notices hills. Also, the kickdown function is hilarious, as the boxy Honda tries its best to sound like a CRX as it launches itself down the road. Addictive stuff.

On the plus side, the Bluebird achieved 37-41mpg on the trip, which the Honda can only dream of. Funny that. A bigger engine, auto gearbox and lack of aerodynamics make the Honda a fair bit thirstier. Who knew?

None of this is much of a surprise really. My previous Bluebird was a 2-litre, and that went very nicely. It was also a hatchback, which is far more practical, and was far better mechanically. Overall, the Bluebird has gained me many YouTube views, but it hasn’t really been a great buy! I dread to think how much money I’ve thrown at it, and I’m now trying to sell it for just £600. I’m an idiot.

To be fair to the Bluebird, it was in a pretty poor state when it arrived here, and it has now largely proved itself reliable, and it can effortlessly cover great distances. Here’s the thing though, the Honda has really got me used to sitting up. I don’t like sitting down!

I’ve always had a fondness for cars where your hips sit nice and high. It’s one reason I love the 2CV. And Land Rovers. It also helps explain why SUVs are so popular. Everyone loves that high-up sitting stance. Well, everyone bar 20-year olds in baseball caps perhaps, and sports car lovers (I’m very much not one of those!).

Turns out Mr HubNut likes a bit of height. Bluebird must therefore go.

The Proton is also for sale at the moment. I need a bit of a clear-out. The Proton is just sat on the driveway doing nothing, which is entirely pointless and will eventually be quite harmful for it. So, I can crack on with pondering what I might want next. It’s not very clear what that will be.

Happy Honda Anniversary!

Yes, prepare the trumpets and bunting, because I’ve done it again! You may struggle to believe it, but I, the champion of the Everchanging Fleet, have managed to own a vehicle for an entire year! What’s more, that makes it three fifths of the fleet that can now be classed (on my terms) as long-termers! The Perodua Nippa is now halfway into its third year with us, while the 2CV has recently passed the 17-year mark. Those two are the only cars to have made it past two years. Remarkable.

Happy anniversary Honda! It deserves a wash.

But, enough about those, because today, the Honda is the star. I’ve written very little about it recently, and it has also been absent from many videos, simply because it just keeps on soldiering on with very little other than routine maintenance. The MOT was passed with no advisories (after a pair of utterly crap track rod ends were replaced, having been fitted the previous year), and the last major work it had (gearbox flush and rear suspension bushes) was back in March. In fact, as a project car for Retro Japanese magazine, it has been a liability of late, not giving me much to write about.

The gearbox continues to be a bit ‘fluffy’ when cold, but is much, much better when warm now. It even manages to kickdown properly most of the time. Not bad for a car with over 150,000 miles on it. I’ve added around 10,000 in the year, necessitating an increase on my insurance as I’d initially put it down to cover 6000…

The only issue is a propensity to drink oil. I’ve replaced some seals, but the level can still drop quite dramatically at times. That said, on the recent trip to the Manchester Classic Car Show, it seems to have lost not a drop. Cars can be strange.

Sure, the ride is still pretty terrible (well, similar to a lot of moderns I guess), and it still views corners with the same distaste I reserve for vegetables, but I somehow just really, really like it, even after an entire 12 months. I like the driving position, the enormous windows, the huge door mirrors and the way it merrily bimbles along at 70mph. I like the way the engine growls menacingly when you ask it to get a shift on. It’s borderline antisocial, especially when it kicks down. I like the column gearlever, the fact I can sleep in it (even if the ‘bed’ is rather uneven) and that its size is so hard to gauge – it’s the same footprint as an MG3. Most of all though, I’m proof that us humans are suckers for looks. I just love the look of this car. The back end is how I dreamt cars would look when I was a child, with those enormous rear lamps and an entirely flat back end.

Here’s a bit of fun, with a before and after. Here’s what the Honda looked like on this day 12 months ago.


The Honda on 18th September 2016.

And how it looks today, after a wash.

The Honda on 18th September 2017 (yes, it does have more doors on this side).

Firstly, you’ll notice the wheels have changed colour. I did that back in April, just before Japfest. Originally, the S-MX had diamond cut wheels, but while I’m sure that looked good when this car left the Honda showroom back in 1997 (another anniversary!), diamond cut alloys never tend to stay nice for long. So, I decided to get them powder coated. Only, I wanted a more distinctive look. Seeing as the Honda has orange interior fittings (yes, from the factory), I decided to go orange.

Luxury bed! And odd orange bits.

In truth, the wheels are a fair bit brighter than the interior bits that are orange – some S-MX Lowdowns could be specified with orange seats! However, I like the orange wheels. They certainly make the car stand out. Oh, I must plug Autoglym for a moment. Its Headlamp Restoration Kit restored night vision when I bought the car, and its Rapid Aqua Wax helps me keep the car looking shiny for minimal effort. I find that very appealing.

There is still stuff to do with this car. I still need to do something about the dreadful state of the paint on the roof for a start. Perhaps my anniversary present to this car might be a vinyl wrap of the roof. Now, what sort of scheme could I choose?

Quick fleet update – August 2017

Oh dear. Work has conspired to keep me very busy, hence 20 days since the previous post.

For some of those days, we were in Ireland, in the 2CV, which was nice.

I also got the Proton MOTd, though having been home-based for a couple of weeks, I’ve barely covered any miles in it so far.

The same is true of the Bluebird, though I’ve a feeling that car will be covering some serious mileage during September. The Bluebird is now fitted with Blockley Tyres’ in 185/70 R14 size, which is far better than the wrong 175/65 R14 size that was fitted. The new tyres are a good bit taller, so the gearing is better, the speedo reading is more accurate and the car looks better. Well, I think so anyway.

It’s the wrong tyres Gromit.

That’s better! Chunky rubber.

Now, the top shot is the car parked on a slope, hence the mild crossaxle going on, but those arches look very empty. With the new tyres, the car just looks much better. The 185 size is actually what was fitted to alloy wheels, whereas 165 R14s with an 80 profile would have been standard for a 1.6LX. I hope you’ll forgive me a bit of width, but I do like to push on a bit, so it seemed wise.

The Bluebird is also now running on Evans Coolant, specifically the Power Cool 180 product. It’s too early to say whether Evans really makes any difference, so we’ll see how it goes. With a boiling point of 180 degrees, at least it shouldn’t steam up too readily though, despite what Evans says, just because it isn’t steaming doesn’t mean the engine isn’t overheating. There is a temperature gauge, however, so it’s not too difficult to monitor. So far, so normal.

On the plus side, the coolant should reduce corrosion within the engine, and should last a lot longer than regular coolants – indefinitely if the blurb is to be believed. It’s also classed as non-toxic, thanks to an additive which renders the definitely-toxic ethelyne-glycol safe – not that I’m about to test this by drinking some. I may try pouring a little on an unimportant patch of grass though, as regular antifreeze will certainly kill it!

The Bluebird is now running sweetly though. I’ve re-torqued the cylinder head, reset the valve clearances, sorted a leak from the manifold to downpipe joint (I had a very poor fitting gasket here) and have also knocked the ignition timing back slightly as it was pinking a little.  We’ll see how it goes.

The Honda has spent the month on SORN, so I could get the Proton roadworthy again. It’s for sale, but despite some keen interest, I don’t yet have a deposit. I don’t want it on SORN indefinitely, so if it hasn’t sold for definite by 1st September, then the Proton will get SORNed, and the Honda can return to the road. For some reason, I have missed it, even though it’s generally not very good to drive on so many levels. Odd.

Which leaves the Nippa, which soldiers on merrily, even more so since the front tyres were replaced and the tracking sorted out. Lovely.


Project Bluebird: The first 730 miles

I should probably do an update on Project Bluebird, seeing as I have actually been able to drive it. Hoorah!

As related last time, I was forced to park the Bluebird up after its first trip out, as the shock absorbers were dangerously shot. KYB kindly supplied a set of its excel-g gas shock absorbers, after I asked for advice about trying to improve things beyond standard. Gas shock absorbers, or dampers, use nitrogen gas to control the springing of the car – literally damping things down. Now, I’m quite used to the damping effects of nitrogen after many years of driving hydraulic Citroens. The main benefit is that the damping range does not change, whereas hydraulic dampers will suffer a loss of damping ability as the oil heats up, and the viscosity changes.

Bluebird gets some love, and DFTR Automotive, Dudley.

I visited DFTR Automotive in Dudley for the fitting, knowing that Dean has a good chunk of experience having worked on these cars when they were new, though Mazda rotaries are the main love of this family-owned firm. With a two-post lift and power tools, the front struts were removed, the springs compressed and the new dampers fitted in no time at all. The nearside front, as I suspected, was in terrible condition.

The rear was more involved, mostly because the rear seat needs removing to access the upper strut mounts – not an issue if the spec includes a folding rear seat, or if you have a hatchback. The seat clips really didn’t want to give up their hold on the seat, but we got there in the end. Removing the struts is also a bit more involved, with the multiple suspension links needing to be removed, and the brakes before you can pull the strut out. Still, a few hours work and the Bluebird was feeling a whole lot better.

Back seat needs removing on Bluebird saloon.

In fact, the difference could barely be more marked. I’ve just changed the dampers on the 2CV too, though that transformation was more marked. The 2CV is now limousine-smooth once more, while the Bluebird still rides like Bluebirds always did – a touch bouncy at times and you know about every bump you hit.

The transformation has come in terms of handling, though. I can now safely chuck the car into a bend and know it’ll track neatly around it, even if I hit a bump mid-bend. Even when you aren’t walloping into bumps, it still corners much more neatly. Body roll is better controlled, and its horrible habit of lurching mid-bend has utterly gone. Sure, it’s still no sports car, but I can once again corner with enthusiasm. I live in Wales. This is how I drive very often.

Today, there was further work to do, as I set about retorquing the cylinder head bolts. This should be done after 600 miles, but I thought 730 would do, as that’s what I’d covered. I imagine a lot of cars miss this essential step, which is perhaps why so many cars suffer head gasket failure after a repair. It isn’t particularly hard to do, though the fuel pump needs removing to provide adequate access to one of the bolts – just two nuts and it’s away.

With that done, I could check the valve clearances. Annoyingly, the head bolts should be tightened with the engine cold, but it’s best to check the valve clearances hot. That meant putting the rocker cover back on and running the engine up to temperature before taking it back off again. A couple of clearances were a bit slack, something given away by the slightly tappy nature of the engine. That’s perhaps because I’d set them cold initially, as I knew I’d have to reset them later anyway, after re-torquing the head. I’d set them a little on the generous side back then.

I also disconnected the manifold-to-downpipe joint, as the gasket on it is very poor. It didn’t have one at all when I got it, but the gasket I had in my gasket kit was a poor fit. I slapped a load of exhaust paste around and did it back up. The result is that it is now much quieter.

Looking good! A quick clean makes all the difference.

Having given the Bluebird a wash ahead of a local show, this really is starting to look and sound like a car that has been vastly improved since purchase back in May. There are still some issues – a leaky sunroof (the frame that holds the glass is rusty), a cracked dashboard and the heater matrix is still slightly clogged. Plenty to be cracking on with then, as the car settles in to shared daily driver duty. I think I might quite like it though…

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!