Project Bluebird: Head off, issues…

I think I like this car. You see, it’s very easy to work on – apart from the horrible location of the spark plugs. That’s good, because I started dismantling the engine without a manual. It must be easy though, because I managed it. I must pay credit to Japanese-spec bolts. After years of working on British and French motors, I half-expect every single bolt to snap. Not Japanese ones though, seemingly the same even when the car is built in the North East of England. There’s a delicious crack, and then the bolt simply comes undone. Even the long bolt that goes into the ‘stat housing, and which looked like it had lived in the sea for 20 years, came out with very little argument. I like that.

No special tools were needed either, with most bolts and nuts 12mm, 14mm or 17mm, the latter just for the exhaust manifold-to-downpipe. Good penetrating oil (I like the No Nonsense stuff from Screwfix, even if it really does pong) helps of course. Before long, I was able to lift the head free and inspect the damage.

Here’s the old cylinder head gasket.

I suspected cylinder three was at fault, due to a mouldy spark plug, and I was not wrong. The surprise was that cylinder four had also blown. If anything, this one was even worse, and looked pretty old. The edge of the combustion chamber looked like it had been nibbled away.

Aluminium-eating mice have been here.

Damage such as this is often caused by water leaking in, then getting superheated by combustion, putting too much strain on the aluminium. As well as this, there was, as you can see, a great deal of pitting. This was after I’d deployed some ‘home-brew’ magic too – a sheet of sandpaper under plate glass, to keep it smooth and level. In theory, it would have been sufficient to clean things up. In practice, it did a great job of removing bits of old gasket, but the damage was too severe for that technique to work.

So, I headed off to a machine shop – quite a trek down to Carmarthen to find one recommended by friends. I’m glad I did travel so far, because Adam at Hargreaves Engineering was certainly very knowledgeable, and had no problems with me hanging around to take photos.

After removing the camshaft pulley, Adam loaded the head into the milling machine. A ferocious looking bit spins around a wide circle in this machine, which can be precision-controlled to take very small amounts away. The first rough cut left a crinkle-finish, but allowed Adam to confirm that we would be able to get deep enough to take out some of the low points in the head.

Rough-skim gets us started.

You can certainly see the wide arc the milling machine makes as it passes over the head – or, rather, as the head passes beneath the cutter. Having confirmed that all was ok, Adam could then slow down the table, to give the final clean finish.

Voila! Skimmed clean.

There’s not a lot that can be done about the corrosion around the water ports – that’s what you get when you don’t replace your antifreeze regularly. In fact, some of these ports were entirely blocked. Five years is considered a suitable maximum for OAT coolant, but older types should be changed every couple of years – and rarely are.

Next, Adam tested the valve seats. Put simply, if the valve can’t hold a vacuum when one is applied to the relevant port, then it isn’t seating properly, which means combustion pressure is lost, which means efficiency is lost – more fuel, less power.

Big breaths…

That’s a duff inlet valve being tested there. It could generate very little vacuum pressure. The inlet on cylinder four, and most of the exhaust valves, also gave a poor reading. This means the valve seats at least need cleaning up with a lap, if not recutting, which means all the valves need to come out. This job had suddenly got a fair bit bigger. All of which means it’s going to be a couple more weeks before I can actually drive my Bluebird. Oh well! See below for a nice shot of it, taken before the dreadful Daimler departed. Yes, it’s gone!

One day, I might get to drive it…

Finally, here’s a video of the first stage of the cylinder head gasket replacement tale.

Project Bluebird: It begins

I’m well into the head gasket swap on the Bluebird, but it hasn’t been easy. I don’t have a manual for the car, so I’m just guessing as I go. The thermostat is missing, so it’s clear that it has had cooling issues for some times. However, I’ve just stopped for lunch, and the good news is that if I can get the last head bolt undone, I should be able to get the head off!

I wasn’t thrilled about having to use a breaker bar to get the spark plugs out. They’ve clearly been there a while. Number 3 shows signs of mould, so I’m guessing that’s where the leak is!

Clambering into the engine bay, struggling with plugs.

Once I got the cam cover off, head gasket failure was confirmed by loads of creamy deposits – your classic emulsion or mayonnaise.

If your engine oil looks like this, it’s bad news!

I’ve got both manifolds off now and it’s getting close to time to lift the head off. I wonder what I’ll find beneath it? While I’m at it, assuming the engine is ok, I’ll put a new timing belt, water pump and tensioner on it.

In the meantime, here’s the latest video – all about the Bluebird.

Project Dirty Daimler: Flip-flopping

Having convinced myself that the best thing to do with the Daimler was wash my hands of it, I naturally changed my mind. This is only a quick post to say that I did some ferreting about, and got the horn working! Cleaning up relay contacts seemed to cure that. Windscreen washers are still an issue, but I have confirmed power from the stalk to the relay, so assume it’s the pump that is duff. I have some ingenious plans to try and deal with that. Or, rather, I did, because they it wouldn’t run.

It has become seriously, seriously rich for reasons unknow. I pulled the plugs and they looked like this.

Eesh! Mucky plugs dot com.

I’ve no idea what has gone wrong, as I’m pretty sure I’ve not touched anything that could cause this level of richness. Now, it could just be the fact that the car has barely moved since landing back from Glasgow, and it has a duff oxygen sensor. That means it has been running slightly rich the whole time. Several cold starts and barely any getting up to temperature could be enough to choke the engine up perhaps? I’ve no idea. I haven’t really got time to explore any more, because the next issue of Classic Jaguar magazine is not going to edit itself!

On that front, there’s some very interesting content coming your way, including full details of the Daimler collection caper! It might not be the project car I’d hoped, but this machine does still seem to be generating copy.

Project OMG: Cosmetics and rot control

It’s a Saturday, and it’s not actually raining, so I finally had a chance to do some rust-proofing and cosmetic improvements on the Omega. First job was to reverse it up my ramps and get underneath with a wire brush and some rust converter. Vactan is my converter of choice. It’s bloomin’ good stuff, and dries to a nice, black finish that can be overpainted or waxed. There was a soft spot midway along the offside sill, which thankfully was still solid. I rubbed it back and dabbed on the Vactan. I also rubbed at surface rust in various locations around the rear axle. Reassuringly solid back here. With that done, I could apply wax – Bilt Hamber’s Dynax UB (Under Body) in this case. It’s very easy to apply, coming nicely out of the can even on a cool day.

Bilt Hamber’s excellent underbody wax.

The rear brake pipes and tow bar were also treated to a dose as surface rust was present on both. I think I may have found where the diesel smell is coming from too – there’s a small pipe that I suspect is the return, though it could be the main feed pipe for all I know. It’s just slightly damp. I will investigate that one further.

With waxing done, I set about applying Autoglym’s Bumper and Trim gel to the rear bumper. It had faded pretty badly, as you can see in this shot.

Yup, you can spot the difference.

I’ll admit that I’m lazy. I could have revived the plastics with boiled linseed oil (I don’t have any) or an airgun (don’t have one), but this stuff works well. These potions never seem to last that long, but the Autoglym stuff seems better than some Meguiar’s stuff I have, which fades again within a couple of weeks. The Autoglym stuff is also much easier to spell. I also applied it to the rear lights, though I haven’t yet done the trims on the tailgate itself. They don’t seem to have faded much at all, perhaps because they’re vertical rather than horizontal?

Looking good!

The end result is a car which certainly looks better, and which hopefully won’t rot away too readily. I’m now seeking some rear seals for the diff, to cure a minor leak (£21 each from Vauxhall, eep!), and I really need to get my hands on new brake discs and pads and probably flush the brake lines. It really doesn’t stop as well as it should. It does stop, and is MOT legal, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially given how little engine braking you get (ie none, because the gearbox has a built-in freewheel function).

It’s coming along though. The main issue is that other cars on the fleet also need some TLC.

Project OMG: Stopping the leak

Now with video! See lower down.

There was a bonus this morning, when the seal kit for the Omega arrived earlier than expected. To recap, the Omega had a declared fuel leak when I got it, which I just about managed to stem for an MOT, but which very much still needed doing. Leaks from these Bosch diesel injector pumps seem very common – to the point that you can’t help thinking there must have been a better way…

Having already removed the inlet manifold, it didn’t take long to pull the pump to bits. I first marked the sides, as positioning is very important (as I’d soon find out!). I’d already smashed a 7mm socket onto the anti-tamper screw, and cracked that off, so it really was just a simple case of undoing four bolts, removing the lid, then undoing three more to get the next level off. I used plenty of blue rags to catch the diesel that spills during this operation, and I’d thoroughly degreased the pump and surrounding area. Cleanliness is good!

The new seals were fitted – one of the old ones just fell out, and the other didn’t need much coaxing. The new ones simply push in. I put the pump back together, but didn’t fully tighten the base screws. These need to be left for fine-tuning. In short, if this part of the pump is not exactly where it needs to be, the fuelling will be out. At best, the car will run poorly. At worst, the car won’t run at all.

It was at this stage that I discovered that the battery was flat. It just about had enough juice to illuminate the dash lights, but not enough to turn the engine. Unfortunately for me, the car was parked in a manner that left it impossible to get a car in front of it. The 2CV (just because it was there) was just able to pull the Omega backwards, so I could then squeeze the Honda S-MX in to provide some much-needed charge.

My black, Japanese jump pack.

My black, Japanese jump pack.

Incidentally, the tiny li-ion jump pack I have was not even remotely interested in starting a high-compression, 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine. Nor was my ancient Halfords lead acid jump pack, though that hasn’t been that keen on starting a 2CV engine lately…

The Honda hurled volts at the Omega, and it then burst very noisily into life – on account of having no inlet manifold fitted, and also the EGR pipe venting to atmosphere in the engine bay. It sounded awful, not settling to an even idle. As the pump filled up with fuel again (replacing what was lost), the revs suddenly rose alarmingly. I quickly turned off. This is a real danger, so never walk away from the car if starting it in these conditions. Keep your hand on the key!

I then slackened off the lower pump bolts, and gave it a few taps forward using a wooden hammer handle. Don’t hit the pump with the metal part of the hammer, or you’ll damage it. I tried starting it again. Uneven and awful. Off again and a further tweak. Now it seemed to run nicely. Brilliant! I then set about tightening the bolts and refitting the inlet manifold. I missed a key stage here, which we’ll get to in a minute!

Refitting the manifold was a right faff, as it’s very easy to lose the nuts that hold it in place. Six are easily accessible above the manifold. The other six require you to get them in place where your hands can’t reach. I lost two and had to remove the manifold again. Stuffing a bit of rag in the socket helped keep the nuts in place until they were seated. I wish I’d thought of that earlier…

I also wish I’d taken more photos, but time was very much being munched away. I needed to crack on.

With the engine back together again, I fired it up. Oh dear. It was lumpy, prone to surging and chucked out loads of soot. This didn’t look right at all. The problem is, you need to keep the engine running while you tighten down those pump bolts, as even that slight movement can disrupt the fuelling. I was going to have to pull that sodding manifold off again.

With the pump now accessible once more, I loosened the bolts and started the engine. Still lumpy, so at least I knew the problem wasn’t manifold related. I tapped the pump forward, it was still bad. I kept going (we’re talking very small movements here) and bingo! Suddenly it began running sweetly again. I left the engine running this time, and tightened the bolts. That upset it again, so I backed them off once more and nudged the upper pump section forward a little more. Tightening it this time made no difference to the running. Success!

Back on with the manifold and, despite my best efforts, I still managed to lose a manifold nut. Like my old XM, this is one of those annoying bloody cars where if you drop something, the chances of it reaching the ground are pretty much nil. I couldn’t find it but thankfully, a 13mm-headed nut with washer was a fine replacement. Reaching the rear-most nuts is a particular challenge, that left me ‘planking’ atop the engine. I’m glad no-one saw me.

With it all back together once more, I could hook up the jump leads AGAIN and bask in the cheering warble of six happy cylinders. A test drive revealed that all was well, and no longer was there a hideous stench of diesel every time I stopped. The test drive was about four miles, and I left the car running to hopefully recharge the battery. That’s two batteries out of four on the fleet that are far from happy, and both are on cars that were off the road for over 18 months…

Fixed! No leak, smooth running. Phew!

Fixed! No leak, smooth running. Phew!

It’s all very pleasing, and leaves me looking forward to cracking on with other jobs. This poor car really is overdue a service, and I’d still like to sort out the unchanged rear spring. It is rather overdue a wash too. I’m sure that’ll remind me of how big it is!

A video of today’s adventure will be forthcoming. EDIT – and is now here!

The Art of Bodgery – aluminium tape

When you drive old cars, you’re forced to be resourceful. You need to be able to diagnose noises. Is that a ‘stop right now’ sort of a noise, or a ‘push on to the next safe stoppign place’ noise, or a ‘meh, I can safely ignore that’ noise? You may also need to deploy cunning fixes to get you on your way. I once had to tie on a shock absorber with speaker wire after a mounting snapped and have become quite good at driving a car with a broken clutch cable.

One of my favourite ‘bodge’ materials is aluminium tape. It can cover holes in bodywork if you’ve got leakage, and, as I discovered this weekend, you can just about use it to stem a leak from a diesel pump. It isn’t ideal for that though. Where it really scores is for exhaust bodgery!

The bodger's friend - aluminium tape.

The bodger’s friend – aluminium tape.

For the second time in a week, I was forced to deploy this most marvellous of materials, as the Nippa was getting noticeably throaty in the exhaust department. Not a bad thing perhaps, but the neighbours might not agree.

The exhaust system is utterly shot to be honest. It had a welded repair last year, but the whole system is flaking away. There was a hole just before the rear silencer though. Perfect for a bit of tape!

Who need's a proper bandage?

Who need’s a proper bandage?

Now, you can get exhaust bandages to offer a more robust bodge, but they’re not necessarily very cheap. At £7 for a roll, this tape offers great value. There’s enough to ‘repair’ several exhausts! I wrap on a few layers, and try to get high-tack tape. Ultimately, this exhaust still needs to be replaced, but this is good enough to pass an MOT, and saves you the embarrassment of driving around in a car that sounds like it is farting loudly. A few seconds’ work and it’ll sound good as new. It is no longer an immediate concern.

I know it’s good enough to pass an MOT, as part of the Omega’s work was doing the same.

Omega passed an MOT like this.

Omega passed an MOT like this.

The MOT merely states that there should be no leaking gases, so it’s absolutely fine. As you can see, the Omega’s patch is still holding up, even after 100 miles of driving. It gives me the luxury of time to find the best deal on a replacement system, and, more importantly perhaps, it enabled me to drive home legally.

Sure, the aluminium tape wasn’t enough to really fix the diesel leak, but it did slow things down a great deal. That was a more temporary bodge solution, but one which achieved the desired response. I far prefer this stuff to gaffer tape, which can leave particularly nasty gluey mess where used. In fact, aluminium tape has become an essential part of this bodger’s toolkit.

Project OMG: Oh dear

Well, I can’t say today hasn’t gone to plan, because I had always assumed problems could occur. Having had the MOT fail, the next problem was fixing the issues. Our initial garages were too busy, but a friend recommended a garage in Wiltshire. So, I gave them a call and headed over. We quickly diagnosed that the diesel leak is the top gasket on the pump. Simple to fix, if and when I can get a gasket. That gave enough confidence to address the spring. Ashley at Mermaid motor services had already ordered the spring, which turned up just as the broken one had been removed.

There was an issue though. It was not identical.

That’s the broken one on the left. It seems replacement springs for Omegas with self levelling are not available. Oh dear.

We fitted the wrong spring, and the car feels fine. I will need to correct this at some point, or at least get a balance across the car!

So, that’s one of the three fails dealt with. I need to get the right gasket to deal with the pump tomorrow – any help there appreciated – and get an exhaust bandage to bodge that up.

I was feeling very stuck, but then my mate Stephen Doel magically appeared and offered me food and warmth! The project is now on hold for the evening. I haz cats!