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 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.

Phone test: Oppo F1S

Now my long-termer Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is being retired, I thought I should do a quick review of its replacement – the Oppo F1S.

The F1S is what’s known as a budget phone, though it still costs £250 or more. It has a screen which is actually larger than my old S4 Mini, which has positive and negative points. One the one hand, it’s a great screen that is far better for watching videos and the like. On the downside, it’s a pretty big phone. It never feels entirely comfortable in the hand. It is actually slightly slimmer than the Samsung. I’m not sure this actually helps.

My new phone. Photo taken with the old phone.

The phone runs Color OS 3.0, which is Android in a different skin in short. To someone used to an android phone, it’s all very similar. The keyboard isn’t that good though, but someone recommended installing the Google keyboard. I’m glad I did. Much better, which much a much more robust Autocorrect.

Battery life seems good. Even with hammer, it’ll easily last two days, if not two. Usually, the Galaxy was struggling by early evening, and a single train journey could drain the battery rather badly. Of course, the Oppo has a much larger battery, as it’s a much larger phone. Still, it’s impressive. The downtime is increased charge time – it does take well over an hour to fill from near-empty.

But, there’s only one reason that I bought this camera. That reason is stated boldly on the box. Yes, this phone is described as a Selfie Expert! I know that’s an increasingly common point of ridicule for many, but given I shoot vidoes on my phone, it’s very handy. The selfie camera is a massive 16MP.

I’ve been pleased with the improvement in quality over the Samsung, though the in-car sound isn’t quite as good I don’t think. So far, I’ve been shooting in 720p, purely because my laptop seriously struggles when editing 1080p. I think that might be the next thing in need of an upgrade! The phone runs very quickly though, so I can get a video started pretty briskly. It perhaps isn’t quite as convenient as the Galaxy which, while laggy, at least had a video or photo option as soon as you entered camera mode. On the Oppo, you need to switch it to video mode before you can start shooting.

It has a nice, wide angle though, which means videos show a bit more of the car interior, and rather less of just my face. I think this must be considered an improvement. On the downside, the rear camera also has a very wide angle, and this distorts images readily – like this one of the Nippa.

Wide angle distortion on the Oppo F1S rear camera.

Another downside was the plastic screen protector that comes with the phone. It scratched really very badly in no time at all, and quickly got to the stage that it was too scratched to see through. I’ve removed it, though I have ordered a tempered glass protector. A wise move, as there is already a small scratch on the screen. It may be Gorilla Glass 4, but it’s still not completely damage-proof.

Overall though, I’m very happy with it. It’s the first phone I’ve actually bought – I’ve gone SIM-only – but it does exactly what I wanted.

Videos – they may be sporadic

I guess that writing about cars is an art form of sorts, though it never really feels like it. It’s just something I do. Making videos feels a lot more like art. Artists labour and strive, look at what they’ve achieved, consider that it is all complete rubbish, get upset, try again, give it up as a bad job and go and do something else, then have another go when the passion returns.

The inlet manifold is successfully removed.

An artist, last week.

Well, that’s very much the creative process I go through with my videos. It’s why some take an absolute age to appear, while some never appear at all…

I’ve already got two Omega videos sitting there unfinished, while I attempt to judge their worth. At the moment, that judgement isn’t particularly kind, so they get published, or they may not. Work’s about to get in the way, so at least I’ve got some enforced thinking time. Maybe I’ll view them more kindly after stepping away from the edit suite for a while.

I’ve also still got a video on the MG GS that needs assembling and editing, and another on the Nissan Qashqai. I’m not very happy with that one either, and I filmed that back in November. I’m also aware that I could do with a better laptop. This one is getting on for eight years old now, and it’s not really cut out for editing high-definition videos. The fan reaches revolutions I wasn’t sure were possible. Normally, it wafts gently, like a Rolls-Royce, but video editing can leave it revving harder than a Honda S800. I think “surely, this isn’t possible?” It’s a bit like hearing your dad singing Mariah Carey. Disturbing. Sorry dad.

Anyway, my point is, videos will be forthcoming, but not to any set schedule. Thank you for all positive feedback over the years. As my 400,000th view approaches, I really must think of a nice way to mark it. For those who haven’t fallen asleep yet, you can find all of my many videos here. Tesla Model S, Mitsubishi Pajero Junior, electric Volkswagen Beetle, BMW-engined 2CV, Peugeot J7, Jaguar XJS, a load of buses, a caravan, Nissan Skyline, Perodua Nippa, Volkswagen e-Up! – off-road. Who else has got variety like that? No-one sensible, that’s for sure.

New ZX: More issues

Having successfully managed to get home in my new, £4 Citroen ZX, the problems didn’t end there. I headed out to get supplies on Sunday morning, and the tensioner noise I’d noticed when we first saw the car seemed even louder. At least, I hoped it was the tensioner. Preferably the auxiliary belt one.

I decided it made sense to investigate. After all, this is not a good noise.

First step was to remove the alternator belt. That would confirm whether I was dealing with a minor issue or a major one. In other words, if the noise didn’t go away, then it was likely there was a cambelt tensioner or water pump failure. Not much fun. Of course, access was pretty horrible. Citroen are the specialists in awkward access.

I've missed Citroen engine access...

I’ve missed Citroen engine access…

Removing the tension was difficult, as the bottom bolt holding the tensioner was very reluctant to move. In the end, I opted to remove the alternator instead.

Alternator removed, there's the problem pulley.

Alternator removed, is that the problem pulley?

With the belt now removed, I started the engine again.

Yes, that’s pretty conclusive I’d say. I then gave the alternator and power steering pump a spin by hand. Nice and quiet. The tensioner for the auxiliary belt was another matter entirely. It was grumbling even at slow speed. There we go then. Nowhere to buy one on a Sunday afternoon, so an online order was duly placed with GSF Car Parts.

Given I couldn’t drive it anywhere, I spent some time on Monday giving the ZX a wash. It really is a fine looking motor.

A fine looking motor.

A fine looking motor.

I like how it’s unmistakably a Citroen, despite being very conventional, and very Peugeot under the skin. Like the XM, Bertone had a hand in the styling, though Citroen’s own stylists were very hands-on at this time, producing their own proposals that influenced Bertone’s work. Mind you, a different design language was on its way, and the ZX was the last Citroen introduced with a single windscreen wiper. Well, until the Toyota-based C1 and Mitsubishi-based C-Zero, and they at least had the decency to have a pantograph single wiper. This means no unswept area right in front of the driver’s face.

I digress. Today, the new tensioner arrived. I thought fitting it would be easy, so did some page-proofing before heading outside with the new part. Straight away, there was a problem. Unbeknown to me, the bottom mouting bolt had actually sheared off as I removed it on Sunday. Oh dear. A proper solution at this stage would have been to drill out the remains and tap the thread out to something larger. That probably meant removing the bracket for the alternator and power steering pump, which meant disconnecting the latter. Sod that.

So, I came up with a bodge. Applying tension to the tensioner left space above the bottom right angle to get a nut in. I used washers as spacers as the bolt I had was too long to start with. It would have been trying to apply too much tension. My first attempt failed, with a squeal disiplaying the lack of tension quite adequately. I reduced the washer count and had another go. Success!

Fantastic bodgery.

Fantastic bodgery.

Incidentally, I couldn’t get the new belt to fit, so the old one has gone back on for now. Perhaps I’ll replace it at some point. Perhaps I’ll do something better than my bodge. Perhaps I’ll never get around to it, the belt will snap and it’ll take the alternator belt with it…

Until next time!