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 Bluebird: It’s here!

Well, the good news is that I managed to beat the Bluebird home, by a good 20 minutes in the end. There was just time to dash into the house, say goodbye to my wife (off out to a meeting), hello to the cat and then watch the car arrive.

Nissan Bluebird T72 Auster blue saloon

The Bluebird is here!

As the straps were removed, excitement levels began to rise. The engine started, which was good! Then I saw the water trickling out of the exhaust. Oh. That’ll be head gasket failure comprehensively confirmed then! It was only run long enough to park up, but even then, bubbles could be heard percolating through the coolant after the engine had been turned off. I don’t think a dose of snake oil is going to fix this one sadly. Off with her head!

That’s for another day, but you can see where the coolant was previously forced out under pressure. It looks rather ancient…

Eesh! Clearly coolant has escaped, in some volume. Quite elderly coolant too…

That’s certainly what I expected, but what about the car itself? Well, it seems really rather decent. Sure, the front end bears the scars of life in London, but that’s easily replaced. The bodywork is very solid overall – a few scabby bits, but certainly it seems far more solid than a certain Daimler…

The Driveway!

It feels a bit odd to have a new car sitting there, which I’ve only driven a few yards just to position. By this stage, I’ve usually got a really good feel for the car, but not this time. I have to get the engine working properly again before I can do that. I do know that the clutch seems rather heavy, and also the bite is rather high, so that might need doing. The car has 95,000 miles on the clock, but no service history, so its previous life is a bit unknown. I do know that Joe, the previous owner, bought the car brand new on 31st March 1989, by which time the Bluebird had reached improved T72 form, complete with lights that bulged a little more, revised indicators and slightly different wipers. Locally-produced content had gone up too, meaning this Bluebird really is British-built. I seem to recall it was about 80% locally-produced by 1989. I could be wrong.

Here’s the engine bay itself though. At least there is plenty of room!

CA-series engine needs a head gasket. Not uncommon.

Despite its Britishness, I will be writing about the car in Retro Japanese¬†magazine. Hopefully we can have some fun getting back into slightly better condition. I don’t want a show car, but a usable daily to take the strain off the Honda a bit. There’s a lot of space in that engine bay though isn’t there? I mean, it looks like something bigger might fit…

Project Bluebird: Racing it home!

Life has been very busy of late, but things were improved. I sold the Daimler, though it has yet to be collected. However, I’ve received a deposit for it, and I looked forward to having a bit of space on the driveway once more.

Then, I put car things on hold, by going to visit my sister and my new nephew. Ah, a bit of family time. Surely no chance of accidentally buying a car here. I did the thing you’re meant to and held the baby. Awww. But, fond as I am of little Jack, he didn’t seem to do much but sleep. I was left holding a baby. Oh, look. I’ve got one hand free to just have a quick look on Facebook…

Seconds later, I appeared to have bought a Nissan Bluebird T72 saloon, a ‘plush’ 1.6LX. Possibly with head gasket failure. In London. Oh.

Oops. Another new motor…

That’s one of the fantastic* quality images that I carefully studied before making the purchase. I must concede, that emotion got the better of me on this one. The 1.6 saloon is a favourite of banger racers. I couldn’t run the risk of it becoming squashed on track. That’s my problem with banger racing – it’s inevitable that viable cars will be bought and raced, and lost forever. Not this one!

So, I ignored the horrendous logistical challenges of getting it home and bought it. Blind. As usual.

Then, I spent some of today plotting how to get it. If the head gasket has failed, then it’s not a good idea to try and drive it over 200 miles. So, a boring ‘collection with a truck’ idea seemed better. There’s even a company near home that could hire me one. Only, it turns out that it failed the MOT today. Bother.

So, I resorted to Shiply, the website where you put up details of your journey, and companies bid for the job. One quickly came in at ¬£1 a mile, so not cheap as it’s over 200 miles. However, having done the job of vehicle delivery myself (before I realised it was a terrible job), I decided that would do nicely. So, I booked it.

The car is being collected at lunchtime tomorrow, which is, coincidentally, the time I’ll be leaving Devon tomorrow. The race is on! Who will get home first? Me or the Bluebird? And how knackered is it? Exciting times again!