Cortina trance – break away!

I know I have tendencies towards the unloved, but the Ford Cortina is a car that genuinely baffles me. It was a major seller in its day, but for some reason, people still hold them in almost holy regard. I’ll admit, I like the styling of pretty much all the Cortinas, and a Mk5 (or Cortina 80 if you want to be precise) is a nice motor to tool around in, but are they really worth what people are starting to pay for them?

The Mk1 Cortina begat the Lotus Cortina, which won a few things. Having driven one, I can confirm that they’re an absolute hoot. In fact, it is one of very few cars that has actually made me whoop while behind the wheel – and this while on busy Dagenham roads. However, the reason it’s such a hoot is because Colin Chapman did rather a lot too them – a much better engine and major suspension revisions (this one lacked the A-frame but it still handles well). Lotus Cortinas are now worth a fortune, and no Mk1 will be cheap to buy. The halo effect doesn’t seem to have affected the Chrysler Sunbeam in the same way. Why is that?

Small car with a big difference

Don’t believe the hype! Is a Cortina really worth such a song and dance?

The Mk2 had a small amount of rally success but the Mk3, 4 and 5 didn’t get up to much at all, so sporting success can’t be the reason for the high regard. It’s not like they’re anything special to drive either. Competent for sure, but more so than a Hillman Hunter or Fiat 125? No.

In fact the Cortina is just pure white goods. Ford built them as cheaply as they could get away with and did away with anything even slightly fancy. Because this seemed to result in huge sales, other manufacturers followed suit. British Leyland hastily conceived the Marina to be a deliberately unfancy, miserable machine. Why? Because that’s what Ford was doing. Meanwhile, Citroen was desperately trying to make motoring fun with the 2CV, GS, SM and CX. They were discovering that sadly this approach didn’t make any money.

Yet the Ford has an enormous following. Is it because we’re proud of such a British classic? Oh please. From the Mk3 onwards, the influence was firmly Germanic and Ford is as British as George W Bush. Is it because they are better than anything else? Definitely not! Is it because ‘my Dad had one?’ well, that at least makes some sense. However, my advice would be to buy anything but a Cortina. Let them have their following. Why not have a near-unloved Vauxhall Cavalier instead? Rarer and very pleasant to drive. There’s a lot to be said for not following the herd.

Project budget 4×4: Stuck in the mud

I seem to have found the limits of the Maverick, in some very muddy woods in Carmarthenshire.

Maverick off-road

Oops. Maverick gets stuck!

I had concerns about taking the Maverick to a Pay and Play site. I’ve been to a couple before and found them rather a challenge for vehicles in stock form. Bodywork damage seems inevitable, as does getting stuck as a lot of the trucks there are very much modified – which means deeper ruts than a stock vehicle can cope with.

And that was the undoing of the Maverick. I was amazed about how a friend’s near-stock Defender coped in the same conditions. That extra ride height, axle articulation and some proper mud-terrain tyres kept it going where the Maverick failed. Which was good as it rescued me several times!

But, it’s ok. I accept that the Maverick was always a compromise that put road manners ahead in priority terms of something as skilled off the road as a Land Rover. I found the limits, scratched the bodywork in quite a lot of places and impressively filled the front end of the Maverick with lots and lots of clay! I also learnt a lot about vehicle recovery…

But, the Maverick is happily proving more than just an off-road toy. It’s also been busy hauling wood about. It’s nice that I can chuck 300kg of wood in the back and it barely notices. If anything, it stops better because a load sensing valve increases rear brake pressure – which makes the rear shoes work harder. That has to be good for them. A loss of brake fluid, which stopped the rear brakes working altogether, has caused some concern. I’m monitoring to see if it drops again, in which case I think one or both rear wheel cylinders could be to blame. There was so much mud and water in there when I cleaned it all up at the weekend that I couldn’t tell if there was a leak or not.

I still plan to take it laning later in the year too, though I might pass on any more Pay and Play action for the time being…

One of those days. Again

Read through my Blogs and you’ll see that there are days that really test those who like older cars. For some reason, my cars do often seem to conspire to play up all at the same time. Today was one of those days.

Before I start, I shall exonerate the BX. It coped with a 320 mile day recently, despite still being far from entirely healthy. Perhaps I used up all of my car luck on that journey…

Anyway, I got up this morning and headed in to town for some totally unexciting shopping. Things didn’t start well – or at all – when the 2CV’s ignition barrel resolutely refused to take the key. I do have a spare barrel kicking about because the one fitted has played up before, but I was in a hurry to get to Morrisons before the Aberystwyth masses arrived. So, into the Maverick I hopped and off I went.

It was a horrible morning, with mist and rain conspiring to make me very glad of the variable intermittent wipers. Well, until they just suddenly started going continuously all of their own accord. I tried turning them off. They just kept on going. Ok. One of those delightful electrical quirks eh? Switching to fast and then off did make them behave, but then I needed the intermittent setting again – which lasted for precisely two wipes. Gah!

I bought an oil filter for the Mini and  then went supermarket shopping, ensuring that I also filled my trolley with some cheap 15w40 oil for the 2CV and BX. They never get fancy stuff, especially as the BX soon leaks most of it back out. I tried not to get too upset with the wipers on the drive back and thankfully, for the most part, they did behave themselves. It’s either a relay or an earthing issue – probably not a duff wiper stalk as I first suspected.

After lunch, and far too much time spent reading the third instalment of the superb Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, I eventually got myself outside to tackle an oil change on the Mini. The usual cursing and scraped knuckles ensued, and I had to park the car on pieces of wood to enable me to get my oil catch can beneath the sump. The oil filter is also horrible to get at unless you remove the grille, which involves removing and subsequently losing far too many screws. Ugh.

My mood was not enhanced when after refilling the engine with lovely, fresh 20w50 oil, a distinct dripping sound could be heard. I gawped underneath and watched lots of lovely new oil pour from somewhere at the rear of the engine. What?! It wasn’t from the sump plug or the filter. I was entirely baffled. Also, very, very anxious as the Mini is meant to be tackling a 300 mile drive to Cornwall in the morning – probably the furthest it’s ever travelled in a day in our ownership. I was starting to wonder if I should have just left it, but Minis rely on good engine oil, as it’s also the gearbox oil. And it’s well over a year since it was last changed… (to be fair, only about 2000 miles ago).

I decided to bravely attempt a test drive, as no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to repeat the random oil dumping. It seemed to be behaving.

My conclusion is that the rocker cover gasket is shot. I think I poured so much oil in via the filler that the rocker cover actually filled up with fresh oil. I suspect (by the stains out the back of the rocker cover) that a fair dollop of the fresh oil bypassed the engine and flooded straight down the back of the engine. I hope it’ll be ok…

I try not to get too disheartened as mechanical issues are never far away when you’re dealing with older cars that have plenty of miles on them. Yet weeks can go by with no problems at all! Well, they  did until I bought the BX…

At least none of these issues required a laptop to sort them out, or special tools. And as bad as a Mini is to work on, it’s a lot better than some moderns. Plus, I’d feel really, REALLY annoyed if I experienced mechanical trauma with a car that cost tens of thousands to buy. Ignoring restoration and running costs (of probably £10,000 across the entire fleet) the purchase costs of the fleet are £450 (2cv, 12 years ago), £741 (Mini, 6 years ago), £250 (BX, six months ago) and £500 (Maverick, last month). They may cause me woes at times, but financially, they still make a lot of sense!


Project Budget 4×4: In the rough stuff

I’ve spent many days this week writing a Blog all about our new lives, with an in-depth look into our escape from the rat race, changes in personal outlook and what it’s like to live with sod all income. Turns out I’m rubbish at it, but happily my wife isn’t so if you haven’t already, head to Growing Things and Making Things.

I may revisit my feeble attempts at telling our life story at some other point, but for now, it’s back to the cars.

Like an excited child awaiting Christmas, for some reason I was very, very excited about heading out to tackle the Byways of Nant-y-Moch in my budget 4×4. I was joining a trip organised by West Wales Laning, who quickly became essential buddies when I decided that I rather liked getting off the asphalt track. My group was led by a chap in a Land Rover Discovery – they’re very popular as they’re cheap and very capable – with me second and a Range Rover L322 bravely following, as well as a Land Rover Defender.

Ford Maverick laning

This is what it's all about. Off-the-tarmac fun!

I guess some of the excitement was sheer anxiety. I’d done my research, but would the Maverick actually be any good in off-road conditions? Not that it is technically off-road. These are public highways which just don’t have a surface. Ramblers please take note. We are good 4x4ers who stick to the routes we should do. We don’t just go tearing off where we like – though sadly some must always spoil it by doing whatever they want.

I quickly learnt that the Maverick really is very capable in the mucky stuff. The only real downside was a ride which was rather unyielding. By the end of the day, I’d had enough of being bounced around. I’m sure the Range Rover was easier on the spine. The Maverick coped with driving on three wheels at times, displayed impressive axle articulation, refused to conk out when subjected to bonnet-high waves of water and clambered over all obstacles, often with ease.

This is immensely pleasing. I wanted to prove that buying at the bottom of the market needn’t mean a compromise when it comes to green lane fun. Perhaps I have. After all, while the L322 Range Rover was mightily impressive, I bought my Maverick for the cost of a pair of second-hand Xenon headlamps for the Solihull luxury machine. It’s all clever stuff, and very effective, but buying cheap and keeping it simple worked just as well.

And the Maverick really is simple. The basic 4-wheel drive system – rear-wheel drive for most conditions, with selectable four-wheel drive via a high-low ratio transfer box – is similar to that used on Land Rovers for decades. Yes, the limited slip differential at the rear is quite fancy, but it compensates for less suspension travel than a Land Rover possesses. There is no centre differential, no traction control and certainly no Hill Descent Control.

That the Maverick is good off road really shouldn’t be a surprise. While Toyota’s Land Cruiser gets all the plaudits for toppling the once-mighty Land Rover, the oft-forgotten partner in crime was the Nissan Patrol – a car many Australians rate ahead of the Toyota. The Maverick is a Nissan in all but badge and the Blue Oval had very little to do with the design. As part of the first wave of ‘soft’ roaders, the Maverick actually isn’t very soft at all. Few compromises have been made on the off-road ability, even though the on-road performance is surprisingly strong.

The project looks to have been a success then. So far, the only fly in the ointment (other than brake issues…) is a slightly disappointing 22mpg. I look forward to seeing if I can top that figure, as in its off-road ability and in its everyday-practicality and ease-of-use, the Maverick has become a car I really quite like.

Project Budget 4×4: Off the tarmac at last!

I didn’t actually set off from home with the intention of tackling some local byways, but found myself in Nant-y-Moch. I’d gone for a drive primarily to get some new photos of the Maverick and also to help the new brake pads and discs bed in. The Nant-y-Moch area has many byways, though still some idiots insist on heading off-piste. I always stick to the routes signposted by Tread Lightly as I consider myself a responsible 4×4 owner.

On the drive over there, while I checked that my injured back was up to it, I began to compare the Maverick to the Range Rover I owned last year. The Range Rover was the first European 4×4 that made any attempt to behave like a car. It was quick, comfortable and handled well. That was by the standards of 1970 though, and by 2011, my 20 year old Rangie felt far too much like a wallowy barge.

The Maverick behaves much more neatly, with controlled bodyroll and a surprisingly comfortable ride for such a short 4×4 – though it can’t match the Rangie for sheer comfort. It beats it hands down for handling though, with a delightfully sharp turn in. You do have to be careful though. It’s rear wheel drive only on the road, with a limited slip differential and the short-wheelbase combining to make a spin an easy possibility if you aren’t careful. I am careful, but I do bear it in mind.

After a pause for photos, I decided to tackle one of the Nant-y-Moch lanes. I know it pretty well, so I knew that there shouldn’t be anything too challenging. Heading away from tarmac on your own is always a risk though, especially in a new vehicle.

Ford Maverick green lane

The Maverick tackles a Nant-y-Moch byway

Once on to the rock and gravel track, I dropped it into 4-wheel drive and the low ratio gearbox. That gives greater control and as this lane is mainly rocky, and I was not wanting to damage my back, I would be travelling slowly. Initial impressions were good. While the ride was firmer, I wasn’t in any pain and a few tricky sections were tackled without a lack of traction.

Pictured is a sinuous, rocky climb up a very narrow passage. The Maverick seemed to be handling this fine, and while the petrol engine lacked the lugging torque of the Range Rover’s diesel, it was making light work of this. All good.

Then I got stuck. One very rocky section required maximum flex from the suspension. I hadn’t considered that it would struggle here as the Range Rover just plodded through here using its massive axle articulation to keep all wheels on the ground. The Maverick came to a wheel-spinning halt. I tried a bigger dose of power, but it was no good. No traction here, despite that limited-slip rear diff.

The only option was to reverse. This is the good thing about getting stuck on an incline. It’s usually quite easy to get yourself moving again. I then tackled the section with more momentum, in low second. This time – and no doubt with at least one wheel waving in the air – it cleared the obstacle. Phew!

For a modern 4×4, the Maverick actually has pretty decent axle articulation, but chatting with friends on the Nissan 4×4 Owners Club, it seems likely that the rear anti-roll bar is hampering flexibility. The advice is to remove it, but I shall consider this decision for a little longer yet.

There then followed some icy fording sections, reminding me that it had been very cold out this way recently. Thankfully the depths were not an issue and I was soon able to return to the beaten track once more.

So, there we have it. My first off-road spell and I’m pretty impressed. It struggled with axle articulation, as I suspected it might do, but I did not get irretrievably stuck and it felt very capable. A longer, more challenging route will be attempted as part of a group this coming weekend. I shall report back.

Project Budget 4×4: Budget gets stretched

Brake work on the Maverick continues, but all is not well. After the horrors of finding one front brake pad worn down to the metal, the overhaul has revealed further issues.

Ford Maverick tinkering

Yet more brake trauma. It should be great after all of this work! (axle stand more secure than it looks...)

The first step was to pull apart the offside brake – the one with the faulty caliper. During this work, it quickly became apparent that the slide pins that the caliper moves on were totally seized up. This is what caused extreme wear on one pad – the seized caliper pistons just exaggerated the problem. The advice on the Nissan 4×4 Owners Club forum was to remove the entire caliper assembly, so it can be worked on away from the vehicle. If I had a big vice, this would have worked nicely, but I only have a battered Black & Decker workmate, which wouldn’t really help.

The caliper itself is a unit that holds the pads. There are two caliper pots on one side which act directly on one brake pad. The pressure then pulls the whole caliper towards the inside of the car, which thereby acts upon the opposite brake pad. Presumably this is an economic measure as most 4x4s would have four caliper pots per front brake, rather than the two used here. I consider it a fairly flakey idea as it just allows something else to go wrong – the sliders in this case which prevented the caliper from moving correctly.

So, the caliper was quickly lifted out of the way. The next challenge was to remove the slider pins from the caliper carrier. Brute force was necessary, all the while bearing in mind that there’s a good chance of snapping the pins if you get carried away. The pins have a 17mm nut at the end, which initially made me think they had to be unscrewed. No. This is merely to allow you tighten up the 13mm headed bolts that hold the caliper to the carrier.

I used a lot of penetrating oil, and one pin responded well to a chisel and a hammer – eventually coming free. The top one was very, very stuck though. I tried waggling it back and forth with a spanner, then tried the chisel and hammer approach, all the while soaking it in penetrating oil. After a very lengthy battle, it finally came out. No wonder the caliper wasn’t working! On the passenger side, the pins moved beautifully under no more than light finger pressure.

Then I could remove the caliper carrier and then the hub and brake disc. This isn’t too tricky, though there are lots of bits to keep an eye on and remember where they live. The auto-locking hub has to come off (an ideal opportunity to lubricate), then a circlip and some washers, followed by the outer wheel bearing and finally the disc/hub.

Separating the disc and hub proved very tricky, on both sides. For a start, the 14mm headed bolts were a pain to undo. If I’d remembered the instructions I’d seen online, I would have undone these bolts while the brakes were still fitted. As it was, I had to use a bar to prevent the hub from turning. Then the hub and disc seemed almost welded together with rust and friction. It took another serious bout of hammer-and-chisel work to separate the two parts.

Then it was quite easy to fit the hubs to the new discs and re-assemble. A good opportunity to repack the bearings with grease.

Sadly, I ran into problems locating new sliding pins, so work drew to a halt. I thought I’d try reassembling the nearside caliper, but then realised that the pistons were seized here too! Annoyingly, I’d already ordered a new caliper for the offside, so missed an opportunity to combine postage. The calipers cost £67 each delivered. I did consider rebuilding the calipers, but I’ve done it before and it’s not much fun. The parts were proving almost as expensive as a remanufactured caliper anyway, so the bullet was bitten. That means that total expenditure is now past my original £800 desire. I am left hoping that future months will be much cheaper!

And that’s where the project remains for the moment. I’m awaiting parts and just to make life even more interesting, I strained my back badly while clearing up. I hope to recover in time to get the brakes completed this week…

Project Budget 4×4: More brake woes

Last time I took the Maverick for a drive, it made such horrible grinding noises that I quickly turned around and came back home, being rather gentle with the middle pedal. It was the unmistakable grind of metal on metal, which surprised me as a sneaky peak at the pads with a wheel off (for a tyre change) had shown plenty of life left.

Very worn pad

Jeepers! Very glad I didn't try driving further with this

Today, I got the wheel off during a service and was horrified at what I found. The inner pad – very difficult to see on a casual inspection – had no pad material left on it at all! No wonder it was noisy. It seems that the common issue of caliper pistons seizing had jammed the inner pad against the disc. What I find surprising is that this binding generate only a small amount of heat – usually if a brake binds severely, the wheel becomes too hot to touch. Another clue that all was not well was the fact that it was pulling to the left under braking. The left-hand brake was clearly doing most of the stopping.

I’ll have to order a replacement caliper as the pistons are very seized. Naturally, the metal pad grinding on disc means that new discs and pads will need fitting too. I’m amazed that this didn’t cause a grinding sound on the test drive, nor the drive home…

New discs and pads are getting on for £60 – not too bad really – but the caliper may be more tricky. Reconditions replacements start at £58 plus delivery, rising up to as much as £100. Due to the budget nature of this project though, I’m going to first see if I can find a good second-hand unit.

Other work has progressed rather better. The oil was disgusting – looking like something you might find in a neglected diesel. That had to be changed, and a new oil filter was also fitted – a right pain due to exceedingly poor access. I also changed the coolant, spurred on by the fact that the coolant in the expansion tank actually froze last night. It has been very cold. I’m not sure this was as serious as it first appears as it looks to me like a one-way expansion tank – so isn’t actually part of the ‘live’ cooling system. I feel better knowing there’s a stronger mix in there now though, and the coolant change seems to have boosted heater output, so I suspect I’ve removed rather a lot of silt from the system.

I also changed the gunked up air filter, but not the spark plugs as I was sent the wrong ones. Therefore, this project is on hold until items arrive. And snow is forecast this weekend…