Project: Budget 4×4. Hiccups

There is always a danger when you buy at the bottom of the market, especially when you do so sight unseen!

Ford Maverick swb

Brake issues strike the Budget 4x4

The Maverick has a brake issue, that wasn’t revealed until long after I’d paid my money and got home. In fact, the problems started when I went and bought some new tyres. Two of the wheelnuts on one rear wheel were missing! I opted to take the spare wheel off the rear door and stash it inside so I could safely make it home. The owner of our local hotel has a Terrano that’s going to be scrapped, so I was able to pinch the nuts. Thanks to the Hafod Hotel! This hotel is also responsible for supplying our wood burning stove. Lovely people. They also have beds and a bar, providing rather more traditional hotel services!

I decided that the poor handbrake needed attention on the Maverick, as it resolutely refused to hold the car on the slope our driveway has as it joins the road. I’m a fully signed up member of the Nissan Owners Club – remember that my Ford is entirely Nissan beyond the badge – and downloaded a useful guide on how to adjust your handbrake. This was delightfully simple to do. You remove the centre console, which is held by four screws (you can leave in situ and get under it, but it’s easier with it out of the way). This enables you to slacken the handbrake cable, so you can easily remove the rear drums. These are self-adjusting (ha!) but the trick is to tweak them up until you can just get the shoes on. All well and good. Pump the footbrake a few times, then check they aren’t binding. While the back end of the truck was safely and securely raised, I decided it’d be fun to put it in gear and really get the rear axle spinning. It’s a good way of checking the brakes work! Sure enough, a slight tug on the handbrake and it stalled. Excellent. the footbrake however did absolutely nothing at all. Hmmm. That’s not right. I repeated my adjustment procedure to make sure I hadn’t got something badly wrong. Nope. Handbrake was working fine and a test drive revealed that it (just about) held it on the steep slope.

So it seems the rear brakes are not working at all when operated by the footbrake. This is a dual circuit system (front/rear) so suspicion is focusing on the master cylinder at the moment, though the clearly-very-seized bleed screw on the top of the rear load compensating valve is a cause for concern. The rear pipes have all been removed, but if there’s air trapped here, the brakes will not work.

Investigations are continuing. Incidentally, the new tyres cost £150 fully inclusive, with another £60 (!) spent on the necessary fluids for a service – including 3-litres of Limited Slip Differential oil for the back axle. Another £15 has been spent on other service items – plugs and filters – bringing total expenditure so far up to £725. Still some room  for whatever brake parts are necessary within my £800 budget.

I’m not too disheartened at this stage. Without a rolling road, it’s nigh on impossible to check whether the rear brakes are working on a car as the fronts do most of the stopping. When you buy cheap, you always run the risk of there being issues – there almost always are. I’ve spent a lot of time crawling around beneath my new purchase and I’m pleased to note that it is very solid. I may need to buy some anti-corrosion products to make sure it stays that way…

Project: Budget 4×4

After the massive enjoyment factor delivered by my Range Rover last year, I decided I just had to get another 4×4. You may recall that the Rangie had to go due to a heater problem and the onset of winter. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but too late now…

After anxiously enjoying a mild winter, that has generally failed to deliver OMG SNO KAOS thus far, I felt it was time to get another 4×4. A sensible person would wait until March, because 4×4 prices tend to slump as the weather gets milder. Not me though. I reckoned that if I was lucky, I’d grab a bargain despite the season. I was helped by mild conditions that have left people less desperate to get a 4×4 themselves.

Ebay is just one tool for finding a car. I’d also gone along to a Brightwells 4×4 auction for a magazine feature (to be featured later in the year in 4×4 Magazine – another reason to get a 4×4 again!), and watched the bidding with interest. Very little was coming into my meagre budget in either avenue, though perusing many classifieds sites left me in hope that I could achieve a purchase. The question was what do I go for?

I decided I didn’t much care as long as it was within budget, and this technique can be useful. I still drew up a short list. I decided I wanted reliability, solidity, a low-range gearbox and something that wouldn’t be horrific on the road. Mitsubishi Pajeros were an early contender, but they’re not as reliable as you may think. Both 2.5 (head gaskets) and 2.8 (cracked heads) have their issues, and they’re a bit blingy. Vauxhall Fronteras looked to fit the bill, but they’ve always been a bit agricultural, and they’ve had some poor engines fitted over the years.

A forgotten vehicle is the Ford Maverick, also known as the Nissan Terrano II. In fact, Ford’s input was a heap of cash and a box of blue oval badges, so the design is 100% Nissan, down to the engines and the factory they were built in – Nissan’s Spanish one. I’d never driven one, but they were well regarded when new for good road manners and decent off-road behaviour – the latter due to low ratio gears, a separate chassis, good ground clearance and a limited slip rear differential. I began to cast around for an example and had a look on Ebay. I was surprised to find one up for auction in Swansea. It had two minutes to go but hadn’t managed to attract an opening bid of £500. This despite MOT and Tax. Sure, the pictures weren’t brilliant and the text ran to an entire 74 words, but surely this was a bargain? I clicked ‘bid’ and began to very much hope so!

I didn’t have long to wait to see if anyone else would bid. No-one did. I was the winner! Now the anxiety really began to kick in. I’d not bought a car blind since our Mini in 2006. It’s generally a bad idea I think, but 2 minutes didn’t give me time to drive to Swansea and back. I had to be brave.

Maverick 2.4i petrol swb

New purchase seems actually quite good...

I also had to plan how I’d get there. Public transport in Wales is very hit and miss and Arriva didn’t really help by refusing to indicate what their bus fares were. Happily, a friend of a friend offered me a lift for fuel money. A lot easier, even if it was in a Vauxhall Tigra (not a bad little car really, bar the horrific ride). There were issues getting hold of my money (thanks to banks) but eventually the amount of £500 was acquired and I could go buy a car.

On arrival, it certainly looked good. There was a dent (as shown on Ebay) below the left-hand rear side window, and a few scratches, but otherwise all was well. It started first turn of the key, ran smoothly and a quick test drive failed to reveal anything suspicious. Cash was handed over, the V5 was signed and we were on our way. After a cup of tea… (some sellers are very nice!)

I really wanted a Maverick or Terrano with the excellent 2.7 Turbo Diesel engine, but this £500 Maverick had to make do with the Nissan 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. That means torque is not exactly prodigious, but it’s possible to make good progress without having to wring its neck. In fact, my pal in the Tigra was surprised at how quick it could be – though that’s often said of people trying to keep up with me in the 2CV as well. It’s not what you’ve got…

Not that I was hurtling into bends with reckless abandon. You can’t help feeling that it’s going to fall over if you really push it, though I’m sure it’s more stable than it appears. Certainly, I was able to push on a bit later in the journey, encouraged by accurate steering and reassuring grip.

The ride was a touch bouncy, but not as bad as I expected. Sure, it’s some way short of Range Rover composure, but then it handles far less like a wallowy barge. One real surprise is how tight the turning circle it is, especially after a day behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Delica L400! (see separate Blog once I’ve written it…). The gearchange is as I like it. Very tight but quite clunky, as if you can feel the cogs merging when you change.

In fact, the only downside was very squeaky windscreen wipers. They were horrific! Happily I cured them with some spray grease when I got home.

There are some other minor grumbles, but way fewer than you might expect of a cheap ‘banger’ such as this. Some interior trim is broken and the electric windows are both slow. More grease should help here. I’m also slightly concerned at the lack of a ‘following’ for these vehicles. Forum help and advice is never in short supply if you own a Range Rover or Pajero.

I reckon it might just be the perfect car for me at the moment though. I look forward to putting it through its paces off-road!

35 years of the Ford Fiesta

This isn’t one of the ‘big’ anniversaries of 2011 – most people are focussed on the Jaguar E-Type – but the Ford Fiesta is arguably much more important.

Fiesta L

Yes, it really has been 35 years since the Fiesta was launched

Launched in 1976, the little Fiesta was the  first front-wheel drive Ford to be produced across Europe (Germany had experimented with the front-wheel drive Taunus as early as 1962) and the Blue Oval’s first supermini. It was rare for Ford to move so quickly to jump into a market – conservatism generally ruled the roost, as would be proved by the Ford Sierra remaining rear-wheel drive into the 1990s. In 1976, the supermini market was still really finding its feet. The Fiat 127 and Renault 5 were early pioneers, but British Leyland did not have anything in this class, and nor did Vauxhall/Opel.

The Fiesta used a transverse engine mounted transversely, with the gearbox on the end of the engine and unequal-length driveshafts powering the front wheels. This was the classic layout used to such good effect by Dante Giacosa first with the little-known Autobianchi Primula, then the Fiat 128 and 127 saloon and hatchbacks. The engines were modified versions of the Kent engine first seen in the Anglia 105E and even the 957cc version gave perky performance and respectable-if-busy motorway ability. A ‘dead’ rear beam axle used coil springs to offer good handling and ride while the obligatory hatchback made this a practical little car indeed. The world was fast learning that a small car needn’t be as cramped nor actually quite as small as a Mini…

UK sales did not actually commence until January 1977 but the Fiesta was arguably Ford’s first ‘world car.’ Built in Spain and Germany as well as Great Britain, the Fiesta would even find itself sold in America for a time. This helped it reach the magic million as soon as 1979.

The Ghia was surprisingly plush for a small car, with tinted glass, alloy wheels and velour seats, but enthusiasts were enamoured by the XR2 of 1981. With a 1.6-litre engine and 100mph+ performance, it was an excellent hot hatch. Mk1 production came to an end in 1983 with the mildly facelifted Mk2 taking over for the next five years.

Engine bay

'Valencia' engine mounted transversely

Buying with plastic

Oh gawd. I’ve gone and bought a new car, BEFORE the Land Rover has sold. Well, I’ve left a deposit anyway. The balance needs to wait for a certain Land Rover to finish on Ebay – which it’s close to doing.

Scimitar SE5a rear

Another new purchase, will this Reliant Scimitar GTE prove reliable?

The new car? A 1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5a in a bright shade of red. It seems to be a good one and I’m waiting for it to have a fresh MOT before collection – which hopefully leaves enough time for the Land Rover to sell and for the new owner to hand me a load of cash.

I felt I had to move quickly on this Scimitar. The owner may have just been pushing me into a sale, but it sounded like others had spotted what a good buy it could be – it’s had an enthusiastic club owner for the past 14 years, and isn’t wanting for very much at all. Even better – everything seems to work as it should! That’s not always the case with Scimitars. As values are traditionally low, neglect is sadly very much something Scimitars become used to.

I will be paying very slightly more than I paid for the Land Rover – and the Scimitar feels like much better value for money. Don’t forget that the Land Rover may have covered half the miles (78k v 153k for the Reliant) but it has no service history with it, and is a touch scruffy in places. It should still do well though – scruffiness is after all a look that suits the Land Rover rather well!

Scimitars continue to offer excellent value though. With every parts bin raided, the beauty is that you can still get a huge amount of parts – the drivetrain is Ford, the brakes Rover, the front suspension Triumph TR. The bodywork is rust-free glassfibre while the steel chassis is fairly easily repaired should rust strike – as long as you get on top of it before it eats everything.

Are they cheap for a reason though? I guess I’m going to find out…

An Oxford Six nearly kills me

To be a classic motoring journalist, you need driving skills like no-one else. You must be able to jump from one classic to the next and quickly adjust – well, you can’t go around pranging people’s lovely classics because you didn’t know where the brake was.

Ergonomics were yet to be discovered even as late as the 1950s. Take a Citroen DS, Ford Zodiac Mk2, Daimler Conquest and Austin Westminster A90 for example. All were in production in 1956 and the differences are staggering. Sure, the DS was quite unlike anything else at all, but let’s focus for the time being on gearchanges.

DS semi-automatic

Baffling controls an everyday challenge for the motoring journalist

On the DS, you move a small arm that sprouts from the top of the steering column in its own quadrant. The car looks after the gearchange and clutch operation for you – you just tell it what gear to be in. The Daimler uses a pre-select gearbox, so while there is a ‘clutch’ pedal, you don’t use it as one. To move away, just select first and raise the revs – the fluid flywheel transmit the power. Select  the next gear using the column change and operate the pedal when you want it to engage.

In theory, the Ford and Austin are much closer. Both have a column gearchange to a conventional gearbox – the Ford packs three cogs while the Austin manages four. But consider how you select first. On the Ford, you push the lever away and down, the Austin away and up. Second? Towards and up on the Zodiac, but straight down from first on the Westie.

It’s learning to adjust to these differences that enables us to do our jobs quickly and without breaking stuff. Yet there’s always one that nearly catches you out.

Austin Sevens I always find hard work. The clutch is a button with about an inch of travel, the steering is exceedingly vague and the brakes – especially on earlier uncoupled versions – are horrifically poor. I always return with a smile on my face though, even when one recalcitrant Ruby conked out on my test drive and only came back to life after vigorous hand-cranking. A journey in a Seven is never dull.

But it was a Morris Oxford Six, dating from 1933, in which I almost came a cropper.

1933 Morris Oxford Six

This 1933 Morris Oxford Six proved a challenge! A beautiful car however

For a start, the pedals are in the ‘wrong’ order. The throttle is in the middle, the brake where the throttle would normally be. The gearbox thankfully had synchromesh – I had driven an earlier Oxford without it and found coming down the gearbox a real challenge. What I didn’t know is that it had a freewheel! You can picture the scene as I come down a hill towards a red traffic light. I’m already focussing my mind on the pedals, so I don’t accidentally accelerate. My foot is right down and not a lot is happening  – brakes weren’t very good in the 1930s. To make matters worse, there is no engine braking as the car is now freewheeling down the hill!

My heart was truly in my mouth as I sailed just past the stop line. I’m very glad brakes have improved since then! While it may have scared me, it was a beautiful car. It had a top speed of barely 60 miles an hour, but sounded absolutely beautiful. While it came close to killing me, I still did rather like it!