More video: Nissan Bluebird Road Test

I know you’re all been waiting for this, perhaps the most exciting video of all time. A beardy-bloke drives one of the most boring cars of the 1980s.

I made this video in 2012, but it’s taken me a while to get around to processing it. Seeing as some liked my Goffey-esque ramblings in the Nissan Leaf video, I thought I’d serve up another, showing just how far Nissan has come since 1986.

Production values are as low as ever. I had no way of mounting the camera inside the car when I made the video, so it sits on a tripod wedged into the passenger footwell and I had to be careful not to tip it over while driving. This did happen. Several times.

What I didn’t acknowledge in the video is that while the first Bluebirds built at Sunderland were indeed little more than assembly jobs, by the end of the production run, it’s thought that somewhere in the region of 80% of the car was constructed in the UK. Sunderland remains a fine example of the fact that the British CAN build cars successfully – when the management knows what it is doing…

New car: 1986 Nissan Bluebird 2.0SLX

So, I bade farewell to the Mk1 BX on Sunday and enjoyed having some actual money in my possession. It was a novel, unusual and pleasant sensation.

Nissan Bluebird

One extreme to the other for Ian, with the purchase of a Nissan Bluebird

It didn’t last long. About an hour in fact. You see, I’d delivered the BX to its new owner on the proviso that he gave me a lift to Bristol to pick up my new steed. The new steed is a 1986 Nissan Bluebird 2.0SLX in Sky Blue. It’s the polar opposite of the BX, yet shares a number plate containing the same letters in the same sequence! Both cars were registered in the same part of South London, and both were purchased by me in Bristol.

There are some major differences though. The BX had already clocked up 230,000 miles by the time I got my grubby paws on it, and it was in a dreadful state. The Bluebird has an incredible 36,000 miles on the clock and is in much, much better condition.

The BX was a rarity, being the only RHD Mk1 estate known to be in roadworthy condition. The Bluebird is also a rarity, being one of very few T12 Bluebirds on a C-plate. In fact, I’d be willing to say it’s possibly the earliest Bluebird on the road – even earlier than the one Nissan has in its own collection at Sunderland. That’s because British production didn’t get underway until late 1986. For the first few months, the cars were entirely constructed in Japan.

Despite the rarity and it’s great condition, it was struggling to find a buyer. It had been on the market since May with a very reasonable £450 asking price. It failed to garner any interest at all on Ebay, which all rather goes to show that the market for 1980s classics just isn’t really there yet.

Bluebird interior

Pretty blue inside and out!

Oh well. The world missed a great opportunity and I was able to bag a low mileage stunner for all of £400 with tax and test! (albeit not a vast amount of either).

I’ll admit, it’s not the most exciting of vehicles, but the more I drive it, the more I like it. Sure, it feels pretty dismal dynamically compared to a BX – the ride and body control when cornering are laughably inferior – but it feels pretty planted, safe and secure and is quiet and peaceful on the move. I was able to listen to the cricket on Long Wave in great comfort on my drive home from Bristol.

The engine is good too. Sure, it doesn’t sound very pleasant, but then few straight-four engines do. What I love is the torque. Maximum grunt comes at 3600rpm, but the torque curve is flat, and it pulls readily from 1500rpm in a way modern petrol engines just don’t. It sounds pretty breathless when you rev it, but there’s little performance to be gained by doing so, and it’s a lot more pleasant to keep the revs down and allow the car to gather speed more gently. It still doesn’t hang about, though it won’t accelerate in a way that would cause excitement.

That’s ok, because it doesn’t corner in a way that would cause excitement either. The steering is nicely weighted with reasonable feedback but it still feels a bit dead, and the car does not feel composed. It doesn’t encourage you to push on, but you can corner reasonably quickly without too much fuss. Nor is the ride brilliant, being bouncy over poor ground. It’s not bad, but it’s not excellent either.

Despite this, the more time I spend at the wheel, the happier I am. There’s the marvellous pantagraph rear wiper for a start, and the delicious twin-bell warning if you leave the lights on. So much nicer than a buzzer. The seats are fabulous too, and visibility is excellent. It’s no wonder that the Bluebird became a favourite with minicab drivers. It deserves a wider appeal though, and I hope that by owning this car and shouting about it, I can help raise the profile of the T12 Bluebird and its T72 replacement. These are fine cars and more people should realise that.

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. 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!