Time to Say Goodbye

Well, I guess it comes to everyone. My age is catching up with me and I really haven't used my cars at all in the last few years. The Turbo has been my daily driver and, for fun, I have(weather permitting) buzzed around on the Harley also rekindling my fascination with two wheelers.

I settled on the Turbo because it's a coupe, has a decent heater, comfy seats and, given its nice wide doors, is relatively easy for an old coot to fold himself into. It also, to my mind, still has an amazing amount of curb appeal. It regularly draws comments from younger guys(the stainless steel muffler crowd) and other Porsche owners. And yes, I still love spooling up the turbocharger and making the Porsche "leap" now and then-that's just so cool.

Bottom line is that I haven't driven any of my other cars for two to three years and haven't even started most of them for up to six years. They just sit in the garage and glare at me when I walk in. This isn't right. At one time, I had a vision of being able to view all of my cars from the loft of my garage. They would all have been polished up and ready to go and I could have just sat up there and decided which one to take out for a run. Well, that's not what happened. Here's a view from my loft I took a few days ago.

Ah, I Love the Smell of Bad Gasoline in the Morning

Something has to be done. These cars were built to be driven-used and abused. Not to spend their lives hiding under bedsheets. Although they are fun to look at, they are "automobiles" not bookends and should be on the road-giving enjoyment to their owners. So, early this year, I decided to resurrect all of them. You know the drill. Replace the batteries, clean the fuel pump, ignition and voltage regulator points, flush out the bad gas, free up the corroded brakes(rebuilding or replacing as necessary) and replace all the fluids. Then, a good going over with wax, polish and leather dressing and new license tabs.

So, where am I at today?

TR8 - New fluids, battery and clutch hydraulics and an incredible amount of time spent calibrating the Stromberg automatic chokes. New rear motor mount and shifter mounts(the old ones turned to goo). This is still a nice driver and, given $4.50 a gallon gas, it has replaced the Turbo as my daily driver. The Turbo gobbled premium at an alarming rate, about 15mpg. So, it gets to sit for a while.

Super Seven - Bad gas. Out with the tank for cleaning, new battery, new fluids and rebuilt brake system. A mystery leak in one front tire which was fixed with a new valve stem. Moved the battery box a bit to add clearance between the battery terminals and the bonnet.

TR3B - Points, plugs, regulator, battery and fluids. Amazingly, that's all it took.

MGA - The usual electrical gremlins and fluids plus a new distributor cap. New jet holder gaskets for the carbs and a new flex oil line to the oil gauge. Replaced one of the leaky front shocks with a spare from my treasure trove. Also converted it to a single 12 volt battery from the twin six volters that were deader than snot.

Morgan - Bad gas. Out with the tank for cleaning. The usual electrical stuff and had to rebuild all the brakes. New caliper pistons and seals on the front, rebuilt the rear wheel cylinders and the master cylinder using a spare master cylinder I had saved(for years) and fluids. While I was doing this, I noticed some paint imperfections and did a little paint touch up as well.

Healey - Bad gas. Cleaned the tank, fuel pump, lines and carbs. Paid attention to the regulator and ignition as required. Unstuck the brakes. Noticed that it had decided to pee out all of the lube from its steering box so, parts are on order to fix this. It's "sorta" drivable. More about this car later.

XKE - Bad gas. This one is going to take some time. Fuel pump was clogged with varnish from the bad gas. XKE's (earlier ones) have a submersible fuel pump that is dunked into the gas tank. The original Lucas pumps are NLA so, when I restored it, I installed a repro in tank pump which I bought from a presumably, reliable Jag parts house. That pump was just a mess when I pulled it out. Spent an entire day cleaning and repairing it. Now the heart of this pump is an electric motor complete with electric wires leading to it, brushes and a commutator-all of this immersed in gasoline. Makes my toes curl when I think about it. Originality be damned-I want uncontrolled electricity out of the fuel tank. So, I went back to the original Lucas pump. New brushes and a refreshing of its gaskets and it's now humming away in the tank just like Lyons intended.

Boy that tank was a mess. Handfuls of rust inside and a dozen pinhole leaks around the drain sump. Reproduction tanks cost about a grand and I suppose I am going to be forced to pony up for one but I have an ominous feeling. The old tank just barely slides into place in the boot. What if the repro is slightly out of dimension? A major fitting hassle is what so, I'm going to attempt to braze over the rust pinholes. Hey, it's worth a shot. Also had to rebuild the carbs since the bad gas had attacked the diaphrams holding the jets. Turned them into incredibly floppy bits of plastic.

AC Bristol Freed the brakes up, drained the old gas out and that puppy fired right up. Drove it around a bit and flushed the hydraulic systems out. Fresh oil and new filter and it's good to go.

TR3a Oh, you nasty little bugger. The gas had really gotten rotted in this thing so, first thing was to drain and flush the tank. Did that and it fired right up but promptly bent its intake valve pushrods. Well damn. So "Off with its' head" and, lo and behold, the intakes were absolutely frozen in their guides. Had to hammer them out. Evidently, the old gas had turned to gum and frozen the valves into their guides. That varnish was nasty stuff. Had to use a 38 caliber pistol bore brush and Toluene to clean the guides out. Also replaced one of the carburetor bodies that had been cracked. Dug an old carb body out of my spares hoard and fitted it. Also went through the entire fuel system searching for that nasty varnish. It was also in the carbs and fuel pump so, those had to be cleaned as well. Front brake pistons were frozen into the calipers so, they needed a rebuild plus new pistons since the old ones were rusted beyond belief.

Anyway, it's back on the road now but that was quite a chore. I'll try to be less inattentive in the future.

So what's drivable and what's not?

Drivable- all of the above plus the Turbo and SC.

Not - XJ12. This car may well be toast. The cost to bring it back will far exceed it's market price. I'll let it sit a bit more while I think about it. Damn, it was a nice ride.

So what am I learning?

Quite a bit. First the good stuff. It's easier to get parts for these cars than at any other time I can remember and parts prices still remain reasonable. It seems as if a number of new firms have gotten into the replacement/remanufactured spare parts business and parts which were NLA years ago are now on the shelves again. This is great because it says to me that the interest in our cars is still alive and well. I was a little worried that it was just a generational interest and when my generation's time was up, interest would evaporate. Doesn't seem to be the case at all based on the availability of parts. The next good thing I have noticed is a massive improvement in the service these parts houses deliver. Man, I can order a part on Monday morning from a place in Oregon and have it on my doorstep by Tuesday noon. That's real class. 20-30 years ago the parts ordering scenario would go something like this: "Hi, I need a (blah,blah,blah) for a 19xx (blah, blah)." Yeah, we don't have any of those in stock but, let me check around and I will get back to you in a day or two." Note the boldfaced type. A day or two, or three, later the parts guy would call me and say: "Well, nobody on the West Coast seems to have a (blah, blah) so, I am going to order you one from the East Coast distributor. It should be here in a Week or two. Again, note the boldface. 2-3 Weeks, several phone calls and a trip to the parts house to get the part vs. one phone call or Internet session and it's on your doorstep in a day or two. Wow, that's great.

Second good thing I have noticed is the amazing amount of detailed information on these cars available on the Internet. While I was off diddling with Porsches, Brit car information on the Net grew by leaps and bounds and, of course, nobody sent me the memo. My little puny attempt to help with tune-ups pales in comparison to what some of these authors have done. My God, a multi-page dissertation on the styles and types of fasteners used in MGs along with a history of the evolution of fasteners used in Brit cars AND a detailed inventory of every fastener used in an MG. That's just one thing I found. Then there's the dissertations on SU fuel pumps which range from their design, theory and history to maintenance and modification. The Net has really elvolved into a valuable reference tool for people like me. For example, I was setting the timing on the Healey the other day and, since the engine only has a TDC mark on the crank pulley and I needed to figure out how far ahead of the TDC mark 6 degrees BTDC was, I was fiddling around trying to measure the diameter of the pulley. Well, that was just not on-couldn't even fit a scale down there and anyway, I'd forgotten the formula for the circumference of a circle. So, what to do. Try the Net. Bingo, about the third Google hit I found a BMC service bulletin giving 5, 10,and 15 degree distances on a Healey crank pulley. Neat!

Third good thing is that these cars are pretty good on gas. For example, the TR8 is no performance slouch and gets about 25 MPG on regular while the Turbo got maybe 16 MPG of Premium. Many of the other cars I have should do as well or better. Fourth, there's still a ton of interest in these cars. People come out of the woodwork to talk to you about them. Fifth, I have renewed acquaintances with my old reliable parts suppliers as well as made a few new enthusiast acquaintences(the State legislator whose collection of TR7s and 8s is threatening to take over his house, comes to mind) and lastly, the cars are still charming and individualistic. A far cry from today's "designed" vehicles. So, lots of good things.

Now, the not-so-good stuff. The biggest not-so-good is that I have been devoting most of my time to this project from about mid-February. It's now about mid-June and I am only half way through. Is this never ending? As soon as I get them all on the road again, I'll have to start all over refreshing the first one I revived. Yep. A real infinite loop here and, worst of all I'm still not driving the damn things. They are still not happy. 20 years ago, I could perhaps have kept up with them and still have had the time to drive them but, the older I get, the less physical endurance I seem to have and the slower it goes.

The next biggest not-so-good has to do with my eyes. They are-for my age-OK however I'm nearsighted and,if I want to see where something is and it's more than 10 feet from me, I have to wear my regular glasses. I don't need specs for anything about a foot from my nose but, anything closer or further than that is a blur, so off with the "long" glasses and either a pair of reading glasses or none at all. This is an incredible pain in the a... I have more pairs of damn glasses in the garage now than I have ever owned and spend hours paddling around the place looking for the right pair to use for the job at hand. I'm always taking glasses off and putting them someplace, forgetting where they are and then wandering around in a blur looking for them. Those of you in this predicament know what I am talking about. Those of you who aren't will think I am really whining about a "nit". Just you wait. This is an incredible frustration and takes a lot of fun out of what should be enjoyable work.

Lastly, I have been there-done that with these cars before and, going through them the second or third time is getting to be a bore.

So, What's to be Done About This?

Sell a few of them. That's a really tough call but, I think it makes sense. I should easily be able to keep ahead of a few of them-making incremantal improvements as I go and drive 'em quite a bit. The rest would be happier if they were owned by someone who had the time and energy to keep them up to snuff and regularly run 'em around. You know, for years, I have been just a net "adder" to my collection. Buy a car, tinker with it, drive it a bit and, if I liked it, keep it and restore it. If I didn't care for it, sell it and get another. OK, that's fine but, I'm concluding that I have overdone it. Bluntly, I can't keep up with what I have and the damn things are just sitting and festering. I can't use 'em all. Maybe I'm feeling a little selfish too.

So, Who Goes and Who Stays?

That's of course, why I titled this page "Time to Say Goodbye" and I am really in a dither over which ones to cut from the herd. The only one that I am sure is clearly going is the Healey-I made a bad buy there. I thought it could be driving fixer-upper but the more I got into it, the more I realized that I would never like it until I had stripped it to its last nut and bolt. And frankly, I'm not too sure I have such a great feeling for Healeys anyway. Anyway, given my ambivalence toward Healeys, my disgust at myself for snookering myself into buying it and the massive amount of unbargained for work it needed, I lost interest in it and it's sat for years. So, it's the next one to be resurrected and as soon as it can move safely under its own power, it's up for sale. I started the process yesterday and, wouldn't you know, it's brakes are frozen up. Can't even move the damn thing. Where's my big hammer?

Here's a picture of the "Orrible Ealey" in the midst of being woken up. Bad gas struck again. I've just finished cleaning out the tank, uncorroding the fuel gauge sender, unplugging the gas lines, rebuilding the fuel pump and cleaning out the carbs. The frozen brakes responded nicely to several thumps with a lead hammer. But, I haven't had the nerve to step on the brake or clutch pedals yet so I know all the braking and clutch systems will have to be stripped down and inspected, rebuilt and/or replaced. I guess that's next. It actually runs and pumps 145 to 155 psi of compression but, the bottom end sounds ominous.

Got the hydraulics sorted and drove it around the other day. Everything works. The engine's a bit of a puzzler though. Starts on the button, good compression and oil pressure and only a minimal amount of exhaust smoke. But an unforgivable amount of clicking and clanking from the bottom end on a hot start. The noise reduces materially when you rev it and it stays quiet and runs quietly till the next hot start. Not main bearings for sure and, since it quiets down and doesn't clank when driven, I don't think it's rods either. Maybe piston pins or something really goofy with the cam/lifters? Don't get sucked in Claude, leave it for the next owner.

Mother, Mother, There's Something Nasty in the Garage

Yes, I know, it looks good from 20 feet away and it has all of its bits but there's still lots wrong with it. If you think you want it(poor soul), read my Healey pages to give you an idea of the trash I fixed and some of the injuries the prior owners inflicted. Then, understand that the engine will need to be gone through, the car was painted during the height of a duststorm and whomever did the bodywork was either drunk or visually impaired(probably both). If that doesn't discourage you(poor soul), get in touch with me. Now, just so you understand, I know these things are commanding outrageous prices now so, I'm not going to give it away but, considering all I know that's wrong with it, I am not going to ask a silly price either. This car will never command top dollar but could be made into a presentable car a person could be proud of. For right now, it's going back under the bedsheet but, is officially for sale. You know, if I play with it any more, I'll have the engine out to satisfy my curiosity and then it will have sucked me in again. So, get with it gang and take this thing off my hands.

Two that are clearly staying are the Super Seven and the Morgan. The Morgan because it's just so damn basic and is a product of evolution rather than design. Of course it's archaic but, it works for me on many levels. It's an attention getter and conversation starter, it pleases me to look at it and driving it takes me back to a different time and place(50's England perhaps). And, of course, it's such a cutie. Now I ask you:

"What's not to like about this car?"

It's now my driver on nice days but there's a couple of things I want to change. The major thing is the engine. It's running a hopped-up 1600 crossflow on a 711M block. Big valve head, twin DCOE 40s, headers, side exhaust and a Ford SVO cam. That engine seems to embarrass the Morgan. It's too much for the 4/4 and I get the feeling that(after we have shrieked onto the freeway or away from a stoplight) the Morgan tries to disassociate itself from all that noise and commotion. I think a detune to Cortina GT specs would be appropriate. It also needs a little bodywork and paint in spots-nothing serious, just cosmetic.

The Seven stays because it's such a clever little car. Yes, it's almost impossible for me to fit in (painfully possible)and is completely uncivilized. But, they ain't ever going to make any more of 'em and it's cute. It's in the garage now and, whenever I go in the garage, I see it peeking at me with it's little eyes out on stalks seeming to ask: "Are we going to go for a run today, huh, huh?" It's engine is more highly tuned than the Morgan's needing a gallon of toluene per tank of premium but, on the Seven, that rude behaviour and appetite for "rocket fuel" seems to fit. This car should shriek, bang and pop and it's semi-insect like, kinda sneaky look fits it. It's also such a clever design.

The Sneaky Seven

And it appeals to my baser instincts. I can't not put my foot down when I drive it. Just the other day, I took it for a drive. Started it up in the garage and let it sit for a minute snorting and gargling. Anyway, squeezed myself in and off we went-leaving about a five foot streak of rubber on the garage floor. Now, I don't think I really meant to do that but we came out of the garage at the rate of knots-too fast to keep traction on the gravel driveway which leads out of my property. This driveway bends about 45 degrees to the left and spans about 300 feet from the garage door to my front gate. Well, bottom line is that I powerslide all the way from the garage to the front gate-hit the pavement a little crossed up(but corrected nicely-with power of course). Gave it some more throttle and whacked a shift into third and away we went. I could tell that I was wearing an ear to ear grin. So, it stays.

Speaking of baser instincts. Just after I got the car, I found three unused condoms under the driver's seat. The mind boggles. I mean-you just can't in that car. I suppose you could on the car but, the bodywork is pretty fragile. Anyway, it certainly got to one of its prior owners. Maybe that was the guy whose name was painted on the bonnet at some time in the past. The paint was long gone by the time I got the car but I noticed that, in a certain light, I could just make out the words "driver" and, under that, someone's name. I guess the paint had protected the bare aluminium and the painted areas had not accumulated the little dings and scratches(we call that "patina" when we are selling the car) that had blessed the unpainted portions. "Patina" huh, God, I am already getting into the puffed up seller of cars mode. Anyway, when the paint was removed, you could see the remnants of the lettering in the right light. The word "driver" was pretty clear but the guy's name was a bit fuzzier. Of course, I got my heart rate up thinking that maybe a big name driver had driven the car at one time. What a bonanza! Maybe Senna or Fittipaldi or someone like that had driven it. Well... no. After some study, it appears as if the guy's first name was "Ed" so, there went that pipedream. The last name was even more unclear but could have been "Smith". Well, anyhow Ed, if you are out there, let me know about that condom business.

I suppose the Jag stays too. I have had the damn car for almost 40 years and it is lovely to look at. Driving it makes me feel a little special. Yeah, it heats up in traffic and it resents today's gasoline. A little Toluene here please! But, what the hell. It's automotive beauty plus a little 60's excess. I half expect to look over and find a mini-skirted blond babe with her big hair wrapped in a scarf and wearing mod sunglasses sitting there. I'm an up and coming stockbroker type and we are off for a Weekend in the country. Well.....not really, I'm just putting down to the Korean convenience store for a gallon of milk but, the car has that effect on me. I mean, just look at this beautiful machine:

You are So Pretty(and You Know it).

I noticed I just said that "I suppose" the Jag stays. That comment is giving me a little concern. I mean, there's no question in my mind that the Morgan and Seven stay but, the E and I'm thinking, I suppose?? My God, I have had that car longer than any of the others and it's bound up with all sorts of good driving memories. My Son learned to drive in this car and the car and I have experienced many 70-80+ runs in Eastern Washington. The E was a landmark car-pushing the performance envelope of any volume production vehicle in the early 60s and, to a very real degree, the direct descendant of Jaguar's winning race cars. It's just drop dead gorgeous too and it's pretty original and there ain't but a few nits wrong with it. Is it ever a nice drive. Lovely, smooth engine with enough power for any sensible person and a really nice smooth ride. I even forgive it its Moss gearbox with the non-synchro first gear and slow(very) syncro on the other speeds. Just get it moving in first and then dunk it into second. That engine will pull from 0 revs and second will take you over the legal speed limit. So, why am I and am I a little lukewarm to it? I really need to rethink this E business. 'Cause any car that stays has got to be loved and tinkered with and have it's wheels driven off.

After some reflection, I'm coming to the conclusion that the E doesn't quite fit with my other cars. Consider the following scenario. It's the early 60's, say 1963 and an MGA, a TR3a, a Morgan 4/4 and a Lotus 7 owner are sitting around outside an English pub talking about their cars. You can almost hear the conversation can't you. The TR guy would be all about relative performance and Triumph's rallye wins, the MGA owner would extol the impeccable handling characteristics of the MG, the Lotus owner would go on and on about light weight and responsiveness and would be challenging them all to race to the next pub while the Morgan owner would emphasize his car's traditional, handbuilt virtues and that the factory would build you one any bloody way you wanted.

So OK, this conversation goes on for a pint or two and then a new XKE pulls into the pub's car park. Would the guys invite the E owner to sit with them? Would the E owner want to? If he did, what in the world would they talk about? My bet is the guys wouldn't talk. I mean, how could you possibly compare an E to a TR3 or the other cars-what would these guys have in common? Partly, the difference is economic, the E cost about twice what the other cars cost and that places the buyers in different socio-economic strata so, that's a problem for openers but the big issue is finding anything comparable between the cars. Pick anything to campare between the E and the other cars and there just isn't anything there. The E owner would feel much more comfortable discussing relative merits of the vehicles with say, an Aston DB5 owner or a road going Ferrari owner. Cars costing at least twice as much as the E.

So, the E doesn't fit with my other cars and from a price perspective didn't fit with the handbuilt exotics like the DB5s and Ferraris. It's just by itself. Maybe that's part of it. The E just seems kinda on its own in my garage.

Yeah, but it's so Pretty.

I notice something else and that's in how I relate to the E. I spend about as much time looking at it as I do tinkering with it. I'll be doing something and I'll notice a subtle line on the car probably highlighted by the way the light hits it and I just have to stop and look. So, maybe it's as much art as a car. Is this OK? I'm not sure. You know how I treat my cars-drive 'em, ding 'em, fix 'em. It's never bothered me that they will get dirty, dented or smudged. But now, the E that's something else. I just seem to have to clean all the smudges and fingerprints off the car. It bothers me to see them there and I think it upsets the E as well. The neighbor's Grandson visited me the other day(an 11 year old certified car nut) and was, of course, all over the E. Took me the rest of the afternoon to clean off all his smudges and I'm gritting my teeth while he's PUTTING HIS HANDS all over the car. That's wrong-he's a nice kid and a car nut and a few fingerprints shouldn't spin me up. He's poked around in all my other cars and and that's fine with me. But the E-what's that all about?

I have a good bit to think about here. I guess while I'm thinking, I can clean the chrome wires on the E. What a fiddly job!! But, I can't stand looking at the slight bit of corrosion that's on those wheels. The E has struck again.