Stairway To Heaven?

It seems not.


It wasn’t the best week to travel what with all the commotion at Calais coupled with the start of the school holidays but, a magnetising job came up in Sweden and the only way to get there at short notice was to drive. As it turned out, the run down to Dover was less fraught than expected and I and a fellow Magneteer boarded an early morning ferry after a night’s stop-over at big sister’s near Ashford.


We made good progress through Northern France, Belgium, Holland, Germany (where we stayed for the night in Lubeck) then Denmark and finally Sweden where the rain at last stopped and the skies turned into a scene from the North Norfolk coast.


Countries with a lot of water around them and made up of islands need a lot of bridges and tunnels. The Danes and the Swedes are naturally very good at these sorts of structures and there was some fabulous ironwork along our route. Most notable was the combination of tunnel and bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo. It wasn’t there the last time I was in Sweden and it made the crossing very much easier. There was a ferry from Puttgarden in Germany to Rodby in Denmark and as the wind was blowing a good 30 knots plus, we looked forward to an exciting trip. I can’t believe I said that; as a child, one look at a boat turned me green and there wasn’t a single trooping flight in a 1-11 or Britannia that didn’t see me sick as a dog. I fought air-sickness to learn to fly and now it seems I’m fine (but aero’s I would still approach with caution).

Kit cars

As we queued for the Puttgarden ferry, several of these kit cars poled up. I don’t know what they were but on their bonnets was written Noordkaap 2015. At a guess I’d have said they were on their way to the Arctic Circle in which case chap in the blue and orange job’s going to need a hat.

Denmark/Sweden tunnel

The tunnel through to Sweden combined with the Oresund bridge…


… was a spectacular piece of engineering. Difficult to get a good picture of the whole span from ground level but it’s clearer when enlarged. We were heading for Karlskrona – an island on the East side of Sweden – and the high voltage cable manufacturer, ABB. Once there, we were to hook up with the Topaz Installer ..

Topaz Installer

… and set up the magnetising gear ready for an early start on Monday morning. It was my turn to do the night-shift which in this quiet little spot wouldn’t be a problem…

Karlskrona marina

… until I noticed that the main road was blocked through the town and a lot of marquees began to appear outside the hotel. It transpires that the ‘Skargardfest’ is on this week so while decent hard-working people are trying to get some shut-eye, there’s going to be a lot of disgraceful behaviour and popular music going on outside my window.

And we know where that leads to.




The Hill Was Alive…

… with the sounds of whining axles, crunching gears and racy exhausts.

I was going to take the Hillman down to Prescott but with the fading problem not yet sorted out, it was easier to load the Austin on a trailer…


… and go and have some fun. The event, ‘Pre-War Prescott’, was organised by the Vintage Minor Register and open to all-comers; it wasn’t a competition so no rules and regs except compulsory attendance at a driver’s safety briefing before going up the hill. There was a map so no-one got lost and the sun had got his hat on making for a very relaxed and jolly day.


The video was taken on our first run – a case of having a look at the course and working out the best lines through the corners. After the sweep through Orchard Corner, Ettore’s Bend was a double apex and needed to be entered wide to clip the second apex and stay out of the gravel trap.

1st corner

Pardons Hairpin was a bit more tricky and also needed to be entered on the outside in 3rd, with a slick change down to 2nd half way round. If you went in on the inside (the steepest part of the corner) changing down scrubbed all your speed. In this respect, the 3-speed cars did better than the 4-speeders – they were down into 2nd on the run up so didn’t have to mess about in the corner.

Learned Counsel

Learned Counsel stayed right out on the flattest bit.


Counsel thought it was better to get round on two wheels…

Second corner

.. and The Ambassador’s Daughter kept my wheels on the ground for a fast exit. The rest of the hill was straightforward – flat through the Esses (a slight lift off for the last left turn as there was some nasty concrete bits to keep away from) then power on up into the Semi-Circle (don’t look down otherwise you’ll instinctively lift off) then roar along to the finish and switch off to coast back down to the paddock.


The following day was a breakfast run to Andrewsfield airfield where Awkward suggested that the fading problem might be the Facet fuel pump pushing too much fuel through, overcoming the float valve and giving me a rich cut. I’ll have to look into that – maybe get a pressure regulator. The water pump seal is, after 300 miles, a great success. I had to take it off again last week because there was still a slight leak and I feared the worst but, it turned out that I’d used the wrong silicone sealant and substituting the Wurth black stuff solved the problem.


And while we were out enjoying ourselves, The Great Collector had been busy and quite by accident, he tells us, tripped over this 1924 Star tucked away in a garage and which hadn’t seen the light of day for a number of years. More pics when we get it home.

Austin 10 water elbpw

We had the idea that we might get the Gordon bodied Austin 10 going but this was the sight that greeted us when having a check round the cooling system. Fortunately we’ve been able to source a replacement but this one’s definitely over the hill.

Been There.

When I swapped the Bayliss Thomas tourer…

Bayliss Thomas

for the Hillman 14…

Hillman 14

… it was a bit embarrassing because at the moment of exchange the BT suddenly decided that with the engine running, it wasn’t going to engage a gear – the general consensus was that something had gone twang in the clutch. I would pop back and investigate as soon as poss. As I drove away in the Hillman I realised that it too had similar problems though not so acute.

On the ramp

Well, it took almost exactly 5 years for Counsel and me to ‘pop back’ to investigate but at least we now had access to a ramp, making the job so much easier.

Rear axle

To take off the gearbox and bellhousing, the propshaft had first to be removed and for that, the rear axle was released from its mountings on the leaf springs and pushed back far enough to allow the centralising cone on the front of the propshaft to drop out of the flexible coupling. Brake rods and other bits and pieces had also to be disconnected.

Gearbox and bellhousing

The gearbox and bellhousing came out easily enough once we’d untangled the brake and clutch pedal from the chassis rail, following which, a loose bolt fell from the bellhousing giving us our first pointer.

Missing bolt

It was plain enough where the bolt had come from but where was the nut and spring washer? The nut, we discovered, was wedged between the outer casing of the cone and a flange on the clutch retaining plate thus preventing full disengagement, which is why it was possible to engage a gear with the engine switched off and then drive away, though subsequent changes would be impossible. We could only hope that the spring washer escaped through the bellhousing drain hole because there was no sign of it in the clutch bay.

Hillman clutch

Fortunately (or unfortunately) the Hillman 14 belonging to Counsel had clutch problems which prevented smooth and silent engagement of gears and I had the gearbox and clutch in and out of ‘KW’ 5 times (Learned Counsel pitched in for the last couple of goes) in an effort to sort it out. So when I got the tourer home, I got it to bits straight away. I can’t remember exactly the nature of the fix but it seemed to be contrary to a period factory advisory that was meant to cure what was obviously a common problem. I recall vaguely that the clearance and alignment of the friction and pressure plates was critical.

Heat shield

I began the construction of a heat shield (actually, this is No.2; I called an attempt on the first go as in hammering out a swage, the metal split) in the hope that this might go some way to curing the fading problem on the Hillman Special.

Heat shield 2

As I cut more and more away to accommodate the various rods, levers and bits that got in the way, the less effective it was going to be and what’s more, the shield wasn’t really addressing the supposed problem at source but merely treating the symptom. So why not get some of that racy exhaust wrap, reduce the engine bay temperature by a zillion degrees and never have to think about it again?

Exhaust wrap

Done that.



If It Isn’t…

… one thing, it’s a blinkin’ nother.

Water Pumps

Mr Morris produced a couple of water pumps for me to play with and also came up with a bag of original bellows type seals in excellent condition. They were too big but a bit of machining to the casing and they’d be fine. (They turned out to be Jowett water pump seals so perfect for Learned Counsel). However, before I went down the road of non-reversible mods, I thought I’d give the PVC another go but this time with the bronze bush and modern lip-seal.

PVC block

The PVC block has been counter-bored to take the lip-seal (if you’re thinking of doing this, ignore the measurements on the sketch – you know what I’m like)

Seal components

The bronze bush is a top-hat section and a loose-ish fit on the impeller shaft but to make sure it doesn’t pick up and spin, some bearing lock holds it to the PVC block. Then the lip-seal is super-glued to the PVC; job done. I had a tin of lithium grease on the shelf specifically for Ford Model A water pumps and I thought that a liberal dose, especially on the lip-seal wouldn’t go amiss. With the water pump fitted, I took it for a 10 mile test run and all seemed to be well. The real test came the following day with a round trip of 82 miles and I’m happy to report that not a drop of water was lost. Instead, I had a manifold gasket blow and the engine faded on me twice, just when I didn’t need it to!

Water pumps

Rather hoping that the seal mod would cure the problem, I quickly turned up another seal set and rebuilt one of the other pumps to keep with me as a spare on the 82 mile run. I reasoned that if I could get so far on one pump, the spare would get me home. The engine fading problem is beginning to bug me so I’m going to strip down the carb again and while it’s off, make up a bigger and hopefully more effective heat shield to fit between the manifold, the exhaust and the carb. Learned Counsel suggested also that I might try taking out the thermostat so the water gets round the system a bit more quickly, his thinking being that the heat soak is so great when coming to a halt, a cooler engine could help. I might give that a go. Unfortunately, with all this messing about I’ve lost the rolling road settings but I’ve got a book on tuning SU’s so that’ll be required reading before I get much older.

Austin 10

A path was cleared and the Gordon & Co bodied Austin 10 was on its way to its new home (not before the axle stands were removed). The brakes still worked (Girling rods all round) and ‘Penny’ (for it is she) rolled very freely into the daylight.


A leisurely trip back to base blew some of the dust and cobwebs away and we were able to better assess her condition once we were unloaded.


With the 3 position drop-head arrangement, the car can be one thing, or the other, or indeed, the other. Splendid!

What I Thought….

… was the oil taking its time to get up to the camshaft on the Hillman – indicated by a bit of a rattle on start-up – was in actual fact the water pump seal completely shot and letting the impeller shaft bounce about in the bearings (the shaft is stepped at various points for some reason although another pump I’ve got – equally knackered – is not so machined).

Water pump seal The upshot of which, with a breakfast run in the offing, was that I needed to dream up a fix as quickly as possible. I fitted new sealed bearings to the casing and (probably wrongly) assumed that they might be water-tight so all I needed to do was turn up a top hat section to block off the body of the pump and bung some silicone sealant down the drain hole. If water leaked along the spindle, it wouldn’t get any further than the sealed bearing in the body of the pump – problem solved.

Pump dismantling The pump came apart relatively easily…..

Pump assembly … and I had a handy piece of PVC large enough to fill up the hole where the seal used to be. Refitting the pump and filling the system with water took only a few minutes and there wasn’t a leak. However, on the test run down to the local garage there was evidence on the forecourt of something not going completely according to plan and by the time we were home, the water was spilling out again.

PVC section What had happened was the PVC had somehow softened with the heat produced by the friction (although the shaft wasn’t a particularly tight fit), then glued itself to the shaft which in turn spun the PVC in the pump body and let the water out. I had to chisel the PVC off the shaft and think again. The PVC plug was a good starting point; perhaps turn up a bronze bush for the spindle and counter-bore the plug to take a modern lip seal?

Morris drawing With another run coming up, I thought I might cover a few more bases and ring Mr Morris to see what he had in his spares department. He couldn’t help me with the exact seal but he had a couple of old water pumps and a few seals of the same type but the wrong size. I could take a swire out of the casing and fit one of those? To have a few spares up my sleeve wouldn’t be a bad thing if something went wrong – highly likely – and I could also see if he had a twin carb manifold for the spare engine I planned to build up in my spare time….

Carlton bodied Lagonda So the Austin was pressed into service for the local VSCC meet and my car to take home this month was this Carlton bodied Lagonda. It looks better in real life; a very handsome car.

Harley Davidson And at a local motorcycle meeting, this very sparsely appointed Harley Davidson took my fancy. I remember when, some years ago I sorted out the timing on a friend’s 1960’s Harley and I took it for a test run through the lanes. All was well until I got to a roundabout; what I thought was an urban myth turned out to be absolutely the case – they’re not built for cornering.


…. and new toys all round!


Well, for some people at least. The Great Collector has acquired a very rare beast; a marque that I’d not heard of before now though I’d heard of the Dorman engine that sits under the bonnet. The Vulcan, built in Southport – this one in 1920, is quite a big car and sports a 2.6L engine; more anon.

2.6L Dorman

And continuing with rare treats, Learned Counsel decided to make a few further enquiries concerning his ‘barn-find’ and we went to have a closer look and meet the owner a few days ago. I’d struggled to come up with any reference to the type of body this particular Austin 10 was wearing; on Google images there were cabriolets aplenty but not with this shaped boot. The only one that came close was one that incorporated a dickey seat which this car definitely never had.

Austin 10

The owner cleared up the mystery for us. It was a Gordon & Co cabriolet – or drop-head coupe – and was built in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, 8 miles up the road from Austin in Longbridge. Again, this was a new name to me but a quick search revealed that Gordon & Co were quite prolific and for a good long time, so I should have known about them.

Gordon & Co

Only 2 cars on the Austin 10 chassis with this style of Gordon body are known to survive so Learned Counsel took the plunge and a deal was struck. The car comes with a box of interesting paperwork and lots of pictures (so it was very quiet in the car on the way home) and a pleasing amount of spare bits and pieces to accompany the very complete car.

Jowett Jupiter grille

I’m still searching for a pair of Riley Merlin half-shafts and really need to get the engine position determined on the racing car. I was revving up to go and do that the other day when Learned Counsel popped in for a cup of tea and presented me with the grilles for the Jowett Jumble Sale and said, ‘just plate those for me would you…’ then promptly disappeared to Spain for a week. The Rolls is back together again and we all held our breath while Counsel did the honours. It sprang into life and settled down to a quiet rumble. Rumble!!?? No oil pressure! I took advice from clever chaps and it turned out that sometimes it can take up to a heart-stopping minute before the gauge tells you what you want to know. So, after priming all the oil pipes, we had another go and a stomach-knotting 40 seconds later we all congratulated ourselves on a job well done. Then the rattle that we’d first sought to correct, returned.

Fan belt adjustment

It was the fan shaft bush rattling on its shaft – a couple of turns on the knurled nut to loosen the belt and it disappeared. I consoled myself with the fact that the idler gear bearings were on the way out so it wasn’t a waste of time taking the front to bits.

And I’ve heard that lying in a barn in that village whose name I can never remember, are three Austin Sevens; a Ruby, a Pearl and an Opal. More trebles all round then!

What I Didn’t Know…..

…. was that unlike any other distributor I’d come across, Rolls-Royce had done things a little bit differently.

RR book

This slim volume that anyone who contemplates the maintenance of the Rolls-Royce 20/25 engine must add to their library, was particularly useful to me because it had quite a lot to say about the removal of the timing gear case – as described in ‘A Mystery’, back in May – and subsequently the removal of the crankshaft vibration damper for servicing and also the idler gear between the cam gear and the distributor drive gear.

Timing gears

As it turned out, the damper was deemed serviceable and the only remedial work was to renew the bearings in the idler gear. The problems began when I realised that I hadn’t marked the gears before disassembly and the valve timing et al was lost. Consulting with Very Learned Counsel, I was assured that this was not a problem and the procedure for re-timing everything was mere child’s play. I also looked in the book – everything did seem pretty straightforward – and cross-referenced the text with the excellent and illustrated diary of Stephe Boddice who happily for me, documented every step of his own 20/25 rebuild project.

IO mark

The crankshaft-to-camshaft timing on Rolls-Royce engines is done with reference only to the marks on the flywheel. The crankshaft must be turned only from the flywheel end, never from the front of the engine. So the first step was to set the mark IO (inlet open) to the pointer set into the bell-housing. Then No.1 pushrod is adjusted to allow .020 thou clearance with both valves on No.1 cylinder closed.  The camshaft gear is then turned anti-clockwise until the tappet is coming off the heel of the cam onto the ramp and the pushrod can just be rotated by hand. A mark is made on the rim of the camshaft gear that corresponds with the gear case stud conveniently placed at 12 o’clock to the cam gear. The cam gear is then rotated 2 teeth clockwise to allow the helical gear on the crankshaft damper to mesh correctly and, as it is tapped home, the cam gear repositions itself so that the mark regains its position at 12 o’clock. Simple (ish) so far.


And here’s the bit that foxed me. How do I get the rotor arm in the right place? By adding the idler gear to the mix, the distributor drive would turn (all the gears are helical) so where would I set the gear to achieve the correct ignition timing? With No.1 cylinder just over TDC on the inlet stroke, maybe the rotor should be pointing somewhere around N0.5 (the bang previous to No.1) – surely RR wouldn’t encourage that sort of slap-dashery? I couldn’t work it out and nowhere could I find any information on what to do. I went home and slept on it. That didn’t help.

Distributor cam

But what did help was another chat with Very Learned Counsel who informed me that the distributor cam, unlike any other distributor cam I’ve come across, was on a taper – not keyed. So it didn’t matter what was going on with the drive, the distributor cam could be set wherever you wanted it. What I don’t know is always worth knowing.