Bodge Repair Jobs + Three-Door Holden + Big-Engined Beetles - Morley's workshop 395

By: David Morley

Presented by

diff plug diff plug

Morley's Omani fan club weighs in, he gets to diagnose Beetle and Barina woes and wonders whether cheats really do prosper

Write to Morley c/o uniquecars@bauertrader.com.au
or Unique Cars magazine, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic 3166 

MORLEY'S SOAPBOX

BODGE BROTHERS

Have a close look at the photo above. See the little blob of rusted crud I’m holding? Looks like it might have come from outer space, doesn’t it; melted, discoloured and deformed from the heat of entering Earth’s atmosphere. Yeah, well, here’s the truth: It’s the fill-plug from the diff of my project hillclimber. And it’s ugly.

People never cease to amaze me, and when I see stuff like this, I just shake my shaggy head. Look closely and you’ll see that not only is the surface that seats the sealing washer mangled and warped, the hex that allows the plug to be tightened is likewise kaput. Yet some genius has gone to the trouble of putting three little daubs of weld on the plug so that he (or she, but my money’s on he) could cold-chisel the plug in and out of the cover-plate. Wow. Mind you, at least it shows he did actually check the level of the diff oil.

So why would you do such a thing? Well, that’s the question I asked myself when I discovered this bodge, but I think there’s a deeper reason than the fella just being a tight-fisted butcher. See, I tried to find a replacement for the plug and I’m stumped. The local parts shops haven’t got one, the wrecking yard won’t take one out of a complete diff and even Holden don’t list it as a part number any longer. Even eBay couldn’t help me (and that’s rare).

I checked it against the fill-plug in the car’s M20 gearbox and they’re interchangeable, so maybe I’ll snoop around for a dead tranny and pinch the plug. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve looted bits and pieces of a dead red to keep one of mine going. Anybody else got any ideas on where to find such a thing?

Meantime, it got me thinking about bodges in general. You lot must have seen a few rippers in your time. So sling me an email and tell me all about it so I can share it with UC readers (which, as you’ll see later in this column now include the good citizens of Oman in the Middle East).


HERE'S MY TIP

Milk -carton

Milking it

Ever driven out in the boonies in summer? Then you’ll know all about dead bugs and the sticky mess they make of the front of your car. The best bet is to clean them off pronto, because the longer you leave them, the more like little blobs of concrete they become. But if you’re having trouble shifting them, try this: Soak a piece of tissue paper in milk and gloop it on to the offending bug for 10 minutes or so. The milk actually breaks down the protein in the six-legged hitchhiker; protein being the stuff that makes them sticky.

 

LETTERS 

Fc -holden -three -door

Three ways in

This column has previously mentioned a three-door Holden, apparently an LC or LJ Torana that was `accidentally’ built as a sedan on one side and a coupe on the other. It sprang an old memory of an article I read years ago about a strange FC Holden that was actually made with three doors. Here is a pic of the wagon; two doors on the passenger side and one on the driver's. 

I realise it is not an LJ but the existence of a three door Holden may have been the result of too many after-work beers and too few memory cells. Can’t help with the red motor in an EJ. Sorry.

My dream is to find a clapped out HD van and convert it into a two-door convertible by putting the back seats in the hole in the floor pan (because they share the wagon’s pan) and chopping the back of a sedan and attaching it. Maybe using the longer doors off an LH SS might work. Could be fun, the HD being one of the better looking early models. I had a mint one many years ago and it was a delight, except for the handling, power and stopping! Maybe I was spoiled by concurrently owning a Cooper S Mini.

Ross McNeilage,

Email

Three -door -torana

I remember mentioning that mythical Torana, Ross, and as the yarn was told to me, the whole thing was just a monumental cock-up with the assembly line workers on one side or the other not bothering to check what specific model they were supposed to be welding together. The fact that it was possible at all is down to the LJ Torana coupe having a very similar side profile shape to the sedan. Is the story true? Beats me, but I hope so…restores my faith in the human condition.

However, the photos you sent me prove that the three-door FC wagon is anything but a myth. But was it built that way by Holden, or modified by a certified genius in a backyard somewhere back in the day. My suspicion is this: The FC was probably modified by an aftermarket body-building mob somewhere for use by the ambulance service in a particular State or Territory.

I can recall, growing up in a small country town in NSW, that one of the local pubs had a HQ panel-van with an extra door on the passenger’s side. Back then it was used for delivering slabs to the thirsty denizens of this troubled town, but I was told by one of the old barflies that it was originally an ambulance.

That said, the weird part about the photos you sent me is that the vehicle appears to be based on an FC wagon. In which case, why would you remove (weld up, presumably) a door you didn’t need? Why not just leave it locked and save yourself a whole lot of time and effort? But if you look closely, l I reckon the FC might have started life as a panel-van. Now, I could be wrong about this (and there’ll be a hundred people who will correct me) but it looks like the car in your photos has a spare-wheel door between the bumperettes. As far as I know, the FC station-wagon didn’t have this trap-door, but the panel vans did. From what I can gather from back in the day, it was a lot cheaper to get a panel-van and modify it than buy a station-wagon. Things were tough back then…obviously.

As for a HD convertible, starting with a panel-van is probably the way to go. A ute would make sense, too, but it wouldn’t have the rear floor pan that you’re looking for. Probably. It’s interesting that you rate the HD as a favourite, because not many do, largely on the basis of the controversial front styling including those `kidney slicers’ that the US designers insisted upon.

But I have pretty fond memories of a HD, too; my dad bought one as family wheels in about ’71 or ’72. It was a belter, too, and refused to quit; a revelation after the grey-motored EJ wagon we had before the HD. But even though it wasn’t an old car (by modern standards) when dad bought it, it was still full of tinworm and simply rotted away around us. By the time he traded it on a brand-new HQ, the old HD was about 50 per cent fibreglass and the other half optimism.

 

Volkswagen -beetle

Volkswobbles

I am a long time subscriber and first time writer to you and look forward to the mag arriving every month. My mate has built a very quick VW Beetle. The car is immaculate but there is a problem on take-off. Because of the cam set up he needs to drop the clutch at around 4500rpm to get the thing going. And that results in big time axle tramp.

First he tried curing it by fitting harder springs, but no change. Then we let the tyre pressures down, again, to no avail. Do you have any suggestions?

Pete,

email

I don’t want to sound defeatist here, Pete, but this sort of stuff is what can happen when you suddenly double or triple the horsepower and torque a particular car was designed for. I’m also a VW tragic (as many would know) and I have a late-model Superbug in my garage with something like 180 horsepower (nobody really knows) from a bored and stroked (2.6-litre) Kombi engine. So I feel your mate’s pain.

But as a regular reader, you’ll know that fellow UC correspondent Glenn Torrens is an even bigger Dak-Dak tragic than me and he has vast experience with unfeasibly large power outputs and the mayhem that can come with that. So I passed this over to him, and here’s what GT had to say:

"Yep, big-engined Beetles do tend to suffer with tramp, big time. The issue is more one of chassis flex than suspension issue – those spindly chassis forks that cradle the engine and gearbox flex with driveline loads. The fix? Depending on power and severity of tramp, brace the front of the gearbox to the chassis forks, eliminate the rubber gearbox pads (known as banana mounts) with a solid aftermarket engine/gearbox cradle and tie the end of the chassis forks to the body under the rear window area. Using these techniques – and a few other tweaks - I launch at 6000rpm for 13.8s at the drags. Good luck!"

So there you have it, Pete, straight from the horse’s mouth. But I reckon the other thing to remember is that even if you can get the car to launch without tramping, that old four-speed gearbox will still be the limiting factor. Again, it comes down to what they were designed to cope with and what your mate is throwing at it these days. Essentially, the gearbox is a bit of a fuse in a big-poke VW and if you insist on launching from 4500rpm all the time, its days will be numbered. Even treated gently, the boxes tend to flog out pretty quickly in big-torque applications.

And there’s no cheap replacement. Unlike a front-engined, rear-drive car where you can just bolt in a Toploader and forget about it, the Volksy’s transaxle is not simple to replace with a substitute unit. The current trend is to use a Subaru five-speed (handy if you’re also repowering the car with a Subaru motor). There’s a US-made unit called a Freeway Flyer by a mob called Rancho and it’s a popular route with Kombi owners who want better cruising speeds and reliability, or – for the purists out there – a Porsche gearbox from an early 911 is the ticket. But it’s a big-dollar ticket (although you get five forward gears) and you still need to cut and modify bits of the pan and frame horns to make it fit. And that’s why many people (me and Torrens included) persist with the VW four-speed.

I should also add that GT’s Beetle is a competition car so it doesn’t need to do reliable road miles and he also spent up big on a beefed-up gearbox from a specialist shop which also fitted an LSD and shorter ratios to make the most of his monster engine. But please talk your mate into persisting with the thing, because there’s absolutely nothing like a Beetle that goes like a shot dog. Just ask the bloke in the SS Commodore who made the mistake of pulling up next to my Superbug at the lights a while ago.


Beep beep, bzzzzz

Holden -barina -interior

Not sure you can help but I’d really appreciate any guidance you may have. I bought a 2003 Barina SRi 1.8 for my daughter. It has 120,000km on the clock, is totally original and appears to never have been in an accident. I bought it from a private seller in Ingleburn NSW and the car appears not to have been near salty, humid air. The car is in very good condition.

The engine will periodically cut out instantly and completely (maybe every 2 weeks or so). I wait one to 20 minutes and off it goes again. I cannot pin-point any particular set of conditions that will trigger the problem (more’s the pity as it’d make diagnostics so much easier). I have replaced the coil pack, crank and cam angle sensors and recently the ECU. The latter failed and the same symptoms returned (cutting out, same error code on the Tech2 analyser) and the unit was replaced with another new item by GM under warranty.  The diagnostic and software upload work has been performed by a really good auto electrician using a GM Tech2 analyser.

I suspect that the cutting out will return given the previous ECU failure and I think it would be reasonable of GM to refuse to replace it again given the electrician hasn›t seen a new ECU fail before. I think there is still some underlying electrical problem that caused the ECU failure and the original cutting out issues. 

Have you ever heard of this problem and if not do you know of any mechanical guru who would have encountered this problem in Barinas? The car is really well made, extremely well equipped and a hoot to drive and it would be a real shame to scrap it if this problem is unsolvable.

Graham Crompton,

Canberra, ACT

I’ve heard of quite a few electrical gremlins side-lining imported Holdens over the years. Ask an Astra or Vectra owner about it and you’ll usually get a set of rolled eyes and a sigh. My first instinct when this sort of cutting out happens is to pour a bottle of cold water over the crank-angle sensor. These sensors don’t like high underbonnet temperatures and the first sign of one that is slowly dying is the intermittent cutting out you’re experiencing. Often, though, the cold water will cool them enough that they’ll allow the engine to start again. But, as you said, you’ve already replaced that unit (along with a bunch of other stuff).

What confounds some people trying to diagnose a problem is that they get blinkered on what the cause might be. While I agree that your problem does sound like its electronics-related, don’t rule out the car’s other systems, starting with the fuel supply. These cars had an electric fuel pump that is essential to pressurise and feed fuel to the engine. These are often operated by a relay and relays have been known to develop intermittent faults. And don’t forget to go right back to the basics including checking the car’s earth connections. A good earth is often overlooked, but I can assure you, a dud earth will stop a car in its tracks as surely as a piston through the side of the block.

One question I’ve got to ask is how the hell you got Holden to give you a new ECU under warranty on a car that was made in 2003? You must have a very understanding dealer up there in the ACT!


Yes, it’s the Dart

Six -cylinder -engine

I have a bit of a fun filled story; regarding an article from an issue a few months ago about Ron Harrop and Harrop’s Howler. My Grandfather (Allan Findlay) and my Dad use to race the quarter-mile down at Riverside at Fishermans Bend many moons ago. When I showed my father this article with Ron, the first thing he said was "that cheating bastard!"

I said "what do you mean?", and Dad said "we were cheating then and he was still beating us." Now let me fill in the blanks: Grandad’s EH Ute (Milk Truck Martha) was running a 179 punched out to 186-ish with a 149 head, bigger valves, double valve-springs, triple SU carbies and kept in tune by Dave Bennett (at the time known as Perfectune). And they still had troubles in keeping up. But that was all part of the fun of racing in a by-gone era.

At one of this meets Grandad blew a diff in the Ute, so one of his fans went out to his EH in the car park, pulled the diff out, walked up to Grandad and said, "keep on racing". Dad can’t remember if they won in their class or not that day, but at the end of the meet they handed back the bloke’s diff with a lot of hand-shaking.

I was also told a story by Grandad back when they used to drive the ute down to the drags: One day he stopped at a set of traffic lights (and there weren’t too many of those between Healesville and Riverside) and a young buck pulled up beside him in a XP Falcon, gunning the engine (the Ute had Perfectune written down the side). Well the XP took off and Grandad just drove off, you don’t want to break your drag car now do you? This went on for the next two or three sets of lights until Grandad had enough. Dad was following in Granddad’s FJ panel van and he reckoned you could see the young fella’s jaw hit the floor.

Some of the Grandad’s other cars were a FJ with the motor out of the Ute and one of his road going cars was a 307HK ute. He liked the power so much he put a 307 into a two-door FJ. Then there was his last race car, which I was shit-scared of. It was a 307-powered Goggo Dart that had a straight-out exhaust. And when that thing fired up in the old wooden shed (and you never knew when that was going to happen) all hell broke loose.

Grandad was in his late 50s and early 60s when he was racing in the 1970s, he passed away in 1988. I was not old enough to take in some of the racing scene but Dad has filled in some of the blanks for me.

Garry A Porter,

Email

Garry, your grandad sounds like a hell-raiser of the first order. I’d love to have sat down and shared a beer with him, because I reckon blokes like him are top company. They have a million yarns to tell and they’re all rippers. I reckon somebody ought to make a TV series based on stories like yours. I’d watch it.

Plenty of my older mates have told me tales of FJ Holden utes and such with cranked up six-cylinders in them, but I have never, ever heard of anybody game enough to plonk a 307 Chev into a Goggomobil Dart. Where is it now? And what became of Milk Truck Martha?

Dave Bennett (who I met many times over the years) certainly went on to make a nice living out of modifying cars for blokes like your grandad. In fact, while Perfectune was his early tuning business, Dave went on to become a tier-one supplier of engine parts to Holden. Dave also had the first CNC machining facility in Australia and most famously developed the Yella Terra range of hot-up bits that are still being bolted to red sixes to this very day. And I oughta know!

 

Nissan -Xterra -interior

Left-to-right is wrong

I am planning to move to Australia from Oman by next year with my Nissan Xterra (2012 model). Can you please let me know how much generally it costs to convert from left to right-hand-drive.

Sanjeev,

Oman

Wow, Unique Cars has made it to Oman! I never knew we had such cosmopolitan appeal. Might have to buy a formal T-shirt if this keeps up.

Anyway, Sanjeev, there’s nothing to stop you converting your Nissan from left to right-hand-drive for Australia, but it’ll potentially cost more than the car is worth. Putting a price on it is tricky, because until you actually start the conversion, you don’t always know what’s going to be involved. Honestly, I’d be stabbing in the dark to suggest any figure. Back it in, though, that we’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars.

But all is not lost, my friend. See, the Xterra is built on one of Nissan’s global platforms (the F-Alpha platform, to be precise) and it shares that platform with the Australian-market Pathfinder. So the shot would be to sell your Xterra in Oman and just buy a 2012 Pathfinder once you get out here. It won’t be exactly the same vehicle, but the core engineering will be similar.

It then occurred to me that maybe you want to bring this specific car with you because it’s heavily modified for a specific job and you don’t want to go through that process one more time. Again, though, my advice would be to use great caution as Australian registration authorities lack any real sense of humour when it comes to modified vehicles.

Particularly if they’re private imports, I’d imagine. In fact, you might find a modified vehicle doesn’t even qualify to be imported in the first place. It varies from State to State, of course, so you need to research that before taking the plunge.

Even if you go with plan A and convert the car, it’ll probably end up with a Pathfinder dashboard and steering gear anyway. But seriously, the sums just don’t add up; buy a Pathie out here and use the cash you’ll save to run it for the next 20 years.


TRIVIAL PURSUIT

Window -switch

Switch hitter

Ever wondered why some cars (like late-model Commodores) place their power-window switches on the centre console rather than on the doors (where they ought to be; right next to the window in question)? It’s actually all to do with producing a car that can be built as left or right-hand-drive with the minimum of changes. By putting the switches in the middle of the car, the wiring loom and switchgear is exactly the same regardless of whether she’s left or right-hook. Clever. But still annoying.

Tyre

Gone, not forgotten

Here’s my list of things they never should have got rid of on cars: Quarter-vent windows, foot-mounted dipper-switches, conventional park-brakes, spare tyres, manual gearboxes. Any more for any more?

 

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