Fuel Tanks + 70s British Cars + V8s - Morley 388

By: David Morley

Presented by

holden torana drop fuel tank holden torana drop fuel tank

Morley drops the knowledge on fuel tanks, plumbs the depths of 70s British ineptitude and, despite his love of sixes, lists the reasons why a Monaro with a bent-eight is the go

 

MORLEY'S SOAPBOX

A quick heads-up on fuel tanks

A letter in this column about an enlarged fuel tank reminded me of something really important. While it is possible to cut and shut or patch a fuel tank, it is absolutely not a job for anybody who is not a dead-set, 24-carat, gold-plated expert in the field. And while I’m all for digging in and having a go at most things as a means of learning how something works, in the case of modifying fuel tanks, I have to say don’t try it at home, kids. Just don’t.

The problem is that fuel tanks – even if they haven’t had fuel in them for decades – are full of highly explosive vapours. So obviously, applying any sort of heat or ignition source say, via a cutting torch, angle-grinder or welder, is asking for them to blow up. And we’re not talking little pops and farts here; these things go off like bombs. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you a couple of examples:

My old man was a country cop for decades. He recalls being called out to a farm paddock where a couple of blokes had been cutting up old fuel drums. He wasn’t there to warn them against this, his job was to find their heads. And years later when I was the police roundsman on a country paper, I got a call out to a house in the next town where a lad had been trying to weld the petrol tank on his motorcycle. It went bang: Killed him dead.

From what I can gather, the experts who attempt this fill the tank with argon or some other inert gas to remove all the oxygen and, therefore, remove the chances of an explosion. I’ve heard of other blokes filling the tank with water to create the same set of circumstances. But I wouldn’t know for sure, because I’ve always elected to stand outside the workshop while the job is being done.

So there it is: By all means, have a crack at that ball-joint or changing the lifters or synchronizing those carburetors. But leave fuel tanks to the experts. I’m not being a buzz-kill; it’s just that I’ve personally seen it go horribly, horribly wrong. And I like you guys. I want to see you around at car shows and race-tracks. Not all of you have heads to be exactly proud of, but you’re all better off with them intact.

HERE'S MY TIP

Drain stops play

When changing any fluid, it pays to loosen off the fill end of the system before draining the fluid. Not only does the fluid drain quicker, but it also prevents the scenario where you drain fluids only to find that the fill port is stripped or cross-threaded and can’t be removed leaving you with no fluids in the system. As a wiser man than me said, old fluid is better than no fluid.

 

LETTERS

IS IT A KEEPER?

Holden -commodore -ss

In a recent UC you had an article on Fab Fords as collectables. I would like to see a similar article on Holdens and HSVs as I am considering purchasing a low kilometre 2013 VF SS as a possible collectible down the track. I’m talking about the one with the six-litre engine with the cylinder shut-down for economy. What do you think?

Keith Wooldridge,

email

There are a couple of things working against the VF Series 1 Commodore SS becoming a collectable, Keith, particularly the version you’ve nominated. For a start, the model with cylinder shut-down was only available with the automatic gearbox (the six-speed manual didn’t have this feature) and history has shown that when it comes to Aussie factory muscle, the manual version will always be the one for the true believers. But even if you could get cylinder deactivation in a manual, I doubt it would add anything to the car’s value as a sometime-collectable. See, folks in the market for such a thing down the track won’t be concerned about a tenth of a litre of fuel here and there. In fact, Holden has even ditched the cylinder shut-off function on automatic versions of its new Series 2 VF SS.

Which brings us to the VF Series 1’s other long-term collectability issue: the Series 2. The last of the line will always be worth more to a collector than the second-last. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. And since the VF Series 2 is the absolute last of the local V8 Holdens, the difference between the two will be even greater than it might have been.

The other problem for the Series 1 is that the Series 2 is a seriously improved piece of gear. It handles better, rides better and even sounds better. And replacing the Series 1’s six-litre with a 6.2 is just icing on the cake for anybody with a VF Series 2. The other thing, Keith, Is how long your time frame is on this. I mean, the VN SS is just about now starting to show its potential as a collectable Holden and it’s now more than 25 years old. Can you wait that long?

In the end, I’d have to recommend the Series 2 Commodore SS as the best bet for a collector market in the future, but make sure you get a manual and stump up for the Redline version with the Brembo brakes. Not only will it be worth more in the future, it’ll be nicer to drive now. But if the Series 1 is a good price, why not just buy it and enjoy it and put the money you saved over a Series 2 SS in a term deposit and see what happens. You might be surprised. Or not.


GOODBYE DOLLY

Dolomite -sprint -interior

I’ve owned a lot of cars over the years, and someone once made the mistake of asking me if I’d ever owned a lemon. I certainly have and it was one of those beautifully engineered models of the great British Leyland company.

I don’t know how I managed to get sucked into buying the Triumph Dolomite Sprint: Maybe it was the wood-grain dash or the design award for the 16-valve head with the single cam or the four-speed gearbox with electric overdrive on third and fourth gears which effectively made it a six-speed; all exciting stuff for 1977! Or maybe it was the Smiths gauges or the yellow duco and the black vinyl roof (the only colour you could get).

Anyway I still have the scars on my knuckles from the endless repairs over the five years I put up with this British Leyland nightmare. Things went wrong with this car that never went wrong with any other. One night when I was driving home halfway across a bridge the lights went out. Triumph had put halogen high-beam lights in but no one had thought of putting a relay in and so consequently the wiring and switch got toasted! Real handy. The electric overdrive was so unreliable that I bought a spare solenoid unit that I kept in the boot that became an endless reconditioned rotational unit.

Once I noticed a grinding noise in the steering and after hours of searching found that the firewall steering column bush had chopped out. I ask you: Has anyone heard of this problem with any car let alone one with only 70,000km on it! Once I noticed that under acceleration there was a nasty grinding sound . This was traced to the rear suspension rubbers that had worn out allowing the diff and tailshaft to twist up under load and hit the floor! Then the water pump went and wheel bearings and do you think I could get anyone to fix the exhaust manifold gasket: You had to be a double-jointed brain surgeon to even attempt such a task.  It had overheating problems, shock absorbers that went at 50,000, a burnt out exhaust and endless oil leaks.

And I know what you are all asking: why did you keep it for so long? Well, all I can say is it was a love hate relationship that ended up with mainly hate. I was determined not to let it beat me but in the end the yellow lemon did. As you can imagine I am still having therapy from owning this car all those years ago. So if you are thinking of buying one as a cheap British classic take my advice don’t even think about it!

Philip House,

email

Ah yes, the Triumph Dolomite…one of the bigger disappointments from an industry renowned for let-downs generally. To be honest, I haven’t had much to do with Triumph cars personally, but rest assured, that’s not been by accident. But mates of mine have tried them on for size over the years and, to a man, have finally chucked the towel in and sent the remains to the scrappy’s.

I don’t think it was the design that was at fault (although the three-litre overhead camshaft V8 in the Stag was a thigh-slapper even in the day) rather that these cars were so appallingly put together by a workforce that was deeply, er, unhappy with their lot under (among other political luminaries) Von Thatcher. Look at the Range Rover, for instance: A brilliant design (and arguably the granddaddy of all those SUVs people are falling over each other to buy today) but incredibly poorly screwed together. I owned one – briefly – and I was amazed pretty much on a daily basis at what could fall off, break, warp or just stop working. And it was heart-breaking because when it was running properly, the old Rangie was a masterful piece of automotive design that was also devastatingly good off-road. Except that I was never really game to take it too far off road. In fact, I went 30 years without having a vehicle towed home until that damned RR.

My mate Cockburn (of that gorgeous E-Type roadster fame, and the bloke who palmed the Rangie off on me) reckons the problem was deep-seated yet fairly simple: That the people building the cars absolutely hated the people they were building them for. Think of it as the car-making equivalent of the chef spitting in the customer’s soup. It’s one more reason why the class system is on the nose.

I reckon the one British Leyland I’d make an exception for would be a Triumph 2500. The one with the twin carbs and electric overdrive, thanks. Yep, you’d be keeping a spare overdrive solenoid in the boot and I’d junk the Lucas fuel pump for a Holley and switch to electronic ignition. And it’d probably still find ways to break down on me, but at least it’d look fabulous doing it.

 

10K CHALLENGERS

Jaguar -series -2-xj

On the subject of $10,000 classics, what about an early 70’s Rover P6B 3500 with the high-compression Buick derived V8 engine? Based on road reports of the day; 0 – 60 mph in 9.1 to 10 secs and with a top speed of 115 – 120 mph, it compares more than favourably with your recent article on the 302 XW Fairmont and is even better than a Series 2 4.2lt XJ6 .

Working through my bucket list of cars (ones I can afford) my recently acquired Rover is very impressive, rides and holds the road like an XJ6, the engineering is very impressive, spares available from the Rover club or from UK suppliers – this might be a keeper.

Steve Perkins,

email

Steve, take a look at the letter above and you’ll see exactly what can go wrong here. Although I’ll admit the 3.5-litre V8 was a lovely engine provided it hangs together. Now, I hope that yours doesn’t give problems because you sound pretty happy with it, but watch out for carburettors that develop nasal drip, wet cylinder liners that come loose and start tapping away under the cylinder head (that one will drive you mad) and just about every electrical problem ever experienced on wheels. And that’s just the engine (which was the best bit, remember).

Of course, if you’re a bit handy, the basic simplicity of the big Rover means you should be able to sort it all out. And provided you’re not relying on it for daily transport, it doesn’t matter quite so much if it needs a little lie down every now and then, right? I guess my point is that your 10-grand classic might have cost you a little more than that by the time you’ve got it sorted and perfect. But hey, that’s old cars, right? Right.

I have to say, I look at the P6 Rover and then at the Jaguar XJ6 with which you’ve compared it, and I have trouble believing they were built in the same era. The Rover is all upright and stately, while the Jag must have been a space-ship back in the day. I really like those old XJ6s, too (the Series 1 was the looker with its full-depth grille) and the twin-cam Jaguar six was a belter. And then I look under the lid and see `Lucas’ and I just wanna run and hide.

 


CLASSICS ON THE RADAR

Holden -commodore -vp -ss

Excellent column Morley. Regarding your comments about certain cars coming into their own over time: A few cars have zoomed in for me lately. And yes, I’ve drawn up a list:

HSV VT GTS; HSV Clubsport; FPV BA GT; and the Holden CV6 Monaro A few years ago I wouldn’t have given them a second look but now I reckon they’re on the radar. And try finding an original VP SS; it’s almost impossible.

Russell,

Email

I reckon you’re on the money with most things on that list. HSVs will have their day, but I think they still play second fiddle a little to Brock cars of a generation earlier. That situation will change. Same goes for the FPV stuff. Let’s face it, any Falcon with a GT badge that wasn’t a complete duffer in its day will have to be worth something to someone at some stage.

The one I’d disagree with, though is the CV6 Monaro. Yes, the supercharged V6 did the job and wasn’t a bad motor in its own right (in fact, I’d love to stuff one into a 245 Volvo wagon and scare some WRX drivers) but it will always be second best compared with the V8 version of the latter-day Monaro. And not even time will change that too much, because look at the prices of the original 60s Monaros. Yes, the six-cylinder variants are worth a bob or two these days, but they’ll never be as collectible or valuable as a factory V8 job. Also, there were enough V8 Monaros sold that there are plenty around now for the taking and they’re not even bad money right now.

As for VP SS Commodores, I reckon you can add the VN SS to that list as well. Because these were affordable performance cars in the day, they tended to get bought and used up. So finding a good `un now is difficult. The next big thing in SS Commodores will probably be the VR/VS models which were a better drive, still relatively lightweight and came with stuff like an independent rear end to make them much nicer to live with. But they don’t have that animal look or the righteous simplicity of a VN SS, do they?

 

POURQUOI PAS LE FROG? 

Citroen -cs

I find it interesting that the Citroen CX is not considered a classic. It was the last true Citroen and has design features way beyond its 1975 release date. I believe that they are a beautiful, futuristic (for their time) motor vehicle that deserves far higher status than they currently attract. Yes, we’ve all heard about rust, but hey, what about Italian cars of a similar era; they rust before your eyes and if the Citroen is maintained and rust-proofed it is not a problem.

Comfort and road handling is above par, the tyres stay on the ground at silly cornering speeds (even if the door handles are scraping, I have been told). The interior is sumptuous, especially in leather and the instrument panel makes you feel that you are on the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise. The later series GTis and Turbos were as quick as anything of similar ilk in their day, so performance is not an issue.

All this and they remain unloved. So I will throw the question to you and the readers, why not a CX?

Wayne Barrett,

Email

Hmmm. These things haven’t ever really been on my radar, I must admit. My `thing’ for a Citroen really starts and stops with a DS. Beyond that, my French-made fantasies (Geddit?) usually involve the Renault Clio with the mid-mounted V6 engine. Cor blimey! (And if anybody has one of those lying around looking for a new home…)

But you make an interesting point. And I agree that the CX really probably was the last of the true Citroens. Yes, the BX of the 1980s still had hydro-pneumatic suspension but it looked like a garden shed with headlights and even the BX 19 GTi version with the rumpy-pumpy little motor borrowed from the Peugeot 405 Mi16 failed to deliver much in the way of sex appeal. So maybe we should all start giving the Citroen CX the respect it deserves.

Actually, that whole era of European cars is starting to look a bit interesting. I can see the point in a Peugeot 505 Turbo and I reckon the original Saab 900 Aero is a collectible sleeper waiting to emerge. Of all those, the Aero would be my pick. Matter of fact…Talledega red, factory sunroof, those lovely three-spoke alloys…Bliss.


CALLING ALL KOMBIS

Vw -kombi

I have just started to buy some car magazines as I am looking to buy my partner a Kombi van. I don’t know a lot about them but I know that she has always wanted one. I need one that is already registered and going as I am not very good at mechanical stuff or restoration.

I’m not sure how much I need to spend, but I have about eight grand saved up. I will keep buying mags and keeping an eye out, but if someone can help me find a good one, it would be great to hear from them. I hope someone can respond to this letter, as I would love to surprise my lady with her dream car.

James Bush,

Cow Bay, QLD

Okay all you romantics out there, how about it: Anybody out there got a Kombi James can buy and use to score maximum brownie points? Contact us here at UC and we’ll pass on James’ details.

Meantime, James, I’ve got to ask you a few questions before you get into this too deep: For one, has your partner ever actually driven an old, air-cooled Volkswagen Kombi? Believe me, they’re an acquired taste.

They have the handling of a drunken rhino, the crash safety of a damp shoe-box (you, Sir, are the crumple zone) and they don’t so much accelerate as they accrue speed much like you or I accrue sick leave. Throw in heavy steering, a floppy gearshift and no heater to speak of, and you’re living the Kombi dream (mind you, heating may not be such an issue up in Cow Bay).

I’m also going to call you out on you budget. For some reason known only to the weirdos that love these things (and I’m one of them, being a multiple Kombi owner) old Kombis are very sought after and prices in the last handful of years have gone stupid.

Rob Blackbourn on W Kombi prices

Eight large won’t buy you much Kombi at all, and nothing in nice condition with healthy mechanicals. Rust is a huge problem and although the motor has about three moving parts, they’re not cheap to rebuild. They won’t like the high-ambient, high-humidity conditions up your way either.

VW Kombi sells for a record $202,000 at Shannons (2015) 

If all that hasn’t put you off, then maybe a Kombi would be a good way to expand your – as you’ve admitted – limited mechanical skills. Certainly, they’re nice to work on with good access and relative simplicity of most of the vital systems, and parts aren’t a problem.

Ultimately, I’m trying to say that a VW Kombi has its charms, but they’re really only visible to those who `get’ the things. That said, if your partner has hankered for a Kombi for years, then there’s really no other solution than to own one.

Which may or may not cure the sickness in a very short time. On the flip-side, you’ve got to admire a woman who recognises a Kombi as something to aspire to. Has she got a sister?


TANKS A BUNCH

Car -fuel -tank

Firstly I would like to thank you all for a great magazine; I look forward to receiving every issue. I’m writing to try to find out some information on the person who did the job of enlarging the fuel tank for the HQ give away car of last year.

I am building a HQ GTS sedan myself with a 355 engine and I need to modify the tank and fuel line also. I was looking at installing an alloy custom tank but I like your idea better; keeps it looking more original. Actually, I was hoping to win the giveaway HQ…would have saved me a lot of time and cash, but then I’d have missed out on all the fun of doing it myself.

Kym Zimmermann,

South Australia

Kym, me old mate, you wouldn’t be the first bloke who was angling to take home that gorgeous black hot-rod of a HQ we gave away recently. Having seen it close up, I can tell you that I have never seen a HQ (a notoriously tricky shape to get right, I might add) so arrow-straight in all my life. Even when they were cluttering up Holden dealerships, they weren’t as straight as that one.

I’m with you, too; I like the look of a big alloy drop-tank, but the enlarged standard tank of the giveaway HQ was cooler that an eskimo hipster, no? As you’ve correctly identified, you’ll need to enlarge the fuel line to cope with the drinking habits of a 355 stroker, but an often overlooked fact is that the outlet form the tank itself to join that lovely big fuel line also stands to be embiggened. No point having a half-inch fuel line if you’re still dealing with a three-sixteenths outlet. Make sure you provide enough pump action, too. The gun set-up is to use a first-stage lift-pump to a surge tank and then a second pump from there to the engine. That ensures that the surge tank is always full giving the feed pump a constant supply of juice and you won’t get fuel starvation on corners.

Oh yeah, the mob we most recently trusted for fuel tank work was Brown Davis (browndavis.com.au). They can extend an HQ tank for you.

 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT

Last chance saloon

Porsche built a prototype sedan for Studebaker called the Type 542 back in 1952. It never made production, being given the thumbs down by John Z DeLorean.

Berth rites

Karl -benz -motor -car

Karl Benz might have invented the motor car, but it was his wife, Bertha, who took the vehicle on its first long trip. In 1988, Bertha loaded two of her sons and some bratwurst sandwiches into the Patent Motorwagen and headed off on a 106km trip to visit her mother. So you can blame the Benz family directly for inventing the drive to visit to the mother-in-law.

Plastic fantastic

Corvette -model -car

Ever wondered why the Corvette uses a fibreglass body over a steel frame? Seems like a strange way to go in the US in the 50s, right? Well, it seems the plastic-over-steel method was used to produce a prototype (it was simpler) and that car was accidentally crashed. But it survived so well, the decision was made to enter production using the same techniques. So I’m told.

 

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

 

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