Blown Gasket + Affordable Euros + Dodgy Workshops - Morley's Workshop 409

By: Dave Morley

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morley 1 morley 1

Ford factory funnies, loosing your cool over a gasket, affordable Euros can be found and keeping close to your resto if you aren't twirling the spanners


Morley's Workshop

It Didn't Want to Idle

If you’ve been following my latest geek tragedy, you’ll know that the RS2000 disgraced itself a few weeks ago and arrived back at the Melbourne Bloke Centre on a banana-back. A quick look under the bonnet revealed that the El Cheapo radiator I fitted a handful of years ago had suffered a fundamental and terminal failure (it stopped being capable of containing water) and by the time I could pull off the freeway, the engine had gone flat and wouldn’t idle.

First thoughts were that the engine was toast, but when I started it next day it ran perfectly until it got some heat in it, at which point it fell over again. Only one thing to do; rip the head off and see what’s going on.

Based on the little I’ve learned about the Pinto two-litre, it seemed likely the head had cracked across an exhaust valve seat. But if I was lucky, it might just have been a head gasket that had let go. As we speak, the head is at a mate’s place being checked with a straight edge and having the valves tested for leakage. But on first inspection it looked pretty good. But then, so did the head gasket as we removed it. And then we turned the gasket over…

As you can see from the photo, the gasket has clearly blown across three of the four cylinders. You can see the blackened bits where combustion has taken place where it shouldn’t have and there are a couple of areas of gasket where there’s just material missing. No wonder it didn’t want to idle: Poor little bugger was down to two cylinders; one conventional 500cc one, and a second, 1500cc cylinder shaped like the top half of the Olympic rings.

The next step – assuming the head checks out okay – is to reassemble the Pinto with a new (quality) head gasket and to make sure that there’s no valve-piston interference. I’ve got a feeling this head has been skimmed before, so if we have to do it again this time, we may need a thicker head gasket, especially since the cam is a much more aggressive thing than the standard stick. Apparently these shimmed-out gaskets are available ex-UK but, given the lousy exchange rate, the Poms are asking drug money for the things. However, I reckon it’s one of those times where, long after I’ve forgotten how much the gasket cost, I’ll still be savouring the sound of a nice, tight little Pinto with a big camshaft and some decent compression. Which is exactly the approach I should have taken with radiators those few years ago.

But then we’d have nothing to talk about, right? Silver lining, and all that…



Spare tyre

Spare -tyre

If you give a monkey’s about your car and how it drives, you’ll know to check the tyre pressures. No brainer, right? True, but what about the tyre you don’t think about until you need it? Yep, when did you last check the pressure in your spare? Even a perfectly good spare can loose a psi a month. And what about its condition? If your car is a classic, the spare may be the original cross-ply so it’s a million years old and full of little cracks where the rubber has perished. And since the boot has leaked the whole time you’ve owned the car, the steel rim is probably rusty, too. Hmm, might be worth cleaning out the boot and having a look. Oh, and give the boot mat a hose-off while you’re at it.



Caveat Restorer

Holden -kingswood

A long-time reader, mine is a cautionary tale. I want to avoid this happening to anybody else. Our family had a 1979 HZ Kingswood SL sedan from near new. My dad purchased it second-hand from a dealer in South Australia sometime in the mid-80s.

Some features of the vehicle were: 253 V8; factory auto (Trimatic with column-shift); extractors and twin-exhaust; factory four-wheel disc-brakes; factory wind-back sunroof and power driver’s door mirror; aftermarket leather steering wheel.

The vehicle was in the family for two generations. It was Dad’s daily-driver for about 15 years and was given to me in my late teenage years. I drove it for a couple of years and absolutely loved it. The note from the V8 was amazing – you’d always hear the car before you saw it.

After a while I let the registration expire as I focussed on finishing my education and buying a house. It was relocated to my parents’ house where it deteriorated somewhat but was still in average condition and able to be restored, even though the rats made a nest in the engine bay at one point.

In 2015, I wanted to restore the car and contacted a business I knew of in the industry. I engaged them to restore the car. But even after two years, no work had been done on the vehicle and the business even withheld parts of the car.

Eventually, our family initiated a court action but, just before the trial, a cash settlement was reached. I still have the original owner’s manual – a nice keepsake – but nowhere near as good as having the vehicle. From a sentimental point of view, it was irreplaceable. I’m a street-smart person, and not easily fooled. I simply thought it was taking longer than initially planned. I have since discovered this sort of thing is all too common.

So here I am…If any of your readers has a pre-1980, V8-optioned HZ SL sedan, Premier or Statesman for sale (or know of one for sale) I would love to hear from them. I am also willing to travel interstate to inspect vehicles.

Jason Rickerey
Balcatta, WA

Jason, I feel your pain. And I reckon most Unique Cars readers would feel the same. Most of us have, at one time or another, been on the receiving end of one kind of take-down or another like the mongrel, cheap-arse radiator that failed a few weeks ago, cooking the engine in my RS2000. Often it’s little stuff where the bastards get you, but to lose a whole car thanks to a dodgy workshop is the pits. And when it’s a car with such emotional attachment to you, the situation is all the worse.

I guess the lesson is to make sure you know damn well who is running the business you’re dealing with and whether you can trust them, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. And the fact that it’s a business you previously knew of and thought was above board must make it sting all the more.

I couldn’t count the times I’ve head similar stories. Stories where a car gets wheeled into a workshop and then sits there for weeks, months and even years without a single spanner touching it. Sometimes it’s a lack of progress payments on the part of the car’s owner, other times it’s mis-management and general dodginess from the business owners. I saw it happen at a panel shop I used to visit, where an XA Falcon GT (a genuine one, at that) sat for years, gathering dust because the owner just couldn’t get his or her act together to make a part payment for work to continue. Actually, I wonder what ever happened to that car. Back then, it was probably a $10,000 Falcon (this was many years ago) in need of new paint and some rust repairs. But now…

One thing you haven’t told us, though, Jason is what actually happened to the HZ. Did it just disappear overnight? Was it somehow irreparably damaged while it was in the workshop? Did it continue to rust away to the point where it was no longer fixable? What gives?

Of course, the bottom line is that it’s gone now, so how about it UC readers? Anybody know where Jason can get his hands on the next best thing to his dad’s old HZ? If you have one, or have a lead on one, get in touch at the Unique Cars address and we’ll pass on your details to Jason.


A survivor… Literally

Fairlane ZD

After reading the last column and, in particular, the Factory Funnies sent in by Brian Dickson, along with your response, I thought I would throw my example into the ring. About eight years ago my then 23-year-old daughter arrived in the driveway in a 1970 ZD Fairlane, bouncing out of the car saying "How cool is this?".

The car was in Vermillion Fire, and, upon opening the boot and the bonnet, I discovered it was a real deal factory colour-code six. My daughter had bought it as a daily drive which lasted about six months, and then she started to encounter all sorts of issues, so I bought her another car and took over the Fairlane.

After owning about 50-plus cars and making money on maybe two, you’d reckon I’d have learnt, but I don’t think that ever happens. Old car nuts just get older. I have attached a couple of pics: It’s not standard, and is now running a fully rebuilt 351 Cleveland, and has had all the rust cut out, interior tidied up and a lot of the mechanicals refreshed.

This car survived Black Saturday when the fire went straight over the top of it while it was parked at an embankment in the Yarra Valley, and I still have the melted centre interior light surround. A bit like wildfire meets Vermillion Fire.

I would love to know how many of these were ever produced, and when I spoke to Ford, they had only heard of maybe three or four. Thanks for the mag, it’s always a great read.

Graham Smith,

Graham, your daughter has impeccable taste in cars. I love these old long-wheelbase Ozzie Fords and it’s clear from your photos that they still stack up as a style statement. Probably more now than ever.

Man, that sounds like a close call with the bushfires, and it’s hard to believe that a car could survive a firestorm close enough to melt the interior plastic. Was there any other damage beyond the paint? My own Black Saturday experience is a bit similar to yours from the sound of things. My place isn’t a million miles from yours geographically, and although the fires never got as close as they did to your patch, they did get to the forest at the end of our street and then the next week into the bushland reserve about a kilometre away.

Based on my run away, run away fire action plan (I can’t see the point in trying to defend an insured house with a garden hose in the face of the firestorm that was Black Saturday) we actually evacuated 13 Struggle Street twice in a week. It was a case of laptop, photo albums, dog, bride (no, not in that order exactly) into the car and away. But to give everybody a fair chance of getting out on the crowded roads, we decided to take just one car. That meant leaving my dear old Kombi to its fates. You have no idea how chuffed I was to return to a still-standing house and a non-toasted Kombi in the driveway. Of course, not everybody was so lucky, and the memories of that week still give me the chills.

But back to your car. I haven’t ever seen a factory Vermillion Fire Fairlane before, and I’d be tipping it’s another of those special-order cars that involved getting the dealer in a headlock and explaining why it’s important that Ford builds my next car in bright red. And while it wasn’t red, the Fairlane I mentioned last issue with the GT running gear was Monza Green which, I believe, was also a Falcon GT colour.


Escort service

Ford -escort -taillight -2

Great feature on those Escorts! Yours truly purchased a new ’71 Aussie-spec MK-1 back in the day. It was the 1300 XL with Fairmont-style upgrades; stuff like stainless sill panels, window-trim surrounds, bumper over-riders, Capri-type wheel covers and Dunlop Aquajets, with the tan interior and matching loop pile carpet.

And as you mention Morley, it too had the steering-shaft angled to connect with the rack. The original VW Beetle with its trailing-arm, torsion-bar front end had a significant capacity to survive our horrendous roads (proven in events like the Redex trials of the day). But I reckon the Mk1 Escort must have come a close second with its McPherson strut set up that incorporated three-point location of the front wheels with the ends of the stabiliser bar doubling as the forward/aft anchor link]. The gun model out here then was the 1600 Twin Cam with all its dodgy assembly and engine oil leaks.

While on the subject of the Pinto engine in the Mk2 Escort, I think that this is one of the few engines in which you can lose the cam-belt drive without the valves impacting the piston tops. At least that was my experience with our high-mileage TC and TF Cortinas.

Eric Waples,
Albion Park, NSW
Funny you should mention the way the Escort’s front stabiliser bar forms the fore-aft link for the lower control arm. Especially in the context of the mighty VW Beetle. See, believe it or not, when the later air-cooled Beetle went to a MacPherson strut front end, it used exactly the same method of controlling the front end. Spooky, huh?

Speaking of the Mk1 Escort Twin Cam, did you know it underwent a name-change part-way through its showroom life in this country? Yep, Ford Oz dumped the Twin Cam badge and replaced it with the GT1600 badge instead. Why? It was all to do with keeping the insurance companies in their box. Seems some insurers were worried about any car with `Twin Cam’ in its name. So the move to a GT1600 tag suddenly saw owners’ premiums fall. Still had a twin-cam engine under the bonnet of course; in fact, it was mechanically identical with the only difference being those badges. I’ll never understand some things.

And while I’m racking the old memory cells, I’m just old enough to remember Dunlop Aquajets. Aquaskids, we called them, and I’ll never forget my old man arriving home in his brand-new HQ V8 in late 1974, parking the car and phoning the dealer he bought it from immediately. The conversation is largely unprintable (even in 2017) but revolved around the dealer replacing the tyres with something made from rubber or Pater was gonna park that HQ where the sun don’t shine.

I don’t think it’s too rare to have a SOHC engine that doesn’t have a piston-to-valve interface if the timing belt (or chain) snaps. I’ve certainly heard of plenty. Certainly, it’d be a lot less common in engines with higher compression ratios (there’s just physically less room for the valves to inhabit at top-dead-centre) but I wouldn’t mind betting that modern turbocharged engines, with their (slightly) lower compression ratios might get away with this now and then.

As for the Pinto engine, my own experience is that the pistons will, indeed, clobber the valves if the belt breaks. But that said, my own experience has been with the engine in my RS2000 which is a bitsa and could be running gawd-knows-what compression ratio and deck height. Certainly, the last time it went back together, we dialled in a couple of degrees of camshaft advance to reduce the chances of the valves and pistons getting together. And that was with the timing-belt intact, so I’m guessing it would make a horrible mess if the belt broke while the engine was running. Maybe the engines in your Cortinas, Eric, were low-compression numbers designed to run on crappy fuel or somesuch. Don’t forget, the Pinto engine found its way into Fords as diverse as the RS2000 and the Transit van, so there would have been a lot of different states of tune.


Dirt track sixes

For more screamin’ sixes, go to Brian Darby’s Just Midgets website. Scroll down to the Aussie midgets in action caption. Click on the photo and turn up the volume. A pair of restored 1960s midgets on track. One has a Falcon engine and the other has a fuel injected grey motor.

Turn it up loud and enjoy.

Bruce Cameron,
Benaraby Qld

Hiya Bruce. I followed your instructions (even though I had certain misgivings about typing `Just Midgets’ into a web search engine) and found the link to the video. The picture quality is nothing to write home about, but the audio! Now that’s what I’m talking about… (By the way folks, the actual web address is:

The vid starts out a bit tame with a few warm up passes, but after that, these guys really start hooking in, don’t they? And check out the cars: No roll-cages, no nothing…no wonder this was an incredibly dangerous form of motorsport back in the day. We often hear about the dangers of the early days of Formula 1, but more than a few speedway drivers went to their reward back in the day, too. It wasn’t just the crashes, too; apparently huge lumps of clay were flung into the open-face helmets of the drivers back then. And according to folklore, that explains George Tatnell’s nose.

As a bit of an aside, Aussie touring car legend John Harvey first made a racing name for himself in cars just like these, racing speedway in the early 60s. He switched to road racing in around 1964, partly as a reaction to a few of his buddies getting killed on the track. Of course, Slug went on to win Bathurst and become part of touring-car royalty in this country, for which he is best remembered. And being the unassuming bloke he is, he’d never big-note himself, but I can assure you, he is as brave as the best of them and his speedway days prove it.


Red EJs? No,grey EHs! 

Holden -special -sedan

I first entered the automotive industry at the age of 15, straight out of school, working at a local spare parts shop, I couldn’t wait to get my first car at 17. It was a 1963 Saltbush Green/Fowler’s Ivory one-owner EH Holden Special. I absolutely loved that car; wish I still had it.

There was a much older gentleman working at this spare parts shop at that time also who had completed his mechanical apprenticeship at a Holden dealership in Melbourne in the late 50s and early 60s.

Now, he told me lots of interesting yarns from back in the day. One such yarn involves the first batch of EH Holdens being fitted up with left-over EJ grey motors for export to South Africa.

None of those cars were ever sold in Australia. Not sure if this story could be checked out but this gent was telling a very convincing story about it at that time.

Reading those grey motor/red motor stories – 202s in HGs etc – for a while, I had always meant to research the grey motor EHs though never have thus far. At the time I remember thinking it too weird that this would have occurred. What are your thoughts on this?

Cheers John V,
Camira QLD

John, where do I begin? This column has been debating the existence of red-motored EJ Holdens for years now, and while personal sightings are many, actual cars in the flesh haven’t emerged. We’re still working on it, though, believe me.

Me personally? I reckon there’s a very real chance that a few late EJs (probably utes and vans) did sneak out of the factory with red motors on board, and I’ve had enough UC readers with nothing to gain by lying to me, tell me about their personal experiences of just such a thing. That said, there are plenty of doubters out there, to which I say, everybody is entitled to an opinion. That’s how Australia works.

But here’s where it gets weird: After years of hunting for a red-motored EJ, you now come along and tell us that there were EHs with grey motors! I know Holden was exporting to a lot of weird and wonderful countries back then, and it’s just possible that the old low-compression grey motor might have been a better match with some of the fuel those countries were relying on at the time.

On the surface, it seems that one scenario would automatically rule the other out. But that’s where logic has its limits. See, now that I think about it, could it not have been that this demand for the last grey motors for export models was the real reason a few Aussie-market EJ’s got red motors instead? Shuffle a few deckchairs, give the various markets what they need and create a couple of unicorn cars into the bargain. That’s not so far-fetched is it? The point being, that rather than your scenario making mine impossible, there’s a chance that the one situation created the environment for the other to occur.


Don’t fear the Euros

Mercedes -benz

Yep, the foreigners have all pulled out of making their cars here in Oz. Shame we can’t find people to stump up the cash and promise to employ our extremely talented pool of car designers and builders. 

Now, regarding your recent statement that the solution has been to shop for a BMW or Merc but that’s not a fiscal reality, perhaps my limited experience might be of interest. When I changed jobs in 2010, I needed wheels as I had lost my company car privileges. So, I reckoned it was time to try something a bit exotic and bought a Merc E240 (with limited warranty) for $18K. Yep a povo-pack Merc V6. Loved it. Put over 100,000kms on the clock and only replaced an air-con compressor (that hurt) and two window regulators($290 each fitted), averaged 9.5 litres per 100km for the seven years of ownership.

Merc service advised me in February this year the cat-convertors were stuffed and replacement was more than the car’s market value. So I found a low-mileage 2007 Merc E280 with limited factory warranty for $19,000 after trade-in. What a car, was $106,000 when new and now it’s mine for the price of a Hyundai i30, with even better fuel consumption than the first Merc.

The 100,000km service is now due and Merc have quoted me $390 and free coffee while I wait – I love racking up the kilometres. We went back to the dealer six weeks after purchase to sort out the blue teeth on the phone and my wife found a 2008 Merc C200 Kompressor with only 31,000km run up and a two-year(!) factory backed warranty that she promptly bought for similar money to mine.

Maybe one of us paid too much but we got two lovely rear drive cars for less than $40,000 and the service costs are not much different to "lesser" brands, at the dealers, and almost the same at specialist aftermarket service centres.

Nuff said. Just don’t be afraid of trying the Merc/BMW/Audi thing because the ownership cost might be far more pleasurable than you think. Then there is the question of comparative safety…

Speed Mocca,

Hmm. Your experience seems to be a positive one, Mocca. Most of us are a bit leery of these high-end Euros based on servicing costs, and what happens to your bank account when one goes bang. As you’ve found, that doesn’t always happen. So half yer luck. But what happens when they get older? Small-capacity, highly-strung turbomotors are huge fun to punt when new, but what will they be like after 20 Aussie summers worth of heat cycles? Some of their other tech leaves me lying awake at night, too. Like vacuum-operated central locking and even vacuum operated dashboard vents and such. Dunno about you, but I wouldn’t want a bill for a dashboard removal to fix a crook demister vent.

These problems can strike any make and model (apart from a Toyota Camry, apparently) but even your golden run was beset by an AC compressor replacement that probably cost a bomb.

I’m not advising anybody to deny themselves a prestige car if that’s what their heart desires, but do it with your eyes wide open.And one hand on your wallet.

Let’s not forget, you’ve walked away from one car because its cats were shot.(I’d have replaced them with aftermarket ones) So it doesn’t always take too much to go wrong before you’re bleeding money.

You’re right about the safety thing, though; all too often, high-end cars get the safety gear long before the peasants ever see it. Your 2007 Merc would have stability control, clever braking aids and more air-bags than a zeppelin factory. My old daily-driver ute? I am the crumple-zone and the only air-bags in a shunt would be my lungs.



Low Overheads

Morris -minor

While on the subject of Morries, an advert in the Australian Motor Manual of 1954 offered owners the chance to upgrade their 980cc side-valve engines to overhead-valve. The conversion included the cylinder head, pushrods and tappets and would set you back the princely sum of 50-quid. Where do I sign?

Taxing Time

Taxing -time

In an age where oversquare bore/stroke dimensions are all the rage, it’s interesting to see where we’ve come from in this department. A large bore/short stroke relationship is great for making an engine rev hard and, as an engineer will tell you, revs mean power. But back in the good old days, revs weren’t the end game. A weird system of taxing motor vehicles in the UK led to a generation of Pommy engines with narrow bores and incredibly long stokes. And flipping through the spec sheet of a 1949 Morris Minor the other day, I came across the engine dimensions. The four-cylinder engine in the Minor used a 57mm bore and a whopping 90mm of stroke. Throw in a compression ratio of 6.5:1 and you had yourself 918cc of side-valve fury.


Write to Morley c/o or Unique Cars magazine, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic 3166  



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