Celicas rule + fan tech talk + cool fuel + missing rallyman - Morleys Workshop 424

By: Dave Morley

Presented by

toyota celica toyota celica

More Celica stuff, plus fan-blade fun, tracking down a Renault Gordini rally car's original owner, mysterious battery behaviour and a cool fuel tip



Silly car story

I'm  feeling kind of smug just at the minute. From the moment I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind building myself an RA40 Celica, I’ve kind of been branded a maniac. Oh sure, a handful of people have `got’ it, but I reckon even those folks have maybe privately had their doubts about being able to turn an ugly duckling like the RA40 into something you’d actually want to be seen in.

The problem, I suppose, is that the RA40 has just always got a bad press. At the time of its launch, it was accused of being big, fat and heavy. Well, it’s definitely wider and longer than the RA23/RA28s that went before it, but according to most spec sheets I can find, it’s not really any heavier at all. Which simply means it has a bigger footprint for the same weighbridge ticket and that’s got to be a useful improvement.

The other major criticism is that the RA40 was always pig ugly. Well, I can’t speak for everybody, but take a look at the pics on this page and then tell me an RA40 coupe can’t look at least slightly tough. Okay, I’ll admit the Liftback isn’t for everybody, but if you squint at this here orange jigger, I reckon you can still see some of the original Celica coupe (the 1971 TA22) in its profile. And beyond that, by the time you’ve taken a few millimetres out of the ride height and screwed on some decent wheels, well, I don’t reckon it’s any ugly duckling any longer. In fact, I reckon it looks beaut. (But I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

So exactly what have I done? Well, the wheels and tyres (Editor Guido reckons the tyre lettering is too subtle) I found on a buy-swap-sell website. The previous owner had them bolted to a Mitsu Galant but since a lot of Japanese tin from that era uses the same four-stud pattern and bolt spacing, there’s a lot of interchangeability. And they sure as hell look better than the rattle-canned horrors that were on it when I bought the car.

The other thing that needed to change pronto was the ride height. At first, I thought the car must have once lived up a rough farm track or something. That was the only explanation I could come up with for the jacked-up ride. But that theory got blown to hell the first time I got the car on a hoist and discovered that there’s absolutely no damage or signs of rough-road use on the underbits. So I still don’t know what the hell was going on. Was it, at some time in the distant past, a `thing’ to raise a car beyond its standard ride height? I can’t remember it… if it ever was.

Anyway, I did the smart thing and went to my go-to suppliers for all things boingy and shocky. A set of 30mm lower King Springs and Monroe gas dampers were soon filling my mailbox and they all bolted in with zero hassle. The only surprise was when I pulled the front struts apart to fit the Monroe damper insert. Instead of an old insert falling out, the whole thing came apart as a collection of bits and oil. Mainly oil.

Seems the original Toyota strut used the strut body as the outer tube of the damper with the other bits neatly contained, rather than a sealed insert. And the former is exactly what fell out and oozed all over my workbench. Which means, of course, that the front struts were the 40-year-old originals. No wonder she felt a bit wandery on the way home. And the rears were no better.

With it all back on the deck, you can see that it’s much prettier with just about the right amount of rake and the bigger wheels (15 X 7) filling the guards but not overstepping the mark. And it drives so much tighter. Tighter, even, than I remember even my old RA23 (about a hundred years ago) feeling, and that was a relatively new car back in the day.

I’m still feeling my way around style-wise here, but the urge to turn the RA40 into some kind of an Outlaw-style thing is still strong. I’m not sure how I go about that, but I reckon a set of genuine Cibie Oscars that were gifted to me recently will be a natch for the front of the old girl.

The biggest job remaining, however, is the interior. It’s a goddam mess, to be honest. I’ve ordered some new door cards that I’ll trim and there’s a set of period-correct SAAS front seats waiting to go in, too, although the standard Celica seat rail is a quirky bugger of a thing. More head scratching must occur in this department. I’m thinking orange tartan for the interior, maybe some harnesses and I’m chasing the same SAAS, four-spoke steering wheel (I think it was called a Euro X4) that Peter Williamson used in his Bathurst RA40s. So if anybody out there has one they’re finished with, let’s talk.


Key to learning


I’m going to get all philosophical this time and talk about being a bit Zen about things. Specifically when it goes wrong and you feel like hurling whatever you’re holding through whatever’s in the way. Thing is, most jobs are never going to go smoothly. You’re nearly always going to have to do the odd thing twice (or three times) when you’ve forgotten a step in the process. That’s called learning. My most recent learning experience was the other day when I had the tow pig on the hoist (for a damper change) and needed to get the back wheels off. Except the theft-proof key to the wheel nuts was in the glove box. Which was now about seven feet in the air. Bzzzt. Put the hammer down, drop the hoist, retrieve the key, put the car back in the air and start from step one. That’s life kids. It’s going to happen to you, but it’s up to you whether you let it get to you. And hey, aren’t we all doing this for fun? That is all, grasshoppers.


That’s Sergeant Idiot, to you

thermatic fan.jpg

Morley, you are an idiot, I saw your comments to Kev in issue no 413. Reversing the blade does nothing! it will still blow in the same direction. To reverse the fan you change the polarity. That’s it. Nothing else is needed. Stealing from the townsfolk was a hangable offence in the Napoleonic Wars. The Duke of Wellington came by a soldier with a noisy piglet in his satchel and asked the foot soldier what was he doing. The lowly foot soldier replied, "Sir I was just looking after it for its mother." The Duke made him up to a sergeant for defending the indefensible. Well done Sergeant Morley

Andrew Smith
BSc (Physics) BE MIE(Aust),

Hmmm. Let’s go back a few issues. A bloke called Kev and I were having a discussion on whether you needed to reverse the polarity of a thermatic fan to turn it from a puller to a pusher of air. Kev pulled me up on this, because he reckoned it was also necessary to not just flip the fan blades over, but to reverse the wiring polarity (and make the fan motor run backwards) as well.

Now, Andrew, you’re telling me that I’m an idiot for agreeing with him and that simply reversing the direction of the motor will do the trick. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time (no disrespect to Kev). So I went back and I checked again. Now, you’d reckon the nice people at Davies Craig would know a thing or two about setting up a thermatic fan, right? Exactly, so I consulted the official fitting instructions. Now get this:

"Changing AirFlow Direction

Remove the clip or undo the hex nut, depending on model, from the centre of the fan blade.

Remove the fan blade from the motor shaft, turn it over and replace. In every case the instruction, printed on the blade `This side must face front of vehicle’ and `this side must face rear of vehicle’ must be followed.

Resecure the fan blade.

Before mounting the fan to the face of the radiator/condenser, note the direction of the arrow on the fan blade. The fan must rotate in the indicated direction."

Shall I go on? Andrew, I reckon you’re right inasmuch as reversing the polarity will reverse the thrust of the fan, but in Kev’s original missive, he reckons that the fan is designed to be more efficient in one direction than the other. Looking at the desk fan in my office a few minutes ago, it’s pretty obvious that the backs of the blades are not mirror-images of the fronts. There’s a distinct concave profile on the working faces of the blades that isn’t there on the backs. So then I went and checked a spare thermo fan I have at the MBC. Guess what? Its blades are concave/convex rather than just flat, so it looks like it’d be more efficient in one direction, too.

So I think Kev’s on to something there. And if that’s the case, then I can see why you’d reverse the blades and the polarity. That way you’d get max airflow as well as pushing the air in the right direction. If nothing else, can somebody tell me why Davies Craig, the company that makes the things, is wrong on this? Anybody else want to weigh in?

Meantime, thanks for promoting me to the level of my incompetence.

Morley DFK
(Distinguished Fly Killer)


It’s catching on

celica-bathurst-1000.jpgCelica looking pretty good indeed on the 1981 Bathurst 1000 program

G’day Dave. After opening Morley’s Workshop last issue and seeing your latest MBC purchase, I realised I suffer from the same problem in that, for some strange reason, I kind of like the old RA40 Celica. And that you don’t see them anymore. So I promptly put down the mag and jumped online.

Look what popped up; an 81 model coupe in amazingly good condition inside and out. It’s now been added to my Bloke’s World and doesn’t look out of place with my existing stock of historic Holdens.

Some frequently visiting associate members of Bloke’s World have stated that if I see them when I’m out driving the Celica, not to bother waving as they will pretend they don’t know me. Ha, but I don’t care.

John Read,
Cowra NSW

I dunno John, it seems like the RA40 is the Trevor of Chappells, the Andy of Gibb brothers, the brown Wiggle. But I don’t know why. I reckon they’re a great looking jigger (especially in coupe form) and they’re dead easy to work on, cheap to run and can be modified till the cows come home. And where else are you going to find a chrome-bumper car with a proper Bathurst-winning history?

Speaking of which, I did a bit of digging around recently in some old books. And here’s what I found out about the RA40’s Bathurst career:

Peter Williamson/Mike Quinn
Qualified 33rd with a time of 2:58.2
1st Class C/9th outright
146 laps

Wally Scott/Peter Walton
Qualified 50th with a time of 3:14.7
5th Class C/15th outright
133 laps

Graham Bailey/Doug Clark
Qualified 30th with a time of 2:37.6
1st Class C/12th outright
148 laps

Peter Williamson/ John Smith
Qualified 36th with a time of 2:34.9
1st Class C/12th outright
111 laps

I’ve left out the DNFs, but first in class three years running aint a bad record at a torture test like the Bathurst 1000. So enjoy your car, John, and when you see your `mates’ forget about `em. Let them walk home. And maybe I’ll see you on the road sometime.


Fuel’s paradise revisited

valiant-charger.jpgGoing for broke in the Red Centre and drama free thanks to cool fuel

Having a daily driver Val Charger with a pumped 360 with six-pack carbs and living in Kununurra, Derby and now Alice Springs, fuel vapourisation was a constant issue. Mopar guru Rick Ehrenberg put me on to the idea of a return fuel line to the petrol tank. 

I rigged up a tee-piece from the last carb with the return part soldered solid then drilled about a .050" hole in it to keep the whole circuit at around five to eight psi (checked with gauge). I went a bit flash with a stainless-steel braided Teflon hose back to near the filler cap so I can see it’s working. This set-up gives constant cold fuel feeding all three fuel bowls and worked a treat even with the stock 5/16" fuel line.

Jim Guckert,
Alice Springs, NT

Hmm, sounds like we’re all on to something here with the fuel return concept to keep a constant flow of cool fuel to the carbs. I mean, if the idea can stop a six-pack-fed V8 from vapourising in central Australia on a daily basis, it’s got to have something going for it.

Got a photo of the Charger, Jim? Sounds like it’d be gangs of fun out in the wide open spaces. Mind you, I’m glad it’s you and not me filling the tank at outback prices.



gordini.jpgWith a weekend's work the Gordini will be up for a midnight blast through a forest near you 

Here are some pictures of my Renault 8 rally car that I’ve owned for years. It hasn’t been driven for ages, as one of the things I had to promise my wife-to-be was that I’d stop driving the Renault (it scared everybody who went near it). Anyway, I’ve now been married for about 40 years, so it’s been a while between drinks for the Renault.

Anyway, I’d like to get rid of it, but I reckon the bloke I bought it off should get first right of refusal. So I’m trying to track him down. Here’s what I know/remember: I purchased the car in – I think - 1978. I don’t remember the name of the person I brought it from, but he was a salesman at Applebone Motors, on Military road, Mosman in Sydney. The car was his personal car. I later brought the twin 45mm Weber carbs from him, that are on the car now. There was also some connection with E and A Motors in Crows Nest, which was a Renault dealer, but I’m not sure of the details there.

Like I said, it would be interesting to track down the previous owner, as I would like to give him first offer if he would like it back. I know I will never do anything with it, so it should go to a good home.

Peter Hickey,
Molong, NSW


Good story, Pete. These little Renaults were dead-set weapons in their day, so I can understand the future Mrs Hickey requiring a truce between you and the Ren before she’d commit. And man, twin 45s on a little Renault engine…I bet it gets going once the revs are up.

As for tracking down the previous owner, let’s see if we can’t find him (or a next of kin). Somehow, I reckon that with photos of the dude (presumably they’re of the fella in question) and an obvious competition history for the car, the identity shouldn’t be too hard to track down.

So let’s throw it open to UC readers: Anybody out there recognise the car, the blokes in the photos or anything else that might give us a clue? The one bloke I reckon who would know would be Aussie motorsport fixture and all-round legend, Bob Watson. I know Bob reads UC (see his letter in  Mailbag) so if you’re reading this Bob, who are we looking for and where do we find him?

As for the car itself, it looks a bit weathered, but it’s obviously been stored under cover. Old rally cars were never treated with much love and were often considered a consumable, so it’s kind of a miracle that this one has survived at all. And with the recent interest in classic rallying, even if we don’t find the original owner, there must be somebody out there with the hots for one of these.


Concrete warranty


Recently received issue No 421 of Unique Cars, always very entertaining and informative.

I read with much interest the segment with respect to placing batteries on concrete, the fact that doing so will effectively destroy the battery, and any attempt to recharge or recondition the battery will prove unsuccessful.   During my career which exceeds 25 years as a practicing automotive electrician and air-conditioning technician, I have observed this condition many times. The battery WILL go dead flat, in a matter of hours, and if you were able to observe them, the plates deform and buckle and turn a weird brown colour. The battery will NOT charge. Any factory warranty will be void.

After questioning senior battery industry executives and engineers, no firm answers were forthcoming with respect to this phenomenon. However, these individuals being smarter than you and I combined, the following, but not limited to, was advanced as theories:

The chemical composition of the concrete as opposed to the chemical composition of the internal contents of the battery. EG, opposing PH levels. The mass of the concrete has the ability to absorb the charge through the battery case into the concrete, which results in the battery being discharged so completely it will not recharge.

The temperature difference of concrete has the effect as described in No 2.

In my opinion, I believe all of the above contribute to the phenomenon. In cases where a customer would choose to install their own batteries, upon delivery to their premises, I would insist that batteries be placed on timber, or rubber mats until installation. My preference is to utilize two pieces of timber, about 50 x75 mm lengths, one under each end of the battery.

Should a customer not wish to comply, they were advised, in no uncertain terms, to obtain their supply of batteries elsewhere.

It should be noted that installing batteries into a battery box which has a bare metal floor will have a similar effect on the batteries as placing them on concrete, however the effect will be over a much longer timeframe. Should the original factory insulating material be missing from battery box floors, I would always advise the customer of the two available options:

Option 1. Batteries must be installed on a rubber mat.

Option 2. Obtain batteries elsewhere.

Wise customers would always select option 1 and measure, mark out, cut to size and install a section of 6mm rubber to the battery box floor. The rubber mat effectively insulates the batteries from the bare metal battery box floor as well as providing some protection from vibration and, in some designs, limited protection from heat. Heat and vibration will effectively kill batteries just as quickly as any other cause, as will overcharging, overcycling or discharging too deeply.

Mac Carter,
Townsville Truck Electrics, QLD

Hmm, this one is becoming a real can of worms. I hear what you’re saying, Mac, and I’ve no reason to doubt your decades of experience and expertise here. But it just doesn’t add up to a simpleton like me. Of course, being wrong is hardly a new sensation for me, but it still ties my brain in knots to think that concrete would be a good enough conductor to suck the charge out of a battery through its plastic case.

And on that basis, why would a metal battery tray, which is surely a better conductor than concrete, take longer to leach the life out of a battery? Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but it surely doesn’t make sense to me. I’m also puzzled by the fact that the battery experts you’ve spoken to over the years can’t put their collective finger on the cause, either. Surely, there can’t be much that these engineers and specialists can’t explain when it comes to battery behaviour. Then again, as a wise bloke once said: We don’t know what we don’t know. Which, I guess, is at the root of all scientific exploration.

I tell you what though, even though I have no idea what’s going on here, you can bet your bottom dollar the spare battery at the Melbourne Bloke Centre is stored on the bottom shelf of a wooden storage unit, and not on the cold, bare concrete floor.

Somebody out there must know what’s going on here. Some come on, put us out of our misery.


Starfire fan

sunbird.jpgAgainst the odds, the Starfire four has its fans. Well one... 

I really enjoy your column and the recent mention of the Starfire engine reminded me of my experience with them. The first was that I got a great job in late 1981 At Suttons Holden Arncliffe as a gofer who got to drive the whole fleet. The VH Commodore had just come out so I got to compare it with the VC. I was lucky that I got to drive just about every configuration of Holden then including taking the MD’s Caprice to Strathfield for new tyres and mags. Well you can imagine my glee at thrashing the thing all the way there as there would be no signs of tyre wear to worry about.

Anyway they often got me to take a blue car to one of their other showrooms to get a red one, or something, so it was a fun job. As such, I had to go to their Chullora branch to pick up a blue VH Starfire wagon. Now, I never used to get speeding fines but guess which one I got fined in? Yep, the Starfire! The second story involved a UC Sunbird SL/E hatch Trimatic that I bought from Dodgey Brothers on Parramatta Road. It was that awful metallic poo brown colour and being about 15 years old had no shine left on it. But it was a delight to drive and was otherwise in great condition. The only problem I had was breaking the adjuster for the alternator, which was common as they weren’t a smooth engine. The parts shop said it had a thicker part to cure the problem.

I towed a box trailer that was very full of my worldly possessions from Sydney to Brisbane and was surprised at how easily the car did it. I remember particularly how great it would corner, which was probably to do with the lighter weight over the front end.

My point is that a Starfire in good condition can actually be a fun engine; quite torquey. I swapped it in Brisbane for a Gemini wagon as I didn’t realise how easy it was to register a car up here. Wish I still had it.

Andrew Willis,

Andrew, you are truly an individual. And a man of at least three distinct `firsts’ that I can think of. For one, you actually rate the old Starfire Four engine. Secondly, you wish you’d never sold your Starfire Torana. And third – and most impressive – you actually got booked for speeding at the wheel of a Starfire (under)powered Holden. That’s a never-to-be-seen-again trifecta, right there.

I take your point about the four-cylinder engine being lighter (by about a third, logically) than the six-cylinder on which it was based, and I remember thinking exactly the same thing the first time I drove an Ecoboost FG Falcon. The two-litre four-banger was a lot lighter than the Falc six and it really showed in the steering response and general feeling of responsiveness in the front end. And let’s not forget, the UC Torana was blessed with Holden’s then-new Radial Tuned Suspension which was a huge step forward in local-car handling technology.

But the fact that the old Starfire was so rough running that it destroyed its alternator bracket (probably due to harmonics and the resultant metal fatigue) also reminds me just what a joke the whole Backfire Four thing seemed at the time.

But, I truly do wish I had a UC Torana Hatch in the shed, even if it was poo brown. I’ll tell you one thing for free, though, the Starfire engine would only last until the first weekend of my ownership. I don’t even know whether I’d go V8 or a stink-hot blue 202; all I know is that wretched little four-potter would be in the nearest skip by tea-time on day one.



UC scoop - HK's R-Rs


Guess which country has the highest Rolls-Royce density on the planet. If you said somewhere in the Middle East, try again. Singapore? Nope. How about Hong Kong. Okay, so it’s part of China these days, but the hang-over from HK’s colonial past remains. Must be fun piloting a Ghost through streets designed for rickshaws.

Fill 'er up mate


You can always spot a 1972 model-year Porsche 911 by the external oil-filler cap in the rear quarter panel. And that’s because this cap was a one-year deal. Why just the one year? Because too many owners mistook the oil filler for a fuel cap and pumped 50 litres of petrol into their air-cooled engine. Interestingly, Singer, the mob that makes bazillion-dollar carbon-fibre 911 tributes has revived the external cap.


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


Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition