Escort dramas + Those Sneaky Red Motors + more - Morley's Workshop 429

By: Dave Morley

Presented by

rolling 30 rolling 30

The Escort is wounded and now Morley reckons he knows what the cause is, plus lots of theories on those sneaky red motors, and some other seriously weird stuff is going on here



Jeez, it was good to catch up with so many of you lot at last months’ Rolling 30 gig at Eastern Creek. Between GT and myself, I reckon we yakked with at least half the people there. Some of you wanted to tell me your own views on the long-running red-motored EJ Holden debate, others just wanted to say hi and ask us about our projects. And if you saw the VW Beetle that Torrens had dragged down to the event, ‘project’ is letting it off lightly. As in, the towing fee to get it there was in considerable excess of the value of the car itself.

| Read more: Rolling 30 2019


Some of the cars that interested me most were the unusual ones you don’t see every day. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw a genuine, unmolested Mazda RX-5, and the Sigma Turbo was a highlight, too. I also got talking to a couple of brothers, one with a Saab 900 Turbo and the other with a 99 Turbo. The blokes were great guys and their cars were amazing; the 99 Turbo was even running the original Inca (some folks know them as ‘Aztecs’) alloy wheels that always remind me of the energy domes the blokes in Devo wore in their film clips.

And it always seems to be that when you get a pair of family members into the same kind of car, there’ll be a good story behind it. And this was no exception: Seems their dad had gone into a (I think) Jaguar showroom and then a Volvo dealership back in the day and, in both cases, had been ignored by the sales staff. So, he walked out and took himself around to a Saab showroom where he was greeted like a long-lost son. One of the brothers told me: "He didn’t even know what a Saab was, but he wanted a European car, so he pointed and said ‘I’ll have that one’". The rest is history. Makes you think though; if the sales staff at the other shops hadn’t been such dicks, maybe these two lads would have turned up at Rolling Thunder in an E-Type and an XJS.

So it was a beaut day and since I left Melbourne that morning with the rain coming in sideways, the Sydney sunshine was most welcome. So thanks again to those who bothered to say g’day…you made my day. It’s just a shame I couldn’t drag the RA40 Celica or Project Duckshit along for the day. It’ll be different if we hold a similar event in Melbourne… What do you Mexicans reckon? Would it be a goer?

Meantime, anybody out there got a Happy Days car with an aftermarket alarm? Does yours drain the battery, leaving you spending Sunday mornings trekking up to the battery shop and breaking out the spanners, instead of driving the car up the mountain to your favourite pie shop for a coffee and vanilla-slice? I’ve had a couple of older cars over the years where a previous owner has fitted an aftermarket alarm, thinking they were doing the right thing, and both of them have destroyed batteries at a fearful rate.

At first I thought I’d just leave them on a trickle-charger, but even that doesn’t seem to completely solve the problem as they both seem to massacre batteries faster than they should (and no, I don’t buy El Cheapo batteries). My latest solution has been to fit one of those little battery isolators to the negative terminal and effectively disconnect the battery between drives. You can still hook the trickle-charger to the battery, but you won’t have the damn alarm constantly trying to flatten the battery. Will it make any difference? I’ll let you know in a couple of years.

I could get rid of the alarm, but that’s going to cost money and I’d lose the central locking function in the process. Okay, I could live without central locking, but it’s also kind of nice to know that there’s an alarm on my side whenever either car is parked somewhere other than my shed. The only thing I have to remember to do now is lock the cars before I disconnect the battery. Get that wrong and the clunk function won’t lock the car afterwards, right? Yep, saw that coming. Oh, and make sure the bonnet’s open so you can get in to reconnect the battery.


The drill


Buying quality tools and equipment second-hand is a great way of getting quality stuff for a decent price. But I’m seeing a lot of adverts lately that worry me a bit. I’d be very cautious about an ad that offers battery-powered tools but no charger. Maybe it’s kosher, but the suspicion out there is that the tools have been nicked from a tradie’s ute while the charger was safe back at his house or factory. Dunno about you, but I don’t want a hard-working tradie’s half-inched tools at any price.


Stone-age photo-shop?

ford.jpgDesigner Angelo explains the change technique: "This 1959 Ford photo started life as a ‘59 Ford Skyliner, eventually becoming a two-door Fairlane 500 used on the ‘59 Ford brochure cover. Dye transfer prints, were retouched by painting directly onto the prints. Retouching changed the trim level of the car including the shape of the roof line! Ang."

I have been following the debate about red motors in EJ Holdens and I have studied the picture on page 94 of issue 426 of Unique Cars and it looks very much that the picture of the red motor itself is an illustration. Yet it appears to be that the EJ picture of the vehicle is actually a photograph. The battery, chain, lifting tool, manifold, carby and motor etc look more like the work of an illustrator. The cowl, steering wheel and what is visible of the driver’s door looks far more like a photograph. An early example of "photo-shopping"?

I would be interested in your thoughts if you feel my observations have merit and what this might mean in the ongoing debate.

Ian Doust,

HMMM, YOU could quite well be right about this, Ian. I thought the whole thing was a hand-drawn illustration, but maybe Holden did, in fact, merge a drawing with a photograph to come up with the illustration in question. Certainly, hand-finishing (mainly colouring) photographs was a common practice back in the 1950s and 60s before colour photography was as accessible as it eventually became.

The other factor that supports your theory is that, back then, companies like Holden had distinct departments to take care of different roles. There wasn’t always a lot of cross-over between two departments, either, sometimes based on the old class system that was still a part of Aussie life back then. For instance, an old mate of mine who knew him, once told me that the late, great Australian engineer Phil Irving identified himself to new acquaintances as a member of the drawing-room team, rather than just the engineering department generally. He probably wasn’t being a snob, that’s just how it was back then. So it’s quite possible that whoever produced the illustration we’re talking about, was from the graphic arts department and the graphic arts department only. By which I mean he or she might have been an illustrator who just happened to work for Holden, rather than an illustrator with any knowledge of cars. Tasked with creating a complicated, melded image, this is what they came up with, inadvertently whetting the lips of every Unique Cars reader nearly six decades later.

As for what it means to the argument: Well, I’m tipping nothing. Just as the illustration (on face value) never proved the red-motored EJ theory, neither do questions over the same picture’s authenticity or production disprove the same school of thought. I said all along it was just a picture and that you lot were welcome to read into it what you wished. Nothing has changed there. Nice to see you’re paying attention, though.


And another one

holden-torana-engine-bay.jpgA9Xs could really fly down Con Rod thanks to a high diff ratio

That apparent photo of a red motor suspended over an EJ engine bay looks to me more like a rendering/artist’s impression. Perhaps an over enthusiastic graphics guy got his metaphors mixed.

Oh, and A9Xs came with the L31 308 and, I suspect would be pretty much flat knacker at 200kmh, regardless of gearing. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

And, by the way, I still have my ‘barn find’ Land Rover in as found condition, only now it goes and stops (hooray) and FYI, it does have a red motor in it (a 179 HP) so maybe that’s where Holden was diverting their red motors to. 

This can be confirmed quite easily by researching online selling sites or your own fine publication, where you will find more early Land Rovers sporting red motors than the Rover boat anchors they came with. Keep the conspiracy theories coming.

Rob H,

OKAY, BUT even if the illustration was an early form of photo-shopping or rendering, I still have to ask how nobody within Holden picked up the fact that the picture shows a red motor going into (or coming out of) an EJ. That said, I would have looked through that very service manual and not noticed the significance of the pic in question, so maybe it’s possible that it escaped the eagle eyes of the GMH proof-readers of the day, too. Or maybe the proof reading was out-sourced to the publisher or printer and was simply not recognised for what it was. We may never know. Ah well…

Meantime, I once read somewhere that all production A9X Toranas ran a 3.08:1 diff. Based on the redline of the L31 V8, that equated to 210km/h, pretty close to your guess of 200 kliks, Rob. I guess the other factor (beyond gearing) would be whether the 240-horsepower or so of the stock L31 (depending on who you talk to, of course) would have been enough to get the car beyond 200 in anything other than perfect conditions.

Certainly, the same situation didn’t apply to the Bathurst race-cars which made use of the new Salisbury rear-end to specify a 2.60:1 diff ratio which gave them a startling (for the day) 44km/h per 1000rpm in the 1:1 fourth (top) gear. Theoretically, that gave the Bathurst cars a top speed down Con-Rod of something 269km/h which was really honking in the 70s.

As for Land Rovers with red motor transplants, a few of my mates over the years have done exactly that. It certainly gives the old Pommy a lot more get up and go, but apparently at that point the axles became the fuse. Anybody who used their red-motored Landie as nature intended always carried a spare axle and knew how to change it in the bush.


False assumption

challenger-diagram.jpgRichard didn’t really need to get right into the guts of his Challenger

I read with amusement your article on assuming a major meltdown when a minor problem was overlooked. This sort of thing happens to me with monotonous regularity. I present the example of my 360 cubic-inch Mopar-powered 1970 Dodge Challenger which began leaving an ominous cloud of smoke in its wake on a return trip from Sydney.

A quick stop and look underneath revealed engine oil over everything from front to back. Aha, I thought, that long term weep from the rear of the engine has finally become terminal. So after yanking the lump and removing the sump I discovered that the rear main seal looked okay. So it must have just been a bad sump gasket right? Might as well do a few other gaskets, some cleaning and repainting while I’m at it and then refit and return to the fun bit.

Imagine my dismay when, on initial fire up, oil began pooling under the car and burning on the exhaust again. Insert swearing here. On close inspection, I discovered the oil-pressure switch leaking like the proverbial. On an LA engine this switch is at the rear of the engine behind the intake manifold and allows oil to sneakily run down each side of the block and pretend to be a rear-main-seal leak. The replacement switch was about $20 and a took a whole 15 minutes to change. As they say; never assume. 

Richard Mahoney,
Nowra NSW

MATE, I FEEL your pain, I really do. But what’s a bit spooky is that this very week, I had the exact opposite situation with the RS2000. I was beetling along in the little white bugger when, out of nowhere, the oil pressure starts to look a bit low. Not crazy low, but about half of what it should have been at those revs and that engine temp (yep, I’m a train-spotter for this stuff).

I nursed it home, still with some, if not all, of its oil pressure and started to ponder. But this time, I’ve got it all worked out in my head, and, this time, it’s simple. Instead of ripping off the sump to fix an assumed blocked oil pick-up, or tearing off the oil pump to change it, I had a good look around. Mind you, you didn’t need to be Columbo to spot the oil all over the side of the engine bay.

By now, by looking at the location of the Exxon Valdez under my bonnet, I’m figuring he capillary tube to the factory oil-pressure gauge goes into the engine block via a little elbow fitting and that fitting has ceased to keep the oil on the inside. So, after a few kilometres, the Pinto had pumped out enough oil that it was j-u-s-t starting to starve the pump. But by then I was back at the MBC, shut down and no harm done. A right mess, though.

ford-escort-2.jpgMorley’s Esky in happier, more oiltight times

Next morning, I’m out with the spanners and I tear into removing the capillary tube and its fitting from the side of the block. Geez, but there’s a lot of oil here. With the fitting out of the engine block, I’m having a bit of a feel around. That’s funny, thinks I, that thread for the fitting feels rough-edged. No it didn’t, because what I was feeling wasn’t the tapped thread for the fitting, it was a hole about the size of a two-dollar coin in the engine crankcase. Yep, the RS2000 is in dry-dock again.

I’m not sure what happened and I won’t be until we pull the motor and do an autopsy. But my theory right now is that sometime in the engine’s past, a thrown big-end has ventilated the block and somebody has fixed it on the cheap by bunging up the hole with some liquid metal or some-such. Over time and heat cycles, the repair has loosened and started to leak (which is where my oil went) before falling out completely (which is where I’m at right now). Or maybe a previous rebuild left a stray nut or bolt in the sump which has somehow managed to get jammed between the crank web and the inside of the block, leading to the hole I’m now gazing into with a frowny face. Certainly, the engine was still running fine and not making any noises, so it’s not me that blew it up (for once). Either way though, it’s a bust.

So now I’m scouring the driveway now for the offending piece of liquid metal, but I’m also being philosophical about things. See, the engine already had a leak from the rear main and judging by the layers of paint on the engine, it was a bitsa; made from left-over bits of other engines. So I’m not too devo about yanking it and using the recently rebuilt top end to complete a nice, new stout bottom end.

With that in mind, I’ve secured a good, used block which will be stripped, machined and rebuilt with new moving bits and given a balancing job while we’re at it. That way, I’ll know exactly what I’ve got and I’ll be confident to drive the damn thing. I have a buddy who’s a small-Ford genius enlisted to help bolt it back together and get it running.

Meantime, there’s the exception that proves the rule: Just when you thought it was safe to assume something is a little problem, along comes a calamity to remind you that cars can be big-time trouble. As an old, wise editor once said to me while I was a cadet journo: When we assume, we make an ass of u and me. And I reckon he was dead right.


Crank call

mechanic.jpgCar maintenance is as much about using your thinking cap as using your tools

I just wanted to share some information on car engines that run backwards as we were discussing a couple of issues ago. It’s interesting to note why this ever happened in the first place. For thousands of years, going back to The Ancients, the standard way to crank anything, say, a winch hauling stone blocks to the top of a pyramid, was to swing the handle the same way you would swing a club, or axe, or sword, or whatever. That is, for most of us right-handers, the correct way to swing a golf-club, cricket-bat, or suchlike, is in a clockwise motion. Even woodscrews go in that way, because that is the way our stronger right wrist works best. This clockwise bias starts from a very young age, and is apparently hard-wired into most of us. It has also become the de facto standard for any bit of machinery that drives anything else. That is, looking from driver to driven, the motion is clockwise.

Which brings me to the Citroen Traction Avant. With its engine behind the gearbox, and the output driving forwards into the transaxle, the crankshaft has its accessible end pressed up against the firewall. Not much room there to swing a crank-handle. No problem, said the Traction’s designer, Andre Lefebvre, because we just let the gearbox input-shaft continue through the ‘box and poke out its front, put the crank-spigot there, and do the cranking "through the gearbox". Except that the crank-handle is now effectively being poked into the "wrong" end of the engine, so clockwise cranking will turn the engine the wrong way. Again, no problem. Just grind a new camshaft, make some other small changes, and the engine will never know it is reverse-rotating. Bottom line is that it is much easier to get the engine to turn the wrong way, than to retrain the entire car driving population to "swing the crank the wrong way".

vw-beetle.jpgClockwise rotation or anti-clockwise? Vive la différence!

How many other cars have reverse-rotating engines? I know for sure that most Citroen Traction Avants, and all Ds, do it this way. There are some 6-cylinder TAs that, due to the major gearbox redesign needed to fit the longer engine in, end up with normal-rotating engines. Maybe some Traction gurus can comment? Even the last Ds, from early 1970s, come with crank-handles and crank-insertion holes in the bodywork, although the 5-speed-manual and auto-boxes no longer have a crank-spigot. Interestingly, the next Citroen model, the CX built from 1975 to 1988, is fitted with essentially the same engine as the D. However, here the engine is mounted east-west, and reverts to normal-rotation with a different cam and a few other small changes.

Funnily enough, when Renault eventually got on board this front-drive thing in the early 1960s, with its R4 and R16, they adopted the same longitudinal-behind-the-axle engine location as the Traction. The early R4s, up to about 1967, are crank-able through the gearbox, so have reverse-rotating engines. Later R4s have normal-rotating engines, which were taken unchanged from another model Renault, and hence have no crank-handle. These new engines have the differential flipped over inside the transaxle so that the forward gears actually drive forward. The R16 also has a normal-rotating engine with no crank-handle. I owned a R16 and it was a cracking good car. Small on the outside, spacious inside, with excellent high-speed road manners on good or bad roads. But its non-crank-ability was a negative. As a young man, I was reluctant to waste good money on car batteries, so had to park it on a hill and bump-start it.

Grumpy Z,

SORRY I HAD to edit so much of your letter, Grumpy, but the editor of this fine, family organ won’t give me the whole magazine to discuss the finer points of weird-burger, backwards-rotating French engines. Shame, but some people are just hard to please.

Meantime, I love your theory on why the backwards-running engine was ever a thing in the first place. Makes a whole lot of sense too, even if it means poor old left-handers get it in the neck again. It’s interesting, too, that, really, the only thing you need to do to make an engine run the wrong way is to grind a backwards cam.

I’ve actually seen this done. A mate of mine built a twin-engined Mini (like yer do). But instead of following the accepted Pommy layout (pioneered by Cooper, Issigonis and Emery) which places the second engine on the back seat, my pal wanted to put the rear engine in the boot for that genuine sleeper look and to have a fume-free cabin. To do so and have the wheels pop out where they should have, he had to turn the engine around (from east-west to west-east) which suddenly meant he had four reverse gears and one very low forward ratio in the standard Mini transaxle. The `obvious’ solution was to make the engine run backwards which required the arse-about camshaft and a few other fiddles including using thinner con-rods, as they clobbered the camshaft lobes when the engine was wound over the wrong way. And yes, both engines are Cooper S spec.

mini-cooper.jpgNo one expected the Spanish Inquisition either

Anyway, he got it running and I’ve actually driven it. And it’s marvellous (as an eight-cylinder, 16-valve, all-wheel-drive 1966 Mini should be). It likes fuel, apparently, and the clutch pedal is super-heavy as it operates two separate master-cylinders now. But it goes like a bastard and can be driven on just the front OR the rear engine, so it’s only half as likely to leave him stranded as a standard Cooper S.

As for Renault 16s, I had a couple of those back in the day, too. And you’re right: `cracking’ is an apt description. I had an auto version that was a bit of a dog to be honest, but when it died, I bought a $250 manual 16 out of the Trading Post, jacked up the number plates on the white auto and parked the green manual between them. Job done. Many happy years of motoring followed. The only catch with the 16 was that it was an utter mongrel to spanner on. I think Renault took a starter-motor and built a car around it.

But for secure, safe, high-speed getting-along, there have been few finer cars than the Renault 16. Certainly very, very few from the same era spring to mind. The problem now is that there are just a handful of 16s left even in dry old Australia. Rust got hold of a lot of them and the rest were junked when they got old and needed more dollars tipped into them than they were worth. Which, at one point about 20 years ago, wasn’t very many dollars at all.

I’ve also heard it said that the Renault 16 was the first production hatchback. That seems to be a bit counter to VW’s claim for the original Golf, but the Renault of 1965 pre-dates the Golf by a fair chunk. That said, there were some oddballs from the likes of Kaiser-Frazer (1951) and even Citroen in the 30s that, it could be argued, were hatchbacks, too. Cue the next great debate: Who made the first hatchback?



Steel on steelo


One for all the train nerds out there (and you know who you are). Because of the rigidity of a steel train wheel (not to mention the track itself) the contact patch of the wheel is tiny. But here’s the killer: The entire weight of even a long train is supported by a combined contact patch about the size of a compact-disc.

Screw it


Go out to your car and count the number of screws holding it together. But did you know that the screw-fastener only really became viable in 1797 when a bod, name of Henry Maudslay, invented the metal-cutting lathe and could suddenly achieve consistency in the threads and, therefore, parts interchangeability? Well, you do now. No such explanation exists for the propagation of different threads.


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



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