Shifty shifting, Auction Val, Escort rubber and more - Mick's Workshop

By: Mick McCrudden

Mick is toiling away in the workshop and providing you with the car advice you need


recent visitor to the workshop was Guido’s partner Ms M, with a sick and sorry BMW E39 540 Sport. The transmission was acting strange, with rough gear selection and then sometimes refusing to change. This was not a good sign.

We suspect she loves that car more than her husband – maybe it’s more reliable.

Anyway, it runs a ZF five-speed auto, which is a popular fitment across a lot of brands in five- or six-speed form. They have a tendency once the mileage gets up (this one had 200,000km) for the Torrington bearing in the front to fail and start to chew the front of the pump. 

What you’ll notice is when you put it in drive, is that it can take a little time to pick up the gear. That’s the telltale, as are clunky changes courtesy of leaking pressure internally.

The biggest problem is they’re so expensive to fix – we ended up spending about $7500 on this one. And there is the decision for an owner: Is the car worth it?

In this case it was. The interior, body, chassis and engine are all good and will remain so for a very long time into the future. Plus, it’s still a really good car to drive. You don’t want to throw it away.

The BMW E59 540 Sport.

Guido tells me the car cost its first owner $160,000 new back in 2003, and then $17,000 when he bought it in 2015. So it now owes them about $25,000 and easily has another decade of use in it. Given it’s a fairly high-end car, that still seems like decent value.

Mr BMW probably wants you to throw it away and buy another, but if you love the thing, just spend the money on getting it fixed – it will probably be a lot less than the first year of depreciation on a new one.

All those well-built cars – BMW, Benz, Volkswagen and so on – can last a lifetime if you look after them.


Hi Mick, I’ve recently bought a VH Valiant Regal at auction and overall am happy with it.

It’s running a 245ci six with auto and the report prior to auction gave it a reasonable bill of health – not perfect, but good enough and it is an old car.

There are no glaring problems that need to be tackled and it looks like it will get through a roadworthy. 

However, I wondered if you had any advice on how to treat a ‘new’ purchase like this?

Jim Evans

Mick says...

Auctions often work brilliantly, but the thing is you often don’t really know the car and its service history until you get it home. So, if you’re going to work on it at home, change all the fluids.

With engine oil, you’re looking for metal contamination, coolant and have a sniff for petrol. Regarding the diff and gearbox, you’re looking for metal. 

As for the coolant, look for a good colour and no oil. With brake fluid, you’re changing for something fresh. 

So with a bit of luck, you’re not going to get any alarm bells going off and now you have a car that’s had a birthday and you both know where you’re starting from. 

Valiants were prone to rust in the bottoms of everything – sills, doors and so on. I’d have a good look underneath, particularly for cracking in the chassis rail near the steering box.

They were weak because of the three holes that were drilled through there, and were prone to rust in the bottom of the rail as water could get in but not out.

Set up right, they’re a good reliable car and well worth hanging on to.


Hi there. I have a MkII Ford Escort, which I love. It’s been dead easy to look after and a lot of fun to drive.

However like a lot of people, I suspect, I don’t do big miles in it and I’m wondering about giving the tyres the flick. They’re nearing 10 years old, but have heaps of tread and don’t seem to have any cracking – your thoughts?

Andy Jones

Mick says...

The thing with tyres is they gradually go off over time, no matter what you do to them.

Sun can be a killer, which is one reason why you’ll see people put away race tyres in bags, out of the light. However, even that won’t preserve them forever.

Rock-hard tyres tell you it's time for new boots. And tread depth has nothing to do with their lifespan.

It’s the nature of the beast that tyres go hard over time and eventually, it’s like driving on rocks.

Now, if you’re driving the car more or less regularly, you may not notice the deterioration that much as it’s gradual. Then you’ll get a shock over how much better the car feels when you do buy fresh boots.

Short answer: Tyres now aren’t overly expensive, go and get new ones!


G’day Mick. I have an old HZ Kingswood 253 wagon, with auto, that’s running just fine. Love it.

But the radiator is showing signs of getting past it and I’m wondering what I replace it with.

Should I go all modern and put a big alloy item in, or do I need to?

Sandra Kingston

Mick says...

You have to admire the good old 253 – can’t kill them. They just seem to go forever and they’re a great engine to cruise with.

Okay, if you were hotting up the car, my answer would be different, but assuming you’re leaving it more or less stock and you’re just doing normal driving with it, I’d stick close to the original recipe. 

The old radiator specialists are still around, and I can’t emphasise it enough to pay the extra and get a proper copper and brass one made, much like the original.

Kingswood wagon looks majestic.

Upgrade the core rating from two to three and it will last another 50 years.

Here’s an old-school tip: Your car will already have an earth strap from the negative terminal on the battery to the block, but fit another to a radiator mount.

It reduces stray current and stops it eating at the thermostat housing.

As for what you run in the radiator, a normal 50/50 green coolant/water mix is perfect.


Hi, I have a Fiat 124 coupe with the 1600 double overhead cam engine and manual transmission.

It’s a great little car and the body is sound, but I get the feeling the engine is getting tired. What do you suggest?

Mike Simmons

Mick says...

What a great-looking car and a fantastic thing to drive. Do it all – from the crankshaft bearings and up. With a little luck the bottom end will be fine, but I’d still be checking. 

There’s also a good chance you can reuse the pistons, unless there is a lot of ovality in the cylinders.

How you check that is with a set of outside verniers, measure the top of the cylinder and then push it down to the middle and see if it wobbles.

An engine rebuild? Just do it.

What you’ll commonly get is the top and bottom of the cylinder are okay, but it’s got oval in the middle. That will tell you if it needs to be rebored.

Usually, the expense will be in redoing the head. You want hardened valve seats for unleaded fuel and may well be replacing valves, guides and so on.

If the cams are looking iffy, they can be reground and I think you’ll find replacements are readily available.

They were a strong little motor and it will last well if it’s done properly.


Hi Mick. I’ve got a thing about tracking down a Leyland P76 in reasonable shape, a V8 for preference.

Do you have any advice on what to watch for?

Don Anders

Mick says...

Gee, aren’t they in demand now? I know a bloke with three of them, so they may be addictive. And I hope you saw the big feature on them in issue 480 of Unique Cars mag.

The V8, a local redevelopment of the Rover 3.5, was an absolutely brilliant engine. In fact it was so good, people would buy old P76s just so they could pull the engine out for another project.

The big thing with them is the body. The metal feels thin and they do rust, so that’s what is most likely to dictate whether what you’re looking at is viable.

The driveline doesn’t present any great challenges – or none that can’t be overcome.

Original trim will be harder to get, but there is lot that can be done in the original style.

Of course the standard advice still works: It’s often cheaper to pay a premium for a genuinely good one than to try and restore a car. Good luck with your search.

Got a problem? 

Want some advice on a build or a potential car purchase? Heck, we'll even tackle long distance diagnosis.

Drop Mick a line at

From Unique Cars #482, August 2023

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