Blackbourn - on workshop manuals 391

By: Rob Blackbourn, Unique Cars magazine

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If a car backfires in a forest and no one hears it, did it really make a noise? Rob reckons the answer’s in the manual

Blackbourn - on workshop manuals 391
Blackbourn reckons few things can beat a good manual.

Despite never setting out to collect workshop manuals I’ve accumulated a few. I guess that’s what happens if you don’t always hand them over with the spare keys when the relevant car moves on.

The sizable stack represents varied vehicles from many decades. Sadly I’ve mislaid the most ancient, covering the ‘two-bearing’ Austin 7. It came with the ‘sporty’ 1929 Meteor I owned briefly a long time ago – for that decision I’ll rely on what Gareth Evans called ‘The Streaker’s Defence’ ("It seemed like a good idea at the time, Your Honour."). Despite my troubled Meteor experience I readily acknowledge the baby Austin’s deserved place in the automotive pantheon – who’d a thunk a re-badged Austin 7 would be BMW’s first successful car?

So Ford and Mercury V8 1932-48 claims oldest-in-the-stack honours. Publications from Gregorys, Autopress, Haynes, Clymer and Scientific Publications, alongside many factory publications, then describe an automotive journey down the decades. The most recent, Peugeot 306 ’93-’02. belongs with a Pug we passed on to one of the kids a while back. She didn’t need the manual because she gets me to look after the car.

Various manuals stand out here and there: FIAT New 500 1957-73 relates to another ‘Streakers Defence’ experience. Don’t ask… Please. Mini Owners Workshop Manual – 1959 has greasy fingerprints in the gearbox section recalling working under pressure over a weekend on one mate’s car in another mate’s garage so we could be out before his hostile oldies returned from their weekend away.

The greasy section in Nissan G60 Patrol 1959-1980 concerns the transfer case. I had to replace a shot bearing on the output shaft and it had to be done in the driveway. Although the heavy cast-iron transfer case was teetering on its cobbled-up cradle on a small trolley-jack, I got it out okay. The strip and rebuild was okay as well. Then, just as my mate turned up to help me wrestle the heavy monster back into place, the driving rain and bitingly cold southerly started. I think, even now, I’m still paying off the bribes and promises I made to stop him deserting me. It had to be finished that night – I needed it for work the next day. Somehow we both escaped being crushed when the transfer case toppled more than once as trolley-jack wheels slipped off wet boards and sank in the grass. We didn’t escape being soaked to the jocks, though, by the time we finally wriggled out from under the Patrol with the job done.

John Muir’s How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive is a pearler. His folksy writing style combines with cartoonish (and valuable) illustrations to help you maintain your Beetle, while also fostering an affectionate relationship between driver and car. As Muir says: "Come to kindly terms with your ass (donkey), for it bears you." For me its mix of tech-talk and philosophy is right up there with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Despite all that Muir-based love my wife’s Superbug dropped an exhaust valve, destroying the piston, before sucking the shrapnel into the other pots via the intake manifold.

Nowadays even lovers of old-school, hard-copy publications like me seem to be surrendering to the digi-world’s dominance – I get most of the info I need from YouTube videos and downloadable pdfs. And there’s no greasy-fingerprint evidence left when you only print off the required pages and bin them when the job’s done.

I’m happy to report, though, that the hard-copy manual is far from dead. Perhaps partly as a response to the web-threat, the enlightened publisher Haynes is now producing manuals for the Supermarine Spitfire, the De Havilland Mosquito, the Concorde – even Thomas the Tank Engine. See you at the bookshop.

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