Trouble Streak - What Do You Reckon? #428

By: Glenn Torrens

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holden commodore wagon holden commodore wagon

Cool cars are usually great fun but sometimes stuff happens as Glenn Torrens discovers

No-one died but I can’t remember a worse time playing with cool cars than the past fortnight. It began with the motor in one of my VWs. The motor was a little standard 1600 that a mate and I freshened together in the shed. Anyhow, despite our collective enthusiasm and careful measuring and assembly, the engine developed an internal noise during its run-in. As I needed the car to remain mobile, I’ve had to pull out the new motor and install a spare. Not difficult with a VW – you can swap motors in less time than it takes to watch the evening news – but I’m a bit dev’oed.

Next was my cool old ’79 Commodore wagon. Ever since it chucked a fan belt a few months ago, it’s had an oil leak; the flailing failed belt wrecked the seal behind the front pulley. I soon discovered there’s no easy way to hold a Holden six-cylinder auto crankshaft, so I used an old trick of filling Number 1 combustion chamber with string to prevent the engine rotating as I removed the bolts holding the air-con and power steering pulley.

But after I’d completed the task, I forgot to remove the string before I hit the key…

The result was an intermittent doonk-doonk-doonk from my lovely, shed-find, patina, 145,000km time-warp 3.3-litre Red motor. At first I thought – hoped – I might have bent a valve, a pushrod or damaged a lifter from the valves copping a hit from the rope but a head-off inspection showed nothing. Re-assembled, the noise seemed to be gone, making me think it was a bled-down hydraulic lifter and that I had been too fast (or impatient) with my diagnosis and lifting of the head.   All seemed good… So I drove it to the shops and then it wouldn’t start. Pulling a plug lead showed no spark but a quick fiddle with the points seemed to get it going again. Whew!

Home again, I replaced the points. But the next time I drove it, again it died and I ran the battery almost flat trying to restart it. I walked 20 mins home, got another car to jump-start it but still no result… until I played with the distributor: the settling-in of the new points had moved the timing. I drove the wagon home then walked 20 mins back for the other car.

And now the doonk-doonk noise is back… Obviously I’ve done some significant damage. That will be an engine-out job to fix… and you don’t remove a Holden six in an hour, like a VW. Oh, and the starter motor – that has probably done more work in the last two weeks than the last two decades – is now squealing. And the choke cable broke, too. And it’s all happened just two weeks before a planned 2000km swags-and-beer outback road trip in the old gal. Damn.

In amongst all this is my VP Commodore. I bought it to kill for its EFI V8 and auto… ironically to put in my cool old brown Commodore wagon. But after driving the VP Exec home from Queensland, I realised it was too good to die… so instead, I’ve restored it.

One of the last rebuild tasks was to get the air-con working again. My air-con bloke said I needed a new evaporator. Damn! That’s a complete dash-out task, about eight hours each way. With the new core installed, we gassed the air-con. Yippee! Cool air for a hot summer… until a few days later when all I could get from the vents was hot air. It’s booked-in for another look tomorrow.

So two busted engines, a dud distributor, squealy starter motor, broken choke cable and warm air-con, all in less than two weeks… and in all that kerfuffle I’ve forgotten to get the Volvo’s rego inspection done so after three months I need to apply for new number plates and a full-on blue slip rego inspection for that, too. I wonder if I will score a speeding ticket, a shopping trolley dent or a flat tyre tomorrow…?

 

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