Bush mechanic - Blackbourn 452

By: Rob Blackbourn

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Fortunately the "no user-serviceable parts inside" message hasn't always been with us

My short-list of topics for this column got the heave-ho once I read Glenn Torrens’ column about "great bush fixes" in last month’s Unique Cars.

Like GT, a lot of us have done some hot-wiring to bypass faulty bits and pieces and held spanners across lazy solenoid terminals. In fact, in simpler times when automotive technology was compatible with "make do and mend" roadside repairs, Aussies demonstrated remarkable creativity in using ingenious ‘fixes’ to revive ailing vehicles. How about the "can-do" bloke who allegedly used a borrowed lathe, drill-press and hand-tools to fashion a piston for his Model A Ford from a chunk of red gum during the Great Depression? The way the story goes, his old Henry took it in its stride and chugged successfully back home to Melbourne from up the bush.

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Davey knew a thing or two

As a misguided 17-year-old Austin 7 owner (the "sporty" 1929 Meteor) I cut a section from the sidewall of a discarded tyre to make a get-me-home replacement for a laminated canvas/rubber front universal-joint that had disintegrated out on the road. While that’s hardly a world-beater I am a bit proud of the hybrid front spring I once cobbled up for my lovely 1934 Ford. The pack of leaves making up a transverse Ford spring is held together by a single central bolt. The elongated bolt-head performs another vital function. Slotting into a corresponding hole in the chassis cross-member, it locates the front axle centrally in the chassis, securing it against lateral cornering forces. One day, on the way home to Melbourne, these simple chassis-design facts took on special significance to me as I swung my ’34 V8 to the right, to mount the old timber bridge across the Goulburn near Seymour. Immediately the car seized the steering wheel from my grasp and slid across its own front axle, jamming the inside of the left front wheel flat against the chassis rail. It turned out that the unrecognisable "tinkling" sounds I had heard moments before was the sheared spring centre-bolt departing and bouncing off into the grass together with most of the spring leaves.

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With no real harm done (the car pulled up more or less straight, alongside the bridge side-rails), I got to work with the jack and my wire-rope hand-winch and dragged the front axle back to its preferred central location (it had looked extremely daggy with the right front wheel hanging miles out from its guard, while the left wheel was nowhere to be seen). A very careful, walking-pace drive got me over the river, off the bridge and into a shady roadside spot. Drawing inspiration from the wooden-piston bloke and a 1956 incident when national radio-star Jack Davey limped his Redex Trial Customline into town with a red gum prop replacing an expired coil-spring, I unpacked my tomahawk and scout-knife and headed for the trees. A decent length of an 80-90mm thick eucalypt branch, with a natural bend pretty much matching the curve of the Ford spring, was soon being trimmed and notched. With its ends "secured" to the main spring-leaf using fencing wire and its central section tightly squeezed up into the cross-member using the U-bolts, I soon had a 34 Ford that looked okay and steered okay. And it even rode okay! While it would have given a roadworthy inspector apoplexy, it got me home safely. I drove the 100-or-so kilometres cautiously, particularly through bends. The next day I visited the legendary Wally Martin (a man I’ve mentioned in previous columns) at his Watsonia Garage and bought a complete new-old-stock 1934 Ford front spring from his extensive stash. Issue sorted…

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Now a variation on the theme: While the science rooms at my state high school were impressively laid out, they were a bit light-on for equipment, particularly for physics. A case in point was an impressive set of glass discharge tubes containing various "noble" gases like neon and argon that were intended to demonstrate the distinctive colours the gases emitted when ionized under high-voltage. But we had no high-voltage DC source. Imagine the delight of our physics teacher when I turned up with an ignition "buzzer box" from my 1927 Model T Ford (bought from lawn-mowing round money as a 16-year-old). With a 6v battery hooked up to the "buzzer box" Form 5b was seeing more colours than you could jump over.

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From Unique Cars #452, April 2021

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