Getting Cranky - Faine 455

By: Jon Faine

Presented by

gearbox We have a transmission, but no clutch spring... gearbox

Jon has only crank started a few cars a few times and claims quality - not quantity

The owner of a Bugatti T35 years ago invited me to indulge in a joy ride. His invitation came with a simple caveat. If I could start the car, I could drive it. I was given precise instructions as well as a medical caution. Get the sequence and action wrong, you could either dislocate your thumb, crack a kneecap or maybe permanently damage a shoulder. It was a fair warning – some minor maiming seemed like a reasonable trade. After all, how often do you get to pilot something as exotic and historic as a Bugatti, let alone a T35?

The task turned out to be less challenging than anticipated, and with only a few bucking bronco moments, we were soon hooning around the hills, elbows out and ears stinging. I remember the exhilaration from being behind the wheel of one of the most iconic cars ever created, my thrill matched only by the terror that I would somehow hurt it. My mind flirted with images of twisted Bugatti wrapped around a light-pole and matching headlines "Idiot writes off $1m car on joy ride".


Thankfully, none of my premonitions came to fruition and by the end of the afternoon, Bug packed away safely in its cave, I wandered off head still spinning from the thrill.

It seems somewhat sacrilegious to even mention my 10hp 1926 Citroen in the same breath, since the Bugatti and Citroen represented opposite ends of the French car market back in their day around one hundred years ago. The Bug was a rich man’s toy while the Citroen was one of the first mass produced consumer cars. The crank handle might be about the only technology they have in common.


Smaller crank is a useful pattern

I mention the Bugatti because I am trying to fix the crank handle on my Citroen, and I have only the Bugatti to compare it to. The Citroen and Bugatti mechanisms are identical – at one end a simple cotter pin holds the crank-handle on and at the other end it has a loose sleeve over a press-fitted shaft. My car came with a crank handle but it is fatally corroded, and so far, a global search has failed to turn up a replacement. As it is a fairly simple piece, I decided to repair instead of replace.

The original piece still worked as a crank handle should, but the loose aluminium sleeve on the steel shaft was no longer loose, and sported an ugly crack like a duelling scar. Nearly one hundred years of gradual corrosion of the aluminium has left it oxidised and stuck solid and fast to the steel around which it ought freely spin. The cast iron connecting rod on which it sits is in perfect condition, so I drilled out the steel shaft and sacrificed it and the corroded aluminium sleeve.

In my boxes of spare parts, I found a Citroen 5CV crank handle. It is a slightly smaller and slimmer version of mine and not able to be adapted. The mounting hole is much smaller and there is not enough surrounding metal to safely drill it out to fit. If I make the hole big enough, the surrounding metal will be so weakened as to invite a collapse. But it is in perfect condition and ideal as a pattern.


First task was to wander across to my very basic lathe, and using my very basic turning skills to turn down a fat useless old steel bolt to the right size to make a new shaft, with a small step of 1mm between the mounting hole and the handle which ought to be enough to ensure no slop once it is pressed into place against the lip.

The next task will be to sculpt the aluminium sleeve, which has a somewhat svelte profile, and will require the light touch of an artisan to achieve. Since no artisans are available, I will do my impersonation of one and see how I go. Once the sleeve is shaped and polished, drilling out the core will be easy and then I will make a retaining plate from an old washer that will sit on the end to hold the sleeve on the shaft into perpetuity.


Meanwhile, I have discovered that the clutch on the recently re-installed gearbox has no spring. Pushing down on the pedal actuates two forks that push on a collar to send the clutch into action, but there is no resistance from within the flywheel, and the pedal does not return. So now the gearbox has to come off and the non-clutching clutch requires interrogation. Assuming the springs are either stuck, rusted, jammed or some similar obvious explanation, it all ought to be sorted soon, which will then enable the prop shaft and rubber donut coupling to be connected to the diff, which once the rod brakes are connected, that brings the running gear restoration to an end. And then the body work begins. Simple.


From Unique Cars #455, July 2021

Unique Cars magazine Value Guides

Sell your car for free right here



Subscribe to Unique Cars Magazine and save up to 42%
Australia’s classic and muscle car bible. With stunning features, advice, market intelligence and hundreds of cars for sale.