Thrills 'n' spills - Blackbourn 458

By: Rob Blackbourn

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spills spills

Although he’s a bit fussy about oil spills these days, there was a moment when Rob was up there with the Exxon Valdez

At a certain age I reckon a bloke’s entitled to take a bit of pride in the fact that the maintenance skills he’s been practising for a few decades actually aren’t half bad these days. Your bull-at-a-gate times when you used to drop the odd nut down the carby, or shear off BSW studs, or strip alloy threads are well behind you. And it’s nice that the pain is mostly behind you – the skinned knuckles, the brake fluid in your eye, the sheetmetal-edge gashes, your seared flesh from grabbing that piece of steel-plate too soon after parking the cutting torch.

It also helps that your more spectacular fails sit well back in history. My standout was the rushed rear-axle assembly swap-job on Mum’s front lawn. Things took a turn for the worse when my twin towers of bricks supporting the back of the car let go with yours truly half under there. Fortunately the damage was limited to numerous soft-tissue injuries, but the pain lingered for a while as did the physio visits.


It’s not just about working better, safer and more efficiently – it includes housekeeping stuff like neatness and cleanliness. An example is using a virginal workshop manual without leaving greasy fingerprints showing which chapter you had open at the time (particularly when the manual belongs to a mate!). Even little things like not spilling oil are part of that pleasing picture.

It was actually a recent little oil spill that prompted this column. It’s a long time since I’ve failed to check that the drain-tray I’m using can comfortably hold the volume of oil I’m about to dump into it. And I didn’t splash oil on the concrete by dropping the sump drain-plug into a full drain-tray during a ham-handed attempt to refit it. This time I was servicing the old diesel Hilux and with a lot going on in the shed I decided to do it outside on the concrete driveway. It started well with the sump disgorging a mighty flow of pitch-black waste into the drain-tray. Then after grabbing some rags I was wriggling back underneath when that thin stream of oil that you get from the last half-litre or so was suddenly blown sideways by a cheeky spring breeze. On to the concrete…

Okay, it was a tiny spill that was easily cleaned up. But it was still annoying because spilling oil is not what I do these days. However in my youth my oil-spilling talent once challenged the nation’s best, when I was tidying up a really nice used Holden Premier wagon I bought for my wife. It was in great nick – except that the park-pawl that locks the transmission had been sheared off when someone had engaged ‘Park’ on the move. Having done a few gearbox and clutch jobs by that stage I was undaunted at the prospect of my first ‘auto’ job. With the front securely supported on sturdy ramps and with axle-stands aft – I had moved on from the brick-stacks approach – I slid under and removed the tailshaft. To my credit a drip-tray was there to catch the bit of Auto Trans Fluid (ATF) that always escapes from the back of the extension housing before you plug the opening. Not a drop touched the floor!


Older,wiser and prepared for all contingencies

Once the plastic crate was in place under the Powerglide and the bell-housing bolts were out I did what you do with a manual gearbox, wriggling the tranny off the dowels and sliding it back. Bloody hell! Who knew that you don’t leave the torque converter bolted to the driveplate, mimicking the way you leave the clutch assembly bolted to the flywheel when you’re pulling a manual ’box? Not me. Obviously… Litres of ATF gushed from the torque converter, covering the floor and saturating my overalls as I vainly tried to stem the flow. Damn! – I had more to learn…

One Saturday morning at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Markets a few months back (between lockdowns) a bloke who spotted my motor bike-themed T-shirt that boasted the ‘Older, Wiser, Faster’ message, asked my wife for her assessment. I reckon her reply was a bit harsh: "One out of three’s not too bad.

I treat that as a pass mark."

All things considered, I reckon I’m actually knocking on the door of two out of three most days now.


From Unique Cars #458, Oct 2021

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