An electrical bug, a reluctant Colt + more - Morley's World 458

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Dave Morley & Guy Allen, Unique Cars Archives

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holden ute holden ute

Dave's handy electrical tip, turning a Colt and many more weird secrets from the MBC

Shrugging off my veil of uselessness for a moment (people tend to bother you less if there’s nothing they can gain from you) I’d like to share a little hack I discovered by accident that I reckon might be of some considerable use to a relatively large number of people. Yeah, I know, not like me at all, right?

Anyway, this wee trick might just save a few people from tearing their hair out, setting fire to their car, or both. Which people? Anybody who owns a middle-aged Commodore from the look of things. Now, the MBC parts chaser these days is a 2003 Commodore SS ute. I like it because it can carry big, heavy things (like me) but mainly because there’s 5.7 litres of aluminium V8 up front that, whichever way you cut the deck, is truly, marvellously excessive.

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Like a new one again

I also like the fact that, as a r-e-a-so-n-a-b-l-y late-model car (by my standards, anyway) the ute has cruise-control, air-conditioning that works, ABS brakes and a little function that turns off the headlights when you shut off the ignition. The safety-bear in me likes this last function, because I have a theory that a car with its lights on permanently is just more visible more of the time. So, I drive everywhere with my headlights on low beam these days. Why wouldn’t I? Oh, because I’ll leave them on one day and return to a flat battery? Nope, because somebody at Holden decided I was a thickhead and designed the car to switch them off for me. Cheers, whoever you are.

Except a few weeks ago, I had parked at a workshop doing some sand-blasting for me (Automotive Restoration Blasting in Bayswater, and I recommend ’em) and, looking out into the car-park, I happened to notice that my lights were, indeed, still on. When I got back to the car to switch them off manually, I also noticed the radio was still blaring (it normally switches off automatically a second or two after the headlights). Freaky.

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Removing the battery equals Alt/Ctrl/Del

Naturally, the SS didn’t pull the same trick for weeks, giving me ample time to forget about it. Until it did it again a day or two ago. This time, I was still sitting in the thing and noticed for myself that the lights and radio were still shining and whining. So I shut the door, keyed on the ignition again, switched her off and opened the door. And boom, the lights went out in Georgia. And in Ferntree Gully. But now it had started to get worse to the point where I had to wait and check that the lights went off every time I got out of the car. Eventually, I knew I was just playing the odds until I forgot and came back to a dead battery, so I started having a poke around.

At first I thought I might be dealing with a duff body computer. I’ve had this before on a Falcon ute and wound up having to replace the computer and even have a new ignition key coded to the new set-up. Cost me a fortune. Mid-Covid, I don’t actually have that sort of cash to splash right now, so I was hoping there’d be a simpler fix. So I started to have a dig around.

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Start with the bascis

After disconnecting the battery as a means of resetting the body computer (no luck) I finally twigged that the whole shebang was dependent on opening the driver’s door. By design, while ever you sat in the car – even after killing the ignition – the radio would continue to play. Until you opened the door. If you were anywhere within 100km of Melbourne that day, you may have heard the penny drop. It’s the door switch, isn’t it? Yep, it sure was.

So I took out a single screw that locates the tiny switch in the door jamb, carefully removed the switch, sprayed it with penetrating fluid, gave it a few cycles by hand and then screwed it back into the jamb. And Whaddayaknow? Full thickhead functionality has been resumed. Cue mechanic’s victory dance.

It’s not like the switch itself (or the inside of the A-pillar) was full of dead leaves and spider’s eggs or anything; I just think the little switch had run out of grease and had become sticky. Or the contacts were grubby or something. Whatever, it works again and I want to share this knowledge with the world. That’s just the sort of bloke I am. Sometimes.

A couple of issues ago, I was rambling on about little jobs turning into real big ones without too much provocation. You may remember that a simple H4 globe replacement in the MBC parts chaser turned into an hour-plus marathon when everything that could go wrong, came over all Murphy on me, and did.

So I really am relieved to discover that even the experts can turn a simple job into a much bigger one without trying too hard. I got a message from Aussie rally legend, Bob Watson, who was reminded of the time he went to change the gearbox oil in his wife’s Mitsubishi Colt (the old-school model with the 1100cc engine and giant-killing rally smarts).

I’ll let Bob tell the story: "I decided to do a minor service on it (the Colt). Changed the engine oil, etc and went to check the gearbox oil level. I found a bolt on the side of the gearbox that looked like where you would put oil in, so I undid it. And all of the selector levers fell down into the bottom of the gearbox. I had to take the car to Matt Philip who was rallying a Colt at the time to have the gearbox reassembled. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!"
Thanks for getting in touch Bob. It’s nice to hear from you and nice to know I’m in good company.

Seen the action flick Con Air? If you haven’t, I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that it is one of the stupidest films ever made. The characters are all cartoons, the script is a collection of every cultural and mental-illness stereotype and cliché, and the plot is just loopy. Writing a `help’ message on a dead body and throwing it from a plane is not the lairiest twist in this mutha. The final scene on the Las Vegas strip where the plane…Oh, hang on, I won’t spoil it for you. Anyway, take it from me, this film will have you spraying your popcorn all over the Jason recliner.

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A fave Dave flick. Really

And I love it. In fact, it’s one of my favourite films of the last 30 years. Yes, it’s dopey. Yes, it’s a rapid-fire stream of idiocy. So why do I like it? It’s actually saved by the sheer brilliance of the actors. I can only imagine the likes of John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Nicholas Cage, Colm Meaney and the terrifying John Malkovich all caved in under the weight of zeroes. But thankfully they did, and Con Air is the magnificent result. I also get the impression they all knew they were working with a lunatic script and a cartoon plot and they all yucked it up mightily in the process. The point being that the right actors can make the wrong film work.

I have a similar relationship with a few cars out there, too. Sometimes, a car that just shouldn’t work by virtue of a lack of purpose or a logic shortfall, will still make me smile because of what it offers in compensation.

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A rotary hasn’t graced MBC... yet

Take the Mazda RX-8. Now, I dunno about you, but I reckon the RX-8 looks like it was designed by three or four people who’d never so much as had lunch together. The front end reminds me of some kind of dune-buggy, and the rear-opening half-doors might be okay on a work truck, but have no place on a sporty coupe. And yet…every now and then I find myself scanning the back of this fine, family publication, looking for a bargain-priced RX-8.

So now I should tell you why. Because of that rotary engine, of course. Everybody who knows me knows that I love rotary engines to bits. I’ve never owned one and that remains one of my great regrets in life, because the rotary, for all its oil-burning, flooding, fuel-guzzling and exploding problems, is a thing of rare joy and beauty to the senses. Change my mind.

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Not all Rex models get the tick of approval. One does and not for the performance

And let’s talk Subaru WRXs. Most people seem to think that the very first model is the one to buy and own now. And I’d be okay with that, but for me, the second, vastly less popular model is the one I want. Yes, yes, I know it was heavier and had no extra power or torque (so it was a bit harder work to get it away cleanly in a drag-race). And, yes again, I know it had those bug-eyed headlights that gives it the face my dog used to pull when having her temperature taken at the vet. So what saves it for me? Those boxed wheel arches that are just so tough, they make the original Rex look a bit dainty. And I’d put up with all the later car’s foibles just for those mega guards.

The one four-wheeled genre I just cannot reconcile regardless of any of their otherwise good points, are those stupid SUV coupes. Mind you, I wouldn’t be opposed to hurling one out of a plane at cruising altitude. I can feel a movie screenplay coming on. I wonder if John Malkovich is busy this week…

Ever seen a celebrity-interview TV show where they’ll ask the guest, if they could travel back in time, what piece of advice they’d give their 16-year-old self? Well, in that fine tradition, I reckon there’s some scope for that to be relevant advice to a group of folks like us. So each month, I’ll visit that idea and come up with a new piece of information I’ve earned over the years, but would have saved me blood, stress and money back when I was first starting to mess about with cars. So here goes…

Don’t be afraid to have a crack at it.

Yep, pretty sound advice this one. Without the will to muck in and tackle a problem, you’re stuck with a broken car until somebody with more money than you comes along and agrees to fix it for you. And sometimes, having a crack leads to a helping hand.

My mate Frosty had a Mazda 808 when we were kids and, due to who knows what, Frosty Boy had a habit of backing it into things and rounding off the corners of the old 808. Eventually, he could stand the look of it no longer, so he and I grabbed a hammer and blocks of wood, bought a tin of bog and set about fixing the dents in my backyard. Of course, we made a horrible botch of it, but Frosty’s dad – a lovely bloke named Ray – was so proud of the fact that we’d bothered to have a tilt, he paid for the car to be fixed professionally. I raised the idea of adoption, but Ray already had five kids just like Frosty, so he probably needed a panel shop more than he needed another dependent.

 

From Unique Cars #456, Aug 2021

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