Tinkerer's curse - Morley's World 465

By: Dave Morley

Datsun 1600 Datsun 1600

Morley ponders the alleged simplicity of old school engines

I’ve had cause recently to tinker on an old Japanese four-cylinder engine which, according to the owner, refused to be tuned and had a chronic flat-spot that even two (brand-new) replacement carbies couldn’t fix. And worse, since he had been messing with it, it was now running on just two cylinders. Just what a real mechanic must hear every single day.

Now, this was one of those old-school four-bangers with pushrods, two valves per cylinder and cast-iron everything else. Not much to go wrong, right. Yet the owner had been tearing his hair out for months, trying to get it running sweetly. Which, with about three moving parts in the whole thing, was not an unreasonable expectation. So I took a slice of my own advice and dug into first principles one by one.


Datsun 1600 engine bay presents a fairly simple equation

Provided the head gasket is intact and there’s nothing whacky going on like a cracked head or a major vacuum leak courtesy of a warped inlet manifold, an engine like this presents a fairly simple equation. Basically, if it has fuel, spark and compression, the bastard is obliged to run.

Since my mate, the owner, had been convinced for months that the carb was the problem, that’s where I started. I checked for air leaks, that the needle and seat hadn’t jammed and that the accelerator pump was working (a common source of stumbles and flat-spots). But that brand-spanking little carb seemed bang on the money. So I moved on.


Toyota Corona was popular in the day. This one sports engine settings data

The engine clearly had compression (I could feel that much by turning it by hand) so I hit the sparks department. First things first; check the firing order. And straight off the bat, not five minutes into things, I discover that plug leads three and four are swapped. Oops. With that fixed, the engine started easily and idled okay, but under load it still had a big, bad flat spot as you fed it the beans. Clearly, we’re dealing with more than one problem, here.

Sticking with the ignition system, I decide to check the gap on the ignition points. But as I move the points arm back to get the feeler gauge in, I hear a small ping as the spring, almost rusted through, snaps, leaving the points to flap about like a half-dead fish. Surely, with a spring so weak as it was, the points could have been fluttering, causing the miss. I whacked a new set of points in, gapped them and replaced the rotor button. Hit the key, and there’s more improvement. The flat-spot is gone, but the engine is still popping back through the carb when I rev it in neutral.


That sounds like timing to me. So I bung the timing light on it and discover that the owner has managed to time the thing one-mark-out on the pulley, giving the poor old thing 16 degrees of static timing when the workshop manual calls for just eight.

With that reset to the correct mark, the engine started up easily, sounded great and accelerated through the gears without a hint of a stumble or stutter. First principles, kids. Every damn time. And don’t be afraid to doubt yourself and double-check stuff as you go.

Online, off-side

One of the many life changes Covid brought us was online shopping. I’ve had to do it myself, but I reckon you need to be real careful with this stuff or you could end up burnt. I’m not talking about being scammed with your credit card doing the rounds of a Romanian brothel, or the stuff you ordered just never turning up. I mean the sneaky little tricks that some online sellers will try to nail you with.


I nearly got caught out by this recently and no, I wasn’t ordering car parts (for once). In fact, I was buying something for the Speaker of the House, so you know it wasn’t a vac-sec four-barrel, right?

Anyway, the website of the mob I was using – and to protect their identity, let’s just call them Amazon.com – walked me through the online procedure and then asked if I’d like free delivery. Of course I would, so I pressed that button and paid by credit card. The gear arrived and all was well at 13 Struggle Street until next month’s bank statement turned up with a random $6.99 charge from you-know-who.

So I got on the blower to head office (the call centre is in the Philippines in case you were wondering) and asked why the hell my bank account was $6.99 lighter. Ah, they told me, that’s because when you placed your order last month, the free delivery deal came with a free one-month trial of Amazon Premium. From now on, it’s $6.99 a month.

But I don’t want Premium. I never asked for Premium. And why do I have to opt out of a ‘free’ trial before billing starts?


Okay then, we’ll cancel the subscription and refund your money. Damn straight you will. And I hung up with the phrase "at the very least misleading, certainly dishonest and probably illegal" echoing through the corridors of whatever Manila sweat-shop the call centre is located in.

Now, a free trial should be just that. If I try it and like it, I should then have to opt in to keep it going. Not opt out to stop it. Especially since I didn’t even know I had it. And when I re-checked the website, the free delivery button I clicked on did have an AmazonPremium logo next to it, but no explanation that I was signing up for a monthly subscription.

Thing is, these bozos (bezos?) rolled over without any real fight, so I’m wondering if Jeff and the boys already suspect they’re sailing pretty close to the consumer-law wind here. I don’t reckon I’m the first to have made contact in similar circumstances. But I’m also darn sure there are plenty of folks who don’t check their bank statements when they arrive, or simply figure the bloody kids have downloaded another app without asking. Mind how you go.

Neck minute

Now here’s a trend that’s bothering me a bit. I get it that a hardtop or a convertible looks way cooler if you can’t see the front seats sticking up beyond the window line. But low-back seats are really scary things, if you ask me.

The most recent example I saw was a late-80s Mercedes coupe (the big, S-Class-based mutha with a 5.6-litre V8 on board) which the owner had modified to remove the head-rests from the seats. And, like I said, it looked magnificent with all the windows down and nothing to ruin that sweep of side-window goodness. Which is fine, but what happens if it goes pear-shaped?

And this in a make and model that leads the world in safety tech and has built its corporate reputation on same (not that the mods were M-B’s call, of course).

A good mate of mine has a sister who, for the last five decades, has lived in a wheelchair with a spinal-cord injury caused by a rear-ender in a car with low-back front seats. Wasn’t even her fault: She got cleaned up by the truck behind her with enough force that her neck over-extended. I won’t go into any more details, but rest assured she’d have walked away had her car had head-rests built into the seats.


Even the fairly minor bingle I had a few months back where the MBC parts chaser was rear-ended by a mid-sized SUV in stop-start traffic, was enough of an impact that I remember my head hitting the head-rest. I’m all for a cool looking ride, but when it comes to stuff like a head-rest, give me something like a Valiant Charger’s high-back tombstone seat every time. Oh, and if you have adjustable head-rests, don’t forget to set them properly so that they’re at the correct height and angled so that they’ll decelerate your melon before your head falls off.

Right, got that off my chest. Now let me tell you about the girl I saw today with her feet up on the dashboard of an air-bag-equipped Falcon. A gentle nose-to-tail in that case and they’re gonna be picking bits of her knees out of her nose for the next month. Are people really that stupid, or was Charles Darwin really, really on to something?

Seller beware

I’ve gone and done a thing. Yep, I’ve bought another car. I’ll tell you all about it in next month’s magazine, because I haven’t picked it up yet, and there’s no point both of us being too excited to sleep.


Morley has been out car shopping. Stand back...

Anyway, I mention it now, because the poor bugger selling the thing was having an awful time getting somebody, anybody, to actually come up with the money and leave him a deposit. Fact is, he’d sold the car twice before I bought it, but each time, the sale had gone pear-shaped.

The first wannabe buyer was – according to his own story – waiting on an insurance payout on the car he’d recently written off. Thing was, he couldn’t buy another car until the insurance loot was in his bank account. Which it wasn’t. Yet. Which is why, when I rang up about the car, I was told that it was sold pending, but that the seller was losing patience and was only going to hold the thing until the end of the week. At which point, he’d contact me to let me know if it was, indeed, back on the market.

The end of the week comes and, sure enough, I get a text message saying that the bloke had failed to come up with the readies, so the car was back on the market. Obviously, I dropped everything and hustled around there to take a peek.

And it looked good, it really did. It was what I was looking for, but since I was pushed for time, I didn’t have the hour or two I needed to give it a full once-over or even take it for a quick test-spin. So, I did the smart thing and arranged to come back in a couple of days and, having seen and liked it, perform the necessary due diligence.

But when I rang up to organise a second visit, the seller apologised and told me that he’d sold the car the very day after I looked at it. No problems. There was no agreement that he’d hold it for me, and if somebody came along with folding money, then the bloke would have been mad not to sell it. I was just going to have to keep looking.

But blow me down if, after another few days, I get another text from the seller, saying that, this time, the second buyer’s finance had fallen over. And guess what? The car was back on the market. Again.


Old Aussie cars have been gold in the market. Will it continue?

This time, I high-tailed it to the bloke’s driveway, did the full inspection, took it for a drive, did the – largely symbolic – Dance of Negotiation for a few minutes and then handed the seller-feller a pile of folding as a deposit. I might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I’m not stupid enough to miss the same opportunity twice.

If anything, though, I think the whole episode might have worked slightly in my favour: I reckon I probably bought the thing a fraction cheaper simply by standing in front of the bloke waving cash. Especially in light of the other gherkins who’d tried and failed to clinch the deal.

Like they say; money talks...

Wheel Tub Time Machine

Note to my 16-year-old self: When looking for your next car, make sure you understand the market you’re shopping in. I mention this because, based on what I’m seeing out in the real world, the prices of some cars are about to take – or have already taken – a dive of sorts. So, depending on the car, it might be wise to wait a little while and see how the market shakes out. (Says he, who has just admitted to buying another car.)


Rising interest rates, the end of Covid payments and a general lack of consumer confidence have all ratcheted up just lately, not to mention the drug-money now being asked for a litre of PULP. And, if recent auction results are anything to go by (and they’re usually better than nothing) it might just be that prices of some of the more ridiculously priced vehicles are ready to perform a horsey off the high board.

The real high-end stuff is safe, because only rich folks can buy them anyway and rich folks aren’t bothered by Covid or mortgage rates. But the seriously bent prices being asked for stuff like six-cylinder, early Commodores and XD or XE Falcon sixes, maybe, just maybe, won’t be sustainable in this grave new world. The point being that it’s unlikely to remain the case going forward that you can afford a particular car this week, but not next week. Even if prices don’t come down much, they sure as hell can’t go on climbing through the stratosphere like they have been the last couple of years. And that’s got to be a good thing.

uniquecars@wheelsmedia.com.au or via snail mail at Unique Cars, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, 3166. Yep, he’s gonna fix you up in no time...


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