Patina proud - Morley's World #490

By: Dave Morley

To paint, or not to paint? That is the question

Patina proud - Morley's World #490
What’s a ballpark figure to having a decent paint job nowadays? How long is a piece of string ...

was out and (mostly) about in the Charger on the weekend. And, again, I was asked at least twice when I was gonna paint the old girl. Now, if you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll know that I actually have no intentions of painting the car any time soon. Yes, it looks like it’s just finished the Le Mans 24-Hour, but to a bloke my age, that’s what proper Chargers look like. And it means I get to drive it rather than polish it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the shiny excellence of newly buffed, two-pack paint (hell, just having the car all the one colour would be a start in my case) but when I was a kid, Chargers were starting to become older cars and were falling into the nefarious hands of people like me who tuned them up, drove them like lunatics, and were then forced to put up with the inevitable bits of undercoat that resulted when it all went a bit Pete Tong mid-corner.

Some say this is what a Limelight Charger should look like.....jpg

Some say this is what a Limelight Charger should look like ...

So I’m totally okay with the car looking like it does, partly because I know that underneath that murky exterior lies a straight, rust-free shell. And I know it’s rust-free, because it was yours truly who cut out the handful of rusty spots (and they were only little ones) and welded in fresh new metal. Dunno about you, but that means a lot more to me (and my sanity) than a spiffy looking paint job that could be hiding lord-knows-what.

Now, I know my Charger didn’t invent the patina look or the rat look (and if you must pigeon-hole it, I guess it’s somewhere in between) but I’m pretty certain it won’t be the last to tap into this anti-aesthetic. Why, because I reckon the way things are going, a lot of blokes and blokettes are going to either embrace blotchy paint as a trend or give up on cars altogether.

Mine looks more like this. Okay, maybe not that bad..JPG

Mine looks more like this. Okay, maybe not that bad.

Why? Because – and I hate to be the one saying this – the cost of having somebody work on your car has not gotten to the point where restoring an old car is simply beyond the financial means of a lot of hard-working people. Let’s not even talk about the current state of affairs where you are required to fork out $20,000 for a $2000 project starter.

Instead let’s talk about the fact that getting a car in my Charger’s condition painted would cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 (and I’m not talking show quality here). And let’s say you like big Yankee tin. It’s very easy to spend $10,000 just having chrome redone nowadays. Oh, you’re missing the rear seat in your HK Monaro project? We’re talking thousands – not hundreds – to find a new one. Then you can spend more to have it retrimmed.


Rust-free and full of patina just the way Morley likes it, for now.

Look, I’m not begrudging the craftspeople and artisans (or artesians, as my sister-in-law calls them) out there who do the work, their hourly rate. And clearly, some people can afford it and will keep those industries afloat. But just as we’ve become a society divided roughly along the lines of those who’ve inherited and those who rent, there’s an increasingly large cohort of folks who simply can’t justify new paint or chrome, when the weekly grocery shop costs more than a decent second-hand car once did. No kidding.

It could turn out to be a bit like the hi-vis shirts and vests that blue-collar workers were forced into a few years back under the guise of safety. Sure, a bright orange long-sleeve fleecy potentially makes a fella more difficult to run over with the forklift, but on a social engineering level, it also marked the hi-vis crew out as the workers, not the bosses.

And maybe running around in an old car with flaky paint and scuzzy chrome will become the same indicator of social rank. Than again, maybe we’ll turn it around like the tradies of the world did and wear our hi-vis and our panel defects with pride.

Fate tempted

Again, it’s a case of me and my big mouth. Last issue I was banging on about how the 260E Benz continues to amaze me with its ability to keep its oil in the sump and the temp needle in the no-stress zone. Well, the oil thing is still okay.

But temperature-wise? Nope, the mighty W124 has blotted its copybook. Fear not, it was a five-minute fix, but it could have been curtains had I not been paying attention (rare for me, I know) at the time.

So what happened? Well, there I was, happily trundling back to the Melbourne Bloke Centre one Friday afternoon, when I got tangled up in the nearby roadworks that have been going on for about nine months now (and have, from what I can see, contributed more or less nothing beyond turning a gravel service road in to a bitumen one and re-engineering the next corner so that it now floods when a kid spills a drink two suburbs away).

Anyway, I skilfully used the waiting time (Why can’t Melbourne drivers understand the zipper move when merging from two lanes down to one?) to have a quick scan of the Benz’s lovely VDO instruments. Which is when I noticed that the temp-gauge needle was sitting about a needle-width higher than it normally does. It now has my attention and, as I crawled closer to the MBC, that damn needle kept creeping along, too.

Heater hose, complete with crack..jpg

Heater hose, complete with crack.

Eventually, I rolled into my parking spot with the needle now well past it’s usual spot, but still – thankfully – nowhere near the death zone. I popped the bonnet, jumped out and opened it and right away was guided to the problem by the sound of hissingly hot coolant escaping from the back of the six-cylinder donk. Didn’t take long (or any real skill) to follow my ears and arrive at the heater pipe which runs from the back of the cylinder head, through the double-hulled bulkhead and on to the heater core inside the car. Yep, there’s yer problem.

Two jubilee clamps later and I had the bung hose removed. You can see from the photo that it doesn’t look like a brand-new crack in the rubber, so maybe it’s been oozing a little coolant for ages. Then again, I’ve done several thousand kliks in the thing already and I haven’t needed to top up the coolant bottle, so who knows.

Now, being a Friday arvo, I knew my chances of getting a replacement hose were slim to none. And when I measured up the old hose, I discovered it was three-quarters diameter. A quick rootle through my box of hoses showed that I had about a kilometre of five-eighths, but no three-quarter stuff.

This little fastener works as the burp valve..jpg

This little fastener works as the burp valve.

Even so, I thought I’d try my luck at the parts shop just down the road. So off to Bursons I trot with the old hose as a sample. Apologising for providing a dumb problem on a Friday afternoon, I soon learned that the exact part number was not on the shelves. But, said the bloke behind the counter, if I could be bothered, I could jump the counter and have a rummage through the hoses on the shelf to see if I could maybe make what I needed out of two smaller hoses and a joiner. So I did. Look, that is. But to no actual avail.

The good news was that there’s so much room in that engine bay, that I figured I could get away with just using a normal, straight length of hose and bend it gradually so it didn’t crimp on me. Which is how it panned out and why the heater hose on my car now takes a slightly more scenic route on its way ’twixt head and heater box. But hey, it aint stupid if it works.

The next job, of course, was to refill the coolant and bleed the air out of the system. I did this in two stages, the first by topping the coolant bottle off and then going for a short drive with the heater on full blast. Then, when things had cooled down again, I located the bleed valve on the top of the thermostat housing, removed it and refilled the bottle again till coolant ran out the bleeder. It’s a process that probably has an engineering name, but around here it’s known as burping the engine.

And just like that, we’re back on the road.

Sound advice

Speaking of the mighty W124, you may recall that last month I fished the dead radio out of its hole in the dashboard and shipped it off to a bloke called Mark who runs a business called Car Stereo Repairs. Mark (who also races a historic sports sedan) is known around the traps as being the go-to fella for older car-stereo stuff that has stopped working. In fact, another job he had on the books was to repair an old six-volt valve radio from an FJ Holden. I think I’m in the right place.

This is why your use an expert for some things..jpg

This is why you use an expert for some things.

Anyway, since the rest of my car’s interior was so nice and so original, I wanted to keep the old Becker head unit if it was at all possible. Then again, if it was all a lost cause, I’d have to fit something newer (since any second-hand Becker Grand Prix probably wasn’t going to be any better than the munted one I already had).

So my instructions were to try to fix what was there, but not to go berserk if it wasn’t keen on coming back to life. Mark didn’t fail me.

In the end, he reckons the problem was a blown condenser which, in turn, had taken out the power regulator and put a stop to all broadcasts. Interestingly, the tape-deck still worked perfectly. But with a new condenser and regulator soldered in place, the old Becker is crackling away through its 35-year-old speakers like a beauty. I’ll now add a cigarette-lighter Bluetooth transmitter and even The Speaker will be happy again. 

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