SOMETIMES, otherwise smart blokes seem to run short on mechanical savvy, and make stupid decisions that inevitably get to bite them on the bum. I’m talking about the characters who simply don’t have an instinctive understanding about how modified car stuff works, even though they know enough to work with spanners and do basics on engines and transmissions. They often end up with ongoing disasters that could have been easily avoided.
One of these was a guy who decided to build a moderate street machine out of his uncle’s FE Holden, which had passed into his care when the old bloke died. Not a high-mileage car, it had been sitting under four layers of blankets inside a sealed shed for years.
So the young bloke dropped in a new battery, got the sideplate grey to fire, and drove the Holden home to rip out the engine and ’box. The plan was to install a 179 red six and four-speed Opel transmission that had come from a mate’s wrecked humpy – a good deal, as the mill had been bored to 192 cubes, fitted with Starfirefour conrods, a Yella Terra head, three-quarter mechanical cam spun by an alloy gear and triple inch-and-three-quarter SU carbs on a Redline manifold. It was still in good nick, and the Opel was also okay after the bingle.
A couple of the bloke’s mates got involved in the transplant and it didn’t chew up too many hours before the new mill made noise and smoke. So they shared a few small bottles of lunatic soup to celebrate and talked about new mags with fat tyres, as the ones on the FE were totally rock-hard with age.
So the FE finally cleared through the rego tests okay and it was right for the road. The first long drive was a car club cruise. They were four-up in the worked FE when the fire went out of the engine. They had to coast to the side of the highway and lift the lid – to discover that there was nothing abnormal to see. A couple of the guys kicked the tyres in frustration, somebody fiddled with the wiring and another bloke who knew a bit checked for zaps at the sparkplugs and yes, there were plenty enough to bite him.
There was a bit of a mix-up when he was refitting a lead and the driver hit the key too early, zapping the guy again. But suddenly, the 192 burst into song. Nobody could figure out why this was so, and the decision was to get in and drive to see if this nonsense was going to happen again.
And it did. Twelve kays along that road, the fire went out again. Lifted the lid, nothing was wrong, waited for 10 minutes before hitting the starter and the mongrel six laughed and consented to fire up and run like normal.
They couldn’t figure out why they were getting these intermittent stoppages, so at the next offramp, they turned the FE towards home, and after the transplanted engine died on them three more times before arriving at its shed, they called in an expert to diagnose the situation.
That’s when I got involved. The team had done a really good job of fitting in their new red six, a floor shift for the Opel tranny and a bigger alloy radiator to keep the motivator mill cool. Everything involved with the Bosch-based ignition system was okay – even if they hadn’t traded the old contact-breaker system for a full electronic – the heat range of the new sparkplugs was pretty much on the mark, the basic extractorpipe exhaust system didn’t have any potatoes up inside the chrome end, and the small SU pusher electric fuel pump inside the boot was clicking away like normal.
I told them that there wasn’t enough grunt in this to feed three large carburettors when the revs got up, because it would be flat-out pumping 20 litres an hour. But they said their engine never went over three grand on the tacho all though their aborted cruise, so the cause for the stop-start happenings had to be somewhere else.
I still was thinking fuel, so I went to lift the lids on the separate float bowls of the carbs, figuring that with an old car that had been stored for years maybe grot was being pulled through from a rusty steel tank. But when I lifted the round brass floats out with a couple of small screwdrivers, there was nothing to see. And the big clear plastic in-line fuel filter still looked like new. But there had to be something.
Then I noticed that the hex-head brass barrel nuts that hold down the float chamber lids had been rough-cut at their ends to make them shorter, and I asked why this was so. Oh, they were holding down these long steel pipe things and we thought they were ugly, so we took them off and cut down the nuts. Mates, I said, they were breather pipes so that the float bowls wouldn’t get air locks – you get rid of them and you slow down your fuel pump refilling bit, and that’s why you kept running out of unleaded on the highway! s