Clutching at deadlines.

With two weeks to go before the self-imposed deadline of getting the car back on the road for the 2018 McLaren Vale Vintage and Classic event, things were looking relatively peachy. I had the gearbox out, I had a clutch kit ready to install as well as all of the other bits and pieces I thought I might need during the process.  Surely nothing could go wrong? More on that later…

The first step was to remove the existing clutch from the car and inspect the flywheel for any scoring, rust or other damage. The clutch, a Borg & Beck style AP Driveline one, was actually in great condition and the friction plate was showing very little wear indeed. There was a little bit of scoring on the ends of the diaphragm spring fingers caused by the release bearing but nothing major. However, I had a brand new replacement waiting so I decided to keep this old one as a good spare and fit the new one anyway (if it had been a Laycock kit in equally good condition I may have chosen otherwise).

Old Clutch
Existing Borg & Beck style clutch

On removal of the clutch, the flywheel also looked to be in good condition with no significant scoring or corrosion to speak of.

Flywheel is in good enough shape


One item I had unfortunately forgotten to order was the spigot bushing which sits in the flywheel on the mk2 2500 (and in the end of the crank on the mk1) – this was noticeably worn and was a little loose so after a couple of futile phonecalls to Aussie-based suppliers, a replacement was ordered from the UK on express delivery. The bushing provides some support to the gearbox input shaft and is crucial to preventing wear in the gearbox bearings. The replacement bushing arrived a week later and when compared to the old bushing, its replacement was clearly well-overdue as the central aperture was not only heavily scored but also oval rather than round.

Bushes Old vs New
Old bushing on the right, new on the left


The spigot bushing is made from a porous bronze and needs to be soaked in engine oil overnight to provide ongoing lubrication to the end of the gearbox input shaft.  Its removal and refitting is relatively easy – I drifted the old bushing out of the flywheel with a suitably-sized socket and then used the old bushing to drift the new one in. The new bushing fits very well in the flywheel with no detectable movement at all, whilst the gearbox input shaft fits snugly but not tightly into the central aperture. It was the right call to delay installation of the new ‘box by a week to fit a new one.

Bushing Out
Old bushing removed from the flywheel


The next step was to take a look at the clutch release mechanism and to swap it over to the new ‘box. The clutch release bearing is pressed onto a bearing carrier which slides over the splined gearbox input shaft when being actuated by a fork attached to the clutch operating shaft. When the clutch pedal is depressed the operating shaft rotates causing the clutch fork to rotate and push the release bearing forward against the clutch pressure plate which, in turn, releases the pressure holding the clutch friction plate against the flywheel and therefore breaks drive from the engine.

The first obvious problem with the existing release mechanism in the old gearbox was that the two bronze slipper pads which act as a bearing surface between the clutch fork pins and the bearing carrier were missing – instead the pins were acting directly against the surface of the bearing carrier. Luckily, I had ordered the slipper pads assuming they would need to be replaced so this in itself did not cause any undue setbacks.

Missing Slipper Pads
There should be a square slipper pad on the end of this fork pin


The clutch release bearing carrier was removed from the gearbox (it can simply be pulled away from the input shaft when the clutch operating shaft is turned beyond the range that it would experience in normal use) and the taper pin holding the fork to the shaft was removed (along with its retaining wire). These pins are apparently prone to breaking which is a gearbox out job to replace, so I obtained a high-strength one from Chris Witor. The below picture shows the new pin holding the fork to the release shaft – to prevent undue stress on the pin it is preferable that the thread does not bottom out in the thread in the fork, mine was looking good in this respect.

Pin in Fork
The new pin does not bottom out in the thread in the fork, which is good news


Unfortunately this is where my luck ran out. On closer inspection of the release bearing carrier I noticed that opposite sides of its rear face showed C-shaped hairline fracturing – possibly due to fatigue from where the release fork pins had been acting against the surface without slipper pads or, perhaps more likely, just due to a previous ham-fisted approach to pressing the bearing onto the carrier. Either way it was very close to failure and a replacement was needed. I could not locate a replacement in Australia so yet another order was placed from the UK which will take a week or so to arrive. This sadly put me out of the running to attend the Vintage and Classic event in the Triumph but I’d rather miss out on this and know that I have not put sub-standard parts back into the car. I don’t really want to be dropping the gearbox again in the near future.

Fractured Carrier
Fractured release bearing carrier

So with work on the release mechanism halted, all that was left for me to do was to re-attach the flywheel (torquing the bolts up to the correct 50 lbf ft) and fit the new clutch kit. This went nice and smoothly and I know it’s properly aligned as I used some of the time spent waiting for international deliveries to strip down the old gearbox so I could remove and cut down the input shaft to use as a handy alignment tool. Hopefully this means the new ‘box should slide straight in without any issues.

Input Shaft Tool
New clutch perfectly aligned with help of a cut-off input shaft


Fitting the clutch was easy – the clutch plate is centralised against the flywheel with the help of the input shaft and the pressure plate located over the three dowels in the flywheel face. The plate is attached to the flywheel via six bolts, which were torqued up incrementally.

Now I am just waiting for Australia Post to deliver my parts so that I can move on to the next step in assembling the clutch release mechanism onto the new gearbox and lifting the new ‘box onto the car.

The gearbox swap begins.

As summer gave way to autumn and the temperatures died down to more sensible levels, I decided to take a few weeks off of work to spend some quality time with the newest member of our family. I also agreed with the missus that I would be able to spend a few hours in the garage here and there in order to try to get the Beast up and running in time for the McLaren Vale Vintage and Classic Run (spoiler alert: I missed it – but that didn’t stop me from trying).

The existing gearbox in the car had two problems: 1) it was only the four speed non-OD and 2) it whined horribly in all but 4th gear suggesting the layshaft bearings had probably seen better days. I’d managed to source a rebuilt OD gearbox from across the Tasman which had been sitting in my garage patiently waiting to be fitted for several months – finally its time had come…

As I am not fortunate enough to own a car lift, the first step was getting the car high enough off of the ground to comfortably remove the ‘box from underneath. I have a nice set of 1000kg Stanfred ramps but raising the car on these alone would have provided, at best, the very minimum amount of space required to perform the job. To get the car up a little higher I made some improvised bases for the ramps out of landscaping sleepers and angle iron – this gave me an extra 100mm or so of space under the car which makes accessing the underside of the car a lot more comfortable.

Plenty of room underneath


I also knocked up some small platforms for the rear wheels to sit on to give me a bit more space at the rear of the car to remove the exhaust etc.

Platforms to provide extra height at the rear


It took a couple of attempts to drive the car up onto this arrangement of supports but it’s up there and it’s solid so I’m happy. It’s lovely having this amount of room to work underneath the car so once this job’s over I’ll keep my timber extension pieces for any similar tasks that come up in future.


Angle iron prevents the ramps sliding backwards or sideways


Once the car was raised to a suitable height, the job of removing the old gearbox could begin. The first step was to drain the ‘box of its fluid via the drain plug on the underside and to remove the gearlever assembly from inside the car. Next, the wiring was unplugged from the reversing light switch on the selector mechanism housing and the speedo cable removed from the side of the gearbox casing. The clevis pin holding the slave cylinder piston to the clutch release fork was removed to separate the two, the middle exhaust mounting undone and removed from the brackets attached to the gearbox and the four bolts holding the output flange to the propshaft were removed before gently lowering the prop towards the ground. At this point, to give myself more room I opted to remove the entire exhaust system from the car – a couple of the rubber mounts need replacing and the flange to manifold gasket is missing so I’ll address those when reassembly time comes. Other than that the system looks to be in great shape and is quite possibly original (the Aussie climate is great for classic cars).

Clutch slave cylinder clevis pin


Once freed from all of the ancillary parts, the next step was to lower the gearbox to gain access to the bolts attaching the bell-housing to the engine back plate. According to the workshop manual, this can be done with a trolley jack placed under the engine sump, using a block of wood to distribute the weight. As I had not undertaken this task before I opted for a belt and braces approach of using use two trolley jacks – one under the sump as per the manual and then a second underneath the rear gearbox cross-member (to be honest this wasn’t necessary and if I did the job again I would use just a single jack as per the factory recommendations).

My belt and braces lowering approach – the central axle stand was a temporary measure whilst the job was paused for lunch


After supporting the ‘box with the jacks I undid the four nuts holding the rear gearbox cross-member to the car floor pan and dropped the ‘box in stages – lowering the rear jack by about an inch first, then using the sump jack to lower the unit down onto the rear jack until the cylinder head was resting against the bulkhead.

Rear GBox Mount
Rear gearbox cross-member – attached via four nuts/bolts


After the unit had been lowered and was self-supporting against the bulkhead I completely removed the cross-member from the gearbox (actually it fell off as the rear mount had disintegrated – luckily I have a good Mackay replacement from Chris Witor) and set about removing the various bolts which secured the gearbox to the engine backplate. Most of these are relatively easy to remove, although the top three or four require the use of one or more long socket extensions and a universal joint due to their difficult-to-access positions. In all removing the bolts was probably a half-hour job. The final four bolts to be removed were the two holding the clutch slave cylinder and the starter motor to the backplate. Be prepared for the weight of the starter motor when you remove its bolts as it is a surprisingly heavy beast and your head is likely to be somewhere beneath it!

At this stage the gearbox is free to be dropped from the car. To do this I removed the cup from my large trolley jack and positioned it underneath the gearbox so that the sump plug of the ‘box was located in the resulting hole. Using the long  trolley jack handle from the front of the car I gently eased the ‘box backwards until it was free from the engine and lowered it to the ground. Due to the height of the car from the ground and as I may one day need to rebuild this box I placed some timber and polystyrene beneath the ‘box in case the worst happened and it fell from the jack. This came in handy as due to the imbalance of the ‘box on the jack it became easier to roll the ‘box from the jack and gradually remove timber until it was resting on the ground.

My patent-pending timber and polystyrene gearbox catcher


And just like that the first stage of the gearbox replacement was complete. The garage was locked up and I went indoors to enjoy a cup of tea and a shower whilst musing the prospect that I would not have the wonders of gravity to assist me when using my less-than-muscular arms to fit the new, even heavier overdrive gearbox…

An inferior interior – Part 2.

Whilst mechanical work is being undertaken to make the car more driveable (further posts to follow shortly), I’m also continuing with some less messy tasks to make the interior a nicer place to be. Whilst it’s not the worst car I’ve ever sat in, there are a few glaring issues which would ideally be fixed before the car is pushed into regular use – namely the very cracked dashboard, the ripped headlining, the sagging front seats and a lingering less-than-fresh odour which seems to be emanating from the carpets.

Whilst I am still exploring options regarding the first two tasks (including the seemingly herculean task of replacing the headlining), I was however in a position to do something about the latter two – the seats and carpets.

For those with a keen memory (or at least the ability to scroll), you will be aware that I replaced the original ripped and mismatched front seats a few months ago with a much better pair I sourced from a guy in Tasmania. Whilst the vinyl is in great condition, the rubber diaphragms which sit underneath the foam seat squabs had perished meaning that much of the support that British Leyland had originally engineered into this fine piece of in-car furniture had been lost.

The picture below shows the better of the two original diaphragms (I was a bit hasty about removing and disposing of the worst one before thinking of taking a photo) and how it has perished and split in many of the places where it is attached to the seat frame. The diaphragm from the driver’s side, which was the worst of the two, had split along the entire length of its rear edge leaving virtually no support between the seat foam and the car floor.

Split diaphragm
Perished original seat diaphragm


Until relatively recently these diaphragms had been unavailable to buy new and, in lieu of finding un-perished NOS replacements, I have read quite a few stories of innovative owners piling books, pieces of timber or even bricks beneath the seats to restore some of the lost support. Luckily, a few years back, Chris Witor had managed to get these re-manufactured in high quality rubber so this is no longer the issue it once was – I duly purchased a pair and set about fitting them to my existing seats.

The diaphragms are held onto the seat base by 12 metal clips which, once the diaphragm is perished and slack, are pretty easy to remove with a pair of long-nose pliers. It’s worth bearing in mind that some of these might be missing – especially if your existing diaphragms are perished to the point of splitting – so you might want to source a few more in advance if this is the case with yours.

Old diaphragm
One old, split and largely unserviceable diaphragm – the other one was worse


Whilst removing the metal clips is simple enough, using them to fit new, un-perished diaphragms is a little trickier as in order to provide proper support for the seat base, the diaphragm needs to be stretched taut across the seat frame – securing the first few clips is easy, but to get the final clips in place the diaphragm needs to both be stretched laterally and pushed inwards towards the seat foam at the same time as inserting the clip into the hole in the seat frame. This task gets progressively more difficult as more clips are inserted and things tighten up.

A second pair of hands would definitely have helped with this task but as my better half was not available at the time I found that heating the new diaphragms with a hair drier prior to fitting helped me to stretch and contort them just enough to finish the job – although getting the final couple of clips in place prompted the use of some choice language and left my fingers feeling a little on the bruised side for a while afterwards.

The new diaphragms transform the seats completely – they’re nice and firm as BL intended and offer a noticeable amount more support than they did with the perished ones. The new diaphragms also feel equally as good quality, if not better, than the originals so will hopefully last a good few years.

New diaphragm
New diaphragm fitted, support restored!


With the seats removed from the car, it was disturbingly obvious that the carpets were in a bit of a state – once an opulent shade of coppery-brown that personified everything that was good/bad* about the 1970s (*delete as applicable), they had taken on a distinctly murky grey tint and exuded the odour of 40 years worth of stale cigarette smoke and general filth. Running a hand over the pile (albeit probably unwisely) left a surprisingly greasy film – I’m not sure if this was from past maintenance or the result of several decades of engine and gearbox fumes seeping into the cabin. Either way something had to be done.

I’m no particular stranger to filthy cars – I have bought my fair share of bargain basement runabouts in the past and have always managed to bring even the shittiest of cabins up to a level of cleanliness that approaches acceptable. My product of choice for this task is Autoglym’s Interior Shampoo which is now available in Australia (about $16 from Supercheap Auto).

Revives even the shittiest of car interiors


It’s easy to use – simply spray lightly over the area to be cleaned, scrub with a clean, damp cloth and repeat if required – and can be used on carpets, upholstery, plastics, headlinings etc. It works wonders (the evidence of which will be present in your bucket of water) and leaves a pleasant yet subtle new-car (ish) fragrance.

Whilst my well-used carpets were never going to be returned to their factory-fresh state, this stuff lived up to my expectations and significantly improved the look and smell of the soft finishes inside my car. The photo below shows a before/after shot taken mid-treatment. The passenger side of the car closest to the camera together with the gearbox tunnel had been cleaned, the slightly depressing greyer area furthest from the camera (complete with somewhat concerning blood-type stain) had not.

Before and after
Before and after – quite a difference


In total the cleaning produced six buckets of filthy and rather greasy water from the carpets.

About a sixth of the carpet filth/patina – notice greasy tide mark


After being left to dry overnight and given a quick vacuum to restore the pile, I was very happy with the result. It looks ten times better, the interior smells much fresher than it did before and, best of all, there’s not even the slightest trace of blood left. Just the dash and headlining to sort now and it’ll be 100%. Well, 75% – but that’s probably the best I can hope for given my starting point.

Clean carpets
The finished article – you could eat your dinner off of it (although I wouldn’t recommend it)


I’ll leave the seats out for now until I have finished the gearbox swap as I feel they are safer inside the house than in the car whilst I’m fiddling around with it. It’s very spacious in there without them though and I must admit to having a cheeky beer in the back seat the other day whilst planning out the next few jobs to do. It was like being in a limousine. A terrifying, driverless limousine with blood-stained carpets…