Overdrive is based out of the Cummins Classic Car premises. Hosted by Jeremy and his expert colleague James Nicholls, Overdrive is an exploration of the esoteric world of classic cars. Both Jeremy and James appeared on the show Car Chronicles on Discovery Turbo Channel and in Overdrive you can really see what excites them both about the world of classic motoring and related topics.
Power up and park as you please
One big drawback of driving a classic car on today’s crowded roads is heavy steering. Very few European cars of the 1950s and ’60s were available with power steering, which is now standard in most new cars, even the smallest ones. When you do find that elusive parking spot close to David Jones, it’s bound to be tight – and heaving a MkII Jag into the space, with its 4.5 unassisted turns lock to lock, can be enough to pull a few muscles and take the pleasure out of classic car ownership. This problem has been addressed in various ways over the years. Most quality manufacturers offered some type of power-assisted steering as an option by the mid 1960s. However, most of these systems were designed with the American market in mind – too light and lacking in feel. This is why it was slow to catch on in the UK and other right-hand drive markets. All these period power steering systems were hydraulic and therefore complex. A belt from the crankshaft pulley on the engine drove the hydraulic pump. Hydraulic oil would be drawn from a reservoir and pumped under pressure through pipes to a special steering box, steering ram, or later, a steering rack. All to the whooshing sound of fluid under high pressure.
Over the years many people have come up with solutions to help you convert your non power- steered car. If the type of car you own was available with power steering as an option in its day, theoretically all you have to do is collect the necessary parts, overhaul them, and then convert your car. However it will be an expensive and time consuming process. You may also find that cars originally fitted with this option have fundamental differences from seemingly identical cars not so equipped. If you do go down this route you will have the limitations and complexities that early power steering systems are known for.
Some specialists have used parts from later-model cars and adapted them to fit older models, even using parts from different makes to get the desired effect. This type of conversion can have many shortcomings – not only in operation but also in future maintenance (when you need a part and no one can identify what make or model it originally came from). Besides, none of these conversions would have been developed as highly as the original car manufacturer’s version. The alignment and geometry will always be a compromise; brackets and hardware often look home made. What if this collection of parts is incompatible, and after two or three years and 20,000 or 30,000 miles something breaks? No steering, that’s what.
I wanted to convert an Aston Martin DB6 to power-assisted steering. In period, the Mk1 DB6 was available with power steering as an option and it was standard on the Mk2 DB6. It would be difficult to find the original parts to retro fit, and it was a clumsy system anyway, with a power ram bolted to the standard steering rack. While I was researching various options I came across a company in Holland called EZ Electric Power Steering. It offers a clever system that is integrated into the original steering column and wired up through a load sensing ‘electronic control unit’ or ECU. I bit the bullet and ordered one. When it arrived I was impressed with its compact design and simple wiring instructions.
To fit the unit we had to first remove the driver’s seat from the DB6, followed by the under-dash panels, steering wheel and indicator stalk. Aston Martin kindly provided a removable access panel in the driver’s wheel arch that allows good access to the lower steering column joint. Once loosened, the old column can be removed from the vehicle and installation of EZ Electric Power Steering’s system can begin. It’s tight in this area and there’s not much space to work in. However, the unit fits very neatly and the original underdash panels can be refitted for a factory finish. The only external clue is a small silver knob, which when turned varies the initial level of assistance. put to the test So far so good – all had gone well and there were no unforeseen installation issues.
Time to give it a try. When the ignition is off, the steering feels as it always did: reliable but very heavy. Switch on the ignition and hey presto, power steering – you can turn the steering from lock to lock with ease. The biggest surprise was the system’s lack of noise… complete silence. On the road, the car steers with the precision Aston Martin engineered into it, but with a newfound lightness. And should this system ever stop working, the car will just revert to the standard steering. Now I am going to order a kit for my Jaguar 3.8 MkII – that should make it nicer to drive.
Race to the perfect finish
Classic fanatics spend hours polishing the outside of their cars – but the shiny bits under the hood are just as important if you hope to win a concours
Many a classic car enthusiast must be as disappointed as me when he or she sees the latest supercar offerings from German manufacturers like Porsche and AMG Mercedes. I look under the bonnet to see the heart of the beast. But what’s this? A dirty great lump of black plastic that looks like a dustbin lid with some silver painted detail. That is supposed to be an engine?
Hidden beauty Back in the mists of time, when great single-minded men designed cars instead of focus groups and committees, the engine was the jewel in the crown and looked like it. Bugatti engines of the 1920s are often presented with much engine ornamentation and decoration of the aluminium. While I am not sure this is period correct, it seems to be an accepted finish and is very impressive. The Cadillac 452 V16 of the 1930s was finished in an attractive black lacquer with ribbed aluminium valve covers that gave a splendid finish.
During the 1940s, the king of engines must have been the Rolls-Royce Merlin 27-litre V12 with two-stage supercharging. It wasn’t really a car engine – it may have found its way into some specials but was used mainly in planes, torpedo boats and tanks. It was finished in a deep black lacquer with the name Rolls-Royce in bare aluminium. Truly a thing of beauty.
During this time, the Merlin could be heard in skies above Britain chasing off Daimler Benz and BMW engined aircraft. The men at Jaguar in Coventry, while on fire watch at night, began to plan one of the great post-war engines: the Jaguar XK twin overhead cam straight-six.
Style and finish were important to William Lyons and he wanted the new engine’s looks to be as good as its performance. These engines were finished with black-painted cylinder blocks, polished aluminium cylinder heads, polished cam covers, polished dash pots on the SU carburettors and vitreous enamelled exhaust manifolds attached to the cylinder head with brass nuts. Even today, it is a great pleasure to lift the bonnet of an E-type Jaguar to show someone this magnificent sight for the first time.
Clean up your act In our workshop we spend a great deal of time cleaning and refinishing parts we have removed while working on these great cars. Here’s how to do it. Get the degreaser out and clean off the engine. Remove the manifolds and send them for a new coat of deep-black enamel, and when you fit them back on to your engine, don’t forget to fit new copper nuts. It’s all in the little details. Get out the Autosol and apply some elbow grease (a rare commodity these days apparently) to buff the shine back on the aluminium. This kind of work is very rewarding and it also builds that allimportant relationship with your classic. The next time a curious admirer asks to see your beast’s heart there will be no disappointment – only wonder and the question, “Why have we lost this attention to detail and the beauty of great engineering?”
Rub out your dead rubber
Think of all the individual rubber components you find in a car. The cooling system has rubber hoses, rubber fan belts and rubber seals in the heater taps. The braking system has flexible rubber hoses and rubber seals in the master cylinder, wheel cylinders or callipers. The electrical system has rubber insulation, rubber seals around light fittings and rubber grommets where the loom passes through the body. The engine has rubber seals on the valve stems to stop excess oil running into the cylinders and rubber seals on the crankshaft to stop the oil leaking out of the engine. The gearbox and rear axle also have rubber seals to keep the lubricants in and doing their job. The body has rubber seals to keep the rain out and hold the front and rear windscreens in place. Engine and suspension mountings, wiper blades, and let’s not forget the all important tyres – the list of rubber components goes on and on. Age is not beauty Rubber is of course a natural material and degrades with time. This ageing process can be accelerated by exposure to heat, stress and corrosive fluids – exactly the conditions created in a car. We often see shiny classics in our shop that live a pampered life.
Some are 40 or more years old, and one car we look after is over 70! Many have already been restored once, 20 or more years ago, and have only travelled a modest distance since. While the paint and chrome still shine and the leather remains supple, many of the rubber components are well past their best. Get behind the wheel of one of these superb-looking cars and very often the drive does not live up expectations. Hard, old tyres that spend most of their time in one position may still have plenty of tread, but little grip or compliance. Rattles and bangs come from the suspension as you traverse the potholed tracks the RTA laughingly calls roads. Brakes can be spongy as the hoses swell under the hydraulic pressure. Engine mountings have dried out to the consistency of wood or sagged under the weight of the engine (which now sits on the cross member, sending unwanted vibrations right through the body shell). FOLLow the signs There are signs, too. That cloud of blue smoke from the exhaust when you start the engine after a week or two’s slumber lets you know your valve stem seals have gone hard. That puddle of oil under the engine could be the hardening of the crankshaft main seals. The pool of water that collects in the foot well after you’ve washed your pride and joy indicates the windscreen seal is no longer doing its job properly. The sudden failure of a radiator hose on the highway can dump the entire contents of the system in no time at all. All this can lead to the premature destruction of an engine, which will be very costly to repair. The good news is these rubber bits are generally not expensive or difficult to replace. Many parts are generic and not marque specific. You can get them from any number of independent suppliers and home mechanics can fit many of them with simple tools.
If you do decide to update some of your car’s rubber components, here are some useful tips to remember: 1 When you are bleeding the hydraulic brake system, it is easier on the rubber seals if you use a pressure bleeder. If you do not have one, then be gentle on the pedal. Also be very careful when working with brake fluid, as a spill could damage your car’s paintwork. 2 Before you fit those new Jubilee hose clips, check the edges. Some are so sharp they can cut into your new rubber hoses. 3 One important point for your own safety: before you remove any suspension parts to replace the bushes, make sure the road spring is safely clamped, as these springs contain an enormous amount of energy when under compression. Replace tired tyres Finally, a word about tyres. All tyres have a TIN or tyre identification number that shows the manufacture date. How old are your car’s tyres? If you cannot remember when you last bought new tyres for the old girl and want to check how old your tyres really are, go to: bridgestone.com.au/tyres/ passenger/care/age.aspx. Fitting some new compliant rubber tyres, engine mounts and suspension bushes can make any car feel young again. I am always pleasantly surprised and impressed at the greatly improved ride quality, handling and refinement this achieves. The benefits in reliability and your own renewed confidence in your car’s ability are things not to be dismissed lightly.