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Lucie: The vehicle

March 2010. Part 1 of 2

Lucie’s MOT is due early next month and last year she had two advisories, one was that the silencer was pitted and the other was an oil leak.   The exhaust has been bodged up one way or another over the last few months and so I booked a couple of days off work, as did Geoff who gave 35 a rest and came over to mine for a couple of days.  Last year I purchased a Reliant Robin exhaust which is totally different to that fitted on a side -valve Regal but it gave us the parts to chop up and make a new one.  Where the exhaust fits to the manifold is also different as an OHV exhaust has two bolts holding it on where as a side-valve exhaust has four.

Early one morning we fetched Lucie from around the garage and taking the exhaust off scratched it to realise that the exhaust wasn’t in fact steel but was copper tubing so I have probably been giving folks Metal Fume fever.  The hardest part of the exhaust was getting the right angle for the section that bolts to the manifold, one that was in place the rest if the exhaust soon followed and was nicely capped with a chrome exhaust trim.

When we started the van up to test the exhaust I noticed water pouring out the end of the exhaust, which was strange as whilst exhaust do get condensation in them, this was a brand new exhaust.  As running has been a bit lumpy lately our only conclusion was that the head gasket has gone and water was getting straight through into exhaust.  Being a side valve there is no oil in the head so none of the mayonnaise type gunk you get with OHV engines.

Next day we decided therefore to take the head off though Geoff remembered that the head bolts are 1/4 whitworth and all my sockets were either metric or imperial.  A metric equivalent would be a fraction too big and risk rounding the bolts and an imperial too small.  Therefore as Geoff has a whitworth sockets and some superb air tools, we packed Lucie up on to the trailer and took her over to Geoff’s house.

I mentioned that Lucie has been leaking water on and off for a while now from the Core plug and so we decided to get that sorted, except bashing in two core plugs resulted in them leaking in exactly the same place.  Geoff phoned James at CHG to make sure we were doing it right and James suggested using a bit of sealant before we put the core plug in.  When we checked the surface that the core plug mates with, a fraction of it had indeed corroded away and so there was nothing for it to seal against.  We applied a small ring of non-hardening sealant and then bashed the core plug in with a ball hammer and success, the core plug no longer leaks.  To get a good access to it though meant removing the housing over the gearbox which once removed really show there isn’t much between you and the road.

The oil leak that the MOT man referred to last year was as a result of a leak from the chest plate on the left hand side of the engine so removing the fuel pump we got the chest plate cover off.  The old cork gasket on that as rock hard.  Also attached to the bolts was a home made heat shield above the fuel pump so Geoff cleaned that up whilst I dug away at the chest plate cover removing the old gasket. 

With a new cork gasket fitted, everything was put back together and the oil leak had vanished ... except now one of the fuel unions was leaking and so that required a new olive fitting onto it.  We fired up the engine and success, no fuel leaks,. no oil leaks and no water leaks except we then noticed a slight fuel seepage at the bottom of the carburettor.  To cure a vapour lock problem common in old side-valve Reliants, a previous owner had fitted what looked like a sheet of slate between the manifold and the carburettor.  We removed the slate, put everything back to gave. primed the fuel pump an now fuel leaked out of the top of the carburettor. So we sealed that and all was sorted, no more leaks.

Taking the car for another test run she was still running rough and still loosing water out of the exhaust and so we attacked the head taking off the head gasket.  I have yet to come across a head that comes straight off and despite being a side-valve (so not aluminium against steel) this was no different though it did come off eventually with much wriggling and a few choice words.  We also noticed that the distributor was not actually clamped down. It pulled straight out without needing to undo the clamp.

With the head off we noticed that everything was covered in thick carbon, all except piston number one which was actually quite clean and partly shiny.  It seems therefore water has been leaking into piston number 1 and giving it a steam clean.  We de-coked the pistons and valves and polished both sides of the head with WD40 and wet and dry emery paper. 

We also poured a drop of Redex into all the pistons to help decoke it and shortly afterwards we noticed that it drained out of piston 4 and then about 10 minutes later there was no left in piston 3 either so we are not sure if the rings are going on these pistons.  The compression seems low though on this engine that is the norm.   We shall have to run a compression test.

Everything was then out back together and we tried to start her up though the timing was out and so Geoff twisted the distributor until we got a nice even tick over.  I then took her for a test drive and it was awful, every time you pressed the accelerator she had a flat spot and the engine would die and then come back to live ... I nearly did as well when it did it across a junction as a bus hurtled towards me.

The tuning seems spot on as the car will start and tick over evenly though still runs lumpy with hardly any power.  Similar has happened to me before so we think it could be the carburettor.  I therefore need to fit the new one I bought last month.

Working on Lucie has been funny as so many people stop and ask questions about her, so much so you have to keep stopping what you are doing and talk to folks.  We have young nursery kids who were mesmerised by it and in he end their mother had to pretty much drag them away, older folks fascinated by her age and the side-valve engine, bikers fascinated by her structure and the list goes on.  One youngster was warned by his mum not to get to close as it was dirty until Geoff told her that the dirt was actually paint.  Puzzled we explained about the filming for The Royal and then suddenly it was the youngster’s mum who had more interest.

In the end we were working in the dark via an inspection lamp and it became to late to rev the engine and so everything was put away and the car brought back to Tamworth and put away.  The next step is to replace the carburettor with the new on I have to see if that makes any difference.


Go to page 2.


Lucie outside my house (still for sale) ready for a new exhaust.

Geoff creating a new exhaust in the street.


The old copper exhaust (top) and the new shiny modified Reliant Robin exhaust.


Lucie outside Geoff’s house with New Blue.

The old head gasket.

A shiny number 1 piston and the rest are covered in carbon.


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