Blog : The motor pool update

Mike Humble



I have a good friend of mine who works in the field sales environment who regularly tells me to be wary of any company which uses the words Solutions or Specialist in its name or website. After pondering a while, and in my experience, this often tends to be the case – especially in the motor trade. As a rule, the best independents or brand specialists tend to be the ones you’ve never heard of – earning a tidy living by word of mouth.

A SAAB ‘specialist’ I once used in the North charged me £60+VAT to tell me my automatic 9000CSE had a gearbox fault but that they did not know what. Of course, I bloody knew it had a gearbox fault, that’s why I bloody entrusted the car to their services after all. Loitering around a bleak industrial estate while some halfwit ragged my car senseless up and down the road using my petrol and then charging me a tank’s worth for coming up with a blank confirms my friend’s sentiments.

MGs, on the other hand though, are a different thing to a SAAB altogether. Firstly, they are more basic than a slice of bread and, secondly, they are just as simple as playing with Meccano to repair mechanically. My friend Paul who supplied my recently acquired 800 Vitesse Coupé also runs a Triumph Stag and an MGB GT along with his everyday motor – a Rover 45 diesel. I asked to borrow said ‘B’ for my jaunt up to Longbridge in return for a good service and one or two betterment jobs.

This same MG was put back on the road by yours truly last year and I was forced to cobble an emergency repair to the distributor when it decided to break down at the MoT station. The repair lasted a good while until the car suffered a similar issue and duly conked out making the owner use the services of an aforementioned MG specialist. I’m sure it would have been the very same earth lead fault (easily put right with a little creativity) but they reckoned the distributor was beyond hope.

Paul was charged a considerable sum of money for what seems to be a second-hand distributor and, after getting the car back to Horsham with it pinking like crazy and a silly thirst for fuel using about £15 for a 45 mile journey, I’m not happy. After spending a little time under the bonnet of the BGT, it transpires the point gap is large enough to limbo dance through and the ignition timing is more advanced than Japanese electronics.

Just exactly what is so complicated about the 1.8-litre B-Series that makes someone cock a so simple job up? I know why. The dreaded combination of a kind and patient senior citizen with little mechanical acumen and the mechanic who sees a quick buck to be made – these so-called professionals ought to be publicly flogged.  Don’t be alarmed, I’m not tarring every specialist with the same brush – it’s just that I have heard so many times about those who are not fit to fettle a pushbike, let alone a treasured classic.

Well, I got the car home with a very lumpy, pinking engine and my heart sank at how ill the car felt since I last drove it just under a year ago. After going through everything which included checking the timing, re-gapping the points and the lovely old job of setting the rocker clearances (rule of nine, of course), only a very slight improvement could be mustered. Listening to the noise on cranking more carefully, I became even more disheartened.

It’s very low on compression on one cylinder and owing to the fact it doesn’t smoke or burn gallons of oil, my money is on a damaged valve or seat. With the owner being slightly hard of hearing, I wonder just how long the dreadful pinking has been going on. Either way, I have been entrusted to lift the cylinder head to see what gives but, sadly, at this rate my jaunt to Brum in a B looks like it isn’t going to happen – a ruddy shame, I was looking forward to that.

Renault 18 TS

It didn’t start off on a good footing to be honest – asking an elderly car that has spent a fair amount of time in hibernation to be a daily driver is maybe a little unfair but that’s what’s happened. The issues with spooky electrics turned out to be slack-fitting ceramic fuses and the non-flashing flashers required nothing more than a cheap and easy swap of the flasher unit. No, where the Renault got hot under the collar (literally) was in the cooling department.

Driving the car around town created some impressive warmth from the heater but whiz along at high speed and the temperature needle dropped and the heater became ineffective. Simple enough – change the thermostat, which, of course, I did and cured that the problem. However, I gave myself another one – just a week later, I noticed steam whisping from the grille early one morning and, still being a good three miles from work, I lifted the bonnet and prayed.

The top hose exits the head vertically and the thermostat is a bobbin type that clamps inside the hose in a similar vain to some T-Series-powered cars with air con. I changed the grubby looking hose clips with lovely new ones and where the pipe had been weakened by a previous oil leak from the rocker box, this had weakened the hose and caused coolant to spray all over the engine – lots of coolant mainly owing to the hose clip cutting into the pipe.

Being like a K-Series – ie., all alloy with liners, the 1647cc lump is fine unless high temperatures occur so, after standing there at the side of the A24 dual carriageway in pitch darkness for a short while, some tap water was thrown in and I got to work just in time for the office kettle to boil. At the end of the working day, I drove the car over the road to the engineering workshops to see if anything serious had also failed.

Nope, just the hose – so, with a little creativity, the top hose was removed, trimmed back with a Stanley blade, the thermostat repositioned half an inch further up the pipe and the cooling system replenished. The drive home saw no worries and, of course, it’s still running fine with fuel consumption being in the mid to high 30s. The Renault is just so comfortable too and, dare I say it, quite refined if speeds are kept to legal maximum.

Rover 800 Vitesse Coupe

Partly due to the MGB and work commitments, not a great deal has happened with Connie the Coupe – other that is, than a thorough under-bonnet inspection and charging the battery. I have managed to get both keyfobs to work and the sunroof and windows have been programmed to work in the ‘back off’ mode so there are no more annoying beeps every time you press a switch to slide the roof or drop a window pane.

Under the bonnet has proven it requires a replacement expansion tank (they all do that, Sir) and, with the exception of blowing exhaust manifold gasket when cold, the 197bhp T-Series and PG1 gearbox are seemingly in A1 condition. I have a gasket in stock from my old 620ti and, of course, it will be subject to the most intensive cleaning routine some of you will know I undertake under the bonnet.

She needs a damn good clean and polish along with lashings of leather conditioner too but those mouthwateringly attractive armchairs are damage free showing only the mature creasing of the hide. It’s so stunningly attractive inside that I am half-tempted to bring our TV set into the car and sit there and watch the box – it, too, features copious amounts of polished wood. Rover leather + Philips Matchline + Rover orange backlighting = bliss, utter bliss!

She’s going up on blocks for an intensive inspection of the hull once the MGB is kicked back to Eastbourne – then, and only then, will I put her in for an MoT. One thing is for certain, come hell or high water, the Coupe will be running in time for the long lazy summer evenings…

I just can’t wait either!

Mike Humble


  1. What’s that mark on the rear corner on the 18? I thought it looked pristine in the earlier pics!

  2. Interesting rant about ‘specialists’, Mike. In my experience, the more simple the car’s engineering, the more likely it is to attract such illegitimi. During our Morris Minor days, we encountered no end of so-called marque experts who thought they could get away with pretty much anything and charge accordingly (just one example – being charged for fitting a ‘new’ front suspension upright, with a wheel bearing that was so worn, it sounded as though you were being chased by an angry moped). On the other hand, my CXs were sufficiently scary for bodgers to run a mile, so you only dealt with good guys who knew and enjoyed the cars. Older Saabs – like Jags – are dangerously tempting for ‘specialists’, looking deceptively simple on the surface.

  3. If that Sherpa coupe continues to be a PITA, fit a Perkins Prima. If the owner is half ‘mutton’, they won’t tell the difference, and it may also improve the performance LOL

  4. I think your very talented being able to work on so many different vehicles and keeping them in fine fettle.

    Your accurate comment about “bodgers” and that includes a good many main stealers, is why so many folk (me included) get shot of thier cars after only a few years

    There is a very good auto specialist in Aylesbury with a great web site.

    They explained what was wrong with my car (The main dealers couldnt) and how much, and my options.

    No pressure and a clean room to rebuild.

    One of my neighbours is a merc specialist….you wanna see what happens to his customers cars on a road test 🙂

  5. Head off on a ‘B’ isn’t too time consuming at least, I’ve just done 20 bent valves on an Audi 1.8T lump, which was fun.

    Whilst the head is off, a bit of porting wouldn’t go amiss! Bring it over if you want the ports ‘cleaned’ a tad..

  6. Is the MGB in a colour called Teal Blue? In the 1970s I had a colleague who had one in that colour as his company car. Later he got an MGB GT V8 in orange – even better!

  7. Alfas, another marque that really needs a recommended specialist. Skimping on servicing on a TwinSpark can be an expensive mistake.

  8. @7, Brian Gunn,

    Now there’s an over-rated engine (at least in it’s earliest incarnation). Don’t know if they developed it properly in latter years, but it was rubbish in my Audi A4 (non turbo).

    Nice to see that MGB with original ‘rubber’ bumpers and Rostyles- I don’t think those bumpers spoiled the look of the car, I think it was the raised ride height that spoiled it. Nice colour too- there were at least one or two ’70s BL colours that were not offensive to the eye!

  9. @9
    Teal Blue was never an official colour on any ruber bumber MG, although I have one that was painted by the factory in that colour. It ceased to be an official colour in april ’74

    That will be either Pagent Mid Blue or Tahiti Blue (yes they resused that name on an totally differnt blue!)

  10. Are there any BL paint charts on the site?

    Certainly the blue the MG is painted in is fairly easy on the eye by 1970s standard.

  11. Oooo, specialists! I once bought a Midget 1500 that had been lovingly restored a couple of years before by a company called Enignma Restorations (no apologies for mentioning them by name as they disappeared under mysterious circumstances and a fire some years later). On exploring the MG in the cold light of a garage some time later, a rolled up copy of “The Sun” was bulking out the lump of Isopon in the drivers’ side A pillar and there were several other dodgy plating jobs in odd and otherwise inaccessible areas of the chassis. It took me a couple of years to sort out all the bodges!

    These days I am careful before letting either of my cars near a garage!

  12. If you ended up with the same Saab, ahem, Specialist that I did, he was a right piece of work. No names as I understand he is still trading, but I’m really not sure how as his reputation amongst Saab owners is dreadful.

  13. Not all specialists are frauds, we have a Volvo specialist locally who also sells used Volvos and he does a good job for far less than the main dealer. However, the classic market will always attract frauds who are probably little more than a Kwikfit mechanic who spots a gap in the market.

  14. I really am impressed with the Renault 18’s fuel consumption, Mike, 37 mpg would still be acceptable for a petrol family car now. This largely forgotten family car, which was popular in the early 80s, belongs to an era when Renault made cars people wanted to buy and were usually cheap to run, reasonably priced cars with a soft ride and nice styling.

  15. Hi all I had a few thoughts when reading this the main one been that after spending 19 years in teaching auto engineering in various forms one thing sticks out like a sore thumb especially when reading the episode about the points gap and the ignition timing on the MGB, unless the “specialsits” are old timers (40) then they will have no idea about points, ignition timing, dwell angle etc because the vehicles with that technology are few and far between in mainstream garages (where most of these people where trained) and that kind of technology is also now expensive, when working for a private training provider a few years ago I tried to buy a simple lucas distributor to make and ignition system demonstration rig and was quoted £200 for a second hand dizzie so the boss baulked at the cost and it never got made, my point is that for the modern and previous generation it is extremely difficult to teach them the basics that they need to know in my opinion anyway hence the lack of knowledge they show in later life… just a thought

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