Mike Humble shares more motoring mayhem from a few years ago. This one really did cause one or two moments of frustration. Didn’t you know this kind of caper is how his hair turned grey?
Even though within these hallowed pages of the inter-web, I am known for championing the act of doing a job right, I’ve never been afraid to have a good old bodge and lash up from time to time. As many of you know, a bodge can indeed become a pretty good fix – one day I will share the story of how a Corgi model of a Fiat X/19 kept a 1700 Ital on the road for a while – and it worked. More often than not, though, a bodge is a bodge is indeed… a bodge!
In true Denis Nordern* style (holds clipboard and nervously gesticulates with a forefinger) let’s open the file aptly titled ‘Richard and the Metro’. I had totally forgotten about this nugget of motoring mayhem until we touched upon it during a ‘phone call a few weeks ago. Then it came back with more total recall than Douglas Quaid. Time erases the exact details of where and why the car came about, but I do vividly remember it being a black 1.3 HLS Metro (circa 1981) in seemingly lovely condition. One only wonders what that would be worth nowadays, eh?
‘Every sizable town or county once had more breakers’ yards than you could ever imagine today, you could genuinely run a wreck of a car for the sort of money you find down the back of the settee.’
Rewind a good 20+ years or more when petrol was cheap, I lived with my parents and disposable income was plentiful. My petrol-headed bandy gang used to get through cheap old nails like tap water. Helped by the fact every sizable town or county once had more breakers’ yards than you could ever imagine today. You could genuinely run a wreck of a car for the sort of coinage you find down the back of the settee. For the younger car fan reading this, those sadly long-gone times really were the halcyon golden days of bangernomics!
Anyway, this Metro… I’m certain the vendor was some kind of spit ‘n’ sawdust one man bad trader-cum-money lender type. My old mucker Richard bought this Metro for loose change and, despite it looking like a Dickinson Bobby dazzler, it had all the mechanical integrity of a domino derby. In other words, you touched one thing and the whole bloody lot would fall over.
In a very short space of time, the downpipe’s dropped off the manifold. ‘They all do that, Sir.’ Soon, this setback was followed by the headgasket blowing. As a matter of fact, I’m almost certain the damn thing broke down just 200 yards from his Mum and Dad’s house.
Not only that, but it happened right in front of the man who sold it, while he was collecting money from one of his loan customers on their doorstep. ‘You all right there, boys?’ came his cry, as we shoved this little piece of black magic in the direction of his despairing parent’s double garage for more fettling.
Now, this was a real shame, because inside and out the car looked really tidy. It had a pleated velour interior and was still sporting the standard chrome rings on the wheels (the latter being a standard feature of the HLS and VP models). Our patience was running out after the headgasket failed. This wasn’t helped when I happened to spot a nasty bulge on one of the nearside front brake hoses, while fixing said issue. Some frantic spraying with releasing fluid, blow torching and hammering had no effect on removing said hose from the caliper – no matter what we tried.
We did succeed in loosening the hose at the other end, though. In addition, Richard planned a visit to the scrapyard to secure a replacement caliper and fit a new flexi-hose we’d sourced at the car parts store that my good friend managed at the time. The weekend arrived, the breaker’s yard came up trumps and, armed with a litre of DoT3 and 20 Marlboro, the game was on to finally get the car up and running.
In next to no time, the thick of the work was done, and – if I recall correctly – I left him to refit the brake pads and bleed up the brakes. I think I was on a promise and had to go out.
‘After pointing at the label on the slam panel his face went yellower than Charlie Sheen’s mattress – early Metros had two front brake options and a 50/50 gamble had worked against his favour.’
Arriving home, my Dad told me to give ‘El Ricardo’ (his nickname for him) a call as soon as possible. After a brief ‘phone conversation that amounted to me listening to various cursing and profanities, I gave the missus the swerve, and headed back to his house. The brake pads wouldn’t fit in the caliper. Of course, I knew the score and, after pointing at the label on the slam panel, his face went yellower than Charlie Sheen’s mattress – early Metros had two front brake options and a 50/50 gamble had worked against his favour.
To overcome supply problems owing to industrial action, component shortages and so on, BL would fit a variety of parts from differing manufacturers to the cars. Ignition components could come from Lucas or Ducellier, for example, and it used to be no different with other rival car makers either. Both Ford and Vauxhall did similar things with brakes, ignition and other components, too.
BL would fit a clearly visible warning label on the slam panel advising you of either Type A or Type B front braking systems. This was deleted for 1984, after standardising on a single upgraded brake system for the whole range – from a 1.0 City to the MG Metro Turbo.
So how did he overcome this hurdle? Simple really: by taking two sets of pads off the shelf, and fitting them to the car. Type A on the offside, and Type B on the nearside. Or was it the other way round? We’ll never know. What I can tell you is that when a good shove of the brake pedal was applied, the car would wind itself round to left hand lock without touching the steering wheel. Clever stuff, huh?
Anyway, it’s here that the mists of time start to cloud what exactly happened to that Metro, but I do recall he was glad to see the back of it!
* Younger readers may wish to type his name into YouTube