WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The water-cooled Bis has foibles of its own, which are not helped by the engine being mounted on its side and tucked under a lid to turn the car into a hatchback. The result is an engine that overheats readily, although keeping on top of the maintenance schedule usually keeps things ticking over. Other problems arise from not maintaining anti-freeze levels; internal corrosion leads to the thermostat housing getting clogged up. Air locks can also strike if the cooling system isn’t filled properly.
Despite being air-cooled (except the Bis), the engine still has a cooling system. A thermostatically-controlled air vent should maintain an ideal temperature; if it fails, it usually does so in the open position. If the engine has overheated there could be a blown head gasket, which leads to poor running. The outlet pipes either side of the engine will also be pressurised and the fix is a new gasket – a specialist will charge around £200. The cooling system won’t work effectively if the fanbelt is slack.
GIVE US A PLUG
Spark plug condition is essential – if the engine runs poorly fresh plugs may be all that’s required. Although the engine is noisy it shouldn’t sound like a bag of spanners in a spin dryer. If it does the timing chain has probably worn; DIY repairs are £35, or £120 for professional help. Oil leaks from the rocker cover or sump gaskets are common, but repairs are cheap and easy. The dipstick being ejected from the engine suggests the piston rings are trashed and the crank case is getting pressurised. A rebuilt engine is the answer, at £1674 (652cc) or £1434 (594cc). Or the oil filler cap could have failed; new ones are just a fiver.
The clutch needs to be properly adjusted to avoid damage to the gears or clutch, but the rest of the transmission shouldn’t give problems if the car is standard, but since engine swaps can double the power, this can lead to accelerated final drive and gearbox wear. The only other thing to be aware of is oil leaks, most commonly caused by overfilling the gearbox or leaks from where one part of the casing mates with another. There aren’t any gaskets, which doesn’t help. Check the driveshaft gaiters, which tend to leak, although new ones cost just £15 apiece to replace.
AND ANOTHER THING
Other potential maladies include worn valves and guides, which lead to blue exhaust smoke on the overrun. The Weber carburettor also gives problems, usually because rust particles have got in from a corroded fuel tank – which is why an inline fuel filter is essential. Original fuel pumps can be dismantled and cleaned but cheap replacements don’t allow this. The timing and valve clearances must also be spot on, otherwise the result is poor running and fuel economy.
A FINE MESH
The 126’s gearbox is non-synchromesh, so trying to engage first gear on the move will probably break it; first and reverse gears will be wrecked if the gearbox has been abused, so see if the car jumps out of these gears when on the move. If the gearchange is especially nasty it’s probably because the linkage is out of adjustment. There’s a Metalastik bush in there that perishes after years of being soaked in oil – once that has disintegrated the only solution is to renew it at £16.50. Many 126 owners cut down the long gearstick, which helps to improve gear selection.
The kingpins must be greased, but the metal can still wear, resulting in a worn or seized bottom bearing; a repair kit costs £40. The front suspension can also suffer from a worn single transverse leaf spring – a new spring is £132. The spring may even have broken and the telescopic dampers worn. A pair of new dampers is £60. A cracked or corroded rear swing arm can break away leading to loss of control. It’s cheap and easy to fix though.
The 126’s poor quality steel and thin paint mean nowhere is immune from corrosion, although Polish-built cars are more resilient. Check the leading edge of the bonnet and its hinge mounting areas, the front valance and the inner and outer wings. The spare wheel well dissolves and the battery tray next to it means escaping acid often seeps out then chews away the metal. Scuttles also rot around the air vent cover, especially on the Bis. Drain holes tend to block up, particularly in the spare wheel well, while front wheelarches, the headlamp surrounds and the sills (including the jacking points) also rust badly. Many 126s have an aftermarket sunroof, which leaks, allowing water into the cabin. Once the carpets have got damp, holes in the floorpan are
sure to follow.
THE WORM TURNS
The 126 had a worm-and-sector steering box until 1977 which can leak, leading to premature wear and stiffness; a rebuilt unit is £200. Idler bushes perish, leading to lots of play in the steering. Replacements cost £20, but it’s easier to buy an exchange idler unit for £165.