WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying & Selling -

WA­TER LOG

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.

COOL IT

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.

WELL-AD­JUSTED

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.

IN SUS­PENSE

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.

STEEL YOUR­SELF

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.

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