Austin Cambridges aren’t complicated are they? Well, actually…
‘After I put my hand through the bulkhead, I had to decide what to do’ OWNED SINCE May 1984 MILEAGE SINCE LAST REPORT 0 TOTAL MILEAGE 500,000 LATEST COSTS £750
You know that old joke ‘If you’d wanted to get there, you’d have been best not starting from here’? Well, I’ve been living it, although my Austin Cambridge hasn’t actually moved an inch.
When I put my hand though the bulkhead I had to decide what to do. After 34 years of ownership, I had to get Eleanor revived so I sent it to BMC specialist Steve Turner for expert attention, which initially went well.
However, a chat with Steve confirmed my fears – to fix the rather odd (and, to be honest, unexplained) large rust hole in the bulkhead, the engine and gearbox had to come out. Steve then followed up with ‘ Well you may as well refresh the engine as you know it rattles on start-up don’t you?’ To be honest I didn’t, but I’ve known Steve almost as long as I’ve known Eleanor so I believed him. About £1100 is the going rate for an engine rebuild with unleaded head, which is fair enough. But I like to get bangs for my bucks and after spending that money I’d still end up with the same, very slow car...
So Eleanor is being uprated. An internet search located a rebuilt MGB engine bottom end and I have an MGB overdrive gearbox in my garage. We’ll come to cylinder heads later once I’ve found one, but as Steve had to deal with rear end rust, the first priority was a plan of action for the back axle. Moss has just announced a 3.7 crown-wheel and pinion for MGA and early MGB ‘ banjo axles’ which should fit an A60 axle, so I ordered one as it’s no good fitting a more powerful engine if the car is under-geared.
I then attacked my spare A60 axle (what, you mean you don’t have one? I thought everyone did…) to remove the ‘pineapple’ and took the whole lot to local transmission specialist Andy Frost to get it properly built.
You may have heard of Andy. He’s even been on the telly, because, as well as running a great car-building workshop, Penn Autos, (which specialises in engine transplants and gearbox and axle rebuilds) he is the man behind Red Victor 3, all 4000bhp of it. No, that’s not a misprint; Red Victor 3 is Europe’s fastest street legal car (and hopefully if things go to plan, soon to be the world’s fastest street legal car). Its V8 has two turbos that are bigger than most engines. That means a standing quarter-mile in 6.2 seconds, with a terminal speed of 236mph. Plus he’s a top bloke and I always enjoy talking to him. I reasoned that if he could design and build a machine like that, he should be able to set-up the backlash on my ( hopefully) 110bhp Cambridge’s diff ’. I was glad I’d taken it to Andy – the crownwheel and pinion fitted as predicted, but the larger gears were too big for the case. I hadn’t thought of that one. As you’d expect from a drag racing engineer, though Andy is undaunted by such problems and has a machine shop. Thus he was able to carefully machine out the case to clear the larger gears, but retain its integrity.
The result is a 3.7:1 differential which fits in the A60 axle (usually 4.3:1) without doing any structural modifications to the vehicle itself. This should match the MGB engine and overdrive gearbox well enough, although out of curiosity we are going to try driving my car with the new diff’ and the standard 1622cc lump, just to see if it will pull the taller gearing before the engine comes out to tackle the front end corrosion.
I’ve started with a rusty Austin, so the journey towards a mildly resto-modded, and thus much more usable car, may take a while. But I’m hopefully travelling – and that’s sometimes better than arriving.
Andy Frost using a dial indicator on John’s rebuilt 3.7:1 A60 differential. His current drag racer, Red Victor 3, can be seen on the ramp behind.
The serious bulkhead rust which triggered the second restoration.
back in 1997. Eleanor after her last restoration,