A pumped up Panda brake pedal
Iconcluded last issue’s report by saying that the Panda had failed its MoT on a poor handbrake and excessive travel at the brake pedal. To be honest, I had always felt that the pedal was a bit long, but I had not been able to adjust this out. Even the traditional Fiat way of adjusting up the rear brake drums (driving fast backwards and then hitting the brakes hard) failed to make much of a difference.
I had a new handbrake cable sitting on the shelf, and so adjusting up the handbrake travel to improve the braking effort was easy enough after I’d fitted this. The foot brake was to prove more of a problem, though. The wheels would lock up, but the pedal was very low, and I was not 100% convinced that it didn’t sink even lower if you sat there for a while with your foot pressed firmly down. Since there was no sign of any fluid leaks throughout the system and everything that could be adjusted was adjusted, the only remaining suspect was the master cylinder. This was all but confirmed when I inspected the fluid it contained and found this to be quite dark, suggesting a seal might have been breaking down and discolouring the fluid.
On this 1992 Panda, there is a duel- circuit system with no servo, a single plastic fluid reservoir sitting on top of the master cylinder with a low-level warning alarm wired into the lid. Unfortunately, this cylinder is no longer available new for RHD cars. I could get one for an earlier model which was virtually identical, but had the pipe outlets in slightly different positions which would have fouled the plastic reservoir. I could also have got a cylinder of the correct vintage from Italy, but for a LHD car and with one of the outlets moved to the other side – again this would have fouled my reservoir.
So in the end there was no cheaper option than to send the original master cylinder away for reconditioning. It went to Contract Auto Engineering in Stourport, who did their usual superb job, but it took several weeks because of supply problems with the seals and staff illness. The bottom line though was that for the sum of £142.80 I had a master cylinder that was better than new, brakes that worked better than ever and a fresh MoT on the Panda.
Meanwhile, the Skoda Favorit saga continues, even though the car itself has already been sold on as an unfinished project. You may recall that I’d been having problems with the sender unit on the petrol tank. This is accessed through
a hatch in the floorpan under the rear seat, and while the seat was out, I found broken toughened glass under it. Looking at the windows, I discovered that the nearside rear quarterlight was etched with a different registration number to all the others, one that did not match the car. Clearly it had been broken into at some point and this glass had been replaced.
I also found an odd little brown plastic clip under the seat. I put that to one side for now, then tackled another small issue for the MoT in that the offside rear door would not open from the outside. After taking off the door card, I found that the rod from the exterior door handle to the catch was hanging loose because the plastic cup on the end had broken in half. This was a cup that looked very similar to the one I had found under the seat, only in white. I also found another broken cup in the bottom of the door, so clearly this was a recurring fault on the car.
I did try replacing the broken cup with the brown one I’d found under the seat, but this would still not open the catch, though I have no idea why. It did seem to be pulling at a funny angle though, so maybe the rod was bent? In the end I found a new rod for sale in Italy that was not cheap, but was a brand new and original part with the correct white cup at each end, so I ordered one of those. I was a little surprised when it arrived to find that it had been expensive because it was a bundle of ten new rods with clips. Still, one of those did at least fix the problem.
Meanwhile, the plastic trim strip across the top of the door had been loose, and closer inspection showed that the plastic had broken where the retaining screws pressed against it. I inspected the other doors and the trim panels on those were all loose too. In fact the driver’s one had been ‘repaired’ with gaffa tape.
To be fair, these plastic trims look really cheap and shoddy. I repaired them with Araldite and strengthening washers, but suspect that plastic problems will be a feature of this car.
Wishing to avoid further plastic problems, I then ordered up a pair of new tailgate struts (which came from Lithuania in the end). The ones on the car would just about hold the tailgate open, but barely and I was not confident they would not drop it on my head. Besides, without offering any lifting help, they made the tailgate extremely heavy to lift and I was concerned I might end up breaking the plastic handle. Fitting the new struts was simplicity itself.
Fired up by these easy wins, I decided to tackle the front offside suspension lower arm, which had been bent in the past by careless jacking. I did wonder what my options would be here, but it turned out to be one of the easier buys, just £27.50 each for Quinton Hazel items. So I bought a pair, and was delighted to find that they each came complete with the balljoint and the rubber bushes.
That is, though, where my
luck ran out this day! I’d read up in the workshop manual in preparation, and replacement did not seem too onerous a job. The balljoint separates from the hub carrier very easily, being secured with a pinch bolt rather than the usual taper. The inner end of the arm is a wide wishbone, and the front is secured with a single fore-aft bolt which came out easily enough. The back is secured to the floor by a saddle and two bolts. The manual just says to undo these, so I did. They were very stiff, and even after I’d worked them back and forth gradually and sprayed on plenty of WD40, they continued to fight me all the way.
I even removed some trim panels so that I could lift the carpet in the driver’s footwell to see if I could access the other ends of the bolts – I could, so I cleaned them with a wire brush, sprayed on more penetrating fluid and then went for a sandwich. After lunch I went back to work, applied a little more force with a breaker bar and both bolts promptly snapped. Whatever was in that sandwich...?
‘Oh bother,’ I said, or words to that effect. Never mind, the captive nuts were pretty accessible in the footwell, so I figured I could simply grind them off, knock the remains of the bolts out and fit new ones with non- captive nuts. After all, I can get one hand in the car and the other underneath, so
I won’t even need an assistant to help tighten them up. Except that I duly ground one nut off, but the remains of the bolt showed no inclination to be knocked downwards.
So then I did what I should have done in the first place and looked more closely at the problem. I had been surprised at how shallow the captive nuts were, but I couldn’t see any weld marks at all. I wondered if they weren’t captive nuts after all, but only
“I had been surprised at how shallow the captive nuts were. I wondered if they weren’t captive nuts after all, but only locking half nuts.”
locking half nuts. So I tried a socket on the remaining one and it turned willingly enough, bringing up the remains of the broken bolt with it. And now I could understand what I was dealing with. There was a threaded section below the floor that was the primary holding point for the bolts, and then these locking half nuts on top. That was why the bolts never became looser no matter how much they were turned. Removing the locking half nut first would have made removing the arm a ten-minute job. Instead, I spent a full two hours on it, including removal of the broken bolts.
I got there in the end, but the Skoda was not done messing with me quite yet. I’d been surprised by the bolt head and nuts sizes, odd numbers like 15mm, 18mm, and some with an 18mm nut on a 17mm headed bolt, but I’d worked my way through that. Now, as I searched my collection of bolts, I found that the Skoda threads were M10x1.25, but all my metric bolts were 1.0 pitch. Since they had to go into the threaded section in the floor, that would not do.
In truth it was not a disaster, because I wanted to order high-tensile bolts anyway, and could order new locking half nuts at the same time. My problem was that the Skoda was disabled in an inconvenient position on the drive. However, I did find two M10x1.25 bolts that I’d bought for the Fiat Panda rear suspension (I always tend to order a couple of extras, just to keep on the shelf). These were too long and only partially threaded, so would not secure the saddle in place. However, by packing each bolt with four M12 nuts as spacers, I was able to tighten everything back up and move the car out of the way. Then, when the new bolts and half nuts arrived, I replaced them one at a time without having to dismantle anything.