Practical Classics (UK)
Out and about in our Gracie
Tim’s been enjoying using his latest Imp…
The thing with owning an old car is if it’s too nice and too precious, you won’t drive it when there is salt on the roads. In protecting it from the ravages of rust, the car suffers from a lack of use, meaning that when you do get a nice day you spend most of it trying to persuade the car to work properly. I prefer to use cars rather than polish them and owning a car preserved in ‘as found’ condition means I’m less likely to get upset about it getting mucky, wet or salty. Gracie, our 1967 Imp Super, was rescued from a field where she’d been stood for 29 years. Incredibly, she required very little work to drive her out of the farm she had called home and into semi-regular use… since then she has gained a better engine and some improvements in rubber components, but otherwise she is the same car as parked up in the early Nineties.
She has even been the subject of a Youtube video on the Furious Driving channel – which has led to some very interesting exchanges with various people in petrol stations and car parks. Not only have we had the inevitable 'we had one of those…' conversations, but we’ve also had 'is that the car from Youtube?'. She is a scruffy old thing, mainly due to the effects of age on a bad Eighties paint job, but she’s solid where it counts and her reliability has been very useful recently.
Gracie has been acquitting herself brilliantly in the morning scrum during the 10-mile early morning run around Northamptonshire, doing battle with the increasing numbers of articulated lorries and delivery vans that proliferate here. As with all old cars, there was always something that needed doing, though.
Early Imps like Gracie have the ‘starwheel’ door latch system, rather than the later car’s anti-burst latches. So named because of the exposed star-shaped latch on the door, these early cars have a few known vices when it
‘Gracie can be seen dodging through the congestion in rush hour’
comes to the doors. The big one being wear – the catch on the B-post is made out of soft Mazak and wears at a prodigious rate even on relatively low mileage cars like this one.
This damage accelerates if the starwheel is not lubricated correctly and the owner starts slamming the door to overcome sticky shutting (also not helped by poor quality rubber seals). On Gracie, the passenger door rattled like mad over bumps – a sure sign the catch was worn.
Thankfully, I’ve squirrelled one or two parts away over the years and digging through the boxes of detritus in the shed turned up a less worn catch. I’m going to have to find some better door seals to improve things further, but traversing our nation’s pot holed roads is now no longer
*quite* so rattly.
Sparky no more
I’d also noticed that she was getting harder to start when cold and there was a slightly ‘fluffy’ feeling to the power delivery. A dig inside the distributor uncovered a sizeable ‘pip’ on the points, which was a little disappointing as they hadn’t done more than 2500 miles. I've opted to retrofit an Aldon Ignitor that I also had squirrelled in a drawer. The ignition module had been bought many years ago for one of my other Imps and was removed while fault-finding a running issue about three years ago – only to find the fault caused by something else, and it has sat around doing nothing ever since.
Fitting the Aldon Ignitor couldn’t be simpler – you remove the old points and condenser, along with the low-tension cable that pokes through the side of the distributor. The ignitor unit itself is a little box that is bolted to an adapter plate that bolts into the distributor top plate using the fixing holes left by the outgoing Lucas gubbins. You then run the cables from this up to the positive and negative terminals of the coil. Lastly you slip the black magnet pack over the distributor shaft and pop the rotor arm back on. It’s recommended that you check the timing, but more often than not there is very little adjustment needed.
I’ve combined this with a Distributor Doctor red rotor arm. Having had many problems in the past with rotor arms that short fully and partially to ground causing all manner of intermittent ‘failure-to-proceeds’, I now won’t fit anything else to the Imps.
So now she’s zipping along happily and can be seen regularly dodging through the congestion in rush hour, when we feel that we fancy a change from the ‘modern’. I’d urge any of you to use your classics more during winter – it takes much less time to clean the salt off than it does to fix them when the first days of spring arrive.
QMy wife complains that my Citroën AX is noisy and that she has to shout to hold a conversation. Is it just an old car 'thing'?
Kirk Stevens, Hartlepool
AOld cars are generally not so quiet as modern ones, but an excessively noisy classic may have something wrong somewhere. If the engine is loud when revved in neutral, look for missing or ruined sound insulation felt at the bulkhead, front footwells and, for RWD, transmission tunnel. Look for holes where a rubber blanking plug has fallen out or a gaiter has rotted away. If the sound is very intense at speed, accelerate, decelerate and drop the car into neutral to see whether it's related to the engine, transmission or simply the speed of the vehicle. It might take quite a bit of trial and error, but here are some common culprits.
If the noise is related to speed alone: old tyres can become noisy, and some tread patterns are not quiet to begin with. Propshaft joints make the whole cabin boom or shudder at speed. Wheel bearings drone, rumble or scrape through the whole body shell. If the car's very loud under power, make sure the carburettor, ignition and valves are all set up correctly – including the ignition advance and the camshaft timing. An engine that's out of tune has to work extra hard and is noisy and boomy.
Hardened, collapsed or bodged engine and gearbox mountings can create tiring boom and vibration. Some exhaust systems are not great at noise suppression – but often a booming exhaust is a symptom of an off-tune engine.
Road rumble is best isolated by finding an empty stretch of ultra smooth asphalt. If the car's quiet on this, then suspect missing soundproofing or worn/ hardened suspension and (particularly) damper bushes. If still noisy at speed, suspect a wheel bearing or tyres. Slow right down: if you now feel a regular vibration , then one or more tyres is out-of-round.
Whining is down to the gearbox. FWD differentials 'gnash' under acceleration and deceleration, whereas rear axles grind, grumble or make a musical whine.