The Land Rover Writer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ode to Dave Dudley

"Six days on the road" sang Dave Dudley, back when trucking songs were entertaining. I just spent 700 miles or so traveling in the QE I, my '66 Land Rover Series II-A. I'm still exhausted!

The trip from Vinalhaven started with a 90 minute ferry ride, then a 2 hour drive to Portland, ME. I had invited a group of Land Rover enthusiasts, young and old, male and female, to gather at a brewpub and entertain me. They did a terrific job and I had a ball. I also have new offers of places to stay in the future - very cool.

Then came the next morning's drive to Cos Cob, CT, where I had plans to mooch off of new friends, who own a summer house in the island. I mow their lawns and do some simple chores for them, and in return, they grace me with their friendship, hospitality and friendship. It's a very one-sided deal for me.

Before the long trip, however, I chose to tank up at The Seed and Bean, a coffee house started by Land Rover enthusiast Jassy Smith. Her BFF, Barry Jones, and his dog, Sarge, came along to entertain me even more. The artsy building, Jassy's grandmother's one-time residence, made for a welcome change from the chain coffee houses everywhere else in the country. 

 From there it was a noisy 4.5 hour drive to Cos Cob, CT, a village area within Greenwich. The QE I's overdrive linkage had failed two days before departure, but Rovers Down South, which now owns the rights to the Fairey Overdrive, came through with the promise of a linkage rod to be delivered to CT.

Running a Land Rover at highway speeds without an overdrive is not a mechanical problem for the car, but it is a problem for the driver. The gear noise and overall vibration noise is quite high at 60 mph, even with my handheld radio and ear buds. Running a Land Rover at 60 mph is also a financial problem for the driver because of $4.05/gallon gas prices in CT. The Rover gets 18-19 mpg at highway speeds, so it costs a lot to make the 350 mile trip.

While in CT, I met up with Jon, a new enthusiast with a Range Rover Sport, and since I last talked with him in December, two 1980's Land Rovers about to be imported to his driveway in Fairfield. I drove the Rover around Cos Cob and Greenwich a bit, but it mostly sat while I mooched rides or took the train into NYC to gawk and people and buildings. I also saw many Range Rovers and even a Defender in NYC; I could not even imagine driving in Manhattan.

The drive home took 6.5 hours, benefiting from the new overdrive linkage that I installed in an hour the previous Saturday. I felt very tired when I arrived in Rockland, too late to catch the ferry home and worn out by the relative boredom of an interstate drive. The working overdrive did help reduce the fuel usage, though, and made the driving safer. However, the low beam headlights have ceased to work, and I fear that means the dimmer switch must be replaced.

The good news is that the shift lever, worked very calmly by me, remained intact! The bad news is that the latest replacement unit from Rovers North now comes without the mounting bracket, meaning it's not a field repair any longer. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Communing with the Queen

I spent a very happy day lying underneath and over the QE I. Bluntly, if you don't enjoy working on a classic Land Rover yourself, you'll need a dedicated mechanic and some extra funds to use and enjoy the car.

Land Rovers don't require maintenance because they're finicky; it's because their maintenance schedules were created at a time when people drove less [6,000/yr was considered average in the UK in the 1960's] and because Rover knew the car would likely see use in remote areas, far from service facilities. Land Rovers were [and are] exported to well over 100 countries, but in really small numbers [<25,000-30,000 per year]

When you flip through a Land Rover shop manual of the time, you realize that the instructions assume that the reader might not be familiar with Land Rovers and might not have specialized tools. That certainly resonates with me today.

To create a vehicle that will last for a long time, Land Rover made most parts adjustable, fully lubricated and robust. The maintenance schedule calls for attention most often in 3,000 mile intervals -except in "severe uses." That's most of the time, as it turns out.

The basics are easy enough - oil and filter changes at 3,000 or 3 months. whichever comes first. The Land Rover 2.25 liter engine requires nearly 8 quarts of oil with every change. That alone helps longevity. The oil filter is a large cartridge type with a big paper filter inside a cannister - messy but effective. The air cleaner is also the old oil-bath type [that requires a quart of its own] that really keeps air contaminants at bay. With its large radiator and high oil sump capacity, the Land Rover engine can run at optimal temperatures with ease; the oil helps cool as well as lubricate the internal moving parts. The compression ratio is low at 7:1 or 8:1, depending on which cylinder head is on the engine, and that, too, keeps the heat down.

As you might expect, the transmission and transfer case, front and rear axle housings, all have fill plugs and drain plugs that make it easy to add and/or change the gear oil within them. The rear axles are "floating axles" that are bathed in gear oil and easy to replace if broken. The same gear oil lubricates the wheel bearings, too. 

Land Rover also used an enclosed globe in which to house the front end "ball joints." As long as you check the gear oil within them, you'll not likely have front end failures, either. The overdrive has its own hypoid reservoir, too, as does the steering box. There aren't that many grease points, and they're confined to the front and rear propshafts. 

I used the opportunity to tighten up bolts on the exhaust and spring hangers. Then I decided to check the valve clearances as it had been a couple of years since I'd tested them last. A couple were loose and one was a bit tight, but overall, they were in good shape. While I found it a bit tiring to crawl under and lean over the car all day, it felt good when it ran well at day's end.

Oh, yes, after yet another broken shift lever earlier this week, I finally adjusted out the slave cylinder rod to see if I could ease pressure on the lever. A new one should come soon from Rovers North and I'll carry it with me just in case.

So now the Land Rover is ready for a 600 mile round trip next week.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

While Waiting for Results

I'm still waiting for the results of my tuneup work to sort themselves out. The Land Rover still seems to want to cut out under deceleration, but idle and acceleration are now quite fine. Of course, the road conditions in our early "frost heave" season stink so it's hard to tell what of the running is because of the car's bouncing all over the place, and what is a result of additional tuneup still required. I've yet to grab a timing light to check on the timing but I should be able to get one out of storage today.

This entire incident started after tuning up the car in mid-February just before the Maine Winter Romp. The car ran perfectly all weekend, which was part of the reason for my puzzlement, as to its more recent issues.

A participant shot this photo of me enjoying another rover, "Sarge," a 2-year old that came along with enthusiasts Barry Jones and Jassy Smith of Kennenbunk.

So I can enjoy land rovers and Land Rovers, here's hoping my Rover continues to sort itself out. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tune ups

The mantra on classic cars is that you love to run them as daily drivers because they're so easy to maintain compared to the complexities of the modern car. Not so fast, please.

First comes the QE I, the Land Rover. Although I swapped out points/rotor/condenser before the Maine Winter Romp in February, the car started to run poorly the following week. Suddenly one morning it absolutely would not idle with the choke pushed in all the way. If you let your foot off the accelerator, the car would stall. It would start right up again, but it would not idle.

So I begged the use of the local electric co-op's garage [my cars provide quite a bit of amusement for the linesmen] and got the QE I indoors. I went immediately for the last thing I did, the points, and checked the gap. Yes, they had closed up a bit. This would usually affect starting, too [it didn't for me], but might be part of the problem. I opened them up, put the distributor back together, and started the car. It still would not idle.

So I started with the fuel filter [no water in the gas] and the little filter at the base of the Weber card. Both looked clean. Then I removed the top of the carb and checked the bowl and jets. There was no grit or water in there, but I sopped up the gas and removed and sprayed out the jets. Usually, this is all you have to do with a Weber, but the absence of grit or goop meant I had to go further. I sprayed out every orifice I could find and the removed the side jet.

This jet had a black sooty film on it, so I sprayed out each orifice and wiped the jet clean. I removed the mixture screw/needle and found the same black soot at its tip. I also saw the same stuff on the carb throat. When I cleaned them all up, and buttoned up the carb, I found the car would idle perfectly. Success!

Ah, no. I drove to my job site and found the car would barely accelerate! Worse yet, it was pinging under load. So the next morning I checked the points again and found the points had been gapped too wide. I adjusted them more carefully and then tried the car one more time. It certainly idled fine and there was no more pinging, but the car still bogged on acceleration - pulling out the chock, even when warm, helped, indicating that the carb was still starved.

Yesterday morning, on the advice of the head tech at Rovers North, I enrichened the mixture to see if acceleration might improve. I haven't driven the car far enough to warm up the engine [no choke] to see if there's any improvement but it seems better when playing with the throttle linkage at the carb.

I also tried to bleed the clutch system as the clutch doesn't seem to work as well as it did once, but the bleeder screw seemed corroded in place. So I sprayed it up with penetrating oil to see if I could loosen it in the future.

The good news  - all the tools required for this repair included a flat head screwdriver, a feeler gauge, working eyes and ears. It also required you to think through a diagnostic scheme and effect a solution. The total cost was $0. 

The bad news - it couldn't be fixed by simply swapping out a part for a very expensive new one at a shop that gave you free coffee, a tv showing bad programming, and an expensive ride to work. 

Ah, I'll accept those tradeoffs any day. 

On the even-better side, I dug the Corvair out of its snowbank and found it started perfectly, leaked some oil gently, and drove wonderfully on a short ride to work. What a sweet car!