Monday, 8 October 2012


    We forget, in these days of ten thousand mile service intervals, what cars used to be like. My modern, the Turbocharged Rollerskate, is now a high mileage car. Yet it is as much an appliance as it is a car, given a bit of maintenance it's functionally exactly as it was when I first drove it off a dealer forecourt eleven years ago. Advanced metallurgy, synthetic oils and modern coatings have given it a nearly wear-free engine and a complete absence of rust.
    The Wreck by comparison needs constant attention. Oil top-ups, ignition adjustments, coolant checks, and battery charging. And it's not just the Wreck, I was thinking about the Mini I drove twenty years ago, that was the same. Not a problem for a much younger and spottier instance of me, but how easily I have forgotten the joys of standing in the rain pouring oil.
    A couple of weeks ago I took the Wreck on a Grand Tour of the West. The original plan was to visit my friends Nikki and Dru on my way to Bristol, before swinging north to Herefordshire to see my cousin, and dropping on my friend Ian in Gloucestershire on my way back to the Bright Lights. Sadly though that weekend saw the heaviest rain of the autumn, so instead I abandoned my plans after Bristol and headed east through the downpour.
    All non-vintage cars have a battery. The Wreck is no exception, it powers everything electrical on the car. The starter, the ignition, the lights, the wipers. On a modern car the battery will be charged by an alternator with a modern electronic regulator, but cars the Wreck's age instead have a dynamo and an electromechanical regulator. A big black box full of electromagnets and switches.
    The trouble with dynamos is that they're not very good at what they do. A nice long drive on a sunny day and your battery arrives in tip-top condition, but run the lights and the wipers as I had to and there won't be quite enough power to charge the battery. So when you stop, you won't be able to start the car again.
    I've always resisted an upgrade to an alternator, it's a little more hassle than just plugging and playing. On that particular front though I have to admit I'm starting to weaken.


  1. Wow, I think I'm quite please the Spit was an alternator!

    My Turbo Brick has a 30,000km service interval (and something aproaching 180,000km for the timing belt). When the Spit is here it'll probably get an oil service at a 10th of that (K, as it has a timing chain I'll probably not change it during the life of the engine - which will still be less than the expected life of the belt in the brick. On the bright side though... Oil change in the Spit is +/- 20 euros. In the brick about 10 times that. So it all works out in the end :)


  2. My last Singer was built with an alternator, this made life a lot easier, other than when buying any electrical parts the Mk I, II and III where all Positive earth with a dynamo, the MK IV was Negative earth, fine untill I needed a new clock. They only made the MK IV for about six months.

  3. I have fond memories of my old Triumph Herald Coupe - adjusting the gaps of distributor points and spark plugs with my trusty feeler gauges, and tweaking the SU carb to get a bit more performance. 948cc of undiluted power!

    Oil was a constant headache, so much so that I used to keep a spare gallon tin of Duckhams 20/50 in the garage. And was it every 3000 miles that I had to change the oil? Yes, and the filter with every second oil change.


  4. @Paula: When I was growing up my dad drove a Singer Vogue estate from 1965. It was a great car (and almost nothing was left original - it's where I got the bug for making my cars my own - oddly enough something I struggle to do with my modern cars).

    The 1795 (1785?) engine was bored, it had an overdrive fitted to it with a stalk switch and the electrics were brought up to modern (for 1980's) standards to make living with it easier. I first remember it being gold that he sprayed it, but I much preferred the two tone green that he changed it to (including three coach lines running the length of the stainless strip that ran along the side of the car which he masked by hand to spray - he was very proud that none of his coach lines were stickers!) This earned it the nickname 'The Green Dragon', possibly when a hole appeared in the exhaust!

    He had to do so much work on the car, restoring it more than once when the rot had got too bad, but it was his daily driver for a decade or more and took us on out family vacations each year from the midlands to the Isle of White.

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories by mentioning 'Singer' :)


  5. @Stace: oh yes, the cost of modern oil is scandalous! The Rollerskate has a rather special oil. Mind you, it does 65mpg, so mustn't grumble.

    @Paula: Sounds like you got the pick of the bunch, but I'm with you on a rare model. We had to sell our BMC tractor to an enthusiast for spares because of its rare as hen's teeth A series diesel.

    @Angie: Funny you should say that :) Mine has the Solex rather than the twin SUs. And a back seat.