by Mark Smith
I shall bundle cars three and four together. There is a good reason for this…I can remember little about car three! This is very strange but I have thought about car three until my brain hurts and still I cannot summon up that much information about it. I do recall that it was a Triumph Toledo.
I can’t remember how I found this car, where or who I bought the car from or what happened to it but I’m guessing (based on previous history, that it was scrapped). I can recall that it was maroon and had a 1300cc engine that drove the front wheels. I seem to recall that the body was not in too bad condition but beyond that, nearly all other memories have disappeared in the mist of time. There is one thing that I do recall though and that was changing the rubber drive couplings on the front half-shafts.
These cars were one of the few that Triumph produced with front wheel drive. However, instead of using universal joints, they had opted for rubber doughnut couplings of the same sort as used on the Lotus Elan. These couplings were fine when the car was new but as a car aged and as a result of the stress they endured, they had a habit of splitting. Those fitted to my car were holding on by a thread. I ordered a new set and decided to change them myself.
This is a fiddly job at the best of times, but the problem was made worse by the fact that I had to swap them at the side of the road and on a jack. I managed it after a struggle and the car lasted me for a couple of years. It also brought me into contact with Club Triumph for the first time and a friend and I used to attend some of the Auto Tests held around the country, as spectators not competitors!
As I said, I cannot remember buying the car or how it met it’s end but its replacement is an entirely different matter! Being car-less yet again and desperate for wheels, I saw an advert in the local paper for a Morris 1100 Traveller and discovered it actually belonged to a chap at the other end of our road who I vaguely knew, so I gave him a ring.
He explained that I was welcome to come and have a look at the car but don’t expect too much! I was at the stage where as long as the car started and moved under its own steam and was cheap, it was the one for me so I paid the seller a visit. ‘Traveller’ was a rather posh title for what was a rather slab-sided grey and non-descript old banger.
The car started and it did actually move; these were its good points. The bad points were that it seemed to burn oil a bit and the hydraulic rams that should have stopped the rear door falling on the back of the neck anytime anyone attempted to put anything in the car just didn’t work but hey, it moved under it’s own steam so I bought it for the £150 asking price. I say it burned a little oil, I was soon to find out that it was a bit worse than that!
The A series engine as used in the Mini was a great little engine but when it was bored out to give more power for the 1100 range, it had an Achilles Heel in the form of value stem guides that wore quite badly as the engine aged. My car had been around the clock. The valve guides had not just worn, I think they had dissolved! When the car had been used and once the engine was hot and everything had expanded, the oil that was left on the rockers would drain down the valve stem guides and go to sleep on the top of the pistons.
The first I knew of the problem was the first morning I started the car from cold. Some of the people that live around where I live now complain about the smoke created by the steam engines on the Great Central Railway as they pass the back fence of their homes. Compared to a cold start of my Morris 1100, these people don’t know they’re born. I have never seen smoke like it before or since! In those days I was working as Postman in Harrow and had to be in the Sorting Office by 6am. This was a good thing as there were very few people about at that time of the day. I would start the car and by the time I reached the bottom of our road (which was about a quarter of a mile long) I couldn’t see the top end! James Bond would have been pleased to have had a smoke screen like this car could produce!
Petrol wise, the car was actually surprisingly economical. I am not exactly sure how many miles to the gallon the car did but it did about as many to a gallon of oil! OK, that may be a slight exaggeration but I think it would be safe to suggest it did use a pint of oil to the equivalent miles per gallon of petrol. This oil problem also had another side effect; the engine would actually run OK when the car was being driven but once I arrived home and turned the key to the off position, the situation was very different. I could get out the car, lock the door, let myself in the house and make a cuppa and the ruddy engine would still be chugging away, the over-run was that bad!
All of this led to another failing that these cars were prone to. The engines of course were transverse which meant that the exhaust manifold was at the back of the engine in the middle of the bulkhead. The exhaust pipe then dropped down low enough to then run under the car to exit under the rear bumper. Where the pipe bent, it had a support clip that bolted to the gearbox.
The banging and thumping as the engine rocked back and forth on the over-run, put added strain on the exhaust pipe that in turn put even greater pressure on the union between the pipe and the manifold causing the bell-end to snap off the top of the pipe. This was such a big problem with aging 1100’s that someone produced a replacement bell-end on a short piece of pipe that was made to be flexible. The original exhaust pipe would just slip inside the new fitting. I am not sure if the pipe was supposed to be welded to this adaptor but it wasn’t in the one I ended up fitting. But that was in the future.
In the meantime, I persevered with a broken bell-end. This meant that when I started the car in the morning, the exhaust pipe would jump slightly out of line with the remains of the bell-end that was still attached to the manifold. This of course increased the noise of the engine but I found that by the time I reached the bottom of our road, the pipe had realigned its self and all was well…for a while. As the problem got worse, I found that the bracket holding the bend at the bottom of the exhaust pipe to the gearbox, would work loose and the pipe would drop. The solution to this was to get under the car, loosen the bracket some more, shove the pipe back into place and re-tighten the bracket and all would be well again…for a while.
Life carried on in this fashion quite happily. I saw no point in forking out for a new exhaust as it wouldn’t last very long and having the head of the engine rebuilt was financially out of the question. Anyway, the car drove quite well once under way and clambering underneath approximately once a week was no big deal to a lad of nineteen or twenty. I never had to go too far in the car anyway so if I did get a major breakdown, I could always walk home or get a bus.
And then one day, two friends decided we were going on a fishing holiday in Norfolk. We were to camp but they decided they wanted to go on their motorbikes; one of them had a Triumph and the other a Norton. As I was not a motorbike-ist, I was to go in the 1100 and take the bulk of the gear, including the fishing tackle. They would go up the day before and just take their tents and basic needs that could be fitted on the bikes.
We were to camp on a site in the grounds of a pub on the edge of Ormsby Broad. Despite the fact that I was under no time pressure to get there the following day, it was still going to be a fair old trek in a car that was, if not on its last legs, certainly on borrowed time. Surprisingly, the knackered old Morris completed the journey in both directions without breaking down once! However, that was not the whole story.
Once I arrived at the site and found the other two, I set up my tent and unloaded the gear before the three of us headed for the pub. The next day was spent doing a bit of sightseeing using the 1100 so by the next day I needed to fill up with petrol. I checked the oil level and discovered that it was low, in fact it was so low that it barely registered on the bottom of the dipstick, let alone reached the “Minimum” mark. I set off to the local filling station with the usual problem but by the time I reached the edge of the camping field, the uneven ground had assisted the resetting of the exhaust pipe and all was well. I filled up with fuel and oil and headed off for an uneventful day.
The next morning things were a lot different! Topping up the oil had resulted in there being much more floating around in the rocker box when the car had been parked up the night before. This in turn led to far more draining into the cylinders, which in turn led to far more smoke being generated on start up and the usual jumping out of position of the exhaust pipe.
Now, picture the scene; it was a warm sunny morning, I had both door windows wound down and the ground was uneven. I started up the car and straight away the exhaust pipe parted company with the bell-end on the manifold. This instantly drew looks of displeasure from other campers and caravanners due to the sudden noise shattering their tranquil breakfast and causing them to choke on their bacon butties.
I should have been conscious of their displeasure but was in fact oblivious to it as I was instantly enveloped in a thick cloud of acrid bluish black smoke as the oil in the cylinders mixed with the ignited fuel from the carburetors! In order to mitigate the situation and stop the racket blasting out from under the bonnet, I slipped the gear stick into first gear and let out the clutch.
The car leaped forward, much to the horror of my fellow campers who didn’t know whether to sit still and hope for the best or grab their bacon butties and run. As the 1100 picked up speed and kangaroo’ d across the field, the resultant up-draught forced some of the smoke up through the air vents and out the open door windows, the rest being blown under the car and out under the wheel arches. There was now smoke blowing through every orifice and every gap around every grommet through the dashboard etc and still the exhaust pipe had not re-found its correct position.
As I neared the edge of the field, the exhaust finally jumped back into place, allowing the smoke to regain its correct path through the pipe and out the back and giving me a clear view ahead as the last wisps of smoke exited the car’s cabin. Meanwhile, my two mates who had never seen anything like it before, had collapsed on the ground with tears rolling down their cheeks and never again worried about the small oil leaks their British made motorbikes suffered!
After I got home, I read about the bell-end fitting specially developed for aging 1100’s and ordered one. It made a lot of difference to the exhaust problem and I found that I could reduce the amount of smoke emitted by reducing the amount of oil I put in the engine. As long as I kept the oil level above the “Minimum” mark, all was OK.
Somehow, I managed to keep that car on the road for about three years before it failed the MOT due to rear sub frame rot, after which it joined my previous ones in the breakers yard.
Looking back, I think this car gave me more fun than probably any other just because it was SO bad!
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