Sunday, July 15, 2012

Old but not dead yet

Today's plan was to get some other honey-do list jobs out of the way and then field-strip the Land Rover down ready for frame repairs. I used the tractor loader as a mini-crane to lift the bed off the frame. Most of the bolts holding the bed on were corroded badly, especially the ones on the stupid roll bars. Many broke rather than come undone. We'll replace them all with new galvanized ones, except the roll bars which will go in the classifieds for thirty dollars.

I then ran to Belfast town to rent a 2,500 PSI pressure washer with which to blast the frame clean. I also cleaned the tranny and transfer case. Despite the fact that I soaked all the dash thoroughly with the pressure washer, I did rig a tent in case it rains later.

All of this revealed the corrosion which we'll begin to fix tomorrow.

Here's one of the outriggers.  Four of five are corroded, three badly. The worst part of the story is, however, the rear cross member, which is just a mess, although repairable. It looks as if a previous owner towed the trailer hitch right off at some point, and then jerry-rigged it back on using a bit of old electrical conduit as a bolt spacer.

These poor old Rovers do take some stick if they fall in the wrong hands!

By the later afternoon I was tired of the heavy work and so decided to run the compression test and get the engine tocking over a little more easily, more tinkering and puttering than sweating and grunting.

With the engine cold, and (apparently) having not been run for more than a few minutes at any time in the last several years, the compression test scores were about 100-110 PSI on all cylinders, somewhat low but very even. I slopped some oil in one cylinder and nothing changed, indicating wear in the valves and valve seats rather than rings, or at least indicating that the greater balance of wear is in the valves. The plugs were a nice grey, which was good to see. If the rings were shot, they'd be a nasty black.

The old mechanic* who has been the guardian of this truck for more than a decade would regularly tootle out to his back forty and start the engine every so often and let it run. (He also seems to have replaced the clutch and emergency brake shoes at some point in the last decade.) I expect this was enough to keep the motor more or less inhibited against corrosion and decay, although we'll find out how well he did, once we get the thing running a little better. I have some solid reason for hope now, with the test score. A new engine should have scored 145 on all cylinders, but 100 to 110 and even all around is not too bad for a stone cold test on such an old block. There was clean coolant in the radiator, and decent oil in the sump, with good oil pressure, indicating good main bearings. All in all, pretty good news. The compression results are consistent with the mileage on the clock, which is 83,000; in other words, this is most likely an original untouched engine with 83,000 miles, old but not completely clapped out yet.

(Sort of like the truck's new owner, actually.)

I'm prepared for a complete engine rebuild but it doesn't seem necessary, at least not for a few years. A valve job might be helpful. If the front frame members were rotted, I might as well rebuild the engine, considering it would be very easy to pull it with the fenders and hood off. But the front part of the frame is sound. The only problem upfront is the bulkhead, which is in serious trouble with rust and a shabby repair job done about thirty years ago. We'll need a new bulkhead eventually. But not right now. if I clean off the rust and inhibit further corrosion, the old bulkhead will serve for a few more years, by which time our finances will probably allow us to send away to Sheffield for a galvanized frame. In the meantime, if I find a repairable secondhand bulkhead, I can start a rebuild job on that, cribbing from the techniques demonstrated on East Coast Rover's website.

We'll run the dry-wet compression test routine again tomorrow**, after we set the valve clearances and then run the engine for a bit longer, all to see if it doesn't ease up a little. Those rings have to be a little stuck in their grooves. I'd say 70 percent of the low compression is worn valves, and then some sticky rings accounting for the other 30 percent.

You'd be stuck in your groove too, if you'd been sitting in a Maine junkyard for ten or fifteen years.

*The guy's name was Ted Howard, in Warren, Maine, and his dooryard is a wonder to behold, full of classic cars waiting to be restored. In just the British department, there's an old Rover 100, a Rolls Royce (covered in dust), and any number of Land Rovers including a diesel pick-up and a classic 109 station wagon that has been restored or possibly just never used much. Ted himself is a bit of a one-off. Seems like he was a mechanic in the USAF in Korea, and worked on helos. That would have been the very early years of the military helicopter, making him a pioneer of sorts. Anyway, Ted was a delight to meet. There are pictures of the yard on Aimee's Facebook here.

**Update: After running the engine for a half-hour today (but not yet setting the valve lash), I checked the compression again, then funneled a larger amount of oil into number one cylinder and did the wet/dry compression test again. After the warm-up the compression test reading remained at 110 PSI, but after the oil was added compression was greatly increased. Presumably using a larger slosh of oil did the trick. Not good news, though. This indicates a ring job is needed after all. (I only tried the one cylinder since it can be hard to get the engine restarted if you put oil in all four.)

I don't care to do this ring job on the engine in the vehicle just yet, since it clearly will start and run, and that's good enough for now. Instead I will go buy a secondhand engine block from a guy I know who has two, and rebuild that engine completely. This will allow me to take my time and enjoy the experience, and I'll still have a running Rover in the meantime. Later I can switch out the engines and do a ring job on the original one.

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