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1980 Austin Princess


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Yep, the distributor is all timed as it ought to be and being electronic ignition I can't set the points gap.  All I need to do is make sure the plug leads are in the correct order, which they currently aren't, and then the car should run just fine and we'll be up and running in no time.

Fresh coolant, refit the auxilliary belt, maybe charge the battery or jump it off the Maestro, and we should be good to go I hope.  I might do a compression test too, just out of curiosity, since we've definitely got compression back again now.

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1 hour ago, vulgalour said:

Haha, right, I'm a numpty.

You see, the diagram in the book shows the distributor cap and the 'firing order', but that's the firing order of the cap, not the engine.


So that means my firing order is currently 1-2-3-4 which is, er, wrong.  What a silly mistake.  I will correct the firing order tomorrow and I'm going to add some relevant marks on the distributor cap just to make it easier in the future so I know which socket goes to which plug at a glance.

Daft mistake, easily fixed at least.

The cap diagram is to be read anticlockwise to get 1342 rather than a clockwise 1243 (which is a valid 4 cyl firing order, just not for an OSeries) so it might still be 180 out on the cam 

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Aye your right, only 1850 dolomites and TR7s got the delco,sprints /o series engines got the wrong way lucas, thusly these renegade sheep in wolfs clothing lucas distributors trying to be all exotic and mysterious in a sea of their dull porridge lucas relatives.

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Good news!  I drove the Princess today :D

So far so good.  It's running on fuel that's pretty old at this point which isn't helping matters so the idle is a bit lumpy until its warmed up.  Other than that, all seems good.  Had it up to temperature and no bubbles in the coolant, no signs of bubbles or coolant escaping at the head gasket joint.  The only thing that had stopped me last tinker session was having the plug leads in the wrong order, once I corrected that we were all good.

Haven't gone far in it yet, just to the end of the street and back, because I've got no side mirrors at the moment and you really do need those down here, especially with the massive C pillar blindspot the Princess has.  It's also filthy and the glass is difficult to see through, especially the rear window.  So I need to give it a wash... and the tyres are a bit flat... and I need to put the plastic face trims back on... and maybe empty all the Maestro spares out of it... but it works!  So that's a good thing.

When it stops raining I'll get the mirrors back on it (need to drill holes, I'm going back to those black wing mirrors I really like because they're nice to drive with) and give it a proper clean inside and out.  It's a bit of a Maestro parts shed just at the minute which isn't ideal.

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For the first time in ages, my back has decided to be horrible at me.  Still managed to get some stuff done on the Princess, which now has its face back on and one of the wing mirrors.  The wheel arch liners have got no easier to remove since I last fitted these mirrors, so that was a joyful* experience.


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Five mile test drive?  Completed it, mate.


Aside from being grumpy until warmed up (I think a lot of this is down to the old fuel), it behaved impeccably.  Brakes are still excellent, temperature was stable even when sat in traffic, and no sign of any leaks or head gasket woes.  I'm cautiously optimistic.  The manual recommends a high idle for a period of time, or a five mile (non motorway/cabbageway) test run, and since the latter was decidedly more fun that's what I did.  I'll then check the head bolt torques once its cooled down and hopefully it will be fixed.

It was actually a joy to be behind the wheel again, I've missed driving this car, I always do when it's off the road for whatever reason.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Words and pictures time on the latest Princess video.  Not bothering for the Griswold Special since that's a tiny video and it won't cost much of your time to give it a watch.

I have been putting this job off because I hate working on engines and there's every chance that what's wrong is going to be difficult and expensive to put right.  Alternatively, it might be something simple and I could've fixed it ages ago when the weather was nicer.  I chose to drive the Maestro instead of thinking about it too much, but when the Maestro started shedding wheel arches faster than I could weld them back on, I begrudgingly set to on the Princess.  Look how happy I am to be doing this wretched job.

We begin by consulting The Book.  My manual fell apart years ago and I carefully dismantled it and put it into A4 ringbinder folders so now it's a mostly wipe clean reference.

The manual helps as a guide for what needs to come off and what doesn't.  Follow it step-by-step and it takes longer to do the job, instead make your own method up.  First thing, pull off the belt cover.  The little conical rubber grommet things I had been told years ago were impossible to find when in fact you can use classic Mini heater cable grommets, which are part number CAM5969.  They're cheap and plentiful, so if you've got a rattly cam cover on your O-series, that's the thing you need to stop it.

That off, you can then rotate the engine.  Don't do as I do, do as I say here, and remove the spark plugs.  It makes life a lot easier.  However, since I'd lost a good bit of compression in one cylinder it wasn't too difficult.  I haven't got anything I can turn the crankshaft pulley with so I do it on the camshaft which, over the ten years I've owned this car and the many times I've had to do this job, has so far not been an issue.  Your mileage may vary.  What you're aiming to do here is line up the dimple in the camshaft pulley with the hole stamped in the cover bracket.  You also want the pointer to line up with the relevant location on the crankshaft pulley, but I didn't film or photograph that.  Suffice to say, if you've got the book it tells you how to do it.  This sets the engine to the right point to make it safe to pull everything apart.


Then, remove the carburettor.  You can remove all the bits separately, but don't, you're wasting your time.  Instead undo the four bolts that hold it all to the exhaust manifold because that's easier.  The aluminium heat shield on my car is non-standard, the original fibreboard thing fell apart years ago and I was getting proper heat soak issues, so I fabricated this aluminium one which solved the problem very nicely.  (It's not actually aligned here, but it was when I did the belt).

If you opt not to remove the dashpot on the carburettor - and I opted not to because I don't want to accidentally bend the needle - then you need to slacken off all four bolts to slide the assembly back on the manifold studs before you can get all of them undone, because the dashpot housing fouls one of the nuts.  This is a common theme on this engine and one thing I hate about working on it.



The manual would have you disconnect the exhaust from the manifold.  Do not do this.  Instead, unbolt the manifold from the head.  It's a little more work now but you won't have a blowing exhaust that refuses to seal later if you do it this way.  Trust me, I've been there so many times.  Mini and Maxi owners will also know this pain.  I even have upgraded cast brackets on this car instead of the useless pressed metal ones it originally had and they're such a nightmare to get aligned and sealed nicely that I've vowed to only disturb them in emergency situations, and even then only if there's absolutely no other workaround.

With the manifold unbolted, it offers no obstruction to the head at all.  Reinstalling it is a bit fiddly, you have to thread a bolt through the manifold and the manifold gasket at each end (ideally one at a time) to get things lined up with the head, but once you've done that it's pretty plain sailing.  Do all the bolts up most of the way before fully tightening, this then allows a bit of wiggle room if you need it for alignment, especially useful since some of the bolts have to be done by feel.

You will now believe you are ready to remove the head.  Drain the coolant and undo the bolts in the proper spiral pattern and set them aside for reassembly.

Except for the one that fouls on the distributor casing meaning you have to remove the distributor.

Mark the distributor casing and the cam cover so you've a rough guide for where the timing needs to be set on reassembly, this saves a good bit of time later and the marker pen is easily removed for a nice clean finish afterwards.

Happily, being aluminium, the head weighs almost nothing and it wasn't even a little bit stuck having been done not very long ago.

Then be very confused that there's absolutely no obvious sign of failure anywhere.  Even though you've checked the torques a bazillion times, used brand new parts, cleaned things to within an inch of their life, had the head pressure tested and skimmed properly... there's no obvious cause for failure in here.


In fact, the only thing slightly amiss is that the affected corner of the gasket looks ever so slightly shrunken compared to what it should be.  Whether that's the actual failure, or a symptom of the engine running with the gasket failed, I'll never know.  Suffice to say it's sort of a good thing there's nothing obviously wrong and sort of a bad thing that there's no smoking gun.  Oh well, get it cleaned up and reassembled I guess.


I did put a metal rule across the surfaces and look for any obvious deviations on head and block surfaces and found none.  I'm aware that's not a perfect solution, nor to engineering tolerances, but it would highlight if there was a bad spot somewhere.  Fact is, it all seemed fine.  The only issue was some powdery corrosion that wiped off without leaving any visible pitting on the affected end of the head surface and similar powdery corrosion on the head gasket.  Not enough to be a concern, and likely due to water leaking past the gasket and getting stuck there since it literally wiped off with a finger.  Next, dig out the spare head gaskets (yes, I keep multiple in stock).  First one I dug out was a NOS item from a supplier I don't normally use.  It had to go in the bin.  I don't even remember who the supplier was of this one and I don't think I can blame them since it looked fine from the visible side in the packet, it had rusted on the carboard side of the packaging which must have got damp at some point.


My other gasket was a full set from www.angclassiccarparts.co.uk who I've used many times over the years and who have never let me  down.  It also gave me a new manifold gasket to use which would be handy since I damaged the old one when I fumbled it with cold-numbed hands.

Fit the nice new gasket which did feel substantially better than the one I removed, and torque everything according to the book.

Refit the spark plugs...

...and the manifold and carburettor assembly...

... coolant caps, pipes, and any other odds and sods.

Then give up for the day because the sun is speeding towards the horizon, it's frickin cold, you can't feel your fingers, and you're desperately in need of a cup of tea.  The rest can happen another day (and it did, more on that in the future).  Look how happy I am to have been working on an engine.  Positively delighted about it.

Ah well, it's done for this update.  Next update we'll get the rest on and see about getting it running.


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33 minutes ago, SiC said:

How come your coat, trousers and even hands are so clean after doing that work? I'm automatically filthy all over just after opening a bonnet. 


29 minutes ago, Daviemck2006 said:

I get filthy looking at the bonnet pull lever!

Sent from my SM-T585 using Tapatalk

All of this. I end up filthy walking past the car on my way to the shops. I'm reluctant to even drive the fucking things wearing my good clothes...

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6 hours ago, PhilA said:

You cleaned your engine.

Very few others do. One small oil leak, a few too many miles and there's your chimney sweep apprentice kit.


This.  It's why one of the first things that happens to any car that arrives here is an appointment for the engine bay with a gallon or so of degreaser and the pressure washer.

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9 hours ago, vulgalour said:

Cleanliness is the only way to find out what new thing is leaking.  Is it not normal to keep engines in old cars clean?

Mine all tend to barf some sort of fluid which inevitably leads to dirt sticking to every surface. 

The Renault would haze everything in power steering fluid.

The Pontiac has an open breather system which makes everything oily.

All of my other cars have liked to leak oil or antifreeze which both end up a sticky mess. 

So no, not really. They go in clean and get dirty as they are driven.

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On 29/12/2021 at 13:52, vulgalour said:

Cleanliness is the only way to find out what new thing is leaking.  Is it not normal to keep engines in old cars clean?

It is unusual, but it is a basic maintenance discipline that is an important step toward achieving reliability.

 Likewise, remove (and bin) those plastic  covers  most modern engines lurk under.

You need to see what is going on under there! 

Every drip and stain is  a story that doesn’t have to end with a bad-tempered walk home…

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On 12/29/2021 at 1:52 PM, vulgalour said:

Cleanliness is the only way to find out what new thing is leaking.  Is it not normal to keep engines in old cars clean?

you dont want to look under the bonnet of my Rickman.... 😲

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For the whole story, check out the video above.  For those that prefer, here's some words and pictures.

We pick up where we left off with the engine almost fully back together.  First stop, check in the book to see where the timing needs to be and where the distributor should go back in.  I don't remember if this shot of the crank pulley is for setting the timing for taking the head on and off, or setting it for the distributor, but do what the book says either way.


That figured out, we do that.  With the vacuum UFO and rotor arm in the relevant position, you push the distributor home and the rotor arm will spin around to the new relevant position. Don't push the distributor all the way home because the studs will then be too close to the body of the unit for you to get the nuts on.  You can't really shorten the studs either because then there's not enough thread for the nuts to go on.  Another great bit of design work that makes these jobs a bit more irritating.  Usually you have to replace the O-ring on the distributor shaft but since the one fitted was done very recently it was good to go again.  Eventually the O-ring will leak a bit of oil out onto plug 2 which is when you know you need to replace it.  Good luck finding the actual size you need when you do.

Then work out where the plugs should go to.  Make sure you don't do as I do and get it wrong by thinking the pulley end is 4, because the pulley end is actually 1.  You count the cylinders right to left, 1-4, on the Princess because the O-Series was originally a RWD application, then mounted transversely in the Princess.  I assume they didn't put it in the car with the pulleys on the left because then the spark plugs and ignition stuff would be round the back of the engine and a right war to get to for servicing.

Do your final checks to make sure you've not missed anything, double check you've got the timing as right as you can, and attempt to start.  Find out it won't, but it will misfire occasionally.  Still don't realise you've got the plugs in the wrong order and, in the process of trying to figure it out, end up with a 1-2-3-4 firing order which very definitely doesn't work and get very frustrated with a job you hated before you even began it.


This plug lead mistake may have ended up being a blessing in disguise.  Because the engine wouldn't fire properly, it meant I was double-checking everything repeatedly and I noticed the timing marks were drifting.  This wasn't just that it was on the wrong rotation, it was that every full set of four combustion cycles, the location of the timing marks on the pulleys was drifting further apart.  This being an interference engine means that's a bad thing.  So I took the new belt on and off a few times to find it was still the same result.  Something was amiss and the only thing it seemed it really could be was the belt itself.

Even though it's a brand new belt from a usually good supplier, I ordered another new belt to try and see if that would resolve the issue.  Once I had the new-new belt in hand it became apparent that the old-new belt was definitely wonky somehow.  Difficult to convey on camera, but the old-new belt felt slightly spongey and the tooth profile in places wasn't deep enough, it was also a lot more 'wibbly' than the new-new belt.

Fitted the new-new belt and the timing stayed put like it should.  Finally figured out what I'd done with the plug leads, in part due to posts here on the forum (thanking you), and the car fired up as normal.  A bit grumpy about it because it was cold and running on 4-5 month old unleaded but it was running again.  Initial signs were promising, but I still wasn't any more enamoured of engine work than when I began.

Two options for testing are to either sit at high idle for five minutes, or take it for a five mile drive.  I took it out for about 8 miles and found that it was mostly behaving itself.  I suspected the old fuel was causing some issues, and proved it later when I put fresh fuel in and everything improved quite a bit.  All levels were sitting where they should and aside from a noisy valve due to needing the shims doing again, I was cautiously optimistic.


Then I found that the hazard warning light switch didn't operate the indicators any more, it operated the interior light and that made me make this face.

I did figure out what was causing the issue with the switch, more on that in a future Princess video.  For now, I can tell you we've now completed just over 100 miles with absolutely no engine issues.  Whatever had caused the head gasket to fail remains a mystery, I'm just happy that it is now apparently resolved and for minimal expense.  Hopefully it'll be a good long while before I have to do it again.

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