PISTON BROKE

A LITTLE LEAK LEADS TO A BIG BUMMER WHEN GLENN TORRENS BECOMES LOST IN A MAZE OF MAINTENANCE

WORDS & PHOTOS GLENN TORRENS

WELL, THAT was crap.

What should have been an easy repair of an oil leak from my 1979 VB Commodore SL wagon escalated into a hairtearing exercise that dragged out over several weeks.

It all began with a busted fan belt and destroyed radiator several months ago: A couple of hours’ effort fitting a second-hand radiator and I was cruising again. But I hadn’t noticed the string of delaminated fan belt that had damaged the engine’s front seal to cause an annoying oil leak.

The fix wasn’t too difficult: remove the cooling fan, radiator and the engine’s front pulley. I used the bush mechanics’ trick of removing No 1 spark plug and filling the cylinder with string to prevent the piston moving – and hence the engine turning – while spannering the pulleys.

After fixing the seal, I turned my attention to some other maintenance. The carburettor was leaking so I rebuilt it with new gaskets.

The choke cable needed replacing (yes – these first Commodores had a manual choke – our millennial readers may need to Google that!) and frustratingly, half the dash needed to be removed for that job…

01 Bonnets up! Here’s the start of another happy day working on cool old cars!

02 Oil from the front seal dripped from the sway bar to leave an embarrassing stain wherever I went

03 Okay, looking good. Just the pulley to come off now.

04 I used a puller to pull the pulley. Got that?!

05 Bits of broken fan belt from a few months ago had caused the oil seal damage

06 By removing the fan and radiator, I was able to easily access the front of the engine

“BUT I’ FORGOTTEN THAT ENGINE-LOCKING STRING IN THE NUMBER ONE POT...”

01 The new seal is just about in place.

02/03 Behind-the-dash stuff can be such a pain!

04 Don’t try this at home, kids!

05 This is not how to finish the day…

I also replaced the O-rings in the air-conditioning system. Re-gassing the air just after I bought the car two years ago proved the system worked but it had quickly lost its gas. Replacing all the seals (and of course a re-gas) will hopefully have it pumping proper coolness for next summer.

With all those little tasks completed during a relaxing Sunday I cracked a beer and hit the key… but I’d forgotten that engine-locking string in the number one pot.

F***!

I hoped I hadn’t done any damage… but after removing the string and replacing the spark plug, there was a distinctive doink-doink noise of something unhappy inside my engine.

My beer suddenly tasted terrible. I slammed the garage door and with my head hung in frustration and shame I walked away from playing with cars for a week or three…