Heavy on the carbs

For this specialist of old-school aspiration, business goes with the flow

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

IN THE late-1920s, Harry Howarth established the Carburettor Service Company in Sydney’s inner west, relocating about 12 years later to the bustling automotive strip of Parramatta Rd.

After the war, Harry’s son Ray came on board.

Decades later, Carburettor Service Company is still on Parramatta Rd, and still in Howarth hands. Third-generation owner Tim (60) joined the business in 1975, an ominous era for carburettors, with the mainstream acceptance of fuel injection by then imminent.

“I suppose the 1940s to the ’70s was the golden era for carburettors,” Howarth says. “By the 1940s, carburettor design had matured. The only ones that differed dramatically were SUs; most other carbs just got more complex to try and give better fuel economy and less emissions.

“Both my grandfather and my father were great hoarders of stock, so I’ve still got a reasonable variety and quantity of old parts here for carburettors going back to the 1920s.”

Fuel injection was already proved in German WW2 aero engines and began finding its way into cars in the mid-1950s. “A lot of early Mercedes, Peugeots, even some Fiats, were fuel injected. As far as I was concerned, those early mechanical injection beasties were all black magic. Weird systems like Kugelfischer; you’d look under the bonnet and think, how does it work?”

But Howarth saw the way the wind was blowing, taking himself and some of the then 10-strong staff through EFI training courses.

“But it got to the stage where, unless you were specialising in EFI, you found yourself tinkering around the edges. Things were changing on almost a monthly basis. You didn’t know where you were with it.

“About 10 years ago, I decided to not touch EFI vehicles again, just concentrate on the bread-and-butter work and the restoration work that we do a lot of.”

And so CSC, now comprising just Howarth and long-time technical manager Alan Jackson, just does carburettors. They’re highly regarded among the classic car set, although surprisingly that’s not the bulk of the business.

“There’s still no end of rev-heads that want an older car and want it to go well. The restoration scene is as strong as ever, so we do a lot of 1940s-70s restoration of carburettors.

Some guys want them to look like new under the bonnet, so that involves extra work, re-plating and re-colouring components.

“But the biggest proportion is ordinary, everyday light commercial vehicles, of which there are still thousands on the road. Next would come the classic vehicles – I’m looking at an MGB in the workshop, next to a Subaru Brumby, next to a six-pack Charger with three Webers on it, and behind it an LJ Torana with three SUs, all being restored.”

So, who makes – or made – the best carburettors? “I suppose Webers were consistently the best-made, although the quality has gone down a bit since production was moved to Spain [in 1992]. And I’d say SU, because they’re extremely simple and easy to repair.

“The worst ones are the early die-castings that the Americans did; veteran and vintage things. You can hold them in your hand and they fall apart. The old zinc die-cast material dries out and crumbles like a biscuit.”

ONE FOUL, YOU’RE OUT

CARBURETTOR king Tim Howarth is tuned into the jet set. “The biggest challenge is fuel quality. With classic, high-performance cars, irrespective of how well it’s tuned, 98-octane fuel simply fouls spark plugs. We tell people 95-octane is the way to go, and run the hottest spark plugs you can find.”