Christmas in Arizona, about eight years ago...
This proves that my Mark 1 was once assembled, however at the time it looked much better in the dark and from far away.
If not for a twist of fate, I could very easily be sending e-mail to the TR3 Lovers. You see, it all began eight years ago. I've been a computer and network geek for a while, and the constant changes in technology have kept things from getting boring. But I have always had a bit of motor oil running through my veins, not enough to make me want to work at a Jiffy Lube, but enough to make me miss, every now and again, the smell of grease, the chill of solvent, and the cold steel of a wrench in my hands. Add a hint of mid-life crisis, and I was on the prowl. I was not on the prowl for a Jaguar saloon. I longed for something young, something sporty. I harked back to a time, fifteen years ago when the wind blew back my hair. (If you've ever ridden in a convertible you know that the wind never blows back your hair, it blows it forward, into your face, but I'm going for the romantic angle.) I was in my mid- twenties and my pride and joy was a brown 1963 Triumph TR4. The stiff steering, the engine block carved from the same mold as that of a Massey-Ferguson tractor, the bolt-together body, the crank starter hole beneath the grille all spoke to me of an earlier, simpler time when men repaired their own cars beneath an umbrella of green. In my mind, one car embraced those elemental qualities even more than my TR4. It was the TR3.
Ironically, it was an advertisement for a TR3 that began my experience with Jaguar. A local shop owner had one for a reasonable price. When I arrived there I found out why the price was so reasonable -- it was a rust bucket. I think I could have torn the wings off with my bare hands. What caught my eye though, was a small Jaguar saloon, white, with an ugly red interior, but good wood, no rust, all the parts. Even the faded local dealer sticker (pre-postal code), was still visible on the boot. I had not been looking for a Jaguar so I had no idea what I was looking at. If I did, I probably wouldn't have bought it. Still, it conjured up even earlier memories. I had seen that body style somewhere before. Didn't I have a... Yes, I did... Silver... at my grand-parents... a Matchbox toy of the same car. I remembered my brother, sister, and me making roads in the thick pile of their carpet. The Jaguar was always mine. I went back a week later and took another look at the car. It had been in storage since 1979, but the shop owner claimed that the engine would turn over. We squirted a little oil in the pistons, set in a good battery, blew a little starting fluid into the carbs. To my amazement it started almost instantly. I bought it on the spot.
It was two weeks before I realized my Mark 2 was a Mark 1, that the Mark 1 was the less desirable car, and that the $3800 I had paid was probably a bit high. I realized my Matchbox toy was probably also a Mark 2. Far more learned observers than myself at age eight (or age 38) have confused the two. I was a little discouraged, but it was too late to turn back and I floundered ahead with a little more knowledge and a tad less enthusiasm.
Later, as I read more about the marque and the role the Mark 1 played, I realized I was resurrecting a far too neglected piece of Jaguar history. That gave the car more value to me than the profit or loss that I would make on the car.
* * *
I figured that with just a little work the Mark 1 would be on the road again. There was a little more work than I figured.
I began by doing the obvious things: replacing the fluids, draining the gas tank, replacing the spark plugs and plug wires, filing down the points, you know, all the tune-up stuff. I tried to start it, but it ran about as well as it did at the previous owner's shop. It would start up instantly with the ether, then quickly wind down and stall. Priming the carbs directly would cause it to run longer, but then it would die. I knew it was a fuel problem, but where?
The easiest point of access was the fuel pump. Someone had installed a fuel filter in the line just before the pump and it wouldn't fill. I was confused at that. I tried a jar under the discharge hose but got a few drops, at most. Putting the intake line in the jar worked well. At least I had isolated the problem to the tank or the tank outlet tube. I tried everything to clear the fuel line but I could not get the fuel pump to suck gas out of the tank. I ended up removing the tank and taking it to a radiator shop. They dipped it but couldn't clear it. They tried a mini-roto-rooting of the fuel outlet tube. No luck, it broke the end of their routing tool. Finally, they cut the top out of the tank and removed the tube. It was rusted solid. After beating on it with a hammer, driving a rod through it, and re-dipping it, they finally saw light at the other end of the tube. They brazed the tube back into the cut out piece and welded the whole thing back on the top of the tank.
That should handle it, I thought confidently. I started the Mk 1 up and it sounded great. To say I was excited is an understatement. The smell of gasoline quickly tempered my excitement. It took only a moment to trace it to the fuel pump. I guess that in it's excitement at a free flow of gasoline it blew it's diaphragm. A quick repair. I checked things out and noticed that the fuel gauge and water pump were not working. No big deal, I knew I had fuel, I knew there was enough water. I hit the road.
My first drive consisted of a gentle tour of the neighborhood. Not trusting anything on a car that has sat for eleven years, I took it very slow, particularly around corners.
You know the silent movies where the steering wheel comes off in the driver's hands? Well, I had covered maybe a quarter mile, rounding a turn, when the steering wheel disengaged from the front wheels. I mean free spinning, like the steering wheels in those racing video games. No danger, I was just creeping. With uncharacteristic good fortune, I was just a little over a block from the house. More typically, however, I had just begun to round the corner and had to figure out how to point an unsteerable car in the right direction. A look under the hood revealed that the steering column had broken at the rubber joint just in front of the bulkhead. Earlier, I had noted of the dry, cracked joint and that was one of the reasons why I was going very slowly. After a few abortive attempts to wire the shaft ends together and blocking the entrance to my street for longer than my embarrassment could handle, I decided to try the obvious -- put the broken pieces of rubber together and hope they stayed. I could turn the wheels just slightly, but as soon as I put any pressure on the wheel, they rubber joint came apart, but I could get the car turned just slightly if I was moving while I turned. So forward and backward, forward and backward I rocked, turning a little bit at a time until at last, I got the Mark pointed down the street. Then I idled down the hill and repeated the process to get the car in the driveway. (A word of wisdom for you "early" saloon owners. The Triumph TR6 has a very similar rubber union that works perfectly with just a little drilling.) I replaced that and once again felt ready for the road.
* * *
What I'm about to tell you will undoubtedly make some of you cringe, so those of you with weak constitutions should skip the following section (until the next ellipsis).
My first clue that all was not right was water hitting my windshield and it wasn't raining. As more drops struck the glass I realized that it was fluorescent green water. That was when I first began to appreciate the genius of Jaguar engineering. As the engine overheats and water sprays out the radiator cap, the air currents in the engine compartment send the water curling around the edge of the hood where the outside wind picks it up and blows it all over the windscreen. My dried-out, eleven year old wipers were worthless at wiping the anti-freeze off the window. To be fair, I don't think even new wipers will wipe off anti-freeze. The genius of the design, of course, is that 1) it is impossible to drive a Mk 1 if it overheats and 2) you don't really need a water temperature gauge. And, hey, when you consider the whopping 4 lb. pressure cap on the radiator, it doesn't even get that hot before it overflows. I did my best twist-the-cap-and-run move and watched half of my anti -freeze go all over the ground. It was a scene that was to be replayed a few more times before the problem was rectified.
Every negative situation has the potential to be a positive learning experience, if we but look. I learned two valuable lessons from this experience. First, always carry water, gallons of it; and second, always carry window cleaner and paper towels. It was back to the radiator shop, this time with the radiator. Pulling the radiator out of the car I gained some concept of how the gas tank must have looked. The lower opening was honeycombed with rust. It looked like a miniature set from of a science fiction movie; wierd caves from the planet Mars. It was as if the water had bubbled and then evaporated leaving thin layers of red iron oxide. The radiator was the original V-cell which could not be rodded out. I had the option of replacing it with V-Cell or using the more efficient tube style core. As I intended the car to be a driver, I opted for the latter. The radiator guys used the original top and bottom tanks, so it is virtually indistinguishable from the original. The core is four tubes thick which is one more than most. To the shop's credit, the car has not overheated since.
* * *
The problems that needed to be fixed to make the car run were now handled and I was really enjoying the attention I received while driving. Because the paint was in decent shape it looked good, particularly at night. People at work were impressed with it, and I made a point to drive it there at least once a week. This was not just for vanity's sake, but because the rear automatic transmission seal leaked rather badly if the car sat for more than a few days at a time.
Now I needed to determine what should be fixed to make the car roadworthy. There was the transmission leak and a funny rattling noise coming from the front of the engine. The passenger door had a nasty tendency to fly open around left hand turns. I also noticed that when I went faster that 60 miles per hour, clouds of blue smoke billowed from the exhaust. A mechanic friend informed me that that was due to tapering of the cylinder walls. When the engine reaches a certain rpm, the piston rings start to vibrate, letting oil by. OK, so it needed engine work. That could wait. I would just go slow.
But of all those problems, the thing that most caught my attention was a reverberating, bone-jarring thunk every time the car went over a bump. The front end was as loose and loud as a pub wench. There was construction on a local road at the time, and jumping that one inch from one layer of pavement to the next was particularly nasty. I used to cross that lip at about ten miles per hour, much to the consternation of the folks behind me. But then loud noises from the front end of a car worry me. I get the ominous feeling that sometime, somewhere an important piece, like a wheel or a stub axle or something like that, is going to fall completely off the car, sending me careening into oncoming traffic or a misplaced power pole, or an innocent bystander.
I jacked up the car sure enough, one of the ball joints had worn completely through the hardened surface into the softer metal below. The cup was the same. The clunk was obviously that ball joint, the loudness of it was undoubtedly because the rubber in the front end was hard as a rock.
I decided to bite the bullet and rebuild the entire front end which, due to the removable front end, is a joy compared to most cars. I rented a Pitman arm separator and a coil spring compressor from Auto Zone, a local auto parts store. Both were free; only a deposit was required. The only difficult part of the entire project was getting the spring compressor high enough on the spring at the top and low enough at the bottom to compress the springs sufficiently to clear the shock towers. If anyone has to do this in the future, I would suggest marking the positions of the hooks on the springs and the shock towers so you can get the maximum amount of compression when you reinsert the springs. I had to do it three or four times on the first side because every time I released the tension, the compressor would be jammed inside the shock tower. I would have to crank it back down, reposition the compressor on the spring and start again.
I replaced the bad ball joints, the shocks, all the rubber bushings, all the grease boots, and the mounting blocks between the frame and the front suspension. The front end sounded great. There were a few unidentifiable noises, particularly that rattle in the front of the engine to which many listened but none could diagnose. Anyway, I drove the Mark 1 for about five months.
The Fateful Day
I had just filled the tank and tried to fire her up when there was a backfire, and then nothing. I could almost get her started, but couldn't keep her going. First I noticed that the #2 wire had fallen off the distributor and there was a loud hissing when it tried to start. It became apparent that the hissing was a major manifold vacuum leak. My guess was a blown intake manifold gasket. I towed the forlorn Mark 1 home. Fate was saying to me, "I strongly suggest you take this opportunity to rebuild the engine." Not being one to cross fate, I took her suggestion. As I began the task, stripping the entire vehicle took on a interesting perspective. No sense putting a rebuilt engine in a shabby body. The interior really needed work -- I mean gold-piping on some sackcloth-type fabric seats, and enough dried foam-dust to blind anyone in the car if the air speed exceeded 55 mph.
I started with the engine. The rebuild was made a less costly affair due to the purchased of a spare 3.4 liter engine for $100. Tearing my engine apart, I discovered a number of interesting facets of the XJ engine and mine in particular. First, my blown-gasket theory was substantiated when I found a nut missing from a stud on the bottom side of the manifold at cylinder #2. That mysterious rattle at the front of the engine was an unfettered timing chain slapping around because the lower chain tensioner had completely fallen out. I only found part of the spring intact. Imagine my joy at finding the other little bits of it pressed into bearings throughout the engine. I also discovered why my plugs tended to foul in cylinders 1 and 2 (the back two) far more quickly than the rest. The reason? The water pump pushes water down a gallery in the left side of the engine, through six passages up through the head, then back down the right side, around the cylinders and back to the pump. The problem is that as the water journals in the aluminum head corrode, the water speed is reduced and rust and deposits collect at the back end of the gallery. Of the six passages from the block through the head, the back one was completely blocked and the next one up was about two-thirds closed. There was little or no cooling at the back of the head. Whether or not this had anything to do with a stuck oil ring in cylinder #2, is a matter of speculation, but it certainly couldn't have helped. The dual lesson here is: Make sure that you are doing everything possible to keep deposits out of the cooling system -- regular flushing, and make sure you have good, fresh rust-inhibiting, anti-corrosive antifreeze in your XK engine. A couple years ago there was an article in our local club newsletter that suggested running pure antifreeze in the engine. It generated quite a bit of controversy and enough uncertainty that I don't believe anyone tried it, but one thing is certain -- the ionizing effect of water in the presence of different metals (i.e. copper, all found in XK engines) will tend to transfer molecules from one to another, in other words, eat away at it and create deposits. I do not know whether a 50-50 mix of fresh antifreeze will completely prevent that, but it will greatly inhibit it.
I had the passages in the head filled to their original size and the head milled. Fortunately, the crank in the spare engine was in such good shape that my machine shop mechanic said to polish it the bearing surfaces and use the crank, pistons and rods from the spare engine. They felt so good that I didn't even bother to remove the gudgeon pins. I just replaced the bearings and the rings and bolted the rods onto the crank they were originally mated to. I replaced the oil pump; timing chains; chain vibration dampers; rings; all main, rod, and cam bearings; valve guides; two intake valves; and four exhaust valves (two and two of which were for cylinders 1 and 2). For just about everything else, down to the copper washers and the dome nuts, I took the best from both engines and made one. I managed to keep the total cost under $1000.
I had just about gotten the lower end of the engine back together when someone commented on the color -- red. Now I had both engines out, sitting side by side, and both were red. One was a slightly less orange, but I just passed that off as the discoloration of age. The only difference between the engines was that one had a red oil pan and the other had black. Well, I started doing some investigating and I couldn't find anything anywhere that said Jaguar had ever painted an engine red. So, I tore everything apart, bought some nasty paint stripper, and redid the engine in the correct color. and reassembled everything.
Then I went back to the car. Within a few weeks my garage was looking like a wrecking yard, with parts stacked everywhere. But that unibody was bare, except for wheels and tires. After sandblasting with baking soda (an interesting story in itself), it was really bare. Then, for some unknown reason, I took an unintentional hiatus which, except for an occasional hour here and half hour there, lasted for more than five years. I had some other outside interests to attend to, one of which was the local Jag club's newsletter.
Originally, I had planned to do much of the work myself, but five years of inactivity has disabused me of that idea. To give you some idea of how stalled the project has been, it was two years ago that my wife surprised me with a complete interior kit from G.W. Bartlett. Recently, though, things finally got rolling again, when new customer of mine, a body shop, needed a computer. I, of course, needed body work and painting. In the meantime, I've taken my seat frames to an upholstery shop, along with the seat and squab leather. And that's where things stand.
* * *
The gunk-on-the-bottom question relates to the combination of undercoating, oil, grease, dirt, and dust, which has all been baked, in the Arizona heat, to what I would have to consider one of the most protective surfaces known to man. I don't think anything short of a land mine could penetrate it. Does anyone have any thoughts about whether I should try to clean it off and start anew? And if so, how?
"Mark 1" Mark Stephenson 1959 3.4L Saloon Phoenix, AZ
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