Chapter Two. The Test Drive
It is odd how things you try to do in late part of a long day often seem to become more difficult and troublesome as the day wears on. This has happened many times over the years with various cars, I think Noel would christen this phenomenon the “Old Fart’s Syndrome”. I think the principle must have applied to our prior efforts with the brakes, as the leaks quickly disappeared after cleaning up a couple of copper washers that live at the junction of the flexible front hoses and the body.
Noel had purchased a number of reproduction screw type nipples for lubricating the front suspension from Cavalitto, along with the syringe to suit. The new nipples look terrific, but Noel had previously discovered that you will damage the nipple if you tighten the syringe up too much. The trick is to carefully wind the syringe home, and then to back it off a bit. I have originals on one side of the car, but found I needed to wind the syringe up tight to make it function on these. (NB: Make sure the bottom nipples face the front of the car otherwise you can damage them when turning on full lock, ngm)
Noel had organised new bushes for the steering arms, and made new locating pins for the adjustable tie rod ends. He cheerfully lay under the car and put all this together while I installed enough of the dashboard and controls to make the car functional. Noel then adjusted the clutch, while I double checked the car for anything loose that might become airborne while the car was moving under its own steam.
The bonnet had never been a great fit, but for some reason it refused to go back into place after the radiator surround and grille was refitted. We had started work at 7:30 am and it was now past 6:00 pm. All was ready, but the bonnet still would not fit. The penny dropped that an example of the ‘Old Fart’s Syndrome” was in evidence, and that it was about time to cut a few corners. The bonnet was laid to rest on a blanket in the back of the garage and we pushed the car out of the garage. After one last check for anything obvious that might become detached, I took a deep breath, tugged on the starter cable with a pair of pliers, checked the oil pressure gauge (hanging from the instrument panel aperture), and slowly drove the car out onto the road. (See the short video below)
First gear had a slight whine, but second and third were quiet, while the gear change was a delight. So too was the very light but positive steering. The brakes pulled the car up nicely at the next intersection. After another run to the other end of the street, I returned to Noel’s and became the observer as Noel went for a short run. Listening to the car as it made its way up the road I could hear an odd high pitched noise (the fence wire exhaust hanger perhaps?), but otherwise it sounded superb, although perhaps a little loud. On his return Noel grumbled that the steering was much lighter than his, and that he might need to sort his out, but cheerfully opined that my car did not pull as well as his, I did point out that his car is fitted with a bigger carby, but that I do have Nardi twin carb manifold at home and a few modifications may be in order. (I notice you didn’t mention your lack of ability to find reverse gear!)
Next day, after consuming a couple of self-congratulatory beers and a bottle of wine the previous evening, we ventured back into the garage for an encore. Naturally the bonnet fitted after a quick minor adjustment. This time I would venture further afield and try the car in all four gears and on the bitumen (Noel lives on an unsealed road). I did a quick lap of Noel’s street and then did another kilometre or so around the adjoining streets. I have driven a couple of other Aprilias and I felt the car was nearly up to their Lofty standards, a pair of rear shockers, some floor mats and the innards of the doors in their correct places would improve things greatly, as would a pair of exterior mirrors. VicRoads have made permits to drive unregistered cars relatively simple to organise, but I should organise registration as soon as I can.
After the return trip to Noel’s, I discovered he had found it necessary to diplomatically invite his next door neighbours in for morning tea to ward off any complaints about the noisy old car roaring down the gravel road and covering the neighbourhood with dust. Fortunately Noel had chosen his neighbours well and he makes very good coffee, so I managed to avoid any unflattering comparisons between myself and Jack Brabham.
The mercury was rapidly rising to the 40 degrees Celsius predicted for that day. We spent the rest of the morning assessing what remained to be done to get the car registered and on the road. There are still a number of parts to be acquired, including reproduction rubber mats, gaskets and other bits. Aprilia owners are fortunate that most of the rubber trim bits are available from Italy. The upholstery really needs replacing, but that will have to wait awhile. Nick Savage has come to the rescue with a pair of trafficators to fill the holes in the sides of the car, and Ron Francis may have a number of other bits. I would like to have the car properly sorted in time to use in a number of V.S.C.C. events this year, but the most important event this year is the Australian Lancia Register’s biennial Castlemaine Rally. This year should see six or seven Aprilias attending which would be a most appropriate way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Aprilias launch at the 1936 Paris Salon.
Four week’s after the last episode I managed to evade my work and family obligations long enough to escape to Noel’s garage at Venus Bay for another weekend. On that previous occasion the engine would run happily, but our attempts to make the brakes functional were stymied by leaking pipe junctions, and the steering gear was still detached after being re-bushed and refurbished. The mechanical fuel pump refused to work and the clutch was only just engaging. The dash board was still in residence on the back seat, and what passed for the wiring hung in festoons from the back of the scuttle. The front suspension was still devoid of lubrication, and the starter cable was about a foot short of contact with its lever.
First port of call was the fuel pump. I had a small collection of three or four different pumps to fit the drive, and I was quietly confident at least one would work. I had a well thought through plan of attack which involved methodically testing every piece of the apparatus, but I am afraid not everything went to plan. Checking that the fuel line was clear by blowing compressed air back into the tank worked well enough, but I suspect Noel would have preferred not to have been peering into the tank at the time, fortunately he wears glasses. I was aware that you need to check the distance the actuating shaft projects from the drive body in both the in and out positions. We then checked the collection of pumps only to find that the shaft projected too far by about 1.5 mm for three of the pumps, and around 5mm for the other. After disassembling pumps, playing with gasket thickness, and scratching heads for an hour or two, we made an executive decision and ground the shaft (that meets the distributor/oil pump drive) down by the first measurement. It of course would still not work and neither would interchanging pumps help. At this point we went to plan B and fitted an electric pump to mount near the steering box. This took a couple of minutes and worked first try.
THE TALES OF STAINLESS STEPHEN’S LANCIA APRILIA