Chapter Seven. Paint, Squeaks, Rattles & Groans
THE TALES OF STAINLESS STEPHEN’S LANCIA APRILIA
2013 was a Castlemaine Rally year and it was time to make a few more improvements to the ex Stainless Stephen Aprilia. The paint on the car had never been perfect but it looked OK unless you took a close look. Repainting most 75yr old cars that have never been fully restored will either result in some compromise or a very large hole in your retirement savings once bare metal and the full horror of the ravages of time have been exposed. My Dad had scraped the mudguard of the car maneuvering it out of the garage that then forced the issue of tidying up the body of the car. I had a set of very battered running boards that did not want to fit the car and had no aluminium stripping. I had a chat to Marc Bondini (a very talented Lancia restorer and body man) who quickly knocked them back into shape one Saturday morning. No aluminium stripping remotely like the original appeared to be commercially available either in Australia or via the Internet. I needed a 10 or 12mm crescent shaped profile or something similar. I spotted what I needed one day at work when I realised a local shower screen manufacturer used this size extrusion as a water stop outside walk-in tiled showers, better still it was available in a highly polished state.
I decided to give the car a 75th birthday present and have the four mudguards and the running boards painted. The theory being that any paint colour mismatch would be less noticeable and the guards had their fair share of minor nicks and scratches from years of storage. I found a painter in Bayswater who was happy to do the work at reasonable rate.
I also had the dashboard painted as it was starting to look worse for wear. The car looks a lot better with the running boards fitted, it had been fitted with them at some time in the past (and had the mounting holes in the guards) although it's body number suggests it would not have had them originally.
I have never been able to establish conclusively when Aprilias began to wear running boards. The factory parts book indicates a change at body no 6950, various books tells us it was with the introduction of the official Lusso version at (body no 6601 in late 1938), while the ever reliable Wikipedia tells us the Lusso was launched in August 1937. All of the 1937 (onwards) French built Ardennes version of the Aprilia apparently had running boards, and Lancia U.K were marketing deluxe versions of the Aprilia from 1937. The latter cars are distinguished by extra chrome trims on the dashboard and more elaborate interior trims than the standard cars, I think I have seen a drawing used in Alperton (Lancia U.K) advertisement showing a "deluxe model" with running boards and the smaller early first series hubcaps.
Angelo Catalano's early Aprilia (chassis no 38-1356) was sold as a Deluxe model (Angelo has the original sales documents) by Shields Motors in Melbourne and it has running boards. The first series running boards have a single alloy strip although the Ardennes has "one and a bit". The later running boards have two strips.
While I am banging on about what may or may not have been fitted originally to first series cars I guess I should discuss the wheels. It is common to refer to the Michelin Fergat wheels fitted to both Noel's and my car as second series wheels. This is misleading for two reasons, firstly close to the last 30% of first series cars were originally fitted with these wheels, as were second series cars up to around 1948. Cars produced from early 1949 wore different wheels that were similar to those fitted to the Ardea and were fitted with hubcaps stamped with a triangular Lancia symbol.
It would be correct to refer to the latter wheels as second series, the early smaller hubcap Michelin wheels as first series wheels and the Fergat wheels as simply Fergat unless you want to be even more pedantic than me and call them series one & two wheels. The Ardennes Wheel (pictured here without a hubcap) is a different animal again.
After saying all that it is entirely likely that my car was not originally fitted with either item, but I reckon they look better and were available when the car was first registered so they are staying!
Having improved the body to a standard I can live with for a while, I turned my attention to the vibration and noise emanating from the rear of the car. It was very difficult to discern where the various clunks, noises, groans and vibrations were coming from and it took Noel and I over a year of attempts to eliminate most of them. As has been my usual experience the improvements were incremental and it was hard to pick exactly what had made the most difference with one important exception. Don Hume had taken his Aprilia to various "experts" to have his vibration issues solved without much luck until he took his driveshaft assembly to Ken Hastings Driveshafts (now ) and had it balanced. I did the same and was delighted with the result, although after seeing the size of the new balancing weights welded on to the slender shafts it was obvious things would be different.
Noel and I spent a long weekend stripping the trailing arms from the car and refitting them with new bushes and bearings. The large bearing on the driver's side was knackered which accounted for a considerable amount of the clunking noise. I had bought a full set of rear end bushes from Cavalitto but only the large silentbloc bushes at the differential end of the trailing arms needed replacement. I replaced the passenger side trailing arm with one donated by Don Hume as the inner wheel bearing had seized and spun in it's housing at some stage prior to my ownership. Attempts at shimming the housing were a waste of time.
The car had been partly converted to use telescopic shockers on the rear, I copied the arrangement on Graeme Steinfort's car and fitted adjustable Konis. This wasn't as simple as imagined, I suspect Graeme's conversion was of a sturdier construction than mine as I eventually worked out that the shockers were far too stiff and the boot floor was flexing. I braced the shocker tower boxes I had made and took the shockers back to Koni to have the pressure reduced by 50%. Even when I had done this I had to adjust the shocker settings to the minimum to get an acceptable ride. I probably shouldn't have been surprised as after I had originally purchased the shockers I discovered they were standard fitment for the front of 1960s and 70s Chrysler Valiants. I had given Koni the approximate weight of the car (850kg) and length of travel needed so I was less than impressed when they charged me nearly the full original purchase price to let half the gas out.
Noel had success with insulating his car using Dynamat. He told me the biggest improvement came when he fitted this product to the back of the door trims (cards) but didn't notice a great improvement in noise reduction with the insulation on the floor, although it certainly reduced heat transfer. I did a bit of homework and decided to fit both Dynamat and (another product from the same company) Dynapad. The latter material is basically two layers of closed cell foam with a layer of rubber between them. I used the Dynapad on the floors and transmission tunnel and Dynamat everywhere else except for the doors that I have yet to insulate. This made a big difference and the car became a much more civilised device.
The remaining unwanted noises appear to be a small amount of diff whine (on the over run) and a fair bit of rattling from the yet to be tackled door window mechanisms. The damping still needs work with too much oil loss from the front shockers, but they were much improved when Noel discovered two very small and vital springs were missing from the shocker innards and fitted replacements.
As the Castlemaine event approached I became concerned about engine oil pressure issues and an odd engine noise that appeared to be coming from the top of the engine. After a fruitless attempt to sort out this issue I decided to do an engine swap and put the Harry Manning engine back in the car. This engine had corrosion issues that I had repaired with epoxy and I had also had the head overhauled with valve stem seals fitted. It had run well in the platform chassis in 2011 and I was keen to give it a try as it has high comp pistons and is bored out to over 1400cc. I would have also been disappointed not to have been able to offer Ben Courage a car to use for the Castlemaine Rally.
Noel and I spent the weekend prior to the rally swapping engines and prepping the car for. Castlemaine. The car ran well on the run up to Castlemaine on the Friday but was less happy on the Saturday with water loss issues. My wife Anne & I drove the Lambda that also didn't enjoy the hot weather. At lunch on Sunday an oil change was necessary as water contamination was starting to short out the spark plug connectors. Ben had planned to leave the car in Castlemaine and head off on the following Alpine run as co-driver in Noel's car, () so we left the car at Roger Rayson's place and I picked it up with my tandem trailer a couple of days later.
A couple of weekends later I followed Ben's advice and fitted brass spark plug connectors in place of the original Bakelite units. I used Mitsubishi insulators I had bought in quantity at Bendigo Swap.
The improvement in performance when the engine was warm was remarkable but the water leak problem hadn't gone away. Ben and I pulled the sump off the warm engine and found water dripping from between the front two cylinders which was not anywhere near the areas I had repaired. With the head off we found a small crack in the alloy at the base of no 1 cylinder. Unsure of how to tackle this problem I decided to have another look at the other engine.
2014. I borrowed Peter Renou's oil pressure test rig from him and did a few tests on the engine I had removed from the car prior to Castlemaine. This ingenious device is simply a fire extinguisher that Peter has installed a Schrader valve in to enable it to be pressurised with compressed air. Prior to pumping air into it, you half fill it with diesel, connect it to an oil line on the engine (in this case the line to the gauge), pump it full of air and pull the trigger. The theory is that the diesel is much thinner than engine oil and wear in bearings or other leaks should become apparent under test. On Peter's rebuilt Astura engine one cam bearing was found to be the cause of his issues. When I tested my engine it was immediately apparent that the cam tensioner bushes were knackered as diesel gushed out at these points. I checked the rest of engine and found nothing alarming, there was a reasonable amount of diesel leaking from the crankshaft bearings but the amount of leakage seemed even from each bearing and worn cam tensioner bushes are a well known issue with Aprilia engines. I removed and checked a couple of big end bearing caps that appeared to be OK. There was still the mysterious top end noise which I couldn't put my finger on, but I was happy with what I had found and did yet another engine swap.
The car had never run as well as it did with the engine reinstalled and with the brass plug extensions. New cam chain tensioner bushes fixed most of the oil pressure issue. Another cause of the low oil pressure was discovered when the penny dropped that I had the oil filter conversion plumbed around the wrong way. In theory it should have never worked because oil filters have a one way valve in them, but as luck has it the filter that came with the conversion apparently didn't. The filter was unusual French brand and it took a while to figure out what the local equivalent would be, but when I initially fitted it the engine had no oil pressure. I scratched my head over that one and refitted the original oil filter that with the benefit of hindsight was slowly blocking up as it was being run the wrong way around. Noel eventually pointed out my error and I re plumbed the conversion and things finally worked, although I reckon this episode did the white metal big end bearings no good at all. I took the car on a couple of V.S.C.C events in early 2014 and the car was a lot quicker and more powerful than it had been, but on a trip to Noel's the day before a run to the Philip Island Historic Races the engine noise seemed more apparent when I arrived at Venus Bay and the oil pressure at idle was less than it had been. On the run to the Island the next morning things took a distinct turn for the worse!
Original 1st series wheel
'Fergat' wheel used on 1st & 2nd series
Last type used on late 2nd series
French Ardennes wheel