Motafrenz Car Club

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Member Article: Shitbox Rally – Vehicle Repairs

Words and Photos by Daniel Borton.

Two mechanically inept guys and a clutch……

How hard is it to change a clutch? After watching a 20 minute Youtube Video, I decided it was probably too hard. But after outlasting my mechanic’s 5,000-10,000km estimate of life, it finally fell to bits rendering the car undriveable in the middle of the year. We had a backup car, a 29 year old V6 Camry. Perfect for the Shitbox Rally, but we’d done a fair bit of promotion around us not being perfect and taking a three cylinder Suzuki on the rally. So we had to make a decision.

Neither of us had the mechanical skills to take on such a task, and watching it on Youtube only confirmed that. The maximum value of a car on the Shitbox Rally is $1500. The car cost us $1000 in all of its hail damaged insurance write-off glory. That meant we had only $500 to spend on it, and it also needed a new air conditioner compressor. Fortunately wreckers and Ebay had us with both for well under the $500.

The offending vehicle in relaxed and innocent pose

Former Motafrenz Member Alistair Riddell offered to help. Al is how I first found out about the Shitbox Rally having now done five with his partner Gordon. So we booked in a Saturday, had the car towed to Al’s shed, and set about it.

Neither Anthony or myself are too mechanically minded, but Anthony got right into it, providing a very good illusion of knowing exactly what he was doing. Al had done plenty of work on cars, but hadn’t replaced a clutch or worked on an Alto so we had the Youtube video streaming while working.

There’s a lot of work to replace a clutch. First the bonnet came off, then so much else. The battery and battery tray, washer bottle, air filter box, clutch cable, all the coolant hoses (leaving coolant everywhere), loads of brackets and pipes that were in the way, the gear linkages, a bunch of wiring looms, then all the bell housing bolts can be removed. Towards the end, we realised the fuel injectors also needed to come off.

I provided the valuable function of collecting bolts, and putting them out in order. Some of the bolts were very hard to get to, you need multi-directional finger joints to get some off. The engine and gearbox are bolted together, then the engine is bolted to the drivers side and the gearbox to the passenger side of the subframe. 

We couldn’t find a drain plug for the coolant, so ended up having to release hoses and let it all flow out. Quite a bit later we found the drain plug, on the back of the radiator towards the bottom, but nor really visible until you’re looking at it from just the right angle.

Once everything is disconnected from above, the car can be raised to work below. First wheels need to be removed, then some plastic covers, then the ball joints, brake callipers, more coolant hoses, drain the gearbox oil, more bell housing bolts, engine mount bolts, and the starter motor bolt (this was never ever supposed to be accessed according to whoever put it in the place it was). Finally the driveshafts can be removed. 

Team mechanics contemplating the task

When the gearbox is disconnected from the subframe the lack of space holds everything in place pretty well. But when the gearbox is removed, the engine needs to be braced. Al had borrowed a bar to hold the engine from above. But unfortunately the Alto was way too narrow and short for it to work. The headlight housings go back a fair way into the bonnet edge, meaning that the bar would have been sitting on them, and the weight probably would have caused damage. So we ended up rigging up something far more makeshift. Then the gearbox could come out. If only it could.

The subframe was in the way making it extremely difficult to manoeuvre the gearbox out of the car. Eventually we got it out, and learned for next time. The thrust/release bearing had disintegrated with bearings rolling around all over the place and the rubber completely disintegrated. “Well and truly stuffed” was the most apt description.

The new clutch was fitted, and it was time to put everything back together again. Getting the gearbox back in was much easier than getting it out, but still difficult enough to understand why my mechanic quoted 7 hours for the job. Then we started to put bits back together, bolts in, and lowered the hoist to work from above.

Manually operating the clutch with the clutch fork just didn’t feel ight. We reconnected the clutch cable, and tried it with the clutch pedal. The pedal was dead. We spent a bit more time playing around with no success, and eventually decided to call it a night. We’d try again tomorrow, and if that didn’t work we’d raise the white flag and push it to the mechanic across the road to do during the week.

The next day we met up for round two, taking it back apart to see if we’d put the clutch plate on the wrong way. Everything seemed right, except for the clutch working. We reqatched the Youtube video and tried to see if we’d missed anything. After a little while Al realised that we just needed to adjust the clutch. Once that was done, it all worked fine. We also realised that was all that was wrong the night before. 

The route – if we make it!

As the most useless mechanically of the three, I was delegated to lunch run duties and a run to Repco for an oil syringe. I wasn’t gone that long, but much to my surprise it was mostly done when I got back. A few more things to put together, then fill the gearbox back up with oil, and the coolant.

The filling point of the gearbox is inaccessible from above, so you need to pump up from below. The only way to fill the 2.7 litres of gearbox oil was from below. 

A few days later I noticed a feint fuel smell when driving it. Checking under the bonnet, I could see some fresh fuel around the fuel injectors. When we’d removed them, the seals got damaged and two of the three were leaking, creating another job for Alistair to help with.

Given the lack of mechanical skills of Anthony and myself, we’d achieved a lot. We’d given up a weekend, and managed to get our shitbox driveable. All up what I was quoted $1600 for cost under $500 (including oil and coolant which don’t count towards the $1500 limit). 

We still have to replace the air conditioning compressor before we head off in March. The rally starts in Rockhampton and travels through central Queensland, so we’re expecting temperatures in the high 30’s and 40’s for the first few days before we reach Victoria on day 5.

We have a few fundraisers coming up, including our Movie Night on 14 January; check out the separate article on that.

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