Sunday, October 11, 2009


Erroll came down yesterday, and in a marathon session (including me solo for a couple of hours Friday night) we converted the Brava from a rusted heap with cracked tires, no brakes, no cooling system, a destroyed driveshaft, and two inoperative cylinders into a fairly smooth-running machine that I was actually able to drive around the block last night (with one working taillight).

Friday night I changed the timing belt and tensioner, and put the clean radiator back in. Earlier in the week I had a look under the car and found that the driveshaft flex disc was badly cracked, the rear transmission mount was so old that the rubber had gone to goo, and the center bearing cushion had disintegrated. I had parts ready and Erroll took the driveshaft out while I put the missing bolt in the water pump and put the alternator and its belts back on, and started rebuilding the complicated tangle of hoses that is the cooling system. Neither of us had ever worked on a driveshaft before, but I had some good theories which proved sound (and the shop manual) and we managed to get it apart, replace the center bearing and cushion, and get it back together without breaking anything. I had to modify a aged pair of needlenose pliers for the snap rings, since my snap ring pliers were useless (once again, cheap tools).

Once that was done, we turned our attention to the transmission mount, which was a weird problem. The mount is basically a piece of metal bolted to the transmission, which is sandwiched between layers of heavy rubber contained in the bracket which bolts to the car. Over the years, the rubber had gone very gooey and the transmission's weight had pushed the metal bracket down through the rubber, peeling it off and leaving a loose transmission (which could be easily shaken by hand). We took the bracket off, moved the transmission plate back to a semblance of its former position, and drilled a hole through all three plates and put a long Mercedes engine bolt through. It seems to work perfectly, we'll see how it holds up.

Highly satisfied with the driveshaft, we turned our attention to the brakes, which were not holding pressure. The front brakes were fine, fluid came out and all was well, but no fluid was at the rear brakes. I suspected the rubber hose at the rear had swelled, and just happened to have a new spare I had bought for the Spider years ago, which fit perfectly. However - still no fluid at the bleed screw. I loosened the "T" connection, and fluid dripped out there when Erroll pumped the pedal. I took a bleed screw all the way out and asked him to pump again, and fluid sprayed out all over my (astonished) face. I think corrosion had blocked the bleed hole, so we'll probably replace the cylinders today.

While all this was going on, Kendra had taken all the wheels to be re-tired, and found a really good deal for $70 to mount and balance six tires. We are running Sumitomo HTR-200 tires. 205/60 R13.

Our spirits improved considerably when the brakes held pressure and the new tires were on, and I tackled the cooling system, which required some fitting together since the hose set for a Brava is no longer available. I got a Spider set and with a good deal of pulling and pushing and cursing and judicious stretching and cutting, I got them all on and clamped (and don't I hope they all stay that way). A new thermostat made it all look cheery. Erroll finished bolting in the driveshaft while I replaced the raggedy magnetic pickup, and suddenly we were just about done for the day!

I filled the cooling system and found the missing screw for the pickup while Erroll installed the battery, and we cranked it up. There was an awful whacking sound, and after some investigation Erroll discovered I hadn't bolted down the distributor cap and had trashed the rotor. We stole the set from the Spider and tried again. It started but ran TERRIBLY - belching smoke, running on two cylinders, and, while the death-rattle from the water pump was gone, a howling arose that I sagely diagnosed as alternator bearings, while hoping desperately it wasn't something like auxiliary shaft bearings, or, God forbid, camshaft bearings. Erroll detected burning rubber, however, and we realized the alternator belt had somehow hopped off its pulley and was running on the power steering pump pulley, where of course the power steering pump lived and was valiantly fighting to retain its claim.

That fixed, we restarted the car and everything was much improved - it was still missing and smoking but we warmed it up and after a while it started to run much better. I plugged the fan back in and it worked, and we let it run for a while. The longer it ran, the better it got, and after a while I dared to drive it down the street. The rear brakes were dragging, but other than that it did just fine - clutch worked, transmission worked, no crazy noises from the differential, and no overheating. We were happy as Italian clams, and put it and ourselves to bed.

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