Building & running a Rochdale



In January of last year Motor Sport tested the Phase II version of the Rochdale Olympic, fitted with a Ford 1,498-c.c. GT engine (see February 1964 issue). Those of the staff who tried the car were impressed by its handling and vivid performance.

The photographer’s A40 was beginning to show signs of senile decay at this time, and it was decided that the Rochdale would be a more interesting replacement than another “bread-and-butter” saloon.

The order was placed just after the Racing Car Show, and the kit was delivered in early April, arriving on a large B.R.S. lorry. The feat of removing the complete monocoque body (fully upholstered) down from the back of the truck was performed by only two people, but it took three hours of back-breaking work. Those ordering such a kit should be prepared for its arrival, and have at least four people and, preferably, a low, wheeled trolley, to aid the unloading process.

The kit, as it arrived, came complete, but obviously in pieces. The engine/gearbox was separate and so were the back axle, suspension, wheels, front brakes, prop.-shaft, etc. The body had the upholstery and the wiring-loom fitted, but the end connections to instruments and lights were not made. The metal brake pipes were also fitted, as was the fuel line, but these all had to be connected to their respective components.

The first job was to get the car on to its wheels, so a start was made on the rear end. With the car lifted on to boxes the rear axle was offered up (upside down at first!) and eventually bolted on to the two trailing arms. The coil-spring/damper units came fitted, as these have to be accurately located.

A problem was encountered as there seemed to be no way of fastening the Panhard rod on to the axle, until a special bracket was discovered amongst the surplus bits. Ultimately the axle was properly secured and the rubber brake pipes and hand-brake rod connected.

Moving to the front of the car it was found that there was a large quantity of peculiarly-shaped half wishbones, etc., to be sorted into pairs. The front end of the car uses Triumph Herald components, which meant that the wishbones had rubber bushes which had to be eased on to the end of a small sub-frame bonded across the car between the engine and the radiator. To get these tightly fitting bushes over the threaded ends of the sub-frame required a lot of patience, strength and ingenuity. Eventually a rope tourniquet was used to pull two on at once while cranking the half wishbones up and down.

Having got the suspension arms in place, the rack and pinion and anti-roll bar were bolted to their location plates and fastened to the hub-carriers and lower wishbones, respectively. The hub carriers were next fitted complete with disc brakes, and the brake pipes added. At this point the wheels were put on, and the car was at last capable of being moved around the garage.

The next stage was to get the engine in, but this was obviously not a one-man job, so a colleague was asked to help. Our biggest and strongest neighbour also volunteered to help, which gave a total of three pairs of hands and some 36 stone of bone and muscle, all of which was needed! The engine bearer stays were positioned and the engine lifted on a block and tackle, and lowered into place. It was now discovered that the engine wouldn’t go past the bearers because the exhaust pipes and oil filter protruded, so it was hauled up and out once more and the bearers removed. The engine was now dropped right down into the well until it sat on the floor. The engine bearers were replaced and the engine lifted up and bolted in place (several fingers getting squashed slightly in the process). It was then found that the engine was sitting crooked and was too far back, so that the air cleaner and rocker box fouled the bulkhead. So it had to be moved forward by bringing the mounting plates on the engine to the other side of the bearer plates, and then a packing piece had to be made up to square up the engine.

This new positioning of the engine proved correct and was verified when the prop.-shaft was added and found to have the correct spline clearance. The gearbox now located correctly under the hole in the prop.-shaft tunnel, and the gear-lever was added. There was a fabricated gearbox bearer to be bolted across the tunnel under the gearbox and this proved troublesome to locate correctly, due to the movement of the car on its springs as attempts were made to jack up the box to level it. Eventually, however, this was fixed in place.

The worst problems were now over (or so it seemed), and these really stemmed from the fact that no instructions are permitted, due to the quaint regulations covering purchase tax exemption. The 1,498-c.c. Ford GT engine was a bit of a tight fit due to the exhaust pipes, which sweep down very near to the mounting point on the near-side. It required two people, one under the car and the other on top, each with a spanner on opposite ends of the same engine bearer bolt, to tighten them securely. Similarly, two people were needed to offer up and fix the exhaust pipe.

The next stage was to connect all the various controls and gauges to the engine. This involved a good deal of upside-down struggling under the dash to get the holes drilled for the throttle pedal, oil-pressure gauge and temperature gauge. The problem was that these holes in some cases had to be drilled through a layer of carpet and underfelt. The carpet parted easily but the felt twisted into a ball and stalled the drill. All the various pipes and wires were eventually led through and connected, however, and attention was next turned to the wiring.

Initially it was assumed that this would be a straightforward job as the end tabs were all marked, but we were soon disillusioned as in a lot of cases it was difficult to determine which tag went to which terminal when they were all marked with the same label (i.e., there are about five connections to the ignition switch all marked “IGNSW “). The side/tail switch similarly had five terminals and four wires to connect. The obvious 2-tag/2-terminal jobs were done first to thin down the bunch of wires, but in a lot of cases the instruments had been changed since the loom was designed, and the end terminals differed. Patient work with a soldering iron subsequently re-arranged all of these and we were left with the problem of sorting out the ambiguous ones. We put the battery in next and, using a test bulb and leads, slowly sorted out all these wires (to the accompaniment of the occasional “pop” as a fuse went).

At one point the whole system appeared to be insane, as some switches operated apparently separate components and some things worked perfectly using test leads but refused to work when properly connected. It was eventually discovered that a multiple connection on the earthing side of the system was faulty and was feeding back and connecting the wrong things. When this was corrected, the wiring began to sort itself out and another couple of hours sufficed to get all the components operating. The other odds and ends, such as the windscreen washers, dip switch and radiator hoses, etc., were now fitted.

The brakes were bled and adjusted, and after several seconds on the starter to prime the fuel lines, the engine fired and ran.

After dashing round for two days sorting out insurance, road tax and obtaining number plates, the car was taken out for its first run. For the first 25 miles, 2,000 r.p.m. only were used and the speed kept below 30 m.p.h. to allow the back axle to bed in. After this period 3,000 r.p.m. were used. During these initial miles the car overheated terribly and an asbestos wool/metal foil shield was glued to the inside of the engine bay to insulate the exhaust branches, which came very close to the body near the passenger’s feet. The root cause of the problem was found to be the ignition timing, which had been set several degrees retarded, presumably at the Ford factory.

The car was completed in approximately 90 man-hours spread over about six weeks, and was only just finished in time to go to the Belgium G.P. at Spa. We left London for this trip with some trepidation and only 102 miles on the “clock,” but apart from a blockage in the carburetter idling system, due to fibreglass bits being sucked from the tank, and an exhaust bracket working loose and rattling, the trip was accomplished without drama, and the car functioned well.

Upon our return the carburetter galleries were cleared at the Fiat depot at Alperton, who are the concessionaires for Veber in this country. Britax lap and diagonal seat belts were fitted, as similar ones had given good service on the A40 and had proved comfortable and convenient to use. Coupled with the deep bucket seats supplied as original equipment on the Rochdale, extremely positive location was obtained and the car could be cornered rapidly with no tendency for the driver or passenger to slide about.

During the first 3,000 miles or so continual trouble was experienced with further carburetter and fuel pump/pipe blockages due to fibreglass bits being dropped into the tank when the fuel gauge hole was cut (at the factory). This has been gradually cleared, but still occasionally recurs.

At 2,500 miles the engine began to seep oil in several places, and it was found that the sump bolts and the petrol pump bolts were loose. Tightening these dried the engine to some extent, but at about 8,000 miles the extreme rear oil seal of the gearbox began to leak, particularly if the car was left parked uphill.

So far as the body was concerned, the main problem was getting the doors to close properly and the window mechanism to operate smoothly. The doors were rather poorly fitted together and the alloy channel for the glass seemed much too tight and slim; the cloth tape fitted failed to prevent window rattle. To date the doors have not been cured but when time and weather permit it is intended to strip them both off and rebuild from scratch, reinforcing where necessary.

One odd defect which also has not yet been corrected is a peculiar vibration or drumming under the rear of the body. The exhaust brackets were suspected, so was the spare wheel mounting, but none of these proved to be the culprit. The current suspicion is the Panhard rod which, it is thought, is vibrating at certain engine revs. Trouble was experienced at 3,500 miles when the electric fan shed its blades. It seems, on investigation, that the fan blades were not really intended for this car and that the nose configuration of the body means that they move partly in and partly out of the air stream, causing flexing. Smiths, however, found a replacement which is still going strong.

During a later continental trip a bonded rubber/metal engine bearer block sheared and allowed the exhaust to press on the body, causing tremendous vibration and noise. The design is such that the engine was still supported and the car was able to be driven home. This happened again at 9,500 miles, when the replacement for the first one parted. As these were both on the l.h. side of the engine it is obvious that the engine pulls under torque and over-stresses the rubber (probably when reversing). The block used is as fitted to the Classic engine and not as on the Cortina, but it is intended to cure this problem by converting the metal bearer struts to take Cortina bearer blocks.

The body, at 10,000 miles, is beginning to show the odd craze mark on the coloured skin, and it is intended to spray paint it at a later date.

There are few metal parts on a Rochdale for corrosion to attack, but the hub caps have proved to be poorly chromed and are peeling. The remaining metal work is satisfactory.

The defects that have come to light so far have all been the sort of thing one would expect from a light plastic-bodied car, and none have proved to be expensive or particularly difficult to rectify. Over the 10,000-mile period the fuel consumption averaged approximately 30 m.p.g. The Dunlop C41 nylon tyres with which the car was fitted are now about half worn. These are not really satisfactory on this car, as, although the grip is reasonable on dry roads, in the wet they allow wheelspin if more than the minimum throttle opening is used, and let the tail of the car slide out unless great care is taken on corners.

The Rochdale, despite its many minor irritations, is a delightful car to drive, and combines all the dash of a sports car with the room and comfort of a coupé. Indeed, one would have to seek far to find any car at any price with such a comfortable driving position. Its performance is extremely good (see table above), and this, combined with its fuel economy, short wheelbase and tight turning circle, make it a good car for both town driving and fast touring. – L. A. M.
[After reading our photographer’s account of his Rochdale we came upon an article in Sidelights, the monthly magazine of the Hants & Berks M.C., which enlarges on the subject, in the form of a discussion between two members who have built these cars, one with Ford GT engine, the other using an M.G. power unit. This article is reproduced below by kind permission of the Club’s Press Secretary.—Ed.]

Dick Cawthorne: The first I knew about the Olympic was a newspaper photograph that I spotted in South Australia. I thought it was beautiful and decided there and then that, if at all possible, I would have one when I got back to the U.K. The looks did it, but fortunately the specification fitted too—the right amount of accommodation for our two-and-a-half family, cheap spares, etc. All the difficulties of home building seemed to matter little to an inveterate ‘special’ builder, but I had never before invested £500 in such pastimes and I was some time saving up to take the plunge. Meanwhile Rochdales were busy having a fire which destroyed their moulds and caused them to move to bigger and even filthier premises. Then Charles Bulmer took me out in the road-test car and the die was cast. How did you come to decide that this was the car for you?”

Derek Argyle: “The Mini had suited me fine for two years or so, by which time I hankered for a faster, streamlined yet reasonably economical car, as near to the true GT concept as possible. I sought pamphlets on every chassis and fibre-glass body and where possible viewed such components only to realise that one would invariably end up with what is generally known as a ‘special.’ At all costs, the car I built must look virtually if not wholly ‘production finished.’ Finally a road-test of the original Phase I Olympic appeared in a popular weekly and after a little chat with Charles Bulmer I decided that no other car at a similar cost could offer such speed, good looks and economy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really afford a new one even in kit form, with mortgages and expensive wives to run, so we searched around the sporty motoring mags. and within a month were fortunate to see three such cars within a 120 miles radius. Now D.S.J. was visiting Snetterton and Debden that following weekend and he readily agreed to look at these Rochdales and take me motor racing at the same time. One of the cars was fitted with a Ford 105E engine and, though well finished, was struck off the list as underpowered. The second was a somewhat tatty, cream-coloured model belonging to a ‘flying type’ but one which certainly did motor, with an M.G.-A. engine. Car three had been assembled so that it was just about in a roadworthy state and was a Phase 2 with 117 miles on the clock. I immediately fell in love with this and just had to have it. It was being sold because of the death of its doctor owner and so I found myself making an offer, an offer which proved sufficiently high to make me a very proud Olympic owner. Of course, you didn’t buy your car as a complete kit, Dick?”

Dick: “No, quite the contrary. Having decided that it had to be a Rochdale, I found that the firm at that stage only produced body shells, and I set about collecting the mechanical bits as cheaply as possible. The engine and gearbox came from Edinburgh in the back of the Renault Dauphine and the back axle from a breaker in Rainham and so on. After months of waiting, D.S.J. and I (that man again) collected the body and new front suspension from Rochdale with John Derisley’s trailer behind the faithful Dauphine. I was rather disappointed with the ‘finish’ on the body and spent the first 50 hours of work filling and grinding the rough edges and fitting points. Fortunately, at that stage you started to lend a hand, Derek, and the rate of progress was a lot more encouraging. The holes for the rear suspension attachments were already cut badly out of line and a lot more filing and fiddling was needed before the back axle was in place. We then offered up the front suspension and tried to estimate where the necessary holes should be drilled. We were rarely right first time and developed the art of drilling undersized trial fits and then enlarging in the right direction. The result was reasonably true, but the process of building up, measuring, stripping, filing and drilling, and rebuilding and so on must have taken another 100 hours. The fibre-glass dust was irritating both to breathing and to hands and arms and I sneezed and itched constantly. However, an engine-less, brakeless wonder was finally standing on its wheels. I then made the mistake of trying to fit a Morris 1000 steering box which had some minor (pun!) but important differences from the Riley 1.5. After a week of welding-up special brackets and vainly trying to get the tracking right, I gave up and bought the correct unit.

“The gearbox I had bought was the steering-column-change type and I was rather proud of the very simple floor-lever conversion I made for 5s. (the cost of two ball-joints). It is still working and brings the gear-lever next to the steering wheel in the ideal place. At that time I spent hours sitting in a mock-up seat trying to decide where to put the steering wheel. A few vital dimensions from Rochdales would have been a great help, but in order to make purchase-tax relief safe they avoided giving any drawings or instructions.

“At last we took the great step of lowering the engine into place and miraculously it fitted well enough to stay in. It needed special brackets of all sorts but we were soon puzzling over runs for brake and electrical lines and fitting of the excellent Motometer instruments, and the end was in sight. You avoided a lot of work on your car; do you think this was a good thing?”

Derek: “Most certainly, Dick. Not only did I save £200 in Bank Loan but I suppose I saved four months sorting, fiddling and assembling. I say four months because, as we found, the standard of engineering that Rochdale produce was so bad at times that is was necessary virtually to remodel components. My chief work was tidying electrical wiring, trimming, spraying and final assembly of minor components. By then the car was being used quite a lot on the road and, after the running-in period, I discovered that the handling was dangerous at high speeds. The trouble was too much understeer and the best cure I could devise was adjustment of tyre pressures and toeing out the front suspension a little more. However, a reply from Rochdales said that the real cause was that the mounting points for the rack-and-pinion steering had been set too low. These were raised half an inch with considerable improvement. Now all I had to do was make the car keep a straight course. This occupied the best part of 15 months, during which time everything suggested by technical friends was tried—unsuccessfully. In the end, beaten, I took the car to Crown Garages, Egham, who modified the back-end linkages, re-bushed the front suspension and handed over to me a car that handled infinitely better than before.

“In addition to all this mechanical trouble I rarely went more than a fortnight without finding some other niggling job to do— such jobs as putting the window-winding mechanism back in its groove, tracing the source of an inland lake which appeared under my feet whenever it rained, curing resonance from the exhaust system, modifying the attachment of the rack-and-pinion to cut out wheel shimmy, rehanging the doors, getting the wipers to work consistently and so on. So, as you see, Dick, though I bought the car two-thirds built, I spent much time finishing it off and maintaining it. This left no time to improve it and my enthusiasm began to wane, so I advertised the car at more than I paid for it. Surprisingly, the first chap who came along bought it. I have some regrets; especially as the day before it was sold was the day that the suspension was at last sorted out. You don’t seem to have had any suspension troubles, Dick.. …”

Dick: “Well, certainly once I got over the teething troubles I had none of the fundamental handling snags that you ran into. I think that the hull was designed round the Riley 1.5 suspension, giving a much neater layout than the Phase 2 system, with stiffness where it was needed. However, I spent dozens of hours sorting the tront-end out after the first road-tests. A lethal-sounding clunk when moving slowly on full lock was, after two rebuilds, traced to the tyre flicking the anti-roll bar. Clearance for the lower suspension arms was increased in eighth-inch steps until I got enough ground clearance for most roads. This left so little of the original chassis material that I bonded in some reinforcing tubes. In fact, I spent £7 10s. on fibre-glass for odd jobs round the hull. These included making good the original laying-up which, in places, was so bad that it let water through, reinforcing and building up strong points, etc. Like you, I had terrible trouble with water sealing, partly due to the above-mentioned porosity, but after many hours of damp research have got this to a reasonable state. At least we have the comfort of knowing that a little water underfoot will only affect the carpet and won’t rust out the body. The wet weather tests were fraught with very uncertain wiper operation. I had bought the unit from Rochdales thinking that with such a curved, raked screen the correct equipment was essential. It wasn’t until you got your car that I discovered that they had given me the wrong fittings. Since that was put right they have been quite good, although lack of visibility in adverse conditions seems to be a fundamental fault on this class of car. Don’t you find a big improvement now that you have gone back to the Mini?”

Derek: “I should say there’s very little in it. I’m sure that vision is improved with a more upright windscreen but the Rochdale scored because there was a greater swept area of wiper blade. And though one would expect the Mini to score in adverse conditions, due to its short bonnet. I feel that the Rochdale was on a par here because the bonnet dropped away so steeply and the road was visible a few feet ahead of the nose.”
Dick: “Yes, but I find that whether one feels at home in a car or not depends upon many factors. The good acceleration and brakes of the Rochdale and—with the help of Cinturato—the above-average cornering, together with light forces on all controls, are all on the credit side. It is mechanically quiet but I could never get the window sealing good enough to eliminate wind-noise at speed. The ride is not too bad (and I am not tolerant in this respect) and the fact that I made the car to fit, helps. The lights are not too good, in spite of being sealed-beam units, and the doors rattle, except for the week following adjustment. The rear suspension still wears out the brake reaction bush every few thousand miles but a replacement only costs 10d. and can be fitted in half an hour. It would be very hard to find another car that would give you anything like the performance and economy together. Your car was a bit faster than mine but more expensive to run, wasn’t it?”

Derek: “The Ford Cortina-engined Phase 2 had a very splendid performance. It was frequently run up to 6.000 r.p.m. and gave a best top speed of 99 m.p.h. – this could have readily been bettered by a higher final drive, which is not obtainable. After the running-in period and a spot of Moly, the gearbox loosened up sufficiently to give a fast and precise change which, of course, was a great aid to sheer acceleration. But performance has to be paid for and this showed in a rear tyre wear of approximately 13,000 miles per pair of C41s. I should have liked to have tried my car on radial-ply tyres. Petrol consumption was another slight headache. By all accounts, I should have got around 35 m.p.g. but my overall consumption was 25. Flat-out driving gave a figure of 22-23 and leisurely dawdling only reduced this to 28-29. And, if you remember, I had the car Crypton-tested by Harry Ratcliffe who had all the latest equipment and knew how to use it. But the reason for this somewhat high consumption was never discovered. I say high because, with 12-1/4 cwt. and an efficient body shape and a higher axle ratio than the car to which the engine is normally fitted, I couldn’t get, at slow speeds, the overall Cortina consumption. But compared with most other cars, this performance/fuel consumption was quite acceptable. Oil consumption was negligible. I must say that I was very, very pleased with the Ford engine—so smooth, always a first-time starter and using virtually no-oil, however hard I thrashed it. If I had kept the car I should have installed the GT parts I had bought. Road-tests show that this pushes the top speed up to 114, with amazing economy. As it is, the Mini ‘S’ is giving 100 m.p.h. and about 30 m.p.g. but alas, alas, a very painful oil consumption of 70 miles per pint. I’ve always had a feeling that the B.M.C. engine is basically more economical?”

Dick: In spite of my engine being rather second-hand, I get 35-40 m.p.g., which gives a useful range on a 10-gallon tank. Top speed is about 95 m.p.h. but I have been going gently of late in deference to galloping oil consumption. I shall shortly be reboring the engine, which has done at least 70,000 miles and maybe many more. At the same time I propose to put in an overdrive, maybe even give the car a coat of paint and finish the interior trim, so you see I haven’t finished with it yet. The first set of tyres (Duraband fronts) did 30,000 miles, with the rear Michelin Xs only half gone. It is a much happier car on Pirellis. If the above work is successful, I expect to keep the car for a while yet; unless someone comes along and swops me an E-type for it (with five years’ free insurance).”