Traction Avant

Re the letter on premature failures of B.M..C. Mini constant velocity drive joints, I notice that your comment “invites” any similar experiences. I would think you would experience an avalanche [No!—Ed.] from disgruntled 1100 owners—or it may be that people are just disgusted at early (10,000 miles) need for £15 replacement jobs! Perhaps this is behind the large number of moderate mileage 1100s for sale and the present inability to obtain the old Morris Minor—except in foul and stupid colours. (I’ve had a Minor on order since February—via the main London agent.)

My own experience relates to a Mini, owned by me from new— June, 1963—and, like your other contributor, driven carefully and looked after personally.

I was never happy with the offside C.V. joint from new—It had very slight but definite rotational backlash and the rubber gaiter was inclined to cockle peculiarly. There was no noticeable lengthwise play on the shaft that I could notice. You may imagine the sort of reception I had at my local B.M.C. distributor when I pointed out this and the next consequence!

After about 10 months running—about 7,000 miles—a small hole appeared in the depth of the corrugation in the rubber gaiter —just about where it cockled. Back I went to the agent in alarm and pointed this out. The reply was that if I insisted they would take out the shaft and renew the gaiter (or even more parts if needed), but that they didn’t recommend it and probably I’d have to pay for labour in view of this (of course labour is the trouble on this service). Their advice was to forget the small puncture— it would “give me no trouble” was the phrase used.

This didn’t appeal to me (I didn’t actually buy the car locally) —so I carefully patched the hole with a small, very thin flexible cycle tyre patch. This, of course, wasn’t permanent, it would work off after about 2/3 months and need renewing.

I carried on so for another year—no noises or oddities from the joint—perhaps the backlash was slightly more definite.

While on holiday, at about 17-18,000 miles, i.e. two years from new, the said joint began knocking when starting off on full lock. I’d gathered from magazines and mechanics’ talk that this was the first sign of trouble. When I got home and thoroughly investigated I found that the small hole in the gaiter had begun to spread into a split. Naturally I set out to remove the shaft and replace the gaiter and regrease the joint—I got the two rubber gaiters and grease and obtained advice from various quarters (I have the B.M.C. manual which tells you to do everything in the most elaborate way). I don’t drive motor-cars that knock in their vitals!

The official method of service calls for removal of the shaft and steering trunnion complete. This involves undoing the two steering swivel joints, the track rod ball joint and the brake-line hence the large labour charge—there is quite a bit of skilled work involved (or at least, responsible work). For replacing a 2s. 6d. rubber cover, this is design gone mad. I do not agree with the owner or the average garage ever meddling with these vital items on a car which has not done its 35-40,000 miles first life.

I found out that it was sometimes possible to wangle out the shaft, by dismantling the inner x-piece coupling and not interfering with the swivel joints or brake line. This is what I did— the offside is a bit easier because the final drive is slightly to the nearside of centre in the car. Later, I found out that the best compromise method is to undo the bottom inner suspension wishbone bearing (bolt and rubber bush). Then provided one is careful of the brake hose, there is just that little extra freedom to remove and replace the drive-shaft in the hub splines.

As soon as I dismantled the inner x-piece coupling and got the shaft free, I could feel appalling end-wise play on the shaft in the C.V. joint. It was obvious to me that I would have to replace the joint, so off I went to the agent and bought the shaft assembly, complete—also the rubber gaiters on!

It did not take so very long to insert the new shaft, although reassembly of the x-piece coupling in situ was a “fiddle”.

Having got the car running again O.K., I washed out the old joint thoroughly and got it clean and dry. I can find no traces of the usual sort of wear to be expected from grit penetration— there wasn’t any. I’m afraid the trouble with these things is poor standards of inspection and pass-out of these items at Messrs. Birfield’s.

You cannot really judge joint condition after the grease is in and the gaiter on—the car manufacturer would not be able to “vet” the article as supplied. It is up to Messrs. Birfield’s to employ the right kind of labour, used to making ball-races, and rigid standards of viewing. My nearside coupling, at 27,000 miles, is still free from backlash, noise or boot fault. Provided the boot is not accidentally damaged (always a £5 hazard of F.W.D.) it may well go. on for the fife of the engine. I’m not too happy with the “feel” of the replacement o/s shaft but the boot is O.K. so far (10,000 miles).

I’m sorry this has been rather lengthy, but I don’t often write to you and I enjoy reading Motor Sport. I do think this matter is very serious for the success of British F.W.D. cars (the Triumph 1300 uses the same item).

The non-technical public will get fed up with paying premature £15 bills just for F.W.D. and the drive technique will get the blame for dishonest couplings. We all remember the ill-effect on F.W.D. of the instability of the B.S.A. three-wheeler of 1929-1937—the trouble was not F.W.D., but the stupid brake on the crown-wheel, instead of two on the road wheels. The public and the insurance companies just cursed F.W.D.!—and for years one paid higher insurance for F.W.D. Personally, because of this and other shortcomings of B.M.C. transverse engineering I am returning shortly (?) in disgust to the old Morris Minor. I am well aware of the deficiencies of the old design (I had one from new 1958/1963 and wish I hadn’t sold it), but they aren’t “impossible”, it is comfortable, reliable and accessible, and has precise controls in right places! Incidentally I find a 10% power loss and 10% increase in petrol consumption of Mini versus 948 Minor over similar holiday journeys and similarly tuned by me. So much for gears churning submerged in sump oil!

For transverse motor engineering done intelligently, with some regard to basic engineering principles, the Peugeot 204 is worth detail study. I presume you haven’t been able to test one yet. I’ve had a demonstration ride in a part-used one—very good indeed —no mechanism judders or protests changing from top to 2nd at 35 m.p.h!

I’m not just an old fogey about cars—I am technically interested and practically experienced on overhaul and I’ve owned quite a variety of designs—e.g. pre-war Austin 7 and Ford 8 (excellent), Renault 750 (economical but tricky), Renault Dauphine, Morris Minor 1000, and now the Mini. I’ve never driven anything so stable as the Mini, but the Minor isn’t so terrible and I can’t put up with the nasty controls of the Mini any longer.

Re the break-up of the inner rubber x-piece joint on the B.M.C., this may be promoted by oil leakage down the rear of the engine. I’ve always been fanatically careful to keep mine clean. It seems not generally known that crankcase ventilation is critical on the B.M.C.-A type engine or it snuffles out oil from the tappet chamber vent pipe. On the transverse engines this seepage runs down the back of the engine and transmission case. It can be considerable if there is blockage of the top ventilator pipe from rocker cover to air cleaner—a colleague of mine used to “lose”a pint in 100 miles on long hot journeys and none on short ones!

Certain vintages of Minis—probably 1100s. as well—have a stupid wooden strengthener in the air-cleaner side arm. This has a very small hole and there is a bigger one where the “rolled up” side arm is riveted into the air-cleaner body! The remedy is to discard the wooden bung and tape over the “leak” hole in the tee-arm! After the engine has done 15-20,000 miles this improvement in ventilation has a marked effect on oil consumption and engine external oiliness. Care must also be taken to prevent the pipe from the rocker cover fouling with sludge—it needs an annual clean-out.

The B.M.C. A-type engine, well looked after, is a sturdy and economical work-horse—even if irritatingly stupid in layout and in some details like that horrible bypass hose on the thermostat and the location of distributor and oil pump. Not a very inspiring unit, perhaps, to those who have access to more exotic machinery, but a good reliable everyday hack—especially if bought new.

I personally do not intend ever to buy another British F.W.D. car—at least with Birfield C.V. joints—I don’t think British industry has the will to solve this matter of standards of work (it comes to what one is going to scrap). Consequently it should stick to simpler out-of-date designs!

When my Morris Minor is worn down (I don’t much like doing major overhauls now—sooner buy another!) I’ll perhaps be able to afford a Peugeot 204. I’m convinced that transverse engine and F.W.D. is the right way to do a small car, provided the detail architecture of the package is correct.

Of course, I was only taught engineering design by a steam engine draughtsman!

Greenford. P.T. Hodgson,