Like many Australians I’d travelled
throughout the world but I’d never driven around my own country
- Australia. I’d done various trips throughout the country and
had been to all the capital cities. But there was still a lot of
the country I’d never been to. “See Australia first” is a common
saying in Australia. But very few Australians seem to do that.
As soon as they get enough money together for an overseas trip
they’re off and generally looking for a job in a foreign land.
Seeing Australia is something one can do at any stage of one’s
life, preferably in the later stages. I suppose that is true. It
takes a little more stamina to put up with the trials and
tribulations of travelling in a foreign country especially when
you don’t know the language and customs.
So, at the
ripe old age of 52 years I decided that it was time to go out
and take a closer look at my own country. A trip right round the
country. I’d thought about the idea of driving Hewie
around the country for some time. The final push to do it was
when I met some people who introduced themselves and then said
that they were from the state of Victoria.
Victoria?” I asked, assuming they would probably be from
Warrnambool” they replied.
I must have looked
puzzled. I was. I’d heard of Warrnambool but I’d never been
there. I couldn’t place it in my mind exactly where it was. I
thought that it was slightly inland. Before I could say anything
more they decided to ease my embarrassment
“It’s on the
Great Ocean Road.”
I’d never been anywhere
near Great Ocean Road. Luckily I knew where it was, but still I
didn’t know where on The Great Ocean Road, Warrnambool was. Yep,
I felt somewhat dumb. I thought to myself, get off your ass
and drive around Australia so that you know as much as possible
about the country you call your own!
Just after I’d left
school in 1969 I set off from Sydney to hitch-hike around. I
hitched to Adelaide and then caught the train to Perth. From
here I hitched up to Port Hedland on the west coast. I was
hoping to make it through top Broome then onto Darwin but it was
the wet season. The monsoon rains poured down in the Kimberleys
and flooded the track through to Darwin. And that’s all the main
road was, from 300 miles north of Perth right the way through to
Katherine – a dirt track. I had to cheat and fly into Darwin and
then continue my hitch hiking trip down through the Northern
Territory, across into Queensland and back down to Sydney.
I was in a good position to do an extensive
trip again. My work is maintaining a web site, so there was no
real need to be in the same place. Anyplace I could connect my
computer to a phone line and I was back in the office. In fact
if I was able to connect and make the required changes to the
site at regular intervals, no one would ever know that I wasn’t
in the office. It’ll be kind of like living in Cyberspace – that
sounds cool, I thought to myself.
What better car to do it in than Hewie.
Good old side-valve reliability. At least that was what I
thought. Family and friends thought differently.
to be joking!”
“Let it die
in peace, for god sake”
“Why flog a dead pony?”
“You need a four wheel drive to go around Australia”
Naturally this just made
me more determined to do the trip. I’ll prove them all wrong.
Does it matter if Hewie does break down?. He’s small and
simple, I’ll be able to repair him myself. I’ll write a book
about the ordeal, I thought. Yeah, that’s a great idea, write a
book. I thought back to one of my favourite stories, a true
story by Canadian author Farley Mowat, titled The Boat That
Wouldn’t Float. It’s the tale of a yacht the author bought with
the intention to go cruising. The boat leaked like a sive, but
he still set sail hoping to fix the numerous problems the boat
had along the way, these most serious of these problems was that
the boat was continually attempting to sink.
Hewie was a little like Farley Mowarts yacht. Hewie
had been well cared for but had never gone through a ground up
bare metal, restoration. He’d been repainted three different
colours. The first was a light blue, then he was then resprayed
a dark green and now the final colour a light cream. Some of the
wiring is still original. The engine is not the original. As far
as the gearbox and differential go, whether they’re original or
not, I don’t know.
With my mind
made up that I was going I took the carburettor off and sent it
away for a complete reconditioning. The gaskets where all
leaking petrol and I could wobble the butterfly shaft around in
the hole, it was so worn.
started to use a lot more petrol than usual in the last couple
of months. A strong smell of petrol was coming up into the
cabin. When I sat at traffic lights smoke from the tappet cover
and oil pipe would drift up from under the bonnet. If I sat too
long with the engine idling at traffic lights she let out a
cloud of blue smoke when I took off. The oil pressure would run
at 40psi when the engine was started from cold. But once the
engine warmed up and got to maximum operating temperature, the
pressure would drop down to around 10psi. while idling and 30psi
at normal running conditions. The engine was on its last leg. It
would probably run for a lot longer if I’d just used it to go
shopping in, but, a trip around Australia? I don’t think so.
While the carburettor was off being repaired
I took the head off the engine. It confirmed my worst fears. The
top edges of numbers two and three pistons where both broken.
They were only small breaks but it was obvious that they’d both
give trouble in the near future. I went back to the old
highlight side-valve engine that I’d placed in the side of the
garage in a box. I pulled off the top of the box and undid all
the head bolts and slid the head off. Inside she looked as good
at it sounded. The engine was in almost new condition. The tops
of the pistons still had silver patches where carbon had not
been deposited. When I say “new” I mean reconditioned new. The
valves were also in good condition. I thought about grinding in
the valve seats but I was far too impatient to get moving. My
main job was to remove the old engine and get the “new” one in
and get on the road.
It was late September 2004. My plan was to
head north to near Cairns, then drop back to Townsville, across
to Mount Isa then up to Darwin. From Darwin down to Perth across
the Nullarbor to Adelaide then Melbourne and back up the east
coast through Sydney to Ballina where I was leaving from.
December is the beginning of the monsoon season. Not only is it
wet but roads are often blocked due to flooding. I thought that
I’d probably have enough problems along the way, let along
getting stranded by rising flood waters.
So I got to work with the help of my brother. First we unbolted
and took off the front grill and removed the radiator, unbolted
the manifold, battery leads, engine mounts and tail shaft and
slid the whole engine and gearbox out in one piece. Once clear
of the body we separated the engine from the gearbox and bolted
the “new” engine onto the old gearbox, leaving the “new” engine
with its own clutch. I was a little apprehensive using the
clutch that came with the “new” engine. I wasn’t sure of its
condition. When I first acquired the highlight I drove it around
the backyard and the clutch worked fine. Hopefully it’ll still
work the same when I put a load on it, like a handbrake start on
a steep hill. I crossed my fingers and tightened up the bolts
that hold the gearbox and engine together, then chained it to
the small workshop crane that I’d hired from a local tool rental
company. I wheeled it over and with some help slid the engine
and gearbox back into position. As I was replacing the radiator
I touched some of the fins and they crumbled into a powdery
copper dust. “I wonder how well that’ll work as I travel through
the hot Australian outback.” I thought to myself. I crossed my
fingers again and bolted the radiator into place and fitted the
radiator hoses. I then bolted on the chrome, as I lifted the
heavy bumper bar I thought to myself how heavy it was and how
much petrol I’d save if I just left it off. I looked at the
heavy spring steel that it was made from. Then as if to make it
even heavier they’d included a chrome strip. I thought about the
light plastic bumpers that are on the modern cars of today. I
then climbed inside the car connected the clutch lever to the
clutch pedal, screwed on the odometer cable, bolted up the tail
shaft, rear mounting bolts, bolted the top back on the gearbox
and secured the floor back down. We were nearly ready to hit the
I ordered a new head gasket but when it
arrived in the mail it was damaged. Someone had tried to fold
it! Copper plated head gaskets don’t take kindly to this type of
treatment. I sent it back and asked for a new one. It was slow
in coming so I took off the head gasket from the old engine and
gave it a couple of coats of silver paint. I then let it dry
until it was just a little tacky and carefully placed it over
the bolts and slid it down onto the engine. My brother came over
and saw what I was doing.
“You get the new engine for free but you
can’t even be bothered to wait to put a new head gasket on it.
That won’t work!” he said.
My father stopped to
have a look as I worked on Hewie, he was equally appalled
at the sight of such shoddy mechanical work.
head gasket hasn’t arrived yet. When it does arrive I’ll put it
in a safe place somewhere in the car. If this head gasket blows
I’ve got one to replace it with. Hey, it’s a side-valve! How
long does it take to replace a head gasket - less than an hour!”
I told them.
They didn’t agree. “Why not get the job done properly before you
leave.” they told me.
I blew the
last spots of dust off the head with an old vacuum cleaner and
slid the head down over the new gasket, then hand tightened all
the bolts then tightened them all down in sequence to 45 psi
using a tension wrench that I’d borrowed from my father. He’d
picked it up for $5 at a trash and treasure sale. It appeared
that the people who where selling it, had inherited it. They
didn’t know what it was and were glad to see it go to a good
home for $5. Whatever it was and wherever the good home was they
didn’t really know or care.
I found a
new manifold gasket in a box of spare parts that came with
Hewie when I bought him. I, gave it a light coat of grease,
placed it on the bolts and carefully tightened up the manifold,
careful not to break the small bolts that hold the manifold on.
Australian Morris Minors had an
oil bath fitted and Hewie was no exception. On the new
motor the original oil bath had been taken off and replaced with
a small light modern air filter. Arnold, the owner, told me that
the car was used for as a paddock basher just before he
bought it. Replacing the heavy oil bath with the newer lighter
model was a good idea. An SU carburettor specialist once told me
that the extra weight of the old oil bath sitting on the end of
the SU carburettor would often cause the neck to break
especially if the car was continually driven over rough roads.
I was very tempted to take the
oil bath off for the trip and substitute it with a new, modern,
air filter. It’d probably save a few gallons of fuel over the
whole trip, but it would be a sacrilegious act. I thought of the
people I’m probably going to show the engine to on the length of
the trip. Everything under the bonnet was original – I’d better
keep the character of the car in tact, I thought to myself.
Plus, I didn’t have any plans of going off road on the trip. The
main road all the way round Australia is sealed.
I drained the old oil out and filled the engine up with engine
flush; a solution of cheap solvents. I turned it over with just
the starter and drained out the sludge. The oil was so black it
looked like it had never been changed. I then filled the sump up
with the cheapest oil I could find - that cheap recycled oil you
find in hardware and cut-price stores. I then polished up the
points with a point file and gave it an estimated 18 thou gap. I lent someone my
feeler gauge some time back and didn’t get it back. So I had to
use the sharpness of my eye.
With all set and ready I turned
the ignition key, the petrol pump started kicking away, then
stopped. I crossed my fingers and pulled the starter. She kicked
first turn and ran smoothly. I stopped the engine and filled the
radiator up with water, kicked “her”, sorry “him” over again and
placed him in gear and let my foot out. There was a slight
shudder when I let the clutch out. Once I got Hewie out
on the street the engine sounded like it was singing. So smooth,
so tight, memories of when I first bought Hewie 6 years earlier.
I took him for a 20 kilometre drive. It was like I had just
bought a new car. Arriving back, I dropped the sump plug and let
all the old oil run out and filled him up with new oil and
changed the oil filter. While I was changing oil I also changed
the gearbox and differential oil, something I’d neglected since
I’d last changed them about 10,000 miles ago. The whole engine
change had taken me 3 days with help from my brother.
Hewie was now ready to