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Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required – Article 11 – Reliability

Many folks, when they are thinking about the restoration of a car, think about both improving the
appearance of their car for sure and maybe the reliability. How much emphasis you place on either
category of course depends a lot on the starting point you are working from. In the case of my Some
Assembly Required car, this decision was easy. The car’s appearance was “in a boxed state” and it was
definitely “not running”! So I really needed everything. Most of us are not starting from such an
overwhelming position. The car you are going to restore is running but you may have your doubts. Can I
limit myself to local drives with the number for the AAA towing service on my speed dial? Do I want to
go on longer trips up into the mountains where cellphone coverage may be spotty? Do I want to drive
coast to coast? Or does it only need to get from its personal trailer to the show field? How you answer
these questions will determine how much effort you want to place into getting the car to be reliable.
A close cousin to reliability is ride quality and performance. If the car is decades old then, regardless of
the miles it has covered, most of the rubber and plastic parts may be badly degraded. The brakes and
shock absorbers, representing safety critical items, will almost certainly want to be gone through. The
fuel system may be clogged up with deposits and crud. On a high mileage car, metal components in the
engine and drivetrain may be worn to the point of being problematic. Regarding electrical systems, it is
not commonly understood but wiring and electrical components and connections will have built up
corrosion layers that can be an issue. Frankly, the situation on my 63 E-Type is quite liberating, as I plan
to bring everything up to a virtually new condition. Not the cheapest route but the best for peace of
mind from a reliability standpoint.

Another fact of life is that cars that get driven on a regular basis are probably going to be more reliable
than those are only started up occasionally. This one can be hard to resolve. Most of us generally are
not going to use our nicely restored classic car to commute to work. But if possible, getting your car out
once a week for a drive that gets the car nicely warmed up with provide long term benefits from a
reliability standpoint.

There are many ways to approach reliability. One rather global approach would be to pull out the car’s
Owners Manual and review the Service and Maintenance sections. As you review it, you should be able
to discern routine activities, like changing the engine oil and more intermittent items, such as replacing
the engine cam timing belt. All of these items fall into the category of Scheduled Maintenance. If your
car has been maintained religiously to these published requirements, then congratulations, you are my
kind of person and just need to keep up the good work. If on the other hand, the maintenance history is
spotty or unknown, then bringing your car up to date on these items is a very good first step, giving you
a plan on how to proceed.

Most cars have certain known problem areas that may cause known reliability issues. Since there are
many cars and many problems, all I can say is either gain a trusted mechanic who is familiar with your
model car and/or join an internet forum that is specific to your car and learn what areas to look out for.
A note of caution. People by nature are much better at complaining on internet forums than they are on
complementing. So take what you read with a large grain of salt. But frankly, when I get serious about a
car, I not only read the current forums but I spend some time and go backwards in time, looking for
prevalent issues. I also use this research time to spot commentors who seem to be knowledgeable. For
example, on my Porsche 944 I found a guy who really impressed me. One utility this particular internet
forum allowed was to find all posts based on that guy’s username. Reading his collection of posts from
over the years provided a treasure trove of knowledge.

To provide one example specific to early E-Types, they were known for overheating issues. Through my
perusal of the Jag-Lovers internet technical discussion forum for E-Types, I was able to spot an
enthusiast, Mike Frank, who has engineered specific aftermarket solutions for this problem. On my 67 E-
Type 2+2, I purchased and installed his radiator and cooling fan solution. He also provided
recommendations regarding thermostats and coolants. Applying his body of knowledge to my car, I
never once had a cooling issue with that car.
One reliability area that commonly comes up for older cars is the ignition system. Directly related to this
is carbureted cars versus fuel injection cars. We are pretty spoiled nowadays in that we expect our cars
to start right up and smoothly pull away at a moments notice. This is an advantage to modern computer
controlled cars with fuel injection and electronic ignition. If you like this degree of reliability, you should
probably stick to cars from the 80’s and newer. On the flip side, if you want to be able to work on your
car without having to access specialty dealer only service equipment, you should probably stick with cars
that are at least 20 years old. Of course, if you cut your teeth on cars with carburetors and points type
distributors, the pre-80’s cars have those features. At some level, I like to keep them stock, including the
points, as roadside repairs remain an option. On the E-Type, many folks opt for an electronic module to
replace the points. They work well but when they fail, then you are really stuck. That said, on my 67 E-
Type 2+2 I went with the 123 brand electronic distributor. It resolves issues not only with points but also
resolves the problem that most original equipment distributors are 50+ years old and getting a little
wobbly, to say the least. Gear reduction starters and modern alternators are other popular upgrades on
the E-Type. Some intrepid folks have fabricated computer driven ignition and fuel injection systems that
are cleverly integrated with SU carburetors. It just depends on your mindset and goals.

In conclusion, obtaining a reliable car is a goal we all applaud. How we get there can take many paths. It
is all part of the planning process when you restore a car. Just don’t let it be an afterthought.

Jim Morton caught replacing his generator in the parking lot just before the big Concours event.


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