Get to the point (and again, a better title)

pile of parts

There is only so much you can triage in the field. Emergency responders try to stabalize their patients to get them to the hospital. After an unsuccessful attempt at surgery in the field, that became my modus operandi this week. Today, the Rover is off to the car hospital; before we get into that, let me take you back a bit.

For the last month the engine has been struggling – not idling and backfiring a bit. After I got the sage advice: “its never the carburetor”, the attention turned to the ignition system. In these older cars, the ignition is a remarkably simple process tied to some rather complex mechanics. As the engine turns through its rotation, parts inside the distributor rotate to open and close an electrical circuit. When that circuit is closed, it sends a spark to a particular spark plug. The parts that open and close are called “points” – two small round metal discs about the size of match heads come together and pull apart several times a second as the engine moves through its firing sequence. These little guys do a lot of work.

Points, plugs, wires, the coil – all go together in a carefully timed sequence to add one of the three essential components of the combustion engine: fire (the other two being fuel and air). When any part of that system is off kilter, things get wonky. After replacing the points with new points, there is a delicate manipulation to ensure that the gap when they are open is not too wide and not too narrow. After gaping the points, it is all about timing – when do they open and close as the engine is turning. Too soon and your timing is too fast and the engine burns too much gas (running rich). If they open and close too late, the spark may not come in time and the engine may not fire at all.

After hours and hours of tinkering, I had one of the proudest moments of Rover ownership. For 10 minutes the engine ran; pretty rough at first but then it was dialed in to a nice smooth-ish idle. It was never quite perfect and something caused it to stall. But there is proof:

That brings us back to moving the patient. Despite my best efforts, the breaks are still out – a problem that is increased in complexity by decaying bolts and old break lines. The engine, even when running, was not running well. This thing needs professional help. We decided to enlist the help of a trusted mechanic with old Rover experience. The only catch- he’s 2.5 hours away. Today the Land Rover is getting loaded onto a flat bed truck and headed to Lynchburg.

With any luck, it will be back to purring like a kitten and in the kind of shape where a novice can learn to baby it, rather than trying to resuscitate it.

call me Sisyphus


Originally uploaded by NickDawson

Much like the iconic Greek figure, the Land Rover has not made much progress, despite the toiling.

The learn-as-you-go process is as frustrating as it is rewarding. Every night brings a new discovery about how engines work. At the same time I have to consider the big picture. Can I really figure out what is wrong when I don’t have the big picture? I’m apprenticing to an internet master.

That might strike readers as hyperbole, elevating Rovers beyond their marquee. But the analog holds. An apprentice knows more than the average joe about a topic, but still relatively little compared to the engineer who designed the thing. Thats me – the apprentice.

I get that the carburetor works on the vacuum produced by the engine to suck in more gas which burns faster when you press the pedal down…. but really, thats scraping the surface. It turns out that if a battery isn’t up to snuff that the engine may not idle perfectly, regardless of what the alternater is putting out. Who knew? So while I am chasing the timing, maybe its just a weak battery…or maybe its a bad wire…or maybe the dizzy (gear that controls timing of the distributor) is bad, or maybe its a spark plug… turns out they can all lead to the same symptoms. How do you know which to troubleshoot first?

The challenge now is bringing back the spark – pun intended. I’ve got great help via the Rovers North Forums ( and I’m remembering mantra of patience. But at some point I have to remember that timing an engine is an art and maybe not the domain of the apprentice.

I have a few more tricks up my sleeve. The brakes are coming together and should be easy enough. After that, it may be time to turn things over a master. I’m close to reconciling the idea that its not giving up if I take it to someone who can save me from doing more harm.

If we don’t see you on the road, then check back here soon!

Gimme a break (and a better punny title)

Picture 2Someone remind me that this is what I signed up for? The past few weeks have seen some interesting developments with the Land Rover. A cacophony of aliments beset the poor series III after a trip to the James River. My guess is that these faults are not tied together mechanically, but through my purchase and the inherent driving of the truck.

First, as alluded to before, the engine is running a little rough. My hope, still, is that the issue is with the carburetor. With each day, I’m learning more and more about how these things tick (or don’t tick). The theory is that the steep incline from the boat ramp, or just coincidence, led to a “stuck float”. With luck and a repair manual, I plan to get the carb off the intake, disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. With the stars aligned, it just may start again.

The bigger issue at hand is the breaks. All signs point towards the master cylinder as being the root cause of a soft pedal. In a break system, the master cylinder is a hydrolic piston that is compressed and pressurizes smaller cylinders on each wheel. Those cylinders in turn expand to press the break pads and drums together and stop the truck. In my case, I have two unique factory options that were probably a dream for some English farmer but are causing me a real headache. By the 1970s most countries required cars to have “dual circuit” break systems. That protects against a failure in the front causing the back breaks to fail too (or vice versa). About that time “power assisted” breaks hit the market; that is an extra part that, through the aid of the engine power, helps you apply pressure, so its not just the strength of your leg compressing the master cylinder. Just my luck – my series III has both the power assist and a single circuit system – a combo so rare that even Land Rover, famous for stocking original parts for all of their vehicles, does not have anything to help me. So we are doing an upgrade to a dual circuit system. In the end it will be safer and its the right thing to do.

What I am learning is patience. There is not magic fix for these things. If I want the truck to run again, then I have to put the time (and the money, ooohhhh the money) into getting it right. The trade off is learning how these systems work. I’m not sure what that is worth, beyond my own satisfaction of seeing it through, but surely that counts for something -right?

So if you are reading this then you probably won’t see the Rover on the streets of Richmond for the next few days (or weeks, lets hope its not months). But if you are passing by and want to lend a hand, I’ll be the guy on my back in a puddle of oil under the truck. Stop and say hi.

moving or standing still, it doesnt matter

Theres not much else like it. It does not matter if we are on the move heading to the farmers market or sitting in the front of the house tinkering – people love to say hi. If you are here, you might have been one of them (leave a comment why don’t ya!).

The last two weeks have seen some action. Cosmetically, the rover has new shoes – 235x85xr16 BF Goodrich All Terrains. I ran BFG A/Ts on my 1997 Discovery and have always found them to be capable tires. I’m now more anxious than ever to see how well a 1973 truck can handle off road – my expectations are high due to the pedigree, but even a casual day on the trail will be fun.

Of course, that is all a bit of a dream at this point. Its not hard to notice the missing bonnet in the picture above. We’ve been diagnosing some idle issues and think they are close to sorted out. I say we because I’ve enlisted the help of a neighbor and friend as well as a new friend – both considerably more knowledgeable than I. Together we partially rebuilt the carburetor, taking out each tiny jet and carefully cleaning the orifices. The fuel filters were inspected, cleaned and re-primed. After a few nights of tinkering, it seems to be running pretty well. There’s still some puttering and fine tuning that is a bit beyond my expertise at the moment. But each day I discover something new.

The rover is a head turner and it doesn’t really matter if its running or not.  Its a joy and indeed motivating when I am turning a wrench and someone stops. Young and old alike, its the same. First there is the creeping Cheshire grin which is always followed by “that is sooo cool!” and then usually “how old is it?” Parents then start apologizing profusely as they attempt to pry young fingers off of some part or panel. Insisting that its pretty well unbreakable does not deter them – maybe its because modern cars are not built the same. But nothing tops that look of amazement, however brief.

Thats the update for this week. If you are one of the wavers – drop me a line.

The Jimmy

Originally uploaded by NickDawson

The Rover went to the river tonight.

The Rover goes to market

The Rover goes to market

Originally uploaded by NickDawson

LanRvr was at the South of the James market today – did you see it?

You ain’t a beauty but hey your alright

The Series III has been “in country” for a few weeks now. Things are mostly going quite well – its a real head turner. In fact, if your on this site its probably because you saw it driving around…

Tonight the new plates and the mount of the hi-lift jack arrived. I’m pretty please with how it all come together.

What do you think? Drop me a comment here or on twitter @nickdawson – where’d you see the truck?

Welcome to America

The Series III arrived in the US last week. More details coming soon!