POWERING UP A CLASSIC BARGE
Run by Martin Buckley
Owned since October 2014
Total mileage 47,549
Latest costs £400
For some reason, having run one in the late 1990s, the #Austin
3-litre was an itch I had to revisit and scratch properly. I tracked down a nest of them to #Rover-P5
specialist David Green near Ipswich, including a really rather smart one in Mulberry, which was beyond my budget, and a less smart example for about £6000. But it was the semi-derelict car at £2000 that had my name on it. It just wanted to be saved, sitting there slumped on its Hydrolastic suspension with mostly original grey paint, rusty wheels and surprisingly smart interior.
The history was murky, but it seems that #VFL659H
started life with a coach-hire company in Sheffield. Some work had recently been done to the engine, although I was disappointed to find that it was seized solid when attempts were made to get it running after it turned up in Cirencester. Actually it didn’t really matter because some of the inspiration behind the idea of having a 3-litre was to create a tuned engine for it – head polished and ported, stronger valve springs, bigger carbs and so on to make the thing really go. Not a cheap exercise, though, and once I’d done some digging it began to look as if even getting the 3-litre lump up to MGC spec (with flat-top pistons to raise the compression) might go beyond what I wanted to spend. I found an #MGC
engine for £950, but somehow that didn’t excite.
Then a 4 litre R conversion was suggested: the #Rolls-Royce
F-head straight-six from the VdP barge. Now that has the right feel about it, not simply because I would be gaining 50bhp and losing 100lb (the #FB60
has an alloy block), but also it would look right under the bonnet in the way a #Rover-V8
or some modern engine just wouldn’t. Yes, I know #BMC
dabbled with putting a #Rover
engine in the #ADO61
, but there was also a proposal for a sort of poverty Bentley using a 3-litre shell powered by the 4-litre unit. Although I’m not a big fan of putting the wrong engine in an old car, I feel a 4 litre R lump is totally in the spirit of this motor. It will give it much more acceleration and a meatier but more refined character – hopefully.
It is easier said than done, of course. Finding a suitable 4-litre donor engine was simple enough: a C-registered scrapper was extracted from a garage in Liverpool for £400 where it had lain undisturbed since #1979
. My only fear was that this engine would turn out to be seized, too, but applying enough electrical grunt got it to spin over freely enough, even though it has still not coughed.
Rough measurements reveal that the two engines are basically the same size, but that there is an issue regarding the position of the sump and oil pick-up on the R-R engine and the location of the Austin 3-litre’s crossmember. I am reasonably confident we can overcome this, however. In a few days, Mike Connor will start taking the engine out of the Vanden Plas 4 litre R and getting to grips with how it will fit into the #ADO61
shell, hopefully without too much major surgery. Rust-wise the 3-litre is pretty sound, although it has the usual problems with the front valance (which has pretty much disintegrated) and a variety of scabs.
Inside, it just needs a couple of carpets and window-winder handles. To keep momentum going, I’ve had the wheels shot-blasted and they will be fitted with a set of ex- #Lancia-Gamma
tyres. Having semi-committed myself to this project, I am relieved to say that the 4 litre R donor was a shed, so there was no temptation to take pity on it and try to get that one going, too.
‘I am not a big fan of putting the wrong engine in an old car, but a 4 litre R is totally in the spirit of this motor’