Basil the Mini

Project #2: Center Guage Bin and Steering Rack Drop Bracket

Today’s project beings with an important one – one that I have been wanting to do ever since I purchased Basil  The center peedo that came on the car was not my style and I quickly jumped into action to find a new one.  Well, that was the plan.

For some reason, a 3 gauge center bin is very hard to find used or new.  New, you usually have to buy all the gauges with the unit (i.e. $700+) and I thought I found a few new ones for around $75,but at the end of the day I got  anew one from a nice gent at Mini 53 a few weekends ago and with no cracks.  Problem solved.  I also picked up a steering drop bracket from Tom Kidd out of the UK who makes a brilliant highly polished unit like you find in Japan for 1/2 the price.  And what a piece of metal that is – beautiful!  So, with a used bin and drop bracket in my hand, I set up on Sat am to tackle project #2 and it turned out to be a doozy.  You would think that these would be two very simple installs, but not so for this adventurer.

On the docket for today:

1) Replace single gauge pod with triple unit

2) Relocate oil/water temp to new gauge bin

3) Install drop bracket

4) Modify gauge surround panel board

5) Peek under Basil’s Kilt (i.e. behind the dash/carpet)

So the start of the project went something like this – undo a few bolts on the steering rack to drop it, fit new extended bracket and tidy it all back up.  Well, it simply did not go as planned.  Fitting the new bracket required some nervous pressure to physically bring the rack down a bit and then squeezing the bracket into place.  Once said and done, it just did not mount straight and slightly crooked.  Which was a shame.  I just did not like the way it was looking and the the binding concerned me.  I spent a good 2 hours on this one to try and get it to sit straight and just could not get it to go.  Once again, whoever had this car before, just used some bad hardware and mismatched screws/nuts including some jimmy-rigging and just pissed me off to no end (i.e. using a large nut to offset the mounting points on the original drop bracket).  Another thing that cropped us was that the steering rack cover was not lining up correctly as I wanted even though the steering column was straight.  So off everything came and I emailed Tom Kidd to get his take.  Stay tuned.

After that disappointment, I moved on the gauge unit and once again – I am horrified at some of the jimmy-patch-work done on this car.  Including someone before using a black gator board (used in art shops and basically a Multi layer composite of extremely dense and durable Polystyrene foam that resists crushing and denting) as the dash panel.  It just looks B-A-D, bad.  As I removed that nightmare, I got into the guts of the dash and then found out that someone used a FedEx box as the dash tray support with black tape….ugh.  And on top of that, the previous owner(s) installed a cheap Sunpro Tach Gauge that never worked and yet powered.  That had to go as well – even if it did work, you simply cannot see it behind the steering wheel.  Wow.

Once the dash board was removed and the Sunpro gauge, I removed the insulation (thick stuff!) and air vents and came to my next surprise….the right hand inner wing was replaced and where the fresh air vents would be, was a bad welding job with some rust showing.  It just looks bad and I am not sure what someone was trying to do here with this bad attempt of welding up this panel.  Oh well, something to look at when I have her painted later this year.  Back to the gauge – because the wiring is deep behind the heater, I am going to leave it as for now.  I can also confirm that the car’s original color was silver and painted only once in its life.  The idea here is that there is a TON of stuff I would like to do, but full well know that I will be removing everything again when it comes time to paint and why waste my time at this point.  With the dash bare, it was time to move on to the 3 binner.

The used gauge bin was in nice nic.  No cracks and I gave it a nice lathering of Zymoil the week prior and all was set.  I just needed to clean up some of the gooey sealant they used on these cars to keep the moisture out, etc. Once I had all that cleaned off the used bin, I wiped down the mating surfaces with alcohol and applied some double sided foam tape.  For now, I would install without removing the mating side of the tape and do that once the car is painted with new interior.  Now on to the single gauge bin for removal.  Once again, the previous owner(s) painted this big by hand and also colored the rubber plugs black as well as got black on the chrome ring of the center speedo – SACRILEGE!  I mean they just painted stuff black on the car without removing it!?  The center bin came out with some bird feathers (I kid you not) and the 4 screws holding it in looked untapped so I was accessing something that had not been touched I assume for sometime.  All I needed to do was undo 2 screws (with my ULTRA super cool stubby screwdriver pictured) that held the speedo in the single housing and out she came, but I needed to eave all the wires intact on the back.  The speedo cable was unscrewed and I had more room to work.  With a quick polish of the gauge ring, she was looking nice and ready to be mounted…next was the oil/water gauge and to relocate it to its new home.

Well, that was the plan anyway.  Again, why someone would mount this critical gauge under the heater and near the floor is beyond me.  It was really not in an ideal place for monitoring the vitals and had the annoying blub that cast an ungodly reflection in the windshield at night that it was almost dangerous.  I ran into a major traffic stopping snag….the smiths gauge will not allow you to disconnect the sender from the back of the gauge and would require me to snake it back out and back into the car in the new cluster…not something I wanted to tackle for now.  So I went to plan B and mounted the gauge just right of the switch console so it would be easier to see and the gauge light will be hidden from any kind of reflection.  One thing I noted was that the gauge is old and needs to be replaced.  Of course, a Smiths dual gauge is not cheap, but an expense I am going to take when the time comes.

Once that was done and the new speedo was in its new home – AND I might add that I used some Miata console screws on mounting it to the back of the firewall which was perfect.  Who knew that the same screws that would keep the Miata interior together would be doing so on a 38+ year old car.  Brilliant.  I had to now modify the piss poor job on the gator board and again, because I am doing a new interior, I trimmed to fit for function and lot looks.  It will do for now and I even added a nice bit of creative angst on the panels ala your Captain.  One thing I forgot to say was that I found an antenna loom in the dash so, there was a radio in this car previously…just not sure where they mounted it.  More to come on this one.  I also found a door pin wire (passenger door pin for interior light) was severed as well as a very loose and sad looking ground wire to the smiths gauge that I firmed up with new connectors and heat shrink tubing.  Job done.

So at the end of the day, had a couple failures, a victory or two and some scary looks under the kilt that were a little alarming.  All in all, I think it went well and I need to decide on the steering rack drop bracket.  What it did for me today was get me super excited to rip that interior out.  I cannot wait to put in some PROPER carpet/leather panels/seats/etc and get this car in better shape.  It sucks just having to see things that I know I simply cannot focus on, but that is the beauty of planning things out.  I just need to be patient and take it easy – baby steps for now.  Sometime this year, things are going to get scary for an engine bay tear down and interior prep for new paint.  Stay tuned!


Project #1: Well, welcome to British motoring…

It was bound to happen….as soon as I made the 300 mile trek from Cinci to Marietta, GA, I thought it was too good to be true….within a week Basil developed a real mystery.  Coolant was spraying all over the left side of the engine bay and I could not for the life of me place where it was coming from.  Obviously, it was getting on the fan and splattering all over the place….so instead of just taking part by part in hopes that it was one that I was dealing with, I decided to do a cooling system overhaul.  Queue the music.

So what this involved was a quick call to Se7en Enterprises for parts which included a new Tropical Fan (aka the PITA for the day), h20 pump and gasket, upper and lower Kevlar hoses, bi-pass hose and clamps (the cause of said coolant leak), cork rocker cover gasket and rubber grommets, new thermo housing and gasket, and new belt (which did not fit).  So for the entire week last week, I did small tasks…for 10 mins I worked on removing small items each night and would just go to bed and think about the next steps.  Had the Haynes Manual, but also had a great article from Mini Magazine on a recent H20 install write up which was very helpful and reassuring.

So by the time Sat morning rolled around, I had a cup of coffee and watched the F1 Qualifying in China and off I went to start the big task.  First, I needed to run to Napa for some basics (coolant, brake cleaner, etc) and then I got right into it like a madman.  I removed the thermo housing (I grabbed a 180 degree thermo the week before thanks to Mr. Gasket) and then worked down to the H20 pump.  The rad and shroud was removed the week before, so it was just the remaining items that caused no issues.  Once I got the old H20 pump off, I saw that it looked old, but still was good…but that bi-pass hose had seen better days….it appeared that it was cracked and was the cause of the dreaded leak.  Victory was at hand!

Everything went to plan….until I got to the belt and Tropical fan…the belt was a hair too small and would not fit and the fan was simply not clearing the radiator.  How could this be?!  Also, the fan would not allow me to use the fan screws (holes were too small) – which was odd, so I used a 1/4 bit to drill them out some more.  But the belt needed to be tended to as I did not want to reuse the belt I had….off to Napa and bob’s your uncle!  They had the belt.  Back home, my good friend Taylor joined me and helped out – clearly seeing that the fan was not clearing the radiator.  We noticed that the spacer used on the OE fan was the issue…and that went into the bin and set the new fan back to the engine more and cleared the rad.  From there all went as planned as we had hoped.

Enter Keith Cox at this point – local Mini Manic and came by to see the excitement.  On start up, the new fan just did a job on the rad and was not clearing and rubbed against the rad.  I quickly shut down the car and saw the issue.  At this point, I just got up in the fans grill and bitch-slapped it until tomorrow – pulling back on each blade slightly to clear the rad and all was well.  So far, no leaks, no issues and all seems well.  At least now I know how to get into the cooling matrix and tear it down and put it all back together well.  And for that I feel good and like I am now closer to Basil then ever before.

The fire starts with a spark

So as many of you out there who have followed me over the years with the development of the Blue Potato know, it all starts with something.  Like the last project I did, for me it always starts with something small.  Maybe a scene, a memory or even an object – and in this case with the Classic Mini, it is an object that literally fits in your hand.  Much like my beloved Miata shift knob, I scoured the globe looking for one I saw in a Mini World magazine article….and talk about timing, I found that rare beastie!

Many moons ago, I had seen one for sale that went like a tornadic bidding war between a few lads in the UK and I thought to myself, oh well – guess will just never see one again.  Then like a shot in the dark, I saw one on ebay for sale out of the UK with a fairly sizeable starting bid.  To sum it up, it came down the wire in a bidding match with some guy out of Germany and in the end, I won.

The Moto-Lita Rallye Monte-Carlo knob (if I have my facts straight) is really rare and cannot find any info on this knob coming on an actual Rover or Austin model but know the knob was an aftermarket part in 1994.  It appears to be threaded for the standard mini shifter and will require a nut to center it in place once I put her on.

The knob was in perfect shape with just a couple of small nicks in the soft metal.  It was in need of a good polish and I went to work on Friday night in my now empty garage/workshop.  Note to self, I need to name my workshop something cool and vintage…more on that in the future.

I spent about 30 mins on the polishing that you can see in the pics below, but I think I will continue to buff later.  I am really thrilled that I have made my first purchase for this mini that I have yet to take possession of, but that will be happening at the end of March and will update that story later.  Stay tuned….for now, enjoy the progress!