Sam has gone on to a new home - the new owner has been following her progress for some time, and plans to do the cosmetic work that we never did!

Sam is a 1959 Morris Minor Traveller (titled as a '61), and is the workhorse, parts hauler, and all-around reliable car at The Dimebank. We bought her with good paint, OK interior, less than 30K on the clock (we have never decided if it has rolled over once or not - evidence is very conflicting, but it's probably her second time around). A previous owner upgraded the drivetrain to a 1275 with twin SUs but left the smoothcase tranny. The most previous owner "only drove it to deliver Christmas presents and Easter eggs; I don't think I ever put gas in it" for two years. She's been hit in the right front at some point (but was repaired nicely) and could use some new wood pieces in the rear section. Overall, she's in amazingly good shape.

Not surprisingly, a car with this little use over that many years has some problems - mostly in the leaks department. Lots and lots of gaskets have dried out and expose their vital fluids to the outside world. Work proceeds apace. In the meantime, I use it to haul parts that won't fit in a Triumph (most egregious example: eight wheels and tires in one trip!)

(Fall '95) At the moment, the engine and tranny are out. The tired 1275 is going to be transmogrified into a powerhouse 1380, and the smoothcase tranny is going to be exchanged for a Datsun five speed. Front brakes from a Spridget will be grafted on. More as it happens.

(1/18/95) Well ... the block and head finally went to the machine shop. I had planned to build up a very torquey motor: pistons to make a 1380 are really expensive, but a .060 overbore is quite affordable. A mild cam, some porting work. The parts had a different plan.

We knew that the block had severe damage in the #2 cylinder - the wrist pin had come loose and gouged the wall. What we didn't know is that the block had been sleeved from the factory, so it can't be bored as much as I'd like. And all four sleeves need to be replaced. And the head has nine cracks...

(7/13/95) I'm still waiting to find 73.5mm pistons for a 1380 motor at a decent price. Omega is currently not producing, and all the US distributors that actually have pistons in stock are asking way too much money. In the mean time, we waited out the winter rains and painted the engine compartment and attacked the interior. I rebuilt the rear axle and put on a tube shock conversion. Pat has got the back half of the interior done up beautifully. I've located a DCOE40 Weber carb and manifold for the new engine. The front suspension is starting to go back on, including an upgrade to disk brakes. We're reassembling the engine compartment and rebuilding the wiring harness. Soon I'll actually have to buy pistons...

(9/10/95) A red letter day - Sam's a roller again. The front suspension has been more or less on for a few weeks - minus the torsion bars. So the front end was at full droop, making the car look like a bad imitation of someone's idea of a dragster. Today the torsion bars are in, everything is greased, the brakes work, the toe is more or less set... and best news, pistons are on the way! (Had to get the Powermax/AE 20659 set; Omega still aren't producing.)

(11/7/95) Making big progress. The wiring harness is done and retaped. The block is back from the machine shop, new pistons on rods, fully balanced. All the parts for the bottom end have arrived, plus new valve gear, manifold, exhaust and tranny. Now, to put it all back together!

(2/29/96) We've bought a house and are moving. What joy - amidst all the other cars that are (in some cases barely) running, the Morris gets towed to the new place. Good thing it's a roller and the brakes work. We moved the partially assembled block (crank and bearings are in) on the stand. The new garage isn't set up, so most everything is going into storage except a small bench, my toolchest and a rolling rack of Morris parts.

(8/23/96) Red letter day - the new engine and Datsun 5-speed tranny (using the Morriservice kit) went in today, with Scott Fisher's help. A few minor plumbing (exhaust, water, oil pressure line, ignition) chores and it'll be time to fire her up...

(9/4/96) Last night, the theory went, we would start up the new 1380 A series in the Morris Minor Traveller, run it for 20 minutes to break in the cam, drive it up and down the driveway with the new Datsun tranny and open up the champagne. It didn't quite work out that way.

Scott Fisher was supposed to come over and help/watch - he was there when we pulled the head and then the engine, and he was there to put it back in place. It only seemed fair. But we were getting pretty impatient ... the only things left on the checklist were oil and water, pretty much. So we filled the radiator. Suddenly I noticed water dripping at the rear of the engine. I tried not to panic; Pat traced it to a dribble at the top hose that had worked its way down the block and along the pan gasket. Easily fixed.

Next, oil. Pull the rocker cover, dribble oil over the arms and down the pushrod holes. Some leaks down the back of the block, of course. I put down the bottle, try to grab a rag, knock over the bottle. Sigh. Clean up the mess, button back up, wait.

Just as I'm about to call Scott, he shows up. Time to crank for oil pressure. I have installed an oil pressure line (transparent nyloseal), so we pull the plugs expecting to crank until we see line flow up the pipe. Hit the button, grr..hum... nothing. Urgle. Hook up the charger in its 55 amp "start assist" mode. No joy. OK - I know the engine turned over by hand, but it would get sticky after sitting. Can't fit the socket and breaker bar in, so pull off the front shroud and balance the radiator on a 4x4. Engine still turns. Get the torque wrench, breakaway torque is less than 35 ft-lbs. Fine. The battery's dead. (Turns out it was only showing 7.8 volts - two dead cells!) I was suspicious, since it's been on and off the charger for the past several days, and never really took a full charge. Right now, it won't even light the headlamps. Fine. Pull it out, grab the one out of the GT6+.

Now we have power; the starter grunts and the engine churns. 10 seconds, 20 seconds .. no oil. I filled the filter, and had stuffed the oil pump with Vaseline, but .. pull the big banjo bolt at the rear of the block and fill the channel with oil. Crank, grunt, nothing. Fill again. Crank, grunt. This time there is still oil in the channel; button it up and keep at it in 15 second bursts. The battery is already getting tired. Suddenly we see oil flowing up the pipe and the cranking is much easier. Hooray! Run oil up to the gauge to bleed the line and tighten it down. Put the shroud back on.

Put in some new plugs, hook up the fuel pump. Turn it on, fix the loose nut on the line from the tank (this is exactly why Carroll Smith says not to attach fasteners halfway), fill the float bowl. Fingers crossed, two pumps on the DCOE, hit the starter and flutter the throttle. Churn churn bang whirr. Hmm. Good sign that it fired, but how to get it to start? Try some ether - it's a bit better but won't continue to run, and is backfiring through the velocity stacks in a very festive manner. One time it gets to running for more than a couple of revs and I see that there is flame visible in a gap between the carb body and the O ring soft mount! Fine, we stop ("fire, qool"), I tighten down the manifold nuts as tight as I can. Time for new spring washers. Try again, fewer backfires, but no joy.

The battery's pretty much dead, even with "assist", so we break for 15 minutes to give it a chance. I surmise that setting the rev limiter to 2300 wasn't a good idea. The theory was that the cam wants to be broken in around 2000 rpm, so set the rev limiter a little higher and use it to set the RPM (there's no tach and the multi-spark of the Crane HI-6 makes a "normal" dwell/tach useless). Now I think that maybe the rev limiter is cutting out the spark very early, before the engine is running steadily. Set it to 3500 and try again.

Ether, power - it runs! Noisy, uneven, but it starts to smooth out. Guess at 2000 rpm by ear. Nice, 70 psi oil pressure, pull off the charger, set up a fan. Some smoke off the engine and manifold, but that's probably normal.

More smoke off the manifold and lots off the exhaust system. Exhaust is really hot. I finally take the lamp away from the engine compartment to look at the exhaust system - just as I notice that the section between the manifold and first resonator is a rather different shade of green than the rest, Pat asks "Is that supposed to be glowing?" The manifold has turned a dull orange, inside and through the Jet-Hot coating. Quick, quick, try to find the key under the dangling speedo and shut it off.

The Jet-Hot folks warn about just this - that new engines are often run too lean or too retarded at startup, leading to glowing headers. I've heard of headers glowing on race cars run at redline, but none of us has ever seen it...

OK. The distributor had been statically timed at 0 BTDC. I use the vernier adjustment to add about eight degrees of timing. I search around for some bigger main jets and come up with some that are 10 bigger. Look at the plugs and the middle two are OK-to-lean (or just hot, it's hard to tell) and the outers are rich or cold. Try again. It's a struggle to get started again (the battery is *really* tired of this), but we get it going. There's less glowing, but there's still red visible. Shut down.

It's 10:30, the neighbors are sure to get cranky soon, we're tired and we're running out of ether. Time to quit. In retrospect, I think that the carb probably never got onto the main circuit, so I need bigger idle jets. And more advance. I have one size up, and I should be able to hook up a timing light and see just what the timing situation is like ...

The good news, of course, is that it runs, it doesn't seem to leak, nothing is broken or missing. The exhausts sound pretty nice, with a throaty tone but probably not too loud. We'll get it figured out yet.

Kim Fisher points out "One should always start a new engine at night - It's so much more enjoyable to see the bright colors highlighted against the darkness."

(9/9/96) We had made another attempt a few nights ago, dialing in more advance and with bigger idle jets. Ran it long enough to determine that the timing was about 24 degrees BTDC at 2200 rpm, a reasonable number. But still had that glow in the middle tube. So we shut it down and waited for mjb's visit and promise of bigger jets.

With mjb's help, we got the cam broken in. We put in lots richer mains, but it's not clear that the motor was spending a lot of time on the mains anyway, at only 2500 rpm and no load. Maybe it was just that the sun was out and we couldn't see that the middle tube was glowing. On the other hand, the paint on the front of the exhaust system didn't burn off (any more than it had ... we probably need to repaint).

The starter died halfway through, but the GT6+ starter is the same model, so we pulled it (thanks again, Bubba!) and got the engine going again. We fought some vapor lock problems (the fuel line runs pretty close to the manifold, and the fuel pump is on a little shelf just above and behind the manifolds - really clever). It took a bunch of adjusting, but we got the clutch to the point of operating enough that I could engage all gears, move 10 feet back and up the driveway, and declare success.

We opened the champagne, and poured a little into the radiator for luck.

There's lots more work to do, but it's a great bit of progress!

(10/20/96) Now, I've sold the DCOE and put on an SU HIF44 on a Mini Spares manifold. (Doesn't sound the same at all, but seems much more suited for a street car/tow vehicle.) The new choke cable (home made, since if has to go to a different place than stock) even works! Added an electric cooling fan with thermostat, and a fuel line heat shield from Mr. Grumpy's. Spliced the wiring harness to the rear. The horns are back. Done some interior work, fixed the clutch linkage, bolted in the seats, hooked up the speedo. Rear shocks would be nice, as would an air filter, but those should get done this week. The grille still needs to be painted, but that's hardly crucial.

We only got halfway down the drive and back, but that's because there was another car stuck in the way! We're at the point where checkout drives can start happening, and it's about time - the problems with the #3 cylinder fouling out began three years ago... the engine starts on the first pull, sounds great (exhaust has a nice throaty note) ... this is going to be fun.

(10/27/96) After three years... it was finally time. We bolted up the Owen Burton rear suspension, torqued down the lug nuts and cobbled up an air filter. Did lots of little pre-flight checking. There's a small dribble of oil at the back of the sump; I hope it's just a bad sump seal. I'll drop the oil pan and inspect at the first oil change.

Sunday, we took Sammy to the hardware store. This is great! The used Datsun tranny is noisier than I'd have liked (a fair bit of input bearing noise, it seems) and the second gear synchro is not very good (despite being filled with RedLine MTL) but she runs and stops and is generally happy. We hauled 2x4s inside and 12' sections of fiberglass awning on the roof (see the photo!) with no problems. Every time we stop in a parking lot, someone tells us how cute the car is.

For the first time in three years, I drove her to work today... yahoo! I even hauled tires to the tire busters on the way to work. We have a workhorse again! Still need to finish off the front grille, and myriad little details but there's no huge hurry. Now is the time to break in the engine, get the rings to seal, and work out the bugs. If things go particularly well this week, we might take her to Laguna Seca for this weekend's flagging!

(Jan 1997) We've been doing lots of short trips. The tranny is noisy - it quiets a lot in fourth, so we suspect the layshaft. But it's livable for the moment. Speedo needs to be recalibrated. The fuel pump isn't terribly happy - even with the heat shield. In fact, it got to the point where I stalled three times on the way to work with stuck points! Power is not what I'd hoped for - not clear if that's tuning, or the fuel pump, or what; she doesn't really like extended runs on the freeway much at all.

(February - March 1997) After running a couple tanks of gas through her, I decided it was time to retorque the cylinder head. Having done that, I thought that things were probably sealed well enough that it was worth doing a compression test. Oops ... 190-90-90-195. This might explain why she doesn't really have the power I'd expect.

Pop the head. Classic case of A series head gasket - burned clean through between 2 and 3. Not only does this explain the compression and being low on power, it explains why the center exhaust tube always glowed - while 2 was on the compression stroke, 3 was on exhaust, and vice versa - so raw mixture was heading out that center tube about half the time.

The cause? Oh, you want to know why? Well ... it was the result of trying a "trick" suggested by David Anton at APT: soak a piece of string in Copper-Kote and place it on the block between 2 and 3. This is supposed to improve the head gasket seal and increase its resistance to just this sort of burn through. Apparently, though, either the string was too thick or not soaked enough or something - evidence suggested that the string burned away, leaving a gap between gasket and block, letting hot exhaust pass over the copper gasket and burn it away!

An alternative, which I used on the new head gasket, is to take a single strand of copper wire from an 18 gauge lamp cord and place it on the block between 2 and 3 (or, if you prefer, glue it to the bottom of the head gasket with a bit of nail polish). This has worked a champ. Compression is pretty much even 190 all across. Leakdown is uniformly less than 2% (thanks to Total Seal rings).

Now with the new head gasket and all four jugs operating properly, the car is much quieter - less vibration overall - and much more powerful. Quite a treat to drive! Adding the anti-squeal shims to the front brakes made a big difference. She's my daily driver at the moment, which is fine. She's very happy even on the freeway, pulling strongly in fifth.

While I was dealing with the head gasket, I modified the grille surround for a nice oil cooler mount. I also fabbed up proper fan mounting brackets, rather than letting the radiator core take the load. And rebuilt the fuel pump - I found a couple of old things wrong there, and performance is better, though it never really shuts up (and clicks quite rapidly while sitting in traffic - I suspect it doesn't like getting warm). The oil cooler plumbing goes on soon, and it's getting nice enough that I should be able to paint the grille...

We've done some more interior work and finished putting the bonnet back together. You can see that we added a "safety gauge" to monitor engine temp and oil pressure, and a small clock to balance the view of the dash. Underneath, there's a hazard switch (boy howdy was that ever fun to wire into the flasher relay circuit!) and a "utility outlet". The accelerator pedal has an extender on it for my big feet, and I fabricated a stainless steel protector plate for the driver's left footrest.

(April 1997) We've made several longish trips - first over the coastal range to Duarte's in Pescadero, our standard "initiation" run (we'd never done it before because braking was so squirrelly) and just recently a long weekend down to Pacific Grove. She's done admirably on both trips. We noticed that she really doesn't like headwinds; throttle response at high speed just goes away, and the buffeting is intense. Other than that, she did great, averaging about 28 mpg and keeping up with traffic just fine. Now that she's running at a normal temperature, the heater even works!

(August 1997) Much brake work. The brakes have been less than inspiring - a lot of travel, not much grip. Adjusting the rears helped with the travel - got a sense of weight transfer for the first time.

Installed Porterfield R4S pads up front. Wow - without excessive effort, I can stop hard enough to slide the side windows!

(August 1998) Mostly we've been driving her while other cars got needed attention. Most recently I finished installation of an oil cooler. It's a smallish 10-row steel unit ("used by NASCAR teams"!) from Racer Wholesale, mounted on the driver's side of center below the radiator. I made a bracket out of strap steel that goes across the bottom of the radiator bottom tank - the top of the cooler bolts to that via some bolts that I've thinned the heads on. With some judicious bending, the bottom mounts to the radiator surround, which has had a section cut away. The cooler gets air via the long oval openings under the bumper.

This was much harder to fit than I expected - there really isn't a lot of clearance that far down. I didn't want to obscure the radiator, though it's probably not a problem on the Morris, which seems to have more than enough radiator capacity. I didn't want to place the cooler right behind the license plate, though it might have worked there anyway - if I had cut away the radiator surround, the low pressure area behind would have allowed some air through. That's all in retrospect.

It didn't help that the cooler has 1/2 NPT fittings and require an adapter to mate to the 1/2 BSP fittings (or any other, for that matter) fittings that I used - I didn't feel comfortable using a plain hose barb with clamp for 80 psi. That makes the whole assembly taller. I used the "finger-clamp" press-on fittings and hose, with Oetiker clamps, going to a Mocal oil termostat mounted low on the inner fender under the turn signal relay box. Engine adapter fittings were sourced from Seven Enterprises. Fit at the oil filter head is tight, but a 45 degree fitting comes out just right and drops neatly to another 45 at the thermostat. I also used a 45 at the rear of the engine, going to a straight fitting.

If I had it to do again, I would either use a smaller cooler - Mocal make half width units intended for Porsche which might fit a lot better, and there are "new technology Turbulator" two-row units that seem tidy, and have hose entry from the side, to boot - or dispense with an air-to-oil cooler entirely. Instead, I'd use a oil-to-water cooler. Several companies make these - you can find them in junk yards on Vanagons, or buy new from Mocal. The plumbing would be much neater, and as I said above, it appears that the radiator has plenty of extra capacity.

(December 2000) Sam is our only running car! We're trading her back and forth for commute duty.

(November 2001) Long downtime. Chewed through several starters and finally gave up on the tranny: the ring gear is a disaster, the input bearing is shot. Paul A (of Morriservice) and I tracked it down to a small misalignment in his adapter plate. He was great about it - gave us a deep discount on another tranny and didn't charge for anything else. I spent a fair bit of time cleaning and aligning and bushing various bits of the clutch linkage and shift linkage. Finally back together in ...

(April 2002) Back together, clutch, starter, tranny are all great. But left rear wheel brake cylinder is frozen. Replace both. Realize that the rear brake shoes (which I've never touched) are wrong - look like fronts!.

(May 2002) Finish bleeding the brakes, see a drip from the master cylinder. Ugh. Send it out to be sleeved. Rebuild. Works for a while then stops. Rebuild with new kit. Still not right - looks like a primary seal failure. I hate brakes. I really hate removing and installing the master cylinder!

(July 2002) After several iterations, get a genuine Lockheed seal kit instead of the aftermarket. The residual valve washer is obviously smaller and drops cleanly into the recess at the bottom of the bore. The brakes work better than ever!

Installed the front sway bar. This is the style that just clamps to the stabiliser arms on the front suspension. A bit fiddly to install since the suspension isn't perfectly straight, but nothing too unexpected. I expect this will make a big difference in crosswind stability, which is the main reason for getting it - she has a habit of being blown into the next lane.

(Sept 2002) The right angle speedometer adapter associated with the Datsun tranny isn't a happy thing: the only way to install it causes the cable to interfere with the reverse lamp switch (which we're using). Too tight a bend there wears the inner cable until it breaks. Need to come up with an alternate configuration.

(Oct 2002) Drove her to her mountain cabin home, where she can winter inside the garage instead of getting soaked in the rain...

(Oct 2009) Drove her back from her sojourn in the Sierra; she got about 35 mpg for the trip back. We have completed several long-delayed interior projects: the wooden parcel shelf from Antique Auto Woodwork in North Carolina; the upholstered interior panels in the rear, and some carpet pieces. Installing the parcel shelf got me to finally install a cable to control the water valve for the heater, too - that's under the dash where the diverter used to be; the diverter moved under the parcel shelf.

(Nov 2009) Paid a king's ransom to Palo Alto Speedometer and got an inline ratio adapter and associated cable surgery. Now the speedometer indicates more or less the correct speed and the reverse lamp switch can be left in place.

(Nov 2009) Sam leaves the Dimebank Garage for the last time, headed to her new home in Woodside. Thanks for all the fish!


Last updated Nov 23 2009 by cak