More Haste Less Speed – My B.L Balls-Up

Mike Humble

Everyday is a learning day – as the phrase goes, I for one certainly vouch for that. Barely a week goes by where I don’t say in amazement ‘well flip me’ or something similar. Despite being half a century old, I still have a thirst for knowledge or trivia and duly memorising it, things, stuff, pointless trivia – you name it. Pity it does not include which day of the week the bins go out is something the missus often retorts but that’s a story for another time. Learning by your mistakes is another one I try to adhere to, and to wander off the track for a moment, I do recall sitting on a workmate’s disciplinary where he was being brought to task on his monumental number of quite often expensive cock – up’s for the same stupid things.

A director properly tore him a new backside at which point my colleague stood bolt upright and yelled ‘Listen here pal, I’ve twenty years experience in this game’. I have never been privy to a hearing like this where such laughter erupted when the Director, as stone faced as you could imagine, slowly removed his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose and replied ‘no Steve, you’ve had one years experience – twenty times’ – you get the point?

The Morris Ital Estate – What a weapon in adolescent teenage hands

Anyway, steering us back on course, another mantra I swear by is trust no one. Many years ago I bought a car with a worn out engine – a tidy 1.3 Morris Ital estate in British Telecom Yellow for literally pennies. It still had a useful wad of MOT left and at this time every breakers yard up and down the land was awash with Itals’ and bloody Marina’s – there wasn’t much you couldn’t lay your hands on for these clunkers in the late eighties / early nineties. The plan was to upgrade the power by replacing the 60bhp 1275 A plus engine for an all singing all dancing 1700cc overhead cam ‘O’ series of some searing 78 galloping horses.

At these times, if you were in the South Midlands looking for Morris bits, you gravitated to Joe Ingram Motors in Northampton. This place was a smallish breakers yard that ran alongside the railway tracks in an area called Martins Yard and their Yellow Pages box listing proudly stated ‘ Morris Marina engines and gearboxes always available’. Old Joe was a funny bloke, he hailed from Jamaica If I recall and was so laid back that his office chair might as well as been a hammock. With the aid of a borrowed van myself and a commandeered pal descended onto his premises.

Joe pointed to a clean looking engine to which he said ran spot on, the car had driven in under its own steam and had paperwork to state it had a recent clutch fitted – bingo. He also pointed to a nearby gearbox that I also required, it had obviously been reconditioned not too long ago and if I wanted them both he’d do a deal. Time prevents from recalling the figure but suffice to say it was a steal and a half and both lumps were duly chucked into the van.

By 11:00 am that Saturday morning we got a wriggle on and by mid afternoon the second hand exhaust system required to fit was bolted up, the clutch was bled, a new oil filter and some lube was thrown in and it was time to flick the key and start the old girl up. I was just seventeen at the time and obviously quietly proud of his industrious son, my dad stood on the drive to witness this milestone in history. With my eyes squinted as if to be expecting a massive explosion, the key was turned and the motor fired up on the second churn of the starter motor.

The O series unit was one of B.L’s better engineering examples of its time – Quite a tough old bugger if a bit uncouth.

The engine ran perfectly but there was a strange noise. Imagine if you please, the noise of a fly buzzing at a constant pitch but with a quick intermittent pause between the buzz. Now slowly shaking his head in sorrow my dad sauntered back into the house returning to his beloved Grandstand on BBC1. Myself and Robbie stood there confused and deflated. Was something caught or trapped we wondered, so a good peer under the bonnet and under the car took place – nothing seemed untoward.

It then dawned on me that perhaps the gearbox was at fault. Quickly removing it revealed old Joe had in fact sold me a reconditioned gearbox for the bloody engine I had already taken out – a 1.3. Phoning Mr Ingram he apologised and said he would stay open an extra half hour so we could right the wrongs. By this time we’d lost the use of the van so I had to beg my dad to run me there in his nearly new company Montego. With reluctance he did so along with the threat of being killed if so much as one drop of oil or flake of muck soiled the boot carpet.

Wrapping the box in an old blanket we sped off to the yard. Joe was true to his word and even handed over a tenner for the aggro caused which my dad nabbed for his inconvenience The journey home included a ‘gospel according to Alan’ about always checking everything before undertaking such a task rather than concentrating on rushing the job so I could screech around the town impressing my pals – how right he was or more to the point, how right he usually was. I wouldn’t have minded but at one point both gearboxes were on the floor and not one of us even thought about double checking for suitability as the mainshaft and splines are respectfully narrower and different on the 1.3 engine. In point of fact, two well known phrases come to mind over 30 years later – trust no one and of course the classic…

More haste less speed

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