Posts filed under “Cars”

My various adventures with shit old cars.

Experiments within a project within a project

A Rover P5 3 Litre brake servo

This is my brake servo.

I removed it from the car as part of the "refurbish the brakes" subproject of the "financially ruinous Rover P5" project. It's a separate unit from the pedal-activated cylinder unlike it is on almost any other car, because Rover loved overcomplicating things back then.

The vacuum chamber (the large cylinder on the right) was half-full with brake fluid. As the name "vacuum" implies, there is not meant to be any fluid in there at all. That was quite the surprise when I took it apart, and also a surprise which caused me to lose a full set of clothing. There was little way the servo could have been functioning, and I suspect that aeration of the brake fluid would have caused the braking system to be minimally-functional even without the servo's assistance.

I suspected this seal may have been the problem:

A dodgy seal on the control piston on the P5's brake servo.

But, the unit was so ugly that I cannot say for sure that any single component was at fault. The photos you see here were after a blast of electrical contact cleaner (which is great for cleaning up anything that isn't an electrical contact).

Exploring the P5's servo internals.

I take a lot of photos in the course of doing things as reference for how things need to go back together. In the above one, you can see quite a lot of mank in the servo's internals.

Under other circumstances, I would have considered giving it a wire brush on the outside, a soak in petrol and a skim with very mild abrasives to clean the cylinders. But while I was ordering an electroplating kit for the various fasteners I have removed from the car, it seemed a good idea to order an electrolytic cleaning kit` as an experiment! As if I didn't have enough new things to learn...

Electrolytic cleaning is, in my head, electroplating in reverse. Rather than using an electric current to attract material onto a thing you want to plate, you operate it in reverse so an electric current attracts material away from a thing you want to clean.

It works quite well. In the process of working quite well, it turns the electrolyte (this is water mixed with powdered sodium carbonate) into the only thing I would like to drink less than brake fluid or Foster's.

What looks like a bucket of very scummy water

The exterior of the servo still required some love from a wire brush on the outside after the cleaning. The two bores feel very nice after the cleaning, so I will leave them be.

A P5 brake servo after electrolytic cleaning and some wire-brush action; it has scrubbed up well.

And the part that makes me happiest, is that the Girling wordmark is now visible!

The word "Girling", previously not visible, on my brake servo

And that...means that after two weekends I am half-way through rebuilding one of the components of one of the sub-projects of the P5.

Onwards!

The little things

Page from the manual of a Rover P5, showing exactly what tools are needed for the job.

I love good documentation.

The Rover P5's workshop manual - the original one written by the engineers at Rover - is the best manual I have ever used. I especially enjoy that the manual sets out exactly what tools you will need including the sizes of spanners in the preface. This is the only workshop manual I have seen that does this, and it makes every job a tiny bit faster and a tiny bit more fun.

How many times did I work on the Mazda and read through a 20-step walkthrough and then in step 19 it says "use special tool, part number F-U, which is obviously completely unavailable for any amount of money to remove this delicate thing that will definitely break if you try to use cruder methods to remove it"?

Good documentation is important, and I believe in thanking people for good work even if I am late to their particular party. So, thank you, Rover engineers from 60 years ago. You did a fantastic job.

In which I make an uncharacteristically sensible decision

The weekend before last, Mazda Amy started making a scary knocking noise at about 2000 RPM upwards when the engine was warm. By "knocking" I do not mean pinking; I mean that scary kind of knocking that hints at a piston being prepared for a journey into earth orbit, and hinting at a full engine rebuild about 300 miles since the last one. Yay, time to throw some more time and money at a 34 year old hatchback.

My Mazda 323 GTX looking pretty

I love this car. I always will. I'll never sell her, because I know I would regret that forever. She's too rare and she is too special - special in both a "special to me" way and in an "unlike any other car ever made" way.

But...not now. Not this engine rebuild right now, days after I've spent a frightening amount of money on parts for the P5. I made the tough decision to send her away into secure, insulated and dry storage for a little bit.

My Mazda loaded up for transport to her temporary home

It broke my heart having to do this. But if I am going to get the P5 done in any reasonable timeframe, I need to sink every spare penny I have into it. And in the meantime, Mazda Amy needs to go some place where she is not going to deteriorate from disuse. This is not goodbye to Mazda Amy; I am kicking the can down the road, and I hope to catch up with that can at some time about six months to a year from now.

Although...even though I knew this wasn't really a goodbye, I will miss her desperately.

I think I only avoided an emotional moment while she was being put onto the truck because I was having a lot of fun talking to the recovery truck's driver. He was a fellow petrolhead who really understood why someone would have so much love for one forgotten rally-homologation variant of a forgotten 1980s hatchback; while he was loading up my car we had wide-ranging conversations about petrolhead topics like the Vauxhall Calibra, the joys of the Rover V8's unique noises, and even our favourite local drift racing drivers. (Quick shout out to Farrow Auto who moved the car for me; I will entirely recommend them to anyone in the area of King's Lynn.)


All of which left me without a working car. And also without a lot of money, by which I mean no fucking money. A brief quest ensued for something on the really really low-budget end of budget motoring.

I wanted something that costed significantly less than a grand. Making it more difficult, I had a few criteria, which would rightly open me to accusations of being a bit of a prima uomo given the price constraint:

  • It must already work. There are huge bargains to be had in the sub-£1000 and especially sub-£500 market, if you feel like doing a bit of work on a car. I don't mind doing any kind of work on cars in the general case, but after three "barely made it home" incidents in Mazda Amy and one bonus "took my chances and can't gauge how lucky I was to make it home" incident in Mazda Amy...I'm tired. I don't mind sinking everything I have into cars. But right now, I just want a working car that gets me to places and then home safely.
  • I must be able to get parts for it, cheaply. Here's a good metric: can you get a pair of brake discs and pads from multiple vendors for less than £35?
  • There must be no modifications. A car with modifications that is worth less than £1000 is modified in ways that have made the car worse. Returning that to standard costs money. I don't want to spend money.
  • Nothing French, because if I had to drive any French car made since about 2003 I would be irresistibility compelled to hate-drive it into a wall.
  • Nothing British. There's no shortage of old Jaguars going for very little money, and those are cheap in the same way "Doberman puppy, free to good home" is actually free. There is also no shortage of cars from MG Rover out there for very little money. They are massively underrated, but good luck getting parts for them.
  • No automatic gearboxes, because I don't like them.
  • No Diesels, out of a misguided sense of principle. (Ask me about that some day.)
  • Not a Honda Jazz, because I am not old enough to legally own a Honda Jazz. The law is what it is; complain to your MP if you don't like it, not to me.

Despite me being too fussy...I found something!

You've heard this one before: Lewis has plans to get a sensible economical daily driver, with a few creature comforts and ends up with...

Ford Fiesta Mark 5 1.4 LX

...something that is actually completely sensible and economical, which was not how you expected that one to end. Meet The Shed!

The Shed is a Ford Fiesta 1.4 LX from 2004. It came with 8 months of MOT and half a tank of fuel. I saw it advertised on Saturday, and I viewed it an hour later. After looking it over for about five minutes, I told the owner I was satisfied it did in fact have four wheels and a working engine, and I handed over her full asking price of...six hundred pounds.

£600! For a working car with no obvious problems! Even if it fails its next MOT, and I decide that it is not worth fixing, that would allow me to have a car for about £75 a month. That is cheap motoring!

It's not just cheap to buy. It should be cheap to own as well. It uses almost no fuel, because it has a tiny 1.4 litre engine and weighs as much as a skateboard. Parts are ridiculously cheap and all of the important stuff is still available brand new, because it is a Ford. And because it's neither fast nor expensive nor desirable, insurance is really cheap too (about half the cost of Mazda Amy).

The Shed is not in bad condition at all. I realise that anyone who knows me, knows that I set that bar quite low, but I think by any reasonable person's standards this is rather good for the money. It is cosmetically imperfect; there are no major dents, but it does have several little scars caused by its time in use as a workhorse for a young family.

The silver colour hides a multitude of sins; I'd call it "20 foot good", in that the £600 car looks like at least a £650 car at that distance. It had a slightly frightening MOT history, but the previous owner's husband is a mechanic; he fixed any advisories & minor faults immediately after they came up.

Most importantly, it is completely solid; there is not so much as a hint of surface rust that would shortly become something much nastier.

The interior is in much better condition.

Ford Fiesta 1.4 LX interior

I was expecting The Shed, as a car that had been used as a child transporter, to have parts missing or broken, and to smell strongly of Fruit Shoots and Marathon bars (or whatever they're called these days). It does not. The Shed is tidy inside and there's minimal wear everywhere.

The Shed is even quite comfortable! It has air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors, and a working (original!) stereo. To most people I'm sure that reads as someone pleased that their hamburger includes bread and meat. Do bear in mind that Mazda Amy had none of these things; The Shed is practically a Bentley in comparison. It's also extremely quiet...compared to a mental turbocharged 1980s rally homologation special with minimal sound deadening and a fucking drainpipe for an exhaust. I reckon if I had someone in my passenger seat I could talk to them without raising my voice!

I'm...somewhat liking The Shed. Or maybe I'm just liking the fact I have a car that works, or maybe those likes are the same thing.


So what's next for The Shed?

I think...pretty much nothing. I will not make any modifications, because modifying a £600 car will make you slightly poorer, increase your insurance costs, and leave you with a £500 car. Except, maybe, if I can find some at the right price, getting some alloy wheels to replace these...

Cheap wheel trims on cheap steel wheels on my Fiesta

...because wheel trims always look bad. Genuine Ford alloys, like those fitted to the Mark 5 Fiesta Zetec, would look much better and would not look "modified".

Otherwise, I want The Shed to be a car that transports me and objects between places, and it does that just fine, just as it is. I'm unwilling to spend much money on it. But, even though it is The Shed, it still deserves some cosmetic attention. It'll never be an interesting car, but it may as well look as good as its completely-stock slightly-dull self can.

I've set a budget of £100 to improve it cosmetically; if only for my own entertainment, I want to see how I can make the maximum possible cosmetic impact with almost no money. I might even document it here as I go!

Fitting a Chinese-made F10A engine to a Suzuki SJ 410: what you need to know

TL;DR: This requires some amateur machining skills. This also requires the SJ410's sump, oil pickup, and dipstick. It also requires either the SJ410's camshaft or a distributor from a late Vietnamese- or Myanmarese-market Suzuki Carry.

Did you know that the ancient Suzuki F10A engine is still produced today in China? As I write this, they are, because they are still used in brand new vehicles sold in Myanmar and Vietnam. And here's something somewhat more interesting than that: Manufacturers of these engines will sell them directly to customers in the West, even in single-engine quantities. Which is to say: if you need a new F10A engine, you can get in touch with one of their distributors, and have a brand new engine on your doorstep in a few weeks.

That sounds awfully tempting for any owner of a Suzuki SJ410 that has a worn engine; for significantly less than a grand (including the very expensive P&P), you could have a brand new engine in your SJ!

Here is what one looks like after it comes out of its box and goes onto a Draper engine stand:

Chinese F10A engine

I did say "box"! Bless these tiny engines; they're small enough that they can fit in a decently-sized, man-portable cardboard box with generous amounts of packing materials.

These Chinese-made engines (which I shall hereafter refer to as "Chinese engines") are designed for various small rear-wheel-drive trucks and vans that are still in use in a couple of Asian markets. The engine differs in subtle ways to the original F10A as fitted to the SJ410. It will require minor modifications to work with the ancillaries of the SJ, all of which I shall detail in this post.

Mounting points, general

Several of the mounting holes were drilled to...well, some thread that wasn't anything in particular. If you get any resistance winding in a metric bolt to any of these holes, don't force it. Use a tap to bring no-thread-in-particular out to a metric thread.

Camshaft

The supplied camshaft will almost certainly be incorrect; the distributor drive splines are angled in the wrong direction and will not drive the SJ410's distributor. Thus, you will either need to use your existing camshaft, buy a new one (available off-the-shelf), or fit a distributor that is appropriate for the camshaft. The correct distributor for the Chinese engine's cam should be the same as those fitted to later Vietnamese- and Myanmarese-market Suzuki Carry.

Alternator bracket

The Chinese engines use a different mounting point for the alternator bracket. This photo should illustrate this:

Alternator bracket

The spare hole at the top is where the Chinese engines are expecting the alternator bracket to bolt to, whereas the rightmost hole is where the SJ's alternator bracket wants to bolt to. The pegs are still there (presumably from the original casting) to accept a hole, but there is no hole or thread inside it. You will either have to modify your alternator bracket, or drill a hole and tap a thread into the still-extant mounting peg. The latter is what you see in the photo.

Engine mount brackets

You will need to drill out the engine-side holes in the engine mount brackets, because the Chinese engines have an M10 thread and the original SJ's engine uses M8.

On the exhaust-side engine mount, you'll have the same problem as you did on the alternator; the pegs for a mounting hole still exist, but you will need to drill into the peg and tap a thread for the engine mount. Be very careful here; it is easy to drill too far and thereby poke a hole into your crankcase area, and you'll end up with machining swarf chilling in your crankcase.

Sump & oil pickup

You will need to use the SJ410's original sump. This should clearly illustrate why:

SJ410 sump vs Chinese F10A sump; the SJ410's is shallow at the front and deeper at the back.

The sump on the SJ410 engines has a large cutout at the front to clear your axle, and is somewhat deeper at the back. Of course, this is not necessary on rear-wheel-drive cars, so they have a flat, deep sump. If your SJ410 has a substantial-enough suspension lift kit, you might get away with it. Or you might smash an axle-sized hole in your sump, and not get away with it. It's much better to use the original sump.

For this reason, you're going to have to use the SJ410's oil pickup pipe, too, as the SJ410's picks up from a different place, and the Chinese engine's one will be too long for the SJ engine's sump. This will present you with another problem, which is that the extra length of the SJ's oil pickup necessitates an extra bracket to hold the oil pickup in place. This bracket is attached to a hole on the middlemost main bearing cap...

...which does not exist at all on the Chinese engine's middlemost bearing cap:

Don't try and use the SJ410's bearing cap; the tolerances down there are very tight. It is best to weld a nut onto the Chinese engine's main bearing cap.

Here's what that looks like:

You'll also need to use the SJ410's dipstick, or modify the Chinese engine's dipstick.

Spark plugs

Your Chinese engine may come with spark plugs. If it does, they will probably be mystery-meat spark plugs. They will do fine, in the short term. They will burn out soon enough, so you should definitely replace them at the first opportunity with a set of NGK plugs.

Addendum: the real work here and all of the learnings are those of Maurice Carter, who does not have a website. My contribution is limited to offering bad ideas, offering exactly two good ideas, taking photographs, and arranging some words to form some sentences that you just read.

In which I explore just how bad a decision this P5 was

On the weekend that has most recently passed, my mission was to find out exactly how bad or good Penny the P5 is. The good news is that everything is very good and really solid, despite the scruffy appearance. South Africa was very kind to Penny. There's only one little bit that looks a bit sketchy on one of the front inner wings and where it joins to the sill.

Also, there's almost nothing missing. Those bits that are missing might be a pain to find, but none of them would stop me getting it running. (I was immediately 250 quid poorer from buying three of those bits on Saturday. It's only money...)

What is not missing is this. Behold, 3 litres, 6 cylinders and 115 horsepower of IOE Rover FURY:

Rover 3-litre IOE engine in my P5

If you look at the far bottom right you can see a glass washer bottle! I was last-Saturday-years-old when I learned that was a thing.

I do wonder how necessary that gigantic airbox is. I also wonder if it could be replaced with a tiny K&N or Mishimoto cone filter. Or maybe a Range Rover airbox, since that's what I know to be sensibly-sized and what I know to have very little intake noise. Or maybe it can wait till I pull off my next terrible idea!

So, back to what I should be doing, which is to get the engine started. I said there's nothing that would stop me getting it running. But it's clear that all the wiring is not in a great state.

A bunch of extant, though quite nasty-looking, wires near the fusebox of my P5

The wires exist and have not set on fire yet. It will almost certainly work to whatever extent it can, until it sets on fire. I can certainly foresee a situation in which I am going to replace some substantial part of the wiring just to get the engine started...and if I'm going to do that, then I might as well go all the way...

...which is to say I have decided to rewire the entire car, and do so for negative earth & an alternator, before I even attempt to get the engine running. This might be a bit of a brave move given that my knowledge of electrical circuits is limited to basic knowledge of how DC circuits work. Oh well, as a wise man said one time, the best way of getting started with something you don't know how to do is by starting to do it. Fortunately, you can buy entire wiring harnesses off the shelf from Autosparks, which should be about £512.40 if you add in the optional wiring for an alternator, electric fan, and radio feed (I don't intend to fit a radio to it, but I don't want to rule it out). Yep, it's only money...

As I knew before I bought it, the interior is totally shot:

A completely shot interior from a 1964 Rover P5

It's not just the cover that is torn; whatever previously resembled foam on the seats has turned into something that is not at all like foam. It has the texture of compressed sand, in that it crumbles into dust when you squeeze it in your fingers. Also, almost every piece of woodwork has delaminated, and those bits of wood that are covered in other materials have had their coverings disintegrate. I think I might be able to learn enough woodwork by myself to fix some of those bits. The upholstery almost certainly needs to be done by someone else.

So, this isn't going to be an easy recommisioning - not that I thought it would be, even before I introduced this new complication. And definitely not cheap, though I knew that would not be the case either. I can afford it, but I will say that I will definitely be eating a lot of instant noodles over the next few months...

A box of 40 Indomie Mi Goreng instant noodles

...and these are the God-tier mother of all instant noodles. Something, almost certainly, for a future review on the very website you are reading now.

Rover P5 grille and 'Three Litre' badge

Onwards!

Introducing Project Penny

I've been thinking about a backup car for Amy, my Mazda 323 GTX, for quite a while now. Not because I don't like her. She rules. She also doesn't work all the time. I've been wanting to take her off the road and get her indoors for a while now. I'd like to modernise & rationalise the turbo setup and the engine management. I'd also like to get her bodywork sorted once and for all, rather than the remedial work that I am doing now.

And also...a tiny, ridiculously rare turbocharged hatchback with poverty-spec features (wind-down windows, no air conditioning, no safety features at all) isn't exactly what I need in a daily. I'd actually like to make it to destinations, and get there in comfort, without spending three million pounds on fuel.

So. I needed something cheap, economical, sensible, modern, reliable, easy to find parts for, and with at least a few modern creature comforts as well. And that is why I bought

1964 Rover P5 3 Litre

a three-litre Rover P5 from 1964, which might work, because Lewis Logic fucking rules. Say hello to Penny the P5!

(The car purchase is real, but the narrative may or may not be. All I'll say, is that when I first started writing this the narrative hook was along the lines of "I realised I could not officially be an old man unless I was driving a Rover". It's up to you to decide whether I was completely making shit up.)

This car spent most of its life in South Africa. The chap that owned her brought it over here about four years ago, then got ill, and died. Penny made her way to a dealer, who then advertised it on Car and Classic. Car and Classic's Chris Pollitt did a "Project Profile" feature piece, which was a great article that you should definitely read for more background on the P5 in general and the 3 Litre in particular.

I saw the article, and I immediately knew I had to have that car. I've had a bit of a soft spot for the P5 since I saw one at the end of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but I do not think I have ever been emotionally affected by one. I don't think any car ever has affected me as much emotionally as this one did via mere pictures on the Internet.

I sat on those "I need this car" thoughts for an entire work day. When I clocked off, I called the chap and provisionally reserved it. Exactly one week later, it was delivered to my driveway. And she is every bit as beautiful as she was in the photos.

So what's the plan?

My immediate plan, as in tomorrow lunchtime and this weekend, is to make everything watertight. Brand new door seals are included with the car, but not fitted. I'd also like to make the boot latch work (it does not work), and the bonnet to close (even better if I can open it again).

Next up, of course, I want to make it solid underneath. Because the car spent most of its life in South Africa, I am hoping that I will not have too much to do. South African weather is much kinder to cars than our own climate is. But the car is 57 years old, so no doubt I will be able to poke some holes in it.

In the meantime, I will have to go through some paperwork and some small amount of arse to get it registered in the UK. The guy who imported it never did. I am hoping this will not be too difficult. While this happens, I will not make any modifications to it - and by that, I mean not even replacing any parts with functionally identical modern ones. My reading of the rules for getting an age-related plate when "naturalising" a car is that every component must be original. My reading might be unreasonably strict, but I'm erring on the safe side because I do not want to end up with a Q plate.

After that, will be the slow process of recommissioning; replacing every consumable part, checking every safety-critical part, getting the engine working (it may or may not work, though it does turn over by hand), source the very few bits that didn't come with the car, and eventually getting it to a state in which I can MOT it. (I'm quite aware that at its age I don't have to MOT it, but with the amount of money this will cost me it would seem foolish to not spend an extra few dozen quid for an extra set of eyes to ensure that I have not done something stupid). My hilariously-over-optimistic timeline for this is to have this done before the end of Summer.

After that, let's talk about what I will not do. I want to do nothing that will change the car's character. It was designed to be a big, boaty cruiser for important people, and it will continue to be a big, boaty cruiser for some idiot from Norfolk. It is a silent straight 6, so it will stay a silent straight 6. (And if I was going to do a 3.5 litre V8 swap I've got one kicking around which is much more interesting to me than a Rover one.)

I also don't want to change the car's history. There are dents and scars on the body, and those are part of the car's past. I don't think I should attempt to do much with them. I probably will stabilise those scars where they are showing surface rust, so they don't turn into something worse. And even though the metallic paint is almost certainly not its original colour, that too is part of the car's history and not something I want to change. Plus, I love that colour.

What I will do are some tiny modernising touches. I'll definitely convert it to use an alternator & to have negative earth electrics, and replace any invisible electronic components with modern solid-state ones. It will definitely get seatbelts at some point, because I do not want the tiniest low-speed shunt to cause a brief, very exciting trip through the windscreen. I might do something about the distributor having points, and about the fact that viscous fans are wank...and probably a lot else, but you get the idea. Tiny modernising touches, as I said, that will make her a more viable daily.

That's all for now. Onwards!

Self-archaeology and the Internet Movie Car Database

This was my mum's Mercedes 220. It was glorious.

Mercedes W115 in red

She bought LRO 468L for £500 in either 1989 or 1990, because back then it was merely an old car (though cars aged much quicker 30 years ago). It was beautiful, silent, luxurious, and very wafty. I loved it, and everyone else did. She sold it a few months later for slightly more than she paid for it, because it needed welding work on the floorpan. A very young Me did not talk to her for a day after that.

It was last MOT'ed in 1990, so we can probably conclude it does not exist anymore (or, to avoid offending those of you who believe in the laws of thermodynamics, exists in an entirely different form). A W114 or W115 is still on my bucket list of cars to own. It might even be the next project I build, if my next project starts before the prices of these go through the roof.

Fast-forward just a few years. Recently, someone pointed out that if you search for a registration plate on Google Images, there's a good chance that it will find a photo of that car, because Google indexes any text it finds within an image, and may notice the text on the numberplate. Like ANPR, but for everything.

It worked on my car. Among others, it found a photo taken at the late Rockingham Motor Speedway, which my brother (the previous owner) took in 2007 back when "camera phone" still meant "thing with a dialpad", and posted on a forum in 2008.

My Mazda at Rockingham in 2007

It worked when I entered the registration of this Mercedes, too. I know the registration off by heart, because my memory is weird. I remember a Windows 95 product key that I last used in anger in 1997, and the registration of my mum's car from 31 years ago, and sometimes draw a blank when I have to enter my PIN into a cash machine.

The first result was the picture you saw at the top of this article. I uploaded that photo to Wikimedia Commons over 15 years ago, and things often spread to weird and unexpected places when you do that. (I'll tell you the story about the wall art in the bogs at Downham Market station some other time...)

The second and third images were the offspring of obsessive categorisation at scale. I would hope any petrolhead would know about the Internet Movie Car Database, wherein a (presumably vast) number of very dedicated people are aiming to identify every car in every film & television program. If your car appeared in the background of, e.g., an episode of The Bill in December 1984, then there's a good chance someone has captured and categorised it.

Mercedes W115 as a background car in The Bill, 1984

Well how about that!

But wait: It's brown! Or at least looks brown. Did it get a respray before my mum owned it? Or did a worn 80s VHS tape not reproduce the glorious red that it was? I won't ever know the answer to that, and I am okay with that.

The cars we knew in our youth are, or will be, almost all lost to time and entropy; only a very few are lucky enough to be recommissioned or restored. But this Mercedes was lucky to have its few seconds of fame on the small screen, and was immortalised, to some very tiny extent and entirely accidentally, by some extraordinarily committed people on the Internet. That's more than most cars will get, and that, is good enough for me.

One more job from the giant pile of necessary jobs

Mazda Amy has a new windscreen. This could have happened several months earlier. More about that in a moment.

My windscreen was not broken. It was, however, severely fogged in the corners, where water had made its way into the laminates and had started to separate them.

Fogging in the corners of a Mazda 323 windscreen

This is not an MOT failure right now, though it may have become one in the future as the fogging spreaded. It may have weakened the glass in the corners, though for many other reasons I'd be so completely doomed in an accident with the modern artillery tractors 4x4s half the country drives these days that I don't think it'd make any practical difference in an accident. I was not convinced that it was watertight. It definitely looked terrible, and was for some time on my list of things to fix.

The used market for vehicle glass is tricky. Whenever I've stripped a car for parts, the glass has always been nearly impossible to sell (and for windscreens, that can only happen if one manages to get the glass out intact, which only ever happens on non-bonded windscreens from very old vehicles). There's usually only a small time window available; you generally try to get rid of the glass at the very end, right before you send the shell off for scrap. That means when you're looking for glass you'll almost certainly not find it.

Not that I really wanted a used windscreen, but going used is often the only option for very old and/or rare cars. I certainly did not think that one of the mainstream glassmongers would be able to obtain one, so I did not try. It was as a last resort that I thought to try Autoglass, whose site claimed they were able to do a replacement. It seemed implausible to me at the time, but I rolled with it.

I originally booked this replacement in October. I heard nothing back for a couple of months. When I poked them last month the very nice lady on the phone explained that it entered their system, and then nothing happened, for unclear reasons.

Not to worry. Autoglass Lady quickly made things right, and Autoglass went about sourcing a new windscreen. When they got back to me, the same Autoglass Lady (or at least sounded the same) used the definite article ("the windscreen") in quite a precise fashion; a fashion that implied the windscreen they had sourced was the only one they could find in the country. So if you've come here from a search engine because you're trying to source a windscreen for your BF 323 in the UK: I probably took the last one. I'm sorry.

New Mazda 323 BF windscreen, with blue tint

The windscreen has a blue tinted sunstrip, which the original did not. My car is blue, and will be staying blue even after I get it into a bodyshop, so I am okay with that. Even if I wasn't okay with that, I'd have to deal with it, because it is the windscreen and I will take whatever I can get.

I can't even remember whether I have windscreen cover on my insurance, and I do not care to look right now. But even if this was eligible for an insurance replacement, which is unclear, claiming for it would have felt fraudulent as I knew about this problem long before I insured the car. So, I paid for this out of my pocket. The cost was a mildly eye-watering £431. That included fitting, of course, as this is definitely not a job I would consider doing myself, but still...

I won't fault Autoglass for this, because this is an exceptionally rare car (even in non-turbo, non-4x4 form) and I would expect the price of the windscreen to be priced accordingly. I'm actually very happy with them, because once the disappearing-booking mistake was rectified their service was outstanding, and because they managed to source the windscreen, which is something I never expected.

So that's one more pile of cash in the furnace, and one more job out the way. This also means I can tidy up the trims that normally cover the very visible gap you can see and get those fitted, too.

Onwards!