Rationalising the 323 GTX, part 7: the rocker cover

This was my rocker cover.

I picked it up from my engine builder when I delivered the turbo.

I shouldn't really file it under the "Rationalising" series. My rocker cover needed a new gasket and then would have continued to last forever, because they don't wear out. There was nothing to rationalise; it was neither badly modified nor badly designed. What it also was not, as even the indifferent will notice, was pretty.

Here is one that is pretty:

That's not mine; it is one beautifully restored by 80s Hero. I could have done exactly the same thing with mine, but the one above is perfect. Because it has been done perfectly, I can't do better than it, so instead I would have to do something completely different. I had an idea which I did not know would work or not, but if it worked as well as it did in my head it would be awesome.

But before I could do any of that, I had to remove nearly four decades of corrosion, flaky paint, and overcooked oil from it. Half a gallon of old petrol, some oven cleaner and a pressure washer got it back to this...

...then paint stripper, wire brushes, Brillo pads, and arms got it to bare metal.

I could have had this vapour blasted instead of cleaning it myself, manually. I didn't mostly because I started this a few days before Christmas when everything was closed, and partly because I started this a few days before Christmas and needed something to keep me out of trouble in my time off. But I happen to like that this preserves some of the "texture" of the aluminium. Other people have done the ultra-shiny mirror-finish engine bay to perfection; again, because I can't beat that, I have to do something different instead.

After all that, the underside didn't look quite so toxic either.

Back to the plan that was in my head! That plan was to mask off everything but the raised parts, spray those black, then unmask it and clear-coat both the painted and unpainted parts. For the fine bits of masking, I tested with 4mm and 5mm Hobby 2000 tape, which is designed for scale modellers. I figured they really like sharp lines in that world, but to be sure that it would work with the paint I was using I did a test on a sheet of clean brand-new steel plate I had kicking around.

Nice; that's sharp enough that the texture of the rocker cover is my limitation. And with that giving me confidence in the plan, I masked it up...

...then gave it a couple of coats of Jenolite matt BBQ paint, as previously seen on my heat shield. I didn't use this paint for its temperature-resistant properties; if it ever got close to 650 C at the rocker cover I would have bigger things to worry about than my paint coming off, such as my engine being violently on fire. Rather, that was the matt black paint which I had kicking around, so I used it.

That required baking (in the big BBQ this time round) to make it cure, and then I lacquered it with Jenolite clear coat. Which I'm not going to show you yet!

Originally, as you can on 80s Hero's beautiful rocker cover, the lettering would be red. I actually did this on the first iteration of the rocker cover (never believe that I get stuff right the first time), and I didn't like it. Instead, I decided on something more subtle, which was to paint in the letters in a slightly different black to make it recede a little.

It is subtle! So subtle that I'm not sure it actually made any difference other than in photos with a light carefully angled to show the difference - let alone from the 10 feet or so away that anyone but me will ever see this. But I know it is there!

One of my HT lead separator thingies was broken. It's on the right of the original picture above. You probably won't see it, because it was broken.

Fortunately, these are identical to the ones fitted to the early 1.6 MX5s. That means I can buy reproductions of them. I could probably find genuine ones if I was more patient, but these were available immediately. I think they are 3D printed. They are not as strong as the originals; I broke one while mishandling the rocker cover.

Also, I couldn't leave my throttle cable bracket looking like this:

So I didn't. It got attacked with a wire brush and then sprayed with Jenolite satin black paint. (I love Jenolite paints! I mention them often enough that you'd think they sponsor me; I use enough of their paint that I wish they would.)

It bothered me that I used the wrong bolts in this pic. I thought allen heads would look neater, then after I had torqued them down didn't like how they sat. I replaced them with M6x16mm flanged bolts almost immediately after I took the photo.

Meanwhile, this was my oil filler cap.

There was nothing wrong with it. If there was, these are one of the parts shared with the MX-5; I can buy as many of those as I want! And that would look better than most of the aftermarket ones. They're too blingy and branded, which is not at all the look I wanted for my engine bay, because I'm not obsessive about minor details while simultaneously having a blindspot for the big important things at all.

I almost liked the Hoonigan-by-Mishimoto filler cap.

Which is blingy and branded! But it has a nice shape, which meant I could do something with it. So I bought it, and had the red anodising blasted off it by my local powder coaters. And then, to match the rocker cover, I masked off everything but the top face and the 45 degree chamfer on the corner, painted that black with the same Jenolite matt black BBQ paint, baked it...

Totally normal people, doing totally normal things.

...and clear-coated it. After which it looked rather more like I wanted it to look!

That took much of a day by itself even if you don't count the time I spent over-thinking this!

And after all that, I have the best rocker cover.

Or at least, I have one that doesn't look like anybody else's, and one that turned out exactly the way it did in my head when I first had the idea. And minus the silly overkill oil cap all of this probably would have cost me about 50 quid even if I wasn't using materials which I already had.


Part numbers from this post

  • 4mm masking tape: Hobby 2000 H2K80007
  • Green masking tape: Frog Tape 155874
  • Black high-temperature paint: Jenolite 89096
  • Clear coat: Jenolite 88987
  • Satin black paint: Jenolite 89510
  • Oil filler cap: Mishimoto MMOFC-MAZ-HOONRD
  • HT lead separator thingies: Mazda B660-10-241 (unavailable)