GRR

John Simister: The Singer Le Mans is singing again

11th June 2017
john_simister_singer_goodwood_12062017_04.jpg John Simister

You might remember the first Monday column I wrote for the GRRC, back in January. In it I mentioned my 1934 Singer Le Mans, dormant and in pieces after mechanical disaster and owner disillusionment, and how I was inspired by the rebirth of a similar Singer on Car SOS to get mine finished in time for September's Revival meeting. Well, there's progress to report. It's alive again.

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I've spent the last week working on said Singer when I should be doing real work, because if I don't get a momentum going it will never be finished. On Monday I finished the wiring, and gave thanks to anyone listening for the fact that the battery still worked after four years of non-use. My trickle-charger had clearly done its job. On Tuesday I cleaned up the engine block, inserted new cylinder head studs (stronger and less stretchy than the 83-year-old originals), then laid a new head gasket over both followed by the cylinder head.

Then I had to time the overhead camshaft correctly, which took the rest of Tuesday.

On Wednesday I cleaned up and fitted the original Solex carburettors still mounted on their original combined inlet and exhaust manifold. These had been spurned by the last couple of owners in favour of a racy-looking pair of SUs, because the later, faster Special Speed version of the Singer had SUs so they were thought to be a Good Thing. However, I'm glad those past owners had the foresight to hold on to the original Solexes because these particular SUs were the wrong type and too small, more appropriate for something like an Austin Seven. It could well explain why my Singer felt a bit strangled at high revs.

With the carburettors installed, I had to connect them to the accelerator pedal. I had bought some pieces of linkage a while ago, which I shortened to suit before using a die to make new threaded ends to take the ball-and-socket pivots. It all went together just as I hoped it would, a result by no means guaranteed when you're stepping into the automotive dark. Next, I set the ignition timing.

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Now I was at a very exciting stage. In theory the engine should work. There was no water in it, because the radiator is off while its chrome outer shell is being smartened up, but to run the engine for a few seconds would do no harm. Should I try?

And would those carburettors actually work? I had replaced their gaskets and blown through all their jets, but who knew what blockages might have accrued in hidden channels beyond the reach of my STP Carb Cleaner spray?

Deep breath. Choke out, press the starter button. The engine chunters away and then it catches with a chuntering vroooom! like that of a vintage aircraft. All four cylinders are firing, the throttle response is super-crisp and the racket is extraordinary because the exhaust downpipe is currently elsewhere. So there's an unfettered blast of exhaust pulses straight out of the manifold.

It works! It lives! And the pall of smoke I feared might accompany the rebirth fails to materialise. This suggests the rings of number three piston are making decent contact with their cylinder, despite the months of slow corrosion from the water that crept into the bore after the head gasket blew, and caused me to stop driving the Singer in 2013. Looks like I've got away with that one.

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'Now you can drive it to the village classic car show at the weekend,' says Mrs S. It's a kind and encouraging thought, but there are a few more hurdles to jump before the Singer ventures out on the road. An MOT isn't one of those hurdles because the car is too old to need one. Nor do I need to re-tax it, because with free road tax and no MOT requirement I've simply kept the 'tax' – if something of no cost and with no visual means of identfying its presence can be called tax – up to date. It would be a good idea to get another pair of eyes to check my handiwork before I drive it any distance, though.

You probably noticed that I slipped into the present tense back there, on account of the excitement. So I'll now re-engage the past tense, which takes us to Thursday and a day spent massaging the steel side panels that separate the occupants' feet from the engine bay. Newly repaired with metal to replace that cut away when a previous owner didn't understand that a 1934 Singer is designed differently from a 1936 one (after all, everyone knows that…), they needed a bit of tweaking and drilling to achieve a perfect fit. 

Friday was more of the same plus fitting a new choke cable. It needed to be piano wire, stiff and springy and able to cope with being pushed as well as pulled, so a normal stranded cable was no good. Where would I get piano wire? From my local piano restorer, obviously. I'm not sure what note the thickest plain, unwound string represents, but this particular piece now helps a Singer rather than a pianist so it still serves a musical purpose. 

There's still much to do. Radiator re-fit, suspension bushes, steering ball joints and brake hydraulics are next. Then trim, paint and fit the new bonnet, after which the open road will beckon. The Singer's arrival at the Revival is suddenly looking a strong possibility.

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