Here’s the latest instalment of the 1947 GPO Van restoration being undertaken by one of our happy customers. We’re following the story ourselves very keenly as Ian’s enthusiasm is really quite infectious :
Just thought I’d give you an update on the steering box. I got it sorted. I joined the Morris owners club (Which was a really good move) I sent the box to some alleged specialist in Birmingham, who, two days after receiving it called me and told me that the box was basically scrap. He said it was one of the worst he’d ever seen, so I was a bit worried as I was wondering where I was going to get another box from.
I went on the Morris owners website and went on one of the forums to ask if anyone could help with the box. I got a call from a guy in Maidstone asking me what was the problem. I told him what I’d been told and he said what the Birmingham people were telling me was a load of rubbish. He said he’d been working on steering boxes since he was a 15-year-old apprentice (he’s now in his 80s) and he’d never scrapped a box yet.
He told me to send it to him and he would sort it out for me. I got it sent to him and three days after he’s received it, he rang me to say it was fixed and ready to be collected.
Diary of work on Morris ‘Z’ type van YXS 375
Day one 6th August. Got to start working on the van today. I noticed when I went to look at the van, the driver’s side door mirror bracket was loose (one of the securing screws had sheared leaving the bracket loose, so I removed it and replaced the two screws with new ones. I also put some black silicon mastic on the rear of the bracket for two reasons, 1, to help to secure it and 2, to seal it and give it a water proof seal.
I rubbed all of the parts down and will paint them black asap.
Day two 7th August. I got the near side door mirror sorted today, so now at least I have good rear views. I checked all of the lights on the van today and they all worked apart from the brake lights (further investigation required) and I oiled the trafficators and they work fine as well.
I oiled all of the bonnet and door hinges and also oiled the door locks too.
I had a bit of a familiarisation look round the van and I have to say I’m really impressed with the engineering and the thought that has gone into the mechanics of this vehicle. The engine, gearbox and back axle all have dipsticks to check the oil levels and everything appears to have a grease nipple, so it appears to be really easy to look after.
Day three August 8th (my 65th birthday) Painted both mirrors and finished them, so that’s one job completed. I charged the battery fully as well with the new 6v charger I bought.
Day 4 August 11th Today was the start of getting the mechanics done on the van. I started at the Front Offside wheel. I jacked it up and tried the wheel to see if there was any play on the wheel bearings, King pins and bushes and also the steering. The only play I could detect was on the steering box, that’s going to have to be a priority. There was so much play, That I think it’s dangerous and I wouldn’t take it on the road in that state.
Before I took the wheel off, I spun the wheel, which ran quite freely and pressed the brake pedal and the wheel locked, so that told me that the brakes on that wheel were working. I took the wheel off and I removed the screws that held the brake drum in place and amazingly they came out without any problems at all. I went to remove the brake drum and I didn’t even need to use a hammer to tap it off, it just slid off easily. There was no sign of any fluid leaks from the braking system and there was plenty of meat on the brake shoes, but I noticed they weren’t balanced up properly. There are two adjusters on this vehicle, one for each shoe and I noticed that one of the adjusters wasn’t set properly and the shoe wasn’t applying the same as the other one, so I went to try the adjusters to get the balance right on the shoes and I have to be honest, I was expecting problems as the adjusting heads are exposed to the weather, so
I was fully expecting them to be seized, but again, they were free and good. I cleaned the inside of the brake drum and also the back plate and shoes and put the drum back on and adjusted the shoes up so they were balanced and tried the brake. Spot on!
Next, I had a look at the wheel bearings, the first thing I noticed was that they were running free, no grumbles and there was a grease nipple on the side of the bearing housing to be able to pump some grease into it, which I did.
The next thing was to check the king pins and bushes and again, there were grease nipples top and bottom, so again I pumped some fresh grease into them until I saw new grease coming out of the bottom and top of the king pins. It’s a good sign when grease flows freely through the king pin.
Finally, I had a good look at all of the steering linkages that form the steering on the van. As I said earlier, the steering box is in my opinion shot and dangerous and I must get that sorted as a matter of urgency, but the rest of the steering linkages seemed ok, but I won’t know for sure until I get the steering box overhauled and refitted. I greased all of the linkages on the offside front and fresh grease flowed easily through them as well, which seemed to make the steering easier, but not perfect by any means.
I put the front wheel back on and tightened up the nuts and I have to say it was a pleasure working on the van today, I just hope the rest of the work is as easy. I’ll be amazed if it is!
Day 5 August 12th I got the rear offside brakes checked this morning and the rear wheel bearings greased.
Again, I jacked the van up and spun the rear wheel and asked her indoors to push the brake pedal and the brakes worked ok. I took the screws that hold the brake drum onto the axle and the drum just pulled off easily. I checked the shoes and there was plenty of meat on them and greased the wheel bearings. The drum was put back on and the securing screws were put back. I pressed the footbrake and pulled the handbrake on to balance the shoes, then I adjusted the brakes. Greased the rear prop shaft bearings while I was there, wheel back on and dropped the jack. Good job.
The new number plates were expected, so I thought I would take the plate that held the old number plate and the rear lights off and give them a once over. Got everything stripped down and disconnected the rear lights which left two light fittings and a large backplate to rub down and paint. Got everything rubbed down and repainted with black smooth hammerite paint, which is quick drying, so when the number plated arrived everything was ready to be built back up and reassembled. Again, it all went well.
Day 6 Sunday 16th August. I got the underside of the van rubbed down right at the very rear of the van where the number plate is secured. It was also re painted in silver and the only thing left to do is to refit two new rear reflectors when they arrive.
Day 7 Sunday 23rd I’ve been having a bit of a problem with the headlight securing bracket and clip. It’s a strange arrangement and involves brackets, clips and springs. It’s all very complicated, but basically it involves a spring inside the headlamp holder that connects to a bracket that then connects to a release clip on the headlight rim. The spring (which is inside the headlamp holder) pulls the rim back into the headlight holder and secures the headlamp and rim in place. I could think of a much simpler way to do this, but it is what it is. Anyway, on the clip which slots into the headlight rim, there are two little arms that fit into the slots and one of these had worn and sheared off, making the clip u/s, so I had to try and replace it somehow. I didn’t think I’d be able to buy one, so I looked at trying to fabricate a new one. I had a look round for something to use that might fit and I found an old kitchen door hinge that looked as though it might do the job, so I set to and marked out the shape of old clip on the hinge bracket using the old clip as a template, then using a hacksaw and small file, I cut and filed the new bracket into the shape of the old clip. I had to make one or two minor amendments here and there, but I was over the moon when I tried the new clip and it actually worked! The headlight is now held firmly in place and I am quite proud of myself for overcoming this problem. It just seems like all those years of supervision and guidance from my dad paid off and I’m sure he would be looking down with a smile and saying “That’s my boy!”
Day 8 Tuesday 25th August. New reflectors have been fitted on the rear of the vehicle. I got the seats removed ready to be recovered in leather, rather than the awful green check that’s on them now.
The speedo was removed and sent off to be overhauled today and I checked underneath the van to see if there was anything evident that needed attention. I found a broken exhaust strap, got a new one ordered straight away. I removed the exhaust bracket holding the strap and removed the broken strap from the bracket ready for the new strap to be replaced, but I also noticed that there was a bolt missing from the prop shaft and the others were loose and therefore the prop shaft was loose, which might account for the way it drove when I took it out before I bought it, so when I replace the exhaust strap, I’ll also replace and tighten the prop shaft bolts, which should make a huge difference to the vans performance. I removed the steering wheel ready to start removing the steering box to be sent off for a refurb. I had to use a puller to get the steering wheel off, but there was a woodruff key on the steering column to hold the steering wheel in place, so it can only go back the same way it came off (another good feature).
I’ve made some enquiries regarding the steering box, springs, shock absorbers and upholsterers and found some good contacts for them all
The steering box can be done by a company in Birmingham £350+vat
The springs can be done by a local company not far from where I live in Washington. They said that if the springs aren’t broken, they can re-temper the springs and refurbish the bushes on each spring for around £120+vat
The shock absorbers can be refurbished by a company in Wales for £45 each.
The seats desperately need reupholstering, they are currently covered in the most disgusting green check material, which, for me totally detracts from the ambience of the van. I have a friend who is an upholsterer and he has said he will reupholster each seat for £75 (mates rates)
So, for around £1400, I can get the van to a mechanical standard I’m happy with and something like roadworthy.
So even though I’ve only had the van for three weeks, I feel as though I’m making good progress with it.
Day 9 Wed 2nd September. Both seats have been removed ready to be recovered in brown leather (as it should be) not the awful green check material that it currently has.
I also started on the mechanics of the van today and I removed the front offside leaf spring ready to be sent off for repair or replacement. I have to say I was a bit apprehensive about starting, but once I did get started, the removal went quite well. I was actually flying a bit blind as I wasn’t sure which way to do the job, but as I say, once I started and looked at it, it all went ok. I learned a lot so hopefully the next spring removal should be easier.
Day 10 Thursday 3rd September 2020
I was just doing small jobs today so I cleaned the cab of the van out. I hoovered it out and washed the floor where the seats are fitted. Thought I’d do this while the seats were away being recovered so that they can just go straight back in when they come back. The driver’s seat runners were all seized up, so I put some WD40 on them and freed them up so the seat adjustment will be smooth and it will slide easily. I also noticed that the spare wheel (which is sited just behind the driver’s seat), had a centre hub which dug into my back when I was seated, so I set about loosening that up to remove it so that it was as it should be. The hub came out fairly easily.
There was a bit of timber door trim loose and I re-secured that and I also took the driver’s door lock off and lubricated it. I also tightened the rear doors hinges and oiled them and also oiled the passenger door lock and hinges.
I got word back today that the leaf spring that I sent off to be overhauled was in good condition and all that was needed was for it to be re-tempered and re-bushed. £95 +Vat.
Day 11. Saturday 19th September. In preparation for the removal of the steering box, I removed all of the floor panels in the van. They came off quite easily and I was amazed at how much it opened things up and made access to the mechanics of the van so much easier. I got the exhaust bracket strap put on as it was bolted onto the chassis cross member and was easy to get to from inside the van. I also decided to try and find out why the brake lights weren’t working. My Brother in law brought a meter up that could test the circuitry on the brake light feed. He did that and found there was a good current to the switch, so then we looked at the switch. It was a fairly simple affair and we found that the switch was working ok as well, so we examined what else could be causing the problem. We discovered that there was a spring that connected the switch to the brake pedal and when the pedal was depressed the spring was meant to pull a small lever which would then pull a connecting bracket, that would touch two poles inside the switch, make the contact to complete the circuit and the lights would then come on. This spring wasn’t pulling the lever far enough along to make the contacts to complete the circuit, so I managed to find another spring and with some fine adjustments, managed to get it to do the job perfectly and the brake lights were now operational.
The floor panels were rubbed down and the underside were painted silver, I’ll get the top sides painted black soon.
Day 12 Sunday September 20th. While checking the electrics on the van, I also found that the horn wasn’t working, so today I took it off its mounting bracket and decided to have a look at it and see what the problem was. I stripped it down as far as I dare and loosened the outer securing ring that went round the diaphragm. I pulled the ring inwards and outwards to free the diaphragm (apparently a sticking diaphragm is a fault with them), then I put the securing screws back into the ring and resecured the horn back onto the van bodywork, switched on the ignition, pressed the horn and it worked! Bingo!
The final electrical hurdle to overcome was the front fog light, which wasn’t working. My Brother-in-law is an electrician and he brought a test meter to test for circuit continuity and it was discovered that there was no current to the circuit. The wiring and a switch was in place, but it wasn’t connected to a power supply. This was done very quickly and once connected, the light worked fine. All lights now working properly.
Day 13 Friday 25th September I removed the steering box today ready to be sent off for an overhaul. A company in Birmingham said they would have a look at it and assess it before doing anything to it and if it only needed minor work, rather than a full refurbishment, That’s all I would have to pay for. I thought that was good service.
Day 14 Monday 28th September. I noticed that the driver’s side door was dropping when it was opened, so I decided to have a look at the hinges to see if I could detect and fix the problem. It was quite simple to remove the hinge pins and once that was done, the door simply lifted out. The hinges consisted of a ball and pin arrangement and I noticed that one of the hinge pins was bent, so I straightened it out ready to go back. There was a brass ball that the hinge pin went through that fitted into a cup in the hinge, so I also greased both the balls and the pins on both hinges and put them back. Doing this did improve the level door drop, but didn’t solve it completely. I had another look at the hinges and then I saw that one of the hinges was loose. It was the part of the hinge that was screwed into the door frame. I tried to remove the screws, one sheared and the others were absolutely seized solid, so I’ve decided that the best way forward is to drill the screws out, remove the inner door panel and use bolts with a back plate for extra strength. The steering box was sent off for repair today.
Day 15 Wednesday 30th September. I collected one of the leaf springs that I’d sent off for refurbishment and retempering and managed to get it put back onto the offside front of the van. I’m waiting for new spring bushes to arrive as the company that refurbished the spring couldn’t source any bushes. I found some on ebay and once they arrive, I’ll get them fitted and the spring connected.
Day 16 Saturday 3rd October. The new bushes for the springs arrived yesterday. The bushes were from a Morris Oxford/Austin A60/ Wolseley 16.60 spring, but they were the right dimensions, width, bore, etc, but were just a bit long (the springs on the Morris Oxford must have been thicker), but they just needed a sliver trimming off the length and they fitted ok.
I also removed the nearside front leaf spring from the van ready to take up to the spring people for refurbishment and re tempering. It wasn’t as forgiving as the offside spring and took a bit more getting off, but with the right tools and some WD40, I managed to get it done.
I prepared the bushes for the nearside spring so that when I get it back, I can just fit them and get the spring refitted quicker.
Day 17 Sunday 4th October. I decided to have a look at the driver’s door on the van today. It’s been dropping when the door opens, so I thought I’d have a look at it to see where the problem was. I took the door off and then the inner panel off and started to examine the door frame. It was then I discovered that the door frame was totally rotten and would need replacing. I put a call out on facebook to ask if anyone in the North East Restoration group knew of a coach builder that might be able to help me. Within half an hour, I was given the number of an 82-year-old semi-retired coach builder who said he would be able to do something with it.
Day 18 Monday 5th October. I took the nearside spring over to Washington to get retempered, then I went on to the coach builders house to drop the van door off for him to repair. He had a look at it and said it didn’t look too bad and he should be able to put it right fairly easily.
It was while I was at the coach builders house that I got a call from my daughter to tell me the people from the steering box people had phoned and wanted to talk to me. I rang them back and I was told that they’d had a look at the steering box I’d sent to them last week and basically it was scrap. The chap I spoke to actually said it was one of the worst he’d ever seen, which must be saying something. So, I now have the task of trying to source either the parts to repair the box or to find a new box.
Day 19 Sunday 11th October. I’ve been searching all week to try and find a replacement steering box for the van, following it being condemned earlier in the week. Despite drawing several blanks, I joined the Morris owners club and logged onto one of the forums on the website to ask about the steering box and also to ask if anyone had one that I could purchase. Out of the gloom came a guy from Stourbridge who also had a van like mine and he offered me some brilliant advice and assured me that I would get a replacement steering box, which was a huge relief to me.
I had a inspected the n/s/f brakes while the wheel was off waiting for the front spring to come back. I took the drum off and cleaned the backplate of dust. No signs of any leaks, so all was good. I replaced the brake drum and tightened the screws and adjusted the shoes. Both adjusters were free. I also greased the top and bottom king pin bushes and also greased the track rod end. Grease flowed through everything easily, which is a good sign.
Another guy popped up from the Morris owners club to offer help. He was from Maidstone in Kent and he said he had been repairing steering boxes since he was a fifteen year old apprentice (he is now in his 80’s). I’ve arranged for the box to be picked up from Kiley Clinton in Birmingham and delivered to Eddie.
Day 20 Saturday 17th October I discovered that the engine on the van doesn’t have a water pump or thermostat, which really surprised me. I wondered how the water was circulated without a pump to push it round, so once again, I asked my friends in the Morris owners club and quickly got a reply. I was told that the reason why there is no water pump is that the engine was designed to be a ‘Thermo syphon system’. That’s why the radiator is so big and so high up. The Hot water rises and falls as it cools. There isn’t a thermostat because the cooling system isn’t pressurised and the radiator is so big the fan and air cool the water quickly, so no water pump or thermostat needed or to go wrong! Brilliant. I’ve been advised to drain the engine and radiator and back flush them both to clean any debris that might have accumulated in the engine and radiator out.
I had the new tyres fitted to the wheels yesterday, so I decided to finish off the o/s/f of the van. I was a bit disappointed with the garage I took the wheels to as they charged £15 a wheel to fit the tyre and balance them. When I went to collect them, I noticed there were no balance weights on the wheels and I knew that no wheel is perfect, so I queried it. The chap at the garage said they couldn’t balance the wheels as the rims were too big. I think he thought I would just accept that and go away, but when I was younger, I used to fit tyres, so I knew about tyres and wheel balancing and knew there were balance weights that would stick onto the rim of the wheel, so I mentioned that to him, his reply was that the weights wouldn’t fit on the inside of the rims as they weren’t deep enough to take a weight. I asked if he’d tried them, to which he said no, so I asked if he would at least try a weight to see if it would fit. He went away and got a stick-on weight and lo and behold, it fitted, so I asked for the wheels to be balanced, which they were. I have to say I wasn’t impressed at the fact that they were very dismissive of being able to balance the wheels, without at least trying to do it first. I hope he learned something from it. Once I got the wheels back home, I replaced the centre hubs to stop dirt and grit getting into the wheel bearings and before I put the wheel back on, I thought I would have a look at the Armstrong lever arm shock absorbers just to find out if they needed any attention. It was a simple matter of removing one nut and tapping the bottom pin out that holds the shock absorber into the front axle. Once this was free, I pushed the lever on the shocker backwards and forwards and there was a good amount of resistance on the shocker, so I was happy that they don’t need sending away for overhaul. I replaced the pin, tightened it up and put the front wheel on, which has now completed the work on the o/s/f wheel. I did the same with the n/s/f shocker and it was also in good condition, so I replaced the wheel, but there is still the matter of replacing the leaf spring on the n/s/f which is away being refurbished and once that is complete, that’s the front end of the van mechanics pretty well completed.
Day 21 Sunday 18th October. I decided to try and get the rear wheel off the ground, so that I could find out why the speedo cable had snapped. The way to do that was to turn the rear wheel, which in turn would rotate the prop shaft and gearbox, which would allow me to see if the broken cable (which was still connected to the gearbox) turned at the same time. I jacked the rear N/S wheel up and put an axle stand under the axle to support it. I let the hand brake off and then pulled the broken speedo cable outside the van so that I could see if it turned when I rotated the wheel.
I turned the wheel and was relieved to see the cable turning as well, which means the speedo cable gear inside the gearbox is working ok. The cable must have been the result of the speedo being faulty. When I bought the van the speedo was stuck on 10 mph, so I’m assuming it was seized, which is why the cable snapped, so I’ve sent the speedo off to be refurbished and recalibrated. With a new speedo cable and a refurbed speedo, everything should work fine.
Day 22 Wednesday 28th October. I’d been to collect the near side front spring over a week ago and found the company had forgotten to put the front pin and a metal wedge for the spring in with the package. I was informed today that the pin and wedge were ready for collection, so I went over to collect them. I got the spring fitted ok and all that needs doing to the front of the van now to complete the work on the front-end work is the steering box, speedo and speedo cable refitting. The steering box has been refurbished and I was informed that it had been collected today and should be delivered either tomorrow or Friday.
I had a look at the final set of brakes on the van (NSR) the other three wheels had all checked out fine, but this last one was found to be siezed, so I’ll have to either repair or replace the wheel cylinder in the near future.
I also noticed that when I took the wheel off the inner wheel was covered in old oil, which suggested that the diff oil seals might need replacing. I made some enquiries and discovered that sometimes the oils seals leak due to the over filling of the diff. I intend to replace the oil in the diff as a matter of course, so I’ll make sure that it isn’t over filled, but as a precaution, I’ll replace the oils seals while I’m on.
Day 23 Thursday 29th October. I’m starting on the removal of the rear springs today to be sent off for retempering. The spring bolts didn’t give up without a fight, but I eventually managed to get it off and prepared to take to Owen Springs for re tempering.
The horn has been working intermittently, and I also decided to have a look at the switch. It seems like a fairly simple switch but I’m not sure if there’s power to the switch, or whether the switch is faulty, but I’ll have it checked out by an electrician to make sure.
The reconditioned steering box arrived back today as well, so I’ll have to plan a day to refit that too. It’s all starting to come together now and I’m starting to rebuild rather than strip down. The steering box was delivered today and hopefully I’ll get that fitted over the weekend.
Day 24 Sunday 1st November. I started work on refitting the steering box today. It’s not a particularly difficult job to do, but there is quite a lot attached to the steering column that also has to be refitted. I started with the two main bolts that secure the box to the chassis and then I secured the steering column to the bracket inside the driver’s cab, so that was the box connected.
The next thing to do was to connect the drop arm to the steering box. There were two marks that have to be lined up, one on the drop arm and one on the shaft that comes from the steering box. Fit the steering wheel and make sure the column is centralised. Jack the front axle up to get the front wheels off the ground. This will make the steering easy to move.
Straighten the wheels and then take the drop arm and line it up with the mark in the pin coming out of the box. Push the drop arm onto the pin and tighten the pinch bolt up. All that’s left is to turn the steering wheel to make sure it works and that’s basically it.
The next thing was to attach the horn and headlight main beam and dip switch to the steering column, then last of all, attach the accelerator pedal bracket and cable to the column and that’s it. All done.
I discovered that the reason the horn hadn’t been working was that the steering column acted as the earth connection for the horn, so that as soon as the horn bracket was screwed onto the column, the circuit was complete and the horn worked fine.
It was great to see the steering wheel back on and I felt that real progress was being made.
Day 25 Wednesday 4th November. I was able to get the NSR spring across to Owen Springs on Monday for re-tempering. They said they weren’t closing for the lockdown, so I should still be able to proceed with work on the van as planned.
When I took the spring off, I had a look at the NSR rear brakes on the van and as stated previously, I found the wheel cylinder seized, so I decided to remove it and see what could be done to either repair or replace it.
I removed it from the backplate (everything came to pieces well) with no siezed bolts to deal with, but the big test was yet to come. I soaked the brake cylinder in a tin of petrol for four hours, then placed the cylinder in the in a vice with the two pistons between the jaws and applied light pressure by closing the jaws to try and get one of the pistons to move.
I was delighted to see that one piston did move slightly and took the cylinder out of the vice and tried to free the piston using a set of Mole grips. I locked them onto the piston end and slowly began to move the grips slowly left and right and increased the movement as the piston freed up.
Eventually, the piston came out of the cylinder, which was a huge relief. I was able to remove the internal spring from the cylinder and then I was able to push the other piston out of the cylinder as well.
The final test was to get the bleed nipple free. I was particularly anxious about this as these nipples are renowned for shearing. I got the Mole grips again and tightened them onto the nipple and gently turned the nipple to the right to try and break the seal on the threads. I gently worked the grips to the right and left and felt the nipple go and I though it had sheared and my heart sank, but on closer inspection, I was delighted and relieved to see that the nipple was in fact intact and turning out of the threads.
I checked the internal surfaces of the cylinder and basically, apart from needing a light rubbing with some fine emery cloth, it looked ok, so instead of costing me around £80 for a new cylinder, all its cost was £8 for a new set of cylinder rubbers.
Day 26 Thursday 12th November. I thought I’d have a look at the engine today and check the plugs and points over, just to make sure they were ok and set properly. I started by taking the spark plugs out and as soon as I took the first plug out, I could see that the engine was running rich as the end of the spark plug was completely black and sooted up, which told me the engine was running on too much petrol. All of the other spark plugs were the same, so I put each one in the vice and wire brushed them and reset the plug gaps to 20 thou.
The manual said the gaps should be set to between 18 and 22 thou, so I set them to 20. I’ll have to make sure the mixture is adjusted correctly so that the van runs smoothly and not too rich before taking out on the road.
The next thing I looked at was the distributor. I removed the distributor cap and checked the contacts in the cap to make sure they were in good condition so that contact between the rotor arm and the plug lead contacts were good and spark will conduct easily.
I removed the rotor arm and cleaned the brass edge to ensure a clean contact. While the rotor arm was off, I put some oil down the lubrication hole to keep the bottom end of the distributor oiled.
The points were the old Bakelite type, so I got the shoe on the edge of the cam and checked the points gap which were set at 15 thou. I clipped the distributor cap back on and that was job done.
Next, I removed the air filter, which exposed the carburettor. I removed the centre piston and poured some oil down the hole and replaced the piston. I brushed the outside of the carburettor down with a bit of neat petrol to clean it up a bit then sprayed it down with a bit of WD 40 to keep it lubricated.