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Further Tales of Two Le Mans

From one extreme to the other... More restoration frolics

Though I start writing this in November, the deadline for the next Gambalunga publication has passed, so it will probably be April or thereabouts by the time this gets printed. Assuming, that is, that the editor is sufficiently short of submissions to put this in the magazine in the first place!

So I hope you all had a decent Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day, and possibly even Easter said he, trying to make this sound current while sitting in a windowless office with snow and high winds forecast for tomorrow.

Meanwhile back at the garage things have been changing, most notably all my plans for restoration of bikes.I finally gave up the pretence of finishing the rebuild of the 78 Lemon unaided and the other week handed an advanced rolling chassis and several boxes of bits to Nigel of NBS fame. What a hell of a nice bloke he is too - obviously a complete fan of Guzzis, and exuding quiet reassuring knowledge at every turn ("oh don't worry about that, it's not a major job, I can get it fixed in no time."- and he can, too!) He has also tolerated several panicky phone calls from me as different bits I'm not happy with spring to mind, but I have given up phoning as by the time I remember something, it appears he has already found it and fixed it. Brilliant.

Anyway, such was my 'Road to Damascus' enlightenment with NBS, that I had a rare fit of common sense and practicality. Why wait for the first Guzzi to be finished before starting on the second? OK cost might be a problem, but it is worth a bit to get a job finished and turn a tatty non-runner into a decent machine. So while Nigel carried on with the '78 bike, I started taking the Ebay '77 bike to bits. Now I may not be much of a restorer, but 1 do seem to have a penchant for vandalism. Perhaps I should run a scrap yard?

Using the proper engine support and hydraulic workbench, thus giving me an air of knowledge not matched by my confidence, I laid out my full set of precision tools for the job -10, 14 and 17mm spanners, mole grips, adjustable spanner and heavy rubber hammer.Probably as comprehensive a set as they have at Mandello... but my hammer isn't made by Gucci. (I wonder if their spanners are stamped 'Property of Aprillia' - do not remove...?)

Back to the story...

In a minor effort at organisation I had assembled a few large cardboard boxes and decided to put the bits in rough order. I ended up with groups of parts earmarked as 'for powder coating', 'for general cleaning and reuse', and 'bin'. ('Bin' is only a figurative term - anything not going back on the bike is going to go on Ebay and only then when I am utterly certain I don't need it for myself). For cleaning prior to powder coating I went to Machine Mart and had a look at degreasing compounds. I narrowed it down to 2 types, both of which looked sufficiently environmentally hostile to suit my needs and settled on the one marked 'hazardous' needs diluting with paraffin and mustn't be used neat, in preference to the mild one which simply warned that it was 'irritant' and needed mere water to dilute it. Wonder if my insurance covers 'parts melted by vicious solvents.'

I was overcome by the fever of ripping apart, so rather than dealing carefully with each part as I took it off, I soon had just the engine and gearbox sitting on the bench and not long after there was just the engine.

I decided to take the gearbox to bits first, an easy job apart from some very stiff alien bolts, one of which did the dirty on me and sheared. (OK to be mechanically and grammatically correct, I sheared IT with a blend of violence and ignorance, but to say 'it sheared' makes it sound more like it wasn't my fault..) Fortunately there was enough stud protruding after I got the cover off to allow me to attach a stud extractor, and a bit more applied vandalism saw the remainder of the stud taken out. The fact it is now irrevocably wedged in the stud extractor is of no concern to me until I need it again. I shall have to buy a stud extractor extractor for that one....

The gearbox didn't go quite as planned - the Haynes manual says the end cover comes off leaving the shafts and gears inside. The real life version saw the shafts clinging onto the end cover and lifted out as one oily mess. Phone call to NBS got the reassuring line 'just bring it down as it is, I'll sort it. It isn't a problem...' In othercircumstances I would have spent time with a blow torch, lump hammer and crowbar to deal with it, but handing it to Nigel seems a better solution.

The front of the engine revealed that someone had removed the timing cover in the past, and was also the proud owner of a large tube of blue Hylomar compound, which had not been spared in the replacement of the cover. The seal created would have done justice to a large diesel engine, but none of the gunge had managed to break free into the engine proper.

Clutch removal went without incident, and then I was into uncharted territory for me with Guzzis - stripping the heads, barrels and bits that you hope never to see in an engine. I know it is stating the obvious, but the beauty of these engines is that you are actually working on two singles, which made dismantling so much easier. On my Norton I would invariably only catch one conrod as the barrels came off, the other one hitting the crankcase mouth with a worrying thud. No such risk with the Lemon. The only thing that needed care and organisation was the sorting of bits into 'inlet' and 'exhaust', so before the tear-down I got hold of six 2 foot square plastic containers (Ikea 89p each !), strips of paper, pencil, and a dozen or so plastic bags. The boxes are now carefully labelled 'Left'and 'Right' (just like my gloves...) and in each of them are little sealed bags with labels inside like 'left inlet' and 'right exhaust' as appropriate. Just as long as I don't drop the contents of one and find it falls into the other, splitting the bags as it goes!

Once the barrels were off it was time to remove the timing chain and sprockets. Haynes manual suggests preventing the engine from turning by slipping something suitably soft under a piston while unscrewing the retaining nuts on the shafts. Might I suggest you don't use your thumb for this. It is an intensely uncomfortable experience which tests not only your resilience to suffering, but also your memory as to where you put the socket and wrench to turn the crank to release said thumb (well really only half the nail, but all part of the same digit). You also learn to do swift mental calculations as to which way the crank will turn to make the trapping piston go UP, and you develop an amazing ability to reverse the ratchet one-handed, a feat you find impossible to repeat afterwards. Amazing.
The reward for getting this right is indescribable blissful relief from pain. The penalty for getting it wrong is a realisation that neighbours don't care and won't come running however loud you scream, and that'll teach you to tell the wife you only went to the garage to get some food in from the freezer.
Anyway, without too much further suffering the chain and sprockets came off. They will be replaced with gears, as to open the chest up again is a pain. If I can fit and forget, then I will.

After a lot of thought I finally opted to have the cases, barrels, heads and rocker covers bead blasted. I am terrified of leaving bits of bead inside the engine, as there can be no faster way of causing terminal damage to it, but it is a risk I am prepared to take as there is also no better way of cleaning up cases to look 'as new'. I bought some pipe cleaners to clean out oilways, and then hit on a brilliant (I think) idea to get rid of any

"I've never seen a conrod with Quota big end shells in a Le Mans before..."

deposits - I used my wallpaper stripper, which has a useful narrow nozzle. It put a decently pressured jet of steam down all the relevant holes, and judging by the stuff that came out with the steam it was a reasonably efficient job, This was followed up by a 'rodding' with the pipe cleaners, and then it was off to North West Enamellers for blasting. Three days later I got the cases back looking absolutely superb. Then came the crucial task of removing all the bead residue. You can't really see it, so it is just a matter of thorough guesswork I suppose. Stage one was to get a compressor and blow air as hard as possible down every oilway and thread, and judging by the amount which went in my eyes, this worked well. Next I used the stripper as before, so a mixture of steam pressure and water rinsed out the insides as well as washing the outer surfaces. This also heated the metal up so when I applied compressed air again the surface dried very quickly. The air got rid of water beautifully (just like being at the dentist) and the residual heat dried any tiny bits I might have missed. I know in theory you can use a domestic oven at low temperature to heat and dry cases, but I got married in a ceremony that used the words. ..till death us do part or you start putting bits of motorbike in the oven', so that option was not available.

I may find to my cost that I am wrong, but I am pretty certain that I have removed all traces of bead, so now have a lovely set of alloy bits ready to go to NBS for reassembly. Yes I could do it myself, but I know I would spend ages when riding the bike just listening out in case of bits I hadn't put together properly letting go. I'll do the time-consuming grubby bits, NBS can do the stuff that needs to be right first time. In all I have about nine boxes, all marked with 'left' or 'right' accordingly. Just hope I don't go over too many bumps in the road....

POST NBS - One down, one to go...

The last outpouring of restoration ramblings saw me ready to send a pile of shiny cases to Nigel at NBS - this was done in mid December. In fact to get best value from the trip I combined it with a rendezvous with a trailer company from Taunton who have now supplied me with a nice three-bike trailer, as Nigel had in fact finished the '78 Guzzi and was ready for me to take it away.

I hate towing, but felt really pleased to see my new acquisition hitched onto the car at Strensham services on the M5, and was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to tow as we retraced our steps partway before heading off towards Lichfield to meet Nigel.

I had a lovely view of the trailer in the mirrors, which my dull brain eventually worked out was due to the fact the trailer was just a little bit wider than the car. Farewell peace of mind, and resort to constant worry of arriving at NBS with the wings of several cars and a couple of irate cyclists attached. But fortunately it was not to be, and despite the best efforts of the M6 toll road builders I managed to find Nigel's research laboratory, carefully disguised as a shed down a country lane.

Outside it stood my '78 Le Mans, beautifully finished and ready to roll. (Well ready to be tied onto the trailer and taken home in very 'fair weather rider' mode)
"Is that all right?" enquired Nigel, almost expecting me to find fault. All right?! It was fantastic. New paintwork, lots of stainless, all clean and shiny. Just what I always wanted!

So onto the trailer, strap it down, and then unload all the boxes of V? bike engine. I had managed to keep them all carefully labelled and sorted correctly, and bit by bit filled up the floor of the 'research lab' with plastic and cardboard boxes of bits. It is actually quite surprising just how much space a dismantled bike will take up, and annoying how heavy it is. One box with the crank and a few other bits weighed a ton, it seemed. I wondered how many horsepower a 50% decrease in crank weight would be worth. Same applies with non-frame bits like shock absorbers for instance, or brake discs. Mind you, if cast iron was good enough for Brunei, it was obviously good enough for Mandello.

Anyway, not wanting to brag (well maybe a bit) but if you knew my track record of buying pigs in pokes, you would understand my pleasure as Nigel went from camshaft to crankshaft to cam followers to rocker spindles, declaring that he could find no noticeable wear on anything. (I usually buy the bike where someone such as he would say 'this engine is amazing - I've never seen a V35 conrod with Quota big end shells in a Le Mans before. No wonder it's in such awful condition. How much did you say you paid for it.... ?')

So for once it looked like I had a minor coup on my hands. Cause for celebration I suppose, tempered only by having to hand Nigel a cheque, but to be honest the end result on the '78 bike was so good, and the final bill so reasonable, that oddly for me I was more than happy to pay the price asked. (Nigel if you're reading this, please go to a hypnotist and get the last sentence wiped from your memory until after the other bike is finished!!!!)

The journey home passed without incident, the trailer proving usefully unobtrusive, until we arrived at my in-laws' house to stow the Guzzi. I have a short-term problem at home in that the garage is full. Once everything is a bit straighter in the restoration stakes I will get all the bikes back in, but for now I have been forced to overflow, so I parked the bike neatly inside their garage and unfortunately it hasn't turned a wheel in anger yet. Disappointing indeed, but I don't intend to spoil lots of hard work and effort by going for a blast on salty damp roads, so any report on finally riding a well-sorted Lemon will have to wait until things improve. A bit of time off wouldn't go amiss either, as New Year was spoiled by working a 12 hour night shift instead of going on the beer, and in the first half of January I have only two days off. Could be worse - could be summer and be forced to work extra!

Overall things are good mind you - I phoned Nigel after a couple of weeks to see if he had started on the engine rebuild, and found he had finished it! And the gearbox, and the final drive! Unfortunately he had also found time to add up his next bill, so the cheque is in the post. Honest. Actually another wedge of money representing superb value for the result. (Nigel - back to the hypnotist again please)

Further joy - the only new parts needed were engine and gearbox seals (obviously) and one valve. The others were fine, and even the valve springs showed no signs of wear. The timing chain has been replaced with a set of helical gears - I just wish I had a see-through timing cover to show them off! It also needed one bearing replaced in the gearbox, and from a wear point of view the internals were described as 'like new', so it seems the 3,600 miles on the speedometer are correct. Nearly run in after 29 years. Shame they put a time limit on the warranty really.

At my end of things I have carried on trying to get stuff ready for powder coating, and cleaning bits and pieces up. The carbs were covered in yukky waxy stuff and looked awful, and I was going to send them off for a proper reconditioning, but with an hour's work and some WD-4O and a cloth (actually done while.at work on New Year's Eve!) I was amazed to find them already sorted, with polished float bowls and tops, and ready to fit. A quick peer inside and everything looks either new or as good as. A bit of a change from the '78 bike which had to have complete new carburettor internals as they were so gummed up with petrol residue. And jets and floats aren't cheap!

tmp5D-3.jpgThis reinforces my other ramblings about spending on a project rather than giving up part way through.

Whoever had done the carbs and preserved them under a layer of wax was obviously serious about doing a good job on the bike. They also spent money on a full set of stainless brake lines, numerous seals, bearings and so on, and quite a number of stainless fasteners. They also bought a set of Lafranconi silencers, and had the paintwork done. They seemed to fight shy of the actual frame and full dismantling work. A pity, but I suppose all to my gain if I act mercenary, and at least the work will come to fruition rather than being a total loss had the restoration not been continued at all.

The original plan to have authentic rubber brake lines has been shelved - as I say, the bike came with a set of stainless lines in among the parts boxes, so I bought a few metres of black spiral binding. This will give it the black look but with a better quality feel to the braking, and more relevant to the budget saves spending about £100 where I don't need to. I can always do that later if I really want. My main concern is to have all the internals as 'future proofed' as possible. External or cosmetic things are less of a priority.
So timing gears and electronic ignition are on - solid state rectifier and stuff have been shelved on Nigel's advice given that
a) The originals tend to work OK so if they ain't broke don't fix them and
b) If they do break, replacement is easy, so see how it goes.

That's it for now - more news in a bit and fingers crossed for the luck holding!

Rupert

(Rupert would like to state for the record that his towing of a trailer in no way alters his deep and lasting dislike of caravans of all types, and his approval of the destruction of so many of them on 'Brainiac'. And I'm not keen on golf either. So there.)

Article taken from Gambalunga February/March 2006

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