Are We There Yet? – Sienna Restoration Finale

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First showing along with, ‘Spraying (check out those boots) Bob’ and engineer’s hands AlanReturning any classic to the road after a long layoff tends to present a series of ‘lack of use’ faults and the Sienna is no different after 25 years in hiding. Gaskets and seals were the first to show their failings with oil escaping from the sump and rear axle half-shafts, both eager to offer drips onto the garage floor after just a few miles of testing. The speedo cable gave up on the second road test, mainly due to the fact that we routed it at right angles offering little chance of survival. The half-shaft seals have failed due to remaining in one position for 2 ½ decades and those were delivered for just a few pounds from Phil at Brook Road Garage 01737761875; our biggest issue will be removing the rear hubs without causing too much damage. Reliant Parts World (Nigel) 01543431941 stocked the speedo cable at just £16.00 and one item that often fails on the 850cc engine, the £25.00 thermostat housing. ‘We keep them on the shelf’ Nigel explained, due to the fact they can crack (as has mine), the leak becoming apparent after a few miles as the coolant temperatures rise.

The first MOT pass for 20 odd years but she barely made it home with constant overheatingReturning to Pagham Service Station (01243 262 943) for a nervous wait whilst Ian carried out my re-test, having failed the first attempt with binding rear brakes and emissions. The brakes were new and just required adjustment, whilst the carbon dioxide mix leaving the exhaust would take a little longer to correct. This confirms the benefit of using a classic friendly garage and a tester that understands the workings of the SU carb and is willing to put in the time to get it right. So, with MOT in hand, surely I should be one happy enthusiast? Well no, not really, when the return journey home showed up another problem of long term lack of use; overheating.

Replacing the sump gasket revealed an engine that has had little use but also minimum attention over several decades. A new gasket stopped the leak and several coats of red paint improved the look but the sludge evicted from inside the sump proved to be the biggest bonus and worth the price of a gasket. We also believe the lack of coolant replacement is our prime suspect for this engine getting very hot once on the move. The Reliant motor warms normally and only when drives did the needle rise towards the ‘H’, our problem was it doesn’t return towards ‘Cold’. It just gets hotter until you switch it off and wait, pointing towards a flow problem or blockage, either way, to prove this the cylinder head needed to come off; just what I need now it’s ready to enjoy the summer.

Bargain Hunter Strikes Gold

The head removed and water jackets flushed our block cleaned up nicelyI found ‘gasketsforclassics’ on a well-known auction site and was supplied a complete head-set for only £19.00 and it worked perfectly. At the same time, we replaced the engine mounts because it was convenient but the real drama occurred when I took the pressure washer to the water jackets around the block. The debris and brown corrosion was unbelievable and certainly could not have been left. Alan removed then stripped the cylinder head and a de-choke followed and finally the valves were lapped in with a fine paste, the whole job cost less than £50. Reliant parts are as cheap as chips! Things still weren’t perfect, after all that effort the needle still failed to settle and the original radiator looked the likely culprit. Too small, old and most likely full of engine sewage. The area it occupied was only half that available and armed with the measurements I trawled the world-wide web to secure the bargain of the century.

Now that’s clever, not wanting to alter the frame unnecessarily we tested the radiator firstIf you ever need a new ‘rad’ checkout ‘huayu2016’ on Ebay, the unit that matched my requirements was from a Hyundai Atoz and this brand new, fully packaged radiator, complete with cap was delivered to my door for an all-inclusive….£5.99 total! That’s right six quid. To test prior to fitting Alan very cleverly devised a ‘quickfit’ securing system to drive the car with the radiator outside of the body; it worked perfectly. One piece of box section frame was removed making space for a pair of base brackets, fabricated with holes to accept the plastic positioning lugs. With the top secured by a similar steel plate, longer hoses were sourced along with fresh alloy tubing. Plumbed in, fresh coolant plus a final oil change and four months behind schedule she is done and runs like a dream; its only taken three and a half years since I first found it languishing at the back of Professor Anthony Stevens unit in Kent.

Sienna Road Test

Sienna Road TestWhat’s it like to drive? Well the first thing of note is 40hp doesn’t count for much even if does weigh less than a catwalk model. Acceleration is fine until the higher revs are reached, then she just runs out of puff; that though can be fixed. A larger SU and new free flowing exhaust manifold should help and a driver’s diet programme for me and my mate is the next best option. Over 50mph it’s like sitting in a hurricane but through the country lanes, its honestly such a blast, is it legal to have so much fun with any automobile? The ‘go-kart’ steering is exact and takes a while to adjust your style, point and go whilst it sticks like you know what! Encouraging the hooligan in the pilot because the momentum needs to be maintained, the brakes offer total confidence and whilst some of my design may need altering, the Sienna is the most fun I have had sat behind a wheel for years.

If it was any more fun the government would tax it; think, aim, turn - hold onThanks to Professor Stevens for trusting me with his first prototype and ‘Spraying Bob’ who created the lovely finish on my not so perfect panel work. Obviously also a big ‘cheers’ to the engineering skills of my long suffering mate Alan, his efforts have ensured this strange little car with the DNA of Mazda’s MX5 survives today; bringing forth interest and questions from all age groups, mainly ‘what the hell is that’? For those that have followed this saga, a big thanks for bothering and to my credit card company, ‘yes I know but I will pay it off eventually’. This elderly piece of British motoring history offers more smiles per mile than I thought possible and will endeavour not to hold up traffic on ‘A’ roads and dual carriageways of the south. Although, given the opportunity, combined with additional bravery from its pilot this odd rarity can disappear on the twisty bits; hopefully for years to come. For those who care to endure my pathetic film making abilities, the Sienna is on the move in a 2-minute clip on; Grant Ford for www.classiccarmag.netTags: