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Rosie the 504 – the first date in the garage

Rosie the 504 – the first date in the garage

19/08/2013 07:42 |  Comments: 


Former car restorer, damper designer, rotary-engine guru and also an automotive engineer, but generally doesn’t talk much about his former activities. András is our mag’s Leatherman tool: when there’s a project no-one would poke with a stick, he’s the one usually assigned to carry it through. When he’s in Hungary, he works 16 hours daily, then every once in a while he disappears from the horizon. Last time he’s been seen in Auckland… Has a huge garage, lives with a girlfriend.

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  • Peugeot 504 'Rosie' (1972)
  • BMW 1602 (1975)
  • Yamaha FZR1000 Genesis (1988)
Old cars are easy to repair, you just need a screwdriver and a hammer, right? My old Peugeot taught me this isn’t exactly true.

I was standing next to a Vel Satis at a used car dealership, looking for a test car with some colleagues when it slipped out: I wouldn't dare to buy a dCi with 200 thousand on the clock. Our editor-in-chief, Winkler went on the assault: “What kind of car have you bought most recently?"

I had to defend myself. True, it's French and a diesel, too, and as a matter of fact at least three times older than this one. But there's a slight difference: a repair that costs €€€€ in case of a common rail diesel normally can be fixed with a 20€ kit for my old-school injection pump.

Even if this bold statement was true, I'd never talk someone into buying such an old piece of junk. If you are brave enough to read this post to the end, you'll see why. It's an infinite struggle, you'll say, since for the vast majority of drivers it's extremely annoying when their ride needs some care here and there.

And the small minority, those who consider working on the car as a source of pleasure, don't need to be reassured. They know what a great feeling it is when they exultantly dig out a dead part from the bottom of the engine room and, following the first moments of horror, the bizarre joy of having cut out a rotten part spreads through their body. There's only one thing that's better: when after a successful repair we have revived the machine and we can be proud of ourselves. This post explains the first type of pleasures with the Peugeot.

After her adventurous transfer, Rosie had to do the same thing she had been doing all the previous years: standing still. She had to wait until my pet project – a BMW 1602 – reached the stage where Rosie could enter the garage. From time to time I went to see her in the multi-storey she was staying in, I scared some friends with the sight of her, and sometimes I put random parts in her boot. Let's put it this way: as long as I couldn't get busy with her, I brought her some little presents. But, to be perfectly honest, I was incredibly lucky because most of the parts popped up from my surroundings just by chance.

I've probably already mentioned that 504-owners are exceptional folk. By saying this I don't want to praise myself, since I only joined the club a few seconds ago. Rather the contrary. I got to know another owner.

Danny sent me a short email just before Christmas that he had a black dashboard he had kept from a wreck and he'd give it to me as a present. I nearly fell off the chair. Being an automotive journalist has its advantages. When I dialled his number it turned out that it was already stored in my telephone - yeah, he had a beautiful green 504 that he wanted to sell once and I wanted to contact him anyway. So now, we were going into business and so I made an appointment.

On the way to his place I concentrated on not looking greedy, but when I discovered all the treasures he had, I couldn't hold back my insatiable hunger. He had parted out an American 504 diesel from which he wanted to use the air-conditioning in his own green one, but because of all the missing parts, he finally couldn't do the conversion. And because his Peugeot was already finished, the leftovers from the American car were of no use to him.

A dashboard! A centre console! Instruments! Mirrors! As more and more boxes came to light, more and more endorphins were freed up in my body. Before I took everything and ran home like a child at Christmas – which was seasonally more or less right, anyway – I had to convince Danny that accepting such a huge present was out of the question. I was incredibly happy to find all those parts and be able to buy them. Thanks.

Another box came from a colleague, whose friend found a pair of brand new rear light lenses lying around. I didn't even have to pick them up – he sent them to our office, so we could celebrate the newest parts for Rosie together with my colleagues. It was time to shoot a goal from my own efforts, not just do the last bit after a tremendous pass.

I thought I'd start with the easiest job: repairing the alternator that made our journey home so adventurous. Removing the big lump of oily metal was a matter of five minutes, but after closer inspection I couldn't help raising my left eyebrow. I'm used to Eastern European home-made repairs, nobody could scare me with a welded camshaft, but the regulator, made in Hungary, designated as type M-1, didn't look very convincing. After some diagnostics it turned out that the rotor was an open circuit, so I didn't waste any more time on that one, rather I seeked out the spare alternator which we had found at aunt Katie's farm next to the hen-house.

At first glance, the Valeo unit looked quite neat, it didn't make any noise when turning, and its surprisingly intact looks made me think that I should overhaul it. I took it apart in two seconds and victoriously I held the molten brush to the light – yeah, this will be the reason why it was in the parts bin. Next morning I started at the electric shop and bought the brush which included the regulator, too. I leaned back and enjoyed the thought that I had one thing less to do.

What a pity that after cleaning and checking all the parts of the alternator it turned out that the diodes were also burnt. These cost more than two sandwiches, so I was a bit depressed. After some research I found out that a set of Chinese aftermarket diodes would cost as much as two complete second-hand alternators. I was scratching my head. What should I do, since I have already bought the regulator? Should I complete the overhauling procedure or abandon it and head out to buy some used stuff. I decided to do the latter after I had discovered the 35 ampere badge on the Valeo unit. I guess in the seventies they were proud of not having a dynamo in the car, the charging current was not too important.

I was so succesful in annihilating time with agonising around the alternator that suddenly I caught myself standing in the garage, and no car was around. The BMW left for the bodyshop, and Rosie was waiting for me to get my dirty hands on her. I planned the next week-end meticulously, because the temporary permit I was about to get was only valid for three days, so I had to work very effectively.

Having no working alternator, I charged the battery until it nearly exploded, put back the broken alternator so it would tighten the belt, and checked the oil level or, I should rather say, I tried to check the oil level, because the dipstick didn't show any sign of lubricant. I suspected that we had sprayed some oil around on our way home, because the next day in the multi-storey I had such a nice drawing of oil drips on the floor under the car. As a matter of fact, the black mess under the car was so heavy, that even a five-year-old wouldn't have believed the obligatory I parked over a grease-spot story.

Let's skip the part of how much oil I had to put in, since Rosie managed to drive across the city without any problems. I only have to mention some strange knocking noise from the engine which occured at higher revs, but my expert friends, who examined the block at a spontaneaus club meeting in the afternoon, agreed that it was nothing to be worried about. When the engine was revving up for the first time, there was no knocking, just at the second attempt, so it could only be the injection pump. The injection pump which was the cause of the fuel filter clogging while we brought her home. Now, it was already working without the external electric fuel pump, but it was time for a rebuild.

Before immobilizing Rosie with this move, I headed out to the tyre shop to change the four different-size, pressure-losing tyres for a used set of correct size which should give her at least a proper stance. When I proudly presented the 504 at the tyre shop, the pitiful looks of the friendly staff immediately made me suspicious. At first I thought Rosie's appearance was making them worry, but then I heard the word centre bore. Oh, shit.

I hadn't known about the mystery of the French rim before because until then I had to deal only with German and Japanese cars. Somewhere in the back of my head I've faintly remembered the bloody Xsara-alloys, which, for some unknown reason, don't have a centre bore, but as an outsider I didn't care about this strange fact. But now, standing proudly next to my 504 I had to face the problem of the missing centre bore. Yes, there's a small rectangular hole in the middle of the rim for the cage nut of the hubcaps, but as inglorious as it may be, I realised at that very moment that those wheels cannot be balanced on a standard European machine.

The struggle begins – the wicked reader can lean back at this point. Even though I'm known to be a patient guy, it was probably only the incredible joy of driving around in the city with Rosie that saved me from going mad. I had to go to the next shop which was twice the price compared to the first one, but they had a suitable balancing machine. As a bonus I was informed that this was not an unfortunate single case but some deliberate nonsense, because almost every old French wheel had the same feature. The tyre shop mechanic took a guess, the reason for this was to prevent dust getting to the wheel bearings, which doesn't sound too sensible, but I don't have a better explanation.

The smooth running of the car made me forget about the expensive tyre shop. What I had experienced until then as floating peacefully on that stone-age rubber, turned into heaven-de- luxe-style cruising on my new-used Michelins. I arrived on helium balloons to the car wash where I freed Rosie from four years' dirt so she could gracefully enter the garage.

The illusion of cleanliness lasted for about five minutes, until I opened the fuel system. Until then I only had known that some fluid of unknown origin had contaminated the fuel tank and had clogged the transparent pre-filter like gelatine. Oh, and the injection pump spat out some awkward dirt when fed by clean diesel on our way home.

I started with the fuel filter. My first encounter with the thicker-than-honey substance happened in the water separator glass - I'm not sure I really want to know what it was. Then I was happy to hear the liquid sloshing about in the tank, because if it was moving, it had to be in liquid state; but at a closer inspection it turned out that at the bottom of the tank it had turned into jelly, as it had in the filter. After this experience I opened the injection pump extremely carefully.

While from the outside the Bosch pump was surprisingly clean and, considering the liquid sealant leftovers, someone had recently done some repair work on it obviously, I couldn't believe what I saw inside. That was by far the worst-looking injection pump I had ever seen, the whole bunch of ultra-precision parts looked as if they were covered in thick, hairy rust. Incredible that it had been running a few hours before!

As I started cleaning with a small brush, it turned out that in fact it wasn't rust, it was just that strange jelly burnt onto the metal. The parts underneath were intact, and white spirit removed the dirt with unexpected ease, so it needed only a few hours of thorough cleaning and a gasket set to eradicate the damage caused by the inappropriate fuel. Which – as we know – can cost €€€€ in the case of a modern diesel.

It was a bigger challenge to clean the fuel tank and the fuel lines. As an opening ceremony, it took several days until the honey crawled out of the tank. Facing the strange substance, I thought it would be best to dispose of the huge, home-made tub and mount the original one which came with the car. When I tried it on, it turned out that all the mounting hardware was cut off for the sake of the bigger tank. Plus, the one which looked like a factory-spec Peugeot 504 tank didn't really fit – it was much deeper and stood out at the bottom of the car. When I finally discovered the small corrosion holes on the underside, I had to go back to plan A and get rid of the ugly jelly in the big tank.

As an experiment I took a small sample of the substance to find out in what kind of fluid it would dissolve. Judging by the interior of the injection pump I knew diesel fuel didn't work. Petrol seemed the second best thing and I was lucky: it mixed with the thick jelly like white spirit. After filling up a can at the station and a few hours of shaking,the huge tank looked as good as new.

The clogged fuel lines underneath the car got the same petrol treatment: after failing to blow them out with a compressor and an unsuccessful try with a long piece of wire I connected the electric fuel pump to the lines which finally blew out the debris from the pipe. After circulating petrol for half an hour I considered the lines to be clean. Thinking it over again, I had cleaned the whole fuel system except for the injectors, and all this cost just a few litres of petrol, some fuel hoses and a gasket kit for the injection pump. Plus some days spent in the garage but that's part of the hobby, right?

At that stage I hadn't got the faintest idea what would happen if I try to start the engine. I was just happy to get some new parts: a used alternator from a Sierra, an injection switch from Marocco and what not. I was eagerly waiting for the morning when I'd walk down to my own 504, open the door, and after a peaceful minute of pre-heating the diesel engine would start to sing its song which would take me to the end of the world.

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