I’ve often wondered how many more Morris Minor side-valve motors are out there. What would happen when the motor now in Hewie wears out? Will I recondition it or will I simply find another motor and just drop that in? How many are out there sitting in sheds, garages or under tarpaulins in back yards around the country. Australia Day, the 26th of January came around and Chris and I headed into the city for the annual vintage and veteran car show in the city centre. The street was blocked off and the cars on show were parked rear to kerb along the street for about a kilometre. There were representatives of just about every popular British car imaginable. Green and yellow double decker buses from the 1950’s era made shuttle runs around the city for a couple of dollars per person. We climbed aboard for a ride, recalling memories of the last time we’d ridden on these buses when we were kids. I remember the sound of the gear box when the driver changed gears and the smell of diesel - all a distant, but unforgettable, memory. Advertisements from the era still sat on the wall above the windows. They were a little faded but they appeared to be the originals.
After a bus ride and an inspection of the cars, we stopped by for a chat with the members of various Morris Minor clubs who were all sitting out of the hot midday sun, under the trees with their picnics in Hyde Park. They assured me that there were still plenty of side valve engines around.
“Who’d want one?” one of the members laughed.
“I’ve got one in my garage. I’ll sell to you for a few dollars. I don’t want much for it, just what I paid for it and I’ll be happy.”
“Did you take it out of a car and replace it with an overhead valve engine?” I asked.
“No, I was just interested in having a play around with a side valve engine - so I bought it. I played around with it for a while and now I’ve lost interest. It’s now just taking up room in my garage. It’s in good condition, you can have it for fifty dollars.” I took down his name, address and telephone number for future reference.
With Hewie recently greased up, gearbox and differential oil levels checked, we set off for the final leg of the journey. I left Sydney on the 30th of January 2005 and headed north to Newcastle. Most of the road is a motorway between Sydney and Newcastle. But there are plenty of lanes. I took the far left in an attempt to stay out of the way of other cars. Cars and trucks roared past Hewie as if he were standing still. Just before Newcastle the road splits in two. The Pacific highway heads north along the coastal route to Brisbane while the inland route to Brisbane is the New England highway. The difference in the two is a distance of only about 50 kilometres - that’s if you’re traveling to Brisbane. But my destination was Ballina so I’d expect that distance would be stretched out to over 100 kilometres. But the inland route has the least amount of traffic. Most of the interstate trucks take the upgraded and faster coastal route. This leaves the New England highway the best route for Hewie.
The first night back on the road again, I stopped for the night in the town of Singleton I found a room at the Agricultural Hotel across the road from the Singleton railway station. Singleton is on the fertile banks of the Hunter River. Beef-cattle, dairy and vegetable farming are the main industries but they are somewhat overshadowed these days by coal mining and electricity production in the area. Coal trains from the mines in the area run back and forth to the coal loaders in Newcastle where it becomes Australia’s number one export item. The coal trains run night and day carrying these black diamonds.
When I arrived at the hotel I obviously was keen for the “luxury” of a room over looking the railway line. No luck - there were none available. Instead of a room with a view I was given a room at the back of the place that overlooked the parking lot. Needless to say I was the only patron staying in the place. At least I could hear the trains passing by even if I can’t see them. A couple of minutes’ walk down the street was another pub, with a blues band playing that night. I went down for a counter meal of steak, chips and salad and a couple of beers and listened to the locals knock out some music. I arrived back to my room at the Agricultural opened the door and stepped in and fell over. The room was an add-on, as you stepped in there was a small landing then another step. What was worse, was that there was no light installed. The only light was a desk lamp on the other side of the room. So you had to step down a step in the dark to get to the light switch. I wondered how many others before me had broken their ankle, neck or some other bone.
I ventured out at sunrise the next morning, stopping at a local service station for a top up with petrol. From Singleton I continued north through Muswellbrook, Quirindi, Werris Creek, Tamworth and Armidale. Hewie was running well, getting so close to the end of the journey and my only hope was that he’d continue his merry run.
But Hewie had one more trick to pull before we arrived back in Ballina. My destination for the day was the small town of Guyra which is at a height of 1320 meters. It was a hot day, and after about 15 minutes of slow and steady climbing Hewie started to make the vibrating sound that tells me that he’s overheating. He’d missed a beat here and there especially when I dropped back to second gear on a few occasions causing the fan to suck a large amount of heat out of the radiator and blow it on the fuel line and carburetor, causing the fuel to vaporize. This was the very first time that he’d ever over heated due to the hill being too steep and the weather being too hot. I pulled over to the side of the road and opened the bonnet and let him cool down. This is a perfect example of how the convection current style of cooling doesn’t always work and why water pumps were fitted. But I certainly wasn’t complaining. The mercury was around 34C to 36 C and I had been climbing for eight or more kilometres. No wonder the poor little fellow overheated. I topped up the radiator and sat under a tree on the side of the road to give him a rest. After topping him up with water, I continued on, arriving at Guyra that afternoon. It was cool to almost cold and I got out my leather jacket. It was certainly a nice change from the heat earlier on in the day. I parked out the front of the Royal Hotel and went in searching for a room for the night. It was Friday night and the bar was packed. I managed to catch the eye of the publican. He came to the bar where I was standing. He could see by the look on my face that I was more in need of a room for the night than just a beer.
The rooms were a good deal at $30 a night. I showered and went down to the restaurant for a dinner of fish, chips and a beer before retiring early.
The date was Saturday 5th February 2005. It was a cool to somewhat cold morning with nobody in the main street of Guyra when I kicked Hewie over for the final leg back to Ballina. I sat there for a minute with the choke out about half an inch and let him warm up. There was nothing open for breakfast so I continued through to the next major town of Glen Innes and stopped there for breakfast. From here I left the New England highway and made a right hand turn onto the Gwyder highway which took me down to Grafton near the coast. From here I was just and hour and a half from Ballina. Just out of Grafton I passed a service station advertising cheap petrol at 90 cents a litre. I stopped and topped up the tank. I walked into the shop to pay and pulled out my wallet only to find my credit card was missing. I’d been all around the country and used it for almost every purchase and here I am losing it this close to the end of my journey. I paid by cash, then called the service station where I filled up in Glen Innes. The woman who served me, remembered me - well not exacty me, but - Hewie.
“You left your credit card here! I just realised it was your card as I could see the tail end of your Morris head out the driveway. Don’t worry I’ll post it to you.”
I arrived in Ballina around 4.15 pm. There were no banners spread across the main street to welcome me back, nor was there a welcoming party. I stopped by the pub and picked up a bottle of sparkling white wine – Aussie champagne. I then drove around to my departure location at my parents’ home. I looked at the mileage as I sat in the same place from where I’d departed from. The odometre sat on 26,407 miles. On my departure it was on 13,623. I’d covered 12,784 miles. I pulled a pencil from the glove-box and wrote the mileage in my log book then got out of Hewie and went over to the front door of my parents home. I could see them through the fly screen door. They were sitting inside watching their favorite soapy on TV - “The Days of Our Lives”.
“Kerry!” my mother screamed. “You’re home!”
“Crikey that old piece of junk actually made it!” said my father.
“I told ya!” I said to him as I pulled the bottle of champagne out of Hewie.
The next day I pulled the head off. The head gasket that I’d taken from the old engine was in perfect condition. I had expected that the valves to need grinding back in again, but they were also in good condition. There was a moderate amount of coke in the combustion chamber but not as much as I thought there’d be. The only problem was that the top of number one piston was slightly damaged on the edge. It appeared there was a problem with the rings. I thought to take it out and get a new piston but instead I just cleaned the coke off the head and tops of the pistons and put the head back on again - using the same old trusty head gasket. I tightened down the head again and went for a spin around the town then came back, let him cool down for a while and tightened the head down again. I then did about 20 miles and then gave him another tighten, then another after 100 miles.
I added up the amount I had spent on fuel and it came to $A1335.93. Hewie kept going well for another 10 months until he finally blew a piece of ring out of the side of the piston. This became jammed into between the top of the piston and the head. He sounded like he had a very loose tappet. I discovered this when I took the head off. I also discovered that the rings in the second piston were also burned out. The bearings looked as good as new. I called the friend I’d made at the motor show and offered to by the side-valve engine he had offered to sell me. But he’s sold it. So I just replaced the two pistons that were blown and put the engine back together again. Hewie was now ready for another trip around Australia – well, maybe New Zealand this time.