Has anyone ever thought of a soda can and coffee cup as absolutely necessary parts of their tool kit? I hadn’t, but I will now.
In-line to participate in the River Edge Car Show in NJ, the temperature gauge suddenly began to climb. My MGB up to this point had not passed the "N" at the center of the gauge, despite a cloudless, shade-less mid 80’s day and a line of many cars that stretched blocks back from the entry point, crawling along for the past 45 minutes. Equally concerning was that this was despite having installed an 11" cooling fan several years ago that has up to now worked flawlessly.
I hit the ‘catastrophe’ switch that I installed to bypass the thermostatic control of the engine fan and engage it in constant operation (in case the control failed). I also put the heater on high with its fan on. About the same time I saw there was no heat coming from the vents, the car stalled and I pushed it out of line. My thoughts went dark thinking it blew the head gasket or cracked the head, even though I saw no smoke from the exhaust.
The problem, it turned out, was that the heater control valve failed and leaked all the coolant out of the sheet metal top onto the distributor, which then, being wet inside and out, caused it to stall. Sidebar – This has got to be the dumbest place to put this thing. It’s just designed to make the car stall if it leaks.
Letting it sit and cool a bit, I opened the distributor cap and dried things out, poured my bottled water into the radiator. I then took a disposable coffee cup, notched it to fit over the heater valve and hose to direct any coolant or steam away from the distributor and was able to move the car into place at the show.
The owner of a TR6 actually had a spare heater valve in his tool box. Amazingly, while the body is completely different (the MGB attaches to the block with a 2-bolt flange and the Triumph unit is threaded and screws-in to the block), the sheet metal top part with the diaphragm and controls is identical. Ah, got to love British rationalization…..
I used a hacksaw blade to remove the rivet that secures the sheet metal top of the control from both units. I didn’t even remove the one in my car to do this. The Triumph control head fit right on to my casting and I thought I was clear. In filling the car with water, it still leaked. The leak was actually from the aluminum casting, so neither top would fix it, though this was clearly an improvement. Any attempts to try to tighten the control unit to the casting, though, only made it worse.
Everyone there said my choices had come down to having it towed or trying to make it home with the leaking valve and coffee cup shield and hope I didn’t run out of coolant. Neither appealed to me and the latter choice was dangerous. My alternative was to figure out how to blank the valve and keep it from leaking. With no drills or wood or metal to fabricate a plug or blank from, that was a challenge
Enter the aluminum can. Borrowing a scissors, I cut the can and used the old gasket as a template to make 2 pieces, each an approximation of the flange shape. I then used a Phillips screwdriver to punch the bolt holes, leaving the centers solid to be the blank.
Sandwiching these blanks between the gasket on the block and the flange of the heater valve, I snugged it tight. I was all set to use the extension of my 3/8" drive ratchet to plug the hose, when someone from the neighborhood said he had something for that. He ran home from the show and actually sweated a cap on a short piece of ½" copper tube and I had a custom made pipe plug (which will now also remain part of my tool kit).
Now, this is not brilliance and I’m sure some of you have done something similar before, but it was the light-bulb moment to salvage the day. I already carry some short lengths of copper tube and hose clamps as patches to deal with failed radiator or heater hoses, but this will now be added as well. It made sense to me at the moment and I wanted to pass it on to anyone that has not as tested and works.
The whole make-the-part-and-install took less than half an hour. Refilled with water, nothing leaked. I re-installed my coffee cup ‘shield’ and left the show. The 35 mile drive home went without incident, the gauge remaining at its usual midpoint with the outside temp now nearing 90 now.
A new valve already ordered, and she should be good as new.
An aside about the show and my experience: This was a mixed show, with about 225 cars attending. Well run and great places to park and show, I recommend it to anyone in the area to attend. Having much less to do with the type of cars there, but everything about with the type of people that attended, both owners and spectators, is that there was not a car owner, from that of a pristine 69 Chevelle that the owner has had from new since high school to a beautifully restored 1930 Model A, that did not stop to offer help, whatever tools, coolant or parts they had. And no one would take anything for their aid. The water was from a garden hose very nicely supplied by the house I was parked in front. The aforementioned plug was made on the pot, the fellow running home and coming back by bicycle to make sure I had it. The show runners were very attentive and concerned. They made sure I could park close, offered to call a tow and tried to find anything that could help me fix it. Car people are a great lot and so was the neighborhood.
I’ll be back next year, maybe even get to see more of the show. I don’t expect they’ll be any repeat of this incident, but I will be better prepared.
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