My America 1983-2001
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The story of my 1970 Austin America.

The all primer look.
Just after installing the new engine.

1983 - Every project has a beginning.

In 1983 I had been looking for an America for some time. However, I was living on the north coast of California and there were none to be found. My luck changed when a friend told me of one he'd seen parked on the side of a rural road with a "for sale" sign in the window.

When I went to look at the car it was in bad condition. The area where it was parked had been flooded by recent rains and the interior of the car had a mud line that extended up the door panels. Apparently, someone had begun the preparations for repainting it, so it was primer grey and much of the glass and trim work was scratched from their unskilled sanding efforts.

As if this wasn't enough suffering for the car, it had been crashed into a power pole which left a semi-circular dent in the front bumper, grill and hood that extended nearly to the alternator.

To me, it was love at first site. When I located the owner, the "deal" became even more appealing when a 1969 parts car was thrown in. I paid $100 for the pair.

Donor Engine & Transmission
Rough on the outside, but nice on the inside.

1984 - This is rebuildable?

Unfortunately, the '69 parts car was an automatic and the engine and transmission in my beloved '70 blew themselves apart soon after I got the car running. There was far too much damage to be a cost-effective rebuild.

I soon located a Riviera Blue 1969 America that was very intact, but had been parked near a house that had burned to the ground.  I purchased this car and soon had the engine/trans removed and ready to rebuild. Although in this picture it looks terrible on the outside, the internals were nearly perfect.


Transmission awaits re-assembly.
Interior painted in "Motor Winder's" Epoxy.
Ready to install.
First Engine/Transmission completed.

1984 - Eng/Trans rebuilt.

The engine and transmission rebuilding process began. I'll appoligize up front for the light green engine paint. I was a rookie, no doubt, and completely new to British cars. Fortunately the engine in the second '69 parts car was so nice that I was able to hone the cylinders and simply re-ring the pistons. I did a complete valve job including some porting work on the head and stock manifold to improve air flow in and out. I also had a mild sport grind done on the camshaft. Thankfully, I had a great friend who helped do so much of the work and gave me great advice.

While the transmission was equally nice, most of the money of the rebuild was spent here. I purchased a 3.1:1 ratio final drive gear set to help significantly lower the RPM's on the freeway. This was a great choice and ultimately brought the engine rev's down to around 3,500rpm at 70mph. When it was all done, I'd spent $600 on the rebuild, $200 of which went to the new final drive.

First engine installed.
Notice the telephone pole damge to the front sheet metal.

1984 - Eng/Trans installed and the experience begins.

As it always seems to be the case with car projects, funds were limited. So from the beginning, this was destined to be a rolling restoration and a daily driver. I was able to hide the crash damage from the power pole behind the new bumper, grill and hood donated from the parts cars. With the addition of a new exhaust system and the manditory brake and clutch hydraulic repairs, the car was back on the road.

It was a fantastic car and extremely dependable. The hydrolastic suspension was such a great ride. On the highway it got about 35mpg and would cruise at 70mph all day long. I was really impressed with how comfortable the seats were and how excellent the visibility was due to the large windows. There are no blind spots in an America.

Crash No. 1
Rear ended by a Jeep CJ.
Crash No. 2
Backed into by uninsured, drunk driver.

1985 & 1987 - Crash damage. Is my America a "Dent Magnet?"

Like any true British car, the America was full of surprizes! It's condition when I found it should have been my first clue, but love is blind.

When I attempted to register the car, not only did I find that it had a "Salvaged" Title with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), but it had 7 previous owners in only 13 years of life. After surviving the registration process, which included passing a brake and light safety inspection I discovered the third surprize: My America was a "Dent Magnet!" Again, I should have clued in to this when I saw the car for the first time...

In November of 1985 I was rear-ended by a Jeep CJ while stopped on a 2 lane road waiting to make a left turn. In 1986 I skidded into a curb while going too fast around a corner. This folded the front wheel and suspension, and I had to have the car straightened on a bodyshop frame machine. In July of 1987 it was back into by an unlicensed, uninsured, drunk driver while parked in a parking lot. The force was so hard it shoved the car sideways in the parking space! Long story, but the car was totalled both times. Not long after that, I rear ended an Audi 5000. My fault and we were only going 5-10mph, but the Audi is so tall in the back that it's huge plastic clad bumper hit dead level with my grill and caved in the front valance. Good thing that area was already so damaged.

Another surprizing thing about the America was how dependable and durable it was. I drove it, rain or shine, as my daily driver until about 1988. During those college years I would make several trips back to my home town which was 550 miles away. I trusted the car so much that I thought nothing of getting off work at 10 or 11pm and driving all night, and then turn around and drive back to school a couple days later.

The only serious mechanical failure was when the crankshaft thrust washers fell out of position and went through the transmission. Amazingly, the only symptom was that I lost clutch action because the crankshaft was moving 1/4" back and forth when I pushed in the clutch pedal. When I took the eng/trans apart, there was no damage. I replaced the thrust washers and and it was back on the road.

Finally repainted.
Showing off the new paint job.

1990 - A fresh new look!

In April of 1990, while still in college, I was able to afford a paint job for the car. This included repairing the drunk driver damage and installing a new front cowl to take car of the Audi 5000 and power pole crash damage. The paint shop was able to locate the code for the original color, "Antelope" and did a great job of making sure it matched the good paint inside the car. I remember the panic I felt when I first saw the car out of the paint booth. It looked terrible all one color with the window openings covered in brown paper and no shiny trim. I immediately went home and returned with hubcaps and side moldings and put them right on. The addition of the chrome and stainless really brought out the look of the paint

While the body and paint work wasn't the best, it was a huge improvement. It was a great feeling to have the car back in it's original color and beginning to look correct.  I was extremely happy (and still am) that I stuck with the original color.

I drove the car often, although not very day, until 1993. There was still alot of cosmetic work to be done, including straightening and re-chroming the bumpers and hubcaps, powder-coating the wheels, new carpets, new seat upholstery, new headliner, glass seals, and more. However, starting a new job, getting married and building a house put the America on the back burner. Sadly, it sat under a cover in the back yard until 1997.

Interior restoration.
The rear interior finished
Dealer Accessories.
AMCO center console with armrest and floormats.
Restored to the original look.
The dash comes together.
1998 - The interior starts to take shape.
After a brief trip down memory lane, (that's the lane you go down after storing your British car for 4 years and then realizing all of your brake and clutch hydraulics have to be re-done...yet again.) I finally had the remaining cosmetic work done, which included quite a bit of chrome work, powder-coating and interior upholstery. Once re-assembled the car was really transformed. I even located original driver's door side mirror, interior mirror and interior courtesy light. I located a fairly rare AMCO center console with an armrest that lifts to reveal a storage area. While I believe these were only made as an accessory for automatics, as this one was, I was able to adapt it to work with my manual transmission.

During this time I also had the front and rear glass seals replaced. This, along with replacing the interior door panel weather shields, fixed all the water leaks that the car had previously.
Our daughter's first car show.
Sept. 1999 Palo Alto British Car Show.

1998/99 - Car shows and clutch failure.

After completing the remaining cosmetic work and repainting the engine in the correct color, we joined a local British car club, "Paradise British Cars." We spent the next 3 years attending as many club events and British car shows as we could schedule.

Our daughter, born in August of 1999, and of course brought home from the hospital in the America, attended all the events! She even got her picture in British Car Magazine while at the '99 Palo Alto, CA. show, riding in the back of the America at age 4 weeks.

15 minutes of fame.
Kate poses for British Car Magazine.

During that 2 day event, which included a 60+ mile road tour the day before, we had a clutch master cylinder hose fail internally. It had swollen almost completely shut, so when the clutch pedal was depressed either nothing would happen, or the clutch release arm would be held open and would sometimes take several minutes to return.

Pit stop.

A quick diaper change!

We nursed the car along for the event, but on the way home had a catastrophic failure when we pulled over at a gas station. I started the car to leave, stepped on the clutch pedal (forgetting completely about the release problem) and shifted into reverse. The huge bang in the transmission and stalled engine told me that I'd just engaged reverse, with a running engine, no clutch and the emergency brake on. I restarted, backed up and pulled forward without a problem. So, thinking there was no damage, we drove up the road. Within about 200' the left inner nylon U-joint coupling came apart. As it failed, it locked the end of the left axle against the subframe. This stopped the car immediately!

Rule No.1

Breaking this is a definate No-No!

So, there we were, with an axle locked up, on a slight hill of a 2 lane rural road, at dusk, 130 miles from home. This was not good with the wife and new baby on board.  When I got out to inspect the damage, I found a trail of U-joint pieces all the way down the hill and into the gas station parking lot.

Fortunately, not only did I have 2 new joints at home, but my brother was able to bring them up to us!  With about :20min. worth of work, I replaced the left U-joint and we were back on the road. That was the first time the car had ever left me stranded.

2000 - An unscheduled rebuild.

Kate's a great helper.
Daddy, let's put this in now.
2000 looked like it would be a great year of more shows and club events. However, after attending the Ventura, CA British Car show, things took an unscheduled detour.

Following the show, which is about a 300 mile round trip, I decided it was time to replace the weeping headgasket. It had been weeping occationally between the #2 and #3 cylinders for years and I had never worried about it that much. Prior to pulling the head, I did a compression test that indicated 150lbs in each cylinder. Not bad for an engine that was only re-ringed back in '84.

So, imagine my surprize when I pulled the head and found the tops of the pistons were broken around the edges and the top compression rings were all missing!
Mincomp's own design.
Transmission windage tray installed.
One thing led to another, as we all know happens with British cars.   3 months and $1,300 later, I had rebuilt the engine and transmission...and... missed all the events for 2000. (Think of the money I saved on motel rooms, restaurants and fuel.)

This major rebuild was a good thing though, as it allowed me to make some changes in the engine and transmission. I upgraded to higher output water and oil pumps, centered oil pick-up tube, .020" over-sized short skirt pistons, and a hotter Kent 256 camshaft with lightened lifters and sintered rocker assembly.  In the transmission I found the 3rd motion bearing's inner race was shattered.  The differential was also missing its thrust washers which sit between each spider gear and the differential cage.  Since I was making other mild performance increasing modifications, I decided to install a windage tray to cover the transmission gears and keep them from throwing oil into the path of the crankshaft.

Starting to come together.
Summer 2001.

2001 - The current look.

2001 was a great year for the America! We attended many shows, beginning with a show in Hayward, CA which is in the East Bay of the San Francisco area. The great thing about this show was that my friends and fellow America owners, John Quilter and Brian Barney, brought their matching 1969 Americas. It was a big deal to have 3 Americas at the same event! John bought his America in 1971 and it is all original and beautiful. Brian just finished restoring his and it is also a beautiful, original looking car.

3 Americas at the same show!
The Americas take over the Hayward Field Meet 2001.
Follow the leader.
3 happy cars make and mpeg movie!

On the way home from the event we had the honor of being greeted by an Officer of the California Highway Patrol. He inform me that his radar unit indicated my speed at 75mph! I was so proud of my car! He was kind enough to give us a warning.

Between shows and club events I put some time into resolving some drivability issues that became more pronounced with all the long trips we were taking. I had an unstable idle, a slight misfire at a cruise, and a slight misfire under moderate loads climbing long grades. All that was being caused, as it turned out, by a long list of factors:

Final details.
Engine compartment Sept. 2001.

Carb needle was too lean.
Carb piston return spring was wrong.
Carb float level was too low.
Carb jet tube was worn.
Carb ice...yes it can happen in California.
Fuel pump check valves that leaked.
Distributor vacuum advance diaphram was torn.
Distributor mechanical advance was sticking.
Distributor points spring was bad.
Engine crankcase vent system incorrect.

To read abouy my tuning adventure click on the link below.

Solving Driveability Issues

It was fun attending so many events and I got an amazing education in 'A' series engine tuning and automotive theory. Great stuff, and I'm looking forward to next season...

More to come...