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Geoff Masters is very proud of his car - and rightly so. It is a beautiful yellow GTD40 that he bought when it had only a few hundred miles on the clock. Since then he has done over four thousand miles in it and this year he decided to go on the Le Mans trip.
On Friday May 29th he arrived with the rest of us at Portsmouth and we all lined up waiting to go through the ticket booths for the Brittany Ferry to St. Malo. In order to keep the cars together we parked in one of the lanes on the side that wasn't being used. We had to wait about half an hour until the booths opened up and then we all pulled up into the two lanes that were open to check our tickets.
All, that is, except Geoff.
When he tried to move off the car wouldn't go into gear. No matter how hard or often he hit the clutch there was just a grating sound from the gears and the car sat still.
Hastily Matti and Tony brought up the van, jacked up the front of the trailer and pulled the car up onto it backwards. Then the car and trailer headed for the boat with a bemused and dissapointed Geoff.
The boat sailed in the early evening on a 12 hour crossing so everyone had a cabin to get some sleep. The problem of the gearbox was discussed at length over dinner followed by a number of drinks and as the evening wore on everyone was convinced that the problem could be solved without much difficulty. Even Geoff cheered up when he heard that his was by no means the first car to end up on the trailer and it certainly wouldn't be the last. In a mildly alcoholic haze we all retired full of hope and looking forward to the week ahead.
The next morning after breakfast on the boat we drove off onto the docks where we stopped and had a quick look at the problem. The clutch slave cylinder piston was only moving about 8mm which is much less than the 13mm that Renault says is needed to disengage the clutch. Bleeding the clutch yeilded a black gungey mixture but no air bubbles. It seemed likely that the slave cylinder seals had gone. The car was facing the wrong way to trail it any distance so we had to take it off the trailer and turn it round and then put it back on again facing front so the weight distribution on the trailer was right. This was the first time that Matti and Tony, our backup drivers, had loaded the trailer so it took a while - later they became experts because they had a lot of practice!
Then we went off to find a local Renault garage to see if they had a slave cylinder. I had a slight leak on the gearbox oil seals on my car which was caused by oil leaking through the roll pins on one side. To cure this I had to remove the roll pins and fill them with silicone so I stayed with Geoff while the others went sightseeing.
The Renault garage was very helpful. They had a slave cylinder that fitted with a bit of filing and using a bolt for a bleed nipple. But when we tried the clutch it made no difference. The clutch seemed to go so far and then stop.
We took off the master cylinder and found that its seals were very loose so we decided to change that too.
Unfortunately everything closed after lunch on Saturday so there was no chance of getting one locally - so back on the trailer went the car and we went off to the Hotel.
Meanwhile I got on my mobile phone and called our old friends at Merlin Motor Sport at Castle Coombe - as usual they were very helpful and confirmed that they had a master cylinder and that they would send it on Monday to our Hotel overnight.
On Monday we heard from Merlin that none of the couriers would deliver overnight to La Rochelle - only to Paris. So we had to wait until Wednesday morning for it to arrive. So much for all the advertising you hear about courier companies that deliver anywhere in Europe overnight!
Breakfast on Wednesday morning was full of anticipation as Geoff sat with the brown box on his table - and everyone stopped to examine the bits as they came down. After a quick breakfast we got the car off the trailer and quickly installed the new master cylinder. A swift measurement confirmed that the clutch slave cylinder was now moving a full 15mm - no problem!
Geoff started up the engine, depressed the clutch, pushed the gearlever - and winced as the gears ground together.
Everyone stood around looking at the car and at Geoff.
There's nothing for it everyone said in unison, we'll have to take the gearbox out. Geoff opened his mouth to say something - but about four people had already started removing the back end of the car. He tried to protest - but just got given a spanner and told "undo that nut!"
Less than two hours later the gearbox was out and the source of the problem became apparent. The original builder had put a solid pilot bearing in the middle of the flywheel which was made of brass not phosphor bronze. It had heated up and welded itself to the primary shaft of the gearbox. This explained why we had a difficult time getting the gearbox off even when all the bolts were undone. The shaft was stuck so tight that even with the clutch disengaged we had actually driven the car a short distance by push starting it in gear! We also found that one of the gearbox mountings had broken on the weld which meant that the rear end was a bit loose.
With a bit of grease, a socket and a hammer the bearing was soon hydraulicked out and we could see the damage.
Ken Saunders produced a pilot roller bearing from his tool box in the backup van but the next question was how to fit it.
The answer came from the owner of the Hotel - who was fantastic considering we had turned the car park immediately outside his front door into a car dis-assembly workshop. He found a local agricultural dealers only a couple of miles down the road. I took Geoff down in my car to the dealers which had a large "International Harvester" sign outside.
We showed them the brass bearing and said that we needed to turn it on a lathe so that the needle bearing would fit into it. Also we needed the gearbox mount welded. "Pas de problem!" they said. We were out of there in less than 25 minutes - at least 10 of which was taken up looking at my car. They had turned the bearing, put the roller bearing inside it and re-welded the mounting beautifully - all in a few minutes.
It was a lesson worth learning. Agricultural machinery dealers are still real mechanics. They had steel in all sorts of shapes and sizes, welding equipment, lathes, milling machines, drills and a huge range of parts like roll pins, belts etc. - they are used to building and repairing things from scratch. These were true engineers - not just fitters as you find in most car garages today. Happily we returned to the Hotel and after a brief lunch got the car back together. Geoff went off to test the car by driving it down to the dealer's workshop to show them that it really did work.
Other than the fact that he couldn't get fifth gear because the gear lever fouled the gate it worked fine. After an hour trying to adjust the cables he cured that problem by removing the gate. Unfortunately that was not the end of Geoff's gearbox problems as the gremlins struck again on the "Night to Remember" as you can read elsewhere in this issue.
Despite the problems, Geoff assures me that he had a great time, learnt a lot about his "Baby" (as he calls his GT40) and is determined to come again next year after doing some more work over the winter.
Although it was frustrating for Geoff to be on the trailer for the first few days everyone pitched in to help and everyone enjoyed the challenge. Geoff said that next year he is going to come with a list of things that need fixing so that we can all keep busy!
Seriously, Geoff wants to thank all the people on the trip for their help and for encouraging him and for boosting his moral - especially Matti and Tony who were the backup drivers and who did such a brilliant job driving the van and trailer. Thanks guys - see you at Le Mans next year!
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