Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series written by longtime XKs Unlimited customer Lois Knudsen of Nevada, who completely restored a 1964 E-Type – by herself. But let’s let Lois tell the story …
My “baby” was outside again, only this time in pieces. We drove to the closest phone booth so I could call the local sheriff’s office. As calmly as I could, and I am sure I sounded like a blubbering, blithering lunatic, I explained to the dispatcher what was going on. She said, “Off the record, honey, if that were my car, I’d break the lock on the door and get it out of there.” As I hung up the phone, I thought, “Screw it! It is my car and I’ll deal with the possible repercussions of committing a Breaking and Entering crime a lot better than I could deal with the chances of my little beastie being picked up by the trash truck!”
Amazingly, when we returned to the house, there was a car out front and the garage door was open. I could see that the E-Type was still inside and that there was a man carrying boxes out of the garage. As it turns out, he was the landlord. He explained that the tenants had been very late on their rent and skipped town, leaving all sorts of garbage in the house and in the garage as well. He went on to say that he and his wife pondered at length as to just what-in-the-hell that “thing” was in the garage and ended up deciding that it was a hot-rod project of the former tenants. What they knew for certain was that they wanted it – and all the other trash – out of their garage. This fellow was actually relieved that I was there and was going to take care of it. In the end, it became clear that he and his wife felt sorry for me and they agreed to leave the door unlocked for the next few days so that I could arrange to properly retrieve all my stuff, or what was left of it.
A Real Home
So back to the company parking lot the Jag went. With her bonnet wired back on and the rear end barely back in, she sat patiently under her pretty little car cover. I am sure that it was only a few weeks later that Paul, Lisa, and I found a three-bedroom house — with a garage — in Simi Valley for rent. PERFECT! But just as we were ready to sign the lease, Lisa decided to go off to college, leaving Paul and me as the only tenants. This would make the house harder to afford, but it would certainly give me more space in the garage! Woo Hoo!
Now with a stable living environment (for me or for the Jaguar is open to debate), I was able to really get back into working on her. Back out came the rear end, as it clearly needed a complete rebuild. I took it all apart and replaced every shim, gasket, bearing, U-joint, and shock absorber. I stripped, sanded, and painted everything, which I would later regret in some small measure. The one thing that sat in the middle of it all – like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the living room – was the differential. I can’t say exactly how many times I took the cover off, looked inside, looked quickly over my shoulder to see if anyone saw me do this and promptly slapped the cover back on.
To this day, I still cannot get my head around all the individual pieces that thing is comprised of. It was some years later that Peter Egan wrote in one of his Road & Track Side Glances columns, “If you’ve never seen an exploded drawing of a Jaguar rear end, try to imagine an aerial depiction of China in which each person represents a shim, gasket, stud, locknut, spacer, spider gear or bearing. Then imagine yourself, director’s megaphone in hand, trying to organize them all into some sort of differential folk dance. The shims alone defied census…” If you want a chuckle, open your “Complete Official Jaguar E” book to page…page…umm, dang I can’t read the page number. It looks to be obscured by what were most likely tears and maybe even a bit of vomit. Oh wait a minute, it’s right after page 210. Okay, okay, a bit graphic perhaps, but now you probably understand why I didn’t hesitate when my new neighbor (an apparent motor-head) said he could rebuild it, no problem. I almost put a ribbon ‘round it before handing it (and the 4,000 tiny boxes and envelopes of shims) off to him! With that out of my hair, I could happily continue discombobulating the braking system, carburetors, front suspension, and continue to scrape, sand, and wire-wheel every square inch of the front sub-frame assemblies. As I stated very early on, I had no rhyme or reason to the order that I approached these tasks.
The engine was going to be ready very soon and it deserved a shiny home-coming. Hmmm, now let’s think this through (I believe this is one of the first-known cases of me “thinking a thing through”); if the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone’s connected to the … If the engine comes home tomorrow, what are all the things it needs to connect to: the still “exploded” rear end, flywheel, clutch, throw-out bearing, manual transmission, driveshaft? My current driveshaft had been severely shortened to accommodate the C4 automatic transmission that was in the car when I found it. Out of that little laundry list, I at least had the original-style transmission (it was still in the luggage area where the previous owner left it).
When I viewed the pages on the “innards” of the transmission and experienced almost the same physiological reaction as with the differential, I knew that I should simply “chicken-out” and take it to a professional for an inspection. Feeling slightly defeated, I took what I had been told was the original transmission to a shop in Thousand Oaks, Calif. You can’t imagine my surprise when the mechanic called and asked, “Now, what was it you wanted me to do to this thing? It looks brand new inside. My guess is that it easily has less than a thousand miles on it.” When I picked it up, the mechanic pointed to the transmission cover as he explained again that all he did was replace the cover gasket because the tranny checked out as being nearly brand new and that it was amazing since it had the ID letters of an old-style “crash box” stamped on it. I looked at the “ID” he spoke of and realized that it was the same number that was on the car’s chassis plate. Holy cow, it was the original transmission! (Another “Woo Hoo!” was clearly in order.)
Learning a Foreign Language
A few trips to auto wreckers in Azusa paid off. I was able to procure a drive shaft and a flywheel for less than $200 (in 1984). A great bargain at the time, but it still wiped out my “spending” cash for the next two months. At this point, my new roommate, Paul, had helped me develop a strict budget for my wimpy paychecks. He was clearly motivated to do this for two reasons: he wanted to make sure I could pay my half of the rent, and he wanted to see work continue moving forward on the Jag.
Another couple of months of saving and I was set to purchase a new clutch. With so much time elapsing between the acquisition of parts and their installation, I had plenty of time to read the workshop manual in anticipation of whatever part was to come next. I would read a section over and over, hoping that upon the next “read,” the clouds would part and angels would sing to make it all make sense to me. I tell you it is something, trying to learn all-things-automotive, but layer on top of that the workshop manual’s insistence on using strange terminology that stripped away the little confidence I had with the wee bit of automotive knowledge I thought I had.
I know I’ve griped about this before but, I mean, really — calling what I knew as a dashboard a “fascia” or referring to a fender as a “wing”? The real mind-boggler for me was some nonsense about a “negative earth.” Since when was a black wire ever “hot”? More than once, I prayed that I would find a book titled, “How to Restore Your Early E-Type: A Step-by-Step Manual for the Compleat Idiot.” (John Muir, where were you when I needed you? And, by the way, that is how he spelled “compleat.”). At this pace (now scientifically verified by Caltech to be the polar-opposite of what we see on the auto restoration reality shows), most people who were familiar with my project lost interest and said to me with disdain, “You’ll never finish it.” One unintended consequence of my glacial pace was the fascinating collections of spiders (mostly black widows) that would gather in the quiet, dark places in and around the car. After a few instances, whereupon coming face to face with some rather large specimens, I learned that I could actually fly! I would be under the car one minute and the next be on the opposite side of the garage. As if “teleported,” I’d find myself flying out from underneath the car – totally defying all laws of gravity and with moves that would make any Cirque Du Soliel performer proud. From then on, I learned to throw a big tarp over the car and “bug-bomb” it if it had been sitting for more than a month or so.
On an almost weekly basis, I would stop by the machine shop just to see what part of the engine was being worked on. By now you know I am a bit odd and my telling you that I find machine shops fascinating will come as no surprise. It was just so very cool to see all that special equipment and watch stuff being made, calibrated, and brought to life. When I could afford it, I would leave the guys a six-pack of beer and threaten them with another visit. Well, that all came to an abrupt end when the owner, Randy, called me and said two words…
Find out what happens in the next installment …