March 2018

[1-Mar_18_DoctorWhoDalek.jpg] For the uninitiated or otherwise curious, this is a Dalek.
Photo from the Doctor Who TV series courtesy Iain Barker

Restoration of a Dalek
by Iain Barker

Warning: the following article contains science, science fiction and peppermint.

“What goes up, must come down,” said Isaac Newton. Well, in the case of my Mini, that would be the Hydrolastic suspension.

For those not familiar, Hydrolastic was a rather clever system fitted on many Minis from the mid-’60s to early ’70s. It connected the front and rear wheel hubs on each side of the car using metal hydraulic pipes and rubber displacers, in place of traditional suspension springs and dampers. To service the suspension, BMC dealers would de-/re-pressurize the system (between 30” vacuum and 300psi) using two levers on a hand pump manufactured in the UK by the (long-gone) V.L. Churchill Company.

The pumps are a black or blue metal box with two long levers at the front. They look a bit like the arms of a Dalek, the metal-cased evil aliens from the Doctor Who British sci-fi TV series, hence the nickname. One lever draws a vacuum the other lever compresses green Hydrolastic fluid (basically 50:50 water and anti-freeze premix) via two pipes connected to valves on the rear subframe.

Why am I telling you all this, you may wonder. Well, I managed to pick up an old Churchill pump fairly cheaply off this fall, and decided to restore it for use with my ’67 Mini.

To be blunt, this pump was knackered.

All these pumps date from the mid-1960s, but this one was in a particularly grim state. It had quite obviously not been used for many years as anything other than a storage shelf. It was covered in oil, dirt and cobwebs. The case was bent and corroded. All the main mechanical parts seemed to be intact, but there was a large split in the plastic fluid reservoir, which someone had obviously tried and failed to reseal many years ago using fiberglass resin.

March 2018

[2-Mar_18_Dalek_Before.jpg] The pump before reconstruction. The resemblance between it and a Dalek is extraordinary.
Photo by Iain Barker

I stripped it down easily in a couple of hours, minus a few layers of skin from my knuckles. Where a pump once stood on the workbench, now there was a large disorganized pile of what looked like brass and copper Victorian central heating parts.

I had no clue what to do next, but after a quick wire brushing I saw that the metal corrosion didn’t look too bad. The rubber parts were a different story — flexible hydraulic seals that had seen years of service in alcohol and water had been left many more years to dry out, and now looked more like circles made from hard, cracked raisins.

After a lot of searching (hint: “hard black rubber” is not a good thing to Google with safe-search disabled), I found an article on a vintage motorcycle website that suggested an old trick to soak the hardened rubber part in a mixture of alcohol and natural wintergreen oil. Apparently the methyl salicylate compound in wintergreen oil restores the plasticizing elastomers in natural rubber. It also smells like peppermint.

Since new seals haven’t been available for at least 30 years, I figured anything was worth a try. Wintergreen oil is expensive most uses seemed to be for homeopathy and it is sold by the ounce. Fortunately, continuing with my theme of using weird suppliers for Mini parts restoration, I managed to get a pint of methyl salicylate, courtesy of Big Dee’s Horse Tack & Vet Supply Company. I put the metal parts in a bucket of CLR (calcium, lime and rust remover), the rubber seals in a 1:3 mix of wintergreen oil and rubbing alcohol, and decided the best option was to go on vacation to Florida for Thanksgiving and forget about my troubles.

We returned from Thanksgiving vacation to find the Amazon fairies had paid a visit. They left me a package containing a dozen 1/4” BSP (an old, obsolete British Imperial measurement) Dowty sealing washers and a set of new neoprene piston seals. Now I was ready to try and reassemble the plumbing.

March 2018

[3-Mar_18_Plumbing_Done.jpg] Plastic reservoir tank refurbished, plumbing done, time to reassemble the Dalek and test.
Photo by Iain Barker

First up was the pressure pump, with its obsolete and very custom shaped piston seals. To my amazement, what two weeks ago had been lumps of shriveled hard plastic were now miraculously rejuvenated as supple, usable rubber seals, which smelled faintly like peppermint.

The vacuum pump seal, however, was swollen beyond its original size and cracked into three pieces. Fortunately, this was just a plain rubber seal, nothing proprietary, so it was fairly easy to find a substitute in the seal for the hydraulic piston on a pickup truck snowplow — eBay to the rescue.

With both pumps now able to hold pressure and vacuum, it was time to take care of that “historically repaired” plastic reservoir tank. The old tank was made of some kind of plastic, but of course it predates the introduction of recycling labeling regulations, so it had no material type markings to work from. I tried four different epoxies to fix the cracks in the old tank. JB Weld Plastic Bonder seemed to be the only one, which would adhere to the original plastic. Just in case, I also found a modern five-quart tank of similar design. That is less capacity than the original two-gallon tank, but unless you’re running a 1960s BMC dealership or servicing a fleet of Minis I doubt that would be much of a limitation.

In the spirit of maintaining originality (or maybe just masochism) I decided to use the re-repaired tank, and keep the modern one as a backup. With everything reassembled and a fresh lick of paint on the panels, the Hydrolastic pump was starting to look a lot more like it would have in 1964.

I half-filled the tank with the cheapest 50:50 antifreeze premix I could find, and hooked the hoses up to an old 10” Mini tire to see if the pumps would work. The vacuum side pulled, and held 25” mercury no problem when I put my thumb over the end of the hose. But when hooked up to the tire it was obvious the Schrader valve coupling was leaking in air. Add new Schrader seals to the to-do list.

Worse, the pressure side did not want to work at all. Had all this effort been in vain? No matter how hard I heaved down on the lever, no fluid came out of the hose. Hmm. Time for a beer and a think.

After a while I realized the problem. There is a one-way check valve to prevent the pressure pump from sucking fluid back out of the car on the upstroke. It’s basically a ball bearing floating inside a tube, and some idiot (me) had put it back together upside down. Hey, kids, remember to take photos during disassembly!

March 2018

[4-Mar_18_All_Done.jpg] All done! And ready to exterminate, exterminate... er, recharge Iain’s Hydrolastic system.
Photo by Iain Barker

With the valve reversed, the pump pushed fluid easily through the hose, up to the spare tire, out the top of the Schrader valve — and onto the basement ceiling. Now I had green antifreeze raining down on my head. That was not part of the plan. Add a second set of new Schrader seals to the to-do list.

Of course, neither of the Schrader couplings has been manufactured for at least 30 years, so there are no service kits available with replacement seals. Fortunately, the nitrogen-filled struts on aircraft landing gear are very similar to the Hydrolastic valves, and are still available. In fact, Amazon has them on next day delivery. So it was trivial to replace them with new parts that would hold pressure.

The only thing left now was to print a new instruction placard for the top panel. The pump is complete and ready to use when I reset the suspension height on my Mini in the spring.

March 2018

NEMO Annual Meeting April 8!

NEMO’s Annual Meeting will be held on Sunday, April 8th, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the British Beer Company, 120 Worcester Rd. (Route 9), Framingham, Mass., (508) 879-1776. We reserved the “Mad Dog Room,” which is in the back behind the bar.

The BBC features an extensive beer selection and British pub menu. This small restaurant chain is popular with other British car clubs. Food and drink will be ordered à la carte. Take a look at

We will be holding the usual Give-Away Freebie Raffle, so if you have any Mini-related items you would like to donate bring them along. An evite will be sent to the membership list in early March. The British Beer Company is located on Route 9, about 1.5 miles from I-90.

Directions: 1) Take I-90 (Mass Turnpike) to Exit 13, Route 30 West, Natick/Framingham. 2) Bear right on the exit ramp and merge onto Route 30 West (Cochituate Road) toward Framingham. 3) Continue on Route 30 West for about 1.0 mile. 4) Turn left onto Caldor Road (mall service road). There is a McDonald’s on the left corner. 5) Caldor Road ends at a light. Turn left onto Worcester Road (Route 9). 6) The British Beer Company will be on your right, just after you turned onto Worcester Road.

February 2018

[1-JanFeb_18_Rally_Toys.jpg] An incredible haul of presents at MINI of Warwick.
Photo by Wendy Birchmire

MINIs Make a Difference
by Wendy Birchmire

WARWICK, R.I., Dec. 3 — You want me to join you where, at what hour? Oh, the “MINIs Making a Difference” Toy Rally in Warwick. That sounds like a wonderful way to help bring some happiness to children who really need it. But we have to be there at 8 a.m. and it is an hour’s drive from home? I haven’t gotten up before 7 a.m. since I retired, but I can do this. Just get up, get dressed, feed the cats, pack up the presents and get on the road!

On arriving at MINI of Warwick, the first thing I saw was a line of brand new MINIs ready to be someone’s holiday gift. Better stay away from them. My MINI is only two years old and is in fine shape. Those new ones looked so shiny and inviting, however.

There were three lines of modern MINIs and one classic Mini lined up for the rally. Many of them were adorned with Christmas finery. Even though it was a brisk 44°, owners were out inspecting the rally cars. Incredibly, of the 47 cars I didn’t see two cars that looked the same. There were unique paint jobs and clever license plates.

Inside, the dealership provided treats catered by Panera. There were assorted bagels, muffins, pastries, breakfast sandwiches, coffee, milk and orange juice. They even had my favorite, chocolate chip bagels, and cream cheese to smear on them. Yummy!

The dealership also offered a discount on gift items for MINI enthusiasts. I wanted the blue 3D puzzle of a MINI, but decided against it. My friend bought one and I’m sure she will let me play with hers. Thank you, MINI of Warwick, for a perfect start to the day.

Then the presents started flowing in, brought by MINI owners and volunteers. There were bicycles, stuffed animals, games and just about anything a child could wish for. There were over 1,000 presents donated. One enterprising family contributed 170 items. Wow! Apparently all the family members had asked their friends to donate a present. The young lady who brought them to the rally said she wanted to collect even more next year.

There was also a charity raffle for $6,000 worth of donated prizes. My luck was not with me and I did not win anything. Oh, well.

February 2018

[2-JanFeb_18_Rally_Classic_Mini.jpg] A classic among the moderns.
Photo by Wendy Birchmire

At 11 a.m., we were off on the rally to Hasbro Children’s Hospital and the Newport Car Museum. Now that was tricky. Initially my car was sandwiched between two other MINIs. When we got to the highway, everyone spread out and it was difficult to see where to go at the interchanges. Once we got to Providence, local police provided us with an escort to the Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Later, on the drive to the Newport Car Museum, local officers stopped traffic at intersections so our little caravan could stay together.

The people at the Newport Car Museum welcomed us and provided cookies and coffee. There were many docents available to answer our questions. One of the things I really liked was there were no ropes surrounding the vehicles to keep visitors away. The private collection of 50 cars covers six decades of automotive design, from the 1950s to the present. There are separate exhibits of Ford/Shelby cars, Corvettes, Mopars, world cars and fin cars. There are also driving simulations and mid-century modern furnishings.

My favorite cars at the Museum were the 1954 Buick Skylark Convertible and the 2017 Dodge Viper ACR. Although they are quite different, I would be happy to ride in each of them.

All in all, it was a great day. We donated toys to children in need, inspected the other rally cars and were treated to a museum full of awesome vehicles. What could be better?

February 2018

[3-JanFeb_18_Blanket.jpg] ‘The gift’ this year was a blanket made by Wendy Birchmire featuring the favorite cars of NEMO members.
Photo by Robert Izzo

NEMO Holiday Party a Big Hit!
by David Schwartz

FRAMINGHAM, Mass., Dec. 2 — The NEMO Holiday Party was held at La Cantina Italiana in Framingham, and we had a great turnout — 33 adults and one child! The restaurant provided two adjoining rooms. A large outer room contained the bar, hors d’oeuvres table, small drink tables and the buffet table. Members congregated here for a social hour. We had lunch and the Yankee Swap in the smaller inner room. Feedback on the food and space was positive and we will probably use this venue again in 2018.

The Yankee Swap table overflowed with bags and packages of all sizes. There were several gifts that changed hands many times, including a mysterious greasy paper bag.

The only child at the party was Nuala Barker, our youngest NEMO regular. Yours truly bent the rules and presented Nuala with an un-swappable gift, a Finding Dory treasure chest filled with Nemo and Dory items. Nuala quickly caught on to the Yankee Swap process and instructed her father Iain to steal a plush MINI Cooper.

The hottest gift this year was a fleece blanket printed with photos of NEMO member cars. The blanket ultimately went home with Barbara Neiley, who as the first ticket taker was able to make the last steal. Wendy Birchmire designed the blanket, and her British flag Mini was the largest photo, followed closely by my Mini Traveller. Due to popular demand, Wendy ordered several more blankets for members who held “the gift” ever so briefly.

The greasy bag contained a beautiful hand-drawn sketch of a classic Mini. This also changed hands several times, with Lorine Karabec stealing it near the end of the Swap. Dan St. Croix was the artist, and his work has been popular at other Yankee Swaps.

Another unique gift was a signed photo of Paddy Hopkirk driving a works Mini Cooper S, ORX 777F, to 5th overall on the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally. Iain Barker ordered the photo from Europe, and Nuala provided the handmade wrapping paper. The photo was stolen several times, but Dan St. Croix managed to hold onto it.

Be sure to check the Facebook page and NEMO website for photo albums of the guests and Yankee Swap.

December 2017

[1-Dec_17_BBTS_Mini_And_Minors.jpg] Line of Morrises at British by the Sea, with the Karabec Mini Minor 850 on the left.
Photo by David Schwartz

Looking Back at 2017
by David Schwartz

While NEMO members participated in many events this past year, I’d like to give my impressions of three of them that I was able to attend, from British by the Sea to British Legends Weekend.

British by the Sea,
Waterford, Conn., June 4th

This was the 30th anniversary of BBTS and Morris was the featured marque. There were at least eight Morris Minors parked together, along with a 1960 Morris Mini Minor 850 owned by NEMO members Lorine and Derick Karabec. Cooper, their new puppy, accompanied the Karabecs.

The threat of afternoon rain kept many NEMO members away, as I counted only six classic Minis and six modern MINIs. New member Ken Kelly proudly displayed his pristine 2000 Rover Mini. My 1968 Morris Mini Minor Traveller stayed home in a nice dry garage, which was good as there were heavy downpours on the drive home.

The Morris Minors held a special interest for me. In early May I purchased a 1950 Morris Minor Tourer (convertible). It was great to see a wide variety of body styles and model years, and I took lots of photos for comparison with my car. I have never named a car or owned vanity plates, but was inspired to go with “Moyshe” after my great uncle Maurice whose Yiddish name was Moishe. My Morris Minor is in excellent cosmetic shape, inside and out, and I had hoped to drive it to BBTS. However, the brakes and carburetor needed “a little sorting.” In fact, the car needed so much sorting that it is still on jack stands in my garage. Hopefully, Moyshe will be ready in time for the 2018 show.

Weston Antique & Classic Car Show,
Weston, Mass., September 23rd

The Weston Car Show always has a great turnout of British cars. My 1968 Mini Traveller was joined by Wendy Birchmire’s 1977 Austin Mini, Alex Daly’s 1967 Mini Cooper S and Nan Okarma’s 1966 Austin Mini Moke. Other British cars included a 2017 Morgan 3-Wheeler (technically a motorcycle), a 1952 Jaguar XK120 Fixed Head Coupe, a 1962 Jaguar XKE, a 1968 Jaguar E-type, Michael Gaetano’s 1947 Bentley, a 1961 Austin-Healey 3000, a 1960 MGA, a 1964 MGB with a hardtop, a 1980 MGB, and a 1983 Lotus Espirit. The Lotus looked fast standing still and the hatchback was open, providing a good view of the engine.

December 2017

[2-Dec_17_Weston_Moke.jpg] Nan Okarma’s Moke at the Weston show.
Photo by David Schwartz

There was a pair of Datsun 240Zs, one of which looked like it had just rolled off the assembly line. The car sported a pair of SU carburetors and a bright yellow-green paint job.

The American cars included two with retractable hardtops. My personal favorite was a 1957 Ford Skyliner. This is a true “land yacht” with an incredibly long hood and trunk. The Ford was displayed with the roof partially retracted so you could view the Rube Goldberg mechanism and storage box in the middle of the trunk.

There was a good assortment of gratuitous tailfins, muscle cars, hot rods and antique cars dating back to the 1920s. A 1950 Nash Ambassador featured a passenger seat that folded into a bed, and a Stanley Steamer (which attends every year) blew its whistle.

Weston is one of my favorite multi-marque shows. The venue is beautiful with cars parked around the town green and plenty of shade. Keep an eye on the 2018 NEMO event calendar and try to join us next year.

British Legends Weekend Show, North Falmouth, Mass., October 8th

After the horrendous weather in 2016, the Cape Cod British Car Club d a do-over and once again paired classic Minis and modern MINIs in a Concours d’Evolution. The weather forecast kept changing all week and I postponed my decision on attending until the last possible minute. Ultimately, Betty and I drove down Saturday afternoon in my 1968 Mini Traveller.

Thankfully, there was no monsoon this year. Greg Mazza has yet to reinstall the carpets in his Mini after last year’s storm, and the woodwork on my car is definitely the worse for wear.

December 2017

[3-Dec_17_BLW_ChrisC.jpg] The Mini that eventually won the Concours at British Legends Weekend being looked over by the judges.
Photo by David Schwartz

NEMO members and friends of NEMO volunteered their cars for the Concours. We paired five modern MINIs with classics owned by Faith Lamprey and Bruce Vild, Dave and Jean Icaza, Gail Gray and Chris Cole, and yours truly.

In addition, there were two Honda VTEC-powered classic Minis in the Modified class on the people’s-choice showfield outside the Concours. Both modified Minis were respectful to their classic roots, but the Concours prize was given to the Gray/Cole Rover Mini that was a limited edition, high-performance factory model.

Show cars included a large number of MGBs, MG TFs, Austin-Healeys, Jaguar E-types, Morgans and a wide variety of Triumph models. Several less common cars also participated: a 1950 Allard J2, a 1970 Rover P5B Coupe, a 1970 Lotus Europa, a 1947 Bentley, a 1986 TVR, and a 1960s Sunbeam Tiger.

This was my first time seeing an Allard in person and it is a truly unique car. The Rover is quite luxurious and the Lotus is cool and quirky.

By noon there was some intermittent light rain that followed us for most of the drive home. Fortunately the carpets stayed dry, but the driver’s side door pocket was damp. My car is overdue for new window channels and door seals.

[For more photos from these events, courtesy of David, please go to our website Gallery under Events.]

December 2017

NEMO Annual Meeting April 8!

We are planning to hold the NEMO Annual Meeting on Sunday, April 8, 2018. Details will follow in the January/February issue and on-line. We are considering a go-kart track outing, so stay tuned!


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