You might think every morning I emerge from the elevator at Autopian Towers like Miranda Priestly arriving at the Runway magazine offices. I haughtily remove my sunglasses and cast a dismissive eye over the unwashed masses (underpaid interns) before me as I swish into my corner office, where the interns have made me a fresh espresso and spread out a line of expensive design magazines on my desk for me to sniff at. And you’d be right. That’s exactly what it’s like.
But never let it be said I am not homo populi. Last week, I fitted a new set of faucets to my bathroom sink. Ok, one exploded a few days later nearly causing a flood, but the point is I have known one end of a spanner from the other. Almost 30 years ago when I started driving, I had a succession of shitbox rear-wheel drive Euro Fords. To a car, they were reasonably shagged, so I was no stranger to curbside wrenching. I once had to replace a starter motor on my Capri in the morning before heading off for my late shift as a manager at McDonald’s in the afternoon.
I haven’t really had cause to do anything requiring me to get my hands dirty for years, because I’ve owned proper cars that haven’t needed constant attention, and I’m a great believer in the dignity of other people’s labor. Also, garage space is a precious commodity on my bumptious little island so a project car has been out of the question. Last year I pulled half the Range Rover’s interior out to fit an Apple CarPlay adapter, but I’ll have to check with David as to whether that counts as wrenching or not.
But now, I’m risking my pristine black nail polish for you, because it’s what you deserve. We’re crossing the streams. Your fancy British designer is getting his hands properly dirty by wrenching on his Ferrari.
I should explain. I am not a total idiot. With a Ferrari, provenance is everything. In the unlikely event were I ever to sell it, the buyer will want to see a nice telephone directory stack of receipts for reassuringly expensive work carried out by someone who knows what the fuck they are doing, not some noodle-fingered perfume wearer like me.
I do have a Ferrari specialist reasonably local to me; I borrowed them last year to trace a mystery coolant leak and to fix the fuel gauge. That necessitated dropping the tank out and I was without the car for seven weeks right at the start of spring when I wanted to be driving it, which boiled my piss no end. So for something minor that I could do myself, I didn’t want to send it to them again.
There’s nothing mystical about Ferraris. They’re not made from unicorn bones and pixie glue, and they don’t require disassembly in a hermetically sealed clean room by surgeons in yellow scrubs. They come apart with a spanner from a tool bag full of rusty water like just any other car. The main problem is parts cost and availability. What is available can be expensive, but with the help of the forums, you can be a bit clever.
I had no choice last year but to choke down the cost of a new set of ignition leads to cure a misfire at £300 ($370), but I managed to get the digital clock (no longer available, unsurprisingly) and the original Pioneer stereo fixed cheaply by sending them off to a friendly electronics firm. I thought the central locking had packed up at one point and it turns out the solenoids are a commodity part shared with some Fords. That actually turned out to be the lock mechanism itself which I replaced with a second-hand unit for £65 ($80). The Mondial is from 1983 so it’s pretty analog; last year I was chatting to a guy with a 360 Modena who had just had to replace two engine ECUs at £2500 ($3,000). Each.
Ferraris don’t like sitting idle for too long; they need to be warmed up and used. I normally try to get mine out every two weeks or so, even if it’s just for running errands. After a trip to Wales for the holidays the car sat in its storage for about a month, longer than I usually like to leave it. I always crouch underneath to see if any vital fluids have pissed onto the floor, and this last time there was a large wet spot in front of the driver’s side rear wheel. A dab of a finger and a lick confirmed the sweet, sweet taste of coolant.
A check of the header tank confirmed what the red warning light said – it was low.
The cooling system is pretty bog standard. The radiator is in the nose (which is why it has those horizontal strakes on the front), then the top and bottom hose run down the spine of the car to the engine, where the top hose turns 90 degrees and runs up to the top of the block on the driver’s side (passenger side for you colonials.) The bottom hose does the same in the opposite direction, and then oddly joins the block at the top underneath the injection plenum.
From underneath I could see coolant dribbling down the aluminum panel inside the fender, but I couldn’t see a conclusive drip. The leak last year turned out to be the hose from the thermostat into the metal sleeve so I could rule that out. I knew my problem would be further in the bowels of the engine bay. I followed the metal sleeve through its bend to where it met the next rubber section and bingo. Although tight there was a deep ring of coolant at the join. Obviously, when hot expansion was causing coolant to escape here and run down the length of the hose and everywhere else it wasn’t supposed to.
The problem was going to be one of access. A mid-engined Ferrari is not like some old American boat where there’s enough room for you and your buddies to sit in the engine bay debating the next move over a cold beer. It’s tight in there, and even though I’m a tall skinny supermodel reaching in over the trunk was a stretch. It was only two hose clamps that needed loosening, but they were going to be an absolute swine to get to.
The first thing to remove was the air filter cover and intake ducting. Four big screws for the cover and two really annoying twisty strap clip thingies for the rubber intake pipe saw them out of the way. Luckily the top hose clamp was facing toward the block, but there wasn’t room to get a screwdriver on it. I prayed to the tool gods that in the random collection of rarely opened boxes I had the correct combination of 7mm socket, adapter and ratchet. So equipped, I managed to get the top clamp loose.
The bottom hose clamp was facing the other way towards the inner fender. Because of course it was. No hope of getting a ratchet or screwdriver on there.
I figured life would be easier if I could get all the remaining intake ducting out of the way. At least that way I’d be able to see what I was dealing with. One bolt held it to the edge of the engine bay, but at the bottom, it was attached to the bodywork. Five screws and some swearing later, and I managed to wriggle the strakes free of the fender. Now I could see the base of the ducting was held in place with another five screws. Removing these released the ducting, but there was no way I would be able to remove it completely because at the top it wouldn’t wiggle past the air conditioning pump and hoses. Bugger.
But I now had a nice hole in the bodywork. By manipulating the ducting rearwards as far as it would go, I was able to reveal the bottom hose clamp in all its glory. Sticking my hand in I got the ratchet on and turn it with my fingertips, a couple of clicks at a time. I imagine this is similar to how a farmer feels when they’re up to their armpit in cow.
Eventually, the clamp was loose enough for me to grab the hose and attempt to pull it free. And attempt again. The problem was I could only barely grasp it in one hand, and I had to yank it upwards at full stretch completely against the direction my arm wanted to work. Trying to pull from the top was no easier as I had to lean into the engine bay at an awkward angle. How could a leaky hose be so tight? I suppose 40 years of pampered existence is enough to render anything stubborn. I loosened the top hose where it met the thermostat, thinking maybe I could yank off the whole thing, and finally I had the prize free in my hands. Turns out the metal sleeves have a flange for better sealing, and the clamps need to be fully backed off to give enough clearance.
Now a smarter, or rather more experienced wrencher than me would have the replacement parts in hand ready to go. What actually happened is I was too smart for my own fucking good.
Glancing at the Superformance page for replacement hoses, well, you tell me which one I need. Rather than doing what a normal person would do which is call them, I stupidly thought I could just get a length of generic coolant hose from a local supplier, rather than wait a week for the proper part to be delivered. Old hose in hand, I went to a place in Coventry that supplies commodity odds and ends for classic cars, got them to cut me a length to measure, purchased new hose clamps (along with super-sized ones to replace the stupid split pin band things that held the rubber part of the intake ducting in place) and returned home to fit it.
Expecting another titanic struggle to wrestle a new firm hose into place, I was surprised to find it fell onto the aluminum sleeve. The diameter was much too big and there was no way it would tighten down enough to be leakproof. Did I cave and call Superformance to order the correct hose? Of course not. I proceeded to lose an afternoon driving around all the local car parts places hoping one of them would be able to find something that would fit. Trouble is these days, if the kid behind the counter can’t look something up on a computer you’re fucked.
I wasn’t channeling my inner David and trying to be cheap – it was more a matter of convenience. Every day the Ferrari was immobile was a day and night it was parked on the street outside my house. I live in a pretty decent area, but still, it doesn’t pay to advertise too much. Defeated, I did what I should have done in the first place and ordered the proper hose – and it arrived the next day for £21.42 ($26.19) delivered. Fuck my life.
The following day dawned grey and rainy, but I had no choice but to grin and bear it and get the new hose on. But because life is never quite that easy, overnight the battery died.
This isn’t entirely unsurprising given how often I use the car but is surprising considering the battery is only a year old. The hood and trunk are both electrically released, so there’s a Hellraiser puzzle box sequence of manual releases for when there’s no power. The battery itself is under the front hood, buried deep behind the headlight, where it’s a nightmare to get the cables on properly.
The new hose went on a little too easily, although not as tight as I would have expected. Do hoses shrink once they’ve got a few heat cycles through them? I decided to fit both new hose clamps facing the block, so if it did leak in the future I wouldn’t have to remove the ducting and the strakes from the bodywork again to tighten it up.
Knowing what I was doing, it went back together much quicker than it came apart, and I didn’t have any screws left over. I topped up the coolant and started it up, running it first without the cap on to give the air a chance to escape from the header tank.
The Mondial has two coolant circuit bleed nipples – one on the thermostat near where the top hose attaches to the block and one on the top of the radiator. Not wanting to risk driving it to warm it up I left it ticking over until the fans kicked in, and squeezed all the hoses checking for heat and firmness before opening up the bleed nipples to expel any air. The one on the radiator is a brass knob and it needs loosening off a long way. I undid it too far, dropped it into the bowels of the car and hot coolant immediately began jetting out of the top of the radiator. Luckily I had gloves on; I jabbed my thumb into the scalding hot stream covering the hole, while with my free left hand attempted to pick up the brass knob with two fingertips, before gingerly screwing back in. At least I knew the system was bled properly.
I was hoping to have done a proper test drive by the time I wrote this. Unfortunately, it’s still pissing with rain here and the roads are wet, so if it is leaking I wouldn’t be able to see a telltale puddle in the road. But it doesn’t look like it’s leaking, so I’ll take that for now.
I have a nice round blister on my thumb, several cuts on my hands and a metric fucktonne of dirt under my nails. I also have several aches from stretching and contorting myself at unnatural angles. So what have I learned from my first proper wrenching adventure in years, apart from the fact I’m not as bendy as I used to be?
Working on your own car, no matter how small the job is, takes away some of its mystery and helps you to understand your car better and how and why it works the way it does. Whether it’s a Ferrari or a Ford, if anything goes wrong in the future, you’re much better equipped to understand the nature of the problem, even if you can’t fix it yourself.
And if you want to try and repair it, just make sure you buy the right fucking parts first.
When it comes to hose clamps, my recommendation is Breeze Constant Torque clamps. They are far superior to regular worm gear clamps. There is a visual torque element showing that they are properly tightened and they have a Belleville spring that adjusts for temperature fluctuations.
I feel seen.
Having just performed a six-week oil change on my 1975 Dino 308 GT4, I understand completely what you’ve experienced!
I live in the US, so that probably made things worse. When I removed the air cover filter, I realized I needed to replace three hoses. I also needed to replace the oil pressure sender unit. Like you, I thought I’d be able to run to the store and buy oil, filter, and hoses with no problem, and I already had the oil pressure sender.
Turns out, you can’t buy the oil or the filter off the shelf around here, I had to order those from two different places on the internet. There’s only one place I found to get hoses, and they weren’t open for anyone’s convenience. Then I discovered the thermostat cable was frayed with exposed wires, so I had to order that from yet another place on the internet. Then I discovered a special tool was needed to remove the oil pressure sender unit, so I had to order that from (once again) another site on the internet. Then after getting the unit off, the new one didn’t fit!
It took a grand total of six weeks, but I did get it done. And I think the experience and the lesson was worth it.
Parts is half the battle. Are you on the Ferrarichat forums? They’re extremely useful and surprisingly not full of the usual forum wankers.
nice choice with the GT4. They were the other unloved Ferrari for years, and were seriously undervalued. Their time has definitely come now though, it remains to be seen if the same will happen for the Mondial.
Indeed! I’m on FerrariChat, it’s a very unique forum in that almost everyone tries their best to actually be helpful. Refreshing. I’m fairly active on there too, at least when it comes to the GT4 as that’s the car I’ve been narrowly focused on for the past 36 years of my life! You’ll find a number of posts and response from me in the 308/328 forum there.
In fact, the forum helped me solve the oil pressure sender unit fit problem. The new one I bought had a larger connecting bolt than the old one. I was baffled, almost bought another from a different source. But the folks on FerrariChat recommended an adapter… I took a look at where it connects and it looked like there was already an adapter in place. But then I dismissed it as just “part of the engine” as I couldn’t remove it. Then someone else on the forum pointed it out too and definitely said it was an adapter. The next day I tried again, and it I swear it took all the force of God to remove, but it came off! The new one fit perfectly after that adapter was removed.
I definitely love the 308 GT4, but I do have a soft-spot in my heart for wedge-shaped cars. I tend to love the traditionally “unloved” and weird/strange/awkward cars of the world.
It isn’t just part cost and availability with these…it’s also the accessibility for repairs. Mid engined cars are just… packed poorly for any sort of service. Great job tho, that saved you easily $1000 so it’s time to celebrate.
Probably not that much, more likely a couple of hundred, but it would have been a ballache to get it there (it’s an hour drive) and I would have had to leave it for god knows how long.
Why is a “wrench” called a “spanner”, but working on your car is called “wrenching”? Can’t it be “spannering”? “Spanning”?
TBH ‘wrenching’ is a yankee term that seems to have migrated across the Atlantic. I’m not sure every Brit would know what you were talking about.
Mind you, these days I watch people messing about on cars from all over the internet, so my car slang is hopelessly polyglot.
Those metal sleeves? We call them pipes. Coolant pipes.
Lovely story otherwise. Just have to undo a jubilee clip on a hose, so step 1 is take the grill off the side of the car. Reminded me of every tiny job I had to do on my S1 Elise. You know what the first step is to jacking up an S1 Elise? Remove the full width floor panel which covers the jacking point, which is under the car you can’t jack up.
Going to listen to some Depeche Mode now while I design a doodad that’ll be easy to service in 40 years time.
Welcome to the ache club. I still feel like Mr. Burns from hunching under my Porsche all month.
It’s so close! SO CLOSE!!!
Adrian, based on the right-proper Britishisms here I fully expected you to drive your Mondial up to Monty’s cabin with your pal Withnail.
Have some sherry. Failing that, quadruple whiskeys.
I can’t stand whiskey, but am partial to a sherry occasionally in the morning. It’s grapes right?
Grapes are a fruit, so it’s fruit juice.
Shit. If you buy the parts before you take it apart, there will be a 90% probability that you have the wrong part, which you won’t discover until you have it taken apart anyway.
This was also partly my thinking.
I’ve been dealing with a few similar access issues in my 500 Abarth’s engine bay (replacing the MultiAir filter is…not fun). But I might be a little overly paranoid when it comes to having the right spare parts on hand–I have a few sitting in a closet that weren’t needed, as it turns out.
Still, better to have and not need than the alternative. And I’m glad your vintage Ferrari regularly gets some prancing sessions.
They really do need to be used, and I get withdrawals if I don’t drive it regularly. I put about 2500 miles on it last year, but hope to do more this year.
This right here is why I’m not stuffing an LS into my Fiero. I like reaching things.
That said, I am very much not a fan of the fill and vent hoses for the gas tank on the Fiero. There’s a lot of very, very sharp metal up in there.
Nice to hear from another car wrenching designer 🙂
But 300GBP for a set of ignition leads for a V8, what the cheese?? I just bought and installed a set for my 1962 Porsche for 20EUR (Yes, it has half the number of cylinders and mine aren’t red and sexy, but anyway..)
They were replaced when the specialist had the car last year. They were apologetic (they got them from Superformance so I knew they weren’t ripping my off) about the price but my attitude was well at least they’re red.
Dang! Does wrenching on one of these qualify for a spot on this publication? If so, I’d like to volunteer the surprisingly straightforward and easy-to-access changing of the clutch and the mind-bending challenge of the belt service. I might throw in the many cross references for parts, your outside mirrors also appeared on the BMW E24, your front brake pads on the MkII Escort, the fog lights on the Renault R12…the list goes on forever.
You are lucky to have immediate access to superformance…us non-residents have to pay a broker and wait longer….but hey did they get good at sourcing parts in the last decades, my respects.
The belts were done last year as part of the sale. I know the clutch is relatively straightforward as the engine doesn’t need to come out, but I wouldn’t attempt something like that myself.
The front brake pads is mind boggling – the Escort is a much lighter car, but I guess it’s countered by the fact the Mondial is discs all round and being mid-engined presumably much lighter at the front.
Has anyone tried using the hose clamps with the key on them? All the ones I’ve seen are plastic so I’ve hesitated to use them. I can easily foresee putting them on and having the plastic part turn as brittle as glass after a few thousand heat cycles plus exposure to petrochemicals. If I did use them I might disassemble one to reassure myself there’s a normal fastener under the key in case it fails.
Adrian! Lovely meeting you at trivia, thanks for staying up into the wee hours before returning to your coffin (Team 3, not first but also not last!).
As mentioned, very much enjoy the perspective you share and that you share it in your authentic voice.
As for the repairs, the joys of mid-engined automotive ownership on full display. I had sympathetic hand cramps reading this.