Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

We are independent restoration, repair, sales and service for Audi, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce automobiles.

Bentley archives

Land Rovers

It looks beautiful on the outside . . . .

But what about under the hood?
1972 Rolls Royce engine compartment

That’s where this car shows its forty-some years.  There’s no rust or corrosion, and no damage, but everything looks tired.  This car is better than 95% of its peers, but still . . . Even when clean, the engine bay never really looks good.  The rubber is faded and spotty.  Paint has begin flaking from stress points in the fender wells, and there are chips on the painted parts of the engine.  
Stress cracks and aging in the inner fender wells
Cad-plated pipes have aged unevenly.  The painted silver intake has lost its gloss, and acquired a permanent tint of grease,  New service parts stand out against a background of age.  Under everything there is the engine long block, covered by a patina of hardened grease and grime.
The deeper you go, the more hard-to-remove dirt and wear you see

This is the situation for most pre-1994 Rolls Royce and Bentley motorcars.  It actually applies to later cars too, but the appearance of plastic covers in 1994 hides the problem from casual viewers.  The complexity of these engine compartments makes it almost impossible to keep them truly sparkling.  Even cars with show-winning paint and interior usually fall short when the hood is opened.

Most owners address this issue by keeping the hood closed.  But what if you want the engine area to look as good as the rest of the car?  You restore it, just as you would any other component or system.  That’s what we are doing here . . .
Master Technician Robert Toti prepares the engine for removal
We started by making a plan.  We knew the inner fenderwells needed paint work, and that could not be done with the motor in the car.  Underneath, the subframe and suspension members really show their age.  There’s only so much you can do to clean them up, with a motor in place.

We began by removing the driveshaft and transmission to facilitate engine removal. 

Next, we removed the engine in order to address its problems on the bench.  This motor will be restored internally as well as cosmetically.  We will address leakage from the liners, and all the accumulated wear.  Engine removal revealed a number of problems – wear in the cam lobes for the hydraulic pumps; a crumbling steering coupler; and a cracked exhaust manifold.  
A crumbling rubber steering coupler, hidden by the engine
All that will be fixed to a better-than-new standard.
The Rolls Royce long block out of the car
The disassembly we’ve done revealed more hidden issues in the hydraulics so this car will get its pumps, accumulators, and valves rebuilt.  Luckily those parts are still available.
Brake fluid leakage has turned the silver engine block finish greenish
We’ll send hundreds of little bits out for refinishing – cad plating, zinc plating, powder coating in silver or black, ceramic coating, etc.  There’s no other way to do a repair that lasts.  Most of these parts (brackets, throttle rods, etc) are not subject to wear but they have suffered cosmetically and they make up most of what you see, as you look under the hood.

The "easy way out" would be to spray paint all these parts just as you see them (hopefully after they were cleaned.)  I see that done all too often, even in so-called professionally restored cars.  But the fact is, these parts were not painted spray can silver when new, and that kind of finish won't last.  Nor will it hold up to close inspection.

Refinishing the pieces individually, and then putting them together, is the job that lasts.  It's also the job that matches how the factory did it and offers the chance to truly do it better than new.

A few of the brackets we'll be refinishing on this motor
We will clean up and service the transmission and electric gear selector while they are out of the car.  The GM400 is inexpensive to overhaul so we’ll fit new clutches as well as new seals.
The RR stamp on the bellhousing identifies this as an original Rolls gearbox, circa 1972
Next we will remove the subframe, strip it down, overhaul, and refinish it.  We will sandblast all the metal parts and powder coat them in gloss black.  Then we will reassemble them with new ball joints and bushings.  That’s the only way to get a result that both looks and performs as new.

The engine, mostly stripped to the block
Another Rolls Royce short block as rebuilt by our machinists
While this is underway we will put the car on a wood subframe and dollies so it can be moved from one area of the shop to another.  We hope to address some bodywork concerns while the engine bay work progresses.

We will clean up, repair and paint the fender wells and firewall as needed.  It’s fairly easy to do that now, with nothing in the way.  We need to move some AC lines, the AC condenser, and the brake reservoirs out of the way. Those parts will need refinishing too.
This Cadillac engine bay is much simpler than the 70s Rolls.  It sets a minimum standard for finish quality.
A restored XKE engine compartment
After that, we will assemble the subframe and install the engine and transmission onto it.  This is how the cars were originally assembled in Crewe.

Using a special stand we will refit the subframe – powertrain and all – back into the car, and we’ll do the final assembly.

When it’s done, you will be able to open the hood and see an engine bay that glitters just as it did in some long-ago Rolls-Royce showroom.

As you can see, this is a major undertaking but it’s what one must do, to bring any modern Rolls-Royce engine compartment up to the show standards used for pre-1965 cars.  We’ve done a number of older engine bays – which are much simpler under the hood.  We’ve also done simpler cars, like this BMW 2002. Newer Rolls-Royce/Bentley vehicles are daunting when you look at them, but the individual tasks are the same as any car – there is just a lot more to do!

The BMW engine bay - BEFORE
The BMW 2002 engine bay - AFTER 

Some owners will say, Why do it?  The fact is, work like this is what makes true works of automotive art.  Look at the late 50s Cadillacs or Chevies . . . Those cars were once treated like Shadows and Wraiths are today.  They looked good on the outside, but underneath they were old and tired.  That was good enough for the collectors of the 80s, many of whom were do-it-yourself hobbyists.  Then a new group of enthusiasts came on the scene.  These guys had experience with high-end restorations on old cars, and they applied those techniques to the domestic cars of the fifties.  Auction prices of those cars soared – 1000% or more in some cases – and the top models command strong six-figure prices at auction today.

Clearly, that would not happen if you opened the hood to see wear, rust, dirt and grime.

Will work like this transform the Rolls-Royce market?  That’s a good question.  Here at Robison Service we are asked to do more and more restoration of cars from the 70s 80s and even 90s.  That work goes well beyond regular upkeep, and puts those cars head and shoulders above their unrestored brethren.  What will happen when these vehicles begin finding their way to auction?  I suspect prices will rise, just as they have with more common marques.  Will they rise as much?  Who knows . . . Rolls Royce cars are certainly less common, but the pool of enthusiasts is smaller too.

The fact is, it takes $150-250,000 to do a first rate restoration on a late 1950s Cloud.  A simpler car like a Thunderbird can cost nearly as much, because the labor to do a body and frame has little to do with the brand badge it carries.  Older cars have considerably higher restoration costs.  Newer Rolls Royce cars are more complex to restore than the Cloud series, and they have the potential to cost more.  However you feel about that, it is reality.  That will eventually be reflected in the trading prices for these vehicles as we move from a market where most cars offered for sale are unrestored to a market where most examples are restored.

That’s the case now, with older vehicles.  For them, restoration is the rule – not the exception - and price is set by the quality of the restoration and the rarity of the particular example.

We are just beginning what I call a thinning-out period for the Shadow and its derivatives.  Most examples are unrestored; they are merely maintained to various degrees.  Every year, the rougher units are scrapped as repair costs overwhelm under-financed or under-committed owners.  It is inevitable that we will reach a point where some numbers of the Shadow-series cars on the road are properly restored.  When that happens their owners will expect a reasonable return on their investment.

It’s something for any of you to think about, as these cars age.  Restoration is one of those things that will not decrease in cost with the passage of time. For those of you who own other makes of car, remember that the ideas in this story apply to any newer V8 automobile.  A person who chose to restore the engine bay of a Mercedes 6.9 would face many of these same issues, as would someone doing a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

Follow the blog as we progress through this job over the coming winter.  You can read Installment Two here.  We’ll post regular updates and we’re happy to answer questions.

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent Rolls Royce and Bentley specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the RROC and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at or in the real world at 413-785-1665

No comments:

| Designed by Colorlib