Recovering his photo archive brings back memories for Classic World’s Peter Simpson of a past project car which was ‘solid’ in more ways than one…

A few weeks ago, CW’s editorial team moved office, albeit still based in Peterborough. I’m not affected as I’m now again working 100% from home; however the move has meant collecting my personal photo library which had been ‘stored’ at the old office. I put it there for safe keeping while I was moving house a few years back, and basically it stayed there whole I got sorted out at home. I was working there two days a week anyway, so still had ‘access’.

Anyway, the filing cabinets now occupy almost a full wall of my home office. It’s a very ‘Simpson’ library that reflects my personal interests – for example there’s half a drawer-full of Rootes group photos, but the Porsche section comprises just 15 images of a 924 I bought at auction for resale in the mid ‘noughties’. It’s also, of course, now a ‘closed’ archive which won’t get any bigger as I now shoot everything digitally, and instead of filing cabinets taking up several cubic yards now store everything on a hard-drive measuring 4in x 2in x 1in.

Classic car projects have played a major part in my work, but one which I had half-forgotten about – and which makes up part of the Rootes section – was fastback Sunbeam Alpine OLP867L which I tackled in, if I recall correctly, 1996/7 ish. When bought, the car had been ‘stored’ – or more accurately, abandoned – in a Chigwell garage for around 16 years alongside a Sunbeam Imp of similar age. A colleague found them, he bought the Imp for £250 and I paid the same for the Alpine.

Both were reported to be ‘extremely solid’. In the Alpine’s case, however, that description proved to be more accurate than expected. The good news was that the shell was, indeed, totally solid in all the usual places underneath and on top, though unsurprisingly after 16 years, the paintwork was shot.

However – and slightly less happily – the solidness also extended to the engine. The problem was that the head gasket had started leaking during storage, allowing coolant to enter the bores and rust everything up.

I tried all the usual techniques – oil down the bores, penetrating oil overnight/over a weekend, gentle persuasion applied to the crank pulley nut, slightly harder persuasion applied to the crank nut, extreme ‘nothing to lose now, it will free or break’ pressure on the crank nut, but still nothing. So I took the head off, and, after trying more penetrating oil tried the technique shown in the accompanying photo. I should perhaps point out at this point that the Alpine was a genuine 47,000 miler, and I was therefore keen to ‘save’ the original engine if at all possible.

No joy. I ended up taking the engine out, stripping it right down to a bare block and then breaking the two seized pistons up in situ using an air chisel! I was able to avoid hitting the bores while doing this, but even so, the corrosion-related damage was beyond honing, and a rebore was needed, along with oversize pistons – the crank was fine with new bearings. We also deemed it sensible to check the connecting rods for damage and straightness after such brutal treatment – fortunately they were fine.

Thankfully, that was the only aspect of that particular project to need significantly more work than expected – the rest was pretty straightforward mechanical refurbishment plus a thorough internal cleanup and a repaint. The body turned out to be every bit as good as first impressions suggested. I sold the car a year or so after the rebuild was completed and a couple of years later saw it advertised by a classic car dealer for around twice what I’d sold it for. DVLA currently has OLP867L recorded as on SORN, and with a last MoT expiry in 2013 but a few slightly-worrying advisories a few years earlier. Hopefully it’s still extant in storage somewhere, but whether the news is good or bad I’d still be interested to hear…