It was a hot summer morning just before midday. I was putting the final touches on a transmission swap on a classic old HD Holden I owned. She was a beauty. Metal flake blue with really wide fake wire pattern mags on the back and smaller matching wires on the front. I had home made tramp bars on the back that showed out under the diff to stop diff hop when I did burnouts. (Yes, at this stage I was still into all that sort of thing! Now I worry more about all those $$ left on the road..) Which just added to the whole look. Yes, in the mid day sun that car looked a real mean machine. My latest project was fitting up a Datsun 4 speed to the original six cylinder bored 186 bored to 192. This was to be one of the final bits of work to make my old Holden a true beast and bring it into the modern era by losing the old column shift! Yes, I had been dreaming of this project. But this was a project that taught me many lessons. To say it had complexities and hazards was an understatement.
I thought I was all ready to go with an adapter plate in hand for the tranny, so that it would fit up to my fully reconditioned engine.
What To Consider When Doing A Swap?
What did I forget about? Did I consider that I had to change the master cylinder to make it so that the clutch plate would disengage far enough to allow for pleasant gear changes? Um no. Yes, the displacement of the slave was different to the master… The first fit up required the driver to be a master of gear management whilst double clutching like a trucky still driving a crash box. Did I think about the clutch plate from the Japanese box looking like a ‘toy’ compared to the size of the Holden one. Of course it had to match the box spline, so there was no using the Holden plate. Not only did the damn thing slip as I tried to burn up some rubber at the track; I think I spun the middle out of 3 of those plates, before the Repco dealer of the day took pitty on me. He figured out that a Kubutz truck clutch fitted just fine and woudld take all of that new power to weight ratio I was packing, if not more. I also found I was missing the brass bush that allowed the drive spline of the box to fit the fly wheel. Yes, this one had been a saga. But, I had it to a point where all the bugs were ironed out. The other thing I completely missed was the modifying of the spline on the propellor shaft. I actually hand reamed one for testing. But now I had a fully engineered one to fit up. That would get rid of the last shudder in the drive train. (And probably be a lot safer!) It was now shifting like a treat and I had personally blown the doors off a V8 from a standing start up to 60mph. Yes, it was now becoming a really nice drive.
The last things to do, was to tidy up the windy hole that was in the floor that had been covered up with a poorly fitting gear shifting boot. I now had a really nice one. Fit a new rear seal on the tranny. (It was leaking from my modified tail shaft fit up. The other thing that I thought I would tighten up; was the issue of the gear shifter hitting the metal, where I had cut a hole in the propellor shaft tunnel. So just a little work with the grinder and I was ready to fit that nice shifter booty. Yeah!
I got myself wedged into the car with the grinder sitting between the bucket seats I had fitted. I had my head down near the hole under the dash to get the right angle. I was wedged in the passenger side. Sort of sitting on the corner of the seat but with my legs in all sorts of weird positions. I was working in the farm shed so the passenger side door would not open as it was up against one wall. The only exit was via the driver side. I started to grind a way and all was going pretty well, or so I thought.
Then, there was a little wisp of smoke, nothing to really worry about, pretty normal when you are grinding. I looked down the hole to the dirt floor. “Hmm, looks ok..” I said to myself. Then I made one small final cut, watching one red piece of hot metal drop to the ground. I was admiring my grinding work thinking I was pretty well done. When I noticed the smoke did not really seem to be going away this time. I looked down the hole again, noticing that little red piece of metal sitting on one small tuft of brown dead grass. Next thing there was a tiny flame from the grass; then boom, there was a woof of flames straight up in my face. Flames were coming out of the gear shaft hold in the floor like it was a chimney. Little did I know at that point that oil from a leaky seal had gathered under the tail shaft tunnel, along with some spray on body deadener and paint. This combination was actually highly volatile and had caught fire. Man, this was bad. I pulled back with horror. Watching the flames start to take hold fast. It was staring to take on the internal body deadener! Yes, in my judgement this fire was not going to stop, it was growing and would soon take over the car. I couldn’t get out. There was no easy exit. I would risk the fire catching my overalls as I would have tried to climb over all the junk I had in the way sitting on the drivers seat. I also knew that if I tried to exit, by the time I got back and did anything to douse the flames my car would be toast! What to do!! Think quick and be calm. It was one of those times where you are cool in the face of a bad situation. I knew I better not panic. I knew there was a way out of this. No point considering how stupid I was. That was not going to help…
Then I thought, “glove box”. I remember one of the kids left a can of coke in the car and I put it in the glove box. I remembered nagging them about leaving those things rolling around under people’s feet. “That’s dangerous, I had lectured. What if it gets caught under my brake foot!” I quickly opened the glove box and there it was. I thought for a moment as the flames really started to take hold under the car and in some rags I had left there. I can’t just tip the coke on there, its not directly under, I have one shot at this. So I shook like mad. The can was already hot from the heat of the day. I pointed it down and opened the ring pull just enough for a jet of this beautiful brown foam to shoot out. I mean…really shoot. It was like a rocket. The first spray was directed onto the fire under the car taking that out in one go. I mean this stuff just worked. I then covered the hole and gave another wild shake and aimed at the tunnel and then inside the car, hitting the oil and body deadner and paint work on the floor. Done!! I couldn’t believe it. I sat back thinking how that can of coke had turned the situation around from a potential burned out and trashed car to a few sticky patches. Not to mention me with maybe some burns or maybe even worse. Yes, I think I could have been fried in there. I did need to get out as the smoke was pretty putrid. But before I did, I pulled that ring fully off and had one swig of that hot coke thanking my lucky stars. It tasted damn good.
I have always worked much more carefully from that point on in the workshop. Yes, that day taught me a lot. Kids leaving their coke cans around can be a godsend. I did stop grouching so much about that. I was a coke hater before that. But also I took a lot more care around fire safety during repairs. Having exit strategies in place and thinking about all the materials that could burn when cutting and welding. I actually went out and bought a propper fire extinguisher and kept it close to hands reach when working. But I also keep a can of coke close by too, just for luck! PS Here is some info on fire safety in the garage!
Yes, I think that coke may have just saved my life.