Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
Winter 2008

Columnist — Allen Wright

Motors Are Your Friends: Tales of a British Seagull and a Malaysian 240 Z

I wish this winter would end. I like summer and I am starting to think about boating. There is something about taking a boat out to the lake or the bay or out into the ocean that brings out the sea-faring man. You know what I mean: the Captain Jack Sparrow of Newport Bay. Newport, San Diego, Ventura, and other places seem to draw the captains and crews.

There are two types of vessels, as I see it: sail and power. The sailboats seem to take a lot of skill and knowledge to operate properly. Watching a seasoned crew on a sailboat is amazing. Everyone has a task and the boat seems to sail effortlessly.

On the other hand, you have the power boat. That's the one I like. Just like a car, you put in the key. You untie the boat and off you go. Add several boat women lying on the deck in swimsuits and the journey begins.

A power boat really seems easy to handle as you're not worried about the wind. About the only thing you worry about is fuel and keeping the boat babes from driving you nuts.

I have had power boats in the past and it is exactly as most say: "find a hole in the ocean and throw a bunch of money in it." Another boat saying: "Buy high and watch your investment sink."

It is with these thoughts in mind that I decided to again take to the water...three years ago. My first purchase was a motor. That is the key element to power boating: a strong, powerful motor that was easily maintained and could get me around in class and style.

I purchased a used British Seagull forty plus that was made between 1967 and 1979. The Seagull produces about three horsepower and can be quite "zippy" on a light aluminum boat. According to British Seagull, my motor should easily cruise a 9 to 14 foot boat around quite nicely.

A little bit of history on the British Seagull: the Seagulls began being manufactured in 1940 and ran until 1996. And, believe it or not, a group of Brits are still making aftermarket parts for the engines. Seagulls came in 2 HP, 3 HP, 4 HP, 4.5 HP, 5 HP and 5.5 HP models. The British Seagull 6 HP Silver Century was the final Seagull model produced. It had a whopping six horsepower and a reverse gear.

Having a three horsepower antique motor on a small boat zipping around the bay seemed like a fun thing to do. I may not have much company. Forget about the boat babes and I don't think my wife will trust an antique motor I have restored.

Anyway, when the 1962 Plymouth Fury is done the Seagull restoration begins. Right now, I am down to the end of the 1962 Plymouth. I have a few electrical issues. I need to finish the front end trim and a few other small items.

A friend asked recently about the restorations I do and how I can tackle a project like the 1962 Plymouth and not get bogged down in the huge scale of the project. When you do a large project you simply have to break it down to a number of small projects. If you look at the large project that seems hopeless to ever complete you might just give up! If you break it down to smaller parts of a project you can celebrate small victories and setbacks don't seem like disasters.

To give you an idea, I purchased the 1962 Plymouth in August of 2003 and I am finishing now. That works out to four years. Four years for a whole car seems like a bunch of time. Breaking it down into a smaller project, the driver's door — taking it apart and putting it back together — took about 22 hours. The passenger door went a little faster, probably 15 hours. That's a week just to do two doors. A week to get two doors working great was a small part of the four years.

I have restored and fixed a lot of stuff over the years and really enjoy the challenge. If you're planning on doing an auto or any other restoration, I recommend you don't get too serious about it. Start small and get some successes for a confidence builder, then tackle a larger project. The restoration hobby is fun — unless you're doing it as your vocation.

I ran into a fellow who restores Datsun 240 Z cars and another who does Vespa step-through motorbikes. Both agreed that personal home restorations are fun — as long as you don't let it consume you.

I was personally amazed at a recent sales meeting I had in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (on the island of Borneo). Talk about being consumed by a project! One of my distributors asked me to review engine fundamentals with a group of Malaysian customers. I had spoken to this group before and there had been about 50 in attendance.

In the planning stage, Distributor Mr. Hui indicated that he sent out invitations to 200 of his customers and expected 50. I agreed to open up a used engine from a junkyard and show the wear points that a good lubricant protects. Mr. Hui arranged for two translators and a meeting room in a hotel.

Arriving on Friday for a Saturday night meeting in Malaysia gave me plenty of time for preparation. I got a four cylinder Nissan engine complete for $10 from a Malay junk yard. I learned that they use the bigger engine blocks for boat moorings in the harbor.

The first sign of trouble was at the Ramada Hotel meeting room. I expected a small meeting room with about 50 people. This room looked really large. I questioned Mr. Hui about the expected turnout for the event and he told me 200 would be coming. Okay, this was fine. I had a bit bigger crowd.

But Mr. Hui was still holding back from information. I noticed that he was also having a dinner buffet. That will bring them in on a Saturday night. The last time we gave a lubrication seminar we only had cold drinks. As it was, he told me I would be working with about 200 mechanics, parts store owners and sub-distributors. The presentation would take a bit longer than an hour with questions. No problem.

At 5:00 p.m., I arrived at the hotel and I saw what might become a problem. The room wasn't full of mechanics in uniform. It was full of people dressed up to come to a party, including women wearing their dress clothes and perfect manicures. In fact, over half of the group was women. I asked the host about this and he told me that Malaysian women are excellent mechanics and service personnel, "very smart and hard-working." He also told me that some of the people in the room might be spouses instead of professionals in the industry.

Suddenly, I realized that I had the wrong lesson plan and was half a world away from the right one. How do I hold the interest in the subject — a technical discussion of engine wear points — to this mixed crowd and encourage the women to participate? The answer: Lucky Bucks.

Lucky Bucks is a Chinese tradition in training classes. If you participate, you get a gift. I decided to give out U.S. dollars. We had both the men and the women so involved that the one hour seminar went almost three hours. I started with $25 in one-dollar bills and talked the Ramada Kota Kinabalu out of exchanging another $25. Even after class ended and the dollar bills ran out, most didn't want to leave the hotel. Both men and women wanted to talk about engines, transmissions, and U.S. cars. Everyone enjoyed the meeting and, to celebrate, my distributor took his whole staff out for cold drinks on the beach.

Kota Kinabalu is on the South China Sea and every morning you can see fishermen with their small boats and three horsepower engines heading out. At the next meeting I attend there, outboard and two-cycle engines will probably be discussed. I'd better get working on the Seagull. I'm going to test and tune in Newport back bay before I head for the South China Sea.

Originally published in the Winter 2008 Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright 2008 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.