Clan Buyers Guide

In March 1998, Dave Weedon published the following Imp based Clan buyers guide which I thoroughly recommend prospective buyers  to read.

Introduction

The first thing to appreciate when purchasing or considering the purchase of a Clan is that by the very nature of the vehicle it will require considerably more care and attention than the average family saloon of today.

It is a specialist, low volume, two-seat sports car which began production in Washington, Co Durham in 1971.  Further derivatives of the Imp based car were subsequently developed and manufactured in both fully built and kit form by Clan Cars Ltd in Newtownards, Northern Ireland following the demise of the Washington company in 1974.  Bodyshells and body parts have also been manufactured since the mid 1970’s to the present day by various individuals and organisations in possession of mould sets.

The basic construction of the Clan is quite straightforward and need not frighten anyone with a moderate mechanical aptitude especially as the vehicle is supported by a very active owners club with a remarkably comprehensive spare parts scheme.

The Clan has been described in the past as “the world’s most rot proof motor car”.  As with most comment in public life, the interests of the observer must be borne in mind when considering such statements.  Although the Clan bodyshell is a GRP (Glass reinforced plastic, otherwise known as fibreglass) monocoque and as such has no separate steel chassis supporting the suspension and drivetrain, the vehicle as a whole is unfortunately far from rot proof in its originally manufactured form.  It suffers, as many such low volume specialist vehicles do, from a degree of inadequate design and manufacturing compromises.

Having said that, virtually all problem areas on the Clan as manufactured can be eliminated with a competent rebuild without compromising originality to excess.  However, if originality is not a major concern, the Clan can be turned into a breathtaking all-round package almost without equal within a given budget.

Body & Trim

The Clan Crusader bodyshell is manufactured from polyester resin and chopped strand mat in two halves, which are joined in the mould around the lower waistline of the car.  The join follows the same basic plane around the shell and is visible inside the front compartment where the joining laminate is evident.  It is an extremely still structure and uses plywood reinforcing diaphragms for the inner sill panels, parcel shelf, engine bay front and side panels and footwell dividing panel. (The Ulster car also uses plywood side panels in the front compartment for headlamp pod motor mountings amongst other sundry pieces)

It is an extremely resilient structure built with high quality materials and heat cured so problems with the laminate are rarely encountered unless the vehicle has been impact damaged.  Some osmotic blistering in the gelcoat may be evident but this is not unusual in a 25-year-old laminate and the problem can be eradicated with correct preparation prior to a respray.

Gelcracks are fairly straightforward to deal with before repainting; the must be ground out and the laminate surface recovered with tissue and resin, not bodyfiller.  It is often more cost effective to renew a body section rather that try to repair in excess of 3 square feet of gelcracks, for example on the front panel of a Clan that has had numerous minor impacts during its life.

The Clan is not the most waterproof of vehicles and this can lead to serious problems with the plywood.  The inner sill diaphragms in the passenger compartment are susceptible to rotting out and can be checked by pushing a compass point through the carpet (if fitted) along the length of the sill.  They have a profound effect on the stiffness and structural integrity of the bodyshell and must be sound.  The diagonal strap of the seatbelt is secured to a steel plate behind the diaphragm and can pull through rotted plywood in the event of an accident.  They usually rot because the back of the ply is not sealed with resin when fitted and water is driven into the sill by the front wheels through ill-fitting front wheelarch hinge cover panels.  The outer sills have drain holes at the front and rear which are easily blocked by debris.  The parcel shelf may be affected by rot if the rear window seal is defective.

Six standard colours of paint were available from the Washington factory: Red, Blue, Yellow, Orange, Brown and Lime green.  Again, the original paintwork and finish were of a very high quality but after 25 years few Crusaders have their original paint, and in most cases have been resprayed over that paint.  This is rarely satisfactory and blistering of the original paint (especially Blue) often affects the oversprayed paint.  There is only one way to paint a Clan properly and that is to strip everything to the gelcoat and start again.

All but a handful of Crusaders were supplied with a Britax fabric sunroof and if not regularly maintained quickly become inoperable.  The slides are alloy but the leather contrails and rear securing plate are mild steel.  They rot easily if water ingress is occurring and must be rustproofed during a rebuild.

Crusader glass was sourced from Triplex and is green tinted all round.  Original windscreens were toughened but recent replacements are laminated.  All glass is fitted with commonly available rubber sections but proper fitting with sealant is essential to prevent water ingress.

All carpet sets were black and backed with felt.  Extra soundproofing felt was fitted behind the curved panel under the parcel shelf.  The felt has a great propensity for water absorption and will give severe condensation problems if not dried out and the water leaks rectified.

Few designers approach the thought of designing a car door with any enthusiasm and the Clan doors are no exception.  They need very careful attention and meticulous assembly if they are to function satisfactorily.  Everything within the Crusader door is attached directly or indirectly to the main front to rear beam connecting the hinge blades to the lock block.

This beam is the most complex steel pressing/fabrication in the car but unfortunately, as is the case with all other steel bracketry, the paint process used to protect it from corrosion was inadequate.  Most of this bracketry is subjected to hostile environmental attack and is often severely corroded.

The door beam is subjected to large quantities of water because the design of the door shell precluded the use of an off-the-shelf rubber sealing profile against the outside of the door window glass.  The same anti-rattle strip fitted against the inside of the glass was also used on the outside but this has no waterproofing capability.  If the internals of the door are fully waterproofed and rustproofed during a rebuild, this will be of no consequence if the drain holes in the bottom of the door are clear.

The angle the door glass travels in the aluminium door frame is such that it puts a considerable strain on the winder mechanism if there are any tight spots or maladjustments within the system at all.  Forcing a tight window can lead to alloy frame breakage along the fabrication welds and tooth stripping from the quadrant.  The door trims (5 pieces each door) are leathercloth covered hardboard and quickly disintegrate into a soggy mess if the plastic waterproofing sheets inside the door are not perfect.

The door hinges are unique to the Clan consisting of two heavy steel hinge blades bolted to the front of the door beam and hinged on mild steel threaded rods inside a hinge post assembly mounted behind the access panel in the front arches.  These pins revolve in nylon bushes which readily seize if not lubricated, again because of the volume of water driven through the access panel by the front wheels in wet conditions.  This causes mounting hole ovality and door dropping, damaging the bodywork where the door meets the back of the front wing.  Rebuilding the hinge assemblies with stainless pins and bronze bushes coupled with access panel sealing eradicates further problems.  The door stays are not strong enough to hold the door in the open position but are necessary, and better regarded as, door opening limiters.

Front Suspension

As a monocoque, all the suspension and drivetrain components are bolted directly into the GRP laminates throughout the bodyshell.  The front suspension unit (Talbot Imp) is secured with 4 nuts on the spare wheel plate for the front centre mounting and another 4 nuts on a ‘U’ channel steel mounting for the front of the steering rack mounting plate.  In addition, 4 bolts with load spreading washers are fitted to the rear of the rack mounting plate from inside the driver and passenger footwells.  Standard Imp spring/damper retainers sit on top of the Clan rated springs and bolt through the laminate securing the petrol tank front support plates.

Rarely do these mounting points give trouble, but it is not unknown for the front plate (spare wheel mount) to punch through the laminate, usually due to a combination of hard use and inadequate laminate thickness.  Visual inspection for signs of GRP cracking (do not confuse with surface gelcracks) is fairly easy.

Rear Suspension

The rear suspension unit is also Talbot Imp with the subframe (crossmember) secured with 4 bolts and load spreading washers through the floor and bottom flange, 4 of the same securing the vertical section, and two UNC bolts into mazak threaded bobbins laminated into the body at the ends of the subframe.  The Clan rated rear springs fit shaped body receptacles with rubber insulators between.  The dampers are bolted inside the suspension turrets from inside the car (behind the curved trim panel).

The rear subframe mounting is the most serious deficiency in the design of the Clan.  The locating points of the subframe are insufficient to prevent serious laminate damage, mazak bobbin pull out and steel subframe cracking even with normal road usage over time.

Again, the remedy is not overly complicated and is well documented in Clan Owners Club literature.  Briefly, the solution involves welding steel tubes and captive nuts to the top flange of the subframe to allow the rigid fixing of that flange to the monocoque.  All laminate damage must of course be repaired at the same time.

This problem is not so apparent on Ulster Clans as the shape of the bodyshell was changed to match the profile of the top flange of the subframe.  Bolting through the top flange was therefore a simple matter.

Lifting up the carpets behind the seats will reveal the fixing bolts and the condition of the laminate can then be assessed.  Examination of the subframe itself can only be properly done from under the car.

Engine & Braking

As well as the suspension described, the engine and transaxle are also derived from the Talbot Imp (875cc Sunbeam Imp sport engine).  The condition of these mechanical components and assemblies can be assessed in the same way as if a late Imp Sport were being examined.

The braking system is Imp Sport with drums all round and a servo mounted on the bulkhead behind the air cleaner box in the engine bay.  The standard Clayton tubular oil cooler is mounted on the right hand plywood diaphragm in the engine bay.  Be aware that the handbrake cables and gear change tube are both approximately 3 inches shorter on a Clan than the Imp.

Fuel & Electrical

The final items to warrant close attention are the fuel lines and vehicle wiring.  The main fuel line runs from the modified Imp tank, along the centre tunnel and into the engine bay through a rubber grommet in the return edge channel behind the air cleaner box.  This is a black plastic line which is joined to the fuel pump by a short length of conventional rubber fuel hose.  The same hose then joins the carburettor ‘T’ piece to the pump.  The plastic pipe is susceptible to age hardening and abrasion.  The whole fuel system should be carefully examined for signs of damage, cracking, misrouting, leaks, etc.  The replacement of the main pipe with copper or Kunifer bundy pipe has much to commend it.  More than one Clan has been destroyed or badly damaged by fire following a fuel line disaster.

The wiring loom is unique to the Clan.  The same is true of the Ulster Clan which uses a locally designed and built loom for Fiesta instrumentation and TR7 headlight pod motors.  Unfortunately, unlike the Ulster Clan, the Crusader loom has no fuses (save for the cigar lighter), ostensibly in the interests of economy.

The battery is situated in the front compartment, passenger side.  The main cables run down the centre tunnel, the positive to the starter solenoid and the negative to the engine block.  They must be kept well clear of the nearside rotoflex coupling which has been known to snare them with horrible results (especially at high speed).

As the Clan is GRP the body cannot be used for earthing purposes and hence all services are returned to earth via loom wrapped cables which is less than a perfect solution.  When a dead short occurs, the loom will melt back along the earth path to the battery causing a dangerous fire hazard.  On the cars where this has occurred, the cause has invariably been home-modified wiring or a crimped and/or abraded loom.

Whilst a non-modified and correct routed loom should be a fairly safe proposition, the extra insurance of a battery master cut-off switch or quick release battery terminals makes much sense.  Again, should you wish to fit a fuse box to the crusader loom, full details are in past club literature.

In conclusion

There is no reason why a properly built, carefully maintained Clan cannot be treated as an everyday means of transport, be it short or long distance.  There are many other tweaks and modifications not covered in this starter guide which can make a Clan a joy to own and drive, and not just on warm sunny days.  Terminal tin worm will never be a death sentence for a Clan; neither will depreciation hit the pocket.  At the time of writing, ‘K’ reg. Crusaders are exempt from road fund duty with nearly all to be exempt by the year 2001.  With the support of the Owners Club, you can raise a dram to the Clan!

Dave Weedon
© March 1998