Piston Slap: A Triumph Over A Sticky Clutch?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap a triumph over a sticky clutch

TTAC commentator krhodes1 writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Here is one for you and the B&B: ’74 (more or less) Triumph Spitfire with a clutch issue. The clutch feels “sticky”, doesn’t release smoothly, and makes starting off in first a little challenging. Otherwise, the clutch works fine once you are moving.

A bit of background: the clutch and throwout bearing have about 20,000 miles on them. Clutch hydraulics were done 15+ years ago, maybe 25,000 miles. No leaks. Last year, the pivot pin for the clutch release fork fell out, I drove the car maybe 100 miles before figuring out what the problem was and fixing it. There didn’t seem to be any damage when I had it apart, so I just put it all back together with the pin replaced (by a bolt) and it was perfectly fine — for a while. Then the “sticky” started. It gets worse when things get hot, but pretty much normal when the car is cold or been driven at highway speed for a while. It gets much worse in in-town traffic.

Would a failing throwout bearing cause this? It’s not making any noise that I can hear.

And before the Prince of Darkness jokes start, this car is usually bulletproof. I have owned it for 19 years and it is as faithful as an old dog driven as a toy for a couple thousand miles a summer. I think the last actual issue was 5+ years ago when the 35-year-old starter solenoid gave up the ghost. Replacement was less than $25.

By the way, the infamous “328!” is still going strong. It just passed 36,000 miles and warranty ends in seven days. I’m not worried about it in the slightest — though I did have an inspection done by our best local Indy BMW shop, who sadly did not find a thing I could get BMW to fix!

Sajeev answers:

ZOMG, I occasionally see a 328i and my mind wanders to your 328! So much excitement, such easy laughs.

On to the Spitfire: I suspect the clutch lever is slightly bent and it gets worse as the parts heat up as tolerances get tighter. That forum thread suggests eyeballing the lever may not raise red flags and only replacement with a new one shows the problem. Or perhaps removing the lever, rolling the rod portion on a smooth countertop and keeping an eye out for wobble?

The replacement looks pretty cheap, and the other clutch components are too new/low mileage to raise an eyebrow. Especially if nothing’s leaking.

What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Shutterstock user Somchai_Stock]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
2 of 18 comments
  • MBella MBella on Dec 03, 2015

    The lever being bent could be an issue. I would also check the rest of the clutch assembly, and make sure nothing is binding upp anywhere. Corrosion on the input shaft can cause the disc to stick a bit.

  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Dec 05, 2015

    Thanks Sajeev! Interesting forum thread, but not the problem I am having. Looking at the pictures in the thread, he used WAY too small a bolt, and he was missing the sleeves - I'm not. I could see where that much slop would easily cause issues. Mine engages and disengages where it should, and doesn't rattle, it just doesn't engage smoothly. I'm really leaning toward it being a slave cylinder issue, so I am going to replace that first - I have a spare on the shelf, just need a rebuild kit. Of course, being a Little British Car, correlation does not imply causation - it could be a failed master cylinder! But if that doesn't fix it, I'm just going to replace the lot. It's all dirt cheap, and I can have the motor out and on the floor in an hour. Try that in a Miata! You will be happy to know that BMW managed to get the i right way around on my M235i! I put 3600 miles on it in Europe, just got it re-delivered a couple weeks ago. Makes a nice pair with the wagon, I think, but I might be a tad biased. So two Brits and two Germans in the garage these days.

  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.