Spanner Works: Elton Botha

A regular feature, outlining the activities of FMM’s workshop personnel who are responsible for repairing, renovating, refurbishing and restoring the museum’s large and varied collection of vehicles. This month we report on Elton Botha clutching one of Chrysler’s first models… 


In the early part of the 20th Century, Walter P Chrysler was a man on a mission. After working in railroad engineering, he finally got into the automotive industry as a production manager at Buick. His passion for cars soon became clear, as he implemented many clever production techniques to reduce the cost of manufacturing.

Working his way up, he eventually acquired a majority share percentage in the Maxwell Motor Company, which had been performing poorly on the market. This became the base for the Chrysler Corporation. The first vehicle to be developed and produced under the new Chrysler banner was the Model 58. It was intended for mass production in a bracket that was higher quality than Ford, but less costly than Buick. It has been said that the comfortable cruising speed of 58 mph (137 km/h) gave the model its name.

The museum’s example is an unrestored and original coupé from the first year of production, 1926. The powertrain is a 3-litre, in-line 4-cylinder that produces 38 horsepower (28 kW). It is coupled with a 3-speed floor-mounted manual gearbox. Being nearly a hundred years old, it goes without saying that sometimes the joints get achy and the muscles get stiff… In preparation for the 2019 Oily Rag Run it was found that the clutch was not releasing as it should. Elton Botha recalls how he and JP du Plessis fixed the problem.

Firstly, the car was pushed onto the lift to inspect the clutch assembly from underneath. It was clear that the release bearing was fouling against the input shaft of the gearbox, and that the return spring was also too weak to operate correctly. It was then decided that the gearbox had to be removed, and for that to happen, the driveshaft had to be removed first. Once the gearbox was out and on the bench, the input shaft outside- and release bearing inside-diameters were carefully measured. The release bearing was then fitted to a lathe and given just a tiny amount of extra tolerance to clear the input shaft during operation. Also, the inner race of the release bearing must have lost its shape over the years and just needed the slightest modification.

With the release bearing back onto the input shaft, it was time to reassemble. The gearbox and driveshaft were refitted and Elton found a much tougher return spring to fit to the release bearing. Once done, a test drive ensured that everything worked as it should. FMM’s Chrysler Model 58 completed the 2019 Oily Rag Run successfully, stopping only for a minor adjustment on the handbrake, refreshments and a bit of fuel along the way.