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A Cautionary Tale of Dipsticks

I am a new member to the XK Club and new to the XK owners’ fraternity. In the almost one year that I’ve had my 1958 XK150 DHC, I’ve had my fair share of ‘new car’ discoveries, and considerable expense, but there is one cautionary tale that I thought I’d share.

I discovered, on a lovely long run down to Le Mans, that the car used a fair amount of oil, perhaps a pint every hundred miles. On returning home I discussed this with my near neighbour, Tim Smith, who many of you will know as an expert and enthusiastic XK120 and E-type owner. He went through the possible causes - and all seemed to involve yet more significant expense… But then he questioned the parentage of the dipstick in the car. I was slightly affronted as I thought it was a rather splendid period feature as it had a cast handle saying, “Stop engine wait 1 min”, which was painted in the same colour green as the matching numbers original engine. Even the shaft of the dipstick had “3.4L“ etched into it. And I had old photos of the car from years ago showing the same dipstick - surely this must be right? However, Tim was persistent, and I had already learnt that he was invariably right, so some research was carried out. This revealed that, indeed, it was the wrong dipstick - and it was almost 40mm shorter at the high level than it should be….

A replacement dipstick was ordered, and we changed the oil to see how much ‘extra’ oil the engine had been carrying. To my astonishment we discovered that we needed almost 11 litres to ‘fill’ the car with the old dipstick, compared to the correct 8.5 litres with the right one. The sloshing around of the extra oil in the sump was certainly a factor in the excessive oil consumption - and for once, the remedy was a cheap one! 

Who knows when the proper dipstick was lost, but the car has been rebuilt a couple of times in its 65-year life. Certainly, various previous owners hadn’t spotted this and even the expert marque specialists, who I asked to sort the car after I bought it, didn’t notice anything untoward. I suspect, like many garages, they didn’t measure the amount of oil they put in, they just kept pumping in from the big drum until the dipstick showed full….

I’m looking forward to enjoying the XK again this coming year, but now, perhaps, without quite such a distinctive puff of smoke trailing in my wake.

Mark Carne


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