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California Smog Inspection

by Greg Fletcher

Here's the story of my bi-anneal smog inspection test (no more as my '73 is now exempt from regular inspection). Like any good Jensen/ British car owner I waited until the last possible moment before my registration was due and made a mad dash to the local test station.

This time, before I left, I said to myself: "OK, the Jensen fails every time I bring it in, maybe I should adjust everything (within my meager ability) before I get it there and see what happens?"

I replaced the spark plugs, retarded the timing a couple degrees BTDC (helps bring down Hydrocarbons- you may or maynot get away with this, it's now technically a no-no to adjust the timing out of specification), made sure the charcoal canister had the correct tubing going to the right places, and adjusted the mixture screws slightly. Previously, unlimited retard was allowed and no advance over specs.

My Jensen has 40mm Dellorto carbs, reground, hotter camshafts and 9.5:1 compression pistons. Things which in themselves do not help chances for passing a California Emissions test- the most stringent in the world. But we all know that Jensens can run clean and so I left home with a foolish optimism normally reserved for dogs or the mentally challenged. I arrived at my local smog inspection station, Purrfect Auto in Lake Forest, whose sign outside proudly proclaims "Under New Ownership". They put the car on the meter and it failed miserably. In fact it was suddenly labeled as a Gross Polluter, which surely must be the Scarlet Letter for old cars in California.

Fortunately, for me, they had done a Pretest which did not get reported to the state computer (it's all done electronically now and real time test results are in Sacramento instantly, bastards!). If the actual test is completed with a Gross Polluter printed out on your report and is retested later the same, this information stays with the car at the Department of Motor Vehicles until the day it is crushed, I kid you not. To keep it on the road, you would then need to go to a state run referee test station, pay for another test and hassle around with getting things fixed or possibly even getting a temporary waiver depending on what was wrong with the car. The state of California will also punish you with increased inspection requirements. If the referee deems your car has been "tampered with", then the sky's the limit and no dollar amount is placed on the car to repair it.

The Gross Polluter designation is definitely something to be avoided at all costs. It pays to take your car to someone that can work with it/repair whatever is wrong with it and get it to pass. In Southern California, Mike D'Olimpio at Tarzana Motor Works or Tom Shanley at British Sports & Imports in Riverside are great places to start since they know the Jensen Healey in and out. My home in Orange County is an 1 1/2 hours between either of these two and since I've never received any recommendations for mechanics in South County so I decided to take my chances on my own.

NOTE: I've heard from reliable sources that the large, pass or don't pay style, chain-run inspection stations (especially ACRO) are notorious for scrutinizing every component and checking timing. Likewise gas stations that do inspections seem to be rather anal about every little thing as well (I was once failed on a visual inspection for a cracked tube on my charcoal canister and had to retake the test again for an additional fee). These are places to avoid with an older car. I've had the best luck with smaller, local, brake-tune-up shops that do the occasional inspection.

But, back to my Jensen. The smog station said they could do a "low level adjustment" on my car for $50 and it would probably pass. I asked the guy what that meant and he gave me a funny look and said they would "adjust some low level stuff". Not too happy with that explanation, I then went and talked to the Chinese mechanic doing the inspection, who spoke little English but was able to explain that the Jensen was running way too lean (good job Greg- there's nothing like sabotaging your own emissions test) and that was the cause for the excessive emission reading, maxing out the Hydrocarbon scale at 2000 parts per million. The mechanic seemed rather uncomfortable in looking for the distributor, so I had a feeling he had no plans of even attempting to check the timing.

At the time of this inspection, California said HCs for this year car must be below 550 ppm at idle, 400 ppm at 2,500 rpm, considered cruising speed. Keep in mind testing standards have become tighter and your car is now tested on a "rolling road" at load. The mechanic said he would readjust the mixture screws and retest it until it passed. He half-way seemed to know what he was talking about and (more important) he appeared to have taken a liking to the Jensen so I figured this would be alright to have him do the work. I showed him where are the mixture adjustment screws were.
He said "You sure this mixture screw- seem too big."
"Yes, that's it" I said
"Ok, ok, I fix. Go sit, no watch. I no need your help now".

After all, he had an infrared scope and that is the surest way to find the correct mixture. And whatever happened, he was unlikely to make it worse than what I had done already. An hour later the Jensen passed the official California Smog Inspection with a reading down to 239 ppm at 900 rpm and 69 ppm at 2,500 rpm.

The old Lotus lump was running as smooth and as quiet as I'd ever seen it. I was impressed. The mechanic had really taken his time and made sure everything was as good as it could be. You dont see that too often these days. He even adjusted the mixtures at idle to be on the rich side, something this engine benefits from greatly. When finished he made it a point to tell me;
"You no mess around with engine, car run good now! I help you and glue down screws. Much better this way."

He had put some annoying glue on the outside of the mixture adjustment screws just in case I might be tempted to turn them at a later date. Somehow, he must know that we Jensen owners are never happy unless our cars run like crap. I thanked him and happily paid my $80 bill, knowing that this would be my '73 Jensen Healeys last, official smog test.

As far as Dellortos go on California Jensens, I'm not going to tell you that you can bolt on a set and never again have another worry with the state (unless of course you have a 1972 or 1973, which is currently not subject to regular smog inspections after January 1, 1998). But the two smog inspectors I've talked to about the Jensen Healey with Dellortos said that if the car is running clean (or can be made to) and looks legitimate on the visual inspection (correct tubing in place on the charcoal canister, etc.), stock air cleaner, that it's in the spirit of the law and they will pass it. Some of the descriptions for the JH that the testers have simply refer to the carburetion at "twin" and don't specifically say "Stromberg" so thats something in your favor if you run Dellortos too. The place I took my car to didn't care a hoot what was on it as long as it ran clean. By the way, Lotus did have Dellortos on their US destination cars. If your car is called in for the dreaded, random "State Inspection" by a state-run facility they will have every book and diagram known to mankind on the Jensen Healey and know exactly how it should look under the hood.

In summary, here's Greg's Best Bets for increasing your chances of passing a Smog Inspection;

1. If you don't work on your car, you'll probably be better off taking the car to a mechanic that knows about the Jensen Healey before you have the inspection done, Jensens still tend to be driven more than maintained. But remember, just because a person says they can work on your Jensen Healey doesnt mean that they should.

2. Find a proper test station, your mechanic may have a recommendation for someone that's not a jerk. Many inspectors are real people that want to help you, not hassle you.

3. If going the route alone, be sure everything is up to scratch. Change spark plugs. Put in fresh oil, your engine will thank you. Be sure the ignition system is functioning correctly and that spark plug wires are not split or deteriorating. Check timing, retard, if over advanced. Check for correct emissions tubing to the charcoal canister. All the pre-smog pump Jensen Healeys and GT before 1975 have the most rudimentary emission set-up, but it still needs to be complete. Put the stock air cleaner back on if not equipped. If you live in California and run some race-like aftermarket air filters (like K&N's) I can tell you no smog tester, no matter how ignorant of your car, will pass it.

4. Don't stress out over the test. Jensen Healeys in reasonable shape can easily run clean when adjusted correctly, it just seems like they never are.


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