Archive for category Previous Rallies
The 23rd Classic Marathon effectively started at Portsmouth harbour when the cars taking the ferry to Bilbao were scrutineered. Even at this early stage there was drama – a Lotus Cortina was overheating whilst in the “big” Healey the navigator trod on the fire extinguisher setting off clouds of powder in and around the car.
30 cars started from Santander; by the time we reached Ovideo six days later there were 24 still running, 3 of which were stranded at the foot of the results table after breaking down. Even though this was Regularity rally it was still tough on the cars. The route took us in the mountains from Santander in the east to Cabo Finisterra in the west and every day was up and down along narrow winding roads.
We were due to be accompanied by an Elan Sprint – but he transformed into a Scimitar after the clutch forks broke – and what did we do two weeks before the rally? Had the engine out to replace a seized clutch release bearing – one of many co-incidences, which characterised this rally.
After the Picos mountains, the first day ended at the seaside resort of Ribedesella and the mechanics already had the head off the unfortunate Cortina which broke down irretrievably during one of the regularity sections next day. At dinner, Paul and Roma in an MGB were convinced they had come across us before – they had, in Puerto Natales in Chile in March 2010 when we were replacing a trunnion! Having spoken to us then they decided rallying was for them……and there they were!
Day 2 took us through the Asturian mountains and out of the woods to the high arid plains where we spent most of the day at an altitude of over 1000m. At the overnight hotel another cylinder head was off – this time from an Alfa – but he did finish! We felt the need to check our diff oil level but all was well.
The third day includes what the organisers describe as “exploring interesting farm lanes”. Translated this means they are narrow winding lanes with lots of unlikely turns which you should go down and plenty of more likely looking turns you should not! The last regularity of the day saw cars flying in all directions and having got to the first (of 3) controls fairly respectably we lost the plot (and the route). Having given up all hope and heading straight to the hotel we saw three rally cars stream across our path at a junction and followed them to the final control.
Our hotel was another Parador – a chain of hotels in magnificent old buildings – this one at the monastery of St Estevo which dates from the 7th century and boasts three cloisters, sturdy granite stairs and an idyllic location on the tree covered slopes of the Sil valley. What better place to replace our points which were yet again playing up? We thought this problem was cracked when we replaced the distributor and had 6,500 trouble free miles in Patagonia – it seems not.
Day 4 included a forest fire but before that we passed a crashed BMW (went straight ahead when the road bent to the right) and saw the Atlantic Ocean. Lunches were a feature of this rally with far more than we wanted to eat; the hour’s break is meant to bring a calming civilisation to the crews but we just wanted a pitstop and off! This was in a luxury hotel with shaded gardens and tranquil lakes – just the place to savour the wine which accompanied every meal – except that Spanish drink drive laws are very strict! The evening’s task was the remove the sump guard to fix the vacuuum T piece which had split giving no headlights, reduced power and too much unfiltered air into the engine.
Next day was not good! The car really didn’t like the “special tests” which the organisers arranged – generally a couple of laps round a karting circuit. This test included a “stop in the box” halfway round. The car stopped fine, stalled and had to be pushed away so we missed the second lap completely and got maximum time penalties for the incomplete first lap. The mechanics arrived, poked and prodded – and she started quite happily without any problem. This cost us 7 minutes, one place and a class medal (ok it would only have been third!) and we ended up as the only car which finished and did not receive a trophy.
The last day ended with a hillclimb regularity up to an altitude of 1570m and a number of hot and bothered cars, including the Elan which again decided that after stalling on the finish line it was going to chose its own time to restart. The rally was just over 2000km – but we were only part through our trip as we wanted to visit Portugal – deciding that Evora was too far away………..
Our first stop was Braganza where we visited the old walled town and castle. Leaving town next morning we wanted a photo-opportunity outside the castle – and found the local car club were having their summer Meet & BBQ there – not sure who was most surprised when we rolled up! We knew we had a long day ahead so did not stay; the day turned out to be longer than expected with the roads much slower and roadworks occupying most of the motorway.
After the warmth of Braganza we found rain and cloud at the start of our tour round the port wine region of the Douro valley. The day brightened up and glorious sunshine accompanied our drive round the wine terraces. Our next stop was Porto where we found the signposting even worse than we had experienced so far and the driving standard awful with no leeway being granted to a car that was clearly old and lost.
Leaving the city we headed for the hills and the iron age city at Briteiros followed by the religious extravaganza at Bom Jesus where to our great surprise we bumped into Andrew and Sarah in the Porsche 914 from the rally – if we’d arranged to meet them here we’d certainly have failed!
Bom Jesus is more or less replicated in the nearby Santuario de Sierra da Pineda and one can but wonder at the effort spent on creating these edifices. We left Portugal in the direction of Ourense and this time were able to take some pictures of the countryside as we reached what had been rally territory. Although most definitely not a race there was little time to spare on this rally and we took many fewer photos than usual.
A long drive along the motorways past Leon brought us closer to the coast when another problem arrived – stopping for petrol the starter motor ground slowly round and the car just started. Surely the battery hadn’t failed? Thoughts turned to the regulator box but it seemed to be operating correctly and the contacts were moving as the engine revs rose. I had a spare but was reluctant to swop them over. We stopped at an expensive hotel with private parking and found the culprit – the starter motor end plate had come loose with 3 of 4 screws missing. I don’t carry spare screws but fortunately the bolts from the large size “chocolate blocks” were a good enough match – starter motor purred!
An early start meant we were in good time for the fast craft to the Isle of Man in spite of going under the Mersey Tunnel by mistake, due to moment of navigational inexactitude by Allison.
One Porsche grounded a bit going on to the ferry, which unsurprisingly was full of bikers. We arrived at Douglas and had a look a the very impressive Manx Museum with eye catching displays of the history of the island. Also a comfortable tea room with bonnag the local, very tasty, fruit cake.
On to our hotel via the navigational aid of the Isle of Man Home of Rest for Old Horses. The hotel was a country club and 30 + Porsches in the car park looked and sounded good. The after dinner speech was from a local policeman about speeding as the locals are good at grassing people up. Once someone phoned up the police and said someone dressed like the Stig was racing around, only to be told that it was the Stig!!
6.30 the next day dawned wet and cold so we went off following a local club member to the TT pit lanes, only to be castigated by the organiser for not waiting for him – well he didn’t mention it at the briefing the night before. Then a drive round the course, which was open to traffic, so lots of speed limits in villages. Up on the mountain it was so misty we needed rear fogs and could only see a couple of white line markers in front of us. On bends, bales of straw and tyres were stacked up against garden walls and seemed to be permanent. Not a very fast run though those who did it later in the day fared better. During the TT races the roads are closed and people can’t get out of their driveways when the races are on
Then to Castletown the ancient capital and round Castle Rushen using a guide book dated 1927, well castles don’t change much. As usual with car club events Porsches kept popping up in all directions. There was a competitive rally taking place that weekend so if it wasn’t a Porsche round the next bend it was a rally car. The National Folk Museum at Cregneash was next and just as we finished tea and cake outside the mist descended and we could not see the cottage opposite us.
At Peel the mist and rain cleared for a walk round the outside of the castle and town. Perhaps we have become used to finding interesting restaurants and gastro pubs eveywhere but we did not find many in Mann but eventually found a pub on the harbour with spectacular fish. Then the rain started to tip down and everyone raced inside. The downpour turned in to the monsoon and even the drain covers were lifting up – not a fast drive back.
Early the next morning another drive round the circuit but with less mist and then on to Laxey Wheel which is the largest working water wheel in the world and was built in 1854 to pump water from the lead and zinc mines. You get quite wet climbing to the top of it. A drive to Ramsey which has shop fronts from the 1920s with what looked like original window displays.
A group meal at the hotel went down well with our friendly policeman thanking us for our good driving and then telling us about his life in the Mann police force.
A good driving and sightseeing weekend. Try it.
17Mar – we’ve reached the rally hotel in Valparaiso – End. Yesterday evening the support landrover arrived on a low loader and this morning we heard that Conrad’s Alfa had arrived in Mendoza. We set off earlyish for the border with Chile. Leaving Maipu there was a holdup on the dual carriageway – the problem was a sit-down protest against the national oil company – with deck chairs in the fast lane! A great drive up and over the Andes to 3250 metres with dramatic scenery and the engine seemed fine (hope I can still say that tomorrow!). The border crossing was ok as it wasn’t too busy (we’d overtaken them all!). Roadworks meant there was single file traffic both to and from the top of the pass and we were lucky not to be delayed. Then a run through the cities of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso to find the hotel in the old town with steep narrow streets; again we were lucky that although the GPS gave up we found the hotel. Others must have had a problem as only 3 cars have arrived so far and they arrived 3 hours ago.
We’ve done over 6,100 miles at an average of nearly 29 mpg, we’ve turned the car upside down, put it back on its wheels and carried on driving and problems – very few, replaced a trunnion and solved a starter/charging problem left over from before. They say Loti are sensitive, fragile cars – not true. As for the engine – fantastic, apart from adding a little oil we’ve done nothing to it; not touched timing, points or plugs. What a car!!
16 Mar – a gentle day all tarmac 430kms. At breakfast we heard that there had been a tremor overnight and Livvy woke to hear the lights rattling. We also saw that Patrick had arrived – at 4am. So all the participants cars are up to speed and running and the two causing concern are the organisers! Conrad’s Alfa may arrive in Mendoza with the mechanics who are repairing it, whilst the rally support landrover has only two gears and may die at any moment.
Our destination was Maipu, south of Mendoza in the wine heart of Argentina so we had to visit an vineyard and the hotel has arranged a tasting session for later this evening. Tomorrow we head for Valparaiso in Chile and on Thursday the docks – end of rally!
15 Mar – we were now down to 5 cars as Peter/Sue were heading south and Patrick and Conrad’s cars had not caught up. We later heard that Patrick, having solved the wheel bearing problem had set out with Conrad but lack of fuel and a smashed radiator meant that they spent the night in sleeping bags in the car. The landrover did arrive at the hotel but not till midnight.
Our day started with the problems of heading east into the bright, low morning sun (and the perspex screen) so my head was soon out of the window. There were some navigational problems as we were on the detour with no GPS and several cars took wrong turnings. It was a long day and the ripio was dustier than usual and the fastest car took 9 hours for the 560 kms. The landscape was mostly barren rock and we passed numerous old volcanoes and odd rock formations – some looked like slices of bread.
14 Mar – Another short day 220 kms with tarmac and ripio. Early news was that Conrad’s car was not repairable in the time available as it was still blowing out coolant. Met up with Peter/Sue and Klaus/Maja for a roadside coffee stop on the ripio and later passed a monkey puzzle tree plantation. Our hotel was on a peninsular into Lake Alumine and our room looked straight out west onto the water – so Allison can have her setting sun. Tomorrow is a long day – 600kms on roads the rally has not driven – this is our detour around the earthquake area of Concepcion.
13 Mar – a short drive 200km to St Martin los Andes but first we heard that they had been working on Conrad’s car till 1am and it still wasn’t working – no compression. The Alfa is similar to the Lotus, Webers and twin overhead cams with a timing chain. I offered to help. We found that TDC had not been identified and after some searching we found the marks on the pulley and on the front cover. Allison found the internet forum and we located the corresponding cam shaft marks; one shaft was out by one tooth so that was adjusted. There was a spark but it would not start and the rally mechanic was convinced there was a fuel problem. We left them to it and set off (hours after the others).
It was the coldest day of our journey and threatening rain as we passed the more-than-usual police road checks and reached Angostura for coffee and cake. Then alongside the lakes on the ripio (poor quality), the scenery less spectacular in the gloomy low cloud. Klaus and Patrick passed by as we stopped for lunch. Then 2km along the road there was Patrick with the front wheel off. The wheel bearing repair had failed as the bearing was the wrong size. The boss of a road repair team took us into Angostura but it was 3pm on Saturday and everyone was closing for the weekend. The best option was to take the car on a loader back to Bariloche. We resumed our route and were the last in with just a few a few nuts to tighten up.
12 Mar – a rest day in the most impressive hotel in Argentina, the Llao Llao. A late breakfast, a canoe on the lake, lunch by a brook and the afternoon trying to do some (work) work over the internet. Giancarlo’s Volvo needed work on timing and mixture, Patrick’s Chevvy needed a new front wheel bearing whilst Conrad’s Alfa blew its head gasket
11 Mar – there were two routes to Bariloche, the scenic ripio route through the National Park and the tarmac route. We chose the later and visited Maiten and the railway engineering workshops before having lunch in the “hippy” town of El Bolsen where Allison bought a stone to replace one lost from her bracelet. Our hotel is on the Llao Llao peninsular where we were happy to be rejoined by Peter & Sue, back from England with spares for Conrad and Patrick (but his immediate neede is for the spares they did not bring….! Changed the Elan’s oil filter but apart from that………..what’s not broke, don’t fix!
10 Mar – the first of two gentle days driving with a stop in Esquel and on to Bariloche and a rest day to follow. The landscape was arid Patagonia relieved with occasional oases of green. Esquel has two features – the nearby Welsh settlement of Trevelin and La Trochita –the old Patagonia Express, a narrow guage railway designed to open Patagonia for settlers. We visited Trevelin for a large “Welsh Tea” in one of the many tea houses and watched the smoke from a “field” fire (they have big fields!) fill the ring of mountains. Others went for the train and helped shunt it round the sidings before putting it into its shed until Saturday.
9Mar – 300km due east to Sarmiento. The day started badly with the low sun straight into our eyes making the perspex windscreen impossible to see through. We had scoured Coyhaique for brasso last night – and found a tin. Now in the middle of the ripio we tried using it to clean the screen. It worked to a limited extent – but we made more progress when I drove with my head out of the drivers window! (hair now full of dust). Progress was slow with the lack of visibility and poor surface. We passed through the border and for a moment believed that Argentine ripio would be better than Chilean – not for long and we were soon in 1st gear again. We had the best part of 150km on ripio, generally in 2nd and 3rd gears and 4th only on rare occasions . Towards the end the combination of boredom and a better surface saw us at 50mph – but driving on the sumpguard as much as the wheels! After an unexpected lunch in Rio Mayo where we treated ourselves to a peaceful hotel meal, quiet, cool, dust free we found Conrad at the roadside and had tea – what else? We checked the car after seeing the petrified forest; the car was fine apart from the water temperature sender unit which had broken off half way along the morning’s ripio.
8Mar – a gentle run away to Coyhaique 270 kms, about 2/3 on variable ripio and then some super tarmac at the end as we climbed up to 1120metres from Cerro Castillo and then dropped down to the valley. An excursion to the Cave of the Hands was a disappointment as we laboured over rough tracks to find that the original hand paintings were destroyed by a volcano 20 years ago! Giancarlo had more problems; this time shock absorbers but now repaired. Tomorrow we return to Argentina and stay there until we head for Valporiso to return the cars to their containers.
7Mar – a rest day at El Maiten on the shores of Lake Carrera. We checked the Elan yesterday and its in amazingly good shape. We’ve now travelled 4,000 miles, used 600 litres of petrol and only 2 litres of oil. Giancarlo got his car mended and reached the hotel yesterday evening. We awoke to rain but by 10.00 after a log, late breakfast it had cleared to give a bright sunny but windy day. A new route has been identified for March 15-17 to avoid the area around Concepcion (hit by the earthquake). Instead we go to Mendoza and from there to Valpariso.
6Mar – a short day (300km) with a border crossing the Chilean ripio was as bad as we expected but was relieved by the spectacular views of lake Carrera with the snow capped Andes behind; with views like that and a reasonable arrival time you can forgive the ripio. The border crossing was enlivened by the need to get through before a particular Chilean customs official started her shift. In the entire section of Argentine/Chilean crossings she is convinced that right hand drive cars are not permitted and the helpful Argentine officer told us she started at 12.00. Late news that Giancarlo in the Volvo has a broken wishbone and the car has been transported back to Chile Chico. Tomorrow is a rest day so hopefully he’ll rejoin then.
5 Mar – An early start (6.30) for a long day – and it was very long; nearly 600km mostly on ripio, whose quality varied from poor to bxxxxy awful! The two worst types were where there were mounds of gravel between the tyre tracks, fine for higher cars but just positioned to continuously catch the underside of a low slung Lotus. The other was the hard lumpy rocks which pounded the front suspension and at least one wishbone bush needs replacing. It took 11 hours, the landscape was bleak and as hard as the track. We stopped for coffee at “Siberia” in the middle of nowhere and Allison insisted that this collie photo is included – there are collies everywhere and she’s missing ours. At the end of the day we crisscrossed the brand new ribbon of tarmac but looking was as close as we got. The Estancia we stayed in looked run down, power was from a generator, the welcome reluctant but a small group meal with copious bottles of wine made for a good end to the day.
4 Mar – a gentle 300km mostly on good tarmac on Ruta 40 (Argentine equivalent of route 66). Time to stop to see some cave painting (not worth the exorbitant charge), for photo opportunities and a civilised mid morning coffee and cake with Livvy, Denise and Robert. The petrol station in the small town of El Chalten was occupied by 5 rally cars when we arrived, waiting for the promised 2pm opening – which it did! We had restricted ourselves to 60/65 mph so the car was happy and I used sunglasses so there was no glare from the perspex windscreen.
In case you wondered what an upside down Elan looks like – its this! (thanks to Cathy for the photo as we were otherwise occupied!)
March 2/3 – a gentle run from Torres del Paine national park to El Calafate and the world’s largest glacier – Perito Morino………..err no!
About 50km into the day’s 400km run, Allison misjudged a corner on the ripio, lost the rear end, slewed across the road – and we ended up on the roof in a ditch. Its very disorientating hanging from your seatbelt, trying to work out how to sit on the inside of the roof, switch off the engine and open the door. The passenger’s door opened and I crawled out, the drivers door was trapped in the ditch so I had to pull Allison out of the passenger’s door feet first. We were unhurt, not even a scratch.
We started to remove stuff from the car because petrol was dripping from the fuel cap and we couldn’t get to the battery as the entire boot would empty first! Patrick, Rod and Cath appeared in the Chevvy and we unceremoniously righted the Elan – none of this gentle lowering of the suspension, it was roof, side upright. Everything looked ok, the wheels were all vertical, undented, no oil had leaked out so we repacked everything, started the engine and continued. Ok we had no windscreen, both door pillars were broken, there was a large hole in the roof (where my head might have been?), the passenger’s door had split in two and the lower hinge broken and the side of the car a mess. We drove on to the border where we found the support crew who applied lashings of ducktape.
Progress was slow as I was terrified of losing the rear screen. We did the remaining journey at 35mph through some howling winds, both dressed in fleeces, windproof jackets, hats and gloves – and were still cold. In El Calafate, we were able to find a glazing company who agreed to take the car next morning and fit a temporary perspex screen.
3 Mar – we dropped the car off and took a hire car to the glacier – tourists for a day. This huge glacier is the reason this town exists and is spectacular; the 30 metre high vertical cliffs of ice stand out into the lake and periodically pieces crack and collapse into the water sending slow surface waves and more substantial ones underwater so that more distant shores feel the swell but with little visible cause.
We picked up the car and found a new screen – noisy and with distinctly imperfect vision when driving into the sun – its better than no screen at all – the car rolls on………….
1March – a rest day after the group meal last night. Time to check the car, give it a quick wash – there was dust everywhere – then a wander through the park – to a waterfall, watching the reflections of the mountains in the now still waters and listening to the sounds of avalanches from the snowy peaks above us. So quiet and unbelievably spectacular scenery made for a memorable walk. The hotel had a very rickety wooden ramp for cars so put the Lotus up on part of it for a gearbox oil check but as it looked a bit doubtful took it off again.
28 Feb – no grease gun so plan B and by 9am we were on the road. We had been told of a classic car museum just off our route between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. We thought that maybe they’d have a grease gun –they did but the nozzle was too big and we ended up with a puddle of grease. We carried on. There was a strong cross wind and keeping the car in a vaguely straight line at anything over 60 mph was very difficult. Leaving Punto Natales our GPS was confused by the in/out routes preloaded and intended to give a circuit round the Torres de Paine National Park. We found the correct (anticlockwise) track and moved from Tarmac to ripio – couldn’t stop laughing at the sign “incipio ripio”. The park is a mixture of mountains and lakes and our hotel was perched on a small island in lake Pehoe.
27 Feb – woke up early thinking that there was a one hour time shift between Chile & Argentina so maybe the 14.00 boat was actually 13.00 – no the time shift starts on 14 March. The run was easy, borders quick and ripio good so we arrived well before the ferry sailed. Two cars elected to take the longer route with a normal start time – but no-one knows where the landrover with the mechanics went. Television news is of a major earthquake in Conception where we are due in 16 days time – the organisers may need to re-route…….
Checking the car found that the near side trunnion was worn – fortunately we carry a spare – but incredibly no-one has a grease gun and all the car spares shops are closed…..plan B is take it apart and apply grease by hand.
26 Feb – rest day in Ushuaia. A boat trip along the Beagle Channel in the morning followed by the museum of the End of the World and civilised lunch. Then another museum – housed in the old prison. Early night called for as we get up at 4.30 tomorrow to catch the only boat of the day at 14.00 and to get there we have one border crossing and 450 kms with 150 km of ripio – more dust!
25 Feb – Ushuaia and the end of the world and we are there! The day started with a rammy over an early breakfast and by 7.15 we were all on the road heading for two border crossings, 120kms of ripio and a total of 600 kms – and a ferry across the Magellan Straits. Now sitting in our hotel bedroom looking south over the Beagle Channel towards snow capped mountains and way beyond that the Antarctic. The car is full of dust as we are but both it and we are in one piece, despite our best efforts to shake it to pieces at 50 mph on the gravel. (Argentina has better gravel standards but Chilean border controls are more efficient!) Tiera del Fuego is surprisingly green with trees and lakes and jagged snow topped mountains – what a contrast from the flat, dry and desert-like mainland
24 Feb – no news of petrol so we set off in an early group of 4 cars; we had as much fuel as anyone and easily reached the filling station 120kms away. Allison has a thing about penguins so we left the main road and onto the ripio to find the 4th largest colony of magellan penguins. Car was fine and I was happier as I’d tweaked the voltage regulator box again (the setting from Feb 21 produced a very hot battery and cooking batteries is not a good idea!). Then an easy run into Rio Gallegos – a town founded by English settlers in the 1880s. En route we fell off lovely tarmac onto rough and dusty gravel and the car complained – nasty squeaks from the back end. The shock absorbers have become weak and the noise was the springs grinding against dust – we live to drive another day!
23 Feb – now that we’re further south its cooler and windier. For most of the day we were driving into a strong headwind – so strong that at times it was difficult to stand up. The landscape is ever less hospitable and more like barren desert. Our route was through the oil area with nodding donkeys to one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The land is sparsely populated so fuel stations are few and far between with the result that we stopped more often to keep the tank full. 50 km off route was the remains of a petrified forest with trees 140 million years old;
we were the first visitors of the day but one other rally car made the deviation on the (gravel) ripio – it was worth the trip, the landscape was spectacular, what the moon should look like with almost no vegetation, a dried up lake and an extinct volcano.
Returning to the main road the only filling station was short of fuel and rationed us to 15 litres – easily enough to get us to the overnight stop. But there we were in for a shock. The are 3 filling stations but none had any petrol – its due in tomorrow…………
22 Feb – 600km to Comodoro Rivadavia passing the Welsh towns of Trewlew and Gaiman. Trewlew had a power cut and Gaiman seemed to be largely asleep – there are plenty of Welsh tearooms – but all are closed in the mornings. The only bank refused to change sterling for Pesos – US dollars only. Then a long haul south through an ever more desolate countryside with less and less vegetation to the oil town of Rivadavia.Car now starting and charging happily – now its drinking water – someone said we were driving too fast…………what’s a Lotus for? It is a little unhappy on the open roads where the ruts and wind deflect it. Also on the ripio where the heaped gravel catches the underside and can give unexpected changes of direction.
21 Feb – a rest day so time for some tourism and our first taste of ripio – well graded gravel – but slippery and with ruts which can deflect an Elan. It had rained hard last night so some roads were closed but in the morning there was less dust. We saw penguins, elephant seal cubs, sealions, armadillos, foxes, hares and rhea plus plenty of birds. I should add that the foxes (wild animals in a nature reserve) were waiting outside the kitchen of the café awaiting the chef’s whistle for scraps whilst the armadillo was searching the car park for crumbs). The rally has now regrouped but we’re down to 6 cars plus the organiser’s – and 5 of them are red! The car started every time today and the battery is charging nicely (I thought too nicely at times – burning out the dynamo by over doing it would be a very bad idea).
Some statistics – fuel costs less than 50p a litre and we are doing 28.5mpg (just to keep the units inconsistent). Updated mpg to allow for larger tyres)
20 Feb – an unexpectedly short day as we were now 180km further east than planned. It was just 320km to Peninsula Valdes – a nature reserve with whales, sea lions, shunks and penguins – though the whales are absent at this time of year. The car started every time – so maybe there was a starter problem and now it’s a charging problem…….
19 Feb – we woke at 6.15 for an early breakfast and a long day – 710kms and it was raining. – heavy rain. The car started so that was good but progress was slow with the combination of the rain and the ruts. Our route was west to Bahia Blanca before turning south to Carmen de Patagones. Things went wrong at the first fuel stop when the starter did – nothing, we were travelling with Klaus and Maja who helped push. At the second fuel stop it was the garage owner who pushed……………..problem not solved! The roads were straight and the scrubland went on seemingly for ever. There were periodic road checks to prevent the movement of fruit and meat and at one of these, just 150km from our destination we were told that the road ahead was blocked as two bridges were down – one featuring on the front page of the newspaper. We turned round and faced a 700km detour if we wanted to get to the night’s hotel (we decided to pass on that). Klaus and Maja had now joined us and we set off back the way we’d come. As we went we “collected” all the other cars except for Patrick’s. The one person we couldn’t get hold of was the organiser! We reached Las Grutas after a hard and fast drive and the rally Doctor, who speaks Spanish, arranged hotel rooms for us. It had been along day and a beer was called for!
The minister of tourism flagged us off on time and after a stop go exit from Buenos Aires we made good time until stopped by police because we did not have out headlights on. Lots of document scrutiny and then off again past many other police checks. All went well until after our lunch stop when the starter motor went on strike just like Morocco. We really thought we had cured it. Back to bump starting and after that it gave no trouble. Balcarce, the birthplace of Fangio, was the overnight stop so we visited the well presented museum to him. It also has a large collection of run down Art Deco buildings. What to do about the starter motor? I found that the shaft was loose – so maybe the problem was that in certain positions there was no electrical contact. The Argentine rally mechanic took me round the town looking for a bush, then some emery paper to sand it down to fit – whilst all the while the car was sitting on some garage ramp. Total cost Ps 24 (about £4) – here’s hoping!
It took 5 hours to get the car from the port today but we were lucky as 2 cars coming from Genoa took 9 hours because they were not started upon until those from the UK were cleared. The car started first time but the exhaust must have been knocked as it is a bit noisy. We did manage to fit in a visit to a modern art museum and some tunnels under a Jesuit church.
An unusual street scene is the Dog walkers – they take dogs for walks (obviously!) but not just one or two!
We arrived in Buenos Aires late Sunday 14th. Looking for currency exchange on Monday morning we saw a Lotus 7 and rushed over to say hello. Carlos explained that he’d owned it for 5 months and had broken down and was waiting for a tow truck – not a good omen!
We’d been told that we could get the Elan out of Customs on Monday, then Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon was spent on paperwork and we hope to see it on Wednesday prior to leaving BA on Thursday morning – though as the Minister of Tourism wants to flag us off we can’t be sure!
5 Feb – updating the technology! Now a new laptop so hopefully we will have the means to report progress.
The 2009 Casablanca Challenge required more repair work than we had expected before we were ready for Patagonia 2010. There was damage to the passenger’s door which had to be repaired and then resprayed and to the footwell – but that has had to wait till later. The major problem was electrical – the starter failed in Morocco but even a new battery, new starter and a thorough check of the electrical supply didn’t help. We had to return to a repaired old starter and a new Optima battery which proved to be a better combination.
Casablanca had consumed points/condensers like never before so there was a new distributor and a reduction in the dynamo cut-in voltage which we hope will help – though in truth we don’t know why so many points burned out so quickly.
A new` differential output shaft, seal and bearings were required – along with a clean-up of the rear-end which was coated in the oil we’d been leaking for the past 1,500 miles. There was a brake squeal to attend to and new front wheel bearings. Then with the MOT a day away, the wipers failed – there’s an underlying electrical problem somewhere that wasn’t there before and I haven’t found it yet.
It passed the MOT and on 18 January we dropped the car at the container terminal and hopefully we’ll see it again in Buenos Aires in February.
Our 2007 trip was to the roof of the world or as near as we could manage. Our trip was to India, Nepal and Bhutan, the car may not have actually seen Everest – but we did from a chartered sightseeing jet from Kathmandu airport!
The trip was planned well in advance and the cars were due to be shipped two months before we flew to Udaipur in western India. So plenty of time to prepare, no last minute gremlins – wrong! The drive to the docks had to be abandoned due to fuel starvation – the engine which had been fine pottering round home just died when we were ambling along the motorway at (shall we say?) just about the speed limit. The float chamber had no fuel but the tank was half full – probably the braided fuel line delaminating so we changed that and the (mechanical) fuel pump and all was sweetness and light.
We next saw the car along with its fellows in the Motor museum owned by the Maharana of Udaipur. A Maharana is like a Maharaja only the Maharana is more important. The other cars in this tour (not a competitive rally) were 6 Mercedes SLKs, two 1950/60 Bentleys, two Volvos, two pre-war Bentleys, a 1935 Rolls Royce and two Sunbeams. The reports from the crew who unloaded the cars from the containers were that the car was “pretty sporty”. This time we had the S/E engine and yes we were concerned that the local fuel or the effect of altitude could spell disaster and we took two spare cylinder head gaskets just in case. In fact apart from asking for a change of points and condenser, the engine behaved perfectly and was completely unfazed by the 87 octane fuel (87 on a good day). How did it ask? Well it poured out black smoke, refused to idle, lost power and had a good sulk!
In Udaipur we stayed at the Lake Palace hotel – anyone who has seen Octopussy will recognise the hotel in the middle of a lake – Bond and the villains used a replica crocodile to get over the water, we just used the hotel boat!
The Maharana flagged us off on the first leg to Jodhpur and already the Elan was attracting attention. For the Indians a two seater car was of little practical use and its size and particularly the headlights were a magnet; other competitors complained that the Lotus was the centre of interest. It featured in all the photos printed in the local papers – though its description as a 1965 Volvo was a little off the mark!
The feature of Indian roads is that they’re busy. There are some cars, there are lots of lorries and busses, there are a few elephants, there are carts pulled by tractors, camels, horses, water buffalo, humans there are pedal powered carts there are tricycle carts, there are three wheeled rickshaws and pedal rickshaws, there are sheep, goats, people, bicycles (lots and lots), motorbikes and yes, there are cows. The cows do just as they please – well so do the people but the people do at least respond to liberal use of the horn whilst the cows just look at you – and carry on doing just whatever it was they were doing before.
Another feature is that they’re noisy. We had a very big horn in a small car and when the horn decided it was being overworked – well you were insignificant, nothing. You had no way of doing anything. The horn is essential if you want to drive forwards, backwards, sideways – or if you are a bus – even to stop! If you want to overtake with no horn – it just does not happen, you cannot do it unless you want to get pushed sideways off the road.
The third feature of the roads is variability. You do not know what comes next. It could be an excellent surface where you’re happy to go at 80. Its just as likely that 25 yards ahead of you will be a sleeping policeman (favoured spots in villages, at railway crossings and both ends of bridges). Or you might find potholes (favoured spots on hairpin bends and in the shadows of trees but also found in otherwise perfect pistes of tarmac). You are most likely to come across broken tarmac, where one patch is about an inch below the next patch, a trench across the road or no tarmac at all, where you’re driving over – well anything from mud to riverbeds to landslides. Now its fine if you know what’s coming next and its consistent but consistency is a guaranteed no-no.
Jodhpur is home to the magnificent Blue Fort, which we enjoyed wandering round before setting off towards the relatively quiet and well surfaced Rajasthan desert. Our route saw us struggle out of town – until you’ve driven there its difficult to comprehend the sheer chaos of an Indian road.
There are all the other contenders for roadspace, there’s the noise they make – the slower the traffic the greater the noise – there’s also the use of that physical space. In principle they drive on the left – so its easy? Well not exactly! If there’s no-one else around and if your side of the road looks no less attractive than the other side you might well drive on the left. But if there’s anyone else around and particularly if traffic is slow and your horn is in good condition you drive on any piece of road that isn’t occupied by someone else and if your horn is louder you carry on driving on your chosen piece of road and push everyone else out of the way. This does have implications for traffic flow and congestion when the road is closed – as for a level crossing.
The opening of a level crossing in a busy town is an interesting experience. Traffic isn’t moving so the first imperative is to sound your horn. Next you advance as far as you can across the tracks until you encounter the oncoming traffic. Then you stop because all of the road is now occupied! You have moved to the right of all the traffic waiting at the crossing so as to get away quick and make full use of the space available. Equally and logically the oncoming traffic has done just the same; so you all stop and then you start inching and squeezing. Whatever progress you can make is slowed down by the motorbikes who are weaving every which way, the pedestrians who are everywhere and the cyclos, pedal carts and hand pulled/pushed carts which have limited acceleration. And you’re all trying to avoid the sleeping policemen or in our case go diagonally across them so as to minimise the distance travelled on the sump guard. Yes its interesting and it does occupy your day!
The desert was a welcome relief!
The next day was the longest drive of the rally, 545 kms with a scheduled time of 9¼ hours. That’s an average of 37 mph for a whole day – and it was a good road – on the whole! We spent the night in Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, which we were able to visit in daylight.
Sunrise was about 6am though it varied slightly as we changed clocks between the three countries and we always started as early as possible so as to benefit from the cool of the morning and the absence of other road users much before 8.30. This was the cause of daily friction in the cockpit – I wanted my breakfast whilst Allison wanted to get away at the crack of dawn. Strange, back home she’s always the one to want to stay in bed!
Next day we travelled to Dharamsala, home to the exiled Dalai Lama. Now we were in the hills, it was cooler and the engine markedly less happy – it didn’t pull so well and first thing in the morning could hardly move the car until it had warmed up. Maybe the choke would have helped but we don’t do chokes! We had to tighten up a lose compression joint at the fuel pump but otherwise the car was fine and now after 900 miles I had still not had to add any oil to the engine. We had our first sight of the Himalayas during the day – distant, white, exciting!
On to Simla, summer capital of the British Indian Empire, where I had some family business to attend to. My grandfather had lived there in 1901 and my task was to locate the house and give a full report to my father. It was here that we had our first mechanical problem – one front shock absorber had leaked; useless! Both tasks were resolved fairly easily. We found the house, now with a full military guard and used as a guesthouse by the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army western command. The shock absorber was rebuilt locally using parts from a similar one for the grand sum of £4.50! The other drivers told us to slow down – what? Drive a Lotus and slow down!
Caution being the better part of valour, we phoned home for a set of front shock absorbers to be sent out to await our arrival in Kathmandu – and don’t tell me that’s not a world first! Susan Miller now describes her business as “Far Flung Parts a Speciality”.
From Simla we tracked east towards Nepal. A rest day at a Tiger Reserve encouraged Allison to demand an oil change which was fine until the threads on the sump decided they were worn out and it took liberal use of PTFE tape to persuade the sump plug to provide an oil-tight seal. Moral – yes you’ve guessed – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! No we didn’t see any tigers.
The next day was bad news. The road book said 150kms with a time of 3½ hours. Well not exactly! The distance was wrong, the roads were bad, the directions inaccurate so we took a huge detour and the brake servo packed up. It didn’t just stop working; it began by pushing the pedal back against our feet then it locked the brakes solid. As we were trying to go uphill, down dale and round hairpin mountain passes this was not very helpful! One of the Indian mechanics was helping us as the day turned to dusk and then to pitch black. The simple idea was to bypass the servo and join the in and out pipes together – one nut seized on the pipe which snapped as he undid it. Plan B was radiator out and join the master cylinder direct to the brake junction (located under the coil on the inside of the chassis). That took a little longer, the torch went flat, it started to rain (heavy rain) it was cold and miserable, Allison fell down a gully in the dark, the room was damp, the sheets fusty…..not a good day.
We set out late next day after completing our repairs in daylight. The Nepal border crossing was straightforward and our delay meant that we avoided the fate of one crew who were “invited” by Maoist demonstrators to join their protests. Our problems were still to come! The last 10 miles were along an “unmade road”. This included a dried-up riverbed where a following car got lost in the dark trying to follow the tracks and went a couple of miles downstream. We continued through a village in dusk, with small boys shouting “one rupee, one rupee”, dodging the rocks, bumps and potholes until the headlight relay packed up. This was not the place for delicate electrical investigations or emptying the boot to locate the electrical kit and reroute the wires. Fortune smiled and one of the organisers’ jeeps came along. We followed close on his tracks, praying that he had a good idea of our ground clearance and breathing in lungfulls of his dust. The sumpguard saw plenty of action and we made it in one piece. The hotel had good showers!
The convoy of cars leaving next morning provided amusement for the locals as we gingerly retraced our way through their village. We found that we wanted to go faster than lot of other cars despite the terrain and that the riverbed was rather a good overtaking zone!
Problems of a different kind emerged the next afternoon. As we approached Pokhara, the second city of Nepal, all the fuel stations were out of petrol. The Maoists had blockaded the one Indian border crossing which was the only route for importing petrol – there was plenty of diesel but we did not want to experiment! Next day was a rest day so we luxuriated in the Fishtail Lodge hotel, waking to a view of the Himalayas from our patio and able to forget the bustle of the town on the far bank of the lake!
We were too confident. After adjusting the rear shock absorbers and spring height, we found that the front wishbone bushes were loose. Instead of the wishbones staying where they were bolted they flopped around at will – the rubber/metal bond had disintegrated and we figured it would not be long before the wishbones themselves would be rattling around and with them the steering and front wheels – not good! Decided there was nothing to do today so moved the car into the shade – no clutch. Slave cylinder. No problem we had a seal kit. Not quite! The slave cylinder had become firmly attached to its housing and would not be separated. On investigation we also found that the cylinder bore had become rough inside and had chewed up one seal and would do the same to the new one.
The Indian mechanics spent a couple of hours delicately smoothing the rough edges – not easy when lying on your back in the hot sun under such a low slung car. It was well dark by the time we had bled the system, refitted the sumpguard and the organisers had found enough fuel to get us to Kathmandu. I was shattered – mild sunstroke – and supper in this luxury hotel was wasted, I was too ill to be interested. The next day had to be better!
We left early, the scheduled time was only 5 hours but we wanted to get out of town before anyone started asking where our fuel had come from – we felt uneasy ostentatiously driving thirsty cars during a fuel strike. Leaving town we glanced the rear side of a motorbike; he wobbled but stayed on we went off as fast as we could.
Ours was not the only rally in town – coming towards us a high speed, with lights and flashers, pushing everything out of their way was the South Asian 4WD rally all in modern jeeps – you can easily ride the bumps in them!
Kathmandu was busy, very busy, the last 8 miles took over an hour. Fuel was going down, oil pressure was close to zero and the water temperature reached 108 – we had a 50% antifreeze mix which raises the boiling point – somehow it did not boil – no idea how it managed that! The road was narrow, our windows just at the right height for lorries to fill the car with black, hot smelly clouds of their exhaust. Buses as ever stopped just exactly where they wished, the policeman, all wearing masks, waving them on had no impact whatsoever. It was hot, dusty, noisy and we sat, choking, sweating and hoping those gauges would not tell us that disaster was at hand. It took us nearly 6 hours and we were the fourth car to arrive.
The afternoon was for a snooze and some sightseeing. Allison recognised the temples in Durbar Square from my photos of 25 years earlier. The difference was that then it was peaceful and quiet – not now! Next morning we took a dawn flight to see the Himalayas – the roof of the world just the other side of the cabin windows!
We had been told of a midday convoy for fuel. This was abandoned on the grounds that it might just be provocative! We were told to expect 2,500 litres to be delivered to the hotel in the early evening and to get some cans so as to have enough fuel for India – 350 miles away. We estimated we would need 70 litres to be safe and persuaded the mechanics to carry 20 for us – we always carried 10 litres in the boot. Dusk came and the civilised hotel car park was transformed to a mad house as fuel was syphoned out of 45 gallon drums into cans and the stench of petrol filled the air and the surrounding streets. We all overfilled our tanks so petrol was swilling everywhere.
We left Kathmandu before six so as to be out of town before the locals were awake and because today was the longest day with a scheduled driving time of 10½ hours. We knew the last 8 miles was on rough tracks and with the front suspension feeling most unhappy we had to take this section very slowly. We were on minor roads climbing out of the Kathmandu valley and they were bad! Potholes, broken tarmac and stretches of track and roadworks. Roadworks in this case means rough stones and dirt, with gangs of women chipping the stones to make a hardcore base for tarmac. You don’t go very fast!
For the last 100 miles the engine was coughing and spluttering but not seriously enough to warrant a roadside repair. As we crawled along the track to our overnight campsite (no hotel tonight!) it got worse and at the end it was all we could do to get any life out of it at all. We just made the car park and it died with clouds of black smoke. The popular advice was fuel but we decided that points/condenser were the cause so we changed them – and all was again sweetness and light! I had broken one golden rule during this work – the car was on a weed-covered field and I knew I should put down a ground sheet to catch the bits I was bound to drop if it wasn’t there. So I didn’t and yes I did! I mentally thanked a friend who had persuaded me to buy one of those flexible mirror stalks with a magnet attachment so I could retrieve the little screw which holds the distributor in place…….!
Next day we left for India and wondered who had left a trail of oil in the dust – no not us! The engine was using next to no oil. I reckon in all the 3,500 miles we used about half a litre (well, plus the oil change). Down the road we came across a sorry Bentley bemoaning the loss of transmission fluid and feeling very despondent thinking he had a cracked transmission casing after a particularly bad bump. In fact it was only a broken hose, located in an inaccessible spot, which the mechanics somehow got into – they are ingenious!
India was welcome security and peace of mind – did I ever expect to hear that? Leaving the border control was slow as, in traditional style, everyone wanting to enter Nepal had spread across the entire road and the verges so we were stuck in the press of lorries, jeeps and cyclos.
We climbed up hairpins to Kalimpong, in tea country and another relic of the British colonial summer exodus to the cooler heights. Today was another “electrical” day as a blown fuse had killed off the wipers, indicators and fuel gauge – but they were all fairly irrelevant here. Next day we descended through the Darjeeling tea plantations, where people bobbed up and down, their bright clothes contrasting with the single green of the tea leaves. We did not see another rally car all day, which was unusual but it was a short day; our hotel was just inside the hidden kingdom of Bhutan and after finding Indian border control – not easy and we could easily have missed the inconspicuous drab building in the middle of the main street – we arrived in time for lunch.
We parked in the underground car park and decided that, for the first time in a rally, we should replace a donut – better to do it now than as an emergency at the roadside!
Next day the King’s grandmother came to greet us and send us on our way. Today’s topic were the major roadworks at a place called Confluence where our road met two valleys, one to the second city, Paro and Bhutan’s only airport, and the other to Thimpu, the capital. The new king’s coronation is planned for next year and the roads are being upgraded for the foreign dignitaries travelling from the airport to the capital. The road was closed for two hours at a time as the hillside was blasted away – you can probably imagine the state of it in the open sessions! Most of the largest boulders were cleared away but what remained was not exactly smooth!
Most of the later rally cars came through under police escort but we managed alone – and without our horn, whose fuse had also blown. You’re very vulnerable and lonely without your horn but the drivers must have been warned about our arrival because with the exception of the rally’s baggage van they all pulled over to let us past. At one stage we flew over a smoothly tarmac’d crest to land with a bang in a section of bumpy unmade track. The passenger’s door flew open, the route book and map had to be retrieved and the offside rear suspension banged and clattered for the rest of the day – another “dead” shock absorber but who could blame it?
On inspection the shock absorber problem was that the “collar nut” holding the shock absorber into the bearing housing had come undone. Diagnosis was easy but putting the nut back without removing the spring was very delicate and time consuming. With the assistance of the mechanic’s trolley jack and the Rolls Royce crew we managed it – thankfully!
Next morning saw the energetic competitors climbing to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, perched high and inaccessibly in the hills, the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan. Back for a late breakfast we visited the National Museum and the Paro festival held in the courtyard of the Dzhong – a fort-cum-monastery.
Then a return journey through those roadworks and along the other valley to Thimpu. Fortunately we timed the road closures to perfection and arrived in daylight. Over half the rally got it wrong and endured a slow dark and dusty crawl. Two cars had to be towed – a serious challenge for all concerned.
A rest day to allow us to visit the biggest Dzhong in the country but first an inspection of the car revealed that the front wishbone bushes were “shot”. One o/s top bush was so far gone that the top of the wheel had about an inch of horizontal play. The tourist guides located a garage owner who managed to concoct and fit a replacement within about an hour on Sunday morning – and all for about £7.50!
Next day and another go at those same roadworks as we had to enter and leave Bhutan by the same route. We left early again and avoided most of the heat, dust and traffic. Descending towards the Indian border we were in thick cloud but sadly every vehicle we tried to follow in the murk courteously pulled over to let us go ahead – not what we wanted! Today was a good day for electrics so we had the benefit of both lights and wipers. Arriving at our underground hotel workshop/parking the most serious task was to take the door apart to untangle the knitting otherwise known as the wire and pulleys for the electric window.
Our route ahead was straight to Kolkata over three days. West Bengal was mainly flat, always busy, noisy and dusty – and hot and humid. I really feel that if I wanted to go there, which is debatable, I would not chose just now! Having sent an email of our progress to friends and Lotusnet, in praise of our tyres, we had a puncture! But one puncture, repaired at the roadside for 50p, was remarkable in 3,500 miles of these “roads”. To our great astonishment Kolkata’s traffic was not bad and we reached our hotel with no alarms – except for one friendly guy who opened the tinted window of his air conditioned modern luxury to tell us “your right rear wheel bearing is not good; your wheel is wobbling”. He was right but I had figured that, whilst I had a spare, I was not going to replace it now and that it should last the distance – it did!
It just remained to take the cars to the inland container port and hopefully we’ll see it again in Felixstowe in a few weeks time!
What’s next you ask? How about Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam followed by Iceland? Yes, 2008 should be busy!
Midsummer Classic Car Run
20th June, 2010
The start at Hingham had 92 cars with 7 Lotus Elans, the most we have ever seen on the Run. Two Stanley steam cars attracted much attention and were later spotted filling up from a stream ant the Lake at Holkham Hall – good alternative to petrol.
A run to Foxley Wood led on to morning coffee at Reepham Old Railway Station and the most enormous scones ever seen, at very reasonable prices. The day was overcast but no rain.
As usual the route was along little used roads and even those entrants who travel round Norfolk a lot found some new tarmac. We were given a tulip route book but most turns had red arrows put out for us so it was a bit too easy this year.
Next to Heydon Hall and a walk round the grounds with Jezz and Sheila, from a yellow S4, with a view to a pub lunch after. Heydon Village is very picturesque and is often used for film and TV locations because of its unspoilt surroundings. The Go Between and Dr Who have been filmed there. The pub was fully booked because it was father’s day so onward to Walsingham with it’s 16th century buildings and shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham. Lunch in a café there but no other classic cars around.
We by-passed Bircham Mill home of a working mill which also serves quite large scones having been there before and went on to the finish at Pensthorpe where several Springwatch programmes have been filmed. This is the home of the Jordan family who probably make flour for scones along with their meusli.
In the car park we saw a familiar face and were pleased to meet Rob again whom we had last seen on Endurorally’s Casablanca Rally last November and before that on the London Dakar Rally. He is off next on the Peking Paris and it never ceases to amaze me how many folk from Norfolk are involved in motorsport in one way or another. Must be the Lotus effect.
Thank you SCCON (scone) for another good day out.
Broadland MG Owners Club heritage run on 3rd May 2010
The yellow Elan took part in this on a very windy and sometimes squally day. The start was at Caister Lifeboat station just north of Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast and with a few “don’t roll it overs” we set off to look at the remains of a Roman fort in Caister on Sea.
Parked next to Graham Boulton’s lovely Elan.
Then on to Great Yarmouth where the fish finger was invented in 1952 – well someone had to.
Two interesting medieval flint churches later, one with a thatched roof, it was still too cold to picnic so along with an assortment of MGs and a Ford Capri we sat in our cars at Ventor Icenorun the old Roman town at Caistor St Edmund (not to be confused with Caister). No wonder the Romans had underfloor heating.
The run finished at Gressenhall Museum of Rural life which has a fascinating display of old farm machinery and buildings, together with a good cup of tea and homemade cakes. A good day out meeting up with friends from East Anglian Lotus club, MG Club and Porsche club.
Before the car had even come back from Calcutta after its Himalayan adventures we had booked onto the 2008 Tiger Rally from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi; there was however just a little bit of work to do and only six months to do it. The known things were a respray, brake overhaul and rebuild front and rear suspension. Investigation in the garage showed that the chassis was broken in two places – so it was start again time!
I had been aware of one weak spot in the chassis – the flange on the rear turret which holds the Lotocone and the top of the shock absorber. The punishment it had taken meant that the flange had twisted, the vertical plates had bowed and one had split. The answer seemed to be to have a diagonal strengthening plate running from mid way up the tower to the end of the flange. This called for narrow springs and some specialist chassis work so I had a chat with Andy at Spyder. He devised a solution and for half the price of a new Lotus chassis he refurbished an old chassis with modified rear turrets and thicker engine bay section – the second break was at the rear of the engine bay.
Some months later, the Elan was ready to face the road – in time for an MOT and another trip to Felixstowe to be stuffed into a container. We next saw it at the end of February at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia sharing a container with a yellow 1936 Lagonda. One tyre was flat and it refused to start until it was in fresh air but apart from that it was raring to go. So how about this circuit – could we have a go on it? Eventually and reluctantly we were allowed to process round behind a pickup truck – lap time just over 6 minutes from pit lane exit to pit lane entrance. Don’t ask what an F1 car does!
Then the 70 kms back to our hotel in the centre of KL. It would have been easier if we’d turned left for the petrol station instead of right to the city but………..four motorways, two U turns and 80 kms later we were where we should have been – in the underground car park of the hotel. These are not places you want to stay in – they are clean enough but they’re hot and humid and an excellent incentive to ensure your car does not break down so you don’t have to work there!
The Malaysians roads were excellent, though on our way north we left the crowded main roads for the emptier motorway – they drive on the left, there is 97 octane petrol and in Georgetown, Penang we even saw a parked yellow Elise. Before that our journey started with a trip up into the Cameron Highlands followed by a long fast descent on wide curvy roads to the island resort of Pankor Laut. After a few days of driving north we entered Thailand – they also have excellent roads, drive on the left, have 96 octane petrol and someone saw a blue Elise. After that it got a bit rougher!
How was the Elan? Very happy! The only problems were the drivers. We are both paranoid about oil pressure and in this temperature we were unable to get more than about 25 psi at 4000rpm. The answer was to call Susan Miller and ask her to send a set of big end shells to Bangkok so that if we did have a problem we would have some chance of a repair. Amazingly within 5 days and thanks to Royal Mail Parcel Force the parts were waiting our arrival.
In Malaysia and Thailand we progressed from smart hotel to smart hotel and some fantastic scenery. The temperature was around 35C and with the plastic seats we got used to dripping shirts, the heavy rain was welcome relief – though our feet got wet as I’ve never managed to stop the water getting in! We drove up the west coast to Phuket and a boat trip in Phang Nga bay with its spectacular islands, eroded over the years into strange shapes with caves and lagoons. One was James Bond Island where Roger Moore and Christopher Lee appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun. Now there are now lines of vendors selling trinkets – must have been much nicer before Bond got there!
From Phuket we crossed to the east coast resort of Tusita where the (1975) replica of a 1935 Bentley Speed 6 was losing power. The mechanics changed the head gasket which had blown in two places. There seemed to be two groups of people on this rally – those who knew their cars and if there was a problem they were there never mind the oil, dirt and humidity. And the others who gave the keys to the mechanics and retired to the bar!
From Tusita our next stop was Kanchanaburi, famous for the River Kwai Bridge and the many who died there. On the way we stopped at the 1925 Royal Palace of Marukhathaiyawan with its traditional strict isolation of the King’s wives and concubines in the inner sanctum. Even though it hasn’t been a royal residence since 1927, out of respect for the royal family, my knees – well not just my knees but knees in general – were not to be shown; I had to wear a male sarong. Not quite a sarong but it was folded and wrapped round my waist with a “tail” pulled up between the legs and tied into the waist band; I could manage to step up 2 inches but anything else was impossible.
An early start from Kanchanburi took us the the Tiger Monastery (and the name of the rally). The monks, helped by teams of local and overseas volunteers care for an breed tigers. The 3 month old cubs have virtually free run of the grounds whilst the adults are lead around like dogs on a lead. You can play with the cubs and carefully stroke the adults – I’ve never been that close to a tiger before!
Next stop Bangkok and our secret weapon here was the electric fan we had fitted having experienced BKK streets in the past. The fan was brilliant, the temperature never rose above 80C except on hill climbs – and the traffic in BKK was so light that we didn’t need it here anyway! There was rest day in Bangkok so a chance to visit the Royal Palace complex, the Wats and a boat trip on the canals – and collect our parcel from the hotel reception.
A fast run out of Bangkok led to the Cambodian border at Aranyaprathet. This was more like a border should be! People pushing overloaded carts which threatened to topple over or roll backwards, queues to have documents checked or stamped, apparently senseless migrations from one official to another, photocopies of anything that looked like official paperwork and then the civilised air conditioned office away from the hubbub where an under worked customs officer stamped the mighty “carnet de passage” – the document most precious of all which guarantees payment of twice the value of the car should you decide to sell it locally. (there’s a ready market for 40 year old Elans in Cambodia……isn’t there?).
The first 100 kms of Cambodian road was a real wake up after the luxury of the last ten days. This was dust and dirt, detours round bridges, broken down rally cars, baking heat and only one way to go – straight ahead! Apart from having great difficulty seeing through the dust the Elan was happy in this terrain – though inspection later revealed that one brand new shock absorber had already given up. The prize at the end of the day was Siem Reap and the Ankor Wat complex.
We had a rest day here, totally inadequate for a proper appreciation of the site – one crew had spent the week before the rally here with a dedicated guide and had still not seen it all. We did what we could, which included trying to get as many photos of the car in front of the ancient temples – an occupation which the security guards did not always appreciate! On our second night, the hotel organised our evening meal at a temple; we travelled by Tuk-tuk to find dancers silhouetted in the niches, waiters offering the full range of hotel drinks and nibbles, lights playing over the ruins and choruses of crickets. This was followed by a sumptuous meal, local music and dancing and a coach back to our hotel – the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ankor.
From Siem Reap, better roads took us to Phnom Penh. We detoured off the new road to find the older ferry and the ancient hill capital of Odong. For the only time in the trip we found ourselves “adopted” by a group of children who gently coaxed some dollars out of us to “pay for English school”.
The road from Phnom Penh led to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City – HCMC) where the Vietnamese authorities had plans for us – we were to travel in convoy as they were concerned over the ability of right hand drive cars to cope with driving on the right! These plans fell apart from the outset but at the time we were warned the very existence of the rally was in danger if we did not co-operate.
At the border we were given temporary Vietnamese number plates – they decided to stick ours (the size of half an A4 sheet) in what would be the middle of the passenger’s windscreen – just being right hand drive it was dead-centre of the drivers vision! They agreed that this was not ideal so moved it to the bottom of the passenger’s side. After clearing customs we were told the first convoy had just left so we should catch it up and rendezvous at the Ben Dinh tunnels for the second convoy into HCMC. We never found this first convoy but along with 30 of the 35 cars we got there and waited for the second convoy to materialise – it never did.
We had visited these tunnels in a previous trip to Vietnam, underground complexes where the Vietcong lived right under the feet of the Americans during the “American” wars. They had booby-trapped trap door entrances, multiple levels and housed families and soldiers with hospitals and kitchens and provided invisible access routes sometimes right to the heart of American camps.
Eventually news came that there was no convoy, we should make our own way to HCMC. The car park sprang to life as we set off in a convoy of our own to the centre of the city. The enforced delay had irritated the participants as it was unnecessary, they were impatient and frustrated and had powerful cars at their disposal. In any western country we would all have lost our licences – but it was great and irresponsible fun!
Relaxing over our beers in the hotel we were told we had to move the cars to a stadium on the outskirts – as there was no room in the hotel car park (where we had already parked) and to avoid the need to drive in the city traffic when leaving………..err?! Again the threat of rally cancellation was held over us and half the cars moved out. Our arrival in HCMC was not straightforward!
Leaving HCMC was no picnic. I tried to do some videoing to capture the sight and sound of the massed ranks of motorbikes which fill the streets – and forgot to navigate! Oops, round a large block and try again! We started by heading for the stadium and found that the convoy had just left and we should try to catch up. Catch up in that traffic – you’ve got to be joking. Not only had we done two sides of a triangle but there were road works, buses, lorries a few cars, bicycles and motorbikes – say thanks for that newly fitted electric fan as this is not Lotus Elan driving territory!
We headed for the hills – Dalat, as the Cameron Highlands two weeks ago, the cool hill station escape from the heat and activity of the commercial capital. Our room had no need for air conditioning and the windows opened to a view of the lake and hills beyond – all that contrast in just 300 kms and a few hours motoring!
The Elan was by far the noisiest car in the rally as the exhaust had been so squashed by the “roads” of India that the once circular silencer was more like a pancake. We were guided into our lunch stop on the way up by a competitor who heard us coming! It was also one of the most reliable and it was in Dalat we did our only piece of repair – replacing the top bush on a front shock absorber.
From Dalat we returned to the coast via some Cham temples at Phan Rang, which we visited in bright sunshine, arriving in Nha Trang in pouring rain. Our hotel was a Russian owned island complex with the choice of cable car or speedboat to get there. Fortunately the hotel supplied umbrellas and we joined the other members of the rally sheltering in the otherwise deserted poolside bar.
For the next few days we followed the coast north to Vinh, passing paddy fields, fishing boats, tombs of Vietnamese emperors, imperial palaces, more Cham temples, crops spread on the road to dry and always criss-crossing the single track railway line between Hanoi and HCMC. The evidence of the “American” or “Vietnam” war is much diminished compared to our last visit in 1995 when the craters at the side of the railway north of Hue showed the efforts that went into disrupting communications. Sadly the historical sites are not so easily repaired and the temples at My Son and the palaces of Hue are no more.
Our drive to Vinh had reminders of those wars as we diverted from the coast and followed the superb and empty Ho Chi Minh Trail inland through fantastic scenery – the land equivalent of Halong Bay which we would visit at the end of the rally. This was a most enjoyable drive, no lorries or coaches, no noisy horns and no motorbikes; the bends were made for the Elan! Surprisingly few other rally cars followed this route – maybe they wanted to avoid the cross-country section later in the day as we slowly clawed our way eastwards in a land of north-south roads.
Day 25 brought another border crossing – Laos and its one-time French capital –Vientiane. We managed a few sights before they all closed at 4pm but were then offered the luxury of an air-conditioned tour round the sights; as it was about 40 degrees in the shade, this was gratefully received.
Our next stop was Luang Prabang – a centre for trekking, canoeing and outdoor pursuits; we preferred a beer on the banks of the Mekong, watching the setting sun cast its golden-red rays over the slow moving waters. We had a rest day to enjoy the peace of the area – a boat trip to caves with 1,000 Buddha statues. Our boat driver was a fisherman, who stopped the boat mid stream to pick up a dead fish – a very pungent dead fish; whilst we were in the caves he set out his nets, carefully collecting them back up for our journey back – two fish this time!
Our next stop was the Plain of Jars. There are three main sites with collections of huge jars carved out of solid rock and averaging 1.5 metres in both diameter and height. As the roads had been too easy so far we decided to visit “site 2”, 11 kms off the main road on a deeply rutted dirt track – fortunately there was no traffic so no hard choices on who would volunteer to fall into the ruts! This hilltop site was a peaceful idyll – until you looked at the concrete markers all around showing the land which had been cleared of mines. During the American/Vietnamese wars, the Americans had dropped two million tons of bombs over Laos, one planeload every eight minutes, twenty four hours a day for nine years. Clearing that lot is unfinished business. It is strange to see ancient jars leaning over at the edge of modern-day bomb craters.
We left Laos early next morning for a scheduled 510 kms drive to the Vietnamese coast at Than Hoa although by dint of short cuts we reduced it to 460. For the first 130 kms to the border we followed the green Jaguar XK150 through the morning mist towards the red ball of sun rising ahead of us. In a village just before the border were two petrol stations. The second and more popular had ordinary electric pumps and a queue of rally cars. The first, where we stopped had “gravity” pumps. This involves hand pumping 5 litres of fuel from an upright barrel into a glass jar and releasing into the tank – and you had to pay in local currency, dollars not welcome here! I stopped after 25 litres as they did not operate in units of less than 5 litres. This operation was preceded by the ritual establishment that we really did not want diesel in our tank so we had several visits to the out of action electric pumps just to point out which one we wanted.
The Jaguar returned to our pumps after getting bored in the queues at the other pumps but, having no Lao Kip he decided to forgo the fuel and carry on – and yes a little way into Vietnam, there at the roadside was………….a Jaguar with no fuel………! We gave him our 10 litre can and he then discovered that the float chambers were overflowing as dirt was blocking the floats. Once it goes wrong, it gets worse!
The border crossing was easy and the road good apart from a couple of places where there were rockfalls. We found ourselves at the head of the convoy every time and found that where our raised suspension allowed us an easy passage, others were bottoming out.
We rejoined the Ho Chi Minh trail and enjoyed the open road heading north before reluctantly leaving to head east to the bustle of the coast and some very slow, bumpy and potholed tracks (roads would be an optimistic description). As we neared our hotel a motorbike was in close attendance with the passenger keenly photographing our every move. At the hotel we found he was the photographer for Vietnam’s largest car magazine so an interview followed and we were featured in the May edition!
Our last driving day took us through slow queues of traffic to Hanoi’s inland container depot and we parked inside a big box in front of a red XK120 for the journey back to Felixstowe.
This had been a very gentle rally, the car was excellent, nearly 5,000 miles in the heat and humidity and apart from that one bush no problems at all. Sure there were a few things to sort out back home – one rear Spax had died (Koni next time), the brakes remained awful and the clutch pressure plate and release bearing needed replacing and there’s that noisy thing called an exhaust. So where next? By way of contrast a regularity rally with HERO in Iceland in September!
Why are we doing this?
A report on the 2002 World Cup Rally
London – Dubrovnik – Albania – Athens
We have never been rallying before but the 2001 London – Sahara – London rally sounded interesting and we thought we would try it out. First step was a weekend practice (in a Mercedes 300TD!) in Northern France and Belgium. This was entirely on tarmac and seemed pretty straightforward, no racing, just navigation and a few timed sections where the challenge was to drive at exactly 27.5 mph. I could not do that (ok I can when its speed cameras on the M11!) so Allison drove and I navigated.
The organisers then sent us the prospectus for the 2002 World Cup but were not happy that we entered our 1967 Lotus Elan S3 – we haven’t got a modern car under 1400cc so the Classics section seemed the answer and the Elan the only car we have that fits the class.
“No Lotus has ever finished any of our rallies”, “Of all the cars you could have chosen, this requires more preparation than any other”, “We only have two backup trucks, they can’t spend all their time looking after you”.
So it’s a challenge!
The target was to drive over “rough tarmac and smooth gravel” the 3000 miles to Athens (and 1500 back, just to make sure it wasn’t too easy!). Our route would take us over parts of the Acropolis rally stages in Greece, an alpine hill climb in Austria, sundry unmarked (on our maps) forest tracks in Slovenia and Croatia and then there was Albania!
To put months of preparation and discussion in one paragraph, I had to fit a sump guard, a trip meter, full harness seat belts, a roll cage, sort out the cooling system and most importantly lift the rear of the car by about 3 inches. The car had to be in top condition and we had to carry all the tools, spares and tyres that we might (or might not) need. Then there was the small matter of two adults plus maps and the odd piece of clothing for 12 days there and however many days back.
The sump guard was made from 1/4 inch aluminium by the son-in-law of one of the back-up crews and extended from the air intake at the front to behind the gearbox. The front mountings were solid but the rear one was weak and suffered on the rough stages when the guard knocked the exhaust and broke the welds on the down pipe.
The rear suspension required negotiation, Rally regulations were “Showroom standard” but they were sympathetic to the plight of our silencer (well dented when the springs fail to do the job) and we were allowed adjustable suspension. This was designed by Pat Thomas using Plus 2 springs – far stronger than the feeble Elan version now available – with a threaded section on the struts to carry the lower mounting plate. Rally HQ suggested 165*16 6ply van tyres in place of our Uniroyal 145*16, which may be good at holding the road but have zero tolerance to sharp objects and rejoice in punctures!
We have owned the car since 1974 and I reckon to have a personal acquaintance with every nut and bolt! The chassis was replaced in 1993 and the engine rebored in 1995 with an unleaded conversion in 2001. We had not modified anything, so ignition, dynamo and oil pump are all original. For the rally we replaced all wheel bearings, brake fluid, discs & pads (competition on the front) and the radiator – it still had the original one and we knew from past experience that it had an aversion to the Alps and that was without a hill climb!
Rally regs advised taking 6 tyres all of which had to be marked, if you used extra unmarked tyres there were penalties. Weight and space were at a premium so we took 5 rims and stuffed the 6th tyre with all our spares. One of the back up crews suggested a list, mainly kits, seals, plugs & points etc and bearings but add in a couple of donuts and bolts – it gets heavy!
No expedition is complete without a last minute panic and in our case it was the oil pressure. This was potentially terminal and I tried to persuade myself it was the oil pump. A few phone calls revealed that I did not want it to be that – a new style oil pump and filter system with an hour before the off and the nearest spare 200 miles away was not a good idea! “Change your oil” I was told, so I threw away a sump full of brand new Castrol GTX and filled up with Duckhams 20/50. The oil pressure was steady for the whole rally and yet we’ve used GTX for years…..don’t ask, I can’t explain.
The rally started at Blenheim Palace where each car was set on a podium for the driver to be interviewed before screeching away across the once pristine tarmac. “Why are you entering such an unsuitable car” he asked Allison. “Its my husband” she replied – not sure whether that makes the car or the husband unsuitable; but I was more concerned with smoke drifting up from the cigar lighter and getting our time card clocked by the marshal. Fortunately both smoke and marshal vanished and we were off.
They did not expect us to get to Austria; in fact the Organiser was quoted as saying we would not get through France. This may be related to an incident at Dover harbour when I was interviewed with the bonnet up, oil all over the front of the engine, no tickover and the radiator next to boiling. The oil was from the loose timing chain tensioner bolt and the tickover/cooling from a change in fuel mix. I had set the car up on Sainsbury’s best but the last tankfull had been Optimax; the next tankfull was ordinary super unleaded and both tickover and temperature were back to normal. I was surprised both by the car’s intolerance to changes in fuel (in terms of tickover) but at the same time by its tolerance to those changes (in terms of road performance).
The hill climb was straightforward but not that fast – we soon learnt that we had no idea of how to really drive that car! Next morning we did the climb again, from warm bright sunshine to sparkling fresh snow at the top. Then swooping down through Southern Austria with the Elan eating the miles and overtaking at will. Easy this – what’s the problem?
The next stage was gravel; rutted forest tracks with a loose uneven stony surface and ravines across the path. There were hairpin bends and sheer drops – mirrored our speed as the 2CV overtook us! We got maximum penalties. Prior to the checkpoint we were stopped, marshalls in the road, blue flashing lights, it was dusk and another gravel stage was ahead of us. There had been a head-on, two rally cars out and one driver in hospital with punctured lungs. We chickened out and took the main road to Riejka where the band, ready to greet the early arrivals welcomed us with swirling batons and majorettes.
Car casualties came thick and fast. Two cars fell off the stage we missed – one on top of the other and the bottom driver had a broken vertibra. Next day another crash, this time with a local, the navigator broke her neck – though the seriousness of the injury was only spotted two days later by a fellow competitor looking at the x-rays. We continued to achieve maximum penalties on the gravel stages though we never fell below 8th in our class of 16. Dubrovnik was a rest day but with strict parc ferme to reduce the time spent on rebuilding cars. The daily bulletin showed us in a good light “The car-park scene resembled a battlefield, with sumpshields being banged straight, leaking hubs attended to, and surprise, surprise, just a matter of fixing a radiator overflow bottle on the yellow Lotus Elan”
The drive through Yugoslavia took us through deserted villages still showing the signs of the conflict and abandoned fields. One competitor, a policeman who drove aid convoys, told us that we were passing through areas of uncharted minefields. The police knew we were coming and stopped the Elan because we looked as though we ought to be speeding. Their interest in us ceased when a Peugeot 205 came flying along the wrong side of the road. It was mutually agreed that a fine of Euros 150 was excessive and Euros 20 was more appropriate! One Escort driver spent 4 hours in jail after driving straight into the side of the Mayor’s 3 week old Cherokee Jeep – oops!
The Albanian roads had been described as potholes joined together with tarmac but the main hazard was the children. Some stood and waved, some tried to pat the car as it passed by and others threw things at us. Police were out at every junction so zero chance of doing a detour or getting lost. The towns had mud as the main street and everywhere was poor and rundown. The evening highlight was a time trial round the kart-track, shown live on Albanian TV. Returning to the hotel next door to the President’s Palace was fraught, Elan lights are not good, it was raining, there were no streetlights but plenty of potholes and people crossing the road wherever they felt like – I was relieved to get back with no incidents.
The sight of the Chinese steel works with plumes of red/brown smoke drifting down the valley and the mudbath which passed for the main road were pure Tolkien. The Landrovers thought we would vanish into the potholes as they saw the yellow roof tiptoe along, snaking from side to side in an attempt to find a vaguely plausible road surface. More cautious drivers followed us, reckoning if we could get through then so could they!
There was a downpour as we crossed into Greece, we were soaked, the car was soaked and we could have had a bath in the passenger’s footwell. It was dark but somehow the electrics and the wipers kept going – couldn’t see where we were going and if there had been a river beside the road we could not have told them apart!
We opted out of most of the next day. It was more rutted gravel, starting and finishing at the same hotel. We figured that we had committed enough acts of mindless violence on the car and saw no point in doing possible damage when Athens and the END were so close. Cars were still crashing out. A Ford Focus fell off the side of a bridge so the driver phoned his secretary in London to fly out with the spares, everyone (not us as our mobile didn’t do overseas) was phoning their mechanic at home to ask about this squeak or that whine. The Saab 96 replaced all 4 shock absorbers, the Lancia rebuilt his steering and suspension, the 2CV phoned a Greek club member for a steering rack, a mini had smashed his sump and seized the engine, someone rolled off the road – twice!
The road to Delphi was less severe and we did 2 of the 3 stages (the 4th was under 3 metres of water). Our day was marked by the interest the locals showed in the Elan; if there was one car they wanted (and were allowed) to sit in and be photographed beside it was the Elan. The organisers were not convinced that the middle of a stage is the time for a photo opportunity but what the hell, how often are we going to rally an Elan in Greece? That night we used our first and only spare – one spark plug!
And on to Athens. We did all four stages that day, Allison was most chuffed that she managed them all within the maximum time. They had been described as like marbles and certainly steering was shared between the driver (the first half of a turn) and the rear wheels (the second half). More than once we ended up across the road when this 50/50 rule was not followed. We motored from sunny open hillsides to smog and traffic filled Athens. We deserved the cold beer and the greeting at the finish line “You proved my boss wrong”; that car was one of the most reliable on the rally though we drove (mostly) within its and our abilities.
We were 42nd out of 64 overall and 7th of 16 in the Classic section. The organisers’ verdict? “The Lotus Elan has got here with just one door mirror having dropped off and the only breakage is a bonnet catch – truly remarkable”. We shared the award of the “True Grit” trophy for “Outstanding Achievement” as one of the cars least likely to get to the end. Sorry but the photos were in the pre-digital age – we’re working on it!
Our Asian trip in March was very gentle on the car so there was just the clutch and the rear shock absorbers to replace before our trip to Iceland. After Immingham we next saw the car in a container in Reykjavik. Our first stop was scrutineering in an MOT station but I still cannot tell you what they looked at or for! The car was put on a lift so the underside of our sumpguard was in full view – they did not test our exhaust or brakes or lights or horn or suspension – maybe the clean chassis convinced them that all was as it should be!
Ahead of us was just over 1250 miles of tarmac and gravel, uphill and downdale. The temperature was around 12 degrees, it was windy – and it rained most of the time. The climate was variable with on/off showers (on those days that it was not in “continuous rain” mode) and we had more than our share of cloud. There were 64 cars including David & Rachael’s smart yellow Sprint; the first time our Elan had company and Allison did try to get into their car from time to time as our original Elan is also yellow! The other cars ranged from a 1922 Bentley to a 1981 Lotus Sunbeam and included a red Gilbern; we formed a team but our results “did not trouble the scorers”.
The first day was for preparation so as Iceland is famous for fjords and waterfalls we drove along one to find the other. The car seemed happy enough after a relatively short container journey and so it was as the only work required during the event was to tighten the knock-ons and adjust the handbrake (for the container home). We stopped at a quarry to see the popular Icelandic sport of Cliffhangers where the object is to drive your buggy up and down vertical sides of loose dirt – not for the fainthearted and most definitely not for an Elan!
It was a regularity rally so the format included time controls at the start, middle and end of the day. There were generally 4 “tests” and 4 “regularity” sections. The test was usually a manoeuvre around bollards in a car park against the clock where the main problem was to persuade the driver to go the correct side of each cone (not always successful; which is why we have “this left” to distinguish from “left”). Scoring was based on time difference compared to the fastest car in your class (plus the penalties when “this left” and “left” did not coincide). There were a couple of hill climbs, both in the rain and low cloud where we incurred extra penalties for flying over the finishing line, scattering marshals rather than carefully stopping with the wheels astride it.
The regularity sections were of about 12 miles generally on gravel at specified speeds, which varied from section to section. The object was to arrive at the timing controls (hidden so far as was possible) at the exactly correct time (measured to the second). This sounds easy but our results of juggling stopwatches, trip meters, potholes and hairpin bends suggest there is plenty of room for improvement!
Day one was centred on Reykjavik and started with a trip to Geyser where the hot water bubbles and steams before erupting in a column of steam and spray. Then to another waterfall, ending the day at the Blue Lagoon where you bathe in the hot water inhaling the sulphurous fumes.
Day two took us along the south coast to Klauster by way of more waterfalls and a motor museum. Even at this stage cars were struggling mechanically; three dropped out by the end of the rally and electrical problems were frequent causes of delay and anxiety. We ran an old fashioned dynamo; headlights were mandatory at all times, wipers were more on than off and our electrics were A-ok! Who needs alternators?
The rally had aroused excitement amongst the Icelanders as it was the first international event to visit the country. There was sadly only one Icelander – in a Trabant; the first time we’ve encountered one of them in a rally! Our “tests” had been well advertised and there was always a crowd to cheer us on. The Porsche 911 handbrake turns were much applauded – not something an Elan can seriously contemplate!
The southern coastal road was a narrow strip of tarmac through the moss covered lava fields with the sea on our right and the cliffs to our left (“that left”). In the drizzle and low cloud it was not the most exciting scenery; there was little livestock, not much traffic and a maximum speed limit of 56 mph (90km) which the rally were sternly reprimanded for exceeding. Although as the police had only recorded 17 offenders we felt they weren’t really trying.
Day three was a rest day though we still had 200kms to cover between hotels. Our activity was a boat trip on the glacier outfall lake, the iceberg nursery – the location for the car chase scene in the Bond film “You only live Twice”. Our trip started dry but that soon changed and we were quickly drenched. It got wetter as we headed east for a skidoo ride on the Vatsnajskull glacier. Our journey uphill to the glacier was up a rough potholed track (not in the Elan) which bore remarkable resemblance to a muddy river and with the rain getting heavier we fully expected our Skidoos to be cancelled. But they weren’t so we were kitted out with heavy boots, overalls and helmets – all worn over our own wet weather gear and waterproofs. It was a band of teletubbies who waddled out onto the ice and the waiting skidoo.
The instructions were simple – steering, accelerator and brake (try to avoid) – but nothing about the important issue of how to see where you are going in the sleet with your specs covered in water! Maybe it was just as well that we just followed the line of weaving machines without seeing the rocks and drops which would have terrified us. We got drenched all over again but there was a warm drink and cake waiting in the hotel at the bottom!
The next day started with a wet test in Hofn followed by warnings of an unmarked police speed van a few miles ahead – en route to our next test – a hillclimb! Rejoining the main road, the air was full of the smell of sulphur from the subterranean activity and when the rain temporarily lifted we could see over the black lava sand to the sea.
Timed rallies always result in a bunching of cars and there were six of us in a snake before we were joined by a police car who overtook us – just to make sure. After slithering round more cones in the loose gravel surface of a disused corner of a country airfield our next stop was the smooth tarmac of the Alcoa aluminium plant car park. Here we were provided with tea and refreshments – and the chance to feel dry after a day in almost continuous rain – but we hadn’t finished yet! Our rally was too large for the hotels in the town so we ended up in what would have been a very pretty east coast fishing village where the warm welcome made up for the slow drive through thick clouds on the mountain road. We could hardly see where we were going but below us heavy earthmoving plant was busy doing something. Quite what even the next morning’s daylight couldn’t tell – it just looked like a desolate muddy mess with water everywhere.
By the start of day 5 the driver’s carpet was so wet that there was a cascade of water when we took it out. It carried on dripping as we watched the older Bentleys’ struggle round yet more cones in another car park as they heaved their wheels round the three point turns they needed to complete the course. One day I must solve the leaks which drench both footwells every time it rains.
The second regularity was cancelled because the road was partly washed away and it was just before lunch that the rain and cloud lifted to reveal more black rock and brown grass. Our next stop was the Krafla Geothermal Power Station where power is generated from the heat underground. Looking down across the valley from the Viti (hell) volcanic crater the two main features were the heat extraction pipes and the clouds of steam rising from the hot water pools and the evil-looking bubbling mud baths.
Day 6 was the last day of the rally as we returned across the northwest corner from Akureyi to Reykjavik. This was the driest day and we crossed a gentler and lusher landscape with isolated farms and more greenery than before. A fleet of very dirty cars returned to the hotel we had vacated just a few days earlier.
The rally had been hotly contested with unfortunately numerous appeals and queries against time keeping and scoring. We had hoped for an award for not appealing but sadly neither Elan was in the points at the close though we did manage third in class. Both cars had behaved excellently with no mechanical or electrical problems.
The Casablanca Challenge lived up to its name but none of our challenges were as a result of the rally!
We started with a newly rebuilt engine which had done about a thousand miles before the first “selectif” over Forestry Commission tracks in Kent. The cars were grouped into four categories – vintageant, classics, modern sub-1400 cc and nine who started in Spain.
Crossing the channel we did the third selectif on the Franco-Belgian border on closed public roads. Our time was good and we overtook an MGB on the way – but as everyone completed the route in less than the minimum time we scored that minimum – along with everyone else.
There followed a long run to the overnight stop in le Mans and two long driving days first to Burgos in Northern Spain and then to Ronda in the south. It was here that the problem which was to be a recurring feature of the rally manifested itself – points. This set had managed about 2,250 miles – not very good but as I had two spare sets I was not too bothered.
Crossing to Tangiers, the rally schedule was disrupted – though it is not clear why. After a ferry crossing which was only delayed by half an hour, the rally arrived at the 12.30 control point some three hours late! This meant that the first Moroccan test section would be run after dark and driving in Morocco after dark is not for the faint hearted as the roads contain all manner of unlit human, animal and mechanized travelers as well as potholes, ruts and bumps.
On the way to the test our brakes failed – well not quite failed – the servo locked on so we stopped and the rally passed us by as we dismantled the servo and applied WD40 to release the brakes. We decided against doing the hill climb with no servo after dark and detoured direct to the hotel – more penalties.
Next day we set off for the test sections in “rally order” – those with least penalties going first. Yesterdays problems meant that we were low down the order and in the company of cars slower than us. We would have to overtake them on narrow test sections, relying on their goodwill to pull over and let us past. We were not alone with this problem as two other cars had accumulated abnormal penalties during the hill climb – the Sunbeam Tiger who went into a ditch and a Citroen whose electrics had failed.
Our times on the five tests were good and we climbed 14 places in the rally order.
Day 6 of the rally would end in Midelt in the Atlas Mountains. This was the location of our “mishap” when the drive shaft broke on the 2005 Dakar rally. Would Midelt prove to be a disaster for us again?
We had sprayed more WD40 at the brake servo and that was working again – on these test sections you needed confidence in your brakes. The tests were on open roads of tarmac or gravel in the hills with sharp, unsighted bends, sometimes amongst the trees and you never knew what to expect next. Leading the way were the “hot hatches” spreading gravel over the bends making the roads more slippery for the cars behind.
Our test results for this run were good and we would climb to fifth in class – but much, much worse was yet to come.
At the end of the last test we saw a marshal’s car and a rally car facing the wrong way on the road. We assumed the rally car had spun and the marshals were sorting it out. Later we found out that a competitor had gone off the road and crashed 60 metres down the hillside killing the driver. All motorsport is dangerous but to experience it at first hand when it happens to someone you know is distressing.
We knew nothing of this as we approached Midelt. The town was a sea of dust as the whole place was being dug up and roads relaid in expectation of a visit by the King in 7 weeks time. Driving up the high Street we saw and were spotted by the garage who repaired us nearly five years ago. Having greeted them all and said our fond farewells we set off to our hotel and the closing time control of the day. Err……….except it wasn’t quite like that! The car wouldn’t start, it had been getting more difficult all day, so as it was pointing uphill, we rolled backwards, bump started the engine – and with a loud bang, broke the differential output shaft!!
Could this really be possible? Could we have sheared another shaft five years on in the same place? Sadly, yes, so the car spent the night and the next morning in the garage whilst the shaft was welded up by the same excellent machinist…………… Then we learnt of Warren’s death – not a good day.
Day 7 saw us leave the garage well after the rally so we decided to spend the night in the Gorges of Todra where they had their midday stop. At night the Gorges were out in the sticks. The hotel had an outside toilet block and we were asked to go to bed so they could silence the generator which powered the lights and kept the place awake. The consolation was that when you needed that toilet block you looked up the channel formed by the rocks and had a spectacular view of bright shining stars with no possibility of light pollution.
Next day we wanted to see the top of the Gorge, drive over the mountains and down the Dades Gorge – which the guide book said was a good route – and the hotelier said you’d never do it in a car like this. But we knew better……….we’d missed the piece in the guide book where it said you needed a 4WD hovercraft!
The road started on good tarmac with the odd washed away section then climbed via a smooth wide gravel track to the top of the ridge. Then it became a rocky track and we were stopped by a crew digging it up to lay storm drains. The car wouldn’t start so they bump started us and the track continued past Berber families living under the overhang of massive rocks. The track got worse, we had to slip the clutch in parts, then the clutch pedal went to the floor boards, the engine stalled and we were 16 kms from the nearest town in a dried up river bed. Silence reigned, no-one was around and things did not look promising.
The track ahead did not improve so we decided to retrace our steps. We selected a spot for a seven point turn, took out and cleaned the plugs, turned the key – we had both ignition and clutch!
We climbed out of the river bed, past the begging children, past the road crew and returned to the tarmac road to retrace our steps to the main road. Now the engine was spluttering – points again. Stopping at a Shell station, we bought some fuel and more or less got their agreement to use their car wash as shelter from the burning sun. Points changed and timing checked surely the engine would spring into life? No, it needed yet another bump start before, much later than intended, we could head west into the dazzling, low sun towards Marakesh and the rally hotel. Allison’s dreams of seeing two gorges and lunch beside a tinkling stream remained just that.
It was dusk as we skirted Ouazzarate and headed north with a mountain range ahead of us – not the Tizi-n-Test which the rally would use but the higher and busier Tizi-n-Tikkla. On one hairpin bend which I took a little wide, the passenger’s door flew open into a lorry. Fortunately only ripping out the door handle with minor damage to the fibreglass; we did not stop.
It was 10.15 before we reached our hotel but in the process we discovered that there were 3 Mirage Hotels in Marakesh – and ours inevitably was the third we were directed to! We did our bit for the locals by stalling when asking some traffic police for directions – so they kindly put down their hair dryers to bump start us – again (we’re good at bump starts!).
Sunday was the last day of the rally but we were going nowhere – we had to plan our return home and a non-starting car was no help. We checked the battery and decided it was worn out – but the problem was deeper rooted than that and I added a starter motor to my shopping list.
An inspection revealed a new problem – the diff oil seal had been damaged and we were leaving a trail of oil behind. We would have to stop every 250 miles to top it up – and home was over 1,500 miles away.
Having sorted battery and diff oil, there was still time for some sightseeing before the rally dinner and on Monday we set off for Tangiers and the ferry to Europe.
Morocco is a Muslim country but not too strict. Staying in a seaside resort outside Tangiers we asked about wine with the meal. As the restaurant was next door to an Off Licence with a brightly lit Heineken sign we did not expect a problem. We were told we could not drink outside on the pavement but inside was ok. Shortly our “special mint tea” arrived with teapot and tea glasses – but this mint tea was red! A strategically placed plant and nearly empty coke bottle completed the theatre!
We spent the next night in Gibraltar before the journey north to the Bilbao ferry. Our first night was in the little town of Zafra, north of Seville. We chose the Parador Hotel – one of a state run chain using buildings of interest. This was an inspired choice – we negotiated a price of 70 euros for a room in a castle dating from 1440 with huge towers and a spectacular open courtyard – magnificent and well worth another visit just for the building and atmosphere – a perfect end to a day of driving.
We left early for the 750 km drive to the ferry port. The car was good and we were bowling along near Salamanca when the engine died – no warning, just stopped. The tacho went from 4,000 rpm to zero as we coasted off a convenient slip road, donned our yellow jackets and decided – points. And so it was, the plastic cam had broken off. We put back a set we’d repaired earlier but it would not start. The police stopped at their third drive-by. I showed them we had a spark but not enough battery to start the engine. They returned with what sounded like “pincers” (jump leads) and the thing finally came alive.
We set off but with an unhappy car; the rev counter and fuel gauge were erratic and that night we had to change the points yet again (and yes we were stopping to do the diff oil every 250 miles).
Next morning the port – oh bliss of security and home via Portsmouth – no-one told us the Bay of Biscay was rough in November…………!