Iceland 2008

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.

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