If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 2 January 2011

True Story

Warning: inconsequential and rambling post. A discussion about warning lights in the previous post has reminded me of an incident when I was a student.

Four of us shared a house out in the middle of Anglesey, and three of us commuted by motorbike (the fourth guy had a minivan, but was in his final year and attended few lectures, so was no use for lifts). We had a friend, a rather ditzy female called Suzanne (not her real name, but damn close). She lived down in the South of England, and her parents had bought her an old split-screen Morris 1000 to get to college and back.

A bit like this one.

She lived in the centre of Bangor, so didn't need the car during term-time. When she turned up in this rather nice motor (black paint, red leather seats) we were well impressed and asked her how she liked it. "Well," she replied, "it's OK, starts first time, but the fuel consumption is terrible." She told us how much she had put in to get here, we consulted a map for the mileage, and basic arithmetic gave us a figure of about 12 mpg. Now I know that the old Moggies weren't the most efficient vehicles, but that was way out of line. We began musing about the cause (more from bravado than mechanical knowledge) and offered to "have a look" for her.

She immediately agreed, and further proposed that if we could fix it, we could borrow it for the rest of the term, until she needed it to go back home. We didn't need asking twice. North-West Wales is a very wet place.

Between the three of us, we "had a look" and could find nothing wrong. We ran a couple of tankfuls of four-star through it and reckoned it was getting around 30 mpg which was about par for the course. So we made full use of it as a taxi/packhorse/party carriage and in due course returned it to her, with the message that there was now (!) nothing wrong with it.

We got a phone call the next day. It had refused to start. Two of us went along to her house, grabbed the keys, and got in. Key in the ignition, turn on, pull choke, press starter, car started on the button.

"What did you do there?" she said, pointing at the choke.

"That's the choke. You pull that out to get it started."

"Oh I see. I didn't know that went in. I've been pulling it out as far as it will go, because that's the only way I can get my handbag to stay on it."



Suzanne also provided an evening of incredible ribald amusement for me. She and I were on the same course, and one night she decided to invite all her friends round for a meal (it was seen as a very sophisticated thing in those days, along with Habitat coffee jars and those paper globe lampshades). Susan was short, and pretty in a quirky sort of way, with long hair like frizzled straw and a pair of disproportionately huge breasts. I'm not a 'tit man', so this didn't bother me one way or the other, but that night she was wearing a cheesecloth smock (this was 1973, remember) with a band under the bodice part. She had managed to get one breast, braless, of course, over the band, as it should have been, and the other one under it. It made her look curiously lopsided, like that thing Eric Morecambe used to do with his spectacles. She sat opposite me all the way through the meal, and once I had spotted her 'wardrobe malfunction' I couldn't take my eyes off it. I tried to keep a straight face, but it was an effort. Was it deliberate or accidental? I would turn to speak to someone else, but then my eyes would always be drawn back to these unbalanced mountains of flesh. If you've ever heard someone fart at a funeral and tried not to laugh, you'll know how I felt. It's an awful feeling, wanting to roar with laughter but be unable to share it with anyone. By the time I got home, I was close to cardiac arrest.

That car, by the way, was the only car I have ever spun through 360°. That's a proper 360, not the 180 facing backwards stuff. A full turn and carry on. It was at this junction, in the wet, on bald crossplies. It taught me a lot.

Happy days.


  1. Ha ha the good old days. Carburettor chokes. Cross pile and radial not to be used on the same axle etc ......
    I used to be into cars in the 70's and would set up the choke to perfection according to the Haynes manual. Carb fully closed. carb fully open.. set choke for winter .. yawn.. - I could bore for Britain :0 )
    Oh and setting the points and changing the drum pads. I loved it all . Sad mad lad ! Can't even be bothered to change the oil now : (

    1. Cross ply (pile is carpet stuff) Chokes do not need seasonal adjustments.. and drum brakes have shoes, not pads.

      So I don't think you were exactly 'into' cars in the '70s.

    2. Don't be unfair. It was 40 years ago, and how many of us can remember that far back even for vital stuff like who we were married to? I say cut the lad some slack.

  2. In those days, cars could be tedious (unless you enjoyed tinkering, as I did and still do), but at least if they went wrong you stood a chance of fixing them by the roadside. My tinkering now is of the bike kind, which is much nicer. I don't tinker with the car (Mondeo) at all. In fact, I have a few jobs lined up for it (glow plugs, new discs, reversing light switch), and I really can't motivate myself to even lift the bonnet.

  3. "So we made full use of it as a taxi/packhorse/party carriage"

    Sorry, but full use in the student-context has to also include as a Passion Wagon.

  4. Funnily enough, I thought of that, but couldn't remember a single time any of us had got a leg over in it. Partly the difficulty and discomfort, and partly the fact that, as students, we had rooms we could use, far away from parental supervision. Shagging in cars was a feature of living at home, as I recall.

    I had a mate with a Transit, which bore the legend "Don't laugh, your daughter may be inside".

  5. As soon as I read the poor fuel consumption bit I knew what was coming!

    When I was young, my dad couldn't initially afford a car - can you imagine trying to explain that concept to kids now? So he used to borrow his fathers 1927 Austin Big Seven. The gearbox was past its best, and would readily jump out of third gear. Fortunately in that position the gear knob was close to the handle which opened the windscreen (no dashboard vents back then), so he developed a knack of hooking two fingers round this handle, and another finger and thumb over the gear lever...

    I have good memories of the frequent "tinkering" needed to keep my first Mini going. The regular greasing and re-shimming of the suspension ball joints in particular. As fuel quality was pretty variable "pinking" was something my ears were particularly attuned to. Since the distributor had a vernier adjustment knob, it was dead easy to wind the timing back a little bit, then thrash it down the road to see if it made any difference.

  6. The story has the ring of 'a friend of a friend' about it, but I assure you it is true. One of the guys involved sometimes comments here, and I'm sure he will confirm it, if he hasn't killed off too many brain cells in the intervening years.

    I like old cars, and if I wasn't so involved with bikes I would probably be a classic car nut. But these days I confess I wouldn't be without a modern one to actually use. To be fair, modern cars are stupendously reliable and efficient. But I do miss the fiddling necessary to keep a car on top form, and the associated feeling of belonging that results.

    Another ex-Mini owner, I see - did you ever have to replace the bypass hose? And if you did, have you recovered yet?

  7. I don't think I did - but wasn't there a modified convoluted one made, which was supposed to be easier to fit without lifting the cylinder head?

  8. I think there was - was that the one with ribs in, so that you could compress it lengthways? Even that was a nightmare.

    Golly, this is sad, isn't it? Grown men using the wonders of the internet to chat about duff component design in a fifty-year-old car?

  9. Sorry for keeping this going, but look on it as a public service to any youngsters reading!

    My sisters eldest son was round here earlier - told me he thought the alternator on his Land Rover TD5 (which his parents bought for him!!) was knackered. "Why do you think that?" I enquired. "When I try and start it it just clicks" he replied. After establishing that the warning light goes out, I had to explain that a duff alternator was unlikely to be the culprit. As it happens I have an old Fiat starter motor in bits, so I showed him how one works.

    A few minutes Googling revealed (to his horror) that his is probably a Nippon Denso unit. These are, apparently, very reliable except for the solenoid contacts. I found a supplier offering a repair kit for a tenner - new/exchange units start at around £150... I said if he takes it off and gets the bits I'll repair it for him.

    I wonder if he'll take up the offer?

  10. And so he should. Land Rovers (even Td5s) are intended to be bodged along. It adds to the character. I always liked my Land Rover after a relative had a failed alternator on his Isuzu Trooper (much more reliable than your old British thing, dear boy), and he was trapped here for a week while they shipped one down from the Midlands - cost £800.

    Plus fitting.


  11. £800?????

    Jesus. H. Christ. - I could make up a superb new mounting bracket for a fraction of that. Even if a pulley needed modifying, it could be done for probably no more than £200 including an alternative type of alternator...

    I have a theory that Japanese cars are not necessarily more reliable than other makes, just that their owners keep quiet when things do go wrong.

    Dads Honda Jazz needed a new start up clutch in the CVT transmission after just 20K miles - bloody good job it was covered under an extended warranty, as it costs £1000...

    When I Googled the problem it's a world wide issue with tens of thousands of complaints.

  12. I think it was the relative rarity of the car, TBH. The cost, and the delay, were because there was only one importer, and the bits had to be ordered from Japan, I think. The guy is non-technical, and wanted the 'correct part' for the car, even though I explained to him that the loacl factor could give him an identical part (and I would even fit it) for a quarter of that, only without the Isuzu label. The concept of 'exchange' parts (remember BLMC's 'Gold Seal' stuff?) was foreign to him. But the scope for bodging gets less as cars get more specialised, which is a shame. Reference my experience with a brake problem with the Mundaneo in France last year, covered here.

  13. Obviously been fed (and fallen for) the "Only genuine Blah, Blah parts are suitable" story!

    Yes, I remember "Gold Seal"

    Re the Mundano caliper - I would have bought a small "G" cramp and used it to isolate that wheel by squashing the hose. Carry on driving and fix it back home. The rear brakes on most modern cars don't do very much anyway!

    Is there a "Professional Bodgers Society"? - I think I should join....

    1. Excellent stuff with the G-clamp on brake hose. Done it with mole grips a few times over the years.

  14. Simple solution not an option, I'm afraid. The piston had siezed fully out and was overheating the hub, leading to groaning from the bearing on l.eft-handers; and I was fully loaded and towing a caravan. And of course the calipers are no longer simple mechanisms, as you now need a special tool to wind them back in. Not something I wanted to contemplate by a French roadside :) Even the most sophisticated motorbikes are simple in comparison.


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