Thursday, 13 January 2011

Bio-degradable motor-cars

As the Haulage industry got more than a little wobbly, other pressing issues were coming to a head.
It has to be said Sainsbury’s were getting more than a little miffed that I was popping down to their supermarket in a 7.5 tonne lorry for the weekly shop.
And as well as the truck taking up four parking spaces, the missus was six months pregnant and was having trouble getting in and out, and there are no baby seat mountings in a lorry cab.
So a motorcar was most definitely needed – and looking at the state of the bank account, it would be a cheap one at that.
I settled on a fairly ancient Mitsubishi Colt Lancer, which I had seen in a garage in Haverfordwest.
The Lancer must be one of the great "World Cars" as it's also been the Dodge/Plymouth Colt, Chrysler Valiant Lancer, Chrysler Lancer, Eagle Summit, Hindustan Lancer, Soueast Lioncel, Mitsubishi Carisma, Mitsubishi Mirage and Lancer Fortis and the Proton Saga.
Cor, eh?

It was cheap at £300 and the dealer promised that he would provide a 12-month MoT and tax it for six months too.
When he said “provide” he didn’t mean he was actually intending to put it through an MoT test, he meant he would just write one out, as I soon discovered.
The penny was starting to drop on the drive home as after a few miles on bumpy west Wales roads the car bounced around like a hyperactive gerbil. The rear shock absorbers were shot to hell.
Then I went shopping in it and popped the bags of tins into the boot, where, with a crunching sound, one of the bags went through the floor.

 "Oh Christ, you've bought a Proton"

This was not a motor car, it was a collection of rust, held together with paint.
That being said, the interior was spotless, the engine was sound, and I was quite partial to the little Japanese car’s collection of gadgets and flashing lights.
Besides, Haverfordwest was a good 100 miles away and I could not be bothered to drive it back and argue the toss with the garage.
I fixed the boot issue with a sheet of quarter inch plywood and managed to fix a new shock absorber to one side at the back, but didn’t dare touch the other side in case the rusty mounting crumbled into dust.
The Lancer did its job efficiently and I kept it till the “MoT” ran out when an old bloke needing a set of doors for his own rust bucket offered me £50 for it.
The £50 went on that well-known jewel of a motorcar, an Austin Allegro 1300. Much has been written about the Allegro, little of it complimentary, and all pretty much true.

" tell you what, guv, how about we put all the ones we know will start at the front"

Mine was “bracken” in colour. This is a shade of brown similar to the contents of a baby’s nappy.
It had an MoT and tax, and was £50 because it had blown a head gasket. The oil was the colour of cold coffee because it had been contaminated by water.
I drained the oil, whipped off the cylinder head, slapped in a new head gasket – after cleaning the rust from the inside of the engine – and it was ready to go.
Unfortunately the previous owner had been running it for some time with a blown head gasket, and just kept topping up the radiator.
The water, mixed with the oil, did not make the best lubricant in the world, and the oil pressure warning light would stay on until I reached 20 mph.
It smoked like Bob Marley. I even got pulled by the local constabulary, because of the high level of pollution the Allegro produced.
In the end I just gave up on this dreadful little motor car. It never actually died, or broke down, but it was so horrible to drive that going by bus was a more attractive proposition.
It sat outside my house for a while and I eventually called up a scrapyard who were offering £20 for any old car.
The wrecker truck turned up and the driver loaded it onto the back. When I asked for my £20 the driver just laughed and said “For an Allegro, Butt? you gotta be joking.” I had to admit, he had a point and I was glad to see the back of it.

The Allegro was replaced with something even cheaper, but nowhere near as nasty – a Fiat Panda. The Panda cost £25.
Originally the neighbour selling it wanted £50, but when we opened the passenger door it fell off the hinges, so she settled for £25.
A spare door from the scrapyard costing a tenner was procured. The Panda was almost as rusty as the Colt, and you didn’t dare poke the bodywork in case your finger went through.
Mind you, it was a lively little runner, and enormous fun to drive.
twenty five quid? you were robbed mate...

Apart from the rotting body, the only other fault was a disconcerting tendency for the petrol to freeze on cold mornings.
When this happened I would pop the bonnet, whip off the air filter, unscrew the fuel feed, extract the internal in-line filter, wipe off the ice that had formed round it, blow it through and slap it back in, reconnect the fuel-line and filter and I was good to go. Four minutes was the record. I think the local filling station was taking water into its fuel tanks.
Then the MoT ran out on this too and once again wheels were needed.
But it was the start of a particular affection for Fiats and complemented my adoration of things Italian.

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