After years without, I will finally have a garage! It's actually a mystery why I have lived in places without a garage for so long when I love the idea of having a space to work on a car project. An upcoming move means I will have a small garage that's all my own. It may be small and lacking a lift, but it will be perfectly suitable for some sort of automotive project.
Think of it as a concrete representation of The Automotive Attic. Some junk needs to be cleared out, and the tool bench organised, and a few lights added, but it's dry and insulated and begging to be stuffed with a fun older car project. I had my eye on a 1987 Pontiac Fiero GT as well as a 1982 Buick Skylark, so hopefully one of those two will work out. If not, I know that something fun and unique will end up parked in that space soon.
As enjoyable as this winter has been, the sun and clear skies today got me thinking about summer. Or last summer, to be exact. I had the chance to visit the south of France last June and spent some time in Perpignan, just north of the border with Spain, on the Mediterranean sea. With sandy beaches all along the coast, it's not hard to find a place to stretch out and enjoy the sun, sea and sand.
One of the best ways to get around is in a convertible. While I didn't have the chance to myself, there was no shortage of cool examples at the beach. The most celebrated and legendary French example is the Citroen Mehari, a plastic-fantastic version of the already-legendary 2CV compact car. Manufactured between 1968 and 1988 as a beach-side runaround, the Mehari had a tub body in place of a traditional body shell, much like the similar VW Thing, Renault Safari, and Mini Moke. In the case of the Mehari, the body was made entirely from plastic and had the color 'baked' right in.
Thanks to the simple mechanicals it shares with the 2CV and the huge aftermarket that exists for that car, owning and operating a Mehari isn't a problem. What IS difficult is getting your hands on one for a decent price, since it never sold in huge numbers and is highly sought-after on the used car market nowadays. Thanks to the plastic body, rust isn't a problem, though accidents can crack the monocoque body.
This beige model I saw at the beach was in very good condition and came with a top and side windows that offered some protection from the wind and rain. I didn't see a drop of rain during my week in the South of France, so I imagine the tops on these beach cars don't stay up very often. A few days later I saw a blue Mehari at another beach, so while these ARE a rare car, they still can be seen, usually in their natural habitat along the coast.
A few snowflakes were flying tonight so it's not QUITE time for am open-air buggy like this cool Mehari in Canada just yet. Still, a toy like this would be very entertaining to have around in the summertime, and it's easy to see why this plastique fantastique Citroen is still so desirable today!
Last night the snow started falling before I went to bed, and it was still coming down this morning when I woke up. When I saw that it wasn't going to let up, I picked up a friend and headed off to the beautiful Gatineau Park in the province of Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa. Well known for its gorgeous fall leaves, Gatineau Park is also a winter wonderland; home to a myriad of ski hills, hiking, snowshoe and cross-country skiing trails and entertaining roads that wind their way up, through and around hills, lakes and valleys.
While some people avoid driving when it's snowing, I relish it. I enjoy a relaxed drive in the snow, especially when I don't have a particular destination and can take my time to enjoy the scenery. Winter driving is more challenging than summer driving, of course, but it is simply a matter of paying close attention to what your vehicle is telling you and not over-driving the roads.
There was a fair amount of accumulation on the roads through the park, though the plows were out trying to keep ahead of the heavy snowfall. At one point we ended up at the parking lot to the Camp Fortune ski hill. It seemed that 90% of the vehicles in the lot were SUVs, so the presence of a lone BMW sedan caught my attention.
The brave BMW 325i had won the battle against the weather to get to the hill. The driver had clearly arrived early to the ski hill, as the car was covered with a thick layer of snow. I am no BMW expert, so I had to look up the 325i model, and learned that it was sold in Canada from 1987 until 1991. This 30 year old car still cuts an impressive profile and appeared to be in good shape, despite a few rust spots made extra noticeable in contrast with the white paint and white snow as a background!
Apparently an all-wheel drive model of this generation of 325 existed, but this was simply the rear-wheel drive version. Equipped with winter tires (like all cars are mandated to in the province of Quebec) and decent ground clearance, the BMW somehow looked made for the role of winter adventure vehicle. The skis strapped on the top made it seem even more authentic, as did the Euro plate on the front bumper.
For hose that don't know, vehicles licensed in Quebec do not require a plate on the front, so I suspect the owner is a European who brought their plate with them. Perhaps it's a German, Swiss or Austrian who is used to carving through deep snow crossing the Alps and wanted a touch of German's best engineering here in Canada. Whatever the back story, it is always exciting for a car fan to see these older models being used, and not simply sitting in storage somewhere, collecting dust.
My own car, a little Hyundai, is certainly less exciting than a classic BMW, but I still enjoyed my Sunday drive. The snow stopped for a while but I see that it has starting again this evening. I imagine that after an enjoyable day of skiing, the owner of the BMW climbed back in behind the wheel and enjoyed an equally entertaining drive home in their cool Bimmer. For some of us, snow on the roads is s'no problem at all!
Time. It seems that as I get older, it goes faster. When looking for a blog topic tonight, I searched through some old travel folders and stumbled across a car I had photographed in Laos. I had to look at the time stamp to recall when it was, and turns out it was almost exactly 2 years ago! While I don't doubt the date on the photos, I had to run through two years in my head to accept that it had been that long ago.
The trip itself was fantastic; two weeks traveling from the capital, Ventiane, up the Mekong River on a two-day riverboat journey and then to visit the breathtaking Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang districts. As usual, my trip was peppered with some fantastic automotive sightings, notably a visit to the Royal Cars Exhibition at the National Museum (also the former Royal Palace).
The car that caught my eye wasn't one but two old Mercedes 280 sedans in the lovely, lazy riverside city of Luang Prabang. The black beauties appeared to be in hotel service, shuttling customers to and from the hotel and bus and train stations. This wasn't the only hotel using old cars, which fit perfectly with the ritzy, colonial feel of the classier hotels in town.
I am no classic Mercedes expert, but I know what I like, and these stately sedans feature excellent proportions and gorgeous chrome trim from tip to tail. While we stayed at a very nice hotel, it didn't have any cars to shuttle us around, so we had to settle for bicycles and scooters! It turns out bicycles were a great way to see the city while scooters made it easy to tour the breathtaking countryside, so a car wasn't necessary.
If anyone is considering a southeast Asia trip one day, I highly recommend Laos. It is a relatively little-known country landlocked between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar. Development is connecting cities, towns and villages with roads, though much of the country still relies on the Mekong river for travel and transportation, giving it an authentic and historic feel.
During the serval days we stayed in Luang Prabang I walked past the Mercedes 280s several times. It appeared that they got use as they were never parked in the exact same spot, and they were slightly dusty. I would much rather see an old car used than parked on a pedestal and never moved. With the few roads, traffic congestion and generally slow-paced reality of Luang Prabang, there's no reason these big Merc's won't be transporting hotel customers in style for years to come.
This little nostalgia tour put a smile on my face for many reasons. It reminded me how much I love heading out on an adventure and exploring, and brought back some fantastic memories of trips I've taken and cars I've seen. Time will tell where my next destination is and what mysteries it will hold...
Knowing where you come from is important. I take great pleasure reminiscing over my origins and recalling automotive memories from when I was very young. All of my early car memories spring from my father, and I grew up with the same love of relatively unlovable cars. It was always less about the monetary value (either actual or potential) and more about the story behind the car.
This past summer, I was able to dig deep down into my well of car memories and head out on an adventure to find a long lost car. Okay, so it may not be QUITE as epic as I make it sound... but it was a fun adventure nonetheless. It started well over a year earlier, when one of my aunts sent me an email and a few pictures. It was of the old Morris Oxford my grandparents used to drive. While she didn't recall the exact year, the pictures were from sometime in the 1950's and she recalled many great trips in that old Morris. My father had often spoken of this car and the countless trips to the East Coast the family had taken in it.
If she was telling me about this car it was because she had run across a local farmer who mentioned that my father had left an old car on his property decades before, and that it was still there! Like a bolt of lightening, I remembered my dad telling me when I was around 10 years old that he had left an old car in a neighbour's field and that he intended to restore it one day. The details were fuzzy, but I was sure he had told me it was a Morris Oxford.
One summer day we even went out to see it, and while I was too young to remember exactly where it was, I vividly recall hiking through long grass to get to the car, Even back then, in the early 1990's, the car was in rough shape. My father knew he had a huge project in front of him if he ever wanted to restore it, but he was determined to do it one day. While many other details are cloudy today, what I do recall is finding a box of his childhood toys in the trunk. There was a pile of old red Meccano, some books, papers and drawings and a painted Woody Woodpecker cutout he had made! For years I played with that Meccano, and I'm sure that faded Woody is still laying around somewhere...
Fast-forward to this past summer. My father passed away years ago and never had the chance to restore the Morris Oxford, or even went out to see it again, I assume. The kind neighbour storing it wasn't bothered that it was there, but had simply mentioned it to my aunt in passing. During a visit home, I got to thinking about that car and made it my mission to find it again. While it was a slightly less complicated task than searching for Atlantis or the Holy Grail, I was determined to do it without cheating.
Instead of asking my Aunt where the vehicle was located, my little sister, a friend and I hopped in the car and headed out on the backroads outside of town. I knew roughly in which direction to head, and had the name of the farmer. In our region, a single last name can appear on quite a few mailboxes, but my sister was pretty sure she had gone to school with the granddaughter of the farmer. We didn't know exactly where they lived, but it was a beautiful sunny day and we had fun criss-crossing the country lanes in search of the right property.
We finally found it and drive up to a house, only to have our joy deflated when no one answered the door. Dejected, we started to head home when we realized that, like many homesteads in the county, the main farmhouse, set back off the road, was also accompanied by a smaller house along the main road where the grandparents lived. The same family name was on a second mailbox, so we stopped and banged on the door.
An elderly gentleman answered and confirmed he was indeed 'Mac', the person we were looking for. I told him who I was and he instantly said he remembered my father. When I told him we wanted to see the old car, he looked surprised. He told us that there wasn't much left, and that it would be nearly impossible to move from where it was. When I reassured him that it was simply a nostalgic tour to see the car and take a few pictures, he agreed to take us out there. In true rural style, we hopped in the back of his 4x4 pickup (okay, so I got to sit in the cab while my sister and my friend had to clamber up in the box!) and he slowly drove us across his rough and rutted cow field.
I spied the Morris from far away, looking lonely and abandoned in the middle of the large field. As we got closer it was clear just what a poor state the car was in. As it turns out, this one was black (visible even though much of the paint had come off), while the Oxford my grandparents drove back so long ago was green, according to my aunt. A few weeks later I was discussing the car with other family members who recalled my father purchasing another identical Oxford at one point, so it would seem this model was that one and not the original family vehicle. Either way, it was exciting to see it and find this treasure at the end of our short but enjoyable quest!
The old car had sunken so low that the wheels were half buried and the chassis was resting on the ground. At least a quarter of a century had passed since I had last seen this car, and that was long after it was first abandoned out there. The farmer told me that the Morris had originally resided in a barn nearby, but that the barn eventually had to be torn down and my father told him to simply drag the car out into the field. Perhaps he knew that he would never restore the Oxford, but couldn't bring himself to have it towed away and scrapped. Or maybe some part of him told him to hang onto it for some unknown reason. Knowing my father, the excitement and nostalgia I had finding this car so many years later would have made leaving it there all those years worthwhile in the end...
While nothing was really salvageable, there were some great little touches on the car that caught my attention, like the white gauges in the dash, the red taillights, the mechanical plastic signal arm in the B pillar and a number of shiny chrome bits that still reflected like the day the car was built. Unfortunately I didn't get a clear picture of the identification plate, so I can't quite make out the year, but in looking it up, it would appear to be an Oxford MO model produced from 1948 until 1954.
Perhaps the most interesting discovery was made when I peeked in the trunk. The spare tire, the engine head and the air cleaner were all piled in there, but it was a few rusty pieces of old Meccano that caught my attention the most. There was no doubt: this was the car I had trekked out with my dad to see one summer day, when we had pulled out the box of old toys and I found his childhood Meccano set that I would play with for years...
After taking a long look at the car and snapping a bunch of pictures, we headed home. I was extremely thankful that Mac was so helpful and willing to take us out to the car. He told me that it doesn't bother him there and that trying to move it would probably destroy it completely, so the rusty old Morris will sit where it has for more than three decades as it continues to sink into the ground.
I like to think that I'm a 'grounded' person, but the discovery of this bit of family folklore helped me feel even more firmly planted in the ground. I've had to chance to travel the world, and will continue to explore further, but I love that I have roots and a place to call home. And what could be more fitting than a rusty shell of an old car acting as my anchor?
As I planned my return to Canada this past summer, I kept telling everyone I wanted a 'real' Canadian winter again after living overseas for 12 years. Well, I got it! Record cold temperatures and several 10+ cm dumps of snow make it official: it's a real Canadian winter! On a drive this weekend I almost missed a cool automotive sighting due to so much snow, but at the last second a familiar shape caught my eye.
Once again the lowly Chrysler K-Car had drawn me in! This time it was the Dodge Aries version, a silver sedan with interior colour unknown, since it was covered with snow. I like to think it had a red interior, front bench seat and column shifter, because I can't imagine a K-Car any other way! It's hard to tell if this car is in running shape, but I like to think that it's just taking a winter break. It's nice to get snowbound during the holidays, and I know I have been enjoying some time off to relax. Perhaps this Aries just needed to take a little break and enjoy the Canadian winter like me!
This isn't the first time I've written about the K-Car. This past summer I spied one in Montreal in the exact same place as a friend had photographed one years earlier. As these venerable models are becoming more and more rare, it is always a pleasure to spy one that isn't in a junk yard. Some rust was present on the wheel wells, and while I didn't get too close to inspect this silver Aries, the upper portion of the body appears intact at least. Another encouraging sign was the presence of 'Alberta' licence plates. If this car spent a good portion of its life out West, there's a good chance it doesn't have as much undercarriage rust as typical older cars from the East, where road salt is applied with a heavy hand.
It'a fun imagining the little Dodge trekking nearly 4,000 kms from the foot of the Rocky Mountains to the outskirts of Ottawa. Well fun for me! At some point I am going to make this trip, and what better (or worse?!) car than a K-Car! Little power, few creature comforts, high probability of breakdown or head gasket failure... sounds like an adventure to me! In hindsight, I should have knocked some snow off the windshield; perhaps the car is for sale! I think a trip back is in order to see if I can't track down the owner. This K-Car appears snowbound for the time being, so I don't think I have to worry about it going anywhere. When the spring thaw comes and the snow starts to melt, I'll be first in line to try to pick up this little gem!
In a few more hours it will be New Years where I am, so I wish everyone a very happy finish to 2017 and a very exciting 2018 full of health, happiness and some exciting automotive adventures!
I'm one of those people that has countless 'favourite' cars. The Pontiac Fiero GT, the Lotus Esprit V8, the Bentley Continental T, the Citroen SM... all have jumped out at me over the years as cars I'd love to own one day. This past summer I ran across another old favourite that I have liked for a very long time. The Triumph TR6 with its round headlights and pronounced 'barrel' fenders has always appealed to me, much more than the later wedge-styled TR7.
I may not be able to recall exactly when it was, but I still remember seeing my first TR6. I'd have to guess I was around 10 or 12 years old. The model I saw was dark blue with a black top and black interior and managed to etch itself into my memory. The little Union Jack flag on the rear flank struck me as super cool and I always look for it when I see a TR6 drive by. It was during a lazy summer drive that I stumbled across this light blue model at a used car dealership and garage. The fact that it had licence plates make me suspect it belonged to someone, but anything is for sale for the right price!
Problems with old British car's electrical systems are legendary, to the point that I don't know if they're true or grossly exaggerated. In any case, owning any car from the 1970's would take some patience and a lot of mechanical skill. This example was in decent shape, but with some rust poking through in a few areas. It certainly wasn't a show car but would be a great basis for restoration, assuming the engine and transmission are in good shape. One could even pick up a handsome roadster like this and simply enjoy it as-is, tooling around the countryside with the top down and not a care in the world!
At some point in my life I need to own a vehicle like this. Why not make it one I have been dreaming about since childhood? While I wouldn't call them common in Canada, you still do occasionally see them in the summer. Now that the temperature is well below zero C and snow is on the ground, it might be time to start looking. One can sometimes score a great deal in winter and be ready for topless driving in the spring. This is one automotive triumph I'd love to claim someday!
Modern sport utility vehicles don't interest me very much. I have always been a fan of smaller vehicles, and while I can't deny the usefulness and attraction of large, comfy, powerful SUVs, they're just not me. If we look back to the origins of the class and some of the first closed SUV-type vehicles, I find myself more interested, however...
Back then, I'm not even sure what they called vehicles like the International Scout. The term 'Sport Utility Vehicle' or SUV hadn't been invented yet. These early closed 4x4s were certainly more utility than sport, and weren't a popular choice as family vehicles or for city dwellers. Their truck-based 4x4 chassis and barebones interiors meant they weren't particularly comfortable or quiet, and their large size and large turning radius made them unpractical for urban settings.
I know nothing about the Scout, or even about the International brand of passenger cars, so I had to look up some information. It was in New York City that I had discovered this rough-and-tumble model.The Scout was built between 1961 and 1980, with several updates alone the way. The model I saw appears to be the Scout 800, produced from 1965 to 1968. 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines were offered, so it is hard to know which one powered this 'compact' SUV, though I don't think I'd want to drive one powered by a 93 horsepower 4-banger! With such little power, there's not only little sport but also little utility...
While the International Scout was certainly rough around the edges, it is one of the vehicles credited with creating the SUV market that would take over the automotive world in the 1980's, 90's and beyond. For the era it was definitely compact in size, and some models even hit 20 mpg. Today's SUVs and crossovers are a far cry from these simple, basic utility vehicles, but the original concept of additional space and practicality can be traced back to legends like the Scout.
One interesting discovery was that this Scout was sitting in New York City but has California plates. Someone had driven this automotive curiosity 3,000 miles from the West Coast to the East Coast! I can imagine the adventure taking such a vehicle on a roadtrip would be.. Perhaps it is on its way back home as I write this. In an era where vehicles seem disposable, it's exciting to see an old timer still on the roads, reminding other SUVs where they came from. It looks like there's still some use left in this utility vehicle, even if there isn't much sport left to be had!
Know what's wrong is one thing. Fixing it is another. For four years and three months I have enjoyed writing this blog and sharing my automotive stories and pictures. I've written personal stories on cars I've known as well as observations and anecdotes related to cars I've seen during my travels in Canada, France, China and all over Europe, South Eastern Asia and the USA. There are no ads or other sources of income on my blog, so it is purely for the pleasure of writing and sharing.
In a bit of a coincidence, this is my 200th blog entry. While I didn't plan to make an event of this milestone post, it seems fitting. From the beginning I spent alot of time researching how to write a successful blog and what things to avoid. Many blogs don't last past the first six to nine months, apparently, since people lose their initial excitement at sharing on a topic and get frustrated when it doesn't take off and attract huge numbers of readers.
Thankfully, my topic interests me so much that I have no problem keeping it up. It's actually a pleasure for me to sit down and write my stories. A significant other suggested I start my blog back in June 2013, suggesting that other people might enjoy hearing me talk about cars all the time. While I suspect this was as much so they didn't have to listen to me babble on about cars all the time, I'm glad I took their advice.
It's a good thing that my genuine interest in cars keeps me going, because it's not the success of my blog that encourages me to slug away. On the contrary, I'd have to admit that my blog is decidedly unsuccessful. Looking at the statistics from the beginning, the most hits I ever got in a single day was 369 (this past September 15th), while the greatest number of daily visitors was 72 (on September 18th). Trust me, those are truly pitiful numbers for a four year old blog.
And yet, I keep going. Many times I have searched info on how to improve a blog, and I actually DO know why mine isn't catching on, for the most part. They say that knowing what the problem is half the battle, so I guess I'm halfway there. My issues, as I see them, are the following:
1) My topic doesn't appeal to a broad audience
How many people REALLY care about beat-up old cars discovered sitting on the side of the road? While blogs that cover very specific topics can be successful, they need to offer something that more general sources can't cover.
2) I don't post often enough
Blog experts argue over the frequency one needs to blog, but one or two times per month is definitely not often enough. It's hard to create a loyal following when you don't give them anything to chew on.
3) My posts tend to run a bit long
That's a delicate way of saying I never shut up! Blog's should be clear and concise, whereas I have a tendency to ramble on a bit like an old man telling a story about the good old days when he was a kid...
4) I make my posts too personal
While this seems to be a plus for my family and close friends, strangers stumbling across my blog might not enjoy or appreciate the personal angle I add to my posts and would prefer a more formal and professional tone.
5) My titles aren't targeted
Every article I've read on successful blogs says that titles need to be short and informative and explain exactly what is to follow. My cryptic, head-scratching titles rarely let the reader know what to expect.
Not everything is bad, however. Despite these issues, there are a FEW things that I feel I am doing right:
1) Original content
Some blogs simply reheat and rearrange existing content and present it as their own. That's where I can be proud; I create unique content and use original photos in all of my blog articles.
Persistence is key in the blogosphere, and over four years is a solid base for growing something bigger one day. I consider it a piece of 'internet real estate' that stands out more than a brand new blog might.
3) Well-defined theme
Despite having a topic that doesn't catch the attention of many readers, my blog is faithful to the theme of lesser-know automobiles, I believe, and doesn't deviate in all directions.
Now that I know what's wrong, I am going to fix it, right? Wrong. As much as I would love to have more readers and especially more interactions (through comments, social media sharing, questions, etc.), I don't want to make changes simply to get more 'Likes'.
Adding stories about newer and more mainstream vehicles might increase viewership, but I'm not passionate about those vehicles and don't think I could write convincing or interesting articles on them.
Chopping my posts down into more bite-sized morsels would allow me to post more often, but artificially limiting myself will quickly make me lose interest, I fear.
Even something as simple as using more descriptive titles ("Check out the Citroen 2CV I saw...") would go a long way to encouraging visitors to read beyond the title, but gosh darn-it, I have too much fun coming up with my current titles!
So for now I'll continue to slog away, sharing the same types of stories and pictures I always have. If anyone DOES have some input, I am willing to hear it. While I am not looking to make major changes that deviate wildly from what I'm doing, knowing which kind of story appeals to readers is useful, and will help me decide which vehicles to focus on.
I'm not sure where this blog will take me. It has already brought me work as a freelance writer, so maybe someday it could evolve into a full-time writing gig. Maybe it will continue on as a repository for my odds-and-ends of stories, or maybe it will start to cough and sputter like my old Corsa and be left parked off by itself in the great internet parking lot. Only time will tell, but for now, I still have lots of ideas up in my Automotive Attic to keep it going for a while still!
Another day, another Corsa breakdown! At this point, it has become a game. With 187,784 kilometers on the odometer, I feel this car no longer owes me anything and is pretty much on borrowed time. Many people have cars that have run alot longer, but with only a tiny 34 year old 1.0L 4-cylinder engine under its hood, I wouldn't begrudge my 1983 Opel conking out for good one of these days.
That said, this doesn't stop me from driving it. On the contrary, I put 20,000 kms on it between October 2016 and June 2017, driving all over France, across the ferry into England and Scotland, into Italy (twice) and up through Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Many people call me crazy for driving so far in this car, and they may be right. It's not particularly comfortable, has no safety features other than seatbelts, lacks all modern convenience features (like air conditioning and power options), and doesn't even have a properly functioning gas gauge!
And yet, just this morning I was planning an 800+ km trip back into the south of France. I have a second little oddball car waiting to be picked up at the home of some friends, and I wanted to go down first and tinker with it a bit to make sure it's reliable enough to manage the trek home. With a few errands to run this morning, I headed to a nearby city and was on my way home just after lunch when a breakdown occurred...
For those of you that don't know me well and haven't heard the tale of my broken water pump pulley, a quick recap: at the end of one of my long roadtrips last spring, my water pump pulley flew apart, leaving my car without battery charging or coolant circulation on the highway just north of Paris. After a moment of solitude at 9 pm on a Sunday night, 100 kms from home, at a deserted picnic area, I managed to steal some washers off of my driver side mirror (hmmm, still haven't put that back on...!), hammer the rest of the pulley flat again and bolt it back in place.
A subsequent temporary fix involved drilling holes in the lid of a paint can to hold the pulley in place, since this part is proving to be surprisingly hard to find. I enjoy driving too much to take the car off the road long enough to remove the broken pulley and have it properly repaired, so this fix has become semi-permanent. Anyways, I digress...
Fast-forward to this afternoon. I heard a loud thunk from under the hood as I drove down the local highway and instantly saw the battery light come on the dash, indicating the battery wasn't cooling. The heat gauge started to climb almost instantly, so I found a safe place to pull over. At this moment it started to pour rain, so I sat for a while wondering what to do. While calling a tow-truck would be the first reaction for most people, I'm not most people. My Corsa and I have a special relationship, and I feel that she would never test me beyond my limits. When I saw the rain wasn't going to stop, I popped the hood and got out to take a look anyways.
As suspected, the belt operating the battery and water pump was gone. This presented two problems: driving the car home, I risked running the battery flat if the engine didn't overheat and explode first. Plague or cholera, take your pick. I decided to let it cool for about 10 minutes, squeezing the engine coolant hose occasionally to do my best to mix the coolant up a bit to cool it faster.
While the broken belt would be a big enough problem on its own, this situation was made imminently more complicated by the rain. The humidity in the air caused all of my inside windows to steam up. While I could use the heater to defrost the front one, running the blower motor for any length of time would quickly deplete the battery, and I still had about 20 kms to get home. The rear window was another problem, since it doesn't have a defroster at all. Merging back onto the highway (the speed limit is 110 km/h, FYI) was going to be difficult, especially with the rain still pouring down.
Those of you paying attention will remember that I mentioned having to remove the driver's side mirror to use the screws holding the mirror on to fix the pulley that no longer had a belt to drive... not sure if that's ironic, or a conundrum, or simply comeuppance for not having fixed the mirror, but it made trying to merge back onto the highway extremely complicated. A lack of passenger side mirror (it was an option back in 1983 for the Corsa!) meant that wasn't going to help me either. I waited for a big break in traffic, held my phone out the window to use as a mirror, and floored it as I took off from the highway pull-off.
Unfortunately, flooring a car that is lacking coolant circulation makes it heat up quickly, and in just a few minutes the gauge was climbing dangerously high again. I had to stop every 2 kms or so to let the car cool. As I wasn't traveling very fast, I decided to leave the hood unlatched (just hooked on the safety latch) so that some extra cooling air would get sucked in.
As I drove, I paid close attention to the temperature gauge. I didn't want my aging 4-cylinder to overheat and cause a leak in the radiator, hoses or head gasket, or do even more serious damage to the head itself. Every time it climbed towards the danger zone I pulled over and let it cool down. It became a real game at this point: I had to balance several factors if I wanted to make it home:
1) I had to keep the car from overheating
2) I had to keep the battery from going dead
3) I had to keep the front window defrosted
4) I had to keep my hazard lights on
Using the defroster on maximum heat helped lower the temperature of the coolant (that was sitting in the heater core), but also depleted my battery quickly. As much as I was every so slightly stressed at the idea of being stranded on the side of the road, I started having fun trying to find the right speed to drive at. I discovered that at around 75 km/h, there was just enough forced cooling through the radiator and unlatched hood to keep the temperature below the maximum limit. It would seem that this was the 'sweet spot' where extra heat generated by running the engine was removed quickly enough from the cooling system, helped in part by occasionally turning the defroster up to full blast.
I was able to drive the last 5 kms in one go, as several turning circles allowed me to coast with the clutch in and the engine at idle. Once I got home I started thinking about fixing the car right away. Luckily, I had stumbled across a bag of spare Corsa parts I had stripped off of another one I had years ago and forgotten. Thankfully, there was a spare belt in perfect condition. Never let anyone tell you that you keep too much automotive-related junk around the house! In just a few minutes I was able to install the belt, top up the coolant, fire up the car and charge the battery.
In the end, I actually got a kick out of the newest chapter in my 'Corsa Adventure'! While a breakdown is generally not a good thing, when I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere and have the tools and skills handy to fix my car, I quite enjoy the challenge of getting to my destination with my little Opel. As I write this, I'm preparing my things to hit the road and cover those 800+ kms I mentioned earlier. While I don't expect any more problems from the belt, pump or alternator anytime soon, I AM taking along a few more tools than I usually do and a jug of water. With luck, my next breakdown (which WILL occur at some point, it's inevitable...) will be as enjoyable as this most recent one!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!