Gironde 2001 & Pre Spain 2002

with John Winn

So, the Gironde trip. This is the area which includes the huge estuary leading to Bordeaux. Very much a wine growing area and where we stayed for our first week between Bourges and Blaye which are small fortified towns among rolling countryside. This gite was superb, friendly English owners in the big house, large gardens and a good pool. We had the converted blacksmiths and barrel-making barn and outside there was a cherry tree overhanging a patio and table area. The cherries were delicious and within reach, just raise your hand for some with your morning cereals, and of course, the sun shone. All around is Aquitaine, originally ruled by the English Kings, we should have kept it!

Perhaps why I didn't write about the trip was in part because the second week was not very enjoyable. To explain, Loraine and I always book our gites through Chez Nous who advertise many hundreds of places in their brochure. In three previous holidays we had 6 gites, some very good and some quite acceptable. On this holiday, the first gite was quite exceptional, the second was duff leading to unpleasant correspondence with the owner on our return home. Chez Nous (who are now owned by Thomson Holidays) only act as an advertising agent and don't inspect the premises, which means you trust the owner's blurb and anticipate a general standard will apply - in this case not so. However the area, near Fontenay-le-Comte, was pleasant as was that town. Also, because we were dissatisfied, we decamped for 2 nights to La Rochelle which is an ancient fortified harbour, plenty of bustle, cafes and shops as a change from the rural life.

Our motoring incident was on the leg back to Caen to catch the ferry to Portsmouth. We turned off an N-road (like our A roads) in the middle of nowhere and a few miles later found the one hotel/restaurant adjacent to a railway level-crossing, which perhaps was once important. It was a Saturday and we wanted some lunch. After a pleasant light meal, we got into the car, I dipped the clutch and the cable broke! 2pm on a Saturday, near nowhere - oh dear! We always have AA 5-Star breakdown cover, so I rang the number (phone in the restaurant) a charming French lady took my location, details of the problem, thought perhaps the part would take some days and talked about hire cars, recovery to England etc. and asked us to wait for the recovery truck.

20 minutes later!! The truck arrived, a tiltback loader and our Merlin was winched aboard. We were so upset. (There is no natural place to put a towrope on the Sierra -build chassis and we used the upper wishbone by the chassis. I must think of something better. Neither the driver nor I fancied using the front bumper to haul up a 25 degree or more slope.)

15 minutes later we arrived at a large yard littered with many crashed cars but with people in boiler suits and some corrugated roofed sheds. The Merlin was unloaded and obviously was found interesting as it was pushed into a bay over a pit. Now one smashed car I saw when driving through the yard was an old Sierra left-hooker and that interested me. 45 minutes later I was testing the clutch to see if the vastly overlength, very secondhand cable would work - it did!

So sleepy rural France and the AA had us back on the road in about 1 and 1/2 hours. My element of the cost was just £26.00. I think that was incredible.

Every failure has a reason... ...and I found later when cutting-up the casing was that the inner nylon lining had gunged with the heat from the exhaust manifold, as had the nylon coating on the cable. (I think the Sierra-build anticipated using the fuel injected engine - the bonnet bulge position supports that theory- with the exhaust on the passenger's side. My Pinto engine has the exhaust on the driver's side and clearances are a bit tight) The clutch had become heavier and occasionally had needed a bit of a push. The new clutch cable is now wrapped for about 8 inches in insulating silver coated sleeving and held a little further away
from the manifold by use of a loop of cable tie.

Over the past few months and with the trip across Spain from the ferry port of Santander to a friend's house on the coast near Gibralter, becoming closer I have been doing some little jobs!

1. Someone in an "old car" club which meets at a local pub made me a red
flashing LED to indicate that the car has an immobiliser. It always has,
but it is only a switch under the bonnet which opens the circuit to the coil. I reasoned that a thief would have to break open the bonnet. Anyway, it is another defence.
As my wiring is all settled down, I wanted to avoid disturbing it and soldering new joints. I used Scotchlocks which clip into existing cables. Having chosen the right size for the cables, I found that there is a technique for success, after my first connection had failed. Leave the hinged top open and squeeze the metal jumper directly and hard with pliers to ensure a cut through the insultation. Then close the hinged top. I discussed these devices with a local auto-electrician. Neither of us really liked them but agreed they were useful in certain situations. I would be reticent about using them in important circuits and over about 5 amps.
2.
The rear gearbox/propeller oil seal has always wept a little, about a third of a cup in 3,000 miles. Having bought reconditioned parts from Kit-fit I made the mistake of not asking for the year of the gearbox, engine etc. This often requires lengthy help from a chap in the Spares dept at the Rugby Ford dealer. However, he has seen the car and treats this sort of problem as a challenge in a good cause. After much looking at slides he selected a part no. and then said that if a genuine Ford seal had been used it would probably have the no. moulded on it. It was a real fight to remove the old seal and it was virtually destroyed but it was Ford and with the aid of a magnifying glass I could read sufficient to confirm that his choice was correct.
3.
Peter Gowring has put a number of bush refs in the build manual but not the bush which locates each of the differential mounting plates to the chassis. My bushes had some cracking in the rubber which had been noticed in the last M.O.T. and I suspect caused by slight misalignment of the brackets welded to the chassis. The Ford garage at Hinckley is a family firm who don't throw out old stock and they found one bush from a Cortina which was nearly a fit but would have needed some shimming. The spares chap was certain the existing were bushes ex-Cortina, however he would have to order and it could be any of about 4 options. I therefore went to Rugby Motor Engineering Services to show them the mounting plates and to discuss shimming, which they did not like. In 2 days, going direct to suppliers with the relevant dimensions they not only obtained new bushes but pressed them into the plates for a bill of under £30.00!
Some of these small workshops are a godsend. Once again, they have seen the car before and think a Merlin is a handsome vehicle.


At the M.O.T., in a few weeks, I will have a good look underneath at water hoses, wiring, silencer mounts etc and have the oil and filter changed. Then its countdown to the Spanish adventure which I estimate will be 2,500 miles. Hopefully, all hood down, sun shining, happy motoring - of which more later.


John Winn

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