Aston Martin World - Chapter 6 – Almost Ready - Driving Ambition by Barry Weir
I met George and Rita Richcreek, AMOC members from Minnesota, USA. They offered to be my parts depot in the USA and get parts out to me, should it become necessary. I had an article coming out in the next AMOC newsletter and was hopeful of hearing from others living near the route who would be willing to help out if required.
Oh the pain
I had my first set of jabs on 24th January 2000 with more to follow two weeks later, but when I telephoned the Rally office to find out what proof of inoculations I needed, I was promptly informed that none of the Rally team were having any, which somehow seemed to make my arm ache even more than it had before.
The exchange rate was good, so I collected $2,000 US dollars in one and five dollar bills, and £50 each in Italian and Turkish lira, Greek drachma and French francs.
I managed to pull a muscle in my stomach at the gym and was banned from workouts for at least two weeks. Instead I spent hours faxing the numerous sheets of information that kept landing on my doormat to Ronald in Holland to keep him up to date with what was happening. Tim Butcher had now dismantled the new engine and found that the new cheeses had been damaged. They appeared to have been drilled the wrong size (2/1000 out) and we think they had been forced into the block. There was severe scouring to the top surface and loads of marks where they have tried to turn the cheese to line it up with the oil ways. I returned to Davron to confront them. It was agreed that I would remove even the spares from them and sever all working relations with them. They offered no compensation or refund. I was furious. Bastion Engineering was now building the car in its entirety. So far they were doing it correctly and to my standards.
I decided to check my total expenditure for this event, including the car purchase. I was horrified. The car cost £24,000, Aston Service Dorset’s first service cost £20,000 including a re-trim, Tim Stamper cost in excess of £30,000. The car should have been finished but had problems. Davron a further £15,000 plus. Total cost £89,000 plus. Now the car needed a major check and overhaul to correct faulty workmanship and faulty parts.
Fortunately I had at last found someone who had the ability to complete the job correctly. Tim Butcher, of Bastion Engineering. His bill would be about £60,000. This meant that the car had cost me more than £100,000 to get ready for this event and have a chance of winning.
The main problem that I have found is the lack of basic engineering expertise. The lack of quality control with some engineers, the lack of quality control with some suppliers of parts and the inability of some to grasp what is needed for such an event.
I sympathise with someone who has just bought a car and wants it restored. Who do you go to? Where do you get parts? Who has the knowledge? Well I now know!
The Rally itself also amazed me in its costs. Entry fee was £52,000. Extra for hotels, car freight, insurance, visas and our air fares. No guidance given as to the cost. This had amounted to a further £28,500 and there was still fuel and sundries to come. Total cost to date in excess of £80,000. When I saw the figures before me in black and white it took my breath away. So you thought rallying was going to be cheap?
Now I could move on. All the stress, sadness and frustrations were behind me. Or so I thought. The future at last looked bright and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. To those who, with hindsight, would criticise, all I would say is “where is your car on the start line?”
The article in the AMOC newsletter and the diary entries on my website were reaping great rewards. Faxes and emails galore arrived from all over the world, filled with encouragement and offers of help. Two residents of Anchorage (Alaska), Robbie Robinson, a Lagonda owner, and Mike Williams, whose wife was a state senator and president of the Alaskan Senate, offered mechanical help should it be needed, and a good meal if it wasn’t. There were also offers of more formal receptions along the North American route, and a number of AMOC members rearranged their motoring tours and holidays so they could meet up with us along the way to cheer us on.
No oil leaks, now we’re motoring
It is now 29th February and the car has finished its dyno tests. 136 BHP. Torque of 171 lbs at 2500 rpm and 171 lbs at 3000 rpm. Now that’s what I called an engine. Take note all Aston engine builders: ‘There were no oil leaks’. This was how the engine should have been built. They had used several sets of needles for the carburettors before they were satisfied that the correct ones were being used. It was either correct or it was wrong and it needed to be correct no matter how long it took. It would now be assembled into the car and the whole car sent to have some strengthening of the fuel tank brackets and altering of the Panhard rod so that it lay almost straight.
4th March and it was due to be returned for the fitting of the fuel tank, seats and finishing of the electrics. Seven days is all Tim Butcher had. I required a complete car for the tests at DERA. So far he had proved more than up to the task in hand.
We will be off to the DERA military test ground in Surrey to give the car a good shakedown on the 13th March. Then it would be final checks before the ‘off ’. Ronald would be flying over for these tests so that he could have a drive of the car. He said something about “having a go would be useful to see if he fits in. Get used to driving the car”. Well I suppose I had better let him have a go.
I was now back into my workouts at the gym but this time I would be including a sun bed. I was convinced that this would help me adjust mentally to the task ahead. What rubbish, but it sounded good when I told Roma.
After six months at the gym I was now a lot fitter, but I did suffer from a blocked nose when it was hot. Waking up in the middle of the night gasping for breath was not fun, and since some of the places I would be travelling would be extremely hot, I decided to do something about it.
I knew I would have to go private as it would take months just to get an appointment on the NHS, and I started by asking my cousin William if he could help. He arranged for me to see a top ear, nose and throat consultant at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in Greys Inn Road, London, four days later.
Tests didn’t reveal anything so the consultant suggested a CAT scan, but her secretary informed her that it could not be done for at least two weeks. I must have pleaded my case convincingly because one telephone call later I was running down two flights of stairs and within minutes was flat on my back having pictures taken of my nose and airways.
Back in the consulting rooms, I was given the diagnosis. Apparently we all have two bumps in the lining of each nasal passageway, which swell up when the body overheats to help cool the blood supply. Mine were four times as big as they should be, which meant that when I got very hot my nose blocked up and I had trouble breathing – but I knew that part already. I was then referred to a surgeon but was informed that the earliest date for a consultation even as a private patient was the 7th May. Again I pleaded my case and the surgeon did a consultation over the phone. There was a cancellation on Tuesday 7th March if I could make it. I could.
The nose job
I checked into the hospital and after a quick check of my details, blood group etc, I was off to the operating theatre where the anaesthetist, who appeared no older than my daughter Donna, informed me that the general anaesthetic would be like drinking half a bottle of gin. Who was having the other half? The surgeon? The operation took an hour and then I was told no travelling, stress or excitement for ten days. They didn’t know what they were asking.
As soon as I got back to my private room I was on the phone to Tim. I had to wear a sort of horse bag over my nose to catch the blood and stop it dripping on the floor and I must have sounded like a heavy breather. Staff at the hospital might not know me but they did know about general anaesthetics and operations. I left the next day absolutely shattered, and I definitely slowed down a bit for a few days.
‘Slow down a bit’ was relative of course, because the Challenge stood still for no man, and that included those who had just had nose jobs. First I received the disastrous news that the car would not be ready for testing on the 13th because the strengthening work was running several days behind schedule. Ronald couldn’t change his dates so he was still coming over, something I felt very guilty about even though there was nothing I could do about it.
The fart machine
13th March and I took Ronald to see the car. He was most impressed and very excited. I had taken a ‘fart’ machine with me. This, along with two false eyes and balloons would be travelling around the world to provide light relief when needed. You see, Tim had been working for weeks putting in 18- hour days to get the car ready. He lived, slept and dreamt about this car. Great stuff – but after a while it tended to take its toll. What was needed was a distraction. I placed the fart machine in amongst the tools and waited. What an embarrassment. The look on their faces and then Molly, Tim’s girlfriend came in. Well, I’d never seen someone change colour so quickly. She took it in her stride and had a good laugh, promising to get revenge. With us was a journalist and friend from Holland. He was doing an article about Ronald and the car.
We were talking and I decided to show him how we test for air movement through the engine bay of the car. I had two smoke pellets that are used to test chimneys for ‘Pull’. I set these off by the car. They were safe and leave no residue. Tim was outside with Tom May. Now can you imagine the look on Tim’s face when someone yelled ‘Fire!’ He came running in. The whole workshop was filled with thick white smoke. It certainly was a distraction.
The next day I returned to Tim’s with a box of chocolates for Tim and a bunch of flowers for Molly, I hoped all was forgiven. It had the desired effect. It made Tim concentrate on other things and then my car became less of a problem, less pressure and he could continue coping with getting it ready.
No room for Ronald. He’ll have to walk
It was now all happening and the car looked as though it would survive the trip. We planned what to take for personal items. Ronald arrived with a large bag. I kept telling him it was too much. He emptied a few items out but more had to go. We had space only for a small flight bag. ‘If it doesn’t fit in the boot then it does not go’. That had been my philosophy, that way we kept the car light. Ronald and I went over the route several times, we had a set of detailed maps, noting steep hill climbs and areas that could create problems.
We put together a list of what we regarded as essentials, and I was staggered when I saw how much was on it.
Our final list was as follows:
- Medical kit for abroad
- Blood pressure pills (yes, I suffer from high blood pressure.
- Not surprising when you read this book and see all the problems and stress that I have had to put up with).
- Paracetamol 500mg, 50 tablets
- Antibiotics (penicillin), 100 tablets
- Ciprofloxacin 500mg, 50 tablets
- Metronidazole 400mg, 25 tablets
- Lomotil, 50 tablets
- Senna tablets 7.5mg, 20 tablets
- Buccastem 3mg, 10 tablets
- 1% hydrocortisone cream, 50mg
- Canesten cream, 15g
- Gastro-intestinal tablets
- Dioralyte rehydration salts, 25 sackets
- Gaviscon tablets, 1 tube for indigestion
- Collis Brown
- Magicool cool spray
- Insect repellent
- Sun cream, min. factor 15
- Antiseptic cream/spray
- Antibacterial hand wash
- Lip salve
- Eye wash
- Socks x 7
- Underwear x 9
- Swimming trunks
- T-shirts/casual shirts x 6
- Sweatshirt x 1
- Shirts, smart x 2
- Shorts x 2
- Jeans x 2
- Trousers, smart x 2
- Shoes x 2 pair
- Hat & cap
- Driving gloves x 2 pair
- Jacket (lightweight)
- Rally coat for warmth
- Plastic coat (breathable lightweight)
- Shower gel & sponge
- Hair shampoo
- Electric razor
- Dental kit
- Drinking water 6 ltrs
- Chocolate sachets x 6
- Coffee sachets x 10
- Sugar sachets x 10
- Freeze-dried meals x 6
- Muesli bars x 10
- Mobile phone (global not satellite)
- Matches & 8hr candles
- Calor gas stove (small)
- Cup, knife, fork, spoon
- Tin opener
- Toilet paper & moist toilet paper
- Needles & thread
- Washing powder
- Hand wipes
All of these items, with the exception of a few from the household list, were supposed to fit into one small bag. Admittedly some things could be shared between us, but looking at the list I realised I was being a little overambitious. Everything would be packed into the car on the 1st May, but some items were discarded before we reached Tower Bridge and others were deposited in various countries along the way.
On 22nd March Ronald left for Holland with a mound of Rally papers. Yes the Rally office had gone into overdrive and was sending papers out by the ton. We had to book extra seats for family and friends for the prize-giving dinners in Turkey, China and when we returned. Little time was left and there seemed so much to do. The next time I was to see Ronald would be two days before we left.
It’s test day
I arranged to take the car to DERA on the 20th March for testing, Ronald wouldn’t be here but Tom May and Bastion Engineering would give me a hand to ‘test it to the limits’.
Not one oil leak
20th March, it was warm and sunny and all went well. Not one oil leak. We’d driven hard over one and a half inch steps and then over two inch steps and nothing fell off. These steps were about 18 inches apart and continued for about one kilometre. Then several drives over pot-holed cobbles at varying speeds. I was amazed and very pleased that the car was in such great shape. Just my luck if it won’t start on the day. It seemed to be all going so well at last!
It was back to the workshop for final assembly and distance driving to bed in various new parts. I was now getting a little excited. Not too much just a little. I had had too many disappointments to let this success go to my head.
Friday 14th April
We had a very good friend who came to stay for a few days. She was a doctor and very interested in my trip. I was asked, “How do you feel?” I thought for a minute. You see when I first started I was full of enthusiasm and excitement. This changed over the months to anger at those whom I was dealing with who were not up to my standard and quite frankly incompetent. Then last November or December I began feeling relaxed or, to be blunt, couldn’t care less. It was not that I did not want to go. Or that I was panicking as in, ‘What am I doing?’ None of these, but I just could not care. No excitement, no fear, no panic, just nothing!
In control of my emotions
I telephoned Tom May. “It’s quite normal and very good news. You see Barry, your body has accepted the fact that you are going, and is totally relaxed about the trip. During the war when you were about to attack, your body became calm and relaxed. It meant that you were in control of your emotions and not the other way round. Stay calm and wait for the off,” he said. Well, that put my mind at rest; I suppose driving round the world is like going to war with the world. Everything would be there to try and stop us: That should produce some interesting challenges to offset the boredom.
A big softy
I’m a big softy at heart. You see I knew that Roma would miss me some of the time, and just to remind her who I was the rest of the time, I arranged to have flowers delivered to her on the12th May, the 27th May and 21st June – no message, just flowers. When you have been married as long as I have there is no need for any message. These dates split up the period when she would not be seeing me.
Still not ready: what’s Tim doing?
On Easter Saturday, just over a week before the start, Roma and I went to collect the DB 2/4 from Bastion Engineering, with the aim of putting in a few road miles over the bank holiday weekend. Roma had kindly offered to accompany me to keep me from dropping off as I drove round and round the M25. The car looked good but there were still bits that had not been done. The Barantz trip mileage recorder had not been fitted and a recent oil leak on the front axle had not been rectified. We planned to return the car to Tim on the Monday evening so that it could go to the paint shop on Tuesday to have a few scratches put right, after all this was the first time a ‘Concours’ winning car was competing in a rally – ever. Then he and three of his crew would spend the next two days working on the car. That left Friday for fitting a new windscreen, as the existing one had a chip on it, and final checks. The timetable was tight but manageable and I hoped that by Saturday the car would be back in Sussex for Ronald and I to pack before setting off to London.
Roma and I set off confidently for our run around the M25, but we began to experience difficulties almost as soon as we hit the motorway. There was a strong smell of burning brake linings and the car shuddered when I braked. Heading back to Bastion the braking settled down but there was a vibration at 3,500 rpm that couldn’t have been doing the car any good. We took off the rear wheels and found the drums extremely hot. Tim reckoned the shoes had been over-tightened, causing them to rub constantly on the drums, which made them hot and swell so they became even tighter to the brake drums. We adjusted the brake shoes and hey presto, problem solved.
The exhausts were very black and sooty. The mixture was too rich and would have to be corrected; the car had not been tuned. What had Tim been doing? He had had ample time to build this car. I suspected that he had taken on too much work and was finding it hard to meet all commitments. I left for home following Roma in her car. I hadn’t given up on the Aston yet but I wasn’t very far off. So little time and so much still to do. Two years on and I was still getting problems!
I was up at 5.00 am on Sunday morning, having decided I would not be beaten, working on the bits that I could do. I had made three storage boxes that sat on top of the rear fuel tank, but they were too bulky and I thought it was best to discard them. Instead I created storage areas in the triangular hollows behind the rear doors by removing the panelling, lining the hollows with carpet and then setting the panels back in place. The interior of the vehicle looked just the same but I had gained valuable hidden storage space.
Running on only four pistons – what about the other two?
The sooty exhausts were bothering me. Two of the spark plugs were silver brown from too weak a mixture and the rest were black and sooty from too rich a mixture. I had a flow meter, which measured the intake of the carburettors and I could see that they definitely weren’t balanced. My attempts at resolving the problem met with limited success so I enlisted the help of a friend, Derek Fewtrell, who turned up at my home just at the right moment. Derek had raced Jaguars and worked on many classic racing cars and was a walking library of motoring knowledge. He was happy to give me the benefit of his experience, and with his help I was able to balance the carburettors. He came to my rescue again the next day. The car was running on four pistons and misfiring badly.
The day was a total disaster and my tight timetable just got even tighter. I was supposed to do a live interview with Southern Counties Radio at 7.45 am that morning, but it, and all my other appointments for the day, went by the board when the DB 2/4 started to play up. I was up early so that I would be able to give the impression at the interview of someone who was awake, alert and cheerful, rather than tired, dopey and not at all with it. As it was I didn’t even get there, so I dread to think what sort of impression that must have given. The engine was misfiring from the word go and I assumed it was the damp, but a few miles down the road it got so bad I had to pull in. I adjusted the timing and drove another half a mile before I had to stop again. I didn’t know what the hell was wrong so I rang Derek and he was with me in minutes. It became clear that the engine was only firing on four of its six pistons and the plugs were black, wet and oily. We adjusted the points by sight and things seemed much better. In fact when I set off again the car went better than I have ever known – for all of about a quarter of a mile! Then the spluttering started again. By now I was late for the interview and I had to cancel the rest of the day and go straight up to Tim Butcher’s. Roma met me there and drove me back thoroughly disheartened.
The deadline was still Friday because it had to be, but I knew I was going to have to prise the car away from Tim. He didn’t want to let me have it until it was perfect. But we didn’t have time for perfect any more. It was going to have to be ‘make do and mend’.
Tim was out when I delivered the car to Bastion Engineering and so to make absolutely certain of getting the car back in time, I amended his ‘to do’ list and left a note making it clear what I wanted.
Monday 24 April Hi Tim, As you can see the car is back. I have written a couple of extra things on your ‘to do’ list. The most urgent items are: 1. Replace starter motor with original. I hope it works 100%, if not then engine comes out to check and rectify the flywheel. 2. Strip the front axle and check bearing/oil seal. This should be fairly straightforward; it has been apart before. 3. Fit the Barantz. Nice gentle bends in cable 4. Build new clutch/brake shafts etc. This should allow the pedals to be in a position that I can use comfortably. 5. The stone guard under the sump should be foam. Keep it simple. All other items are not so important and can be fixed/repaired by me en route. One thing I have learned over this weekend is that I do need time with the car before I go, so ready or not I shall be collecting the car MIDDAY FRIDAY, Saturday is not an option. Concentrate on fixing the car, not on tuning it, as I can do this en route. It’s not bad now. The carburettors are balanced and should not be touched. Any problems give me a ring. Barry.
I followed the note up with a telephone call in the evening. As I expected Tim expressed his concern that he might not be ready in time, but I merely repeated that he would have to be.
Even after all my insistence Tim got a few more hours and Ronald and I finally collected the DB 2/4 on Saturday afternoon, just a day and a half before the off. On the way back, smoke started pouring from the back of the car and into the cabin.
I could not believe it. Oil was dripping out from under the gearbox. Not good at all. We wasted a lot of time looking for the source of the dripping, then crawled back to Bastion – that place was starting to feel too much like home. By now it was about 7.00 pm in the evening. We took the car apart and found that the engine’s rear oil seal had completely gone. At about 11.00 pm Roma, Ronald and I set off for Angmering, leaving Tim Butcher and crew to work through Saturday night.
Ronald and I returned early Sunday morning to see how things had turned out. The guys had found a slight error in the casting where the oil seal fitted, which had prevented it from working properly. It was now sorted and the seal was working very well – thank God!
I’ve made it to the start. No one is more surprised than me
We had pushed it to the limit and now we just about had time to get to London. Fortunately we made it without incident, our first trouble-free journey in quite some time, and at 3.00 pm we joined the ragged queues of cars of all ages waiting to get into the courtyard of the Royal Mint to be scrutinised. We were obviously all okay because we got through without any problems and, having officially booked the car in for the Challenge, Ronald and I booked ourselves in at the Tower Hotel.
Due to an unfortunate mistake on my part, Ronald, Roma and I had been woken by my alarm clock at 3.00 am that morning and by now we were all extremely tired, but there was no time to rest as we had to get ready for the aptly named ‘Last Supper’.
The last supper
The day ended brilliantly. We were quite a party – Tom May, Tim Butcher and Molly, Ian MacGregor (AMOC chairman) and his wife Pam, Jim Broadey (AMOC vice-president) and his wife Pat, Ronald and his family, and me and mine.
Fantastic evening. Great food and lots of fun, especially once the children realised the balloons were filled with helium and started talking like Mickey Mouse (after inhaling the gas). After the hassle of the last few weeks I’d started to forget what it was like to relax so it was great to be able to let off steam.
It was the last night with Roma and the girls for a while. I didn’t think it would really sink in until we were on the road, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology we’d be able to talk every day so it wouldn’t be too bad. 10 pm and I was going to bed. Tomorrow I would embark on the biggest challenge of my life.