A Voyage round my Daughter.
I return from Italy in my 80 inch and enjoy Alpine fun en route.
Luck, a few bits of string and a basic knowledge of how my 1948 Land Rover works got me down to my mate’s house in Italy last November (LRW April 05). I was going to need all this and more to make the return journey this Spring. The plan was to fly out to Italy, kick the tyres and drive home via Val Thorens where my daughter, Poppy, was running a ski chalet for the season. What could possibly go wrong?
Buried in snow.
I had left the 80 inch to languish in Leigh and Maura’s garden over the winter . In my absence it had been snowed on, the battery had gone flat and the filler sealing on the radiator had perished, resulting in an empty radiator. A battery charger was borrowed from Ricardo, the octogenarian owner of the adjacent vineyard. Nothing is quick here and negotiations had to include sampling a couple of glasses of last year’s produce. Later, in glorious sunshine I removed the radiator, cleaned it and applied body filler (‘Stucco’ should you ever need the translation) to two channels from top to bottom. That seemed to do the trick and I had a jar of ‘Radweld’ in reserve.
Leigh took this picture sometime in January as my poor old Land Rover braved the Winter.
To test the repairs Leigh and I embarked on one last logging expedition on an adjacent, snow covered, hill. All seemed well and we even had the excitement of getting stuck due to my old Range Rover tyres not being suitable for the slushy mixture of mud and snow. Winching out with the capstan winch did the trick and, as darkness fell, we headed back to the warmth of a log fire and a few more glasses of Ricardo’s finest.
Bringing home the vino.
Surrounded by vineyards it seemed appropriate to bring plenty home, as I had the space. With the roof off we did a little tour of local producers and bought 50 litres of red wine at £1 a litre. Good stuff too! 15 litres of local extra virgin olive oil for thirty quid completed the load. On top of all this booty went my rucksack, skis, boots and the canvas tilt and hood sticks. The following morning, with a nip in the air, I set off. As with the journey down, I selected only roads that would have existed in 1948. This took me up through wine country skirting to the South of Turin. The high hill tops gave a commanding view of the activity that ensures Piermonte produces a lot of excellent wine. Workers tending their vines took time to stop and wave at this idiot with his roof off, silly hat and a following plume of blue smoke.
Ready to head home. Sunny and roof off all the way to Dieppe.
Begging a tow.
A recent Italian rule decrees that all vehicles must use dipped headlights at all times. A law that the Italians seem, uncharacteristically, to abide by. I followed suit, despite worries about my battery and paid the price when I stopped to fill my empty tank from a jerry can (my 80 inch has no fuel gauge and an old Fiat 500 tank). I was on an empty stretch of level road with a flat battery. I had no starting handle because of the capstan winch and no jump leads. Solo pushing was impossible, though I tried. God! I tried. All I could hope for was a passing, sympathetic, motorist. I readied myself with a tow rope to indicate both problem and solution in a multi lingual form and a pathetic expression. Bingo! It worked and the next car stopped. Together we pushed it until we were both near death, then I jumped in, slipped it into third and on the first turn of the engine was away with a cheery ‘Grazzi’ to my new found friend. Knowledge of the problem meant I could drive accordingly and not use the headlights for the rest of the day.
As I approached France I reckoned my battery must have been struggling to provide a spark and power for the SU fuel pump. It had been a few hours since the last breakdown so I was overdue a problem. As I left a small town there was the occasional misfire either from lack of fuel, or faltering spark. Whichever it was a breakdown was imminent. This was where my second stroke of luck came. A tyre and battery establishment on the edge of town. Leaving the engine spluttering I nipped in asking for a new battery in my inadequate Italian. “Ci, eez for da Landa Rover eh?’. “Ci” I replied. Eighty Euros changed hands and I swapped them over in the car park.
Oily Fench mechanic to the rescue.
Val Thorens is Europe’s highest Ski Resort and I was tootling along a valley to its South. In their wisdom, the French have built the 3 Valleys Express cable car that links Orelle, on the main road, to the vast 3 Valley ski region. This was vital for the next stage of my adventure. I found an Hotel for the night with the added bonus of a proper garage next door. Oily mechanic with Gaulloises stuck to his bottom lip, changing the oil on an equally old Renault. He indicated that he would charge my flat (now spare) battery for the morning for 10 Euros. The deal done I retired for the night with a good meal and sufficient red wine to ensure deafness to the trains and lorries that thundered past my window.
It the morning I collected my battery, drove to Orelle and made the Land Rover as secure as possible for its three days of isolation in the car park. Making the inside look a tip was not difficult. I then fastened the tilt with great care. Piling everything of value into my rucksack I stumbled across to the ticket office in my ski boots and caught the cable car. I shared the confined space with three Italian women, one of whom talked for the duration of the 15 minute ride with the ferocity of a misfiring two stroke engine trying to make the same accent.
The name’s Bond....
I’d kept Poppy informed of my progress by text messages and as I stepped out of some Italian verbal apocalypse into perfect skiing conditions at 3200 metres, all I had to do was, slip my shades on, clip on my skis, heave my rucksack onto my back, put the 007 theme tune on my Walkman and ski down to meet her in a bar where I ordered a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred.
The skiing was superb, but I have to admit I was dogged with worry about whether my pride and joy, not to mention all that wine, would still be there when I returned three days later. In the cable car going back down the mountain, thankfully on my own this time, I was craning my neck for a glimpse of the Land Rover. Thankfully it was there and untouched. I was even rewarded with effortless starting and a perfect run up to the Loire Valley. Roof off all the way enjoying the flatulent noise from the exhaust and the rumble of tyres on tarmac. Land Rover driving at its very best.
Things were all going suspiciously well, as I meandered up the Loire. I stuck to the old N79, a caricature of rural France with mature trees either side, but as I rolled into Moulins in the middle of the rush hour it came as no surprise that the engine cut out and refused to restart, despite a healthy battery. Lady luck was on my side again as there was a very slight downward hill in my favour. I whipped the driver’s door off and slung it in the back, much to the amusement of the car full of girls behind me, and scooted the Land Rover down the slope, leaping in at the last minute to coast through a busy junction, down a side road and into the safety of a parking space. As if breakdowns could not be any better, there was even a welcoming bar there.
Fuel pump problems.
Over a cool beer I allowed both Land Rover and self to cool off for half an hour before lifting the bonnet and having a fiddle. Silence from the SU fuel pump pointed to a reccurrence of the fault I had had in London on the outward leg of this trip. Off came the pump and in warm sunny weather I dismantled it, cleaned the points, and within an hour it was ticking furiously and I was on my way. Having covered over 300 miles in the day I was ready for a shower, a good meal and a bed for the night in Gien.
With just over 300 miles up to Dieppe and the ferry home I set off early the next morning under a clear blue sky. I had been lucky with the weather all the way and had not once had to put the roof on. An 80 inch Land Rover is far more enjoyable open as all the rattles and noise disappear behind you in the fog of blue smoke, leaving the driver free to enjoy the smells of the countryside and wave at bemused passers by. I had one very enthusiastic wave from a similar grey haired old idiot in a Willys CJ7 Jeep. He too was enjoying top down motoring.
With all running well I stopped to buy some fresh bread, cheese and fruit for an al fresco lunch and snooze in the warm sunshine. With the driver seat squab propped up against the front bumper I soon drifted off to dream of batteries and fuel pumps. Reality dawned as a tractor drove past and woke me up. The engine fired up first time and I suffered no further problems on the last leg to the ferry port at Dieppe.
It was getting cold and the weather was sure to be foul in England, so I started to put the tilt on and prepare for the four hour crossing and the onward journey to Leicester. My ticket was for a midnight sailing back in November when the Land Rover made its outward trip, and I wondered how easy it was going to be to change it when I noticed the small row of waiting cars starting to board the ferry. Odd! I thought as it doesn’t sail for four hours. I rushed over to the ticket office to be informed that in Spring the ferry sails at 8.00 pm, not midnight. It was 7.45, my tilt was half on, half off, all my worldly goods were spread across the tarmac and I had an out of date ticket. I gave the bloke a look of desperation and he quickly amended the ticket for no extra charge while laughing at me bundling stuff into the back of the Land Rover. I then raced (sic) across the port to be the last car onto the ferry as the rear doors closed behind me. Two minutes later we were at sea leaving me to fumble around fitting the tilt and door tops.
I took a cabin for £15 and grabbed some sleep ready to be jettisoned into Newhaven at about midnight. The weather was clear as I disembarked so I opted to drive home, despite a faulty alternator and breaking all my self imposed rules, by using Motorways. I felt far more vulnerable chugging around the M25 in the middle of the night than at any time abroad. The battery held out until half way up the M1 when I pulled into a service area and swapped it for the charged one and by 4.40am I was home and in bed.
It had been great fun and the 57 year old Land Rover had performed well considering this was the furthest I had ever driven it in our 33 year partnership. I felt my approach of carrying no spare parts, but plenty of botching materials had worked as the Series One Land Rover is one vehicle that can be kept going on a wing and a prayer and, if stranded, any part can be shipped to a European destination within a couple of days. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.