Drive? Me? Mad!
I don't drive much these days. I prefer to be a working passenger so
that I can use my handheld computer to complete reading and writing
assignments like oldSTAGER deadlines. Luckily my wife’s happy to drive
me everywhere. And during much of my employed life I’ve been fortunate
to have new company cars. If they went wrong then Mr Warranty fixed it –
neither spanner or grease soiled my hand. So when I announced last May I
was buying a rally car – a 1973 Ford Escort RS2000 – it brought forth
sarcastic remarks like “Who will drive and maintain it?” When I
answered, “me”, the ensuing laughter was long, loud and rallywide.
Colleagues teased me with trick questions about “Trackrod ends” and “Left foot braking”, but I was smart, I knew they were talking about the finish of a rally in Yorkshire; but how a leg injury was relevant I never did discover.
I had to admit though I was engineeringly disadvantaged and, with just my bicycle tools available, I sub-contracted the care of the whirly, bouncy and sparky bits to a man down the road.
Surely I could at least manage the mundane jobs like polishing and interior refurbishment, but even that had complications.
I sought advice from friends, magazines and the Internet, but this served to confuse. Apparently I needed different polishes for bodywork, chrome, rubber, plastic and glass. Then there were different shampoos and cloths, sprays, creams, ointments; the selection was beginning to look like the contents of driver’s dressing table. Why couldn’t I just use the rusty tin of Simoniz that had been in my garage for the last ten years and a pair of recycled underpants?
My problem was solved when a new subscription to Retro Ford bought me a free gift of an Autoglym starter kit, which contained all I needed.
Being a digital, on or off kind of person, any interior fettling had to be perfect. NOS (New, Old Stock) replacements were required, but for my Escort these were as rare as crow's teeth, but fortunately there were several established fabricators who were more than willing to charge two arms and two legs for ersatz components.
When I worked for Ford decades ago, I carried out the statistical analysis of a survey regarding the negative impact of noises, squeaks and rattles; coincidentally this was probably about the same year that my Escort was built. Driving modern cars it is hard to believe that NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) – as such annoyances are now termed – ever used to be an issue. But since the inside of my Escort sounded like a washing machine with failed drum bearings, I was determined to hunt the noises and professionally terminate their irritation. Yet time, impatience and lack of suitable materials led to three of the fixes being rectified with kitchen towel, elastic bands and double-sided sticky tape – not exactly a perfectionist’s solution.
So, with major running gear rebuilds and a quiet inside, it was time to debut the car on its first event. The event wasn’t a problem – the Kent 100 fitted the bill perfectly for a tame introduction to my driving career – but finding a navigator was. I soon received excuses from candidates which were about as credible as saying “the cheque is in the post”. Eventually I suckered Robin Hernaman – Paul’s brother and renowned stage co-driver for 2007 – in a weak and navigationally unemployed moment and we set out for a drive through the garden of England.
I’ve been very critical of drivers in the past, particularly when it comes to remembering instructions. If I’ve said “0.5 Left at T”, I don’t want to be asked “Er … which way?” half a mile later when I’m in the middle of a plot or speed calculation.
I’d advocated picturing a tulip diagram in one’s head and practising what I’d preached seemed to work. Maintaining an average speed, once I got used to the Escort’s optimistic reading was okay too, except at 20 mph when the car coughed and grumbled at such pedestrian speeds. I was less adept at spotting codeboards as echoed by Robin’s criticism of “a gear change near a codeboard saw only the former being executed properly.” Truth be known, I was sidetracked in having to nurse the car along since the alternator would complain when lights, wipers and navigator’s heated blanket were used together.
The experience was educational, albeit on a small scale. I certainly now appreciate a driver’s input more, not just from steering the route, but having the skill, organisation, patience and money to keep an historic car in fine fettle. When I get to drive an event with special tests no doubt my respect for drivers will reach hero-worshipping proportions.
Now what shampoo should I use to remove Kent mud?