Saturday, 31 December 2011

A tale of Sunflowers and a very sad Hotel

My article '4/4 to the Guggenheim' was penned for inclusion in the Morgan Sports Car Club magazine 'Miscellany' and was duly published in the January issue. Now you may laugh, it being a three page offering, but for reasons of brevity I had to exclude a highly shameful, yet amusing episode that occurred during our period in the Tarn region.

My sister and her husband live in Sete, in the Languedoc, and had arranged to meet us while we were staying near Realmont and had booked a two night stay in the two star Hotel le Mont Royal in the centre of the town.

On the day of their scheduled arrival we had driven up to Lautrec in the morning, expecting to meet them later in the afternoon at their hotel. So we had a coffee and a walk around the village before setting off back to our gite.

The road from Lautrec winds down, through fields of sunflowers, towards the main road from Castres to Realmont and it was while pootling down this road, as only an Englishman in a Morgan can, that I spotted a car parked at the side of the road and took the appropriate action to overtake.

I noted two things as I approached, an elderly man was opposite in the ditch, reaching up to 'harvest' a sunflower or two from the farmer's field and the car was a dark blue Peugeot with a terribly familiar lady driver waving vigorously out of the window. My sister!!!

It has to be said that my sister has lived in France since she graduated from Liverpool University and in that time has been consumed by a very french attitude towards the act of fair play!

The stolen goods, a touch of Van Gogh perhaps!
The Morgan screeched to a halt and instead of rushing up to her, flinging my arms around her body, I launched into a tirade of abuse, accusing both her and dear Gerard of being vandals. 'Oh,' she said with a gallic shrug,' there are so many flowers the farmer won't miss two or three, in fact they actually sell them in the market in Sete!'

Whilst coming to terms with the perverse logic of that last statement, I tried to point out that the farmer was growing them for that very purpose, in order to sell them to support his family. She never was very good at business matters and is in fact a quite well known local poet, so you get the idea, 'I wandered lonely, not only as a cloud, but up on one!'..........

Now for the Hotel, for that is what I am going to call it, but an hotel in name only perhaps!

After our discussion regarding the sunflowers and after presenting us with the three stolen items, they decided to go into Lautrec themselves and we would meet them at their hotel at 5pm.

At the appointed time we parked the Morgan in front of the hotel, a traditional, but very tired, building that was even then taking on the flavour of 'Fawlty Towers', as we viewed a scene of unkempness that had to be seen to be believed. We walked, with growing apprehension, towards where we assumed 'Reception' might be, passed overturned chairs and tablecloths that had been blown off the tables and lay on the floor. Even at this stage it's 2 star rating seemed generous!

I tried to open two doors, both were locked so I knocked vigorously on one of them. Out of the gloom appeared this shadowy, slightly frightening unfortunate figure, who slowly opened the door. The resemblance to 'Quasimodo' was staggering, as I launched into extremely broken french to ask him to let my sister know that we had arrived.

It was clear that my message was not being understood, even though my french is fairly understandable to most french people, but obviously not this one, as he started to phone, we assumed, 'the boss' to let him know that they had yet two more unfortunate punters! We must have disappointed him as we hurriedly left.

Walking away, who did we meet but my dear brother-in-law who told us that they had had to go to the chemist urgently because my sister had left all her medicines at home. We met up with her as she was leaving the pharmacist and she told us more about their accommmodation.

As they were shown to their room they noticed a dead Christmas tree on display still retaining a single silver ball dangling from one of its branches, a sight that apparently caused them some disquiet because it was after all July! The decor in the room was pretty grim, there was no hot water and the curtains wouldn't close properly. A decision was made, they would dine with us at our gite and we would meet them on the following day, which happened to be market day in Realmont.

In the morning we again walked towards the hotel and met them coming in the opposite direction.

The breakfast service was not good, they had endured an uncomfortable night and they had decided to cut their losses and checkout.

When completing her assessment of the place for the Logis de France organisation she told them that it was the perfect setting for the 'Hammer House of Horrors!' 

Friday, 30 December 2011

Four/Four to the Guggenheim.

Blimey it was cold! I’d just returned to the house after assessing the amount of condensation forming in the Morgan’s garage. How I wish that I’d bought a wooden one instead of sectional concrete. Even though I’d lined the walls, sealed and carpeted the floor and left all orifices open for ventilation, water always accumulated, especially on the transparent roof panels and dripped on to the dustsheet.
Winter fruits
So there I was, a dejected and forlorn figure, sitting in my terraced home in deepest Lancashire, huddled over a glowing ember in the fire grate, teeth chattering, clothed in a Morgan gilet and woolly hat, fingerless gloves on my almost frostbitten hands and with a dew drop forming on the end of my nose.
Winter 2010
Oh for the summer! I lay back and dreamt. Fields of sunflowers, vineyards basking in the shimmering heat, a picnic in an olive grove with a bottle of wine, the morning walk to buy the bread. Those thoughts painted what had to be the picture of a blistering French or Spanish summer and with these overwhelming images in my mind, having duly wiped the dewdrop from my nose, I started to cobble together a plan for the third ‘Grand Tour’ in our 4/4.
We would go in July, hopefully to ensure that we had excellent weather, avoiding what happened in June 2009 when the indifferent weather in France contrasted sharply with superb weather in the UK. So we would take a gamble, July it would be and to hell with the prospect of French holidays and the Tour de France!
Routes were planned using Via Michelin (Mappy is also good), printed and attached to the relevant pages cut from large scale road maps. Not only saving space, but a simple method that reduces, but does not eliminate, the likelihood of domestic disharmony in the restricted confines of a Morgan cockpit!

A sticky business!
Amidst the mental contortion of trying to remember all the items and paperwork demanded of French legislation, to say nothing of once again crawling under the car to grease the front suspension, an exercise that always seems to involve the use of more degreasing materials than grease, it did occur to me that I should order some over-specs goggles that might be useful in reducing the eye-watering aspects of top down motoring.
These duly arrived and were returned via the next post! The view I had of myself as a thinning on top T.E.Lawrence was not shared by my dear wife who took one look and said that I looked a right pillock! A blunt response that knocked me back on my haunches after 44 years of marriage!
Anyway these things were far from my mind as we arrived at the toll booth in Courcy on the A26, having driven 163 miles from Calais. My wife Helen took off her seatbelt, scrambled with some difficulty to a kneeling position on her seat and stretched to reach the payment machine, banging her arm on the sidescreen, as she flopped back into her seat, commenting, rather unkindly I thought, that life for a navigator was somewhat easier in our old Volvo sitting in it’s garage at home. Very difficult to disagree with that, I thought, acutely conscious that there were many more toll booths ahead of us that my illustrious co-pilot would have to contend with!

Gite du bois Tuilerie at Lancharre, Burgundy

Looking into my rear view mirror it was clear that the occupants of the car behind us had collapsed in paroxysms of mirth and I decided that it might be a shrewd move if I allowed some time to elapse before launching into a long diatribe about the obvious charms and delights of Morgan motoring!
Relations were however excellent by the time we arrived at 5 Rue du Paradis, St Thierry, near Reims (culled from Alastair Sawday) our first overnight stop and the vineyard of Champagne Remi Harlaut. Lovely accommodation, friendly hosts and a beautiful evening meal prepared and served by Mme Harlaut herself together with a glass of their own ‘champers’. How civilised!
After a substantial breakfast and with top down we set off on the next leg of 263 miles to the hamlet of Lancharre, near Chapaize in Burgundy. It was sometime later when the heavens opened and we pulled into an Aire de Repos to put the hood up before continuing.
Gite du bois dore with Solange's flowers
The water dripping onto my wife’s legs was greeted by her with a sporting measure of sang-froid I thought, considering the toll booth incident, whilst some miles previously, unbeknown to her, I had resorted to surreptitiously placing one of the pieces of towelling we always carry on to the widening damp patch on my trouser leg! What the hell, the car was performing superbly and we arrived at the Gite du bois dore Tuilerie de Lancharre (Homelidays Ref.266788) four hours after setting off from Reims, It was still raining and little did we know then that it would be France’s worst July weather for 100 years!
It is a glorious place, listed as an historic monument, this ancient tile works has been painstakingly restored by the owners. They are gilders, restoring the frames of the finest works of art for art galleries, museums and churches throughout France in their workshop. Their creative and artistic eyes certainly appreciated the Morgan’s lines.
Romanesque Church at Lancharre
We awoke next day to a soft, cloudless morning with the mist rising off the fields and apart from the sound of the Charollaise cattle munching the grass in the field opposite, the stillness was total. It is wonderful Morgan country, quiet roads linking hamlets and villages many with beautiful Romanesque churches and vines and sunflowers everywhere. Just buy a bottle of wine, some cheese, tomatoes, olives, bread or whatever and picnic under a spreading chestnut in the middle of nowhere overlooking the pristine rolling countryside. It doesn’t get much better!
During a visit to Cluny, a lovely town, we returned to our car and were accosted by an elderly French lady (probably our age actually!) who spoke so enthusiastically about her love of Morgans that she could have been the local agent! She even enthused and spoke knowledgeably about the new three wheeler which she had seen on television and the internet!
Picnic in lovely Burgundy countryside
On returning to our gite we were informed that there were warnings of serious hail storms and were offered the use of the Tuilerie as a garage, an offer we accepted. That night we had no hail but a vineyard a short distance away was effectively wiped out.
Next day, parked on the road with our warning flashers on, perusing a map, a Lotus pulled up in front of us. Thinking that we had broken down, the French driver got out and asked if we needed assistance. We thanked him graciously for his concern, telling him that we were merely looking at a map, very conscious of the fact that had we indeed got a problem his help and local knowledge would have been invaluable. It is perhaps an indication of the camaraderie that exists between classic car drivers and I have written to Club Lotus in an effort to formerly thank him.

Bastille Day celebration in the hamlet of Lancharre
Bastille Day brought an invitation to attend the hamlet’s celebrations in the almost medieval surroundings of the square, complete with its  ancient communal washing facility. The twenty or so permanent residents bring something to eat and drink, chat to each other and get quietly ‘pickled’, a lovely unforgettable experience that gave us an opportunity to develop further the entente cordiale.
Outside our host's house and gite near Realmont
But the south beckoned and the day after we set off at 6am on the 350 mile leg to Albi in the Tarn region. We had physically managed to avoid the Tour de France, although we watched it on TV, but there was to be no way that we could avoid the hoards of French driving south on that holiday Saturday and a brief stop at the Aire de Volcans, just north of Clermond-Ferrand confirmed this. The place was seething with huge queues for fuel and the loos, so having literally fought my way to the ablutions we got the hell out of it!
Temporary garaging at 'The Little House'
 We do tend to get rather blasé about all the attention the car receives wherever we take it, but we were staggered when, in the inside lane of the autoroute  I indicated to overtake a caravan,  but was blocked from doing so by a car that drew alongside us and whose passenger was hanging out of the window at 65 miles an hour taking a photograph of the Morgan....or was it my wife?
West of Castres
'The Little House at Saint-Lieux-Lafenasse near Realmont our destination, was reached in 8 hours, Our English hosts were delightful, offering us fresh vegetables and bags of advice about where to visit in this beautiful area rich in bastide towns and villages, including a recommendation for a superb local restaurant, used by locals, truckers and white van men where the Morgan aroused much interest and where on two occasions we enjoyed a five course lunch including wine for 11.5 euros...fabulous!
While in the Tarn we visited Albi, with it’s amazing brick built cathedral, had a lovely pootle through the Gaillac wine area, Lautrec (Toulouse’s birthplace), Castres, Realmont with it’s bustling market and because I don’t fancy crawling about under the car with a grease gun on holiday, a special visit to a garage!
At the outset I was concerned about the potential misunderstandings that might arise in asking a French mechanic in broken French to lubricate my sliding pillars, risking perhaps being carted off by the local gendarmerie to the local clink or asylum for gross indecency! As a result I had taken the precaution of requesting a translation from my learned but not mechanically minded sister, who has lived in France for 40 odd years.
Sunflowers near Gaillac

We selected a small garage and I approached the person who I thought most likely able to offer us assistance and showed him my translation. It was soon clear, following a number of Gallic shrugs and grunts together with a glazed expression in his eyes, that my sister’s efforts had failed miserably. After a very brief discussion in our respective languages that yielded nothing in the way of understanding, he took the initiative and put the car over the pit. After leaning on the wings and pushing the suspension up and down, whilst talking to a much more desirable customer than I, he appeared with the French equivalent of a can of  WD40!! Non, non, Monsieur, suivez moi! I said in my fluent French and down into the pit we went where I pointed to the nipples. Success and 15 euros plus tip later we left him with a self satisfied look on his face.
Lautrec, family home of Toulouse Lautrec
Duly greased we set off on the final leg of our journey, 319 miles to Lekeitio, between San Sebastian and Bilbao. Good time was made to Toulouse where we made a massive blunder and ended up on the autoroute to Carcassonne! We had passed two junctions before we realised and to say that the air was blue would be a huge understatement. We just could not believe our own stupidity and the thought of the extra mileage and time involved filled us with horror. Anyway, back we went to Toulouse to correct our error.
Hotel Zubieta
Some six hours later we arrived at the Hotel Zubieta on the Basque coast of Spain in the fishing port of Lekeitio.
It’s a good job that I took some photos of the hotel and port while the sun was shining, because that was the last we saw of the sun until we arrived back in England. The forecast was truly abysmal, so having ruled out the prospect of lovely sun-drenched drives in the area, we decided to visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Lekeitio, Basque coast of Spain
We found the museum building most impressive and architecturally outstanding, in our opinion far outweighing the artistic qualities of the modern art inside. I must say that our first thought on seeing one exhibit which was of a pile of paint cans scattered randomly on the floor was that we should tidy them up immediately! There is no doubt in our minds that the exhibits would have been greatly enhanced by displaying our car as a sole feature in one of the halls! After all, our very creative host in Burgundy had exclaimed that it was a true work of art!
Guggenheim Museum
Next day, a Basque festival bank holiday, found us at lunchtime, after a great drive on the rain drenched roads, in a very rustic local restaurant in the hills, struggling with the language but enjoying the festive atmosphere and a wonderful meal with the locals. Just brilliant!
It was a 7am start in pouring rain and awful visibility to Bilbao for our 10.30 sailing. The roads through the pine forests were treacherous so much reduced speed was the order of the day, much to the horror of the local Basque commuter traffic which was intense by the time we were passing the city en route to the port.

Homeward bound on 'Cap Finistere'
In the mist and gloom the ‘Cap Finistere’ was there waiting for us. We carefully parked the car on board, taking our time to leave it until we were sure that it wasn’t going to get bashed by a passing suitcase and then made our way up to our cabin for a very pleasant voyage back to Blighty.
On arriving back home in Lancashire we had completed 2400 miles and a swift calculation showed that the 4/4 had averaged 43 miles to the gallon. Both the car and the navigator had behaved impeccably, despite the stresses placed on both of them and we all look forward with some relish to the prospect of yet another adventure....because in a Morgan that’s what these touring holidays are!

Article first published in 'Miscellany' January 2012

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Seagulls flying backwards!

So disappointing when you set your heart on a quick drive, than venturing out of your front door to be almost blown off your feet by a screaming gale of wind off the Irish Sea!

Now many of you more courageous souls, perhaps those with the spirit of Scott, would have said sod it, donned your heaviest winter gear and clambered into the car. Well, in view of the fact that the car might be assaulted by flying roof tiles, falling trees or have it's sidescreens blown off,  I decided on a more Bertie Wooster approach to the problem and withdrew indoors post haste to have a wee dram!

Returning yesterday, following a delightful Christmas with our eldest daughter and family in balmy Surrey,  I was pleased to note that, after restraining my speed to 62mph over most of the journey, the old V70, with it's 2.4 litre, 5 cylinder diesel engine had achieved an astonishing 71.8 mpg on the inboard computer.

I have always found the car economical but, even allowing for a significant computer error, that is really good and is supported by the fact that the fuel gauge is showing 3/4 full. That is one very good reason for sticking with the Volvo, apart from all it's other benefits, and is a fact shared by 'Honest John', motoring writer in the Daily Telegraph who has said that he thinks that the big Volvo is indeed an economical car.

On the doormat as we entered our humble abode lay 'Miscellany' and in it, two articles by yours truly. The major one being my tale of our trip to France and Spain in July and the other culled from my blog 'Up the Creek'. I am delighted that the articles have been published but find the fact that there are two in the same issue somewhat embarrassing. But enough of that!

I had a splendid present from my lovely wife at Christmas, 'Morgan 4/4, the first 75 years' by Michael Palmer and I am looking forward to consuming it with some relish. It is a book that has to be a must for 4/4 owners but also sure to be of interest to all who love the marque.

Monday, 19 December 2011

South for Christmas!

Yesterday, the weather was almost perfect, calm, sunny and the roads fairly dry, so I leapt at the opportunity to roll the little beauty out of the garage and give myself an andrenalin rush! Nowadays the only occasion when this hormone is secreted from my adrenal glands!

For some reason I drove with the hood up, due either to sheer laziness or vanity perhaps, safe in the knowledge that I would be able to grin to my heart's content without passing motorists and pedestrians noticing the toothless gap at the front of my mouth and collapsing in fits of giggles!

This gap, the result of a previously capped tooth detaching itself while I was relishing a hearty breakfast, will have to remain for six months, so my illustrious dentist tells me, before he can 'bridge' the gap, which is going to cause me endless problems whilst driving the Mog because as every Morgan driver knows, we spend most of the time with an inane grin spread across our face!

Fortunately nothing else has dropped off the ageing body yet and I'm just hoping that everything continues to hold together as I crawl around the floor playing with my grandchildren at Christmas.

Extracting myself from the Morgan after my drive yesterday, always more difficult with the hood up, it did occur to me that the loss of this wretched incisor is possibly the least of my problems! One does look so stupid lying on the floor with legs akimbo!!

Tomorrow we're off to our daughter in Warwick and then on to t'other un in Camberley for Christmas, returning home for New Year.

Good wishes to everyone.

Fire! Fire!

The knock on the door came at 21.45, a fairly late hour and a sound that brings with it a slight feeling of foreboding. Was it a hoax, youngsters playing 'knock a door run', a particular religious organisation or perhaps at this time of year, carol singers?.....but I could'nt hear any singing!

I slowly opened the door, fortunately I wasn't wearing my night attire, and standing there was a highly agitated next door neighbour with a stranger behind him, informing me with some concern that our chimney was on fire. So in my unshod feet I walked into the road to look at our chimney, noticing at the same time that the public house opposite had completely disappeared from view, shrouded in smoke. Our chimney looked like Vesuvius erupting with thousands of sparks pouring out, the only difference being that there was no red hot larva running down the roof!

Satisfied in the knowledge that the Morgan was safe, never mind the wife and the valuable jewellery and ancient artifacts within our crumbling pile, I called 999, quite pleased that I could remember the correct number to call on occasions such as this. Some ten minutes later the Fire Brigade appeared approaching the crossroads, lights flashing and sirens sounding, but regardless of the waves of half the people in the village who had gathered to see our house burn down, turned down the wrong road, much to our chagrin. Anyway, regardless of satnav error they finally pulled up in front of the house.

It must be said that they were excellent. The sparks from the chimney had subsided a lot by then, the fire in our log burner was almost out anyway and fortunately the fire had been contained within the stainless steel flue. However it was vital that the flue was swept before using the fire again and there was one thing absolutely certain, we would not be using our regular sweep who had told us every year that, because of a 'dog-leg', he could not get his brush to the top of the chimney.

New operatives were summoned who have now achieved the 'impossible' and the brush has been viewed in time-honoured fashion a foot above our chimney pot!

All is well and I am now warming my little tootsies in front of our lovely log fire!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Morgan Magic!

I know my friend will not mind me relating part of his most recent email, but it sums up very nicely the delights of Morgan ownership.

"This morning I had cause to go on a round trip of about 35 miles and decided to use the Morgan as it had not been out since December 3rd, and then only for less than two miles. The weather was not marvellous, bright sun one minute, heavy shower the next, so it was hoods on.

But how I enjoyed the little outing. Had I used my everyday car it would have merely been a humdrum routine trip, but in the Mog it was a special event. The hum of the engine, the whirr of the heater fan, the glorious view along that long, louvred bonnet, the admiring looks from pedestrians, the effortless acceleration, the comfy leather know what I am on about.

As I approached home on the return leg, I had to resist the temptation to carry on along the bypass and go home by a long and roundabout route. I did not want the journey to end so soon. I did manage to resist the temptation!! I arrived home feeling invigorated and cheerful, all was well in my little world."

Oh yes, I do know what he's on about and how I agree with him!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

On the Rack!

As I contemplate the ceiling whilst my spine is being stretched on the treatment table, in the luxuriously warm confines of my Physiotherapists surgery, it occurs to me that there is a danger that my blog might appear at times to be a forum for hyperchondriacs!

However my current medical predicament, galloping sciatica, is still there niggling in the background and dulling any enthusiasm for leaping into the 4/4 which sits disconsolately in its garage. In any case the weather here in deepest Lancashire is dismal, wet and stormy, not the sort of weather to set the pulse of a Morgan owner racing, which is some consolation.

I've just phoned the dealer to get the car booked in for its service in February which, as I've said previously, will I think also include king pin replacement. Not being exactly flush with money, this fills me with a degree of trepidation. Anyway 'them as knows' were out picking up a car so the financial implications have not yet been revealed but all too soon the monetary truth will be out, which could severely worsen my physical condition, never mind my mental faculties!

Bloody Morgans! I've just worked out that if I sold the little beauty we could enjoy 62 weeks of cottage holidays, 833 bottles of decent Malt or a beach hut on Fleetwood beach!! I think I'll stick with the Mog!

Blimey, this weather is awful though and complaining that I was cold this morning, my lovely wife suggested it might be a good idea if I donned more appropriate woollen clothing and 'long johns'. Good idea I thought, so after a futile search for my thermals in the main body of the house I realised that the bloody things were in the loft with the rest of my sailing gear.

Half an hour later after much physical contortion due to the aforementioned affliction I climbed into the roof space to retrieve the said items and am now, you will be pleased to hear, sitting comfortably contemplating the imminent call from the dealer.

It came at 10.26 and I'm now booked in for a February service, MOT and hearteningly, since I regularly grease the pillar axle and ours is a 2007 car, there is now less likelihood of king pin replacement. Thank God, because during the conversation with the engineer about the potential costs involved, I could sense the tension and imagine the pallor in the face of the lady sitting on our sofa knitting, which was dramatically confirmed as I gingerly crept back into the sitting room after replacing the phone.

Bloody Morgans!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Failed restoration of a 1938 Austin Big 7

This is a letter sent to me by a fellow Morgan enthusiast and friend.

It is a sorry but amusing tale of misdirected endeavour that will find sympathy amongst the many of us whose dreams of restoring a vehicle far outweigh our expertise and the financial means to achieve the desired end result!
It will certainly be of interest to members of the Austin Seven Owners Club, of which Dennis was once a member Club,

He writes:-

"Here is the sorry tale of 1938 Austin Big 7, EXP 880. After 38 years the full details are a bit hazy, but the story is basically correct.

Back in 1973 I was 26 years old, and living with my parents, brother and sister, just outside Leicester. I was rather late flying the nest!

Although I had no mechanical knowledge whatsoever I had long dreamed of restoring an old motor. In my mind's eye I saw myself in a warm, spotlessly clean, bright, well-equipped double-garage. Spanners and other tools hung neatly on the walls. Trolley jacks, lathes, spray guns, tool chests, a welding machine and other assorted hardware were dotted around. I wore a blue boiler suit, and in the garage was a part-dismantled classic car. No specific type of car, but I was bringing it back to life with love and skill.

Of course the reality was somewhat different, though we did have a double-garage. However this held my parents Fiat 128 and my Wolseley 1300, plus the piles of junk which always end up in a garage. My brother also had a car, I think it was a Fiat 850, which lived outside.

In short, the garage was not, and never would be, the pristine workshop of my fertile imagination. Of course my dad had some tools which I was welcome to use, but only the miscellaneous assortment accumulated by everyone else. Nor did he have any specialist knowledge or skills, and my brother didn't either.

None of this put me off, and to cut a long story short we (the Whole Family) went to see the above mentioned Big 7 at a farm just south of Melton Mowbray. It was dark blue, complete, and everything worked at least after a fashion. The bodywork didn't look half-bad, and the the interior was OK. The farmer said it needed attention to the exhaust and the brakes, plus a bit of welding on one of the sills, to pass the MOT but then it would be perfectly usable.

Money changed hands, £100 in fact, and as part of the deal the farmer agreed to bring it to our house on a trailer at no extra cost.

There was a car port at the side of the garage, and the Austin was pushed under it. The enormity of what I had done then struck home. I simply didn't know where to start. How could I obtain a new exhaust, what exactly needed doing to repair the braking system? I didn't even have a handbook or a workshop manual. In any case I had very little money, even less tools and equipment, and most important of all - no idea what I was doing.

Now, you might say go and buy a workshop manual, that at least should tell you how to deal with the braking system. No hydraulics to worry about, just rods, cables, brake drums and brake shoes. How hard could it be?

But no, I began by stripping the interior of the seats and rubber floor covering. Simple to do, and I was able to convince myself I was making progress. The seats and mats were dumped in the garage. What should I do next?

What I should have done, as soon as the car was delivered, was to get the car to the local garage and ask them to repair the exhaust system, sort out the brakes and weld the sill. It would not have cost a fortune and I would have a nice interesting little car to use. Bear in mind that in 1973 the Austin was 'only' 35 years old, which is the equivalent of a 1976 car today.

I can't say why I didn't do that. Instead I began to remove the rear wings. These were bolted on, the nuts and bolts rusted solid, and the task involved much effort and time. But like removal of the interior I was able to show that I was doing something. But it was something pointless. There was no need to remove the wings in the first place.

Next to go was the bonnet, which joined the wings and seats in the shed. Fortunately I could not see how to remove the front wings, so they stayed in place.

What about the exhaust? I did manage some sort of temporary repair, so what possessed me to remove it from the engine manifold? Not only did I now require a new gasket, the thread on one of the studs stripped.

The car had a flat back, but there was a small boot which opened to form a platform for a trunk, suitcases etc. Inside the boot there were some holes where rot had set in, and I judged the area was not a structural part of the car. Of course a proper welding job was out of the question, but a root in the garage and shed revealed a large stock of empty Marvel milk tins. No idea why they had been saved, but cut down they made ideal patches, which I pop-rivetted in place.. It looked a right mess, but a thick coat of black underseal went a long way towards disguising the abomination.

Things were not looking good, winter was approaching, too cold to work outside so the project ground to a halt. But not before I had employed a mobile welder to come and repair the sill, at least that was a step in the right direction and something positive, but it cost money I could ill-afford.

Come the Spring I set to again. I needed to convince myself that things were moving forward, so I ordered a new wiring loom (by this time I had joined the Owners' Club, so knew where to obtain some parts) and began to rip out the perfectly serviceable original. Not too difficult, and strangely satisfying.
The new loom duly arrived, but my pathetic skills were nowhere near up to understanding how to fit it. Despair set in as I finally realised I was out of my depth. To make matters worse my parents had begun to make disapproving noises about the pile of scrap in the back garden (for that is basically what the poor car had become).

There was no bonnet, no exhaust, the interior was gutted, the instrument panel was hanging out, bits of the wiring system were unconnected (part of the original loom had gone down the 'B' pillar, and I could not see how to get the new section of the loom down there) I might even have removed the doors, can't be sure now. The rear wings were off, the exhaust was disconnected, the boot had been bodged. In short, a perfectly good little car had been reduced to a wreck.

Nothing for it, an ad was placed in the local paper. For Sale, 1938 Austin Big 7, unfinished project, £75.. It received one response, from a young chap who came round for a look. He was very interested, but said that he could afford only £60. What could I do but accept?

We got the car onto his trailer, along with the parts I had removed. 'As soon as I get it finished I'll pop round and take you for a ride', was his parting shot. 'Yeah, right,' I thought, but at least the problem was no longer mine, and I had £60 in my pocket.

So imagine my surprise when only a couple of weeks later, a Sunday morning, there was a knock on the door and there was the purchaser standing on the step. He gestured to a dark blue Austin Big 7 parked outside. 'Coming for a spin,' asked the youngster.

Bloody hell, I was gobsmacked I can tell you. We went for a little ride, and the car ran like a sewing machine. 'Didn't take me long to put things right,' said the modest mechanical genius.

I was so pleased that all the damage I had inflicted on the innocent piece of machinery had been put right, and the car had found a loving owner. Never heard any more, wonder what happened to it?

Hope you find this of interest, obviously I have invented the conversations but the gist is there."

Dennis Duggan

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Culture of envy perhaps?

My wife had an appointment with her optician this morning who told her that his Aston Martin had been 'keyed' some days ago, along both sides of the car and also on a headlamp. The moron who perpetrated this gross act of vandalism has caused damage that will cost £6,600 to put right, a cost that will be met ultimately by everyone of us in increased motoring insurance premiums.

It is a worry that everyone of us who owns a desirable vehicle frequently has and particularly when we park them. Is the car park secure, will someone bash the bodywork when opening their door or in the case of one local Morgan owner, perhaps someone will reverse over it in a Supermarket car park?

Of course these worries are not just the exclusive preserve of car owners, but are shared by others who own anything that has a value to them and on which they lavish care and attention.

When driving the Morgan, I've often noticed that amongst the faces who respond to it with a look of appreciation and delight in their faces at the sight of a beautiful hand-built creation, there are those whose attitude is far from appreciative and borders on bitter resentment, that I've got something that they don't have and what is more probably never will!

Sadly, it seems to me, in these days of falling standards in almost every aspect of life, that there is a developing culture of envy.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Glad tidings of great joy!

The wretched sciatica is still causing problems so, thus afflicted, I hobbled around the Morgan applying generous quantities of wax, a job that I have been meaning to do for a couple of weeks, when my mobile rang and my wife informed me that the man was returning with the Volvo, following it's MOT.

I could tell from his face that he had something on his mind and so it was, with not a great deal of confidence, that I asked the usual question, "everything OK then?". "Fine, he said, but there is an advisory note on the Certificate suggesting that the suspension arms and bushes are showing wear and will need replacing. The problem is that if allowed to deteriorate further, it will affect the tracking of the wheels and I would hate the two new Pirellis fitted to the front to become prematurely worn!"

This bit of news demanded an urgent audience with my Financial Director who was busy completing our Christmas cards, a job I manage somehow to avoid every year, along with just about everything else to do with Christmas!

Excuse me I said, being as deferential as I could, but there is a slight problem with the Volvo that is probably going to cost around £300! The knuckles of the hand that was gripping the pen were white causing me to think that she might crush it as she uttered those immortal words, the words that usually signal disaster, "Right that's it!" followed by "well you can forget any bright ideas you might have for holidays!" Silence followed, then, after some deep diplomatic discussion, we finally consoled and reassured ourselves in the knowledge that £300 was a lot less to pay than launching into the purchase of a replacement vehicle and that if we were running a 100,000+ miler this was the sort of expense we must get used to.

At this juncture in proceedings many of you would say that it was imprudent of me to mention the fact that in February, we will be faced with servicing, taxing and MOTing (if that's an acceptable term?) the Morgan with the additional possible expense of king pin replacement. You would have been correct!

At least I should be able to look forward to some succour under the sympathetic hands of my charming physiotherapist this afternoon!

"Christmastime is here by golly, deck the halls with chunks of holly!"  (With thanks to Tom Lehrer )

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dusting the dustsheet!

Morgan ownership brings a sort of madness I suppose. Many would say that I was mad to buy one, but like many others I was wooed by the sheer beauty of their form and in an act of almost total irrationality find myself loving and cosseting my eccentric purchase.

The garage nestling under the Silver Birches
The Morgan's garage is of the sectional concrete variety, a choice that I now regret and wish that I had got a wooden one instead, perhaps avoiding the problem I have in the winter months of trying to limit the amount of condensation formed.

In an effort to control this, I have carpeted the floor and lined the walls, whilst keeping the main window open at all times, the orifice being protected by a metal mesh panel to keep out the birds etc. Additionally all the corrugated openings in the roof panels have been left open to allow full airflow, fine when the weather is calm, but on a day like this, with gale force winds, hundreds, nay thousands of seeds from the two silver birches, nicked as seedlings from the Forest of Bowland when I was knee high to a grasshopper and that are now 70 feet high, blow in and shower on to the dustsheet protecting my little darling.

Inside the 'luxury' accommodation.
Which is why I now find myself, recovering from a painful bout of sciatica, hoovering the bloody things off the sheet.
Because, after all, the last thing any self-respecting Morgan owner wants, is dust on their dustsheet!!  

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Couldn't resist....even in my state of health!

You know how it is, you're teetering on the brink of collapse, take a large dose of strong painkillers prescribed by the doctor, that disguise the full extent of the problem, feel considerably better, look out of the window at a sunkissed winter road, don a woolly hat, driving jacket, gloves and looking like Scott of the Antarctic make your way to the Morgan garage.

More to the point I just had to go to the car to check that I could still get in and out of the thing, smitten as I am by a rather acute dose of sciatica. God knows what caused it, although I suppose it's a fair bet that the damage was inflicted when removing a rather large Robinia tree from our garden and assisting in the severe pruning of a very large Blackthorn tree at my sister-in-law's property.

It's very true that age is just a number and you are as young as you feel, but the fact is, that satisfying and reassuring as those statements are, the old body lets you know all too easily, when you are clocking on a bit, that you can't do just what you could in your thirties or forties!

The good news is that I was able to drag the poor, wracked, disease ridden body into the car, had a splendid drive out into the country and perhaps more importantly was able to ease the body out again!

So I am clearly well on the way to a full recovery, and ghastly thoughts of maybe having to throw in the towel at the dealers and offer the car for sale, on the basis that access to the driving compartment was alas impossible, have now been erased from my mind. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Volvo milestone....

.....well it is for me!

My 2002 V70 D5 has just clocked 100,000 miles, the biggest mileage that I have completed in any of my  cars before changing them. On previous occasions, when my cars reached around 40,000 I generally traded them in for a newer model and then invariably thought, why the hell have I got rid of it, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the car! So this time it's going to be different.

Why should I change this wonderful piece of Swedish engineering when it is immaculate, extremely comfortable and gobbles up the miles easily and economically with its 2.4 litre diesel engine? Why should I launch myself into debt or use valuable capital once again to replace it, the car owes me nothing? In any case I still think it is one of the best looking estates on the market and hopefully it will be our everyday transport for another few thousand miles.

My relationship with the marque began when I bought my father's 121 Amazon in 1969. Apart from a couple of company cars in the intervening period, Volvos have always been part of our family and great cars they have been, with the notable exception of a 343, bought as a second car for my wife, that turned out to be a real rot box.

People often asked many years ago, how I could afford to run a Volvo and my response was always, I can't afford not to! This was at the time that Volvo supplied a sticker that you could stick on the rear windscreen proclaiming "Volvo for the fortunate few", a sentiment that I totally agreed with but felt, after a few days, that I might be encouraging certain individuals in society to to react aggressively towards the car, or me, or both and took it off!!! Utterly reliable, safe, economical and with service costs comparable with many lesser marques, they have been superb.

Through my cars I have always felt an affinity with Sweden and was therefore delighted when I was contacted on 'Talk Morgan' by Kenneth from southern Sweden, who now follows my blog and I his, at

My blog will now fall quiet for a week, as my wife and I are visiting our lovely daughters and their families in Warwick and Camberley. We shall be whisked there in supreme, effortless comfort in our 'long in the tooth' Volvo!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Up the Creek!

Ready to go!
At this time of year particularly, if you haven't laid up the car for the Winter (why anyone should want to I don't know!), it's a good idea to take every opportunity, if the weather is decent, to get the Morgan out of the garage, give it an airing and even if you are only going to travel a short distance, ensure that you get the engine up to full working temperature.It's got to be good for the car and it's good for me, giving me a good dose of adrenalin!

So after clearing a load of brushwood for sister-in-law and taking it to the local tip in my trailer and before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was screened on the telly I went for a little drive. 

The weather was excellent, with the sun shining, temperatures very respectable, the roads dry and little wind. Very soon the real winter will set in and opportunities like this will get more infrequent. 

With an immaculate car,  washed a few days ago, in preparation for another load of wax polish I was really enjoying myself as I made my way up the creek road, just three miles away from home. The tide was in, the yachts from the local yacht club were sailing in the estuary and I must say that I rather fancied being in one of them, my love of yachting once more being rekindled by the sight.
Not a soul in sight, lovely!

I took some photographs, headed out into the country to a friend's home and then travelled back home through the local town centre, the car attracting all the usual attention. The trip had taken around an hour and had for the time being at least, satisfied my desire to drive the little bugger!

Earlier, when I mentioned cleaning the car I was reminded of something the dealer told me some days ago, about a 2007 4/4 that had been brought in for sale and which was an absolute disgrace, stone chips rusty chrome etc. The dealer had told the owner that they would have to spend at least a £1000 on bringing the car up to an appropriate standard and if they weren't prepared to spend that amount on it the car could not be accepted by them and would be returned. Four years old!!!!!

It's all about pride of ownership isn't it?

Personally edited article first appeared in 'Miscellany' January 2012

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Day in the Dales
The day dawned, one of those sparkling, late summer mornings with a hint of autumn in it, a day that promised much, especially to those lucky people with a Morgan in the garage. It was time for another very special drive and a picnic in the glorious countryside of the Yorkshire Dales.

Bowland scenery
It is extremely handy to have a house that is next door to a delicatessen, providing all the culinary delights to enhance a picnic and this was quickly achieved, filling our square shaped insulated bag that fits perfectly behind the passenger seat.  The expensive wicker hamper, bought soon after buying the Morgan, has never been used, due to the fact that it has enough equipment in it to meet the needs of a large family. Although it has to be said that it does look good on the luggage rack and perhaps one of these days its use will be justified.

The picnic spot with Morgan in background
There is always a feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach when I just think about a drive in the car, never mind actually driving it, and that morning was no different. With the 4/4 nicely warmed up, we set off from home along the well worn road east to the A6, bordering  the western edge of the Forest of Bowland (great chunks of which are owned by the Duke of Westminster) and the thinly populated fells to the east where we were heading.

Arncliffe village green outside 'The Falcon'.
It is amazing and gratifying, that in a country so heavily populated, there are vast areas where you can travel for miles without seeing a soul and there can be no better way of experiencing this than sitting in an open-topped long as it’s not raining! That day was one of those perfect ones though and we savoured every moment as we pootled through the lovely little villages of Bowland and the Ribble valley, Chipping, Dunsop Bridge (one of two main contenders said to be the geographical centre of Great Britain) ,Slaidburn and on to Long Preston and Hellifield, at the western border of the Dales.

Above Litton
The drive through Malham and past Malham Tarn was splendid, although the area adjacent to the village and the tarn is a tourist hot-spot and in our view best avoided except perhaps in the early morning or later in the day when the masses have gone home!
An unclassified single track road to Arncliffe was more to our liking and we selected a little spot for our picnic by a stream, having parked the Morgan off the road a little farther on. An idyllic setting, just us and nature in the wild, savouring the delights of the food, washed down with the occasional slurp from those little bottles of red that you can pick up at Supermarkets and which we always have in stock for occasions such as this.

Then the cry came from Helen just as I had raised the glass to my lips resulting in half the contents being deposited on the chair as I rapidly raised myself. A flock of sheep had suddenly appeared up the road and were admiring their reflected glory in the impeccable bodywork of the Morgan! It was only recently that one of our five friends, we’re no different from most of you, had told me how a ram had seen its reflection in his car’s bodywork and had butted it, thinking the reflection was another ram. You know how quietly and gently a shepherd approaches his flock, well I didn’t! Within a few seconds I had run the 100 yards faster than ever I did at Sports Day, shouting, with arms flailing, and pleased to see them disappearing into the distance in response to the frightening sight of the old git heading towards them. Peace returned.

The long horned cattle that suddenly appeared ten minutes later and surrounded the car, (what is it about Morgans?) demanded a totally different approach! We swiftly struck camp, grabbed our chairs and with Helen behind me gripping my jumper we moved surreptitiously towards the herd. One false move and one of those horns would either penetrate the car or some unmentionable part of my anatomy, so stealth was the order of the day and they thankfully moved off,  as indeed we did to the warm hospitality of the ‘The Falcon’ in Littondale, an amazing hostelry in the same family for four generations and where the excellent Timothy Taylors Bitter is poured from the barrel into a porcelain jug and then into the glass. On the edge of the village green, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the past and although we didn’t partake of the home made food on offer it was obvious that the many customers there were enjoying it immensely. Definitely a must visit if you are in the area.

Trough of Bowland
Driving alongside the River Skirfare through the tiny village of Litton we then skirted Pen-y-Ghent ( 694 metres or 2277feet) and headed west, with the sun in our faces, retracing our outward route, arriving home for a well earned gin and tonic! I hope that we are not alone in saying that open top driving makes you incredibly sleepy or perhaps nobody else agrees and it’s just galloping senility?.......... Bloody good day though!

Hogs Pudding Delivered!

It's arrived and my breakfasts will now be enriched with this wholesome delicacy. Beautifully packed and made specially for me by my special chum Andy Martin in Chagford, Devon, it's now all in the freezer and I can't wait for tomorrow!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

My First Car..."Hildegarde".
The £30 was thrust into the hands of the lady Secretary at the bank where I worked and the splendid 1936 Morris 10/4 Series 2 fixed head coupe, standing in the parking space outside the bank, was mine.
The Morris in original livery.
In 1963 when I bought it, the car was already 27 years old and had less than 30,000 miles on the clock. It was battleship grey with a tan vinyl covered roof and I named it ‘Hildegarde’ (battle maiden in German) or Hilda for short!

Owned by a former manager at the bank from new, it had been stolen from his home and used as the getaway car for a robbery that took place at the local Knott End-on-Sea Golf Club! The thieves had made an ‘L’ shaped cut in the middle of the sunroof so that they could open it and climb in. At some point he sold it to his Secretary, who did minimal mileage in it, finally selling it to me.
During the next couple of years or so, the car was re-wired, had a new vinyl roof and new headlining. I used it as daily transport, entered the car in a vintage/post vintage rally and during this period I also made an overnight journey to Norfolk that included a very ‘hairy’ drive, in the early hours, over the demanding ‘Cat and Fiddle’road from Macclesfield to Buxton in heavy mist.
In new blue livery at Loch Creran (I think!)
Some time later it was hand painted by me in a pale blue ‘brushing cellulose’ and it was in that livery that my wife and I, recently married, decided to drive it to Scotland for a camping holiday. All went well until we reached Balloch on the southern shore of Loch Lomond when I noticed that the dynamo wasn’t charging and realised that new brushes were required. Fortunately there was a garage nearby and after the proprietor was asked if he could help, he disappeared into the dark recesses of the place for a few minutes and re-appeared clutching a brand new set of the Lucas brushes we required. These were fitted by me at the roadside and we continued with renewed confidence to our next overnight stop. We had a splendid time camping, in mixed weather, and ultimately reached Mallaig at the furthermost point.

Looking over the white sands of Morar

FV 7377 gave sterling service but eventually ended up on oil drums at the rear of our garage when we decided that a newer everyday family vehicle was required. So there it stayed, being turned over from time to time with the starting handle, until a new job opportunity resulted in the prospect of a move to Staffordshire, a move that fortuitously coincided with the launch of the new Morris Marina convertible!  This not overwhelmingly popular event gave me an idea!  Dear ‘Hilda’ had to go, but why not try to get the garage that had originally sold her in April 1936 to buy the car and use it as a publicity vehicle parked next to the new Marina in the showroom?
The Managing Director responded readily to my suggestion and a sum of £250 was agreed. The car was driven away and we bought a new three piece suite for our new house in Stone!
While in Staffordshire, we learned that the car had been returned to its original grey colour and received press cuttings from our families whenever it took part in a promotional event, finally hearing that it had been acquired by the Holker Hall Motor Museum as an exhibit. We subsequently visited the Museum on two occasions, finding the car in a very sorry state on our last visit some two years ago, parked under an outside shelter, open to the elements, having been ousted from display by a more ‘attractive’ vehicle. We feared the worst!

Lakeland Motor Museum (windscreen seal to be completed!)
However, some months later, matters changed dramatically when we learned from a friend who had visited the newly sited and completely new Lakeland Motor Museum at Backbarrow near Newby Bridge in Cumbria, that ‘our car’ was on display and looking resplendent in blue livery, with a new hood and restored chrome.
Within days of this news I contacted the Museum, informed them of our interest and received complimentary tickets for a visit. As a donation, I gathered together any relevant invoices, press cuttings and photographs that I thought would add provenance to the car and arrived at this wonderful Lakeland attraction.
What a thrill it was to see the car on display, so many memories of happy motoring days when the roads were less congested than they are today and satisfied in the knowledge that the car is in a good home with many more years of life to look forward to.
The museum must be on the list of ‘must sees’ for any visitor to the Lakes, even those with only a marginal interest in cars and transport. It is in an idyllic setting and there is a first class ultra modern, sensibly priced, cafe/restaurant overlooking the River Leven, with outside seating . On the same site is ‘The Campbell Exhibition’ also very worthy of a visit.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Couldn't resist!

What glorious sunny Autumn weather, totally blue sky, slight chill in the air, just the stuff to get a Morgan man motivated, along with the prospect of a delightful pint at the end of a wonderful drive.
So the Morgan was cranked up and rolled out of it's garage and we set off.
Being Sunday and as I've said, a lovely day, the whole population seemed to be on the road but what the hell! The 4/4 was purring, it's terrific heater was at full whack to keep 'her indoors happy!' and we headed towards the hills and a pub we often frequent called 'The Wheatsheaf' in Garstang, a small, attractive Lancashire market town.
Wonderful pint of Hawkshead Gold and a bag of crisps, those crinkly ones that neither my wife nor I particularly like and then back on the road again for the return trip, back home to one of Helen's delightful Sunday roasts.
The Morgan makes simple events like these so memorable, we're so fortunate to have one.
What is more, during our conversation, my tentative suggestion that the Italian Lakes might form the basis of yet another Morgan adventure did not fall on deaf ears and various suggestions as to the length of each leg on a trip of that distance was discussed....and I don't think it was the beer talking!