Tuesday, 8 May 2012

East Anglian Mog Mishap!

This story was sent to me by my Morgan friend, Dennis Duggan who asked me if I would like to include it in my blog. Quite frankly, as long as anything is legal, decent, honest and truthful it can be included, as long as it is Morgan orientated of course! 
So here it is, the story of a drive to Suffolk that Dennis and his wife Stephanie made in their 4/4 Sport.

My copies of Miscellany are eagerly awaited, and read from cover to cover more than once - including the small ads.  Perhaps my favourite items are the accounts of Morgan holidays, whether taken as individuals or part of a group.

Stephanie and I took delivery of our new 4/4 Sport on January 2nd 2009, and from the outset I had a desire to use the car for a touring holiday.  But for various reasons that never happened, and apart from three occasions the 14,000-plus miles have been racked up on day trips.  The exceptions were an overnight stay with family in Yorkshire, and overnight stays at weddings in Rutland and Suffolk.  Very nice, but hardly a touring holiday - just there and back!  And two of those trips were in the depths of winter, with hood up and heater on.

Yet the idea was never far from my mind, and during the summer of 2011 a plan was finally hatched.  My (very) elderly parents live in Suffolk, next door to my sister and family.  We live in Welshpool, Mid Wales, which is the other side of the country.  So the journey is not one to be undertaken lightly, and one we seldom make.  But, went the reasoning,  if we incorporated the visit to Suffolk with a short touring holiday in East Anglia, that would kill two birds with one stone...

The date was set, the hotel booked.  Leave Welshpool Friday morning September 23rd, arrive at The Scole Inn, Norfolk late afternoon.  Saturday visit Anglesey Abbey and Ickworth, both National Trust properties, and generally wander round the area.  Sunday, drive to Holton, which is near Halesworth, to visit the family.  Monday, return home.

The packing required some thought, as normally we are of the 'if in doubt take it' school.  That's fine in a tin-top, where there is room for an assortment of coats, shoes, boots, bags and cases.  Obviously that is not the situation in a Morgan, especially one without a luggage rack. 
We set off with the area behind the seats filled with the folded traditional-type hood, tool kit, tyre compressor (no spare wheel) two soft bags, picnic bag, top coats and some ancillary items that would not go in the bags.  No problem at all, at least for three nights away.

It was a glorious day, perfect for a long drive in a Morgan.  Blue skies, bright sunshine, pleasantly warm, the Ford 1.6 Sigma as smooth as a sewing machine, the usual envious/admiring  looks from other drivers, along with the occasional wave or friendly flash of the lights - what more could anyone want?  Perhaps I'd died and gone to Heaven?
The 4/4 outside 'The Scole Inn', Scole, Suffolk

In true Morgan fashion we had planned a route using as many A and B roads as possible, and in any case we were not in any particular hurry.  So the A458 took us onto the Shrewsbury bypass, which in turn became the M54.  Off at junction 4, where we used the services for a comfort stop and had our coffee from a flask.  Then the A5 into Leicestershire.  It makes a nice alternative to the hectic M6, the downside for me being a series of large, complicated roundabouts.  Used regularly these are not a problem, but can be a minefield for the unwary novice.  Locals, and those in the know,whizzing round at high speed, traffic lights, and the ever-present fear of ending up in the wrong lane or cutting someone up, makes for a tense couple of minutes.

The roundabouts successfully negotiated we moved into Northamptonshire.  Turned onto the A428 near Crick, then it was B roads and unclassified roads as we headed towards Cambridgeshire.  Sun still shining, traffic very light, car behaving perfectly; prospect of a nice relaxing weekend ahead, things were getting better and better.  Ready for our packed lunch we found an idyllic spot just off the road, where we stayed for half an hour.  Why had we waited almost three years to do this, I wondered.  Mentally I waa slready planning our next long weekend.

Working our way across country we joined the A45, and followed signs for Anglesey Abbey.  The main car park was full, but there is a large grassed parking area further on and this had lots of space.  A cup of tea from the flask was very welcome, and after stretching our legs we continued the journey. 
We reached Scole late afternoon, as planned, and swept majestically into the car park of The Scole Inn under the gaze of several people enjoying the sunshine at tables outside.  It pleased me to imagine they were perhaps thinking, 'Gosh, wonder who those people are? Maybe they're famous.'   (Hardly likely, as famous people are instantly recognisable, but it made me happy!)

Conscious we were being observed I parked as nonchalantly as possible, and did my best to make a dignified, athletic exit from the Morgan's low-slung seat.  Sometimes I manage that better than others!  Bit embarrassing to make a hash of it, I always think.

The receptionist informed us our room was in the newly-converted stable block, and suggested we might like to move the car through an archway onto the overflow car park where we could park outside the room.  Sounded good to me, but first we decided to take our bags and recce the room.  That done I returned to the car park and made a reasonably tidy job of entering the car, once again watched by the people idly sitting around.  They seemed pleased to have something of interest to see.

Well, they could now watch an iconic, hand-made British sports car make its stately way across the car park and pass under the arch.  Trying to look casual I turned the key, but instead of the familiar sound of the starter motor, followed by the engine firing up, there was only a click.  Oops, bit strange, but no one had noticed and I tried again.  This time the starter motor whirred, but to no effect.  Tried again, same result.
Lid of fuse box with faulty relay.

The little crowd was really taking an interest now, getting their money's worth, so to speak, no doubt relishing the sight of a 63-year-old poseur in a flash motor going nowhere fast.  Nothing for it, have to bluff it out.  Trying to look as if the situation was perfectly normal I casually climbed out of the car (or as casually as one can climb out of a Morgan) closed the door and ambled off towards our room, where Stephanie had been making a cup of tea.

I broke the news that our plans for the weekend were rapidly falling apart, and that after a cuppa I would have to phone the RAC.  However before doing so I could not resist having another try at starting the engine, so returned to the car.  The onlookers perked up at my reappearance, and watched eagerly as I got in and turned the key.  But they were disappointed, because the engine fired immediately and I proceeded through the arch with no problem.

But despite what we tried to tell ourselves there obviously was a problem.  However, over dinner we managed to convince ourselves it was something and nothing.  Perhaps the long journey on a hot day had overheated some electrical component or other, and all would be well tomorrow.  We were clutching at straws, and knew it.

Tomorrow dawned not quite as nice as yesterday, as there was some cloud cover.  But it was dry and warm, so we removed the hood and stashed it behind the seats.  The engine caught immediately, but cut out after a couple of seconds.  Oh no!  Tried again, and everything seemed fine so we set off for Anglesey Abbey.  Deep down we knew it wasn't fine, but after half an hour with no trouble we began to think that maybe, just maybe, the problem was only a blip after all.

But then the engine hesitated and spluttered.  Only for a second, but it was enough.  For the rest of the ride to Anglesey Abbey we waited for more problems to arise, but none came.  Spent a very nice morning looking round the house and gardens, then left for our next destination, Ickworth.
Interior of fuse box (replacement pink)

As we bowled along the quiet Cambridgeshire lanes we began to feel optimistic that the problem, whatever it was, had cured itself.  The car had behaved perfectly after the morning's two hiccups.  Perhaps a bit of dirt in the fuel system had worked its way through?

But our hopes were dashed when the engine cut out with no warning, and we coasted to a halt.  Luckily it was quiet, and we posed no hazard to other traffic.  After a couple of minutes I was able to restart the engine and we set off again, but clearly something was seriously wrong.  That proved correct, because a couple of miles further on we came to another halt.  Once again our luck (if you can call it that) held, and it was not dangerous.

Again, after a few minutes wait, we were able to restart and at that point the best plan seemed to be to return to the hotel and call the RAC.  With the benefit of hindsight that was not a wise decision.  We arrived at a tee junction in the village of Cheveley, where we needed to turn right.  Halfway across the junction the engine stopped, leaving us in a very dangerous and vulnerable situation.  Thankfully there was no other traffic, but you have never seen two people exit a Morgan so quickly and begin to push it.  Almost opposite the junction was a road leading to a little housing estate, and there we parked.

We realised it would be foolish to continue.  Three times we had been lucky, next time might be different, so I put in a call to the RAC.

The lady who answered the phone was marvellous, and could not have been more helpful and reassuring.  She even phoned us back, so our Pay As You Go mobile did not run out of money.  We were promised a two-hour wait, but in fact the patrolman arrived in less than an hour.

Colin, for that was his name, listened attentively to our description of the problem then plugged his laptop into the car's diagnostic system.  That did not reveal anything, so he left the engine ticking over until, after a couple of minutes it cut out.  We hoped that would provide a clue, but again the laptop did not come up with anything.

By this time Colin was convinced it was a fuel problem.  He opened the petrol cap and put his ear to the filler hole.  By doing so he was able to hear the pump working  (That component leads a miserable existence, sealed away inside the petrol tank)  Colin invited me to listen, and the pump was indeed audible.  After a while the noise stopped, followed a second later by the engine doing the same.  I also heard it myself.  We were getting somewhere.

After some head scratching Colin decided to check the fuel pump relay. It was so hot he burned his fingers on the pins, which had become discoloured by the heat.  The problem had been found, but where could a replacement relay be sourced on a Saturday afternoon in the rural depths of Cambridgeshire?

Just as we were resigning ourselves to an aborted holiday, and a trip home on the back of a recovery truck, Colin had a brainwave.  He realised the relay for the starter motor was the same type as the one for the fuel pump, and simply swapped them over.  The dodgy relay would be able to handle the intermittent work for the starter, at least until we could purchase a new one.  The engine ticked over for a quarter of an hour without stopping, which seemed to prove that Colin's diagnosis was correct.

The hotel was reached with no further trouble, though to be honest we had lost confidence and were on tenterhooks the whole way.

Next morning, after breakfast, we made the hour's trip to Holton and again there was no problem.  After spending a very pleasant day with the family, including giving rides to five people, it was back to the hotel.

We set off for home on Monday morning, again feeling a little anxious as we were taking the direct route along very busy dual carriageways.  But after an hour or so we began to relax and enjoy the ride.  We took the opportunity to divert to Hartlebury, where Ben Duncan supplied us with a new relay.  Touch wood, everything has been OK since then.

So the little holiday was not quite the idyllic experience of my imagination, though we can laugh about it now.  Never mind, I'm sure we will try again during 2012 with better luck.   

Dennis J Duggan

MSCC 14197

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