If you want to start with a classic rally, then why not go for the longest and most well- known rally? In January 2014, over a beer on a Friday night, the idea of taking part in a classic car rally developed, probably with too much alcohol in the decision . It had been a subject of conversation for some time, and after successful trips to Le Mans, and many breakdowns, Nigel suggested that we should try out hill climbing on grass, a rather select and specialist sector which failed to excite my interest in any way! Jokingly I said ‘If we are going to “do“ a rally, then let’s do the best and enter the Peking to Paris 2016’. Nigel’s initial response was “what is that” but within 24 hours , with the help of Youtube and the internet, he was hooked and I wondered why I opened my mouth again! But what of our wives and families’ attitude to our absence from home for maybe 8 weeks in 2016. Worryingly my wife, Lynnie, was only too pleased, and is looking forward to many snore free nights, whilst Nigel’s wife Paula will probably take the opportunity to purchase more dressage horses, so a win-win situation??
Both of our fathers had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and so it seemed a good idea to try to raise money for the provision of diagnostic equipment for hospitals in Devon where we live and our fathers were brought up. We have therefore decided to try to raise money for local prostate cancer awareness and diagnostics and will pass all donations to Chestnut Appeal, originally based in Derriford Hospital, Plymouth. Please give generously and we will be very happy to promote any company (or individual) on our web site. For more information go to www.chestnutappeal.org.uk and we have set up a donation site here ….
We decided that the car would be purchased by ‘World of Country Life’, the museum which Nigel’s family set up and he now runs. The first question was which car? Well it had to be British for a start, and whilst we are keen on vintage vehicles, we decided that taking the museum’s Rolls Royce Phantom 2 would be ruining a very good car, thanks however to Carole Lee for the very kind offer. So British and pre 1942 was the target. The first idea was a military type Humber Snipe open top as used by Montgomery. We spent some time hunting down a Humber, and were offered 2 quite quickly. However there was just something not right, and as I have always had a love of V8 engines (strangely) the idea of taking a flathead Ford came to mind. The car had to be simple, robust, and able to withstand some pretty bad terrain. We also wanted it to be cheap! What could be better than a car which was used by Bonnie and Clyde in many successful bank robberies to out run other period vehicles! Luckily a 1939 Ford 62, built in Longbridge was for sale near Manchester. We dashed up and had a look ….. the engine didn’t start but the bodywork was good and the car seemed straight. So we bought it and arranged transport to Devon. Neither of us had any idea what a Ford 62 was, and had no experience of the engine or other mechanics. As it happened we found the engine to be highly rated by traditional hot rod enthusiasts and a mass of parts, advice and improvements were available. Even better, we found a local Dorset company called Royal Kustoms who not only specialised in flatheads, but had built a car for the last rally. What luck, and I cannot overstate the help that Jim and his wife have given us in what turned out to be a major restoration.
The first thing was to get the engine running, which was quite difficult when it became clear that the distributor was out by about 20 degrees! Together with poor leads and old fuel the engine was quite rough initially. We changed the distributor to a new type, changed the leads, added new plugs and cleaned the carburettor……and off she went. The first drive from the workshop to the field ended in the fuel vaporizing after about ½ mile, and some time was required to allow everything to cool down. Timing was still an issue and we eventually asked our local engine wizard Dave Wills, who with his huge amount of expertise turned the engine into a smooth running beast… it was still the timing and some dubious connections we hadn’t sorted properly. The electrics were rather “erratic” and not easy to understand as well as not being properly fused. The previous owner had spent some time on body panels, but had given up when it came to electrics and mechanical restoration, so the car needed some interim wiring before our first big trip to Le Mans. I installed a new central fuse box, rewired the lights and tried to make the dash lights etc. work. The engine electrics are very simple with nothing more than an alternator, coil and distributor to worry about. The starter solenoid was a little sticky, which was a concern and we replaced it high up above the engine for ease of access. I have now discovered that as with a software development its always good to know what you want to achieve with a new wiring loom before you wrap it, especially if you have a car partner called Nigel who keeps on thinking of new things to supply power to! So after many rewrapping and restrappings, an electrical system after a fashion was installed.
Over-heating is a major issue in these cars, and a previous owner had removed the fan and added an electrical fan, which operated the wrong way against the airflow sucking air from the front through the radiators. We installed 2 fans on the front of the old radiator and hoped this would work. However, it became clear that at the last moment there was a poor head gasket and every time the engine revved you could see the top of the radiator swelling due to air pressure from the poor head gasket. The heads were taken off on the night before we were due to leave for Le Mans, and Nigel conjured up a new gasket from an old copper water tank (which is good practice for being stuck somewhere in Mongolia, and which with a little sealant worked a treat! We definitely had a damaged head and had to clean plugs regularly as the oil burn was high due to worn rings. There was no time to worry about this and a decision to just use a lot of oil was made. Brakes were checked and adjusted and the oil in the diff replaced. Nigel spent some time installing a seat belt system from a scrap car, and she was as ready as she ever would be ready for our first trip … to Le Mans via the WW1 memorials to the north of Paris.