Henry & I sat there, at a funny angle with the car placed as it was on a steep hill in the car park of Chastleton house, me nestled between two large sofa cushions which bolstered me up to reach the pedals and see with a bit more clearance over the dashboard, waiting for our parents to arrive with jump leads and the Subaru. It had been a good afternoon, but we were also quite tired from our exploits and I was starting to feel rather deflated that things had been going quite well up ’til this point and yet now I had no idea why the Morris Traveller, known to our family as Gertie, wouldn’t start.
To backtrack a little – we decided to have a push to get the car on the road since my brother Henry was home for a week for the Easter break & he has a passion rivalling my own for old cars (amongst other old items – he easily trumps me on a quantitative point with his vintage camera collection, known as his ‘museum of dead cameras’, even if my car is probably the largest & most costly nonsense purchase of the family so far). We just didn’t expect that ‘push’ to be quite such a literal one.
On Monday I mentioned to Henry that I had a few days off work and had noticed that there would be the first Classic Car monthly meetup of the year at Whichford, only a couple of miles away, on Thursday evening. Since the weather was looking great, we could push the car up onto the drive and have a few days solidly ploughing through my to-do list to get it roadworthy, and then have some fun on the road during the Easter weekend while he was still around. Well of course he was up for it!
(however Henry can only work on the car if he is fully colour coordinated with whatever he’s doing!)
Over the next few days the whole family flew into motion and after doing so much myself on the car it felt like a huge treat to have my dad and brother breezing through tasks that I’d got a little stuck on & needed a fresh pair of hands for. I was prepared for this as I’d spent the previous week ordering vintage number plates, sourcing particular sizes & threads of nuts from a local Morris Minor specialist and others from a knowledgeable chap called Brian who works in B&Q and quickly identified from my dodgy doodle that what I was looking for was called a “Tee Nut” (which excited me when I thought they were called Tea Nuts!).
So the new vintage-style number plates went on, back seats were fixed & hinged back into the car, there was a great deal of hoovering, washing & wiping, I sat & waded through tax & insurance on the phone, passing a morning in recovery from the money I’d spent – which consisted of sitting under the apple tree with tea & my Morris Matters magazine! Finally we charged up the battery overnight – which we presumed was the reason for the car not starting.
The next day Gertie willingly chugged into life and Henry bravely strapped himself into the passenger seat, and we went for a drive around the block a few times and to the local farm shop café, Wyatts. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to drive other than difficult… but I got the hang of the choke and double-declutching when necessary, and though a bit shaky after a short drive I was buoyed up with satisfaction that my car was finally on the road! We decided to carry on to Chastleton, my place of work, to have a look around the house and consume further tea and cake there.
It wasn’t until we were back in the car park and ready to leave after a long day of activities, that we realised Gertie wasn’t going to start. She didn’t even cough and splutter – just a dead silence when I turned the ignition. My parents cheerily turned up from our home just 5 miles away with jump leads but the temperamental old car wasn’t having any of it. Subaru battery charged or not, she evidently liked it in Chastleton car park (perhaps it’s the views or the average age of the surrounding population that made her feel at home) and wasn’t going to start.
My mum was the one who piped up… we were parked on a hill in a fairly empty car park, why didn’t we try jump starting before we thought about towing or otherwise cost scary options? They had both done it before, so I let my dad sit in the driving seat, turn on ignition and put down the clutch. Henry, mum & me (and Truffle the dog running along excitedly behind us) began pushing the car down the hill and it quickly gathered speed. There was a cough. A chug. And we all broke into cheers, falling tiredly away from the car in different directions, as the Morris pulled away from us and enthusiastically parped its way around the rest of the field and towards the exit!
It was a triumphant moment, and dad thankfully made it the 5 miles home without stalling (harder than you might think in my experience of driving it so far!) but it didn’t entirely solve the problem. She still wouldn’t start normally, which meant that unfortunately we couldn’t go to the Classic Car Rally that evening… well not with Gertie anyway – I’m not so easily dissuaded from ogling exciting old cars. It also provided me with the opportunity to find and pick the brains of other Morris Traveller owners as to what might be wrong, and soon I had amassed a small group of gents telling me about starter motors and such things. As dusk arrived, and the cars which were too old to have working headlights left, Henry & I zipped over to Chipping Norton for fish and chips (at the “Chippy chippy”) in the modern comforts of the Smart car, and left the saga to continue another day, as I then had to work over the weekend and he had uni work to get on with.
So despite all the hard work so far, I had one final push to do. Around my work hours over the next week, I rang the local Morris Minor expert many times, who told me he had slightly too many cars outside his tiny country garage already, and perhaps I could try fixing and changing a couple of parts myself if he lent them to me, beginning with the starter motor. I took out & oiled, put back in, took out again and replaced my starter motor to no avail, other than becoming almost irreversibly coated with engine oil. I had the AA home-start engineer out who tested lots of parts under the bonnet with flashy electric probes and made some big sparks, and told me he thought the solenoid might be broken. I replaced the solenoid with a Morris Traveller second hand one and turned the ignition key. There was a clicking noise and smoke started to escape from the bonnet. I made a cup of tea and tried to convince myself that I hadn’t just made things a lot worse.
I rang my Morris Minor expert and organised to buy a starting handle from him, and drive over so that he could give it a look over and try to help. I figured that I might as well take out the starter motor he gave me and put the original back in, since otherwise I’d have to buy it from him as well, and gave the battery one last charge for a few hours. I halfheartedly put the key into the ignition, as I already had many times that week, not knowing whether to expect silence or smoke. What I didn’t expect was that WAAWAAWAWA-STTHRRUMMMmmmmMMMmmCHuggachuggachuggaparparp…. but that’s exactly what greeted me. And she’s started every single time, ever since. Cost of replacement parts: £5 for a second-hand solenoid. Cost of labour: well that’s debatable, as I wouldn’t say I was left entirely physically or mentally unscathed. But no financial invoice for that part.
It’s a funny story but I’m not going to lie… there have been days when I’ve come home and not spoken to anyone all evening, a few tears here and there, or perhaps tear as in tearing my hair out, moments where I’ve caught myself mentally adding together how much I could fetch on eBay for everything and how much I’d have lost, how I might explain to my blog followers that I’ve given up, and I’ve woken up repeatedly in the middle of the night thinking that I’m doing car repairs or brewing coffee for people before realising I’m tucked up in bed. And projects like this are never entirely certain, I do believe that sometimes you have to know when to stop, if something really isn’t working, because you can always start again somewhere else, on something else.
But one thing hasn’t changed – I’m still stupidly in love with that ridiculous, romantic, beautiful, nostalgic, temperamental old Morris Traveller. So brace yourself for more ridiculous adventures.
PS. Special thanks to my family for helping me so much, and extracting me from behind the sofa on bad days.