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Imet George and Rita Richcreek, AMOC members from Minnesota, USA.
They offered to be my parts depot in the USA and get parts out to me,
should it become necessary. I had an article coming out in the next
AMOC newsletter and was hopeful of hearing from others living near the
route who would be willing to help out if required.
I had my first set of jabs on 24th January 2000 with more to follow two
weeks later, but when I telephoned the Rally office to find out what proof
of inoculations I needed, I was promptly informed that none of the Rally
team were having any, which somehow seemed to make my arm ache even
The exchange rate was good, so I collected $2,000 US dollars in one and
five dollar bills, and £50 each in Italian and Turkish lira, Greek drachma and
I managed to pull a muscle in my stomach at the gym and was banned
from workouts for at least two weeks. Instead I spent hours faxing the
numerous sheets of information that kept landing on my doormat to Ronald
in Holland to keep him up to date with what was happening.
Tim Butcher had now dismantled the new engine and found that the new
cheeses had been damaged. They appeared to have been drilled the wrong
size (2/1000 out) and we think they had been forced into the block. There
was severe scouring to the top surface and loads of marks where they have
tried to turn the cheese to line it up with the oil ways.
I returned to Davron to confront them. It was agreed that I would remove
even the spares from them and sever all working relations with them. They
offered no compensation or refund. I was furious.
Bastion Engineering was now building the car in its entirety. So far they
were doing it correctly and to my standards.
Driving_Ambition_Text 20/03/2001 12:33 Page 52
I decided to check my total expenditure for this event, including the car
purchase. I was horrified. The car cost £24,000, Aston Service Dorset’s firstservice cost £20,000 including a re-trim, Tim Stamper cost in excess of£30,000. The car should have been finished but had problems. Davron afurther £15,000 plus. Total cost £89,000 plus. Now the car needed a majorcheck and overhaul to correct faulty workmanship and faulty parts.
Fortunately I had at last found someone who had the ability to complete
the job correctly. Tim Butcher, of Bastion Engineering. His bill would beabout £60,000. This meant that the car had cost me more than £100,000 toget ready for this event and have a chance of winning.
The main problem that I have found is the lack of basic engineering
expertise. The lack of quality control with some engineers, the lack ofquality control with some suppliers of parts and the inability of some tograsp what is needed for such an event.
I sympathise with someone who has just bought a car and wants it
restored. Who do you go to? Where do you get parts? Who has theknowledge? Well I now know!
The Rally itself also amazed me in its costs. Entry fee was £52,000. Extra
for hotels, car freight, insurance, visas and our air fares. No guidance givenas to the cost. This had amounted to a further £28,500 and there was stillfuel and sundries to come. Total cost to date in excess of £80,000. When Isaw the figures before me in black and white it took my breath away. So youthought rallying was going to be cheap?
Now I could move on. All the stress, sadness and frustrations were behind
me. Or so I thought. The future at last looked bright and I could see thelight at the end of the tunnel. To those who, with hindsight, would criticise,all I would say is “where is your car on the start line?”
The article in the AMOC newsletter and the diary entries on my website
were reaping great rewards. Faxes and emails galore arrived from all overthe world, filled with encouragement and offers of help. Two residents ofAnchorage (Alaska), Robbie Robinson, a Lagonda owner, and Mike Williams,whose wife was a state senator and president of the Alaskan Senate, offeredmechanical help should it be needed, and a good meal if it wasn’t. Therewere also offers of more formal receptions along the North American route,and a number of AMOC members rearranged their motoring tours andholidays so they could meet up with us along the way to cheer us on.
It is now 29th February and the car has finished its dyno tests. 136 BHP.
Torque of 171 lbs at 2500 rpm and 171 lbs at 3000 rpm. Now that’s what I calledan engine. Take note all Aston engine builders: ‘There were no oil leaks’. Thiswas how the engine should have been built. They had used several sets ofneedles for the carburettors before they were satisfied that the correct ones
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were being used. It was either correct or it was wrong and it needed to becorrect no matter how long it took. It would now be assembled into the carand the whole car sent to have some strengthening of the fuel tank bracketsand altering of the Panhard rod so that it lay almost straight.
4th March and it was due to be returned for the fitting of the fuel tank,
seats and finishing of the electrics. Seven days is all Tim Butcher had.
I required a complete car for the tests at DERA. So far he had proved morethan up to the task in hand.
We will be off to the DERA military test ground in Surrey to give the car a
good shakedown on the 13th March. Then it would be final checks before
the ‘off ’. Ronald would be flying over for these tests so that he could have
a drive of the car. He said something about “having a go would be useful to
see if he fits in. Get used to driving the car”. Well I suppose I had better let
I was now back into my workouts at the gym but this time I would beincluding a sun bed. I was convinced that this would help me adjustmentally to the task ahead. What rubbish, but it sounded good when Itold Roma.
After six months at the gym I was now a lot fitter, but I did suffer from a
blocked nose when it was hot. Waking up in the middle of the night gaspingfor breath was not fun, and since some of the places I would be travellingwould be extremely hot, I decided to do something about it.
I knew I would have to go private as it would take months just to get an
appointment on the NHS, and I started by asking my cousin William if hecould help. He arranged for me to see a top ear, nose and throat consultantat the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in Greys Inn Road,London, four days later.
Tests didn’t reveal anything so the consultant suggested a CAT scan, but
her secretary informed her that it could not be done for at least two weeks.
I must have pleaded my case convincingly because one telephone call laterI was running down two flights of stairs and within minutes was flat on myback having pictures taken of my nose and airways.
Back in the consulting rooms, I was given the diagnosis. Apparently we all
have two bumps in the lining of each nasal passageway, which swell upwhen the body overheats to help cool the blood supply. Mine were fourtimes as big as they should be, which meant that when I got very hot mynose blocked up and I had trouble breathing - but I knew that part already.
I was then referred to a surgeon but was informed that the earliest date
for a consultation even as a private patient was the 7th May. Again I pleadedmy case and the surgeon did a consultation over the phone. There was acancellation on Tuesday 7th March if I could make it. I could.
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I checked into the hospital and after a quick check of my details, bloodgroup etc, I was off to the operating theatre where the anaesthetist, whoappeared no older than my daughter Donna, informed me that the generalanaesthetic would be like drinking half a bottle of gin. Who was having theother half? The surgeon? The operation took an hour and then I was told notravelling, stress or excitement for ten days. They didn’t know what theywere asking.
As soon as I got back to my private room I was on the phone to Tim. I had
to wear a sort of horse bag over my nose to catch the blood and stop itdripping on the floor and I must have sounded like a heavy breather. Staffat the hospital might not know me but they did know about generalanaesthetics and operations. I left the next day absolutely shattered, and Idefinitely slowed down a bit for a few days.
‘Slow down a bit’ was relative of course, because the Challenge stood still
for no man, and that included those who had just had nose jobs. First Ireceived the disastrous news that the car would not be ready for testing onthe 13th because the strengthening work was running several days behindschedule. Ronald couldn’t change his dates so he was still coming over,something I felt very guilty about even though there was nothing I could doabout it.
13th March and I took Ronald to see the car. He was most impressed andvery excited. I had taken a ‘fart’ machine with me. This, along with two falseeyes and balloons would be travelling around the world to provide lightrelief when needed. You see, Tim had been working for weeks putting in 18-hour days to get the car ready. He lived, slept and dreamt about this car.
Great stuff - but after a while it tended to take its toll. What was needed wasa distraction. I placed the fart machine in amongst the tools and waited.
What an embarrassment. The look on their faces and then Molly, Tim’sgirlfriend came in. Well, I’d never seen someone change colour so quickly.
She took it in her stride and had a good laugh, promising to get revenge.
With us was a journalist and friend from Holland. He was doing an articleabout Ronald and the car.
We were talking and I decided to show him how we test for air movementthrough the engine bay of the car. I had two smoke pellets that are used totest chimneys for ‘Pull’. I set these off by the car. They were safe and leaveno residue. Tim was outside with Tom May. Now can you imagine the lookon Tim’s face when someone yelled ‘Fire!’ He came running in. The wholeworkshop was filled with thick white smoke. It certainly was a distraction.
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The next day I returned to Tim’s with a box of chocolates for Tim and abunch of flowers for Molly, I hoped all was forgiven. It had the desiredeffect. It made Tim concentrate on other things and then my car becameless of a problem, less pressure and he could continue coping with gettingit ready.
It was now all happening and the car looked as though it would survive thetrip. We planned what to take for personal items. Ronald arrived with a largebag. I kept telling him it was too much. He emptied a few items out butmore had to go. We had space only for a small flight bag. ‘If it doesn’t fit inthe boot then it does not go’. That had been my philosophy, that way wekept the car light. Ronald and I went over the route several times, we had aset of detailed maps, noting steep hill climbs and areas that could createproblems.
We put together a list of what we regarded as essentials, and I was
staggered when I saw how much was on it.
• Blood pressure pills (yes, I suffer from high blood pressure.
Not surprising when you read this book and see all theproblems and stress that I have had to put up with).
• Paracetamol 500mg, 50 tablets• Antibiotics (penicillin), 100 tablets• Ciprofloxacin 500mg, 50 tablets• Metronidazole 400mg, 25 tablets• Lomotil, 50 tablets• Senna tablets 7.5mg, 20 tablets• Buccastem 3mg, 10 tablets• 1% hydrocortisone cream, 50mg• Canesten cream 1%, 15g• Gastro-intestinal tablets• Dioralyte rehydration salts, 25 sackets• Gaviscon tablets, 1 tube for indigestion• Collis Brown• Magicool cool spray• Insect repellent• Sun cream, min. factor 15• Antiseptic cream/spray• Antibacterial hand wash• Lip salve• Eye wash
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• Socks x 7• Underwear x 9• Swimming trunks• T-shirts/casual shirts x 6• Sweatshirt x 1• Shirts, smart x 2• Shorts x 2• Jeans x 2• Trousers, smart x 2• Shoes x 2 pair• Hat + cap• Driving gloves x 2 pair• Jacket (lightweight)• Rally coat for warmth• Plastic coat (breathable lightweight)
• Towel• Shower gel + sponge• Hair shampoo• Deodorant• Electric razor• Dental kit
• Drinking water 6 ltrs• Chocolate sachets x 6• Coffee sachets x 10• Sugar sachets x 10• Freeze-dried meals x 6• Muesli bars x 10
• Mobile phone (global not satellite)• Torch• Matches + 8hr candles• Calor gas stove (small)• Saucepan• Cup, knife, fork, spoon• Tin opener• Toilet paper + moist toilet paper• Needles + thread• Washing powder• Hand wipes
Driving_Ambition_Text 17/3/01 17:41 Page 57
All of these items, with the exception of a few from the household list, weresupposed to fit into one small bag. Admittedly some things could be sharedbetween us, but looking at the list I realised I was being a little over-ambitious. Everything would be packed into the car on the 1st May, butsome items were discarded before we reached Tower Bridge and otherswere deposited in various countries along the way.
On 22nd March Ronald left for Holland with a mound of Rally papers. Yes
the Rally office had gone into overdrive and was sending papers out by theton. We had to book extra seats for family and friends for the prize-givingdinners in Turkey, China and when we returned. Little time was left andthere seemed so much to do. The next time I was to see Ronald would betwo days before we left.
I arranged to take the car to DERA on the 20th March for testing, Ronaldwouldn’t be here but Tom May and Bastion Engineering would give me ahand to ‘test it to the limits’.
20th March, it was warm and sunny and all went well. Not one oil leak.
We’d driven hard over one and a half inch steps and then over two inchsteps and nothing fell off. These steps were about 18 inches apart andcontinued for about one kilometre. Then several drives over pot-holedcobbles at varying speeds. I was amazed and very pleased that the car wasin such great shape. Just my luck if it won’t start on the day. It seemed tobe all going so well at last!
It was back to the workshop for final assembly and distance driving to bed
in various new parts. I was now getting a little excited. Not too much just alittle. I had had too many disappointments to let this success go to my head.
We had a very good friend who came to stay for a few days. She was a doctorand very interested in my trip. I was asked, “How do you feel?” I thought fora minute. You see when I first started I was full of enthusiasm andexcitement. This changed over the months to anger at those whom I wasdealing with who were not up to my standard and quite franklyincompetent. Then last November or December I began feeling relaxed or,to be blunt, couldn’t care less. It was not that I did not want to go. Or thatI was panicking as in, ‘What am I doing?’ None of these, but I just could notcare. No excitement, no fear, no panic, just nothing!
I telephoned Tom May. “It’s quite normal and very good news. You seeBarry, your body has accepted the fact that you are going, and is totally
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relaxed about the trip. During the war when you were about to attack, yourbody became calm and relaxed. It meant that you were in control of youremotions and not the other way round. Stay calm and wait for the off,” hesaid. Well, that put my mind at rest; I suppose driving round the world is likegoing to war with the world. Everything would be there to try and stop us:That should produce some interesting challenges to offset the boredom.
I’m a big softy at heart. You see I knew that Roma would miss me some ofthe time, and just to remind her who I was the rest of the time, I arrangedto have flowers delivered to her on the12th May, the 27th May and 21st June- no message, just flowers. When you have been married as long as I havethere is no need for any message. These dates split up the period when shewould not be seeing me.
On Easter Saturday, just over a week before the start, Roma and I went tocollect the DB 2/4 from Bastion Engineering, with the aim of putting in a fewroad miles over the bank holiday weekend. Roma had kindly offered toaccompany me to keep me from dropping off as I drove round and roundthe M25. The car looked good but there were still bits that had not beendone. The Barantz trip mileage recorder had not been fitted and a recent oilleak on the front axle had not been rectified. We planned to return the carto Tim on the Monday evening so that it could go to the paint shop onTuesday to have a few scratches put right, after all this was the first time a‘Concours’ winning car was competing in a rally - ever. Then he and threeof his crew would spend the next two days working on the car. That leftFriday for fitting a new windscreen, as the existing one had a chip on it, andfinal checks. The timetable was tight but manageable and I hoped that bySaturday the car would be back in Sussex for Ronald and I to pack beforesetting off to London.
Roma and I set off confidently for our run around the M25, but we began
to experience difficulties almost as soon as we hit the motorway.
There was a strong smell of burning brake linings and the car shuddered
when I braked. Heading back to Bastion the braking settled down but therewas a vibration at 3,500 rpm that couldn’t have been doing the car any good.
We took off the rear wheels and found the drums extremely hot. Tim
reckoned the shoes had been over-tightened, causing them to rubconstantly on the drums, which made them hot and swell so they becameeven tighter to the brake drums. We adjusted the brake shoes and heypresto, problem solved.
The exhausts were very black and sooty. The mixture was too rich and
would have to be corrected; the car had not been tuned. What had Timbeen doing? He had had ample time to build this car. I suspected that he
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had taken on too much work and was finding it hard to meet allcommitments. I left for home following Roma in her car. I hadn’t given upon the Aston yet but I wasn’t very far off. So little time and so much still todo. Two years on and I was still getting problems!
I was up at 5.00 am on Sunday morning, having decided I would not be
beaten, working on the bits that I could do. I had made three storage boxesthat sat on top of the rear fuel tank, but they were too bulky and I thoughtit was best to discard them. Instead I created storage areas in the triangularhollows behind the rear doors by removing the panelling, lining the hollowswith carpet and then setting the panels back in place. The interior of thevehicle looked just the same but I had gained valuable hidden storagespace.
Running on only four pistons - what about the other two?
The sooty exhausts were bothering me. Two of the spark plugs were silverbrown from too weak a mixture and the rest were black and sooty from toorich a mixture. I had a flow meter, which measured the intake of thecarburettors and I could see that they definitely weren’t balanced. Myattempts at resolving the problem met with limited success so I enlisted thehelp of a friend, Derek Fewtrell, who turned up at my home just at the rightmoment. Derek had raced Jaguars and worked on many classic racing carsand was a walking library of motoring knowledge. He was happy to give methe benefit of his experience, and with his help I was able to balance thecarburettors. He came to my rescue again the next day. The car was runningon four pistons and misfiring badly.
The day was a total disaster and my tight timetable just got even tighter. I
was supposed to do a live interview with Southern Counties Radio at 7.45am that morning, but it, and all my other appointments for the day, went bythe board when the DB 2/4 started to play up. I was up early so that I wouldbe able to give the impression at the interview of someone who was awake,alert and cheerful, rather than tired, dopey and not at all with it. As it was Ididn’t even get there, so I dread to think what sort of impression that musthave given. The engine was misfiring from the word go and I assumed it wasthe damp, but a few miles down the road it got so bad I had to pull in. Iadjusted the timing and drove another half a mile before I had to stop again.
I didn’t know what the hell was wrong so I rang Derek and he was with mein minutes. It became clear that the engine was only firing on four of its sixpistons and the plugs were black, wet and oily. We adjusted the points bysight and things seemed much better. In fact when I set off again the carwent better than I have ever known - for all of about a quarter of a mile!Then the spluttering started again. By now I was late for the interview andI had to cancel the rest of the day and go straight up to Tim Butcher’s. Romamet me there and drove me back thoroughly disheartened.
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The deadline was still Friday because it had to be, but I knew I was going
to have to prise the car away from Tim. He didn’t want to let me have it untilit was perfect. But we didn’t have time for perfect any more. It was going tohave to be ‘make do and mend’.
Tim was out when I delivered the car to Bastion Engineering and so to
make absolutely certain of getting the car back in time, I amended his ‘todo’ list and left a note making it clear what I wanted.
As you can see the car is back. I have written a couple of extra
things on your ‘to do’ list. The most urgent items are:
Replace starter motor with original. I hope it works 100%, if
not then engine comes out to check and rectify the flywheel.
Strip the front axle and check bearing/oil seal. This should
be fairly straightforward; it has been apart before.
Fit the Barantz. Nice gentle bends in cable
Build new clutch/brake shafts etc. This should allow the
pedals to be in a position that I can use comfortably.
The stone guard under the sump should be foam. Keep it
All other items are not so important and can be fixed/repaired by
me en route. One thing I have learned over this weekend is that I
do need time with the car before I go, so ready or not I shall be
collecting the car MIDDAY FRIDAY, Saturday is not an option.
Concentrate on fixing the car, not on tuning it, as I can do this en
route. It’s not bad now. The carburettors are balanced and should
not be touched.
Any problems give me a ring.
I followed the note up with a telephone call in the evening. As I expected
Tim expressed his concern that he might not be ready in time, but I merely
Even after all my insistence Tim got a few more hours and Ronald and I
finally collected the DB 2/4 on Saturday afternoon, just a day and a halfbefore the off. On the way back, smoke started pouring from the back of thecar and into the cabin.
I could not believe it. Oil was dripping out from under the gearbox. Not
good at all. We wasted a lot of time looking for the source of the dripping,then crawled back to Bastion - that place was starting to feel too much likehome. By now it was about 7.00 pm in the evening. We took the car apart
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and found that the engine’s rear oil seal had completely gone. At about11.00 pm Roma, Ronald and I set off for Angmering, leaving Tim Butcherand crew to work through Saturday night.
Ronald and I returned early Sunday morning to see how things had
turned out. The guys had found a slight error in the casting where the oilseal fitted, which had prevented it from working properly. It was now sortedand the seal was working very well - thank God!
I’ve made it to the start. No one is more surprised than me
We had pushed it to the limit and now we just about had time to get toLondon. Fortunately we made it without incident, our first trouble-freejourney in quite some time, and at 3.00 pm we joined the ragged queues ofcars of all ages waiting to get into the courtyard of the Royal Mint to bescrutinised. We were obviously all okay because we got through without anyproblems and, having officially booked the car in for the Challenge, Ronaldand I booked ourselves in at the Tower Hotel.
Due to an unfortunate mistake on my part, Ronald, Roma and I had been
woken by my alarm clock at 3.00 am that morning and by now we were allextremely tired, but there was no time to rest as we had to get ready for theaptly named ‘Last Supper’.
The day ended brilliantly. We were quite a party - Tom May, Tim Butcher andMolly, Ian MacGregor (AMOC chairman) and his wife Pam, Jim Broadey(AMOC vice-president) and his wife Pat, Ronald and his family, and me andmine.
Fantastic evening. Great food and lots of fun, especially once the children
realised the balloons were filled with helium and started talking like MickeyMouse (after inhaling the gas). After the hassle of the last few weeks I’dstarted to forget what it was like to relax so it was great to be able to let offsteam.
It was the last night with Roma and the girls for a while. I didn’t think it
would really sink in until we were on the road, but thanks to the wondersof modern technology we’d be able to talk every day so it wouldn’t be toobad. 10 pm and I was going to bed. Tomorrow I would embark on thebiggest challenge of my life.
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