Anyone who's ever owned a British automobile will regale you with stirring accounts of unreliability juxtaposed with inspiring testimonies to their ride, handling, and indefinable general brilliance. Luckily, reader Max isn't just anyone, and his cars had neither! Perhaps because
he's actually Welsh this story takes place in Wales. Who knows? In any case, hearken to not one, but two of his stereotype-shattering tales of woe.
I once bought a 1970's Vauxhall Victor 'Estate.'
A true horror story the likes of which we hope never to experience ourselves and from which Max was lucky to emerge with his sanity intact! We thank him for writing in, wish him well in his future endeavors, and… Oh, wait, there's more to this. So sorry. Anecdote continues:
I bought it from my uncle in, I believe, 1984. There are several important things that you must be aware of prior to reading the story. My Uncle was at best 'mechanically challenged' while also subscribing to the 'buy cheap and never maintain it' school of car ownership. The car was also an ex-North Wales police car. My uncle was convinced that the engine was 'hot' and that it handled really well. A week before traveling to buy the heap my previous tow vehicle (Ford Cortina Estate) had died a death on the M1 at 5AM the previous Sunday when the gearbox literally dropped out at about 70mph and the resulting mechanical mayhem took out much of the (rusty) floor and the gas tank and damaged my trailer and my hill climb Mini Cooper S, which made me miss my fun at the hill climb and made me desperate for a new hauler.
So, I needed a tow car, quickly, as luck would have it (hah) my Uncle was selling his 1970-something Vauxhall Victor Estate. So, I took a train to Wales to get it having agreed to buy it, pretty much unseen over the phone. My uncle picked me up from the station in the Victor.
The first issue - it did not like starting when warm - I added 'tune it up' to my mental list - for the money though the car looked OK - more holes in the roof from various Police radios antenna and lights than I would have liked, but a fresh coat of (Police White) paint and no obvious signs of damage at a very good price seemed like a deal. The interior was best described as 'basic'; Cop seats, Cop rubber floor mats and lots of damage to the dash where various radios and gadgets had once lived.
I handed over the cash and dropped my Uncle at his house, stopping only for a quick cup of tea and a bacon sandwich before starting the 200+ mile trip home.
Ah yes, I forgot to mention, Wales is kind of hilly. The roads are fairly narrow too and my trip home through unpronounceable towns in a rather large and new-to-me car was always going to be an adventure. Going up the first hill of note I realized that under load it was running on perhaps two or three cylinders, but cruising on flat ground it was definitely running on all six. Also, going up hill the fuel gauge dropped fairly fast failing to return to previous levels on the flat or even downhill sections.
I stopped at a petrol station and put a frankly scary amount of juice into the thing, then checked the tire pressures (low) oil level (hardly any), points gap (HUGE), plug gaps (nothing at all to 1/2 in) and used the 'tyre air' to clean the air filter a little.
Setting out again the car was transformed. The 'cop motor and cop suspension' along with the basic, virtually stripped out interior meant that despite the size the old girl really could hustle, I started to quite enjoy throwing the thing around the country lanes, heading back to civilization. I hammered around the lanes though, which was suddenly possible. Oddly I kept smelling food smells, but attributed it to it being later afternoon and figured that the Welsh obviously like to cook around then.
After stopping off once more for fuel I finally made it back to England and with less than 100 miles to go I was still happy with my purchase.
As I was now off the windy roads I noticed that there was a bit of smoke screen behind me, figuring that I must be burning a little oil, I stopped in a lay-by and checked the level - oddly it was fine, exactly on 'Full' where I had topped it up to about a hundred miles ago. So off I went again continuing to lay a minor smoke trail, I took it super easy for a while and with 50 miles to go, the smoke screen while still there but it was not really something I was worrying about. Then there was a bang and a clunk and the 'dynamo' light light up on the dash. Oops, that would be the 'fan belt' then. I spotted a garage and stopped off for more repairs - luckily they had an emergency belt that fitted well enough and off I went again.
30 miles to go and the smoke screen returned - I pulled into another garage and popped the hood spent a little time hunting for the source of the smoke - strangely I could not find it - the oil level was fine, there were a few oil weeps around the rocker cover, but nothing that I could see that would really cause any smoke. There was however a smell that I can only describe as similar to 'Texas BBQ'.
The smell was coming from somewhere underneath the car with small amounts of smoke wafting up at the back of the engine.
I took a look underneath and noticed that the prop shaft and the exhaust was fairly 'hairy' or, more accurately, furry.
A small animal had been thrown up under the car and had somehow got trapped in the transmission tunnel / prop / exhaust area and was cooking slowly on the exhaust and the spinning prop-shaft.
Bear in mind that this animal had been slow roasting for about 160 miles of my use, plus an unknown number of miles / hours in the hands of my uncle. It was pretty difficult to identify what the animal once was, my guess was that it was a fox. I convinced myself that it was not a cat or a dog, but thinking back I am really not so sure.
I 'bravely' headed home, hoping that the remnants would disappear. I headed for large puddles and bumps to wash and shake the pieces away.
I got home safely, if not craving road-kill burgers and despite using a pressure washer to get rid of as much of the carcase as I could, every time I drove it the smell of cooking meat accompanied the car, after a while this smell turned into 'cooking rotting' meat. The smell literally never went away, I owned the car for about a year and despite it being a really truly amazing tow car and a surprisingly fast piece of transport the dead-fox BBQ smell simply never went away and I sold it to a 'banger racer' about a year later.
From which we learned two things. First, never let a Welshman take you to a BBQ joint. Second, not all British cars suffer from spontaneous electrical combustion. Our hats are off to you, Max, for your utterly Jalop taste in ex-cop cars and your ability to keep them running. However, they're also off so we can hold them in front of our nose and mouth. A year of bad meat smell? Seriously?
As if that's the least of his problems. Read on-Max's work car seemed to be a truly jinxed trouble magnet.
My second horror story concerns another car in the UK, a Ford Sierra 2.0LX. This car was a company car that I was given with 12 miles on the ODO in August 1st 1987. A month into ownership a truck sideswiped me on the motorway and totally trashed one side of the car. After it was fixed it was stolen from a customer parking lot and recovered a few hour later, minus most of the interior. Over Christmas it was hit by a drunk driver and spent quality time while the insurance company (just the one as the drunk was uninsured) decided if it was worth repairing. Not long after getting it back (March/April time) the car was in the middle of a 'pile-up' with many others in fog on the M25 (I stopped, car behind did not). In August while driving back from a party I misjudged a bend and flew off the road through a ditch and ended up in someones garden. In November the car was stolen again. This time it did not come back for a couple of weeks - I had already started the replacement process at work - undamaged and with a great selection of cassette tapes that the thief had been listening to. Finally the car meet its death on Christmas eve of 1988, a young man driving his fathers' XR3 blew a stop sign and hit the rear quarter of the Sierra. flipping it onto it's roof, which finally wrote the poor thing off. The XR3 driver was drunk, not insured and did not have a license, so my company had a lot of fun with the insurance claim. The poor thing had 66,678 on the odo.
Rather than be issued another Sierra I quit the company and joined one that gave me an Alfa Romeo.
Which, we're certain, solved all his problems. Take that any way you want.
Garage of Horror is a recurring feature where we share your automotive nightmares. Some are mild, some are wild, but all are moments - some funny, some painful, some outlandish - that you'd rather not repeat. Have your own Garage of Horror story? Email it here with the subject line "Garage of Horror."