Bob & Lynne Douglas's Great
Chapter 1 - Things Your TC Should Do When It's 60
By Lynne Douglas
|Santiago is a
city like all other cities - it has some fine old buildings, some 1970s pure grot and some
wonderful ultra-modern constructions; it has McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Blockbuster Video, fast
food galore, graffiti, litter, rich areas and poor areas. Like most hot climate cities, it
has some most peculiar smells. The one point of difference from all other cities we have
seen so far stands sentinel over the entire country of Chile - The Andes.
What were we doing in Santiago - we were making contact with a receiving agent for our TC which we had shipped from New Zealand way back in late November 2007. We arrived on the first of January 2008, the TC was supposed to have arrived on the 30 th December 2007, so we thought we had been really clever with our timing. We'll skip the details, but we ended up not knowing where the car was, whether it had arrived on the 23rd December or was due to arrive on the 5 th January, or indeed whether it was still sat on the wharf in Cartegena in Columbia or whether we would ever see our TC again.
In sheer frustration we moved from Santiago to Valparaiso, the receiving port, to make contact with a branch of the company who would actually deal with the customs paperwork. They were efficiency epitomized and we cannot thank them enough for their efforts on our behalf. We had a carnet for the TC issued by the RAC in the UK; Customs wanted to see and photocopy the carnet, but never stamped the first page entry. That at least saves us from the palava of having it stamped out of Chile. We hit the road on Thursday January 10 th, over a week behind schedule.
When I say we hit the road, that is what it felt like. Valparaiso does not do road signs. Nor does it do lane discipline. What it does do is horns. Lots and lots and lots, all day and all night. We developed the theory that if they have time to sound their horn then they have had time to think about it and therefore to avoid us. Valparaiso is a busy working port where the navy are also based; it sits on a very narrow coastal strip surrounded by a series of 42 hills, all completely covered in shacks cheek by jowl with mansions, everything clinging to the hillsides, some so steep they are served by funicular railways. It is a maze of narrow streets full of hawkers, pedestrians, cars, buses, lorries, taxis and donkeys and carts. It is mayhem.
We had applied our minds to how we were going to get out of the city but not how we were going to find the main road back to Santiago to connect up with the Pan-American highway south. We were also totally unprepared to the way Chileans reacted to the car. Classic cars never venture out onto Chilean roads alone, they always travel in convoy in organized rallies. We met a Chilean owner of a 1950 Citroen in a service station and he explained this fact, and that he was surprised as anyone to see us on the road.
The TC seems to charm everyone. They wave and shout and yes, toot their horns, hang out of car windows to take photographs, drive alongside for ages to take more photos, overtake us and slow right down to take more photos and slow down some more so we overtake them so they can take some more photos. It didn't take long to get completely fed up with this lark. We couldn't stop anywhere without drawing a crowd, out would come the cameras and mobile phones. They all want to know "what year"? It must already be the most photographed car in all of Chile.
The TC car opens doors that no modern car ever could - it allows us to find out about the Chilean people. Despite most not speaking a word of English and us not speaking much Spanish at all we managed to communicate. Our first overnight stop was in a cabin on a sort of campsite set in a beautiful location very much like New Zealand. The lady patroness clucked over us and the car like a mother hen, into her kitchen to meet her adult son, have some freshly made raspberry juice, where are you from, aaahhh Neuvo Zealandia, beautiful car and more.
Our second night was at a cheap and cheerful campsite out in the middle of truly rural Chile where the horse figured large as a means of transport. We didn't know what to make of the other people staying on the site; it was so cheap we assumed they were not the so well-off. Up they came for a chat and a look under the bonnet. We learned that we were talking to a teacher, a car mechanic, and a mechanical engineer. And then all their families. We have learned not to assume anything about Chileans, only to accept their bigheartedness. They have been delightful.
The Pan American Highway is, so far, like a dual carriageway with toll booths every 50 kms or so. It has a hard shoulder and the relentless lorries, service stations at regular intervals where you can get fast food, all the usual stuff and also a hot shower for free. That is where the familiar ends. You also get pedestrians walking the hard shoulder, cyclists, horse and carts, bullocks and carts, donkeys loaded to the gunnels, mostly coming at you presumably for safety. At one service station we saw a bloke on a horse pull up near the pumps, dismount and check each hoof rather like checking his tyre pressures, remount and set off down the highway.
The TC ran fine at first. It still had half a tank of NZ petrol mixed with 97 octane unleaded Shell petrol from Valparaiso. We filled up again with 97 octane unleaded Copec petrol, Chile's own brand of petrol. We started to have misfire problems, it seemed at full throttle uphill, or when the car ran hot. It had been hot when we first set off on our trip, but it didn't seem hot enough to cause a misfire. It wasn't exactly like fuel evaparation, and we have always had spacers and a heat shield anyway. We also fitted an oil cooler especially for this trip. We checked the plugs and the middle two were filthy black, the outer two nearly as bad. A cleanup didn't do any good, neither did checking the distributor, or fitting a new set of plugs.
The last fill-up was in a small rural village where the 97 octane must have stood unsold for who knows how long. The car mechanic on the camp site discussed this with us and he thought, via two interpreters, that the fuel was probably to blame, but he thought it was the octane rating alone that would be the cause. He recommended we use 93 octane; indeed he made several return visits to hammer home the point!
Our next fill up was at a Pan American Highway service station, Shell 95 octane and sure enough, no more problems. In NZ we run the TC on 96 octane. We expected that octane ratings would be an international standard but maybe not. We still don't know if the problem was caused by the brand or the octane rating or whether we had a bad batch of old dirty fuel.
Heading down the Pan American Highway we passed from hot dry Mediterranean style country with vineyards, stone fruit orchards and acres of maize through to beef, wheat and forestry, tracking the cooler temperatures as we headed south. It got to near lunchtime and we needed some food supplies. The next exit was for a blob on the map called Temuca so we took it. Bad, bad move. It was like a foreigner driving up the M1 motorway and pulling of at Sheffield to find a supermarket, only someone has uplifted all the road signs, no entry and one way signs, every Godamn sign, and then ending up close to the city centre and then, guess what, he gets pulled over by the police.
We showed our passports and the Temporary Import permit we were given by customs and told under no circumstances to loose. They were happy with that. Then Roberto asked one policeman "Super Mercado". Up fronts a man, explains that he is a plan-clothes police officer, shows us his badge and follow me in my unmarked car. We must have looked worried - the uniformed officer said what translated into "don't worry". So, the plain-clothes officer takes us to a shopping mall, finds us a safe parking spot and stops the other cars to let us in, gets the security officer on the case and shakes us heartily by the hand - twice - and wishes us luck.
So, not looking a gift horse in the mouth, we went into the shopping mall, filled up with a cooked lunch and supplies, safe in the knowledge that the car was being watched by a security officer. We had forgotten to lay a trail of sugar to find our way back to the car but it was easy to find. All we had to do was head for the crowd and flashing of camera bulbs. The security officer must have felt overwhelmed by the interested crowd the car had drawn and rung for police assistance. Next to our TC was a police car. Here we go again, passports, Temporary Import permit, writes it down in his book, hearty handshakes, smiles all around. "Segura" he says, looking worried, we remove the tonneau to check, "segura" we reply, yes, all is still secure.
We had planned for security problems well before the car left NZ. We hope to take the TC to countries where the population are renowned for their light-fingeredness. As the Footprint guide states - "spare no ingenuity in making your car secure". They were talking about your normal modern lockable alarmed sort of car, not an unlockable totally unsecure TC.
We were primarily concerned about removable bits of the car so we Locktited on the headlamps. We replaced the wheel knockons with the MGB wingless type. We decided to leave the side lights, mirrors, badge bar etc; it is a TC and we didn't want to bastardise it with modern make-dos.
As for our personal possessions, that was a whole different ball game. We had already made undercarriage storage boxes so that gave us space for items no more than 4" deep. We already had a pair of boxes beside the diff, along with the space the side screens normally occupy. Above those storage areas we had made a box in the rear of the TC which formed a parcel shelf with a lift up lid. We made the lid lockable using window locks.
We fitted a footrest with a drop down door covered in carpet so it looked like a normal but shorter footwell. Inside this space we stored electrical items all wrapped in ziplock plastic bags. Underneath the dashboard we already had a security area with drop down base, that housed important documents, cash etc.
We used to run the TC with a normal chromed luggage rack with hangers for carrying cycle panniers. Cycle panniers just would not do for this trip so we made a fibreglass box with three vertical compartments to add strength, roughly the same size as a fuel tank so it looked like a part of the car. Over the fibreglass lid we fitted a custom made hinged luggage carrier made of angle steel that would padlock to a steel frame and hence make the fiberglass box impenetrable. The box accommodated the tent, other camping equipment, spare oil and anything else that would fit in.
The spare wheel and carrier fitted to the rear of the fibreglass box and a spare tyre fitted onto the luggage carrier. We also bought a tough waterproof large holdall with a steel mesh overcover that we could padlock to the luggage carrier. That was for anything we bought along the way. We carry only food and anything that can be easily replaced on the parcel shelf in the car. We also made a new gearbox tunnel cover out of plywood to form a shelf, that carries two plastic boxes full of stuff we need to be easily accessible.
The Lake District was our target for the end of the first week and here we are, camping by lake Villacura with Volcan Villacura behind, if we could see it. Right now it's shrouded in cloud but on the postcards it's a classic snow topped cone. We usually like to test ourselves by dragging ourselves up mountains but this one is different. First of all its 9000 feet high. You have to be a member of a mountaineering club, have ice axe and crampons and all the other clobber, employ an official guide and sign a disclaimer so that if the volcano blows its top and you fry to a crisp it's your own fault. We'll give this one a miss.
The target for the coming weeks is Tierro del Fuego.
Since driving to the Lake District, we know that the TC really must be the most photographed car in Chile.
© 2008 Lynne Douglas
Forward to Chapter 2 - Through The Lake District