The Question Is…

… how do they do it? When a solitary vulture spots lunch, 50 fellow diners are quickly on the spot and they seem to come from nowhere. They must have some method of communication – the avian equivalent of whale song – or eyesight which allows them to detect a pattern of flight that announces ‘dinner’s on the table’.


And whilst on the subject of wildlife, this little fellow hoved into view disguised as an African witch doctor.


The air is so clear here at the foot of the Pyrenees, that it’s hard not to stop by the roadside to take pictures. This track from Saint Palais to Navarrenx with the mountains just beginning to show under the lifting stratus, was a perfect stop.

Pays Basque

And in Navarrenx itself, this gem of a Peugeot was sitting in the square. As I ambled past a bit later on, the owner had the bonnet up to reveal a V6. That was a surprise.


But the weather here so close to the mountains is very similar to home. One day it’s warm and sunny, the next cold and wet. Obviously, as Spring turns to Summer, weather patterns establish themselves but in the evenings we’re often treated to a spectacular show of thunder and lightning, though mostly without the rain. I suppose that’s what makes it interesting; the relentless heat of Provence I would find debilitating; the storms in the Lantabat valley clear the air after a day in the kitchen.


Parked, appropriately enough, in front of a bank was this Cadillac. Not a car you’d want to take to the lanes in; it’s enough to squeeze past an ordinary size car when you’re on the back roads over a col. The verges tend to be 6” below the edge of the road and quite soft and if your car’s full of shopping or people, you could get into trouble very easily if you let yourself be pushed around.


But if you take the trouble to explore, simple scenes reminiscent of I’m not sure when but it was a long time ago, present themselves.


Continuing my exploration of local wild life, this water-boatman sat still long enough for a portrait.

Gave d'Oloron

Which wouldn’t have been the case had he been a resident of the Gave D’Oloron, the main river that runs through Sauveterre. The rivers I’ve come across at home always seem a bit underwhelming when compared to those in France but then we’re a bit short on mountains in Suffolk.


This week, due to an administrative error, transport has been by motorised roller-skate. I have to say that since I last drove a Smart (when in the middle of Bergerac, the engine did its eco stop routine and refused to start again) the marque is considerably improved. This basic model had a very refined and comfortable cockpit and the gearbox (sequential on a centre stick) changed down by itself. Of course, it left me wondering why it didn’t change up as well but I managed.


And when is a flower a weed? That is the question.




…The Ambassador’s Daughter being slightly sniffy about them, I bought the trousers in which I felt I would be most comfortable during my sojourn in the Pays Basque. They had an outdoorsy, quasi-military sort of look to them; light in weight and colour, cotton and with extra pockets that might be useful where, in the hoped for heat of South West France, a jacket would prove cumbersome. At Biarritz, greeted with temperatures in the low 30’s my wardrobe choices were not only justified but particularly suited to my new interest (in the absence of my spanners) – the observation of local fauna and flora. Not very interesting? Don’t you believe it. Ostabat Ostabat is an ancient hamlet where three routes to Santiago de Compostela meet before heading towards Spain. You might expect a lot of razzmatazz celebrating this convergence but no, someone has kept the lid on the potential for gaudy excess and Ostabat remains a quiet rural idyll. Wild Fennel Wild Fennel abounds and we helped ourselves to a few sprigs to have with supper. Across the other side of the lane Gladiolus Byzantine? Gladiolus Byzantine These may have escaped from someone’s garden but nevertheless, they were existing in the wild so they count. But the real excitement of the day was when Cook alerted our party to the sky which suddenly filled with vultures that seemed to come from nowhere. Vulture The object of their interest was a newly born lamb that was clearly struggling to stand up. Its mother had retreated to the corner of the field as the dinner guests arrived. vultures But, quite extraordinarily, a cow came to the rescue of the lamb and put up enough of a spirited defence (along with others of the herd that came to join in) to keep the vultures at bay until the farmer arrived and ended the confrontation. Defending cow I wished I could have got closer but a wide stream separated the action from our viewpoint. I’m sure events like this are an everyday occurrence in the foothills of the Pyrenees but to stumble upon one as it unfolded was a great, if slightly macabre piece of luck. Petrol pump Once again I’ve asked around to see if anyone knows of someone with une voiture de collection but drawn a blank. I think my fix will be in Pau at the historic racing in ten or twelve days time so in the meantime this petrol pump will have to suffice. Helibore And this is a Helibore. There’s a nursery not many miles from me that charges a fortune for prize-winning Helibores – obviously they’re a bit fancier than this example – but it’s nice to know that these things exist unadulterated in the wild. Of course, I wouldn’t know a Helibore if it jumped up and bit me but fortunately one of our party has some expertise in the field (so to speak) and is identifying each of my discoveries as I go. Ragged Robin Ragged Robin. The verges are full of colour as the unusually hot and sunny weather has brought Spring galloping in a few weeks earlier than is the norm but care must be taken; snakes. Here’s a Cobra… Cobra Quite.

A Mystery.

A couple of weeks ago, The Great Collector set out in his 20/25 Rolls but got no further than the end of the drive; a curious noise from under the bonnet stopped him in his tracks. Opinion was sought and we all stood round with cups of tea, stroked imaginary beards and put in our ten cents. One thing was clear, the noise was coming from the timing case. Chain slap? Could be. Isn’t it gears in there? Dunno. Anyone got a book? Fortunately, The Great Collector had a very useful book covering the smaller horsepower Rolls Royce engines which, as bedtime reading, allowed me to get to grips with the disassembly sequence.

Engine mount

After removal of the radiator – an engine hoist job; it was heavy – the sump had to be supported whilst the front engine mount was removed. This would have been simple if I could have got a spanner to the nuts more easily. The top four bolts weren’t a problem as the nuts faced downwards but the bottom four with the nuts on the upper side of the bracket were almost impossible to get at and so it wasn’t until 5 hours later I could address the timing cover itself.

Dynamo brake

The dynamo shaft brakes came out first, then oil pipes were disconnected and all the nuts and studs removed from the case. A couple of the studs were a reamed fit and have to go back in the right places.

Timing gear case

With the crankshaft pulley removed, the serrated nut behind the starter dog nut was loosened with my special Rolls Royce C-spanner and the cover then slipped off. The paper gasket had been put on with just a smear of grease so that was able to be preserved for reassembly. The serrated nut was then put back on as the front flange of the nut overlaps the starter dog nut. When this latter is loosened, it acts as a puller and the crankshaft vibration damper comes away from the crank leaving the Woodruff key in its slot.

Crankshaft damper

The worst thing about all this was that nothing had so far fallen out onto the floor and there was no sign of damage or anything broken to tell us where the noise came from. The idler gear had a bit of play in it so that was removed and new bearings will be fitted.

Heat shield

The idler gear serrated nut was really tight and heat was needed to get it to move. The end of a baked bean can was cut off which allowed it to slip over the nut and act as a shield to contain the heat in the right area without setting the rest of the car on fire. With an extinguisher in one hand, I played the flame down the can for about 30 seconds and that did the trick.

Rolls Royce Aero C-spanner

The RR C-spanner came in handy again and that was all I could do for the time being. There was a bit of end-float in the water pump gear which could account for the noise but I’m no more convinced than Counsel was when I suggested that the noise could be a crank web hitting the oil level gauge float (it’s cork I was told a bit later but, not bad for lateral thinking?).

Rolls Royce 20/25

So while the crankshaft vibration damper is being rebuilt (it’s a bit loose but not the source of the noise) I’m off to France to take up my duties as plongeur in a little hotel just East of Biarritz and to ponder the problem of the noise.

Il est tout pour moi un mystère.


The Road To Le Mans II

Learned Counsel is well ahead of the game having collected his third signature after two races at Brands Hatch this last weekend. I’d driven past the circuit for nearly 40 years and never been in so I was happy to volunteer my services as chief person-who-does-stuff and hatch a plan (so to speak) for the team’s accommodation at my sister’s house half an hour down the road. A splendid curry and Louise’s famous tiramisu set us up for the following day’s adventures.

Brands Hatch 1

For those who haven’t been to Brands Hatch, it must be one of the best racing circuits from a spectator’s point of view; from the top of the grandstand, the whole of the ‘Indy’ circuit can be seen. The longer ‘Grand Prix’ circuit disappears from view and adds an extra mile but the shorter circuit is never light on entertainment.

Mazda MX-5's

As an ex-owner of an MX-5 I was interested to see how they performed on the track and they certainly didn’t disappoint, in fact I think they provided the most closely contested and exciting racing of the day though that’s not to detract from any other of the formulas that were taking part in the weekend’s events.


The ‘Locost’ boys and girls were no slouches and several over-cooked things and ended up in the sand-trap going through Paddock. Learned Counsel (92) gave good account of himself and finished overall in the top end of the midfield. For me, as a prospective driver, the thought of being on the grid with 30+ cars and then roaring off into a first corner as tricky as Paddock, is quite sobering; a galaxy away from the gentle fun of a track day. Still, with Le Mans as the endgame, it has to be done.

Learned Counsel

One of the fun aspects of the outing was to see Learned Counsel being chased by a car that he’d built (35). There was some spirited duelling and the occasional swapping of places but experience told in the finish. It was good to see (behind all the usual banter) the good will and respect that the competitors had for each other – if there was a problem with a car, people offered help and advice, tools and even parts without the slightest hesitation. I must book up my medical….

Jowett Jupiter

The second of Learned Counsel’s Jowetts is about to have a rude awakening after its year of slumber in the corner of the workshop. The chassis is booked in to the blasting and powder coating chaps which doesn’t leave us much time to cut out and replace a piece of chassis tube that received a bit of a knock sometime in its past. A deadline of June(ish) 2016 has been set for the completion of the racer which allows me to get some races under my belt – if all goes according to plan – and to get the Jowett out onto the track before applying for the FIA papers thus enabling us to compete at the Classic Le Mans in 2018.

Let’s hope we can keep the show on the road.





After Breakfast….

.. I thought I’d stretch my legs,

Stretching legs

and have a look around the town. Halden, I learn, is the capital of the custom car world in this part of Norway and there was to be a meeting on Wednesday evening (there’s one every Wednesday evening throughout the summer months) before our return to England. Unfortunately, the heavens opened in the afternoon and it continued to rain very heavily until about 9.00pm by which time it was…

Halden at night

But, we awoke on Thursday to…

Halden harbour

…which was compensation enough. My wanderings took me down a few side roads where hidden away were some very charming houses.

Halden street

The younger buildings happily retained the style of the old and what was immediately noticeable about these scenes was the absence of cars cluttering the streets.

Halden street

But if you looked over a fence, this is a sight which might commonly greet you – an old car tucked away. This, I discover, is the result of new and second-hand cars being historically very expensive – often three times the price we might expect to pay in the UK. Most of the people I chatted to at the Nexans factory had an old Merc, a Volvo or some such, that they were either in the process of restoring or would, after a bit of fettling, be putting back on the road at some point in the not too distant future. This little Opel (I’m reasonably certain it’s a Rekord P1) would date from the late 50’s and whilst looking a bit scruffy, was not at all abandoned.


But to return briefly to what I mentioned in a previous post – the architecture and landscape reminding me of parts of North America, Minnesota and South Dakota in particular – I managed to get a snap going to Rygge airport that better demonstrates my thoughts. I’m not sure what the fence posts are doing – making a point about Einstein’s general theory I guess.

Norwegian farm

And these houses could easily change places; one is in Boston, Massachusetts, the other in Halden.


Anyway, after the week’s exertions, I’d earned a trip out in the Hillman to the Vintage Aircraft Club’s Daffodil Rally at Fenland Airfield in Lincolnshire where The Ambassador’s Daughter and I were pleased to meet John Wright – artist, engineer and inventor, owner of the airfield and Special builder.

photo 1

Two of his Specials were built on British Leyland lorry chassis’ – I think they were FG’s. This first one had a Leyland engine and this one, which we parked next to …

Gardner Special

.. had a huge Gardner engine under the bonnet and some very clever linkages to put the gear lever and the handbrake outside the now rearward cockpit.

photo 3

It looked and sounded the part as well. Obviously delighting in the business of Special building – something of a taboo in some circles – John was refreshingly enthusiastic and amusing about the fun to be had in creating something out of not much at all.

Which is what it’s all about – what you can get up to between here and breakfast.

Room With A View.

Or at least it would be if these big metal plates weren’t in the way.


Because on the other side of this wall is….

view 2

… which I’d have thought would have the edge as a selling point. I was looking forward to the breakfast run but a call came through and I was back in Norway as my fellow breakfasteers were sitting down to eggs, bacon and whatnot at Andrewsfield airfield café. The main purpose of the Sunday breakfast run was to try out the new heat shield on the Hillman’s carb and see if it made any difference so as I wasn’t going to make it, a quick trip to Framlingham on Saturday afternoon (to see a chap who’d built a wooden body in the manner of my Austin but on an Alvis 12/60 chassis) was squeezed into the schedule. I purposely came to a halt a couple of times with the engine hot and there was no sign of it fading on reapplying the throttle so, fingers crossed.

Hispano Suiza aero engine

My friend John Gaertner who builds Avro 504’s (and lots of other vintage aircraft) in Virginia is currently rebuilding a Hispano Suiza aero engine and I asked him for a picture of the tappet adjustment just to confirm the pedigree of the Morris Six and Wolseley 6/80 engines’ arrangements. The steel bar is part of a jig to assist in dismantling the mechanism.

A7 pistons

And news just in… Leon managed to lose a couple of piston skirts on the way to breakfast – young people today; I don’t know…. It’s lucky that the pins held on to the crowns which enabled him to limp home.

Apache II

The Apache II cable layer is this week’s marine interest. It’s more a floating factory than a ship; it even has a heli-pad. The cable laying end of things is quite different to the other ships I’ve been on and has the spool in the vertical plane rather than horizontal.

Apache II

I continue to be thoroughly impressed by the Health and Safety arrangements implemented by (in this case) Nexans – the cable manufacturer – and the ship’s crew; we even had to pass an exam before we got through the factory gate. I suppose I’m old enough to remember when there wasn’t (or if there was it wasn’t much in evidence) such a thing as H&S in the work environment.


There’s something oddly reminiscent of Minnesota in the architecture and to a certain extent, the landscape in this part of Norway – I haven’t been able to get quite the shot I wanted to illustrate this because I’ve always been speeding by in a taxi going to the dock – and, coincidentally, the Norwegians seem to be very keen on 50’s American cars – at least half-a-dozen were cruisin’ the town on Sunday afternoon. I asked about this and it seems they have a huge following here in Halden and there’s a meeting of 50’s and 60’s classics just about every week in the summer months.

I’ve just read that there’s nearly 1 million people of Norwegian descent in Minnesota.




Not Good.

That’ll be the third time that I’ve found myself approaching the back door of my house and pressing the car key remote. But the good news is…

Spelt loaf

My experiments with Spelt had until now always produced a loaf the shape and density of a Tudor brick but, this is the third Spelt loaf I’ve made in the last couple of weeks and my efforts have been rewarded with what I can only describe as perfection! And the secret to this success? Vitamin C powder. In the instructions (which I finally got round to glancing at) there was mention of crushing a vitamin C tablet and adding that to the mix. I’d never heard of this before and was interested to try it out. I have vitamin C powder in the house so I sprinkled 1/2 a teaspoon in to the mix and hey presto!

Heat shield

In an attempt to cure the engine fading problem on the Hillman, I made up a heat shield to slip between the manifold and the Paxolin spacer on the carb mounting. I’ve also replaced the thin oil in the damper with 20/50. This Sunday’s proposed breakfast run – a good 100 mile round trip – should put the new additions through their paces.

Torque tube coupling

For the Riley racing car, I learn that the ‘silent third’ box I’ve got, needs a different rear coupling to run an open propshaft. The coupling in the picture is for a torque tube shaft. Luckily, Mr Riley, who I visited last Monday, may have one somewhere; it’s just a question of him finding it.

engine mount

I also needed another engine mounting clamp. I’m toying with the idea of lowering the engine – to get the CG as low as possible – but to jury rig that I’m going to have to mate up the block and the gearbox and bell housing and see if the propshaft will have an uninterrupted run to the diff. I’m not too worried about the angle as I’ve got a Triumph Vitesse propshaft with a sliding joint that I can adapt. I’ll also have to sort out a new clutch arrangement and put a modern Borg & Beck type plate on the flywheel instead of the Riley one which works backwards (I’m told). I haven’t got to grips with the nitty-gritty of all that yet; I’m more interested in the layout working for the time being.

Oil painting

The painting’s coming along – I’ve added a tyre and some odds and ends over the last couple of evenings.


The biggest challenge with this scene is the over-exposure of the light coming through the main door. It lends the photograph a great deal of atmosphere but I’ve yet to see if I can successfully reproduce that drama in the painting. Initially, I thought I could avoid it and just fill in a few details but, without that burst of light, the painting’s a bit dead. I can tell that I’m out of practice because I’ve fallen into the usual trap of putting things in places where I think they are instead of where they actually are – witness the buttress brickwork between the two windows. There’s no excuse, it’s just sloppy observation.

Not good.