Friday, September 09, 2005

Potential Disaster

I recently used Money Pit #1 for some very important formal duties. It isn't often one gets to do important things with one's classic car, but on this occasion I was most honoured and priviledged to be invited by an old friend to be the (joint) best man at his wedding.

As luck would have it, this particular friend is also a great fan of all things British, especially British, old and mechanical. It made absolute sense (and would please him down to the ground) to take the groom to his wedding in a Lotus Elan, and since I happened to have one to hand, that is precisely what I set out to do.

The morning of the wedding I fetched the Lotus (which involved spending twenty minutes down at the old council garage I rent indulging myself in the usual rigmarole of throttle pumping, attempting to start it, swearing, leaving it for a minute, trying again, etc.). Once I had it running I sped over to the village where the groom's parents live with the other best man, pulled up outside the house and in we went to have our ties straightened and carnations fixed by the groom's father (as he was wont to do, being an old hand in the sartorial game).

Pleasantries exchanged and time running out, the groom and I headed back outside. My fellow best man had hastily made other arrangements with the groom's brother. Either he couldn't stomach another batch of my driving or didn't fancy squeezing in the back of the laughably named "Plus Two". (Plus two what? Shopping bags? Midgets? Cats??) And so we hopped in the Lotus. I turned the key and the engine span over fast, the oil nice and warm from the ride over. But it didn't fire. Not even a hint of it!

Never mind. It's a warmish day and occasionally the fuel vaporises in the lines if it's warm and you have to pull some fresh fuel through before she fires, I lied to myself. I try again. The same. Ok, this is getting alarming, not to mention embarassing. I'm trying, and failing miserably, to look as though this is quite normal. It isn't! The Lotus always ... and I mean always ... fires first time once it's been running for five minutes. All I can think of are the infamous effects of Murphy's Law (or Sod's Law, as my father usually describes the same principle, rather more crudely than I, even if I do say so myself).

I try again. And again. Finally a bit of a kick back from the engine! An attempt to fire! We're getting somewhere! A couple more tries, a cough and a splutter, and it bursts in to life (much to the relief of both myself and the groom, who was rapidly looking like he might be arriving at his wedding in '02 Fiat Seicento rather than a '74 Lotus).

And so we arrived at the church, unfazed and on time, I deposited the groom at the steps and nipped around to the rear to stick the car in the church car park.

After the service I experienced the same reluctance to start when I went to run the Lotus home (literally around the corner) before festivities began. After a minute it fired and I popped down the road and backed up the drive. When I got out of the car, I noticed a little stream of something on the road and up the drive. A quick sniff of a sample collected with the tip of my finger confirmed this something was petrol.

(Note: I always check any errant fluids immediately I spy them, lest they evaporate. Something my girlfriend was less than impressed at:
"Do you have to do that now??")

The last time I experienced a similar fault, one of the twin Delortos got a stuck float and it cleared itself the next day. (The rather precarious location of the distributor, directly under the carbs, is precisely what makes the old Elan particularly prone to engine fires.) This time however the leak seemed to be out of harms way, but this was evidently why the car was struggling to start. Fuel starvation! So simple.

I'm not sure if I have the nerve for any more important occasions. I'm certainly extremely glad what might have been wasn't! I'm also going to recharge the fire extinguisher in the boot.

On the plus side, we all enjoyed a great day, a lovely service, a cracking wedding reception (largely made by the outstanding speech by the best men, of course) and much food, wine and merriment. Smashing, as Jimmy Saville would say!

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