Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Long December

The famous Martini Lancia of the 1980s which destroyed all comers in the WRC!As The Counting Crows once sang, a long December indeed it is proving to be. Still no Lotus, the Fiat is off the road too, so no classic motoring at all in the run-up to Christmas. All is sad, and the weather's been so nice too, adding insult to our collective injury! At least we got to ride our new bicycles more than we otherwise would've done.

So, lacking any news on the personal front, I shall instead reminisce about earlier events, namely my father and I visiting the Classic Car Show in the Birmingham NEC towards the tail end of October. We spent an entire day digging through the auto-jumble, admiring and observing all sorts of marques and models, chatting to various clubs staff and members and generally having a good old time.

I should note I would normally provide my own photo, but as per usual, I forgot my camera. Instead I have provided a photo I found through Google Images, which turned up a fantastic classic car photo collection on Flickr kept by a certain "tonylanciabeta". Click here for his full NEC collection on Flickr. At least next year I'll have a camera with me, since I have just received a rather nice Sony camera phone from O2, which is jolly decent of them! No longer shall that age-old excuse be employed.

As you can see from Tony's catalogue of photos, they really did have everything there. My father got rather excited about the various 3.0 litre Ford Capris on display (he used to have several - not all at once, mind you) and I spotted the distinctive (on account of it's paint job) Messerschmitt bubble car which used to be lying outside a store in Camden's Stable Market, but was now being lovingly restored by an enthusiastic bubble lover.

The whole event was extremely well organised and it was wonderful to see all the various clubs out in force. Top marks go to the Morris Minor Owners Club, who had the most impressive club stand by far, and some lovely examples on display.

On a side point, I was disappointed to see neither of the Lotus clubs had a Plus 2 on display. Shame. I know I'm biased, but I happen to think it's one of the prettier models. Maybe next year, eh...?

Oh, and one other thing. Does anyone actually buy cars at these events? The dealers were out in force too, and while one or two seemed to have reasonably priced cars on their stands, many were clearly having a great big belly-laugh at the expense of anyone stupid enough to whip out a cheque book. They must have more money than sense!

Monday, November 13, 2006

With Heavy Heart

It is a sad November post. Tissues at the ready.

The Lotus is still not back from the mechanic. I don't know what the hell is going on, but he's clearly having serious bother with the electrics. I'm really not sure what to do now. I can't fetch it while it isn't running without incurring further expense, but I'm starting to lose faith in this man's ability to fix it... Ho hum.

And the Rover has a stuck electric window. More hassle.

But far, far worse is the predicament of the Fiat. Sadly, the baby of the family was rather cruelly bashed in the bum by a Vauxhall Vectra, driven by someone to whom the concept of looking in the general direction of travel is clearly alien.

It all happened yesterday afternoon as we were exiting Hatfield House after visiting a Christmas Fayre. We were stood waiting to turn left on to the A414 when **BAM** ... what the ...? The silly idiot behind had just driven straight in to the back of us, and without any mitigating circumstances whatsoever! Just plain carelessness! I was so angry, but to my credit I refrained from attempting to strangle the individual, who clearly should've been sporting a white stick - I can't think of any other reason she would've collided with a stationary vehicle in such a manner.

The Fiat still ran well enough to get us home, but some coachwork is clearly required and I have a horrible suspicion the engine may have moved a little, judging by the nasty groaning noises and the way 1st and 3rd gears are now tighter than they were.

Suffice it to say, we're absolutely gutted! Apart from anything else, we now have the serious hassle of getting the repairs done. And to cap it all off, we both have whiplash. With such a light car, no headrests, low seat backs and seatbelts which don't retain you, whiplash is inevitable, even with very minor impacts.

So ends a miserable month of motoring. We're off to nurse our sore necks and curse our poor fortune. Roll on 2007!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bon Voyage, Et Bon Chance!

The crazy fools with their little Moggy Minor.An old school friend of mine, already infamous for his hare-brained schemes, is at it again. Tim Rennie (AKA Binner Benny Boy) and his encourageable wife, Kully, are attempting to travel from Peckham to Pakistan in a Morris Minor. I have already noted they should be using a Fiat 500 to ensure their safe and timely arrival, but they ignored my sound advice.

Their website includes a diary charting their progress (slow and painful, of course) and other information about the trip. They are asking for sponsorship and all proceeds go to the Nottinghamshire Leukaemia Appeal, a truly worthy cause. I'm going to sponsor them, whether they make it or not.

Unfortunately it seems they have already encountered mechanical issues on the edge of Greece and are considering calling it all off, which is a real shame. I've drawn the attention of the Morris Minor Owners Club to their plight, and I hope someone can assist them before it is too late.

See? I said they should've taken a Fiat...

Good luck, guys! Don't give in!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Good Time Had By All

Fiat 500s (and friend) at Taste Italia in EssexThe Taste Italia event, organised for and by Little Haven Children's Hospice (and not forgetting the Taste Italia team, whose generosity allowed it to happen) was a really lovely day out. Believe it or not, the British government supports hospices for adults but does not support hospices for chidren. I know nothing of the detail behind this seemingly ludicrous piece of policy, but it certainly appears to be grossly unfair and leaves organisations like Little Haven on their own to raise £1.5million a year just to stay afloat and care for the terminally ill children in their charge, so it really was for a worthy cause. The club will be making a donation and so will I.

Anyway, that's the serious stuff out of the way! It was great to see all the Fiat 500s lined up on the lawn and the weather was spectacularly good for the time of year. And someone brought a beautiful old Alfa along as well, which we were proud to have in our midst (see photo).

The food, wine and the setting were all as perfect as the weather and it was lovely to meet more people from the club too.

And I discovered the proprietor of Taste Italia's son has a newly imported 1971 Citroen DS which has the number plate directly after the one on the Fiat, with just a one number difference. Turns out Chelmsford DVLA hand out old plates in order and his Citroen was registered shortly after our Fiat and was next in line for 1971 plate allocation. What were the chances of meeting like that??

Sadly, the Lotus is still laid up at the mechanic's in Ongar. It seems the electrical problem causing the inability to start is proving a swine to track down! I hope to get it back soon though.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Taking Advantage

Wow, a whole month without posting. Terribly sorry about that, folks. I've been extremely busy and I won't bore you with the details.

Anyway, the main news is I've decided it's time these fuel-guzzling freeloaders of mine started paying their way! That's right, the cars are going to have to earn a living like everybody else (with the notable exception of the cat) - I'm putting them to work.

The Top Gear "sexiest car" article set things in motion once more. About a year ago I spoke to a company called the Classic Car Agency, who keep a register of classic cars available for hire to film and advertising companies (for a surprisingly modest one-off fee) about getting listed. The way it works is you sign up, they act as your agent and get your car booked for movies, photoshoots, TV programs, etc. They then take a commission from your fee, if everything goes according to plan. Fair enough, eh?

Of course, being me and being busy, I never got around to it with the Lotus, but after all the fuss about the Fiat 500, and with the 50th anniversary next year, I revisited them and noticed they didn't have one on their books. Figuring this might be a good opportunity, I filled in the forms and registered both the Fiat and the Lotus.

Sadly, I have no bookings as yet, but hopefully I'll get a few a year which will at least pay for the maintenance. It would be a great help! We'll see I suppose.

On a not entirely unrelated note, the organisers of an "Italian Summer" event for Little Haven Children's Hospice have contacted the Fiat 500 Club and requested the presence of ten Fiat 500s to spice up their garden party. Being reasonably local, we are happy to oblige, since they're offering free entry and it's all for a good cause. I hope the weather holds!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sexiest Car In The World

That's what James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond (along with the rest of the Top Gear Magazine team) had to say about the Fiat 500 the other week! I quote:

"[The Fiat 500] has the allure of the wholesome and uncomplicated.

"Everyone, from strapping blokes to fainting flowers of womanhood, looks sexually charged behind its wheel.

"It works irrespective of age, beauty, wealth and position; even a nun in a 500 seems to telegraph a faint tingle of the procreative urge."

Interesting! It's a good thing I trust my girlfriend, as she drives the Fiat far more than I do. I'm not convinced the car itself is actually 'sexy', but who am I to argue with the experts? It is very, very cute, there's no denying it.

Anyway, needless to say there's been a sudden upturn in interest in the little Fiat. All of a sudden everyone knows what it is. We got a lot of attention before, but now we get even more! The club's been busy too, handling all the queries, and the message board has had a sudden influx of people asking how easy they are to import, etc.

I'm sure all the fuss will die down soon enough. And then comes the 50th Anniversary. We really must make sure we're in or around Turin (Torino) for that!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

With Flying Colours

I took the Fiat down to Wallinhurst Garage in Billericay last weekend for its MOT and I'm pleased to say it sailed through, no problems. There's a bit of corrosion underneath which needs sorting out (no surprise there!) but nothing unsafe, so we're good for another year. Hurrah!

The garage was actually recommended to us by a local classic car mechanic called Graham King, who always takes vehicles in his charge to Wallinhurst Garage for their MOTs. And we weren't disappointed. It's a great little place.

The manager, a chap called Chris, did the MOT himself as the usual tester wasn't in on Saturday. He was very thorough but also very fair and friendly too. And the lads working at the garage seemed to enjoy seeing the little Fiat. By the time we came to collect it they were referring to it as "the little one".

Chris even threw in a new bulb for the number plate lamp! Can't be bad. We will be going back there again. Good call, Graham.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happy Holidays

The MG-F and my good self enjoying Le Loir valleyApologies for the extended silence. I think I needed a brief blogging break after all the excitement of seeing a ludicrously quiet diesel-powered Audi win Le Mans. If they all go diesel we won't need our ear plugs next year!

Unfortunately, the Lotus remains sad and lonely, parked up on a quiet side street under a grey tarpaulin. A local mechanic is due to come and (hopefully) fix it next week at some point. The sooner the better. It needs a run and it needs putting out of harms way in a garage.

As for Le Mans, we had a great time. Happily mum lent us her little MG-F (pictured) for the week, which was very very kind of her and greatly appreciated. It made things a lot more fun, especially since the weather was glorious, so baking in the new runabout wouldn't have been very enjoyable.

The people were friendly, the accommodation was cute and authentic, the food was good, the racing was great and the weather was just stunning. And the cars... wow! It seems nearly everyone coming to Le Mans brings a Porsche, a Ferrari or a classic of some description. It was incredible to see so many gorgeous cars in one place! It was like a mobile car show.

Dad's XJ-S purred to France and back with no trouble at all. Not that I thought it would be any trouble, but dad was very nervous about it for some reason. One of our fellow guests at the gite can appreciate that. He too came all the way from the UK in a classic car, but he was so nervous about it lasting long enough to take him home again, he practically refused to drive it all week. And would you believe it was a Lotus Elan +2S? What a shame mine couldn't make it.

By the way, I've rather foolishly gone and let the MOT expire on the Fiat. *sigh* I now have to find a sympathetic local MOT station where they won't quibble too much about the headlamp lenses. That's my job for the weekend.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Highs And Lows

Well, tomorrow we leave for the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Which will be great fun, I'm sure. However the edge is taken off of the occasion by an unfortunate problem with the Lotus.

I was so looking forward to taking that car down across France, but it seems with rotten timing (or perhaps good timing, since it didn't happen in the middle of France!) the fuel pump appears to have given up the ghost.

I can't quite see exactly where it's coming from, but petrol is pouring all over the tarmac as soon as you start the engine, and it looks like the fuel pump is the offending item...

This is particularly irritating, as the car has just had a £430 look-over by a mechanic who has cleaned the carbs and supposedly fully checked the fuel system, since I already had a leak I asked him to look in to.

Oh well. Suffice it to say, I'm gutted and the Lotus isn't going anywhere.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Under The Hammer

I happened across this website yesterday. It's a classic cars auctioneering company. I happened across it because they had mis-identified a Fiat 500F as a 500D (this is such a common mistake, since a lot of people don't seem to know there even is a 500F). An error, I might add, which was genuine and put right on the day before the sale, though it seems from their records it didn't go.

Anyway, I digress. The point of posting this site is they regularly auction a wide variety of classic cars and keep excellent online records of the auctions. As a result, it serves both as a place to look at good examples of classic cars and a sort of price guide for owners at the same time.

Plus every now and again something comes up which makes me think I should give them a call... Look at this beauty going under the hammer in Derbyshire on 26th July. I always thought the old Mercs fetched more than that...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not Much Luck

Every time we take the Fiat out at the moment the heavens seem to tear open in to a torrential downpour, leaving me scrambling for a cloth to stem the all-too-familiar water dribble from the corner of the windscreen.

It's extremely irritating. The weather keeps doing this "I'm a lovely day... oh no I'm not!" trick... like a cat inviting you to rub his tummy, then clamping his teeth and claws in to your hand as soon as you accept the invitation.

And to cap it all off, on Monday afternoon the garage door stuck open. So there I was, in a hail storm, at the end of May, dripping wet, wrestling with a stuck garage door while my girlfriend wiped the car down. (I failed, by the way - the council are fixing the door on Friday and the car is on the street.)

Anyway, weather aside, I checked the "hand accelerator" and it is there. I forgot to try it though, as I got caught up in other things. I also checked for the paint code on behalf of a Fiat 500 Club member who is looking to paint his newly restored Fiat 500 body the same colour. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it, but he believes the Fiat colour is Avorio, which makes sense - it's the Italian word for ivory.

I also found the drains mentioned on the Fiat 500 Club boards which channel the water away from the windscreen corners and are intended to prevent the water dribble from the corner of the windscreen.

I say I found them. That's all I did, however, as we were anxious to get going and the pipes had been painted so pulling them off wasn't such a simple task. I'm also well aware of what happens when you pull old, perished rubber pipes off. They invariably refuse to return to their original position. So it may be wise to purchase some replacement pipework before pulling the old stuff off.

I've also just this moment realised I forgot to make a note of the engine number. D'oh!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cruise Control??

I discovered something amazing the other day. Something I would never have believed. The Fiat 500 has cruise control, or rather, what is known as a 'hand accelerator'.

This little device is in the form of a cable and a lever (so far as I've read - I'm yet to check for it in ours, but I'm assured I will find it). It is rather simple really. You pull the lever and it opens the throttle, simply locking in place (a bit like a choke) where you leave it.

As one club member observed, "it means you can stand up through the sunroof and still drive"... Quite. I shan't be travelling anywhere with you, Mike!

The down (and rather dangerous) side to this device is it has exactly the same effect as dropping a brick on the accelerator pedal. There are no nice disengage safety features when you brake or anything like that. Oh no. Neat as it is, only a true tricolore, young (probably male) Italian would ever use this 'feature' in normal driving conditions.

Though it comes in very handy if you ever have temporary problems with the idle speed.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Italian Cars Day

As I mentioned previously, on Saturday 6th May we hopped in our little Fiat 500 and drove over to one of the most notorious bikers hang-outs in the UK - the Ace Café.

For the uninitiated, the Ace is where all the Rockers used to meet in the 1950s and 60s, up on the outskirts of London, for wild parties and street racing on the North Circular London bypass road. (I initially said the Mods and the Rockers, but as a 500 Club member, John Briggs, rightly pointed out, the Mods weren't welcome!)

Still a very popular haunt for bikers, it has also become home for all motorists of a nostalgic persuasion, and has both classic car and bike days.

We arrived (fashionably) late for the Italian Cars Day and the weather was dreadful, so unfortunately all the Ferraris, Lancias, Maseratis, etc. I was hoping to see didn't show up. Wimps!

But top marks to the Fiat 500 club who turned out in half-decent numbers in spite of the rain. It was lovely to meet everyone and I also discovered we aren't the only ones with a leaky windscreen. As I have long suspected, there is a design flaw allowing water to collect in the corner of the windscreen. Over time the seal fails, then water gets in and corrosion begins, leading to a common failure in the car's ability to not drip water on the passenger's knee!

We also got an excellent tip from the club chairman, Carl. Unclip the roof and open every door, hatch and lid before locking the garage to let everything breathe and give the seals a break while you're not using the car.

The photograph shows Carl's Fiat 500 with rather fetching trailer too. It's made up of half of another (previously rotten) 500 he chopped especially after stripping for spares. (Sadly some of these little Fiats are simply beyond repair, and this is a good, innovative use of what would otherwise have been scrap metal. Bob has one he wants to turn in to a sofa.)

Unfortunately, ours isn't in the picture because we were parked behind (with a gorgeous original Abarth - which had already left before we braved the weather to take photos... more's the pity). And I have to say, we were rather shamed by the immaculate condition of everyone elses Fiats. But at least ours was the only left hand drive there.

We now have to decide if we can be bothered to drive all the way to Beale Park from Epping in a Fiat 500 a week on Monday. It will be a nice day, but it's a pretty long way...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Runabout Is Dead

My new wheelsLong Live the Runabout! Actually, it's not 'dead', strictly speaking. It's for sale, as I have gone upmarket and bought myself a rather nice Rover 600 as a replacement. Unfortunately, this means I have to endure endless 'flat cap' jokes and various other amusing jibes. From my father, of all people. The nerve of the man!

In case anyone is interested, the Citroen is going for £125 on Autotrader.

What about the Italian Cars Day?? Patience. I'll get there. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Golden Age Of Advertising

German Fiat 500 advertisement from the late 1950sThe cheesy smiles, smart pin-stripe suits, boys in caps and 'short trousers', knee-length dresses, perfect families with super-modern accessories. Hilarious. I found this website with a collection of old Fiat 500 ads from all over Europe. It's well worth having a quick flick through, if you have five minutes. As someone who worked in advertising until recently, I always enjoy flicking through old advertising. It makes me smile.

And while I'm posting links, I also came across this website with a reasonably accurate account of all Fiat 500 models from the 1936 Topolino onwards, including visual representations of the changes from model to model. All good stuff.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May Day Fun

I think it's fair to say Spring has officially Sprung. We have flowers exploding all over the garden, the sun is shining, my grass seed is growing (in spite of the best efforts of the the local pigeon population), I haven't worn my winter coat for a week or two now and haven't needed to. Even the lazy, good-for-nothing cat (who has utterly failed to prevent avian seed theft) has ventured in to the garden temporarily, if only to uproot some carefully tended bulbs. At least he did a little of his molting outside for once!

So this Bank Holiday weekend the Lotus took a spin over to Derbyshire for a stag do. It was the first time I'd driven it since it was worked on over the Winter - in fact, the first time in months - so I was very glad to give it a good 100 miles on the clock to see how things feel.

Firstly, it starts like an absolute dream with the new starter motor! I am extremely pleased I no longer have to spend half an hour with a pair of jump-leads trying to coax and tease it in to life every time I want to go anywhere. It's a vast improvement.

Once going, I think it runs a bit leaner, but when you get to 3,000 RPM and put your foot to the floor it leaps in to life with impressive vigour. Nipping by people in 4th was definitely easier now the twin Delorto carbs have been cleaned and tuned.

The only remaining (or rather, newly developed) problem is the clutch master cylinder seems to be doing something funny. The clutch simply disappears temporarily. I need to get that fixed before we go to France in June, but it's not a big job. More expense.

Saturday will be busy. Weather permitting, we're off the Italian Cars Day at the legendary Ace Café on London's North Circular road. I'm also replacing the runabout. I've seen a nice Ford Escort Estate I want to look at either this evening or tomorrow, if the chap still has it. I'm fed up of driving around in a battered, noisy old Citroen AX!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Drive It

Crazy Fools!Apparently Sunday was "Drive It Day", and to quote Fiat 500 Club board regular, paul1947, "we are being called upon by the great and good to take our cars out and about to raise public awareness of vintage and classic cars".

I didn't. On Sunday it was pissing it down with rain, and rain is not a good thing for a 1971 Fiat 500. Especially not lots of rain. Humbug!

And so "Drive It Day" was a total wash-out in the South East of England. Mind you, apparently (and rather perversely, given the usual state of affairs) the North West of England was bathed in glorious sunshine, so I hope Northern classic car owners took full advantage. Many South-dwellers less wimpy than myself also braved the changeable weather.

Other news-worthy events. I went out in the Lotus a few weeks ago. That is, my father drove me around in the Lotus because I accidently messed up the insurance renewal and was not legally permitted to drive myself. Anyway, it's running very sweetly and starts first time with it's new upgraded starter motor, timing adjustments and cleaned carbs. Thank you Neil (current chap charged with keeping the Lotus ticking). I'm still waiting for the bill. Eek!

Also, though we didn't make "Drive It Day", the Fiat did take an outing on the Saturday before, which was bathed in glorious sunshine. We made the mistake of going to a garden centre - just to look around, of course.

Three plants, compost, pots, watering can and grass seed later, we had an interesting 3D jigsaw to complete in order to get everything in the Fiat. Much to the amusement of the good folk coming and going from the establishment in assorted 4x4 and people carrier things. Let me just say, it's a good job the roof opens.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We Found It!

The garage! We know where it is! Hallelujah! There is a God!

I'm going to map the garage sites of Epping (I now know every single bloody one) and post the map to the District Council, suggesting they make multiple copies and hand them to new garage keepers so other people don't end up taking a week to find their newly rented property!

Still, it's a nice garage and a quiet spot. And we still have the keys to the old one, in case the County Council change their minds and don't knock them down after all.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Filthy Habit

Smokin'!!!Remember Uncle Buck's car? Every time he started the damned thing it billowed smoke like a factory chimney. The Fiat must've seen the movie too. They are exactly the antics it has decided to mimick to the point where it is really beginning to get embarassing.

Picture the scene - it's a busy supermarket car park. We put the shopping on the back seat, hop in the Fiat and ready ourselves to depart (which involves all the usual faffing with seatbelts, fumbling for battery isolator key, &c.)

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to us, a middle-aged lady wanders over to the car parked behind us and starts to transfer shopping from trolley to trunk (or boot, or whatever you want to call it). We reversed in, she reversed in, so there we are, back to back.

Oblivious, my girlfriend gives it a quick pump of the gas, turn of the key and the little 500cc motor ticks in to life... with an enormous black cloud of oil smoke, completely engulfing afforementioned unfortunate shopper. Oops. We make a cheerful apology and a hasty exit.

I really must get it fixed. While the rest of the country obsesses on quitting smoking, our Italian baby starts! Typical!

In the meantime I'm waiting for it to develop the other Uncle Buckesque trait - the window-shattering back-fire when it stops.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Garages - The Full Story

Slough. How depressing.Look. No 'N'. I'm proud of me for breaking that vicious cycle. Now, I know I digress from the topic of motoring slightly with this (and the previous) post, but I simply must tell you how things panned out with the Council(s). And I strongly suspect the local paper would like this too.

Now a garage is a fairly simple structure (see photo - those are actually in Slough, probably most famous for The Office - but you get the idea). A concrete shed with a thin metal door suitable for keeping a car in. Unfortunately, most garages are owned by local Councils and the upshot of this is the bureaucracy and incompetence surrounding their management is often jaw-dropping.

When I moved to Epping last July I intended to take on the tenancy of the garage the previous owner occupied. He had done this five years previous when he took on the cottage himself and didn't seem to think it would be a problem. He informed us the Council tended to give preference to the cottages where I live, because we have no off street parking.

There was just one piece of information missing - he didn't specify which Council. Being new to the town, we assumed he meant the District Council since they have the most imposing presence and fanciest building.

So off I go, bravely and naively in to the realms of local government to try and claim my garage tenancy. Nine months, three letters, multiple emails and telephone conversations later, I am beginning to decipher what actually happened.

Under the impression the District Council rented the garages behind the church in Epping I contacted them first, explaining the situation, telling them I wished to take tenancy of the garage behind the church - as the previous property owner had before - and was this possible? Here's what they said:

No. We'll send you some forms so you can join the list.
And here's what they actually should have said:

We have to confess, we don't have anything to do with that garage site. In fact, it is controlled by the Town Council but I'm sure they can tell you what their policy is if you give them a call.
Bit of a difference, wouldn't you say? If they had told me in the first place the garages weren't actually theirs, this whole saga would never have happened.


The District Council proceeded to send me forms to apply for a place on a garage site they didn't even run. The forms arrived, I called the District Council to ask the proper name of the garage site and was told to put "behind the church" (this was their second opportunity to tell me the garages weren't actually theirs), filled them in and sent them off. There. I'm on the list for a garage in Epping, with a stated preference of the site behind the church. All I can do now is wait.

In the meantime, our good neighbours to the right of our cottage both move to Chelmsford, vacating a garage on the site. One of them popped over and said we should call the Council as there was a garage up and he was sure we'd get it. Again, I called the District Council about the garages behind the church, only to be tersely told to wait my turn. (A third opportunity to tell me they didn't even look after those garages!!)

I gave up at this point, I resigned myself to being on the list until something came up. So imagine my shock when I discover the District Council are saying they have a glut of garages in Epping (see previous post). Now, and only now, do our heroes inform me:

  • They don't look after the garages behind the church - the Town Council do
  • They have loads of garages, but thought we only wanted one on the Chapel Road site
I wanted to scream, cry and laugh all at once. I didn't even know where Chapel Road was! Why would I want a garage there specifically??

But at least there was now light at the end of the tunnel. The District Council immediately offered me a garage on their Springfield 'C' site, which I took because a garage fifteen minutes away on foot is far superior to no garage at all when you want to keep a classic car dry.

I picked up the keys this morning, however the lady I spoke to didn't know where the garages were. Of course! What else should I expect from a local government organisation which kept me on the line for nine months trying to rent me a garage they didn't own?

There are three council garage sites somewhere in the south end of Epping, down the hill - Springfield A, B and C. I drove all over the place this morning and found A. I continued, in and out of every side street, and as I was verging on giving up I found B. I then gave up. I still have no bloody idea where C is and neither do the Council. I've spotted a likely location on Google Maps using the satellite imagery (see the sandy vertical strip in the centre of the shot) which I shall be investigating, as it's the last likely location I can see anywhere in the whole town. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, I finally knew who really did look after the garages behind the church - the Town Council - so I could call them and ask about getting one. The sucker punch?

The Town Council only rent the garages behind the church so can't help. They don't own them. And the County Council (who do own them) have ear-marked them for demolition. Of course, we don't know that for sure yet, because much in the same way as the District Council don't actually know where their own garages are, the County Council don't know what they do with theirs - instead they referred me to a private property management company who look after all that stuff for them. And this company will only deal with me in writing. So that's where my Council Tax is going, eh? Ho hum.

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Garage

I really must start my next post with some letter other than an 'N' - it's reaching epidemic proportions. Anyway...

Something like 6 months ago I requested an application form from the District Council in Epping to put myself on the waiting list for a local Council garage. I received the form, filled in most of it, but got to a part where it asked me to name my preferred site. Unsure as to what to put down, I called the council.

I got through to a perfectly helpful (I'm guessing middle-aged) lady to whom I explained I was interested in the garages behind the church, but anything in Epping would be fine. She cheerfully clucked at me that the waiting list for those garages was "years long". (No particularly surprise to me, given the scarcity of garages in Southwell, Notts. where my parents and the Lotus live.) But nevertheless, she assured me if I wrote "behind the church" on my application, everything would be fine and dandy. So I did.

So 6 months on, imagine my surprise at finding this news item on the Council website:

Renting a garage in Epping Forest district

Do you want somewhere to park your car?

Well, yes actually! I thought I was on your list!

Council garages are available now at discounted rents in Buckhurst Hill, Epping, Loughton, Shelley (Ongar) and Waltham Abbey.

We own around 3,000 garages throughout the Epping Forest district. The normal rent is £12.50 per fortnight for council tenants, and £14.68 for other residents. Some garage blocks are in high demand and have waiting lists, others are less popular. These low demand garages are available now at a discount of 50% off the normal rent for the first year.

Is that so? Then why on God's green Earth has no one called me and asked me if I want one of them, since I'm on "the list"?? I was a little irritated by this, and sent a terse (admittedly) but fair email to the Housing Services division of the Council to that effect. Their reply?

Dear Mr Harvey,

When you completed your application form you stated you would like to be considered for a garage behind the Church, these garages are not owned by the Council so I put you on the waiting list to our nearest site, Chapel Road. As you are now willing to accept a garage not so close to your address, I would be able to offer you a garage on our Springfield 'C' site as we have a few vacancies there at the moment.

Woah woah woah...! So let me get this straight. Firstly, the garages I wanted to rent (the ones I dicussed on the telephone) don't even belong to the council? Instead they signed me up to a different list for some garages I didn't even know existed? And no one thought to mention that to me?? Secondly, now I stand accused of changing my mind, according to the Council representative concerned... what the...?

Well that really is rather irritating. The fact is I *never* said I was unwilling to accept any garage except for the ones across the street. In fact, I specifically remember stating exactly the opposite on the telephone! And since the form asked me to state a preference, I had no idea that in doing so I was completely excluding myself from being offered any other garages in Epping.

Naturally, I replied - politely - explaining how the misunderstanding came about and suggesting how they might rectify this so it doesn't happen in the future:

For the record (and by way of feedback - I appreciate there was clearly a misunderstanding here) from my perspective I was never aware I was only on the list for one garage site - when I spoke to council officials previously on the telephone (and in all dealings on this matter) I have always stated behind the church was ideal location, but not essential and was given the impression that was understood and I would be considered for any garages in Epping. Evidentally this was not the case, and had I not seen the news item on your website I would've been on the list for the Chapel Road site until doomsday while other Epping garages lay empty.

The confusion was exacerbated by the wording of the council form I filled out when applying, which gave me the impression I was stating a preference for a garage behind the church - not accidentally excluding myself from being offered any other options in the town. Might I suggest adding an extra option on the form - a checkbox allowing people to express an interest in other sites if offered? This would avoid such confusion in the future.

Thanks again for getting back to me so swiftly, and I look forward to taking on a garage.

The response to my suggestion? Deafening silence. Now, call me old fashioned, but I would expect at least a "thank you for your feedback and we'll bear it in mind" - even if it's an insincere load of old cobblers, it is still better than nothing. I didn't even get an acknowledgement. Rubbish! If a private company carried on like that they wouldn't have very happy customers.

Never mind. The good news is it looks like we have a garage again for the Fiat. The bad news is my lack of faith in civil servants is once again proven completely justified. *sigh*

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Plates

New historic British plates on the Fiat 500.The new number plates were fitted to the Fiat this morning and they look good. The front one takes a bit of getting used to as it is much larger than the Milanese plate that was on the car.

For reasons known only to himself, the first owner drilled holes through the front panel to fit the original plates. We're now stuck with that decision, unless we fill and respray the front panel or replace it entirely - neither of which are a particularly good idea at this moment in time.

Normally people hang British plates beneath the front bumper on UK registered Fiat 500s, so it doesn't look like the car is sporting a moustache. This is infinitely preferable in my opinion, but sadly not an option right now. One thing I can do is procure a motocycle plate for the front at some point. I don't think it's technically "legal" , but no one cares anyway and it will look a lot less imposing on such a tiny car.

We also had a bit of a dilemma as to how we might put holes through our new ironmongery - we expected them to come pre-drilled (since we left the originals with the shopkeeper) but to our dismay they weren't and the chap we bought them from wasn't sure where we could get them drilled.

I wasn't comfortable drilling the holes myself with my cheap Homebase power drill and free metal bit (of dubious quality). So I ended up taking a lump hammer and a 6" nail to the metalwork which is, as I suspected, actually a very effective and controlled way to put holes in thin sheet metal, even if it sounds a little hairy! Infinitely preferable to a drill slipping, or some similarly ugly mishap.

So there you go - fully street legal in British trim. Very nice. And for good measure we went for a nice long drive and got an "English breakfast" for lunch. Yum!

Friday, March 17, 2006

News Update

Not much has happened in the world of classic motoring over the last month. The weather has been dreadful, so the Lotus has been in the workshop getting a new starter motor, an MOT and a tune up in readiness for the summer.

The Fiat has been holed up in the garage with no number plates on it while we wait for the black and silver British plates to arrive. We're taking advantage of our remaining time with a garage to make sure everything is street legal. Still looking for another garage, but it's looking bleak I'm afraid. I may be reduced to a card in the Post Office. You never know!

I'm looking forward to driving the Lotus for the first time in ages next weekend (25th/26th March) and can't wait to see if all the mechanical tinkerings have made much difference.

And we pick up the new plates for the Fiat tomorrow morning, so I will fit them and take it out for a spin with British plates and tax disk for the first time! Hurrah!

More next week.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Oh great calamity! Oh woe is me! For Epping Town Council have decided not to renew their lease with the District Council on the plot of land behind the church in Epping.


That very plot of land is where Epping Town Council has three rows of garages, one of which houses our Fiat, all of which will be demolished on, or shortly after, 1st April 2006. I'm sure the District Council will then sell the land to developers who will shoe-horn twenty three "luxury" homes on to the plot and sell them for £749,999 each.

All of which I couldn't care less about. I will be street parking our beloved Fiat 500, something about which I am not best pleased. And I suppose we will all be placed on the same council list for the remaining Epping garages, which is much longer than any normal man's arm and has just been about doubled in length by recent events. In other words, there is little chance of the council rehoming the tenants of the garages they are demolishing any time in the next five years!

I am now trying to procure a garage privately, but alas private garages to rent seem to be about as rare as Fiat 500 roof racks.

Ho hum.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name

Two Spyder Cars Elans on the roadWould it really smell as sweet? What am I babbling about? Bear with me ...

My father is a Daily Telegraph reader. Terrible habit, I know, but what can you do ... ? One thing it does seem to do very well though is the motoring section. Which seems to be about the only bit he reads. He has an Honest John quote for every occasion!

So when I visited for the weekend before Christmas he had saved an article for me. And courtesy of all these newspapers publishing online these days, I can share it with you - "Why Buy An MX-5?"

Now let's get one thing straight. The MX-5 is actually a corking little motor. It's modelled on the original Lotus Elan of the 1960s - that's why it's so popular. It represents classic motoring with modern reliability, and it's the car which delivers the most bang for your budget ... until recently, that is.

Enter Spyder Cars. They will take an Elan +2 (like mine, though I wouldn't cut up such a nice example) and throw away everything but the bodyshell and the interior. Those bits they will stick on top of their own custom chassis, complete with 2.0 litre Ford Zetec engine for about the same money as a new MX-5.

Wha .... ?? So, you have a brand new car and a classic Lotus Elan all at the same time. Wonderful! Alternative to running a classic +2S? I don't believe so. The Spyder Cars Lotus conversion I would buy. As a day car. But from my perspective, there is no way on Earth you can replace a genuine, well kept classic with a modern conversion. The rose would smell more like an orchid. Still very nice, don't get me wrong, but just not the same.

If the company I work for offer me a £20,000 company car allowance tomorrow though, I know exactly where I'm going ...

Photograph courtesy of Practical Classics.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Taxed And Plated

I just thought I'd note the DVLA sent through the UK license plate letter (indeed, we've been assigned an old 1971 'J' plate) and the free, "Historic", tax disc for the Fiat. The steps I detailed previously in "Done And Dusted" are indeed correct at this present time and we had everything processed without issue.

At the moment the Fiat is still carrying Italian plates and tax information, as I don't see the point of displaying a UK tax disc with Italian plates. It's more likely to attract the attention of some traffic warden like that than it is with all Italian markings - and at the end of the day, if I get a producing order everything is UK-legal. So, next weekend off to a number plate manufacturer to get our black and white (well, silver really) plates made up!

My only problem now is going to be finding someone who is prepared to do me a motorcycle plate for the front. The one on it at the moment is a slightly smaller size than is strictly legal. Hmmmm ...