Accident in Orange

ONE EASTER DURING the late 1990s, we drove to Provence in the south of France. There, we hired a lovely rural cottage (a ‘gîte rural’) located on the edge of a village next to an orchard of trees overladen with ripe cherries. That year, there was a heatwave in the south of France, daytime temperatures reaching and staying at 37 degrees Celsius. We were pleased that our Saab saloon car had built-in air-conditioning and that our gite had a large garden and a shady terrace.

Roman amphitheatre, Orange, France

Despite the high daytime temperatures, we managed to do plenty of sight-seeing. One day, we decided to explore the delights of the city of Orange, which was not far from our gite. The city is rich in Roman remains including a magnificent open-air theatre with steps, on which the audience perched, arranged in a circle.

In the 12th century, Orange and its surroundings became a principality within the Holy Roman Empire. In 1554, William the Silent, Count of Nassau, who had possessions in the Netherlands and became a Protestant, inherited the title ‘Prince of Orange’. The Principality of Orange was incorporated into what became the House of Orange-Nassau, whose royal family continues to rule the Netherlands today. One member of the family became King William III of England in 1689. Orange remained a Dutch possession more or less continuously until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, under whose terms it was ceded to France.

So much history and clambering around the Roman ruins made us ready for lunch. We had no idea which restaurant to choose in the centre of Orange. My wife had the bright idea of entering one of the local shops, a shoe store, to ask where its workers went to eat their midday meal. They told us about a small restaurant around the corner. This busy eatery had a name which brought to mind associations with the American Wild West, ‘Le Buffalo West’, or something similar. It was a good recommendation and the food it served was excellent quality, reasonably priced French fare.

After a decent meal, we drove to a parking plot near a Roman triumphal arch. To enter the parking area, one had to drive below an arch designed to keep out large vehicles, and then down a steep ramp. Unfortunately, I turned the steering well before the car was fully off the ramp. We became grounded on a large concrete rock. The engine cut-out. I could not restart it. The car was well and truly stuck on the rock. Some people nearby saw our plight and told us that there was a repair garage a few yards away. We walked there.

The garage people sent out a team with a tow truck. Sadly, the truck was too high to pass beneath the height-restricting arch. Seeing the problem, three garage employees set to work with spades to dig around the rock on which our Saab was marooned. After at least an hour and a half’s hard toil in the baking afternoon heat, they removed the boulder and thus freed the car. Then, they pushed it beneath the arch so that it could be attached to the towing truck.

Raised on a ramp, it was easy to see where the rock had ruptured the Saab’s fuel line. It did not take the engineers long to replace the fractured section. Luckily, little other damage was visible beneath our car. Finally, we were ready to leave. It was with some anticipation that I asked to settle the bill. Imagining how expensive this labour-intensive episode would have been in the UK, I was expecting a bill of at least £300. So, I was not surprised when I was asked for about 300 French Francs. Then, a moment later, I could not believe my luck. A quick calculation  had revealed that I was being asked not for £300, but for the Franc equivalent of about one tenth of this amount.

We returned to our gite, highly relieved that the car was back in service so quickly. That evening, as the sun set, we sat outdoors and enjoyed glasses of the local rosé wine whilst the charcoal on our barbecue began to reach the glowing stage that is best for grilling the meat that we had bought in one of the local markets.

The Saab remained in use for several more years but, to the surprise of our local dealer who serviced it annually, it began developing ominous cracks in its chassis. It was providential that these did not develop immediately after my driving misjudgement in that car park in Orange.

Death of an automobile

It is odd how an old photograph can trigger a whole lot of memories, which you thought were long forgotten. This photograph brings back memories of the last hours of one of our motor cars.

I had just had our old Saab car serviced and I asked the dealer how much it would beworth as part exchange for a newer model. I was told £400 would be generous. I was horrified, and said:
“Really? You’re kidding”
“No, Sir, yesterday I was shown a ten year old Jaguar in good nick. I only offered the owner £400.”

I paid for the service, having been told that several quite costly repairs might be needed soon if wanted to keep our Saab on the road. The first of these, and this was a legal requirement, was to replace the four tyres.

We bought four new tyres a couple of days later and set iff to attend a wedding anniversary in Kent. On the way, we stopped at a bonsai tree nursery to see an old acquaintance.

When we returned to the nursery’s car park, our car would not start. All that happened when I turned the ignition key was a whining noise followed by smoke seeping out of the engine.

We called the AA, the emergency breakdown service, and an agent arrived soon. He looked at the problem and came to a rapid diagnosis. I asked him how much it would cost to repair the major problem that had occurred. He said about £400. With that information and the knowledge that other major repairs might be needed in the near future, it was not a difficult decision to scrap our Saab.

That was back in late 2010. Prior to that date, we had used our car to make annual visits to France, where we enjoyed staying at ‘Gites rurales’, rented holiday homes often in picturesque rural spots. I took many photographs on these lovely holidays. The picture illustrating this piece was taken somewhere in France, but as I never bothered to label all of my photos at the time, I cannot tell you where I saw this fine set of doors.

Where is it?

button

Almost exactly nine years ago our middle-aged Saab automobile developed a fatal error. To repair it, we would have had to pay more than our car was worth. As our vehicle had other problems likely to occur, we sold our Saab to a scrap dealer. Living in the centre of London meant that we used our car usually not more than twice a month. So, we decided to start life without a car of our own. We felt it would be more sensible to use public transport, cabs, and to rent a car when we wanted one for trips away from London.

On one occasion, we were going to make a trip to north Yorkshire. We hired a car from an office based at Heathrow Airport. When I arrived at the office, I expressed a preference for a diesel model. The only diesel-fuelled car available was a large Vauxhall estate car. As it was offered to me at the same price as a smaller petrol-driven car, I hired it. 

I crossed the small car park to where ‘my’ vehicle was parked and entered the Vauxhall. By the way, did you know that the Russian word for railway station is вокзал (‘voksal’) and is derived from London’s ‘Vauxhall’ (see: https://londonist.com/2015/10/vokzal). I digress. I sat down in the driver’s seat, and turned the ignition key. A lamp on the dashboard indicated that the handbrake was active. But where was the hand brake? There was no lever to operate as in many other cars. Then I remembered that some Mercedes had a handbrake release near the foot pedals (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2018/11/19/its-enough-to-drive-you-around-the-benz/ ). I looked around the foot pedal area, but saw nothing other than the foot pedals – no handbrake release mechanism. I turned off the car’s engine, and walked back to the car hire office.

Sheepishly, I entered and approached the charming young ladies sitting behind the counter.

“How can I help you sir,” I was asked.

“I know this sounds silly, but I cannot figure out how the handbrake works.”

“Oh that’s simple, sir”, came the reply, “There’s a small button on the armrest close to the gear change stick. By pushing that you can operate the handbrake.”

I returned to the car and found the small button, square and not much larger than a face of a dice. 

It is amazing that car hire companies are happy to rent customers almost brand new cars without leaving an instruction manual or providing essential advice. In another article I will describe another incident of renting a car without having been given essential instructions. Watch this space! 

 

Picture source: http://www.daraz.com.bd

Auto-biography

BAVARIA 87 Between Braunau and Munich Volvo

 

I passed my driving test in mid-1982, shortly after qualifying as a dentist. Like many dentists I have met, I went through a phase of fascination with cars.

My first car was second-hand. I was advised to buy something not to expensive just in case during my first months on the road I was to have had an accident. I bought an Austin Allegro from a local dealer. It seemed in great condition given its low price. However, it had at least one annoying defect: it would stop suddenly without warning. This defect was due to a loose connection in the ignition system.  After a very few months, the car began emitting blue smoke from its exhaust. This was due to some major defect in the engine, which would have cost more to repair than the car itself. When I confronted the dealer, who had sold me the Allegro, he reccommended that I bought a new car. I told him that I was not happy with his response because I had had the car for such a short time.

A local garage did something temporary to the engine to improve its part-exchange value, but also advised me to obtain another vehicle. To my great surprise, the local VW dealer offered me a very good part exchange price if I bought a VW. I bought a VW Polo Formel E. This was not a car for using on the Formula One racetracks, but a comfortable, very easy to drive, practical small car. The ‘Formel E’ related to the fact that the car had a gear setting that allowed low fuel consumotion. This car served me well and would have kept on going for many years, but I had my eyes on owning a Volvo.

The first Volvo I bought was a Volvo 340, a descendant of the Dutch DAF models. Like the Allegro, mine had a persistent problem. It also stopped suddenly and without warning. Despite many visits to the local Volvo dealer, no one could solve the problem. Eventually, Volvo recalled my car for a modification to rectify a design fault in the carburettor. After that, the 340 behaved well and survived a rear end shunt with very little damage. My lust for another car sent me back to the car showrooms after about two years.

I bought a Volvo 240 estate car. Though enormous and looking aerodynamically inefficient, this car was superb. It handled as easily as my relatively tiny VW Polo had done, and it could fly along if speed was needed. Once on the autobahn in West Germany, I managed to move the car at 105 mph uphill, and even then my foot had not completely pressed the accelerator pedal to its fullest extent.  This spacious, easily manoevrable car carried me right across Europe from Kent to Belgrade, and on another trip from Kent to Budapest. Why I traded in this Volvo 240 for a newer Volvo 240, I cannot recall. Both 240s were excellent, but a new model of Volvo had arrive on the market place.

I part exchanged my perfectly good Volvo 240 estate for a brand new Volvo 850 saloon. This was a complete disappointment after the 240 models. It looked good by Volvo standards but was not pleasurable to drive. When I took it to a Volvo dealer a couple of years later, I was offered a pathetic part-exchange price against a new Volvo. I was told that the 850 did not sell well second-hand.

Very disappointed with Volvo, I rang the local Saab dealership. When they learned my wife was pregnant, they offered to bring a model of the Saab (in our price range) to our home so that I could take it for a test-drive. As soon as I sat in the driving seat, I knew that we had to own a Saab. We bought a Saab 900, which lasted us well for a few years, and would have lasted us much longer had we not decided to trade it in for a newer model before its resale price dropped too far. We bought a Saab 9-3, which sadly lacked some of the quality of the first Saab we owned. 

Ten years ago, we set out to attend our friends’ golden wedding anniversary party in rural Kent. Before leaving London, we replaced our four tires as required after we had the results of our car’s official car inspection (MOT test). We arrived early and decided to visit a bonsai nursery that we had seen a few years earlier. When we returned to the car, ready to drive to the party, I turned the ignition key and all that happened was a grinding noise from the engine. We called the AA (roadside assistance), who arrived quickly. The engineer looked at the enging and discovered that the fan belt had slipped off its mountings. Worse than that, one of the parts of the engine thatrelied on the fan belt had a severely distorted metal part. We asked the enginner roughly how much it would cost to repair the fault. He said he thought it would be at least £300.

Now, when I had last visited the Saab garage, I had asked for a part-exchange quote for our now ageing car. I was told that £400 would be generous. Consequently, we decided not to replace the car, but to sell it to scrap dealers, who gave us a paltry sum for it. Since then, we have not owned an auto, and life has been, surprisingly, less stressful.

You may be wondering how we reached the party. The kind AA engineer took us to a local car hire place, and we picked up a car (paid for by the AA as part of our membership plan), and arrived quite late at the party.