Running Out Of Petrol: What Do You Reckon 446

By: Glenn Torrens

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petrol petrol

It's an initiation for any classic car enthusiast, reckons Glenn Torrens

One weekend recently, while working on my farm-find Commodore, I decided to take a break and fire-up my VW Beetle for a quick ‘spin around the block’. I hadn’t driven the Bug for a while so I wanted to blow the cobwebs out of its exhaust pipes and scrub the rust from its brake discs. It’s a 1968 model that I refurbished – with its tatty original paint, I shouldn’t say restored – after buying it from another local VW nut, Scotty.

After fixing some rust, rebuilding the chassis, suspension and brakes, repainting the interior and underside and shoving in a healthy motor, I had the Beetle on-the-road just in time for the first-ever Taree Airport Drags on NSW’s mid north coast last year.

But my little ratty VW has done plenty of nothing since blazing the Taree tarmac. I haven’t even driven it to the pub!
Anyway, with the logbook written-in and the scents of a sunny spring Sunday wafting in through the driver’s window, I re-connected the battery, hit the key and cruised away.

About three minutes later, I heard the electric fuel pump rattle… Oh shit. That’s the sound it makes when the tank is low, real low, on petrol. I hadn’t even looked at the VW’s fuel gauge, which was, of course, showing Empty. I did a quick U-turn toward home, with me willing the car: please don’t stop, please don’t stop, please don’t…!

Sure enough, the Bug conked-out… but just two streets away from home so – with a winner’s grin on my face - I coasted the Bug down the hill into my driveway.

It’s not the first time I’ve run out of fuel… years ago, a mate and I were cruising to a big camping car event. Coming into a town, our car (another VW) spluttered despite the needle showing above ‘Empty’. Oh shit… luckily there was a service station – the first one we’d seen for about an hour – just up the road. In neutral, I managed to swing across the on-coming traffic and roll to a stop at a bowser!

Another time, I wasn’t so lucky with my since-sold HQ Holden Premier V8. Its notoriously crap fuel gauge would drop from one-third to Empty in seconds and then a minute later – bleeerrwwww – it’d conk out. One day that happened in the middle of nowhere, out of phone range. Luckily, there was a farm house nearby and I managed to call a mate who brought me some juice.
All this got me thinking about how spluttering to a halt is an initiation ceremony, a rite of passage, to owning and driving cool old cars. Petrol tanks filled with crud, perished or blocked fuel lines and filters, and dodgy carbies and pumps are all part of the program with many cars that are 30 or more years old.

You’re not a ‘real’ classic car enthusiast unless you’ve run out of fuel!

Of course, it doesn’t just happen to old cars, nor is the cause always old mechanical parts. I’ve run out of fuel in my recent-model 4WD tourer too, luckily within sight of an outback town after a tense hour’s drive with the low-fuel light glowing, after I forgot to top-up a 20-litre jerry can.


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