Bad spot for a breakdown - What Do You Reckon 453

By: Glenn Torrens, Photography by: Getty Images

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Breaking down is part of classic car life. But for Glenn Torrens, it’s not always as ‘convenient’ as simply running out of juice

In a rare display of disloyalty – and almost as a middle finger to my recent writings about bush-fixes – my brown 1979 VB Commodore SL wagon ‘failed to proceed’ recently. Since buying this six-cylinder 1980s family wagon three years ago, I have replaced the dangerously worn suspension, tidied the interior and got the air conditioning working again. It’s a nice one-day-a-fortnight cruiser and I’ve rolled the odo more than 10,000km without any random issues.

So, I was a bit perplexed when it spluttered to a stop in a shopping centre car-park.

Luckily for me, I’d pulled on the handbrake and popped it into Park about one second before it coughed and stalled. In fact, although I’d thought ‘what was that?!’ I didn’t quite realise a problem until after I’d been shopping and tried to start the car to go home.

The Commodore cranked but didn’t fire. A fiddle under the bonnet soon revealed no spark – which meant either the coil or (aftermarket) electronic ignition had died. An hour later, the Shannons Roadside Assist towie had plonked my car in my driveway, so I could figure out what was wrong.

When diagnosing cars, it’s always good to be ready to deal with ‘hard’ but begin with ‘easy’ stuff, such as replacing an old coil. That’s where I began and abracadabra! The Commodore was working.

It’s been a big, bad couple of months for my cars; recently my yellow ’89 Mitsi Pajero’s engine started making horrible noises about 130km from home.

To cut a long story short, I limped it home; a cruise of two hours along the freeway with its emergency flashers on (sorry for anyone I inconvenienced that day!). Adding to my disappointment was the fact that it was the Pajero’s first trip further than 50km from home since I recommissioned it in early 2019. In fact, I’d daily-ed it around town for about 2000km, more or less to ensure there would be no dramas when I took it for a bush camping trek.

But I can be glass-half-full about the situation: the engine died on the last afternoon of a five-day trek and not on the first morning!

This recent ‘luck’ – having my Commodore die just seconds after I’d safely parked it, and my being able to limp my Pajero home without any overnight stays or horrible costs – got me thinking about how bad breakdown situations can sometimes be.

My worst? It wasn’t a cool old historic car, but my later-model (but 420,000km) Toyota Hilux. After saying cheerio to travelling companions after a 10-day 4WD tour of the NSW south east forests, I left for home detouring a little to the magnificent Snowy Mountains for one last night in the bush. After a beer at the hotel in Adaminaby, I ventured another hour or so to eventually pop-up my tent in a remote area of the Kosciuszko National Park.

The next morning, my trusty Hilux wouldn’t start, leaving me with (once again, I’ll cut a long story short) a whole day of attempting a bush fix of the fuel pump and, after I flagged-down some dirt-bike riders to call a park ranger on my behalf – I was out of mobile range – a hefty towing bill back to town. And, instead of Saturday morning, I arrived home Tuesday evening!

Sure, it was a bit shit, but it could have been far worse if there was no pub in Adaminaby to enjoy for three days while I waited for the parts to arrive!


From Unique Cars #453, May 2021




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