by Brian Allison
Last time if you remember I'd just bought a genuine WW2 staff car. No, not really but the attention the camouflage painted Vitesse attracted would have been hard to beat even if I had. It never failed to elicit comments wherever I went in it, one or two that could be repeated in polite company but far more that couldn't. Being blessed with skin that matched my head these usually ran of me like water off a duck.
Apart from the comments I found the whole Vitesse experience really satisfying. With the 2lr.engine in fine form it had a very respectable turn of speed, was pretty comfortable ride wise and had the usual Triumph wood dash to admire when not making forward progress. All in all not a bad place to be at all. Bit like a Ford Scorpio really, you can't see the outside when you're inside. I did have a few hairy moments finding out just how far you could push the back end before it cried enough, but apart from that it handled pretty well.
One unfortunate and to my mind unwarranted effect of the paintjob was the attention it attracted from the boys in blue. For a car that was supposedly meant to blend into the background it did the exact opposite with them. If I wasn't pulled at least once a week it was a rare thing.A typical exchange would be along the lines of.
" This your car Sir?. "Yes.", "Name and address please Sir.", "Brian Allison etc.", "On official business are we Sir?", "Pardon?", "Just wondered where the war was that you were in such a rush to get to." or another favourite, "Suppose you thought I wouldn't see you". Everyone a gem!
Must admit though that after many roadside MOT's they seemed to finally realise that everything about the car was totally legal and ceased to harass me on anything like a regular basis.
During this period the firm opened two new readymix depots, one in Manchester close to Belle Vue, the other in Preston. Brighouse being the nearest group garage we took on the responsibility for these two as well. The workings of corporate minds has often led to much head scratching on my part, and this was just one such occasion. Even with the new motorways Manchester is about a 30 mile trip, and Preston about another 20 or so miles further. So a breakdown in Preston meant it was hardly going to be attended to very quickly. However, as they say, ours not to reason why.
The mixer trucks we had were all fitted with Ford 4D donkey engines that drove the actual mixer drum and these and their drive accounted for the majority of call outs we got. A common occurrence would be a call saying a driver had got on site with a load and the donkey engine would not start or had suddenly stopped. Now a lot of the time this would be a genuine problem caused by the starter motor or wiring faults, but on more than one occasion I arrived to find the donkey engine completely seized. First check was to dip the oil. In every case the oil level was near enough correct, but unlike any diesel engine I've ever worked on the oil would be a lovely translucent coating on the dip stick. Of course the driver checked the oil according to his check list that morning.
In a case such as that the drum was totally immovable and the main priority was to get the concrete out of the drum before it set. This was achieved by removing the inspection hatches on the drum and calling the local fire brigade to find out where we could go for them to wash the concrete out with their power hoses. A messy, expensive business and all for the sake of five minutes. The usual punishment for the drivers was to have to get into the drum with a needle gun and clean away any concrete still stuck in there, it must have been hell for them with the dust and noise but I bet they never failed to check their oil levels again.
What the hell has that got to do with Cortina's?, you may well be asking. I'm coming to that.
About a couple of months after the theft of my Cortina I was called out to a breakdown at the Manchester plant. Exiting the plant and stopped at the T junction I spotted a really good looking Mk2 Cortina in the approaching traffic, same red as mine had been. Looking on enviously as it got nearer and passed by I was amazed to see it was identical, right down to the number plate. Unable to follow it due to the busy main road traffic I drove instead to the nearest phone box, called the police and reported that I'd seen a stolen car and where.
Not hearing anything after a couple of days I called the insurance co., told them the tale, asked if they'd been caught, and if they had could I buy the car back. It turned out that they had recovered, undamaged in Manchester a few days after they issued me with the cheque, and rather than offer me the chance to buy it back they'd put it in the auction. I'll refrain from saying what I called them bit it certainly wasn't complimentary. They say every cloud has a silver lining and that was certainly true about my cloud. Unfortunately the silver lining was to the benefit of the lucky sod who bought a pristine Cortina at auction.
The only Cortina I got to drive for a while after that was the MK 3 company car of Jack, the manager. The first time I drove it on the motorway I was appalled at the handling. At speed it developed a motion on the front suspension rather like a corkscrew, almost as if it wanted to turn over on alternate sides. Jack reckoned it had always been like that from new and that the agents reckoned it was nothing to worry about and quite normal.
Whilst on a trip to Thomson's, the mixer manufacturer, in Bilston Wolverhampton to pick up spares the gear lever came off in my hand and had to temporarily refitted with a piece of wire tying it into the gearbox turret, which did nothing to improve my rating of it. It also suffered from paint peeling from the front wing noses that had to be repainted under warranty. All in all I thought they'd have been better sticking with the MK 2.
Another strange fault that occurred on a Ford was the case of the Area Managers MK1 Granada. This was a V6, 2.5ltr model. He rang the garage and told us that he'd been driving along when he heard a bang and the car stopped dead. When we looked at it the engine was seized solid so we decided to strip it and see what had happened, and here comes the weird bit which we never got a satisfactory explanation from Fords for although they did provide an exchange engine free of charge which to our minds spoke volumes.
The cause of the abrupt seizing was a cylinder liner that had fallen down and fouled the crankshaft. Which was rather strange because as far as we could find out the Essex engine didn't have liners but was bored directly in the block. Strange but I assure you totally true. We could only assume that a liner had been fitted to salvage a block that had some fault when initially bored.
As I mentioned earlier in this series we also had two Ford D1000 tippers and I'm afraid that they also did nothing to enamour me to the post MK2 Cortina Fords. I'm sorry if that offends any fans of the blue oval but it is my honest assessment of that period, although I did have a Mk4 Cortina for a short while and found that perfectly adequate if a little uninspiring.
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