by John Lonergan
I have lived at my present address since 1985 and didn’t know my close neighbour Keith had a car until about 7 years later ( @ 1992 ). Another neighbour who had lived there a lot longer than I had stopped for a chat and during the conversation he looked across the road and pointed to the garage and said “ye nar , eez gor an auld car in there and it’s dun nowt “.
A few days later that same garage door was opened for the first time that I could recall since moving there and revealed a white S reg. MK2 Ford Escort. A stranger started working on the car and later that day it was running. A few days later I found out he had taken the car for MOT which it passed, then my neighbour Keith and his wife Maria took the car for a run, returning a couple of hours later and the car was put back in the garage where it remained until July 2010.
I had asked if he would ever consider selling his car and if so would he give me first refusal. I also told him I didn’t wish to sell the car on, but wanted to recommission it and take it to classic car shows. I was politely told it was not for sale, but if ever he wished to sell he would let me know. I asked why he didn’t use it and he said public transport was quite adequate for his needs.
In early 2008 Keith had quite a bit of work done on his house and the garage door was going up and down like a yo-yo with workmen going in and out, revealing the car again covered in dust and boxes. I guess a lot of people saw the car and around that time and Keith was inundated with strangers knocking on his door asking to buy the Ford but again he would not sell.
I think all the attention troubled him somewhat as he is a very private person. Then one evening mid-2008 Keith approached me and asked if I still wanted his car. I said I would be delighted to own it and with a little haggle the deal was done. I asked why he had not sold it to someone else and he said he would like the car to be looked after by someone he knew and would take care of it and not just sell it on.
Not long after that I suffered some health problems and the car had to wait until July 2010 to come out of its hibernation. First I had to enlist some help from friends and relatives; the first job was to tie back the overgrown bushes on the drive, then I lifted the garage door and there it was covered in dust, boxes and an old carpet. All the tyres were totally flat, the inside was covered in a white dust and the handbrake was on. I got inside and let the handbrake off while my son James dragged over the portable compressor. He inflated all the tyres then he and my wife Cath gave the car a shove. There was a little clunk and the handbrake came off, I couldn’t believe it - 18 years it was on, and it came off so easily. Next all the rubbish on top of the car was removed and then it was pushed out of the garage and over the road onto my drive.
The car looked in great condition though very dusty inside and out so Cath and myself started the task of cleaning the car. The speedo read an amazing 3,131miles - it had covered just 30 miles since that 1992 MOT, and it looked great.
The next task was to get the engine running. We changed the oil and filter, air filter, plugs, points and condenser, fitted new plug leads as the old ones were green-looking, fitted a new battery, the car was jacked up and put on stands, then the 18 year old fuel was drained off and then in with a gallon of fresh petrol.
I then tried to start the engine. Everything looked fine but it would not fire up; a little investigation led to the coil, so straight down to my local auto centre for a new one, once fitted the engine fired up without hesitation and soon settled down to a smooth tick over. So a quick check, oil light out, there was oil to the rockers and a check under the car for leaks showed all ok. What really stood out was the condition of the underside - it was immaculate having benefited from the ziebart treatment from new. The only job under the car was to change both rack boots which had split when the wheels turned for the first time. The parts were ordered and fitted a few days later.
Next items to be checked were the brakes, all wheels jacked up and removed , rear hubs were removed, Cath worked the brake pedal and handbrake all checked out ok. There was nothing leaking, nothing sticking, all going on and off with each application - unbelievable. The wheels were then refitted and the stands and jacks removed. I started the engine, engaged 1st gear and slowly released the clutch pedal and let the car drive a few yards forward and then in reverse. Again all seemed fine, personally I have never known a vehicle stand so long without something sticking , seizing or leaking, so I carried on and checked out the rest of the vehicle. Everything was working as it should , so it was time to book an MOT.
The MOT was booked and insurance arranged, and as the MOT station was a ten mile drive, I took my wife Cath along for its first trip in 18 years. The car performed well once the brakes had settled in, though I have to say not having a brake servo felt a bit weird for a while. The only thing to show up on the trip was those 32 year old tyres; it was like driving with three-penny bits for wheels (fifty pence pieces for you post-decimal types).
When we arrived at the garage the examiner was very pleased to see it at last. I asked if Cath could stay in the car and he replied, “She should be ok as she is age-related”, just as well he was out of reach. "Mileage?" he asked. "3141 miles" I said. "Bugger off!" he said and put his head round to check, then said you lucky b*****d.
All through the test all I could hear was him repeating expletives and “I don’t believe it“. He even had his workmate and some friends come have a look. It passed with flying colours and after a steady trip home all the wheels were removed. I had them blasted and repainted at Stella Blasting and Painting of Pelton Fell Chester-le-street Durham and had new tyres fitted at Tyre Plus Durham and now it drives as it should.
The only downside to the Ziebart treatment is they sprayed the stuff everywhere, under the bonnet was totally black but I am slowly removing it a bit at a time to reveal the pristine original paint underneath. There was an issue with the n.s.f. wing to address where Keith had a minor scrape many years ago and this was attended to by Dick Francis and his team at Carrosserie of Barnard Castle .
Keith the original owner came over to see me the other day to see how I was getting on and is very pleased with its progress. He gave me the original purchase invoice from the Heaton Motor Company of Consett plus it’s handbooks, along with the last test certificate he had showing a mileage of 03101mls, and a service invoice from 1982 showing the mileage of 1,600mls.
It doesn’t get any better than this - a one owner ultra low mileage vehicle been locked away for years and taking very little to recommission. Am I ecstatic? ..... you bet! .
Since then my little Escort popular has won quite a few trophies, not that that's why I go to shows. Many I go to are just displays but it is nice that the originality of this car is recognised as there are so few base models left, most having been modified to mimic RS models or Mexico's.
This car is in exactly the same spec as it left the dealership in 1978, and I aim to keep just like it is .
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