by Mark Smith
Saturday 19th May started well. The sun was shining and the morning was pleasantly warm, very unusual for a British Spring Saturday. After a leisurely breakfast I mounted my Victoria Pendleton bicycle, purchased during last year’s Black Friday Halfords sale primarily for the commute to and from the lock-up garage a couple of streets away where our lovely Triumph Mayflower Mildred is kept and set off for the corner shop to collect our Saturday Times before heading round to collect Mildred.
The usual pleasantries were exchanged with the shop owner who always asks me what I’m up to that day. I explained that I was just off to the lock-up to collect Mildred and that Christine, Georgia and I were heading off to the lunchtime meeting of the Charnwood Custom Cruiser’s at Hathern where we planned to have our usual sausage, egg, chips and beans lunch at Lisa’s Diner before looking around the other cars and chatting to a few of their owners. I had then planned to drop Christine and Georgia off in town on our way home where they were going to pick up a Birthday balloon and banners before delivering them to the Bella Italia Italian restaurant where Georgia was having a Pizza Party with a few school friends the following day for her tenth Birthday.
We set off from home around 12:30pm in good spirits and with the sun still shining, Georgia full of excitement about her Birthday the next day. We had just got to the traffic lights on King Street where it joined the A6 to town when the lights turned red and we stopped with one car in front of us. I looked in the door mirror and watched a Transit sized van pull up behind me. As I looked ahead again, the lights changed to green and the car in front started to pull away. When we had pulled up I had knocked the column change gear selector into neutral and applied the umbrella-handled handbrake, it was a good thing I had! As I depressed the clutch peddle ready to select first gear, there was a terrific snapping sound and the peddle hit the floor and stayed there, we were going nowhere.
I knew the clutch mechanism was mechanical rather than hydraulic so assumed it was cable operated and that the cable had snapped. I got out of the car and went round to the lads in the van behind to explain what had happened and the passenger got out and pushed us the short distance across the A6 and into a lay-by parking area opposite. We ended up parked on the double yellow line area just before the start of the proper parking bays but there was no way we could have maneuvered the Mayflower into a parking bay even if one was available but the car was parked in a safe manner and was not causing an obstruction. I lifted the bonnet to get extra light through to the gearbox area under the car and crawled underneath to inspect the damage. I was amazed at what I saw, the linkage was not a cable, it was a ¼” thick steel rod and it had snapped where the threaded section began that attached it to the clutch peddle. A ¼” thick steel rod snapped clean through!
There was nothing I could do other than call the RAC so I told the girls to continue into town, have some lunch and sort out the balloon and banners for Georgia’s party and I would stay with the car until the RAC arrived. The RAC Call Centre operator told me it would be somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes to get an engineer to me and Text me the engineer’s contact number in case I wanted to call him and I settled down to await his arrival. I had explained to the operator that they would need to send a breakdown truck to take the car back home a it couldn’t be driven and I would have to track down a spare clutch rod and repair the car myself in due course. While I waited for the engineer to arrive, I rang Paul Burgess the Spares Officer at the Triumph Mayflower Club and told him what had happened and asked if he knew if we had any spares in the club. I also had to cancel a planned publicity photo shoot at Stonehurst Farm which we had organised for the Monday evening as I had no way of getting the car back on the road over the weekend.
I had just got off the phone to Paul when I received a call from the RAC’s engineer to advise me he was on his way and would be with me as soon as he could depending on the traffic. He was over at Syston near Leicester and hoped to be with me in around 20 minutes. As I waited in the sun, sitting in the driver’s seat of the car with the door open and the bonnet up, I had quite a few people walking to or from town stop to talk to me about the car. The younger ones wanted to know what the car was and the older ones who knew what it was, just wanted to look at it and everyone that stopped said how much they liked it. Even when Mildred is under the weather, she just seems to generate so much goodwill and you can feel the affection people have for her, which I just find so amazing.
The RAC engineer was as good as his word and arrived more or less to the minute of his predicted time. As he pulled up behind Mildred, I instantly saw he was quite a young chap and the first thought that went through my head was that he wouldn’t have a clue what to do because he wouldn’t be able to plug in a Lap Top. How wrong I was! I walked up to his van door before had had a chance to get out and told him that I had told the operator to send a low-loader as there was no way the car could be repaired. The lad smiled and as he got out of the van, he asked me what had happened.
I explained that the clutch rod had snapped and there was nothing he could do as I would need to track down a replacement so he would need to get a low-loader sent out. He said he had a collapsible trailer in the back of the van and could get the car home for me if all else failed but he’d have a look first. He got a torch out of the van and preceded to clamber underneath Mildred. After a quick inspection, he got up and with evident pleasure on his face said to me, ‘I think I can get that fixed!’ ‘Really?’ I replied. ‘Yes’ he said and went to get a few tools.
Within two minutes of arriving he had removed the broken rod and then returned to his van and made a phone call. He then told me he had rung a local exhaust centre who had agreed to have a look at it and hopefully weld it up. I was amazed for the second time in an hour! He said there might be a charge for the welding so I gave him the £15 I had intended buying our sausage, egg, chips and beans with and he said he would try to get the work done as cheaply as he could and would not mention money unless the exhaust centre did. With that, he got back in his van and drove off saying he’d be back as quickly as he could.
I settled back down in the Mildred’s drivers seat and waited in the sun for the RAC engineer to return, again spending my time chatting with passers by who showed an interest in the car. The time ticked by and as I was talking to a very nice family about Mildred, Christine and Georgia returned from their jaunt into town. We all stood talking for a few minutes when the RAC engineer returned as happy as Larry as he had been able to get the clutch rod welded up and free of charge too! He gave me back my £15 and then refitted the rod to the car. Within a few minutes, Mildred was mended and the engineer had the biggest smile on his face! He was so happy because he had actually been able do some real "mechanicing" instead of plugging in a laptop to diagnose the fault, then stating ‘There was nothing he could do’ before towing the vehicle to the nearest repair centre.
I thanked him and asked his name before asking him to have a photo taken with the car. He told me his name was Jack and he was as pleased as punch to be asked to pose with Mildred for a photograph. We said our ‘Goodbyes’ and went our separate ways. Christine and Georgia got back in Mildred and we drove home full of praise for Jack and the RAC. As soon as we got home I went on the RAC’s Facebook Page and Posted the photo of Jack with Mildred and praised him for his excellent service. Within a few minutes, I had received a reply from the RAC thanking me for my feed-back and asking if I would send my Membership Number in a private message so they could track down the Call Centre that dealt with my initial call in order that they could pass on my thanks to Jack. I was more than happy to do that and again thanked them for their first rate service. I then went outside and gave Mildred a nice wash down and a bit of a polish before returning her to her lock-up.
I later reported my experience on various Facebook car groups and thought that was the end of the matter but it wasn’t! A few days later I received a letter from the RAC. As I opened it I assumed it was either a general circular or a questionnaire about my breakdown experience but it wasn’t, it was a personal letter from the RAC’s Customer Care thanking me for taking the time to praise their engineer and report my experience! I am aware that other people may have different feelings about the standard of service they have had from the RAC in the past but I can only talk about my own experience and cannot praise Jack enough for the service he gave us, it was old school and of a standard we used to expect in a different age.
As I started writing this piece this, I heard from Paul Burgess that he has found a replacement clutch rod among the Mayflower Club spares stock. I’ve put my name on it and will swap it for the welded original as soon as possible. I know people say that a weld can be stronger than the original material but once bitten….
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