I know, I know. So the Triumph TR7 wasn't a "proper"
British Sports Car. After all, it leaked, its electrics were appalling
and the engine had a suspect track record. The bodywork, too,
was of dubious quality, and with hindsight the Triumph "Disprin"
would have been a more appropriate name.
It follows, then, that to even the die-hard defender of the British
classic car movement, the idea of taking one of these Seventies
wedges on a long trip must seem ridiculous. Even when new, the
regular morning jaunt to the office required a stiff upper lip
and a delight in personal torture. Where was the fun in KNOWING
that you would get there with working headlamps and washers? A
typically British sense of adventure was certainly needed.
Having been dedicated Grecophiles for some time, myself and my
friend Neil Batt decided that we should renounce our dedication
to day to day activities in Old Blighty and embark upon a mission
to drive a TR7 to the Ionian island of Paxos, Greece.
ME: "...it'll be a turning point in motoring history!..."
NEIL: "...You're right! Just think, nobody else would
have thought of taking a TR7 so far. Do you think anyone will
click that you couldn't afford any other British sports-car? Hey,
it's last orders...more beer?!"
I have to confess to waking up the next morning with a bit of
a sore head and a vague recollection of agreeing to drive to Greece
in a Triumph TR7. A TR7! Greece! Okay, so we all set ourselves
challenges, but a TR7? Throughout the next few days I tried desperately
to banish the idea from my mind, but somehow it just wouldn't
go away. A few days later, I was blowing the dust off RJW 307R,
an early Speke-built car sporting a period orange paint finish
and four flat tyres.
"...Actually John, she's a shed..." said Dave, a friend
of a friend who runs a local garage. "...She came in seven
years ago and hasn't run since. I use it for storing wheel trims..."
One day later and a hundred pounds lighter, I towed the sorry
looking Triumph, now named "Bessy", to my welder's workshop.
A new sill and front floorpan later, she was starting to look
like a lady again! Surprisingly, the chassis legs were remarkably
sound and it became apparent that, despite her age, she had never
been previously corrupted by the evil point of a welder's torch.
Now sound and solid, I took Bessy to my own lock-up to begin the
huge task of completely rebuilding her. If we were to get to Paxos
in time for the best jobs, we had to be there for the start of
the 1994 tourist season in April, which meant that we had less
than three months to completely restore the car. We had to work
on the interior, engine, suspension, brakes and electrics before
an MOT certificate could be, issued, plus rub her down and carry
out a complete Cellulose body massage.
Having heard the horror stories of the two-litre, slant-four engine
suffering from temperature problems, I decided to fit an electric
fan in addition to the standard unit. Fellow TR7 enthusiasts told
me that the car wouldn't need it, but Neil persisted in forcing
a fan from a Vauxhall Cavalier fit in the nose-cone, ahead of
the radiator. Little did I realize just how glad we would be of
that little modification.
Without having time to even clean the grubby interior headlining,
Neil and I said farewell to our (worried) families and headed
for Dover. "Nick of time" was to become the slogan for
this trip - the indifferent receptionist at the check-in desk
informed us that a ferry would be leaving for Calais in twenty
minutes. The following scene must have looked, to onlookers, like
a scene from an episode of "The Sweeney".
To shouts of "... Get in the motor...'" and "...
Go!Go'..." we hurtled like villains on the run through embarkation
gate ninety-six, amongst tyre squeal and downright silly driving,
up the ramp onto the Stena Fantasia.
Bessy seemed to like commanding deck space on the ferry, looking
as she did rather conspicuous amongst the "Euro-boxes"
representing the rest of her peer group. Enjoying all the attention
she was getting, she just sat in
her gleaming red livery, patiently waiting for her two occupants
France is a strange place. Firstly, you're on the other side of
the road- Then, there are the constant furniture stores at the
edge of the motorway, displaying huge "Meubles" signs
in an attempt to lure you inside. No Blue Boar egg and chips on
these roads - just as many smoked glass coffee tables as you can
buy. Finally, you are overcome by a feeling of space. Lots of
cars, lots of motorway, lots of furniture stores, but lots of
space. We drove on, through the petrol-filler-cap-losing town
of Reims to our camp-site for the night, which was pleasantly
situated between the barracks and chemical works in France's Champagne
capital of Epernay.
France will probably be best remembered, though, for being the
place where Bessy started misfiring. We traced the fault, in Epernay,
to the distributor which, when physically pushed in a certain
direction, made the symptom disappear. In the end, we found that
by taking one clip off the distributor cap, the car ran perfectly.
It stayed like that until we got to Corfu.
Having had a tasty dose of France, we again studied the trusty
atlas and decided to head for Switzerland, were we would make
friends with the locals in Aigle and be told-off by the man at
the camp-site (also situated next to some barracks) for attempting
to give Bessy a much deserved wash.
.... and so endeth Part One of John's journey!
Part Two is now online - carry