Journey to Greece - April 1994

Part 2: Onward to Paxos

by John Jones

I know we promised the concluding episode to John's story for March but activities that pay the bills got in the, just about in April here it is (and you may want to recap on Part 1).....

"...It is forbidden!" He cried, as Neil and I pondered over Switzerland's sudden water shortage. Perhaps Lake Geneva had been stolen? Funny though, we drove round it earlier that day...

Following a night of merriment in The Ship Inn, we went on through the truly breath-taking Swiss Alps and entered the Grand St Bernard Pass into Italy. This is where my respect for TR7s really started, as we sped around Alpine hairpins like characters in one of those Sixties continental spy films (forgetting that our car was made in Liverpool in 1977). The car just sat as though on rails, enjoying the experience of being driven in a way which would, no doubt, have shocked her probable hair-dressing original owner.

The sun really made an appearance at the Italian border and the gorgeous snow-capped peaks were contrasted by the shorts ' n' shades weather. We were in Italy and with Lira in oddments box, Bessy took us without complaint onto the motorway, cruising happily at 90MPH, albeit with a little axle whine and a longing for a fifth gear. At this point, I must share with you my belief that all it should be mandatory for all recently "passed" British driving students to take a further, advanced, driving test on the Italian Autostrade. In rush hour. Through the endless tunnels. On the two-lane Genoa bypass. It is a lesson in "keeping up with the traffic" (I think that is what my old driving instructor called it when I learnt to drive - "adapting to the circumstances", I think she said).
Bessy soaking up the alpine sun
Simply put, you cannot drive at less than 100mph because the Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches sort of get in the car with you, flashing their headlights and sounding their horns from behind. So, the logical thing to do is to move into the "slow" lane, and have a breather. But no! At 100mph it is impossible to merge into a lane of Renault and MAN trucks doing 40mph, so a sort of limbo occurs, rather like in the cult Keaneu Reeves' film "Speed". The only logical cure is to take the next slip road (if possible), set up camp and consume some beer.

It was in Italy that Bessy had her first big mood swing. Bowling along through a beautiful part of The Marches, the usual Bessy merriment was rudely interrupted by a terrible "THUNK" followed by "bump" and a soul-destroying rattly noise. They were just the sort of sounds to prompt a TR7 critic to say "...I told you so!..."

"...That sounded serious..." I said. Neil got out of the car to investigate under the bonnet, while I simply gripped the steering wheel in silence. I prayed that, whatever it was, we could fix the problem with a couple of spanners and a roll of gaffer tape.

".,.it IS serious ..." Neil reluctantly confirmed. Marooned in Italy with a holed radiator, broken sump and missing fan could have been grim, but it wasn't. Firstly, I was strangely delighted that, in view of the entire fan and pulley assembly having parted company with the timing cover, Neil had gone to such extraordinary lengths fit a second fan. That "VIEWWWWW" sound was to become another great trade mark of the expedition. Secondly, we were being allowed to pitch our tent in the private garden of the local garage owner while the repairs were carried out, giving us two days to explore this wonderful area of Italy.

Language was always going to be a problem, however, and considering our Italian vocabulary only really extended to "Cinquecento" ("500"), negotiating the repair was a little tricky. After we struggled for some time, the local English-speaker, a mad old lady with a grey bun hairstyle) was wheeled out enabling us to converse much more effectively. To our relief, the interpreter told us that, "yes", the mechanic would be able to braze the radiator and "yes" he could do the same to the sump. The only remaining obstacle was the need for a shorter diameter fan belt to go straight from the alternator to the crank pulley, by-passing the "stump" where the fan had once been. Eventually one was found, of Fiat origin, no doubt.

After we had paid the bill and said "Ciao" (the only other word we knew) to our new friends, we decided that in view of a slight loss of faith in the car, our plans to drive to Brindisi in the South would have to be altered. Bessy was also losing oil due to a faulty water pump through an escape hole in the engine-block, which meant that we would be out of Italy shortly and on the next available ferry for Corfu. Ancona is a largely dull town, with not much to see other than numerous ferry-funnels and Italian cars piled "tower of Pisa" style with baggage.

Next stop would be Greece's Corfu, in twenty-six hours time. That may sound like a long time on a boat, but Minoan Lines' "El Greco" was more like a cruise liner, with restaurants, swimming-pool, shops and very relaxing "Star Deck". Sitting with my feet on the rails in blazing sunshine for hours on end was a welcome break from the tempo of road travel and the only thing occupying my mind was watching the turquoise Adriatic gently flow past.
Minoan Lines ferry to Corfu
After a good night's sleep in our Economy Cabin (the Minoan brochure stated that it "... is situated under the garage..." - a company that also actively encourages those in camper vans to cook on deck), we rolled off "El Greco" and gave Corfu probably its first proper peek at a Triumph TR7. We had done it! We FLEW this far last year, and here we were on Greek soil in the car that everyone said would never make it. Driving around old haunts in Corfu town was great fun, but Bessy had had enough of that bodged distributor and she was really starting to complain. Having taken an apartment at the Georgious Studios on the very outskirts of Corfu whilst we waited two days for the ferry, we were just ten miles from Paxos and feeling pretty upbeat. But it really looked like the Triumph was not going to get there. She'd had enough of running with a ropey distributor. Wondering what we could do to fix the fault, we ate tinned "Squid in Hot Sauce" and retired to a taverna. There we melted our cares away with a soothing combination of bazouki music and a skin full of Greek lager.

I was awoken suddenly by the early morning heat, the trilling of the cicadas and by a strange sense of clarity. By mind was whirring with the Haynes Manual definition of ignition systems, and I just knew what the problem was. The points had closed up. I got out of bed before anyone else, and with a bit of fiddling I managed to cure the problem. With a simple adjustment of the "awkward to get at" points, Bessy was healthy again. And to think we had driven from Epernay with just one clip holding on the cap.

There definitely IS something special about TR7s. They look sporty and daring, and create genuine nostalgic interest. Perhaps it's that Seventies wedgy styling, that "about to pounce look" that turns heads, or maybe it's peoples' realisation that the car really is a classic, or...Who am I trying to fool? Let's face it, in a country which is over run by ailing pick-ups and strange Lada-esque utility vehicles that nobody-knows-who-ther're-made-by, is it surprising that the Greeks thought this Seventies has-been was a Ferrari? I didn't have the heart to tell them the truth, and naturally felt terribly guilty as we swanned around the Old Town in a striking pillar-box red sports car.

The day came - the last leg. Very soon, we would be driving around the peaceful island of Paxos, which we saw for little more than a few days the year before. There was one thing, however, that was to become common to both trips, something which neither the car nor her crew were really looking forward to. You see, Paxos is served by a life-line ferry called the "Zephyros" (goats, chickens, Lada-esgues). My Greek island guide described the vessel as "...a cute little ferry-boat...", but it should have read "... floating scrap-yard...". All of the metal work had been painted so many times that the hand-rails were about twice their original size. The boat's "Sun Deck" happened to be the area where the rusty anchor, soggy ropes and capstans were stored. On the bridge was the captain who, wearing shorts, dark glasses and apparently choking on a Papastratos cigarette, maneuvered this antique maritime tub out to sea.

The arrival on Paxos was the best finale to our outward adventures that anyone could have planned. The blazing sun, the bleached white houses, the over-powering greenery and the clandestine feeling of its capital Gaios made me feel like I had just joined an exclusive secret society. Little had changed since our last organised "package" visit - "...Look' There's Emilio's bar, just as it was'". We felt like we were visiting a place which we came to years ago, forgetting that we had walked along this picture-postcard quayside just twelve months before.

But something HAD changed - this time we had made the trip in a Triumph TR7. The joy of rolling off the "Zephyros" in command of a blatant statement of British motoring history was sufficient to generate ear to ear grins and generous back slapping from the car's crew. The 1977 British Leyland had finally finished a long trip across five countries, well and truly proving that these cars deserve proper recognition. Although wounded by the rigours of the journey (and what modern car wouldn't be?), her drive up the narrow cobbled street past Spire's Taverna and the age old bakery was Bessy's finest hour.

The little red wedge accompanied Neil and me on most of our outings around the Island during the five month stay - to the beach, to our jobs as cleaners and boat painters, to the tavernas and to the late night hang-outs. Whenever people saw the car, they knew that the "TR7 Boys" were not far away and as we sat in the traditional village square enjoying a cola and a Souvlaki, we could sometimes see the local children edging ever closer to the resting Bessy, perhaps daring each other to open a door and peep inside the strange British vehicle.

Although the TR7 slowly gathered dents, bumps and scratches and its bright red Cellulose coat started to dull in the Mediterranean sun, the car never lost its unique appeal. On many occasions, members of the local style-hungry youths offered me cash for the car!

Picture the scene: A day trip ferry has just dropped anchor in Gaios harbour and hoards of lobster-red Brits arrive from Kavos, Corfu's Club 18-30 ghetto. Amongst the ice-cream eaters and lilo carriers is a mob of loudmouthed lads in Union flag shorts, noisily announcing their arrival and cramming the quiet road in front of the main square. Predictably, the TR7's British 'plates get spotted and soon a football-chant type murmour begins as I drive Bessy towards them. Their attentions are on me, and wanting to make progress I wait for them to move aside and give way. Inching through the crowd, with engine humming and electric fan whining as the pink mass is pressed against the car, I catch sight of a previously anarchic lad looking nostalgically at Bessy. For just a moment he is back in 1976, his lager-lout persona vanished, and he is a little boy helping to wash his dad's new pride and joy, a red Triumph TR7. Then, as quickly asit started, his memory trip is over and he reverts to jeering with his friends as the car crawls through the mass of rowdytourists. Breaking out of the crowd and leaving it behind, I put on my sun-glasses, blip the throttle and roar gracefully along the winding coast road out of the village.

NOTE: The beautiful Minoan Lines' "El Greco" has since become the Captain Zaman, running between Turkey and Greece. Neil and I returned to Paxos in 2000, on a day trip ferry from Parga. Wishing to avoid meeting Babis our landlord (to whom we owed a few drachmas for an unpaid telephone bill, created after we managed to reconnect the phone by tweezing the correct wires together and calling our friends in England) we stepped off the boat with up-turned collars and deep-seated baseball caps. Emilio's bar had become a jewellery shop and the Zephyros had long since been shipped to the Aegean to eek out an existence as the "Neasa Express" before going to the great maritime scrap yard in the sky. I am pleased to report that the olive tree to which the water pump was attached for extraction was still there, outside our old house in Makratika

John's still owns Bessy and has been collecting panels for a restoration - as for a repeat to Greece?

©John Jones. Used with permission

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