From Goodwood to the Sahara

I managed to blag a few weeks off work, and I’ve been desperate to spend some quality time in the car, sure we took it to Le Mans this year, and regular long day trips and the odd weekend away, but what I really craved was a driving holiday.
Combine that with a certain urge to visit Morocco and climb Jebel Toubkhal and you have all the makings of an adventure.

The start of the trip coincided with the Goodwood revival, Ivonne and a group of ferrari owners were heading over together and I was invited to join them for the weekend, so I really was leaving in style. I was a little nervous about this, I had images of owners of pristinely polished and meticulously serviced Ferraris staring frustratedly at me whilst I tried to make my car start by the side of a particularly wet motor way, but actually it couldn’t have been further from the reality.

I didn’t get off to a very good start however, I managed to sleep in, promptly drove like a maniac towards Belgium to catch up with the group, then ran out of fuel about 1km from the petrol station to discover that in my haste to get underway i’d put the empty jerry can in the back, and not the one with some spare fuel in. No major delay, just embarrassing.

The belgians didn't want us entering so raised all the bridges

We stopped off in Brugge for a spot of breakfast, despite the belgians doing their best to keep us out by raising all the bridges for no apparent reason. Breakfasted we set off for the Eurostar and then on to our hotel in Canterbury. The next few days were spent at Goodwood enjoying the racing, people and the Champagne which seemed to be flowing rather well. The highlights for me were the 1960’s GT and LMP cars racing, these cars are just beautiful, not just the shape, but the sound as they drive passed. Other highlights included the Avro Vulcan Bomber, it really is an amazing piece of engineering, the noise it makes is something to behold, but for such a big aircraft it seems to be incredibly agile.

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Goodwood is incredibly well done, with full access to the paddock most of the weekend, the air displays, racing and everybody in period theme, the racing almost becomes just a backdrop. At the end we tried our luck for a few pictures of the cars outside Goodwood house, we had hoped to be a bit closer, but Jeeves was keeping a rather watchful eye over the driveway near the house, and I suspect the odd shotgun within reach to keep the peasants at bay so we found a nice stretch of lawn just out of range.

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The car was behaving more or less acceptably, but I noticed it was getting a bit hot on the Sunday for no good reason, I topped up the oil and water to no avail, then the next day it was fine again, so put it down to the warm weather. I sailed from Portsmouth to La Havre, and from there the real holiday begins.

A bridge somewhere in france

From La Havre, I set the TomTom to limited speed of 40km/h and the destination Le Mans, the weather was overcast but dry, the roads pretty quiet, and the countryside beautiful, i pretty much didn’t see a big road or town until just out side le mans where I started to recognize things, so took a detour around the public part of the le mans track, you can drive down the mulsanne straight, and the Arnage bends, I thought it would be rude to pass up an opportunity not to.

The end result was a big mess

From there I dialled in Orleans, then Pau, I camped the night in the Gascogne national park, I stopped for fuel and I noticed whilst queuing up that the temperature was getting a bit high and there was a bit of a rattle form the front of the car, this was not good, so I did some investigating at the camp site.

There were two rattles, the first was the bolt that holds the tensioner for the alternator had come loose, it then vibrates out and hits the water pump pulley, where it rattles and bounces around. I tried to tighten it up, but to no avail, so I took the pulley off to discover the bolt had snapped, my heart sank a little at this point as the bolt is UNC (Almost impossible to find easily in continental Europe.) and of course the remainder would require me to remove the water pump, and possibly drill out the remaining bits.

I know from experience that the water pump can be somewhat leaky when a bolt is so much as wiggled, let alone removed, however the only symptom so far was that the water is being pushed out into the expansion tank, and air being sucked back in from somewhere else. I decided to leave it until it properly failed and then fix it. I had brought with me a full gasket set, but obviously would rather avoid messing around with the pump.

I then tightened up the alternator pivot bolts as tight as I could, and removed the tensioner bracket, I also know from experience that this will work for a finite period of time before the bolts start to loosen a little and you get a squeal from the belt.

The next problem was the fan, the fan blade assembly is held onto the motor by a bolt, and a square drive gear, I’m not sure which failed first, but the drive gear had shredded the hole in the fan blade assembly and rounded all the threads off the bolt, the nut was nowhere to be seen.

I had horrible visions of melting down on my way to Santiago de compostella, but figured that’s what ANWB coverage is for. This was not the place to be looking for spares, so I decided to carry on the next day as planned, avoid cities (Already the plan.) drive in later at night and park up somewhere I could fit a replacement.

Heading down the Spanish side of the col, road much smoother, brakes smell *bad*

The next days drive was over the col from Saint Etienne de Baigorry in France to Erratzu in Spain, its a wonderful drive, tight twisty bends, great sweeping vistas, reasonable road surface, the odd man and his donkey, and not much else for many many mountain miles. The drive was blissful, the temperature stayed under control despite spending a good 20 minutes or so above 5000rpm, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, brake brake brake, 2nd gear, turn, and repeat.

Its quite a climb

The rest of the day was a bit of a slog into Santiago, I arrived around 9pm, and parked up at the first parking garage within walking distance of the hotel, and went out for dinner. The next day I phoned rally design who were sadly about as much use as a chocolate kettle. That is twice in a row I’ve had bad service from them despite spending many thousands of pounds with them over the last year. Instead Burton power came through and sent me out a kenlowe fan next day guaranteed delivery which turned up the next afternoon complete with fitting kits and quick fitting kits. Its a bit bigger than the pacet one so i had to bodge it a bit, but it was mounted, wired in, and worked a treat.

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From Santiago it was off to Lisbon for what was supposed to be just 2 days as I’d spent a bit longer in Santiago, but I spent at least 3 days there having a great time. I went out to Estoril, and watched some motorbike racing, before heading off to Seville for a couple of days.

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En route to Seville the additional weight of the fan caused a stress fracture in the radiator mount so I had to stop to rethink that, and patch it up. The road was pretty nice, a little congested to begin with then some nice twisty sections in the dark before arriving into the traffic nightmare that is downtown Seville.

The first breakdown of the day

From Seville it was the boat from Algeceres into Ceuta, and from there into Morocco. The Spanish side is as you would expect, I got singled out by a rather nice border guard who wanted to check it really was my car, they checked the VIN number and all the documents including APK and Greencard. Paperwork at the Moroccan border was minimal, and the touts not too annoying, you simply drive up to the window, get your passport stamped – you need your entry card filled in before this point, as a foreigner you don’t have a C.I.D. number but you must fill in everything else or at least attempt to, else the guy will get a bit stroppy.

After your immigrated, its time for your car, you will get a form from the window you fill in the info from your passport, registration document, and stamp from Moroccan immigration, they stamp all three copies and give it back to you, from there you hand the top copy to the Duane 10 meters later and drive out, keep it all handy as you have to wave it at the policeman at the end of the border area about 50 meters later.

I was now in Morocco, somewhat nervous but very very happy. That was 3500km and I was still in one piece. More importantly so was the car. The Mediterranean coast of morocco is pretty much like Europe, and I started my drive south towards Fes, road signs are minimal but there aren’t many roads so its pretty easy to navigate.

Once it got properly dark and the roads became a little less of a pedestrian zone I picked up the pace, enjoying the bends, working the car a little harder, overtaking when I could, then all of a sudden I saw a white wandy thing waving in the middle of the road, it took me a long time to realize it was a police checkpoint and throw on the brakes.

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The poor chap standing in the middle of the road with no reflective bits, dressed in black with just a little wand to wave must have needed a new pair of underpants. Needless to say he wasn’t best pleased, he told me to move to the right, get out the car and give him my papers, experience told me this was going to be a) long b) expensive, or c) all of the above. Actually once we’d both recovered form the surprise he was pretty friendly asking about the car, where I came from, did I like Morocco, etc etc, and this was pretty much the standard conversation from then on with any of the authorities. That night I camped by the side of a country road over night and got up at sunrise the next day.

Camping by the roadside

From Ifrane I headed east over the midi-atlas, south a bit, then up what was supposed to be a metaled road towards tamagourt and then khenifra, but it got pretty knarly, recent rain had left the infrastructure pretty much destroyed. I went through water crossings that had water coming in the drain holes, mud that was up to the floor, and at one point had to clear the road of a rock slide to continue. It was great fun, but slow progress.

I'm caked

In the end I had to stop for some fuel, so asked about the roads, the best road apparently was down towards the gorges, this was great, as I had actually wanted to do this but as it was piste I had avoided it. The views were amazing, and it was deserted, the road was being constructed most of the way so it was packed gravel wit the odd bit of new road covering. I Stayed the night in the Todra gorge and the next day headed towards Zagora taking the shortcut recommended by the hotel.

The road is here somewhere

Top of the gorge

rutty but at least its dry

This is where disaster struck, I noticed the temperature rising, and a strange smell of fuel, bearing in mind its the desert, and obviously rather hot i slowed down to a bit, and still the temperature started to climb, not much just not the standard 82C that I normally see, I decided it was time to pull over and investigate. When I got out it was obvious what the problem was, there was oil everywhere.

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This would be bad....

The engine mount had failed, causing the engine to drop down at an angle, crushing the oil filter in the process and putting a crack in the sump. An hour or so went by as I rationed my water and tried to find shade in the midday sun. I thought I was going mad as a bloke on a bike cycled passed. Ca Va? he said, i explained in my best Berber Arabic that my automatic camel was broken and needed some assistance. Desole, came the response. He was prepared to take my cash and cycle into a city and come back with a rope and a tractor, but I turned him down, he was heading the wrong way, and I knew there was a town about 15km away so figured a bus or truck must go passed fairly soon.

Not long later a van came passed and we agreed a price to tow me to a mechanic, he went and got a rope and his friend and I talked and gestured about my trip and my dilema. An hour later I was at a place somebody described as a mechanics workshop, the only tool I saw as an improvised hammer, and as somebody once told me, when your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.

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They got a new filter, and proceeded to weld my engine mount (The rubber had failed) back together, of course they didn’t bother checking alignment or even if it was on the right way, after all, that’s what hammers are for. They didn’t want to weld the sump as it was too thin, their solution was more oil, but in the end I managed to screw a self tapping screw with a big washer and lots of glue into the what turned out to be tiny crack in the sump, and I was on my way.

Considering it cost less than twenty euros it was a bit of a bargain, even if the two half-tacks on the engine mount only lasted a few hundred kilometers, i was just happy to be on the road again and away from mallet wielding car butchers.

I arrived in Zagora quite late and the first person who approached me was a mechanic on a motorbike which was great, as I was in need of some serious spanner love. Zagora is sandbasher heaven, and this garage had real tools, mechanics that knew how to use them, and some charm.

Common Failure point

My cycle wing mount had failed just as I came into the city, so we removed both sides welded them both up with a bit of reinforcement for good measure, then welded up the radiator mount, it will fail again, but it will certainly get me home.

Cycle Wing Repairs

They then washed and cleaned the car whilst I went off riding camels and hiking in the desert, and two days later my car was almost as good as new. From Zagora it was north towards Imlil, it wasn’t a long drive or so I thought, however on arriving in Oarzazate, the engine mount failed again, so this time I drove right into the blacksmiths shop, pulled the engine back up to its right height, and got a proper repair done, this time the guy welded all 4 sides of the mount solid and reinforced it with some bracing, this WILL get me home. In fact I’ll be lucky if I can get it out again.

Post wash and Wax in Zagora

Almost everywhere I went in Morocco the people were amazingly friendly, everybody loved the car, everybody waves, and you wave back, in the country, that’s just the way it goes, you slow down for a passing car, you wave, say hello, sometimes have a chat, and drive off again. Most police checkpoints I got pulled in, not out of rudeness as you might expect but out of curiosity, sometimes to justify the interruption they would ask for a token bit of paperwork like a passport or drivers license, but it was clear they just wanted to know about the car, how fast is it? How much did it cost? What model is it? What type of engine? I was always getting help on directions even if I didn’t need it, it was almost the polar opposite of what I had expected here for some reason.

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Twenty minutes down the road there was puff of smoke out of the dashboard, before I even knew what was happening I had the isolator key removed in one hand and the fire extinguisher armed in the other, steering with my knee i pulled over and threw out the anchor to discover that the mike for the camera had melted then shorted out due to the heat, and that the fuse had shorted so there was no major issue anyway.

I also discovered that my phone had melted in the heat, you just don’t realize how hot it gets when your driving as the cool (42C) breeze stops you from saturating yourself in sweat, its only when you get back in the car and touch something metallic you realize just how much heat is soaked up.

On the map Imlil was about 8km south of Jebel Toubkhal, 30km form the main road along a piste, Geert-Jan has been here and assured me that its along a metalled road so I just assumed the map was out of date and off I went. I kept going until the road petered out and the atlas started to look pretty tame. “Imlil?” I asked the locals who gave me a blank stare, evidently this was not where i needed to be. I drove back to the main road, (It was a nice drive.) refueled, and looked at the map again. Imagine my surprise to find two imlils, the other the real Imlil is about 20km as the crow flies from the fake Imlil, however its the other side of the Atlas and about 250km drive away.

Tizi n'Tichka

I set off, blasted through the Tizi’n’Tichka which is an amazing bit of road, its just switchback after switchback after switchback the whole way, reasonable road surface and a great opportunity to test the brakes. I thrashed the car all the way up and down and loved every second of it. From there its just a long slog back to Marrakesh as I managed to miss the turning, and decided it would be easier to pick it up from Marrakesh rather than hunt around for the correct village here.

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I got into Marrakesh traffic and turned the fan on, a few minutes later the temperature was at 105C, things where not looking good, i figured the pump had failed and looked for somewhere deserted to pull into, took the bonnet off and released i couldn’t hear the fan spinning, fortunately it the cable had snapped at the earth point , this was a simple crimp job and i was on my away again.

I started winding my way back up the atlas, it was dark but the roads were great, and suddenly I reached the end of the road, a ski resort in the high atlas, the map indicated a 10km drive over to Imlil, the guy who lived there indicated a 25km return trip, a left, a right another left just as you arrive in Marrakesh and off you go again. My heart sank, i was tired, i had a throat and ear infection, it was late and I wanted to be in bed, but if I wanted to climb up the mountain in this trip I had to be in Imlil and start the hike the next day so off I went. I saw a sign for Asni and took that, and ended up in a maze of gravelly backroads for what seemed like eternity, in the moonlight i could see road, no barrier and a steep drop.

After driving for another 90 minutes, i arrived in Asni, and then the trip up to Imlil was relatively easy. By 2AM I was all packed for the next day, a quick vomiting session, shower, then bed and at 7am I started the climb. I felt terrible to the point of passing out so decided to try for the summit in one day since I expected to be pretty much bed ridden the following day, so at 4.30pm I was sitting on the top, not a soul in sight taking in the view, it was wonderful. By 6pm I was back in the refuge trying to keep down some warm soup before passing out in bed. It was worth every frozen footstep to the top.

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From Imlil the next day I took the fast route north, I had hoped that I could get to Ceuta and possibly even into mainland Spain that day, but I got lost and ended up in Tanger and the border crossing back into Spain took an eternity. You drive up, and if you have the right car, you just drive through, if your not from Ceuta, you have to do the paperwork in advance, this involves standing at window 4, which has nobody there, you then go to another window and get yelled at for 20 minutes or so until you explain that you are at window four but nobody else is. Then Mr Jobsworth arrives and tells you to fill in a form, your pen doesn’t work because its melted obviously, and he wont lend you one of the 50 or so littered around his desk.

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You have a chat with another friendly guard who gives you a pen, fill it in, and get yelled at for not understanding Arabic. Passport stamped you walk through the border, and its back to normal. The guards are interested in your car for the right reasons and i spent about 20 minutes talking about the car how i built it, how fast it goes, where I’ve been, did i like Morocco and suddenly you forget about the numpty who wont share his pens.

On returning to spain I decided to lord it up for a night so stayed in a posh hotel on Plaza de Africa, the bar was open so I gulped down a few beers and all the nibbles they had, chips, jamon, olives, and some other meaty things and headed out for a walk, my legs were feeling in good shape, and I felt a lot more human than the day before, so i celebrated by eating the greasiest, nastiest, spiciest hamburger I could find. It was also the only hamburger I could find, and it tasted amazing. I then washed it down with some more cold beers and went for the longest hottest shower of my life only to discover i wasn’t as tanned as I thought i was.

I had another walk around in the morning before getting the boat back to mainland spain, from there it really was just a case of getting home, i drove up the spanish coast staying in Malaga, then Sitges before crossing into France breaking down on the only bit of peage I’d driven. It was pouring down, so i decided the best route forward was going to be the fastest smoothest one which would hopefully allow me to overtake the weather. It was dark and suddenly the engine cut out completely, not in the kind of way that suggests its going to be fixable, just completely dead.

With plenty of fuel, and no spark, I spent about 30 minute at the side of the road checking the obvious, has the coil pack got power? Fuse blown? Wire lose? Nothing, i removed the megajolt to see if the EDIS unit would fire and got nothing. The taco didnt move indicating it was something ECU related rather than coil related so i decided to call it a day, my phone was dead so i walked off to the booth and called out the recovery truck.

I figured i had nothing to loose by keep looking for the fault and about 30 minutes later I found the culprit, the wire to the VR sensor on the trigger wheel had broken at the soldered joint. I figured I was still doomed as there is no way I was going to be able to fix it as I couldn’t get the pin out to crimp it back together, and even if I could it was way bigger than the bit of wire and wouldn’t fit in the crimps I had.

Never say never, I cut the connector to bits exposing the pin, fitted the largest crimp I had over it, and crimped it tightly, then fitted a medium size crimp inside that oen, and a smaller one inside the medium one. I then pushed the wire inside the little crimp, crimped it all as tight as I could, cable tied it to stop it vibrating and it started first time. Just in time for the recovery truck to arrive and charge me for a call out. Oh well.

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From then on it was plain sailing, damp, but not to wet I arrived back in Utrecht via Eperney to stock up on some champagne, with a list of repairs and improvements and a huge grin on my face.

Back home after 6500 Miles