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The Pembleton Diaries

The last year

Steve Whiter's Brooklands

Hopefully not THE last but the 12 months just gone. That is to say March 2010 to March 2011 exept that it really began in January 2010. I was on holiday in the Canaries, an unprecedented 3 weeks to celebrate reaching 60 years. Foolishly I took a computer with me and whilst having a sneaky browse I noticed that Steve Whiter was selling his Guzzi engined Brooklands. Minutes later it was mine. I didn't collect it until March and thus the year began.

A Guzzi engined Brooklands was, and to a certain extent, still is the ultimate dream car. Steve's car is quite fantastic. I could write pages eulogising about it. It is impossible to imagine how many hours had been put into the build. No expense had been spared. I am a Guzzi man and the Le Mans engine was the best I had heard. The exhaust system was especially designed and balanced and was truly beautiful to look at and listen to. The rivet spacing and the standard of finish on the aluminium...

I took it out a few times. I worried about it - a lot. It was, to me, tender and beautiful and needed to be cared for, nurtured. This was the mistress that everyone ogled at and envied. This was worry and high maintenance and not very practical. What was really needed was one that was good in bed, brilliant in the kitchen and scrubs up well when required.

That was Crazy Frog my beloved 2CV engined Brooklands. It functioned perfectly, gave me the best of times and whilst never as smart as Steve's (and many others) still attracted a lot of attention and a warm glow of happiness whenever I looked at it or went for a drive.

I sold Crazy Frog in order to buy Steve's car. That was in March. Isold it on Ebay to a Spaniard - Juan. A really great guy who I am still in touch with and hope I always will be. He drove all across Spain to Santander, ferried across Biscay in an equinoctial gale with his wife and a trailer. We met in the car park by the outbound ferry, they were going back acrsos France. Juan and I got on really well hence the transaction took about 2 hours. He also has a Lomax and a 2CV. It was sad to sell Crazy Frog and I had a nagging feeling that I was making a mistake but it could not have gone to a nicer person or a more appreciative home. Crazy Frog or 'Coffee Pot' as it is now called has never been so shiny.

Crazy Frog in Spain

Carol at the wheel of The UglyOne - soon to be changed. I also did something about the car

Soon after that I bought David Searle's Pembleton 3 wheeler. Or not Pembleton as it turns out. Ugly as sin, more of a dustbin than a car but I just had a good feeling about it. Registered as a Pembleton, the chassis looks like a Phil Gregory item but then again...It is in fact not a genuine Pembleton chassis but it is very good. Slightly heavier guage tubing, painted not powder coated - definitely a good thing, stronger engine mount and coil over rear suspension. I haven't yet managed to beautify it but I have reduced the ugliness. It has a Solex carb, modified exhaust manifold, Triumph T120 silencers which sound just right, unmodified caster angle.

The standard caster angle means that it rides higher and lowering it results in a great deal of dangerous unpleasantness - well, I had to try. It also means that the Pembleton mudguards can't be fitted in their usual place. The body is wider than standard but not longer which gives it that snub-nose look and it is a little short of leg room. Phil's Long Wheel Base chassis is longer because it is wider. In order to make more room for two he had to lengthen it in order to retain the proportions. I ignored it for a while because, well, it didn't look very good but because I couldn't bring myself to drive the Guzzi Brooklands for fear of dirt and damage I started to drive the UglyOne. Now I love it. It goes like stink and it has just grown on me.

In June I hitched the UglyOne to the A-frame and towed it to Brittany to meet up with a bunch of slendid types from the Citroen Specials Club. We had a fantastic 10 days. Everything was good - company, weather, location, roads, food and driving Citroen specials. These cars add so much value to an already good life that you can scarcely believe your luck at times.

I still lamented the loss of Crazy Frog and when Don Eden acquired a less than pristine Brooklands I nagged him to sell it to me. It is now in the shed and I an still trying to get it to behave itself. These things just have to be built properly in the first place even if they are not to be to the same standard as Steve's at least care should be taken at every step and the doner components checked for wear and tear. This one has, so far, had a new clutch, replacement gearbox and new pistons and barrels. It uses a Solex carb and a bastardised exhaust arrangement with no balance pipe. It will not run properly having an irritating hesitancy as soon as you put your foot down. It looks as though twin Dellortos and a balance pipe are going to be necessary. The steering is odd as well and according to Phil the kingpins are too tight!. I fitted one of Phil's steering wheels with a 16.5 inch diameter. This is 1.5 inches bigger than standard. There are places where and extra 1.5 inches can make a significant different and the extra leverage on a steering wheel is one of them. I like the size of it but it hasn't improved the steering characteristics and the tonneau doesn't fit properly. Phil was unaware that the steering wheels were being made bigger so maybe they have gone back to standard. The rear lights are now mounted on the frame, better exhaust and mudguard mountings, new mirrors and aeroscreen brackets, flooring, side panels and , well you know what it's like, a never ending list of things to fiddle with. The wiring is very tidy!

The summer passed by with only the purchase and sale of a Lomax for Carol, the purchase and sale of a 2CV for Carol and finally the purchase of an MX5 for Carol. She is happy with that. I also sold my 2CV and bought another from Dicky Dawes. Named by me as 'The Bomb' - the car, not Dicky, it has a racing pedigree. It is lower and re-sprung, body modified, engine rebuilt, special exhaust, galvanised chassis. Nothing that was part of the originally registered car remains. It looks roughly like a CV - rough-ly. It has racing seats and a small racing steering wheel which looks like a joke in a 602cc car but actually works very well. In the deal was a re-built engine. I watched Dicky change the engine over in, I didn't time it but it wasn't long, much less than an hour. He thought it was slow. Not bad for a bloke with arthritic hands. No assistance from me. If I had helped it would have taken longer. I know that and Dicky instinctively knew that as well. Anyway if you haven't met Dicky Dawes then do so. Not only is he a great craftsman and engineer but he is one of those who is willing to share his knowledge and experience. He is a truly super bloke, cheerful, kind, generous, hospitable, resourceful, stoic. The same applies to Pat his wife except that her engineering skills are bit suspect.

The Bomb

In September Don Eden and I had a brilliant couple of days of perfect Pembletoneering. Don stayed at my place the night before. I have a small flat so Don sleeps in the cupboard. I put a coat hanger in his flying jacket and hang him up. In the morning I lift him down, give him a cup of coffee and he carries on talking where he left off the night before when I shut the cupboard door.

Don talking. I'm there somewhere but nobody cares

Leaving my place at first light on Sunday morning for a fast blast up the M5 and over the Severn Bridge - paying the toll, lifes too short to argue - and up the Wye Valley, across to Ledbury and the back of the Malvern Hills to the Malvern show ground to an end of season classic car show. How good is that? Very good and got better. A sunny day at the show, meeting up with old friends, buy a few bits that might-come-in-handy-one-day and stand around talking car bollocks for hours. Don's car -'Rocket' was the centre of attraction with a few people asking polite questions about mine whilst fixing their eyes on Don's car.

Don loves the attention and is delighted to explain, tirelessly, every detail. He deserves the praise he gets, there is 6 years of work, care and thought gone into that car which is not only a stunner but gets used for something like 6000 miles a year. Had I gone in Steve Whiter's Guzzi Brooklands I too would have crowds of admirers around the car but I would have felt no pride and could only say that Steve built it and I merely paid for it. Everyone asked the same question 'Did you build it yourself?'

That night we stayed in the best B&B I have ever stayed in - Cowleigh Park Farm in Malvern and went to the best pub I have ever been in - The Nags Head in Malvern. It was walking distance from the B&B, fortunately. That's all I am going to say about that.

Next morning, sunshine again, and a great drive to Pembleton HQ to have coffee on the terrace with the sainted Phil Gregory. Phil was greatly impressed with 'Rocket' and - er, intrigued by the UglyOne. A dash back to Malvern on mostly quiet roads apart from narrowly being wiped out by a speeding police car coming round the corner on my side of the road. Driving incident stories can be very boring so suffice to say that I can still see in my mind's eye that BMW grill and the look on the drivers face.

Next stop the Morgan factory for the 1pm tour. I find Malvern to be a confusing place but Don was navigating so that was ok. Just at the point when we were lost and stopped to get directions my engine cut out. Don and I worked like a well oiled machine and in a matter of , no time at all, the fault was diagnosed, fixed and we were on our way. The coil had expired. We both carry spares (in Don's case most of an entire car). It is worth keeping a spare coil strapped next to the working one or get a decent coil!

The Morgan factory tour is definitely worth going to - especially in a Pembleton and particularly just after the initial ill-time (bungled) announcement about re-introducing 3 wheelers. We had crowds around the cars in the factory car park. Actually there were crowds around Rocket, Don was in his element again. A few glances were cast towards the UglyOne and I could hear words like 'prototype' and 'disguise' being uttered. Anyway you can imagine the reaction we got zooming around Malvern and arriving at the factory in 3 -wheelers, in our flying jackets, flying helmets, gauntlets, white silk scarves. What a couple of posers - fantastic! The tour usually starts with the obligatory video and proceeds to the factory. Ours went from the video to the car park to see the new arrivals. I won't go on about the rest of the tour but just to say that if you haven't done it then do so.

Don at the Morgan factory - talking again

We roared back to the M5 the same way we came up with Don lifting his nearside wheel on some left handers in an attempt to keep up with me! Great cars, great times.

The next trip of the year was solitary, in November. Early Sunday morning, sun shining, the UglyOne packed up and we were Exmoor bound to camp for the night. There are two lessons here that are worth passing on.

  • Never trust the weather on Exmoor
  • Don't rely on an old tent that came free with a 2CV

On the other hand if you want some fun, need to test yourself and your Pembleton and enjoy roast beef then ignore those lessons and head out ill-equiped for the nearest piece of moorland. I knew where I was going - a farm campsite 21/2 miles from Exford - open all year except Christmas Day so I had plenty of time to get there. A brilliant this-is-what-Pembletons-are-all-about trip. Along the Exe and Barle Valleys, the tree covered valley sides beautiful with fading autumn colours. Over the high moor and down into Exford village. Turn right at The Crown, from there the road or lane or track as it might be called was running with water and I twice struck deep water that was rushing across the road. I should have been travelling more slowly but I was in such high spirits that driving slowly was not uppermost in my thoughts. Huge volumes of water reared up in front of me as I struck. I was soaked as the wave lifted clear of the bonnet and dropped purposefully onto me. I laughed, the UglyOne carried on without a cough, or brakes. Into the sunny field and pitched down by the river with the water gambolling joyfully over the rocks. I only had an old Marlin tonneau and nonchalantly tied it over the cockpit with a few pieces of string - it would do to keep the dew off the seat.

Into the village a mere 21/2 mile stroll and wade. Tea and toasted teacakes, a moorland walk and wait for the pub to open. Pub opens and a thirst quenching pint. I choose the carvery having seen the beef joint. Two huge slices just slightly smaller than the plate limited the number of vegetables but you can get those anywhere. Red wine. Jam roly-poly and custard and I am replete. Call in at the other pub for a whisky before picking my way back in the pitch black but otherwise clear starry night. Into the tent warm, comfortable and content, not to say somewhat smug.

When the storm struck I was fast asleep. I was woken not just by the noise of the wind howling or the rain hammering down but the wild flapping of tent material and the cold clammy wet feeling which was the side of the tent stuck to my face. I dressed (not easy) and scrambled outside to wrestle with the wild thing hitherto known as a ridge tent or home, eventually securing it before turning my attention to the dew preventing tonneau. It was hanging on by one string tied to the offside mirror and was stretched out horizontally from the car, rearing and cracking like the wild untamed thing that it was. This was the point when I lost my prescence of mind. It could have been any other time in the last 60 years but this has to be it. Logically, cut the remaining string, stuff the tonneau away and get the hell out of the wind and rain. Or, clamp the torch in your teeth and thread frayed string through the not-quite-big-enough eyelets of a violently flapping tonneau. Sometime later with the tonneau partially subdued I returned to the tent - wet of course although my motorbike jacket had worked well. I wriggled fully clad, including boots into my sleeping bag. I had brought with me two sheepskins which are my equivalent of Blankie that others may travel with and more useful. The sheepskins worked well and I slept in the reduce space of my sagging tent.

After the storm

I did sleep and woke up at first light almost dry. The wind had died down. I crawled out and eyeballed the scene. The outer tent had been lifted off the poles and put down again at an angle of 300 from the ridge which explains why I couldn't find the zip to get out. The tonneau was still tied on but had bellied and made a lake in the cockpit. This of course defied all attempts to be emptied outside of the car.

I carried everything to a barn, the UglyOne started first time and parked it in the barn before walking into Exford where the cafe owner cooked me a memorable breakfast. I had just left the cafe to return to the campsite and someone in a 4x4 stopped and lowering his window said 'You must be the bloke with the Morgan 3 Wheeler camping at Westermill - get in I'll give you a lift back'.

In December I phoned Don and suggested we should do the 'Raid Tanhill' organised by the Leeds branch (Les Hiboux) of the 2CV Club. This annual event takes place on the first weekend in January and is a run out from low down to the highest pub in the country - Tanhill - at 1769 ft above sea level. It is quite a long way from West Dorset. Don spent a nanosecond thinking about it.

Going up in the Pembletons was first choice but the cars were snug and sorn'd for the winter so we went up in our 2CV's. We left my place loaded up with sandwiches, flasks of coffee, blankets, shovels, ropes and other survival stuff including my sheepskins. All of it got used.

This is old-fashioned motoring, setting off for a proper journey with blankets over our knees in funny little cars. They look ridiculous on the motorway; but we weren't on a motorway in our heads, we were boys on an adventure. The service stations were wayside stops where we poured steaming cups of coffee from our flasks and chewed hungrily on great wedges of sandwiches filled with cheese and homemade pickle, collars pulled up. Check the oil levels, pull on gloves we set off again having filled up with petrol from jerry cans dug up from a secret cache. The sun shone on us yet again. A great run up and we turned off the motorway along a delightful and more suited 'A' road before the last turn to climb up onto the high moor. The temperature plunged and the roads were packed ice. Soon a serious uphill loomed before us. Taking a run at it we got half way up before losing traction and sliding back down again with only a semblance of control and a long drop on the offside. After two more attempts we gave up and tried another route. Up a slippery hill, down a slippery hill, round slippery corners, up and down again a couple of times and then the final up which lead to Tanhill now only half a mile away. Don got further than I did but despite much grit shovelling nothing would induce my car to go more than two thirds of the last slope. Don's car was a couple of hundred yards away just below the crest. Along came a huge tractor, hooked a chain over the bumper and pulled. Something was wrong with his 4 wheel drive and one wheel kept slipping, so Don threw one of my sheepskins under the spinning wheel of the tractor and away went the tractor, the sheepskin shot out from under the wheel none the worse for the experience. You can't do that with Blankie or your old teddy bear. Don had to be towed the last few yards to the top and in no time at all we were at the pub. No other car to be seen, no buildings to be seen in any direction.

The Ice Road

In the evening 5 Yorkshiremen arrived from the other direction for their annual camp. We all ate heartily, drank a reasonable quantity - emptying the barrel of 'Black Sheep Ale' known to the more cosmopolitan locals as 'Baa Noir'. Don drank their stock of whisky and outside a blizzard raged.

The next day the sun was bright, the Yorkshiremen dug themselves out of the snow, ate breakfast and went back down the hill leaving us wondering if all that really happened. We waited for news of the convoy; were they coming?; was it cancelled? There are three roads to Tanhill and two were impassable and the other probably would be ok but what about further on? We waited in the sunshine and biting cold wind standing on top of the hill looking at the snow and ice packed road running down and away to the right for about a mile and a half. 'Here they come!' Tiny specs of 2CV's away in the distance. A long trail of about 36 cars briefly disappearing from view before emerging at the bottom of the hill, stop, look, then charge at it with a variety of driving techniques and facial expressions. Many of them couldn't make it without assistance. Don and I worked like demons pushing at least 20 of them, heaving, grunting and bellowing at the drivers. Interestingly none of the passengers offered to get out and push with us. It was just good fun and we did it for the pleasure and the necessity of it but when we walked into the packed pub the thought was in our minds that we would be in for at least one free drink or possibly carried aloft and hailed as heroes, an open tab at the bar, the freedom of Heckmondwike, a couple of virgins...Nothing, no acknowledgement of our very existence. I didn't spoil our fun one jot especially as Tom Rae had arrived from Edinburgh in his PEMBLETON. Tom and his co-driver, Colin Ferguson were the heroes of the hour. The carriers of the Pembleton Standard, representing US , we band of the true, the good, the adventurous, the holders of 'The Secret'... and so on, and on.

Don is behind that car

The bunk house sleeps 8, Don and I had it to ourselves the night before, that night slept 9 mixed gender humans and 2 dogs. Amazingly no-one snored even after all that beer. A dog occassionally stuck its cold nose on my face to see if I was awake but apart from that we all had a good nights sleep. Actually I was on the top bunk...It snowed again.

The first few miles back were through deep slush and it was interesting to follow Tom's Pembleton making three squirts of slush as he went along and to watch the back slide about - not much but I bet it felt quite alarming for the occupants. Our 2CV's and Tom's Pembleton all started without any trouble despite their engines being covered in snow - it had blown under the bonnets and covered everything. The journey down the motorway was in several kinds of rain. We had three days in all conditions and a winter adventure with great memories. Not in Pembletons, although they could be...

So now as I write it is the end of March and Steve's Brooklands was sold to a dealer who I believe has sold it again and hopefully we shall see it again. It marks the end of the year in question and a new one starts. So what of the coming season? I have lots of trips I would like to make. Pembleton to Spain to see Juan and Crazy Frog? Ride my Moto Guzzi to the factory for their 90th anniversay rally? Goodwood Revival in the Pembleton? Shame about having to earn a living. Anyway whatever happens I'll let you know. In the meantime wherever you go don't forget to take an old sheepskin with you.

Chris Day

The UglyOne following initial surgery

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