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The Tale of the Wee Beastie

(A jaundiced view on towing with an A Frame)

It all started with a friend buying a 250 Villiers kart which we used to take down to the Clay Pigeon kart track near Yeovil. I had the transport and he had the kart so when we got there we shared the fun bit of driving the kart. And was it fun. Full circle crank and all the goodies, so it was foot to the floor on the straight and pushing 60 before braking for the hairpin. But for me it wasn't the top speed so much as the long power slides on the throttle that really got me hooked, and after that I always hankered after a car that I could steer on the throttle.

Fast forward 30 odd years and there I was, the proud owner of a JZR 3 wheeler. Honda CX500 engine up front turning a propshaft which took the drive to the rear wheel and, most importantly, no nasty differential to stop me hanging the rear end out whenever I felt like it. That was the theory at any rate, but in practice I rarely did get it sideways having scared myself silly early on when it did it all by itself on a moss covered country lane!

I digress. The real story started when I decided to take the JZR (aka the Wee Beastie) down to the New Forest to show my old friend John. By this time we were living in Shropshire so it was quite a trek, but the Wee Beastie had come with its own A frame and indeed I had towed it back from Cardiff to Shropshire using the A frame when I first purchased it. So we packed up the Discovery with our suitcases, put the cat into prison, and off we set on our 220 mile jaunt, towing (dragging) the Wee Beastie behind us. An hour later saw us down the A5 and M54 and onto the M6 and everything going swimmingly. A further half hour and we are down the M5, round the M42 and onto the M40 heading for Oxford. And that's when the fun started.

We were in the outside lane doing about 70 when a vibration started up. Not a serious one but enough for me to reduce speed and head for the hard shoulder fairly quickly. I was convinced that a wheel bearing had let go on the n/s/r of the Disco because that is exactly what it felt like. Once stopped on the hard shoulder a quick check around all the hubs revealed nothing at all. No extra heat being generated, nothing loose, no lumps on the tyres, in fact absolutely nothing to worry about apart from the vibration I had noticed. The AA membership was up-to-date so after a while I decided to head for Coventry services and hope for the best. Off we went, more slowly at first but gradually picking up speed again until we were doing about 50 with no nasty consequences other than the vibration which was now slightly reduced and tolerable.

Coventry services were reached with no disasters, but a more thorough check still revealed nothing and after wasting about 20 mins I again decided to carry on and rely on the AA if the worst happened. Off we set down the M40, building up speed until we were again travelling at about 70. Turn off the M40 onto the A34 toward Oxford and all is well until the other half says "I can smell burning". Now from past experience I know her sense of smell is pretty acute, so I quickly look for the next layby and pull over even though I still can't smell anything. As I get out I notice the driver behind also pulling into the layby immediately behind me, which was odd because I hadn't left much room. He opened his car door, got out fairly quickly, and came up to me with what I thought was a really daft question: "I know this sounds stupid, but is the engine running on that thing you are towing?" Now to be honest I can't quite remember how I replied although I seem to recall I was fairly dismissive of the suggestion. However his next comment got my complete attention: "Well there is smoke coming out of the exhausts!"

A quick check with the palm of the hand on the exhaust pipe (yes I know, but in the heat of the moment (!) it is easily done) revealed nothing, but a similar check on the cylinder heads revealed them to be very hot indeed. Strange I thought, but it didn't take too long for the penny to drop. A quick check on the gear lever was enough to confirm that the Wee Beastie was now no longer in neutral, and yes I had been bump starting it for the best part of the last hour. Better still, with the sequential change of the motorcycle box it had selected 1st gear, and I had been towing it at about 70mph when I first felt the vibration! I have never tried to work out what revs that would have been for the poor little CX500 motor, but suffice to say it was now completely knackered and the gear box was firmly welded into 1st and wouldn't release.

A bit of head-scratching followed, but then my eyes landed on a piece of 2x1 in the Disco which I used as a pad for the bottle jack. It was firmly pushed into place against the Wee Beastie's clutch pedal and proved to be just the right length to hold it firmly to the floor, a position it held for the rest of the journey down to the New Forest. Friend John was duly impressed by the car but of course couldn't hear it running or go for a spin.

The return journey to Shropshire was made in the same manner with the clutch wedged to the floor and once home I set about rectifying the situation. Good old fleabay provided an engine and box for £150 and it was duly installed. However, a quick road test revealed all was not well with the propshaft, a JZR item consisting of one inch diameter solid steel bar with a u/j at each end which now had the added attraction of a slight curve in the middle!

Undaunted, and being a cheapskate by nature, I rested each end of the propshaft on a hardwood block with the curved part uppermost, and then clamped the middle to the workbench using two meaty G-clamps, pulling against the curve. After a few tense moments I released the clamps to check the result and blow me if it wasn't nigh on straight. Back into the Wee Beastie it went and on road test this time not a trace of the excess vibration you might have expected. In fact I drove like that for another year before it had to go to make room for a building project.

Looking back now some years later I'm left with fond memories of the Wee Beastie, mixed feelings on A-frames, no illusions about my engineering abilities, and a healthy regard for any lump of metal spinning around in close proximity to my left knee. Roll on the Pembleton with front wheel drive and no propshaft to worry about.


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