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Troubles abroad - part III

This year's foreign jaunt to Angoulème brought a repeat of my previous ignition problems. Having carried out a service, grease, oil-change, points,plugs, condenser and other minor routine tasks I hoped I was ready for the road to Hull.

The following morning I fired up the motor and went for a final test drive only to discover an oil slick on the shed floor. The leak was from the filter cover-plate caused by the top forward screw having stripped its thread. This screw is the most inaccessible on the bike engine as it hides behind the exhaust pipe and lots of people try to do a filter change without removing the exhaust.

It had been dodgy when I bought the bike and Steve Scrimminger suggested that this mounting could be drilled a little deeper and tapped to take a longer screw. This I did in 2008 and I was always very diffident about re-tightening the screw as I knew it had only 3 or 4 good threads. There is not enough metal available to follow the conventional route of fitting a helicoil which would need an 8mm thread so I ordered a 7mm coarse tap set . It didn't arrive in time so I took insurance in the way of a small joinery clamp and an aluminium wall-plug and wood-screw as a last resort.

Setting off for Hull on the Friday lunchtime, I made good progress until I was about 15 miles from the ferry terminal and I stopped to check the oil level and look for any leaks. No problem was apparent but on pressing the starter button, the engine was dead!

Out with the tool-roll and I soon found that there was no spark. I fiddled and re-set the points gap but had no joy until I tried again with the out-rigger bearing plate removed.

The engine fired and ran well enough for me to replace the outrigger lightly and adjust the pointsgap by ear, re-timing by ear and not over-tightening the outrigger bearing plate. The points system in the "bean can" dates from 1974 and so the bearings and advance/retard mechanism are very well worn. I have tried to replace them with the more modern electronic system but 3 sets of coils, 2 electronic generators and a Hall effect trigger later without any success (see past episodes!) I've given up.

A Dutch driver who had stopped to see if he could help was a handy moral support that became more practical when the indicators wouldn't work as I was setting off again. Those fiddly fuses really need the tweezers (which I haven't got) to pull them out and while I was cursing he went to get his from his own fuse box. Culprit found and replaced, he then escorted me all the way to the ferry terminal where he went off to Rotterdam and I headed for Zeebrugge.

In my cabin on the ferry all I could think about was, will it get me there, what makeshift repair could I effect, am I completely mad in even boarding the ferry?

The following morning in Zeebrugge was not inspiring, drizzle promising rain and misery. My new TomTom navigatrice was still unfamiliar although, "Après trois cent metres,tournez a droite" spoken by Catherine was heartening as she led me along cycle paths towards La Panne.

The rain worsened, the road was blocked and I was led astray by the sultry tones of Catherine into a nightmare of mud, turnip fields and rain. I found myself miles from my intended route, unable to see the road, miserable in the rain and dreading an unwonted splutter from the engine. I pulled into Hondschootewhere a café offered shelter and coffee so I went in and learned more of Catherine's inner secrets and the magic of her "take it slowly" button (avoid motorways). The soggy map confirmed the direction towards my long favoured D928 towards Rouen and I was back on the road.

The rain stopped eventually as I reached Hesdin and I made afuel stop at "la Cabine Bambou". This is a roadhouse with filling station which is on a cross-roads in the middle of nowhere. However, photos on the walls inside attest to its long history as a staging post, originally built in bamboo.

Around Abbeville and on to Neufchatel en Bray where I had stayed in a pleasant Chambre d' hote in 2009 on the way back from the Pyrenees Rally.

All this time the engine had performed well, if a little retarded, but I had decided to leave well alone until I reached Claude's house on the far side of Orleans. By this time I had also discovered Catherine's "try it this way" button (travel via).

Having reached Claude's, I decided again to leave well alone as I wanted to do a more considered repair, spacing the outrigger plate with some washers beneath it to avoid applying too much pressure but keeping it in place.

Nicky,Dave,Linda,Don and Chris were arriving in Chattelrault on Monday so I pootled along back roads and through miles of sunflower fields until I reached the hotel we had booked.

Again I left well alone but on reaching David's in Malbernat I purloined a couple of small washers from Don Eden's capacious store of spare everythings. I trimmed an edge of each washer, put them in place and reset the gap and timing, a little further in advance to avoid overheating the engine.

After our weekend in Angoulème I set off north again, heading for le Mans where I planned to stay before visiting some friends.

I fitted the cramp as the oil leak was becoming a little more obvious, keeping it tied to the front "zimmer frame" in case it rattled loose.

Appointments made, I left early to go to Evron for the first meeting and the car just sang along the country roads. After coffee and chats and photos I got into the car to head for the second meeting and it would not start. I had to disembowel the front end again and found that the insulator of the condenser had melted, dripping a plastic fondue onto the camspindle. This had frozen and the points were unable to close. All the plastic had to be scraped from the cam and with a new condenser mounted remotely under the top hoop I pressed on, having decided it would be more prudent to head towards the ferry than to go a further 80 miles west to Rennes for my second rendez-vous.

The car was obviously not happy and I felt obliged to nurse it along at no more than 3.5K rpm, about 55mph. Stopping to allow the engine to cool again I reset the timing a little further in advance a couple of times. While doing this a French driver stopped to offer assistance, he said he had a Capri and was most helpful, saying that there was a garage a little further along. He drove off and I re-assembled everything and set off. I heard a ping and realised I had not tightened the zimmer frame lower nut and decided to call at the garage in search of a replacement. Who should be there but the same motorist, it was his garage and he found a nut and showed me his two 2.3 Capris.

A hotel in Mortagne au Perche had only one room available which I took with relief. The following morning an elderly gent insisted I went to look at something in his house. He had a Rolls Royce radiator (minus the Spirit of Ecstasy) behind his hat-stand and he also showed me the enclosed garden behind the Louis XIII house.This was typical of so many of the encounters I had with fellow motorists and members of the general public, interest and concern when appropriate.

The following day I saw a motor-cycle shop in Louviers, just south of Rouen. I arrived just as he was closing for lunch but asked if he had any spares for old BMWs. No, but there is a main dealer in Rouen and they have a branch which specialises in "BMV Anciennes". Catherine found the main dealer, all of the staff were at lunch, but they were standing around the car taking photos with their telephones as I came back from the café at 2.00. I was shown the location of the anciennes on Google earth and rolled into their yard at about 2.15. Yes, they had a complete bean-can in good condition and after drooling over their collection of lovely BMWs I fitted it, with a new set of points, and the car fired up perfectly. Thereafter it ran like a good'un and took me to Abbeville for the last stop before my ferry home.

Last year I had come round to Mike Meakin's view that an oil- cooler is an essential accessory to prevent overheating on a BMW (particularly in hot summer weather) but did nothing about it. I will be ordering two conversions, one for each Silver Surfer.

By chance on the ferry I was reading the account of the Paris-Ostend race of 1899 in the Automobile magazine, and suddenly realised I had driven the latter part of the route from near Abbeville through St Omer and St Pol, probably only a couple of inches above the original cobbles and setts covered by some of the intrepid pioneers of motoring.


See Cooked condenser - a tale of overheating and Troubles Abroad - Part II for the previous articles.

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