20th February Estancia San Ramon, Maguire.
Leaving Buenos Aires, the roads had become busy with holiday traffic and trucks. Being led by Santiago was an enormous help, as it enabled us to concentrate on the traffic and lumps and bumps in the road surfaces.
Santi’s son Thomas enjoyed sharing part of the way with Stan and Beanie Bear but was relieved to return to his father’s modern truck with its aircon and lower noise levels. We stopped for lunch during which Richard Greene joined us in his Lotus 7 (S3.) Avoiding a road block of protesting lorry drivers took us on a side trip through a pleasant estate of houses before we rejoined the main road. Later it began to rain and in a very short time the heavens opened and the spray obscured vision to an alarming degree. Richard had abandoned his open Lotus for a ride with Stan. At times Stan, on the road in front of us, disappeared in a wall of spray from passing trucks. The heavy rain and spray gradually filtered into all three cars, Richard probably would have remained drier in his open topped Lotus!
We reached Maguire later than we had planned in part owing to the weather and turned off the highway through the entrance to Estancia San Ramon. Santi had warned us that after rain the track could be muddy and so it was. The fine sandy soil had turned to a slippery gloop, our wheels spinning as we slipped and slithered our way along the 3km track, enjoying car control practice.
Arriving at the farm house in the gathering gloom, we were welcomed by Santi’s Mother Ines. The house is a wonderful amalgam of traditional Spanish building and collections gathered by Ines’ father, husband and Santi. Motoring books, photos, model cars, countryside, kitchen and household items and hundreds of family photos.
In the barns are cars, parts, engines, projects and restored cars. A treasure trove for petrol heads and a haven of peace and tranquility after the rather nightmarish finish to the day’s journey. Following reviving G&Ts and an elegant, very tasty dinner we retired to bed and sleep.
21st February Maguire
The following morning was bright and dry. After breakfast we emptied the cars out in the bright light for the first time since landing in Argentina. Much of the contents of all three cars was soaked, Stan’s passenger footwell nearly 2” deep in water.
Our possessions spread out in the sun to dry, the garden soon looked like a down-at-heel car boot sale. Santi had a ride in my car and then took his Mother for a drive around part of the estate. Charmed, Ines returned insisting that Santi must have an Austin 7 too. The morning rolled on as we dried and rearranged the car interiors, elevenses were taken and then lunch (we really know how to outstay our welcome)
We packed our baggage and on the rapidly drying track drove back to the main road. Reluctantly, we said our farewells, so kind had been our reception and so enjoyable the visit we would, I think, all have settled for more of the quality time we had experienced. Thank you Ines, Santi and Thomas.
We had a short and straightforward journey to Venado Tuerto of 101 miles, which ended in an example of “Trail Magic”. We had stopped just outside the town to consider whether to push on another 75 miles or so, when a motorist turning out of the site entrance we had parked in, suggested that there was a good motel in town. With his excellent directions we arrived at El Molino in a few minutes and were charmed by the welcome and then discovered that the establishment had been owned by a renowned Argentine driver Marcos Ciani, his widow still in ownership, showed us the trophy collection housed in a large lounge, Kismet we thought and decided to stay.
22nd February Venado Tuerto
We were presented with beautifully-made windmill symbols for the windows of the cars and left with good wishes for a safe journey. Filling up at the local petrol station we set off for a long drive to Villa Mercedes. A truck driver at the filling station advised an alternative to our planned route and so we diverted from Route 8 to join Route 7 further south which turned out to be good advice. Although there were roadworks, we were hardly delayed at all. However it was a very hot day and with a few stops to adjust items on the cars, we arrived in Villa Mercedes after dark in the stifling evening heat. Fortunately the first hotel we tried had a family suite free and a very secure car park. The staff were helpful and thoughtfully carried bags and made us welcome. We were all hungry and tired and walked to the nearest pizza place, where we enjoyed excellent food and cold beer. The bustling streets were filling up as we walked back at 11.30pm, the city just coming to life again after the afternoon’s heat.
23rd February Villa Mercedes
Today River will travel to Mendoza by bus to buy a little work time, we will bash the miles out through an arid, dusty plain. A few niggles with the cars developed today, the carburetor petrol union came loose on our car, the chummy carb. float stuck on several occasions spilling petrol onto the road and Stan’s car suffered from the heat, developing vapourisation and rough running especially after stopping.
These small niggles were compensated by the excitement of seeing hills, then a range of small mountains and finally the blue outline of the distant Andes, in part their shape distorted by dark clouds, with the gleam of snow-capped peaks between.
River passed us on the bus as we went around San Luis on Route 7. We struggled on through the heat, which seemed to peak between 17.00 and 19.00 causing us to stop more and more often to cool bodies and cars. We had booked ahead through airbnb.com an apartment in Mendoza, River arriving there in time to lay in some supplies and crank up the air con. A final struggle through the evening crush before we arrived left us all a little shell-shocked. This feeling was however immediately dispelled by the apartment on the 8th floor of the block. The picture windows gave a wonderful view of the nearest range of mountains, a backdrop to the Mendoza skyline, obscuring the highest peak in South America, Acongagua, which will not be visible until we journey to Uspallata.
That evening, we talked about the increasing oil leak from the offside rear hub of the chummy and what we could do about it. A quick excursion to buy essential supplies (tonic) a few minutes later, River and Diana, while crossing the road, saw a Volvo Amazon, about to pull out from a parking space, but stopped by the traffic lights. River took the opportunity to ask the driver if he knew a place we might be able to use a garage to effect repairs. The driver introduced himself as Leo Boulin, the President of the local antique sports car club. River suggested that he call around the following morning to take a look at our cars.
24th February Mendoza
Our very comfortable apartment allowed a good night’s rest and we took breakfast at a street cafe. Leo and his fiancee Eleanora arrived in a smart Alfa Romeo Spyder with news that they had arranged for us to go later that day to an old car museum opened recently by another club in Mendoza at a former winery about 10Kms away. We joined Leo’s father at a cafe owned by them and spent a pleasant hour in the warm sun drinking coffee and sampling the local tortita delicacies. The apartment block had clothes- washing facilities, of which we took full advantage and we also took time to contact families and catch up on other chores.
At 16.00 Leo and Ele called for us and we drove out to the winery. The collection of cars had been open only a week and the display was still being worked on. After a look around the cars, which included an Austin Sheerline Princess and several 20s racers, we set about various tasks on all three cars. I adjusted the brakes which had been out of balance since the beginning, due I think to the many new components settling in. Stan investigated a prop shaft vibration and River and Diana pulled the rear o/s brake drum to find that the oil seal was leaking badly and had contaminated the brake shoes and drum with oil from the differential.
As we had the right tools and a good surface on which to work, the time was right. I had had made before the journey, a lightweight plate to hold the hub still while the half-shaft nut is undone.
New hubs and half shaft fitted to the axle in the UK, a new hub extractor and the correct socket made short work of removing the hub, bearing and lip oil seal. The rear of the hub was found to be distorted, preventing the oil seal from seating correctly. Their spare hub was unearthed from deep storage and the parts reassembled with a new gasket. We received lots of help from car club members, Leo and Ele went off to purchase water to keep us hydrated in the hot and dry atmosphere and finally we tested the cars, taking a few club members for short trips around the grounds.
Photographs of the cars and club members were taken, an oil can from the UK donated and plaques exchanged before we were given a tour of the now disused winery. Once a state-owned facility, it is now opened to the public for winery tours and as an example of the way in which wine was produced until 20 years ago. The vast building on two floors holds enormous casks of French oak, built in France and shipped to Buenos Aires, where they were erected for an exhibition before being transported to Mendoza.
The casks, some containing as much as 130,000 litres, are of various shapes, to fill the available space and occupy the cathedral-like vaults in the dimly-lit interior. There also some concrete underground tanks from which spectacular echoes can be produced. Outside, the vertical concrete storage tanks are now used as archival storage by the Mendoza Regional Council.
We took our leave of the kind Club Members and followed Leo and Ele back to central Mendoza in the evening twilight.
They joined us for a celebratory G&T or three at the apartment and, with our grateful thanks, left to prepare for work the following day. We sat around for a while marveling at our good fortune and the generosity of new friends, another example of “Trail Magic”. We decided on an early start for the following day’s short positioning drive to Uspallata, 70 miles towards the Andes.