16th March. Pisco, Peru
Our stay at the Hacienda came to an end all too soon and we turned the cars towards Pisco our next stopping place having left at 06.00.
We had time to make stops at a small hill and a man made ‘mirador’ overlooking the Nasca desert and a few of the lines beside the PanAmerican for Stan who had decided that bumpy flying was not for him.
Passing Ica, we were back on the long desert road and just two climbs from river crossings. The traffic was the usual mix of big trucks, many more long distance buses than for the last few days and a mix of private cars and the ubiquitous pick-up trucks usually employed by mining companies, with their red flags, wheel chocks and we assume transponders for location in the desert wastes.
Arriving in Pisco would have been straightforward except for the road works, involving a lengthy diversion around the unmade back roads, which put us off course, but eventually we worked our way back into town in a swarm of tuk-tuks and taxis and homed in on a hotel suggested by our host of the previous night. Whilst not as splendid, it was clean, organized and open and we booked in, deposited the cars in a local parking plot, booked a tour for the following day and then had lunch. The group seemed content to catch up on mail and Skype calls in anticipation of an early start to the Reserva Nacional de Paracas the following day and the attached restaurant had excellent WI-Fi and after a quiet and very pleasant supper we had an early night.
Date 17th March
The tour fixer saw us off with our driver guide for the 25km drive back along the coast line and into the Parque where we boarded a high speed boat holding 32 passengers. The trip out to the off-lying islands of Islas Ballestas over a calm sea was thrilling and seemed to incorporate the same competitive elements of taxi rides.
As we slowed to approach the islands, the first sensation was of the increasing odour, not quite sea or ozone, not quite farmyard; the second of a continuous noise of surf and something unfamiliar, yet bringing back memories of something once heard, then a joining of the clues. There on the beach under an arch, or bow as they are called here, of rock worn by the sea and wind, hundreds of sea lions and above, on every ledge and sloping rock face, birds – pelicans, boobies, gannets, gulls and many other species.
Our guide, a self confessed twitcher, was full of information on the wild life and history of the islands. In the 19th century sailing ships from Europe scraped the copious quantities of guano from the rocks, the structures supporting these operations now themselves guano-splattered and perches for the birds. Guano is still collected but for Peruvian use now, the buildings housing wild life observers on three-month internment.
From the skillfully- guided boat, within a few feet of the rock faces, we were able to observe the sea lions basking and birds perching, and watch as a sea lion took a cormorant from the sea and leaped onto a rocky ledge to consume it.
The rocks, soft sedimentary layers of sand and sea creatures are weathered to tunnels and arches over the tightly packed sea lion nursery beaches, a raucous meld of adult males and females, interwoven with young pups.
The gaunt loading- platform structures hanging over the water, the platforms long rotted away, now just convenient perches for sea birds.
Back on land we explored the vast backlands behind the eroding cliffs, subject also to earthquake damage, the whole peninsula raised from the sea by tectonic plate movement.
The cars serviced and prepared for the next day, we planned to be on the road by 06.00, avoiding the heat of the day if possible.
18th March Pisco, Peru
Almost on time, we left town by a route plotted by “Shall we go for a drive today” Stan, which with precision got us back onto the Pan America Sur after a brief stop for petrol. I was riding with Stan, Amanda with Diana and the change in company and the, for once largely flat, roads helped the miles spin by.
I was able to reflect on the little cars as they ate up the distance, how no one involved in production could have foreseen or imagined that eighty and more years on, Herbert Austin and Stanley Edge’s design could be so far from home, still doing what they were designed to do, in environments beyond there wildest imaginings. Sitting in an Austin for 3,000 miles and more, the familiar sounds become an accompaniment to the scenery through which one is travelling. The long run of a 140-mile plus day, largely without junctions or familiar interruptions, roundabouts, traffic lights etc allow you to isolate the sound of the motor and at a steady 40mph indicated, the unending hum is both satisfying and reassuring.
As we approached Lima, traffic levels increased and the road-side installations became more sophisticated until we were running on a three-lane highway and the city buildings could be seen in the distance. The kilometer posts had also been running down the distance and now were in single figures.
The GPS was optimistic that it knew where Javier’s workshop was located and so we followed its directions, as the road grew wider and the amount of traffic increased. For once, chummy was ok in the heat and stop-start traffic, Diana and Stan skillfully dodging the wildly gyrating buses and taxis, all of whom seem oblivious of other road users. Within 70 meters of our destination the GPS suddenly decided that in fact the workshop was 1.8Km in another direction and for a few minutes a sense of humour failure reduced me to spluttering rage.
The Feisty crew however saved the day and after receiving directions from passers-by, threw themselves in to the careering traffic stream. Stan and I followed with muttered comments, unhappy at the apparent mad headlong dash. A further ten minutes and in defiance of our gloomy predictions, we were on Avenida La Marina and then spotted the landmark Nissan garage and beside it the haven of Garaycochea Automotriz workshop. It had just turned 13.00 and we were safely arrived, all credit to the women who had found the final few miles. There in the workshop sat Bertie, dusty, the contents tossed as if in a giant mixer by its bumpy journey on the back of the delivery vehicle, but unharmed otherwise and ready for some spannering.
Javier arrived back from lunch and we explained our needs: Feisty to have the engine and gearbox removed and starter motor checked; Bertie, the engine and gearbox out and examined for damage and Dusty a service and check over, brakes adjusted and a new fabric coupling fitted if necessary.
In the large garage, part is day-to-day workshop repairs and part longer- term restoration. Javier and his team moved a lovely Model A pick-up and shuffled a little more space until we were able to fit the three Austins in a
group with sufficient bench space for all. Amanda set off to our AirBNB apartment with the luggage by taxi, Stan and Diana got on with the engine removal and I conducted a few tests which confirmed compression of the sump. The valves and associated parts looked fine, so I got on with tearing the engine out.
By the end of the first day both Feisty and Bertie’s engines and gearboxs were out and we left as the workshop closed for the day at 18.00. Our apartment was about an hour away in the end-of-day traffic, Amanda had shopped and we enjoyed home cooked food, showers and sleep.
19th March. Lima, Peru
The following day saw us back at the workshop. Continuing investigation of Feisty’s gearbox eventually had the clutch operating fingers removed and the end cover plate revealed that the circlip on the shaft had not come off. After emails to Vince Leek and pictures sent back for confirmation of various points, wear in the selector bridge and other wear not specifically identifiable meant that a spare box that had been sent to River in North Carolina was the only certain way to cure the problem.
Meanwhile I removed the block from Bertie’s engine and at once the broken rings were apparent. Of the eight compression rings, three were virtually intact but worn in thickness, and the other five were in a multitude of pieces, both in the piston grooves or on the brick strainer in the sump. Additionally, the bores were showing some signs of scoring although none was particularly bad. Javier and I took a piston and the block and went in search of replacement rings and measurement of the block.
Down town Lima is probably no different from many South American large cities, in that it has facilities to replace, fix or re-manufacture almost anything. In an area almost exclusively motor trade, a six-by-four city blocks area swarms with people seeking parts, suppliers offering parts and everything in between. We first visited a repair shop where Javier had a couple of ECU’s repaired, then a filter shop where any oil, fuel or air element can be supplied or, if not available, made.
Carrying steering racks, diffs., body parts and any other thing imagineable the streets heaved with motor traders. In between, small glass-topped display cases were stuffed with second hand pedal rubbers, odd plastic and rubber components. In the centre of each block the space was taken with the Peruvian equivalent of a car boot sale. In the streets an amazing mix of older vehicles, bonnets up were being examined for compatible parts.
We went to Javier’s favoured machine shop and the block was examined for ovality, taper and barrelling. It turned out to be less than 5thou oval, less than 2thou tapered and a slight barrelling. The machine shop advised a polish to remove some of the imperfection and score marks, ideally a rebore but that would involve new pistons which would not be easy to find.
Then we went in search of rings, eventually resolved by having the correct diameter rings, honed to the correct width, oil control rings not being available the old ones will have to be re-used although having a gap of 25thou. Returning to the workshop I set about cleaning up all the components and preparing for delivery of the block and rings by taxi at 17.00 or so.
20th March. Lima, Peru.
Today Javier has asked his engine rebuilder to come to the workshop to deal with the rings and pistons. I cleared bench space and when Pablo arrived, after an amount of Peruvian teeth-sucking he pronounced that the rods would have to be removed and the pistons and rings inserted in to the block first.
I reluctantly agreed and we pulled off the sump and gauze and then removed the Phoenix rods. There was a lot of discussion in Spanglish about a proffered ring gap, Pablo advised 3thou and various sources in the UK 6 to 8thou. Eventually the larger gap was settled on and Pablo made a fantastic job of setting the ring gaps and putting them on the pistons. By this time we were communicating well and the job went ahead with laughter and leg-pulling.
The old method of standing the engine on the flywheel and packing the block to suit worked well, even the larger Phoenix big ends went through the top of the crankcase easily. Diana had ordered a tube of Tiger seal before leaving America in February, however on opening, it was obviously not in good condition and a date on the tube showed it be manufactured in 2006 with a shelf life of 9 months. Javier and I decided that the nearest equivalent which might be available was Sikaflex and he managed to track down a supply.
At 17.00 Pablo left and Stan and I continued to bolt components back on. At 18.00 we had arranged that a cake we purchased should be shared amongst the garage staff as a gesture of thanks for their help and patience. In the two minutes before this, as the dynamo was being put back, the engine was found to be locked in one position!
We put on a brave face and enjoyed being joshed by the eight staff and then, as they left, went back to the task. We had separately come to the conclusion that it was something we had bolted back on and a quick check with a screwdriver stethascope identified the bottom of the engine as the likely cause. The first sump bolt removed, centre back, was the culprit and breathing more easily we carried on for an hour until we had the engine in one piece and on the floor (in case of earthquakes), tidied away the tools and possessions and left the place tidy.
We will return from Cusco on Sunday and hope to be able to get access to put the engines in, by then River will be in Lima with the replacement gearbox and that too can be fitted and we hope to be able to leave by midday Monday 25th.
“Trail Magic” or just plain luck. Whatever without Javier we would have been sunk I think. His contacts and extreme helpfullness have saved the day for Bertie. We have a large vote of thanks to offer him and his workshop staff and contacts.
A few days away in Cuzco and Machu Picchu have blown away the cobwebs and given us renewed energy to continue, we are all looking forward to seeing Dusty, Feisty and Bertie, finishing the repairs and getting them back running, as sweetly as we know they can. We shall have River back with us and the party complete and running, will set off full of hope and anticipation of the road ahead.