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Paul and Beth Barrow’s Hot Rod Adventure
Part one of Paul and Beth Barrow's travelogue to italy with their just completed Model A sedan
Twelve months ago, my partner, Beth, and I took a holiday in the Umbria region of Italy, to check out the possibilities of getting married there. On our return to the UK, we decided it was feasible, but a further part of the plan called for me to finish my Model A sedan for the journey this year. This was inspired by a trip we had made in 2001, to Barcelona, in a bellflower custom-style Buick Riviera, which I had also put together in what for me was record time.
What was left of last year was taken up with getting the engine and gearbox for the Model A built and fired up. This seemed to take an age, and left me little time to finish the rest of the car. Come one o’clock in the morning on the 1st of January 2007, I found myself sitting in a bar enjoying what would turn out to be my last beer for a long time. I was fully aware of just how much I still had to do on the car, and so it was that from the 2nd of January to the 1st of May, I managed to clock up over 980 hours on it outside of my normal working days.
Finally, it got its MOT, and with no time to spare, was loaded up and taken down to Plymouth for what was to be a very memorable stag weekend. With the shakedown run out of the way, though, the engine then chose to spring a rather large oil leak just days before the trip to Italy. Unable to stem the flow, there was no choice but to pull the engine. The offending rear main bearing seal was attended to, and once the engine was back together and reinstalled, I drove the car home.
A friend and I fitted all the windows, got the locks working, and finally cable-tied the bonnet top in place to make it look a little more respectable. All of this frenzied activity finally came to a conclusion at three o’clock in the morning, after which, I managed a solid three hours of sleep (a common occurrence over the last five months) before we set off for Dover to start the long trip to Italy.
We left home in what we thought was good time, until Beth checked the crossing information, only to discover that the boarding time was actually the departing time! With no other option, I leant on the gas a little more, while trying to avoid breaking anything. We needed to stop for fuel, but 30 miles outside of Dover, we missed the turning for the last petrol station. By now, the needle was right off the bottom of the gauge, so we gingerly ploughed through the fog into Dover. A racing-style pit stop ensued, and then we pressed on to the port. We had hardly stopped in the queue before we were being loaded on board. It was only 11 o clock, but already we both needed a beer!
Loaded up on the overnight sleeper train from Calais to Nice
Once in Calais, we made the short trip to the Rail Europe port, from where we would be starting our journey down through France. The car was then checked in and loaded before we were shown to our sleeper compartment. We had been in such a rush that we hadn’t had time to change any money, and with the buffet not taking any credit cards, we went hungry for the night. I didn’t care – I just wanted to sleep. I pulled the very thin, standard-issue blanket over me, and was gone. Gone, that is, until Beth woke me some hours later.
“What’s up?” I said.
“I’m worried about the car,” she replied in the dark of the cabin.
“That’s a first,” I thought. “What do you mean?”
“Have you felt how fast we’re going?” she said, with a slight edge of nervousness in her voice.
Now she mentioned it, we were travelling at quite a lick, with every bend we encountered seeming to throw us against the side of the compartment. It was without doubt the fastest that car had ever been, and I began to wonder if I had pulled the hand brake on enough.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” I said, trying my best to sound confident. Then I lay there, wide awake, worrying about it.
In the morning, I opened the blinds to be greeted by brilliant sunshine, which was a more-than-welcome sight after all we had been through. In addition, white-washed houses with terracotta tiles had replaced the run-down, grey industrial towns of the day before. We rolled into Nice a short time later, and after a much-needed complimentary breakfast, unloaded the car – which, I’m glad to say, was still in one piece.
The temperature was just nudging into the thirties, and as we prepared to leave Nice, we were immediately caught up in traffic. I wasn’t sure if the car’s postage stamp-sized radiator would cope, but thankfully, it managed to hold its own, although quite a heat haze was blowing out through the hood louvers. Instead, another problem arose. While stuck in traffic, I noticed the clutch pedal wasn’t disengaging enough, with the result that we spent a rather worrying half hour or so trying to avoid crashing the gears until we could find somewhere safe to stop.
Paul adjusts the clutch pedal
Thankfully, we saw a garage up ahead and limped onto the forecourt. With the floor out, I was able to adjust the pedal, and strangely, felt quite satisfied that I had already got the tools out to fix a problem. After all, what tales could I tell once back home if nothing had gone wrong? With the floor back in, the traffic had subsided and we headed off on the coastal road to Monaco, a picture-perfect route lined with palm trees, Bentleys and high-class eateries – definitely the opposite end of the spectrum from those cafes with laminated pictures of food you just point at.
We pressed on into Monaco itself, where we immediately found ourselves on the race track. The Grand Prix was only a week away, so the preparations were well under way. The place was buzzing, and, even though neither of us had been there before, we somehow knew where we were going, just from seeing it on TV. We loped past a line of Ferraris and Lamborghinis power-parked in Casino Square, but decided to park up elsewhere. After having a browse around and a bite to eat, I realised this place definitely wasn’t for me. Tourists swarmed around super cars and snapped shots of anyone driving one, and the dinner-suited owners did laps of the circuit pretending to be going somewhere. The pretentiousness of the place and its inhabitants, certainly at Grand Prix time, was too much, and we soon jumped back in the ‘A’ to press on.
That’s when disaster struck! As we drove away and I went to change up into second gear, there was a loud bang and the clutch pedal hit the floor. I knocked it out of gear and coasted to the side of the road, right outside the Hotel De Paris. This sounded a little more terminal than on the previous occasion, and I certainly didn’t experience the same buzz of excitement getting the tools out this time. With the floor removed once more, I could see that the clutch release shaft had sheered off. It appeared my earlier adjustment had only succeeded in putting the shaft under more pressure.
Paul gives the thumbs down with the Model A at rest on the Monaco track
Beth looked on, understandably concerned that it could all be over so soon. Sure, we could rent a hire car for the rest of the trip and send the ‘A’ back home, but it wouldn’t be the same. I was also acutely aware of where we were – a millionaires’ paradise, with no little back-street garages or workshops, and Mr Prada and Mr Gucci unlikely to be offering assistance any time soon.
I looked up, and said to Beth, “I can fix it, but not here.”
To be continued.
Story & photos Paul & Beth Barrow