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Paul and Beth Barrow’s Hot Rod Adventure – Part 2
Stranded in Monaco
“I can fix it, but not here,” and with that, Beth’s eyes lit up. She realised she had a job to do, and so from out of the back of the car came all the paperwork. We had already booked a hotel ahead in the resort of Diana Marina, just over the border in Italy, so the plan was to get the car picked up and transported there, where I could better work on it.
European breakdown cover came with my insurance, and I was quoted a telephone number to ring in the event of such a circumstance. Easy – right? Not so, as when Beth tried to use it, the number didn’t exist. Not to be deterred, she marched into the Hotel De Paris and asked to use their land line. Still no luck. After pondering this for a moment or two, she decided to call her brother back home in England. She explained the situation to him and asked if he could try the number from there. Astonishingly, he got through to them. So let’s get this straight – a number you call in the event of a breakdown in Europe, which only works in the UK? Go figure! In any event, he did a great job, giving them all the information they required, including exactly where we were located.
Meanwhile, back outside, I was beginning to draw a small crowd as I started pulling the offending items off the car. Husbands took photos of wives stood by the car while my legs hung out the door. A short-tempered traffic warden angrily gestured with his hands that I should move on. I pointed at the gearbox and gave him the internationally understood sign language for throat cutting. As soon as I did, however, I panicked that he might think I was aiming the gesture at him. Fortunately, he did understand, however, and just threw his arms up and wandered off mumbling to himself.
Loaded up on the recovery truck
Some time later, the insurance company phoned me and said they had found an English-speaking garage, but that it was further back into France. I explained that we had accommodation booked, and just needed to get there. By this time, it was starting to get late and the sun was setting.
“This is very uncommon practice, sir. How will the car be fixed?” queried the woman at the other end of the line.
“I’ll fix it. We just need to get to the hotel,” I responded.
There was a pause, and then she said, “I don’t think my superiors will agree to this.”
“Where will we stay? It’s getting late.” I asked, having tried to explain that we wanted to continue on, and not retrace our steps.
“Oh, I’m sure there will be something there,” she replied.
This didn’t fill me with confidence, and so I stuck to my guns.
Eventually a recovery truck arrived and we loaded up. The spectacle had also attracted a policeman, who wanted to see our papers. When we asked if everything was okay, he replied, “You have ze GB sticker on ze back, but you have ‘California’ on ze number plate, so exactly where are you from?” It seemed clear he just wanted to make a point, so with the top of the number plate taped over, we got in the cab of the truck and watched the policeman swagger off up the road. Our recovery man, an older gentleman who spoke very little English, simply pointed at him and said, “John Wayne”.
We left Monaco and headed over the border into Italy and towards the resort of Diana Marino. It was two in the morning when we finally arrived at our hotel, and we were met by a friendly receptionist who opened up the basement car park. We rolled the model A in.
The next day, we scouted around for local garages, but being a Sunday, nothing was open. I finished dismantling the car, and then we both just relaxed for the rest of the day.
The following morning, we made an early start, walking to the first garage and explaining in our best sign language that we needed to use their tools. The owner shrugged and we didn’t understand what he was trying to say, but he then showed me inside the garage and I could see what the problem was – it was just a service bay, no welders or bench drills. He gave us the address of another garage, and off we went, but again it was just a service bay. The second garage owner gave us another address, but didn’t know exactly where it was, so we hailed a taxi. We showed the driver the piece if paper, he nodded and we were off.
Up into the hills we went, out of town, up narrow lanes, until we came to a yard overfilled with old, rusty steel. The guys there seemed to fabricate large gates, fences and ornamental metalwork. They had every piece if equipment conceivable. I showed the apparent boss of the place the problem, and he took the part away to fix himself. He drilled, tapped and pinned the shaft in two places, making it stronger than it had ever been. Fifteen Euros later, and we were on our way back to the car. A few hours later, and we were back on the road.
Relief after eventually finding a company that could effect a repair
We kept to the autostrada to make up for lost time. The coastal routes were simply beautiful, looking down from mountains out over the Cote d’Azur, and winding through tunnels dug out of the cliff sides.
We stopped at a small coastal town called Lavento. There was no real car park to speak of at the hotel, so they shut the car into what looked like a gated courtyard, off a road no wider than a footpath. Lavento was trapped in time, and filled us with nostalgia as children played in the parks until after dark. It was a perfect stopover.
Parked up overnight in picturesque Lavento
The following day, we started heading inland towards Florence. As soon as we left the coast behind, we felt the temperature rise, the sea breeze obviously having taken the edge off the heat. The little Flathead performed well throughout, and once we reached the suburbs of Florence, we took the more scenic route into the Chianti region. We drove up and down rolling hills, layered on both sides with vineyards.
Compared with the autostradas on which we’d been cruising, these lanes were far more challenging for the A, as we jammed through the gears and took the racing line around bends while crossing valleys. This was the experience we’d wanted all along, and so we decided to stop at the village of Greve, in Chianti. The first beer at the end of every day’s driving had become a ritual, but seeing as we were in Chianti, we decided to sample the red wine the region had to offer. Thankfully, we managed to drag ourselves away from the bar to enjoy what was to be one of most memorable meals of the trip.
In the morning, I carried out a few engine checks, torqued the heads down and we made the relatively short trip to Siena. We parked up at our hotel and then took the bus into the city itself. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the city, in common with many of the larger, fortressed towns in Italy, was perched on the top of a hill, providing a recipe for traffic chaos.
Back at the hotel that evening, we found ourselves witnessing what could only be described as a sketch from Faulty Towers. It appeared that a coach load of American tourists had descended on the hotel unannounced, causing havoc as the restaurant struggled to cope with their very demanding needs. As orders went to wrong tables or disappeared altogether, we bit our lips, sat back and again enjoyed the wonderful food and wine of the region.
Another early start, and onwards on the final leg of the outbound trip to Catiglione Del Lago, our ultimate destination and the place where we were to be married. Our pace seemed to pick up a little, as we knew we were going to make it, but as we climbed the hill into the main square, with the town hall (where we were to be married) just in sight, the car coughed, spluttered and conked out, belching water that ran back down the hill. We climbed out of the Model A in fits of laughter, much to the bemusement of the locals. We had made it!
A final splutter up the hill in Catiglione Del Lago
We let the car cool down – it had simply overheated after our racy final leg. Afterwards, we found the hotel where we would be staying a few nights before moving to a resort outside Catiglione Del Lago and meeting all of our relatives who had flown out for the occasion. A week after our wedding, we were back on the road, having planned our honeymoon driving the Model A all the way home. We hadn’t worked out where we would end up each night, though; we just took it as it came, since we wanted to enjoy every part of the journey – which we did.
The big day!
The trip there and back covered some 1600 miles, and on the way home through Italy and France we experienced none of the dramas we’d encountered on the way down, as the car behaved virtually faultlessly. I had to keep torqueing the heads down – you must do this when you change the head gaskets, which I’d replaced in the UK – but other than that, it was an amazingly trouble-free trip. It was, however, a long, long way.
In hindsight, it was perhaps a bit of a wild decision to drive a freshly built hot rod all that way. It was always in the back of my mind that things could go wrong, but the fact that I built the car myself and knew every nut and bolt gave me the confidence to undertake the journey in the first place. Mind you, I’d have to think twice before contemplating such an epic drive again.
Story & photos: Paul & Beth Barrow