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Homepage. This page: Motoring Disasters Pt3

Old Cars that bite back

Austin Somerset plays hard to get

Surely running a cute little 1950s Austin should be a doddle?

Modern car driving is a fairly uneventful experience most of the time, however old classics can usually be relied upon to throw up all sorts of exciting events, breakdowns, and disintegration while on the move.

Perhaps the most unreliable car I've endured was the Austin Somerset I had a few years ago, a car that I actually swapped a perfectly-running BMW 535i for. Not that these A40s are unreliable as a rule, just that this one had been got at by someone in the past.

Only a few miles after collecting the A40 it showed its true colours, expiring every couple of miles or so with some unexplainable ignition malady. The evening was drawing in, it was raining, and the forthcoming run over the top of the Pennines was not something I or 'er indoors (who came along for a fun day out) were looking forward to. Every few miles it'd conk out, and only restart after pausing to cool down for a few minutes. By the time darkness was properly drawing in, we'd made it up into the hills but it was obvious we'd not make it out of the hills again without some assistance, in the shape of an AA recovery truck.

But first we had to find a telephone to call them from. Er indoors was pressed into pushing duty, getting me and the car to the top of a slight incline, down which I coasted, engine-less, coming to a halt only a short stride away from a public telephone, from which the boys in yellow were called. The remainder of the journey was made in the AA truck.

It took quite a while to eradicate the Somersets tendency to conk out (replacing all the ignition parts cured that problem), and even longer to stop it overheating on short journeys. In the end I think a new waterpump cured that problem, only for the car to let itself down big time on its first successful run after fitting the new pump. While cruising around in this 1954 classic, I felt a crunch, the Austin sagged to port, and came to a halt, grinding along the freshly tarmac'd railway bridge that I found myself on.

Inspection showed that the brass wheelnut threads were very worn, eventually working their way off the studs, and allowed the wheel to dislodge itself and wedge up underneath the wing. The wheel took some extracating, and was only possible after 'er indoors had been summoned with trolley jack, axle stands, and various pieces of wood to lift the &^&^$ thing up with.

The wheel was refitted (members of the public walking by searched, and found, the errant wheelnuts, some way down the road) and the car brought home. The gent, outside who house I had expired, even offered me the wheelnuts from his wife's Austin Metro in order to get me home, fortunately I didn't need 'em but it was a nice offer nonetheless! By this time I was getting a bit fed up of this BMC offering, so the A40 was sold on, replaced by a 1950s Ford special.



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