Viktoria's failure to get to the Bathurst Meet.
I left the Gold Coast early Thursday morning with my friend Damian to go to the OzVolvo meet in Bathurst this year. Viktoria, my 1974 Volvo 164E, had done a similar trip to the Nationals in Tamworth earlier this year and it was without any problems so I was pretty optimistic we could do the distance.
We were going down the Pacific highway as far as Grafton and then turning west to go along the Gwydir highway to Glen Innes. It was here that we struck our first problem – the road was closed due to back-burning. When the NSW RFS guy had finished admiring Viktoria, he advised us to take the Waterfall Way to get to the New England Highway. So we turned back to Grafton and headed south to Coffs Harbour. Once there we headed up the Waterfall Way.
The first problem was unpleasant. We were behind a livestock transport and every time it went around a bend a lovely mixture sloshed out the back of it to drop on the road. Beautiful to drive through. Fortunately I overtook him and headed up the range. Not long after we caught up to another car & truck. The truck was loaded with timber slats so it was very heavy and very slow. At this stage we were headed up the range with 7km of steep switchbacks with no overtaking opportunities, so I found out.
Close to the top with a convoy of some 40 vehicles behind the truck, Victoria over heated and stopped. We knew she was getting hot from the temperature gauge rapidly closing on 100C, so we had turned off the AC and turned on the 14in electric fan manually. The temperature still went up as we were going at less than 20kph and had been for kilometres. She boiled over and stopped.
I thought the worst - cooked motor. With hazard lights on and bonnet up we were stopped blocking the lane with nowhere to pull over even slightly. A police car pulled in front of us, she had been stuck in that line of cars too and started directing the traffic around us. We looked under the bonnet and there was coolant bubbling out of the expansion bottle cap so I called for roadside assistance. After all the cars had gone and the police left I decided to try starting her. To my surprise she started, so we jumped in and gingerly made our way up the last part of the climb. With no one in front there was plenty of cool air and we could go faster than 20kph.
We stopped at a garage in Dorrigo and let her cool down while I rang the NRMA to tell them we had got off the road. The NRMA guy turned up about 30-40 minutes later and after telling him the tale he was concerned that the head gasket was blown or the head was cracked. There was no coolant in the oil and no oil in the coolant. When we eventually put more coolant in the bottle and started her up there were no bubbles appearing either. In fact she was running fine. We decided to stay there the night and let the mechanic have a look at it in the morning and then make a decision about what to do.
Viktoria ran fine that evening up to our cabin and back into town for dinner. So maybe we had dodged a bullet. Next morning she started fine and we drove to the garage. The mechanic said he couldn't look at her immediately as he had plenty of work to finish but loaned me a pair of multi-grips so that I could get the cap off the radiator. We had noticed a slight leak there but not yesterday (so maybe the mechanic hadn't put it back on tight). I flipped over one of the two rubber seals in the cap and put it back on tight. Maybe that contributed to the overheating the day before.
We started her up again and waited to see if any leaking occurred. All good and no hot temperatures, so we walked to a cafe to have breakfast and discuss what to do. We decided to press on still hoping to get to Bathurst that day. The drive to Armidale was about 130kms and by that stage we should know if all was well. If it wasn't we would head north up the New England Highway to home. We kept an eye on the temperatures but had no problems, even with the AC running. At Armidale we decided to keep going.
We headed for Tamworth some 112 kms away, then on to Coonabarabran 188kms further, all the while making sure that temperatures were fine. Most of the time they were between 80C & 90C. Just as we came into Gilgandra near the Shell station the car cut out and Damian pulled over into the truck stop opposite well away from the entry. Once again bonnet up and hazards on but there were no signs of overheating, she just cut out. After about 15 minutes I tried to start her and she fired up. Thinking we have got a bad batch of petrol somewhere we crossed the highway to top the tank but just after we passed the bowsers to turn around and get the right one (98 premium) she cut out again. Bugger.
I rang the road service again and eventually Frank turned up from the Gilgandra NRMA depot. After much tinkering he thought that it was either the coil or the ignition module (Viktoria has an after-market electronic ignition). He was on the phone to the local mobile auto electrician discussing the problem when I thought I would try one last time to start her. Amazingly she started (after having no spark at the plugs) and Frank was more stunned than I was. Once again we decided to stay overnight here as it was getting dark and we followed Frank to town to find a motel. Drove to a suitable motel with no problems and even restarted her after stopping there. We were only 270kms from Bathurst.
The next morning I called the mobile electrician Jake. The car started fine that morning and Jake couldn't find any fault with her. Very frustrating. So we packed up and headed into town for some breakfast. After breakfast she started first go and we headed out of town optimistic we could be in Bathurst in about 3 hours. We just passed the intersection of the Newell and Castlereagh highways and she stopped again.
Rang Jake as were essentially still in town and he attended after finishing the job he was already at. He had brought another coil with him but that still didn't get her going. We all concluded that it was a faulty electronic ignition – either the box itself or maybe the pick-up in the distributor. Viktoria wasn't driving anywhere. Frank towed her to the depot just a couple of hundred meters up the highway and there she sits even as I write this from my computer at home.
Fortunately I had RACQ Ultimate breakdown cover, so we eventually flew home after getting to Dubbo. Viktoria would be put on a transport and be delivered to GLT Car Centre for repairs.
We never made it to Bathurst.