Our car is a dark blue 1969 MGB GT with a call sign on the road of “Navy Car” – not very original but avoids confusion with the other cars! Pan America will be the third trip for this car having completed the China to London Silk Road trip in 2010 followed by Cape Town to Cairo in 2012. We share the driving with our fellow adventurers, Simon and Maddy Boadle after signing up for the Silk Road as the “Tag Team”. All of us were working at the time with no chance of getting away for the full 3 month duration of the trip so the arrangement was that Simon and Maddy would drive the first leg from Beijing to Urumuqi in far north west China, Simon and Ian would drive the second leg along the Silk Road to Istanbul where Lorraine would join Ian to drive the final leg to London leaving Simon to fly back to Australia.
The car was in reasonably good shape for the event having undergone a bare metal body restoration and full mechanical rebuild around 1995 – not concours by a long way but ideal for roads where trucks were going to throw up big rocks and we could jump in without worrying about getting mud on the carpets.
The clincher for getting the car at a good price was stepping on the brake pedal and getting a shoe full of brake fluid which poured out of the master cylinder directly above. So the first step in preparation was a full rebuild of the brakes and suspension to replace all the worn and perished parts plus new rear springs to get more ground clearance. The previous owner had fitted wheels from a V8 model with alloy centres and steel rims, ideal for rough roads and these were fitted with light truck tyres to minimise risk of sidewall damage from sharp rocks. The engine seemed in good shape and only needed a rebuild of the fuel and ignition systems with the added precaution of very conservative spark timing so it would run on low octane fuel. In anticipation of overheating problems in hot city traffic, the cooling system was upgraded with an electric fan and overflow tank. The only other change was to fit a set of MX5 seats with extra lumbar support to keep us in good shape on the long days – Lorraine says they are the best seats of any of our cars!
Much to our surprise, the car completed the China to London trip with very few problems. One of the supposedly reconditioned front shock absorbers gave up around the China – Kazakhstan border so there were a few phone calls to the UK to arrange for replacements to be shipped into Tashkent where we were scheduled to overnight a few days later. A couple of typical Lucas electrical moments where everything stops, you open the bonnet and fiddle with a few terminals and everything works perfectly again for a few weeks…. until the next time. (Hopefully we have worked our way through all of these issues and everything will be perfect for the entire trip!!)
Cape Town to Cairo in 2012 was expected to be a much tougher test for the car. We raised the suspension around 20 mm, rerouted the exhaust and eliminated the centre muffler for extra clearance and Simon fitted a very effective sumpguard plus underbody shields for the fuel tank, brake pipes and cables.
Simon found an intermittent problem with the overdrive during a trip to Mt Hotham so the engine came out to overhaul the gearbox and overdrive as a precaution. Everything seemed in pretty good shape so we had reasonable confidence we could repeat the almost trouble free run from the first trip but alas, it didn’t quite turn out the way we hoped. On the run from Cape Town, Simon had intermittent charging problems and arrived in Nairobi with a second battery strapped in behind the seats to keep the car running. This and a failed shock absorber were fixed in Nairobi but there was nothing we could do about the heavily taped windscreen which had been shattered by a well aimed rock thrown by a young fellow a few days earlier. Luckily he hadn’t been issued with an AK-47.
The toughest part of the trip was still to come – the Road from Hell running through northern Kenya via Marsabit to Moyale. The car handled the rocks and corrugations pretty well but the long stretches of bottomless dust took their toll on all the cars. Our starter motor jammed along with the driver’s door lock so not only couldn’t we restart the car but I couldn’t get out to push.
Before and after the Road from Hell took its toll on the sumpguard!
Fortunately there always seemed to be a kindly soul around to help Lorraine with the pushing duties for a few days until we could get the starter repaired. The door lock would probably have come good except several ‘mechanics’ in Addis Ababa convinced us they could fix it with long screwdrivers and a hammer. That left it completely jammed for the rest of the trip until we got it back home to replace all the mangled bits. The intermittent overdrive problems came back to haunt us as the temperatures increased with the result that all drive was lost and the car would just coast to a stop. With some care I could re-engage first gear and work our way back up to cruising speed but everytime I lifted off, drive was lost again and the process had to be repeated. Things became easier as the traffic out of Khartoum thinned out and I could pass all the trucks by hanging back until the road was clear but it did get a bit hairy accelerating down the hills. Luckily it all seemed to come good as the weather cooled down in Egypt and apart from a repeat of the starter motor problem the rest of the trip to London was fairly plain sailing.
With all this experience behind us, we were able to plan the preparation for Pan America. The motor came out again to fix the overdrive; cylinder head, brakes and suspension were completely overhauled and alternator replaced. A back up fuel pump was fitted as a precaution along with a new sump guard to replace the mangled original which had been left behind in Addis Ababa. After much discussion, the dreaded light truck tyres were replaced with Michelin passenger car tyres to give improved wet grip and ride quality. The light truck tyres still had enough tread for at least two circumnavigations of the globe but we may not have stayed on the road!
This left time to take the car on an extended road trip to Brisbane and back in October 2014 before it went into the container. What a change – not only did it pull better up hills but the ride quality with new tyres and correct shock absorbers was totally transformed. On the way back through NSW we called in to see George and Cherie at their beautiful property in Walcha. Their ‘new’ Casper was not only looking good but the civilised exhaust note was a thing of joy. All the insulation in ours must have blown out during the Cape to Cairo trip so noise-cancelling headphones had become almost mandatory. Simon’s exhaust man, Dave, came to the rescue when we got back to Melbourne and fitted a replica of Casper’s muffler so the headphones are no longer needed.
So expectations are high for the Pan America trip – can Navy Car clean sheet the event??