Start me up – carefully

Ever since returning to Wellington my cars have sat, in garages, unused. Given their ages, starting them up after a 12 month hiatus isn’t as simple as turning the key and cranking. Just sitting still doing nothing means all manner of things could fail, break or seize. So I enlisted the help of a qualified expert to assist with the process.

Young Reuben works for the garage that regularly services the cars so he knows them well. He also, singlehandedly, finished building the Spyder over the last few years so is definitely the right man for the job.

Late last week he turned up at home with spare batteries, jumper leads, oil, spanners, screwdrivers, hammers, blocks of wood, in fact pretty much everything he needed to repair the cars, or even rebuild them from scratch. Game on.

We talked about what might happen when the keys were turned. It could be anything from massive clouds of smoke – the best scenario – through to seized engines and gearboxes – the worst scenario which would mean the real possibility of pistons or gears exiting through the side of the engine – not good.

With these cheery thoughts in mind we turned our attention to the first car – the 1972 Porsche 911. After removing the cover the car looked good – no leaks underneath and apart from the steering wheel being covered in mould all seemed well. The battery was re-connected and after 12 months sitting in storage still had enough charge to light things up. A few cranks and – wait for it – it lives. Completely undramatic – not even a lot of smoke. Proof, if any was needed, that those clever Germans know how to engineer stuff.

One down two to go.

Moving to the lock-up it was time for the real challenge. The Porsche 356 and replica 550 Spyder. The 356 has just had it’s fiftieth birthday and the Spyder, built from scratch over 10 years, was only completed a year ago. In fact I had it for 3 weeks prior to leaving for Europe.

It was clearly a matter of pride with Reuben that the 550 started easily. After all it was his baby.

A quick check for leaks, reconnect the battery and we’re ready. After a few cranks it thundered into life. “Take it for a spin” Reuben suggested. All good but there was a distinct lack of gears – none in fact – just a delightful grinding sound where the gears should be. Reuben disappeared under the back of the car for a few minutes with a can of WD40 and slowly life started to return to the gearbox.

Eventually we found second gear which was enough for a spin around the block to “loosen things up”. When Reuben returned we had all gears working.

Two down, one to go.

The 356, despite the loving care and attention it receives, was always going to be “the tricky one”. Having said that, the motor turned over easily but the 6 volt battery (yes the cars electrics are 6 volt – about the same power as an electric razor) wouldn’t do the job. A quick burst of 12 volt power (similar to using a defibrilator to start someones heart – you can do it, but not for long) and the motor was running.

The tricky part turned out to be getting the 356 to move. Taking the brake off didn’t actually take the brakes off. The antique drum brakes on the car had seized on at least 3 wheels and no amount of gentle persuasion would convince them to un-freeze. With the tight garage space, there was little we could do so next week the 356 is being loaded onto a transporter and taken to Reubens’s HQ, the Powerhaus, for a little work.

Bugger. But as the song says “two out of three ain’t bad” and it was a fun afternoon mucking around with cars. You can’t ask for more than that.

And, of course, there is always the movie. My apologies to the Rolling Stones for using their very appropriate music without asking first.

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