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RatRod Rally to Romania

PART FIVE: After driving through six countries, its the end of the road for our Volvo as the rally races towards the final destination of Brasov in Romania. Will our mega-mile Volvo make it in one piece? BEN HACKNEY reports.


Budapest to Sibiu
So this was it: the final leg of our journey through Europe to our ultimate destination, Romania. The furthest east Id been before in Europe was Bratislava, and we were already long past that point. Wed faced a lot on our trip so far, but I couldnt help thinking it was all about to get a little bit more interesting from here on. Waking up in Hungary on Day Five, we decided to take a few photos in front of some impressive statues in Budapests aptly-named Hsk Tere (Heroes Square) before driving around the citys backstreets in a desperate hope to find a parts shop to obtain some RainX, just in case our windscreen wipers decided to not to work again.

Driving around endless grids of degrading and dusty roads, we finally stumbled across one place that looked promising. The only issue was the language barrier. To say that we needed to brush up on our Hungarian would be a bit of an understatement and it seemed that the locals didnt take too kindly to typical Brits abroad wandering in their shop and pointing at things. However, Martyn and Mark persisted, emerging with the second best option of some RainX-esque repellent. Just before we set off for the day, John noticed that something was up with our rear nearside brake light. Mark and I watched as an exroadside recovery mechanic fixed the issue with a makeshift bodge. The bulb holder wasnt making a good connection on the circuit board, so John packed part of a rubber glove between the holder and the rear lamp cover, giving us a much better light output. Good work. Fixed-up and hopefully protected from bad weather, we set off for the Romanian town of Sibiu, a good seven-and-a-half hour trip. Wed been warned not to drive at night in Romania for fear of encountering horses, carts and dangerous drivers. Given all the mornings faffing around, we were going to be cutting it very close.
On the morning of Day Five, we headed back down to Heroes Square for this shot, where we had walked the previous night, before attempting to make our way out of Budapest.

250 purchase

56 Car Mechanics January 2012

Taking off the plug to the air mass meter made no difference, so the next theory was that there was a coil problem. John grabbed our can of Start Ya Bastard instead of the WD40 to spray the coil pack, which resulted in a small fire while it was being cranked over. Language barrier or not, Im pretty sure that setting fire to someone elses car is frowned upon in any country, so using broken English, hand signals and Marks translation skills, we told the owner that it was the coil pack and that John needed an eye test. That was as much as we could do and the clock was ticking, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.

Volvo overheats
Crossing the Romanian border, we pulled over for fuel and bought a road toll (about 3 for seven days). We hadnt gone that much further before we were having problems of our own. We took the bypass (read: knackered road avoiding the centre of a city) around Arad and joined Strada Ovidiu, a road name that is now synonymous with mistake, although it was the only route we could take. Calling this stretch of road busy just doesnt cut it. The line of traffic was endless, snaking off into the distance as a result of a heavily distorted road surface, numerous potholes and two rail crossings. As we crawled along this dusty road, surrounded by dry European greenery, the sun was starting to set and we knew that we wouldnt make Sibiu before dusk at the very earliest. Obviously, this was the perfect time for the Volvo to show its age and start to get dangerously hot. Having watched the temperature needle creeping further and further up the gauge, the inevitable happened: our Volvo began to overheat. Popping the bonnet and letting the steam clear, while vast trucks and motorists passed around us at a crawling pace, we realised that the auxiliary cooling fan was not cutting in to help cool the engine. John tracked the problem TURN to a faulty relay and bridged the circuit using a

How many people does it take to find a fault on a Volkswagen Passat?

John had the smart idea of packing out the loose connection on the rear brake light with a disposable glove.

After being treated to a high standard of tarmac throughout Germany and Austria, we realised that our luck had run out as the roads got worse the further we travelled east. They hadnt deteriorated to the point of being terrible yet, but I got the feeling that wed be coming across some pretty shocking stretches before our next stop. Regardless of the impending deadline to get to our destination before nightfall, we pulled over for a driver change about 100kms from the Romanian border, only to find ourselves helping out a family from Bulgaria with a broken-down Volkswagen. It was Marks time to shine. We knew hed done his fair share of travelling around eastern Europe, but when he opened his mouth and began speaking fluent Bulgarian we were slightly taken aback. He played translator as John and Martyn had a ganders under the Bulgarian VW Passats B5 bonnet. The family had just bought it in Germany and the engine had a severe lack of power. They were in process of re-fitting the fuel filter (thinking it could be blocked!) when we arrived.

We gave them a 2000 Hungarian Forint note (about 5.70) and they gave us a bottle of RainX equivalent with change.

21.74mpg 25.18mpg Tank 2 20.16mpg Tank 3 27.50mpg Tank 4 24.70mpg Tank 5 25.62mpg Tank 6 23.08mpg Tank 7 24.03mpg Tank 8 23.41mpg Tank 9 Tank 10 21.07mpg Tank 11 22.47mpg
Tank 1
average mpg

We dont mind where we breakdown! In heavy traffic the 760 decided to overheat. John found a non-working auxiliary fan and bridged the dodgy relay to make it run continuously. Once clear of the hold-up we took the temporary fix off and had no further issues.

January 2012 Car Mechanics 57

Single track roads in Romania are as fast the as the lorry in front of you, except thats not quick enough for some drivers. A transporter, full loaded, overtakes us, the lorry in front and a lorry in front of that. Unbelievable!


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Each time we lifted the bonnet, the turbo would be red hot and the aircon frozen cold literally. You may be wondering what that black blob is on top of the accumulator. Getting that cold, it burnt the bonnet sound-deadening material.

square electrical spade (all we had in our spares box), turning it into a round electrical spade with the help of a pair of pliers! Topping up the lost coolant, we then rejoined the epic queue. The sheer relief of not being stuck on the side of a Romanian road was hampered somewhat by Sally sat-nav saying that we still had 164 miles to go and were travelling no faster than 5mph. The ever-optimistic John observed: Quite a good radio station weve found, though. Finally we started to move. It had taken us two hours to travel just 10 miles and I had a headache from the lorry fumes. Even after getting through the thick of the traffic, there was no chance of

searching for a faster road because wed somehow managed to lose the map on Day Four. This meant we were blindly relying on the power of GPS. The sun began to set as our speed began to increase. Following a seemingly safe driver in a lorry, we discovered that dusk was when insane motorists come out to rule the roads in Romania. We were on a single lane stretch with No Overtaking signs lining it on either side, and not only were cars pulling out on blind corners, putting their faith in other drivers letting them back in lane before a crash, but a huge transporter had a go as well! At least four or five times the size of us, this car-carrying beast gave us a flash, pulled out and attempted to overtake us, the lorry in front of us and the lorry in front of that. Then, just as wed nearly got over the

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Whatever the conditions you are driving in, you want tyres that put you in control. In other words, fit Avon Tyres.

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R2R continued

P&O Ferries is the countrys leading ferry operator. Welding and MoT repairs carried out at: Humphreys Garage, Cudham Garage, Cudham Lane South, Cudham, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 7QB

Dacia produced cheap vehicles for the Romanias based on Renault 8 and 12 bodyshells. There are many of them still in use with some dating back to the 70s. Different body configurations exist from saloons, estates, pick-ups and special bodied as seen above. Most have body damage to some degree. 58 Car Mechanics January 2012

R2R continued

Reaching the Transfagarasan Highway was a highlight for Mark. The view at the very top was limited due to the fact we were inside a cloud. Travelling over the other side of the mountain, the sun came out and the scenery was amazing.

Autoglym in Romania. Judging by the look of some of the cars, they need more than polish!

fact this was happening, another truck ploughed up from our left to do the same. Insanity! Incredibly, nobody was involved in a crash and all this seemed to be the norm for Romanian roadgoers. We hadnt planned to drive late, but short of pulling up on the side of a busy road to spend the night, we didnt have a choice. Eventually we found a hotel lit up like some kind of illuminated gingerbread house in the pitch black. Perhaps it was our earlier near death experiences, the joy to of being finished with that leg of the journey, or simply our exhaustion, but the food and beer served up at 1am (Romania is two hours ahead of UK) was absolutely perfect and the subsequent sleep was welcome.

the shops at the top of the road, we headed through a mountain tunnel and on to the other side. The change in weather was almost worthy of being included in a Narnia story. It was warm, it was sunny and it was green. Around every corner, we encountered breathtaking views, unexpected waterfalls and suicidal donkeys blocking our path. Once wed had our fill of fun, it was time to turn around and head back up and over the pass, to carry on our drive to the final destination of Brasov. There wasnt going to be anything that would match the mornings antics though and, after a few hours of driving, we saw signs for the last city of the road trip. We pulled into Brasov and found a hotel, before trekking into town for the final meet-up and the RatRod Rally awards. It was good to see the group all in one place again, reminiscing over the past few days and revelling in our collective achievement. It may have been a long, hard stressful journey at times, but there was never any point on the trip where I didnt love something about it. And ending up in such a beautiful city, with live bands playing in the main square, happy and friendly locals, incredible architecture and dirt-cheap but quality hotels was a stroke of genius. Oh, and did I mention that there was a beer festival being held in town? With pints for pence on some stalls! I was going to miss this TURN place when it was time to leave.

Top tip. If you have an overheated vehicle which is burning a bit of oil, let it cool and get a passenger to stand next to the exhaust while you fire up the engine!

Sibiu to Brasov

We woke up to find that our hotel was actually surrounded by tall trees in the stunning morning sunlight. This was going to be one of the highlights of our trip: travelling over the Transfaragas Pass through the Transylvanian Alps. After a short fuel stop, it wasnt long before we were climbing up into the woodland. Its hard to imagine, but this mountain pass was much more intense than Stelvio. Although the views werent as immediately impressive, the switchback roads were endless in the climb to the top. Clouds were drifting down the sheer rock faces and leaving visibility at a minimum. There was also a damp coldness to the air that took your breath away but managed to be enjoyably refreshing at the same time. After a look around
RIGHT: Another drink, this time to celebrate us reaching Brasov. It would be rude of us not to visit the beer festival taking place that night. Live music, cheap beer and heaving crowds.

Head out of the window at 100mph. Mr Nutter really is nuts!

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Eastern European daily drives

After a few bevvies of the local brew, we sat down for a pizza and enjoyed the sounds of the festivities still going on around us. It had taken us six tanks of fuel and four litres of oil over six days, but our 22-year-old 760 had actually made it to the centre of Romania in one piece. Sad though it may be, it was now time to get some muchneeded sleep and head home for the final leg of our long journey. From Brasov back to the real world in two days. That perhaps was the hardest part of this journey, because Day Seven involved 17hrs of continuous driving, abeit for fuel and driver change stops and Day Eight a further nine hours plus the ferry crossing. Until next time, Id miss the continent, my colleagues and co-drivers, and the car...

Handy mini compressors at some European fuel stations are just perfect. You can carry to each wheel to inflate/check pressure before returning to its dock to replenish with compressed air. Why cant we have these in the UK?

Early Lada Riva estate in Hungary.

Skoda Estelle in need of a wash and cut.

Trabant production stopped in 1991.

t seems like yesterday when I read Martyns editorial request for a CM reader to join the team for the annual Banger Rally. It sounded such a fantastic trip, so that evening I sent an email to the Editor, but held out little hope of being picked for a seat in the Volvo. It was a huge surprise when I found a return email a couple of months later from Martyn. Ive driven many times on the wrong side of the road in Europe but always in hire cars. Martyn, Ben and John had taken part in many previous Euro Rallies but for me I was about to break my duck. However, they all made me feel very welcome from the very beginning. Before I knew it we were on French soil and after a good nights kip we met up with all the other teams at Calais quayside the next morning. France soon turned into Belgium and soon we crossed the German border and made our way to the Nrburgring circuit. This was my first visit to the ring and wow what a place! A petrol heads paradise. Switzerland was beautiful, especially as we headed further south into the Alps, the scenery was truly stunning it was difficult to keep my eyes on the road when it was my turn to drive. The unexpected detour into Italy to drive the Stelvio Pass for my first time was a wonderful experience for me. Then we entered a country that Id never ever been to before Austria. I was very impressed. Its difficult for me to describe it in a sentence, perhaps, a pretty mountainous laid-back Germany, I vow to return again. Then we visited Hungary and the city of Budapest with its impressive city centre architecture. As we headed further east through Hungary towards the Romanian border the motorways ended and the quality of the roads became worse and the weather became warmer.

Like going back in time

But nothing prepared the four of us for the entry into Romania as we crossed the border into Europes second poorest country. It was like jumping into a time machine and going back 40 years. Its not easy to describe the standard of driving on Romanian roads on paper. The only comparison I can make is that to the Wacky Races cartoon I used to watch when I was a kid. The Transfagarasan Highway was a mega adventure and well worth the long drive across Europe to reach it. Before we knew it we reached the Rallies end in the beautiful city of Brasov which just happened to be holding a beer festival. I dont know where to begin to describe my affection for the Volvic as we all nicknamed her. Its a true testament to Volvo that we were able to drive a 22-year-old car with almost 300,000 miles under her wheels across Europe and back in total comfort and safety. The car drove like a sub-100,000 mile example and just gobbled the miles with its huge armchair like mega-comfy seats and gutsy engine. Okay she has a thirst for petrol and likes an occasional drink of 15w40 but she ran like a dream 99% of the trip. I really enjoyed the experience of driving in mainland Europe and the lack of traffic jams, roadworks, speed cameras and even hardly any Traffic Police patrol, makes European driving a very different experience to driving on UK roads. Mark Nutter

Very original looking Wartburg.

R2R continued

Dacia seen on every street in Romania.

60 Car Mechanics January 2012

iven our lack of knowledge of our final destination, we found Brasov a bustling modern town, with its own illuminated sign high up in the ski mountains. Wed recommend it to anyone wishing to visit Romania. If it takes your fancy, Count Draculas Castle is located a short distance away! Completing the journey there and back without too much fuss, our 1989 Volvo 760 turbo covered 3616 miles in eight days. Motorway jaunts really were relaxing, either up front in the leather seats or slouched in the back. The ZF autobox actually makes this car such a cruiser. Just think, last years banger Mercedes six-cylinder auto was humming away at 4,500rpm at 90mph, whereas the four-cylinder Volvo shows an indicated 120mph at the same rev range. During the month of November, the 760 clocked-up 290,000 miles. She is still running beautifully and Ive now added in a litre of 20w50 to hopefully stop her lust for oil. I plan to add in a bottle of Restore Engine Restorer & Lubricant in the coming weeks to see if it makes the engine that much smoother. Weve already had a couple of readers interested in purchasing the 760, so next issue the mega-miler Swede will be up for sale. Martyn Knowles he email arrived from Martyn enquiring if I had recovered from the non-stop drive from Rome last year and asking if I was up for another Rally. The scars had healed so I was in. This years steed, I was told, was to be a Volvo 760 with a whooshing turbo. But its not German, I muttered! I was nervous about driving a car that was not over-engineered. However, ABBA had stood the test of time, so maybe a Volvo with starship mileage can too. Not known for performance cars (I was pleasantly surprised) but Volvo do boast an excellent set of safety features. It was one of the first manufacturers to fit a central rear brake light. I was still apprehensive before the rally but after fitting the cambelt, I thought if it does breakdown its easy to work on. It was also the first on the CM rally fleet to have rack and pinion steering. I still missed the steering box set-up from last years Merc 260E it gave you the feeling your were sailing a barge (a nice barge), through Italy. Driving through rainy Germany triggered our first breakdown (a first for team CM) the wipers packed up! The linkage was worn and had popped off. After striping out the trim panel and the arm reattached we were back in business, with a note to the team only use full wiper speed in an emergency. Day one and breakdown number one we still had a few thousand miles to go and Germany was meant to be breeze! Next stop the ring! The Team captain undeterred by the heavy rain thought once around the 14-mile circuit would be a great idea! We got off to a flying start, well as fast as one can in a Volvo built when Mr Hackney was in nappies and loaded with passengers. Then breakdown number two raised its ugly head and the Volvo spluttered to a halt.

R2R winners

Each participating team wins points for various daily tasks and different structural points for the type of car they drive.

1st Place

Team: Fitzgerald/ Rat Patrol Graham Heffer (left) Andy Fitzgerald-Johnson (right)

2nd Place

Team: Three Bells Dave Gunter (left) James Mack (check shirt) Josh Meaden (red shirt) Craig Johnson (right)

The winners trophy really was a welded work of art!

Firing on all cylinders!

My three passengers all had a lost look on their faces what do you reckon? My answer, I suspect it could be damp. Right foot planted to the floor the engine fired-up and it eventually found four cylinders and off we went. As we approached the last bend the wipers packed up! Martyn was forgiven for using full speed, it was an emergency get off the ring, before we became a statistic! Now I was not impressed with breakdown number two on day one! An arcing coil lead must be common as Haynes was kind enough to mention it in section 0.6 of the manual under non-starts, Check that electrical connections are secure (with the ignition off) and spray them with a water dispersant spray, like WD40, if you suspect a problem due to damp. The drive home was long but breakdown free, just stopping for fuel and to add the odd litre of oil. The Volvo changed its oil on the journey (twice) and Rain X (or the Romanian equivalent) was applied to the windscreen (that stuff is amazing). This was the first year for us without a German vehicle and we paid the price. No that is hash all of our mishaps are what you would expect of any car of this age and astronomical mileage to its name. And we drove it around an arduous race track, plus the engine was operating at high speed most days! It does prove that an old car with high mileage is still a good buy (even for a rally) as long as it has been serviced regularly, which was the case with our Volvo. John Brennan

3rd Place & Best Banger

Team: Double Prat Rich Vanderhoff (left), Martin Brock (right)

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