Jensen Monday Club
Top Touring Tip 10: Always have Steve "Mehmet" Payne's number handy
So far we had done well over 4000 miles, with nothing much to speak of in the way of car troubles. We had had a tyre lose pressure from the beating it took in Bulgaria, we had lost a bit of the rear valance in Istanbul, and an aircon drive belt in Serbia, but all small beer in the scheme of things.
What could we do? Nothing but press on and keep our fingers crossed. We left the Czech Republic after passing the Skoda car works
and were back into Germany. The border crossing was a model of efficiency and politeness, and we were once again on the fast German autobahn.
Unquotable Quote: "...air conditioned rubber skiddies"
Our destination for what was meant to be our final night was Belgium. We had a reciprocal education programme going, with Chris teaching me about fine cigars, and me teaching Chris about fine beers. I had told him of the excellent beers to be had in Belgium, notably the Tripple style, and especially the 9.5% ABV, Westmalle, a trappist ale.
We were aiming to go to the Hop Duvel cafe in Ghent, which is a great favourite of mine.
We had travelled about 10 miles from the border when a German police car pulled in front of us and made us pull into a service station. As we were not speeding, we weren't really sure what was going on, but fearing a "rubber glove" incident, we didn't take any pictures.
For the first time, including at borders, they really searched the car. The had all the boot out, and everything in the interior of the car, searching all the bags and baggage. They quickly asked if we had any alcohol or drugs, before getting onto tobacco. They wouldn't let go of the idea we were smuggling duty free tobacco from Turkey. Whether this is a major problem in Germany we don't know, but the car got a thorough search.
As we had nothing other than a couple of Cuban cigars (good job they were German and not American police!), we were on our way, with the rubber gloves still in the police car.
Everything was going fine, with nothing but the noise from the rear of the car to spoil our anticipation of a night in the Hop Duvel. We pulled into a service station for one last fill up of 100 octane fuel, which would blast us all the way to Ghent. A German motorist in a very potent looking Mercedes pulled up along side us, looked at the Jensen, and said "Eine schnelle Maschine!"
It was with that 100 octane juice in it.
We pulled out of the services with Chris at the helm, and almost immediately he said "look behind us". There were plumes of smoke pouring out of the rear of the car. We immediately thought of the engine, but all the gauges were normal, and the car was running fine. There was an exit slip road very near so we pulled off.
This was the only time the German sign for exit didn't receive a chorus of "aus- FART!"
We pulled over as far as we could on the slip road, and put out the obligatory warning triangle. Chris looked underneath and the problem as easy to see. There was oil pouring from the gearbox and running onto the exhausts, causing all the smoke.
We only had a vague idea where we were, so we took a picture for reference
It was at this point that a Mercedes "A" Class pulled over, and a very nice German guy by the name of Martin Hoercher got out. He introduced himself and told us that Jensens had been his fathers favourite cars and that as a boy his father had told him all about Jensens and would point them out whenever he saw one on the road. He felt that it was only right to stop and help us because of this.
What are the odds of the son of a German Jensen fan happening to drive past a stricken Jensen on a motorway slip road in who knows where?
Not as long as you think apparently...
Out came the tow rope, and we were off the motorway
A few hundred yards up the road was a building site near Limburg train station, and so we pulled in here. We thanked Martin profusely, and he was on his way.
Chris and Martin. If you look up "Very Nice Man" in the dictionary, there is a picture of Martin
It was 4pm and we were less than 500 miles from home, less than 200 from the Hop Duvel, and after all this way, we had broken down.
We didn't even know where we where, just close to Frankfurt. The car un-drivable, and it wasn't looking good.
We were going to fail...
At this point I looked down, and saw that Chris had done what the British always do in times of crisis. Put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea. It doesn't matter how grim the situation, if you're British, you put the kettle on. The very words "I'll put the kettle on" stiffens the upper lip, adds steel to the backbone, and strengthens the resolve.
It was when I saw this that I knew, no matter what, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and as sure as eggs is eggs, we would NOT be going home on a trailer.
We sat and had a brew and a sticky bun and made plans. The plans involved getting the old gearbox out, and putting a new one in. No much to ask really?
Unquotable Quote: "Women in Hungary can't drive either"
We needed to get the car off the ground so we could get the gearbox out, but we only had 1 ton scissor jack, and a 2.5 ton car.
It was then we looked around and saw piles of building materials.
There had to be something amongst that lot we could use surely? We didn't know what this was, but it would do for a start
We started to slowly lift the front of the car with the scissor jack and got the thing underneath
A bit more jacking and we got some timber under as well
There was no stopping us now other than we needed a new gearbox. Remember my mentioning "Mehmet" in Istanbul, the lowly waiter who had to do all the fetching and carrying, and how we were planning to use Steve Payne as our Mehmet on our return?
Well it was going to happen a whole lot quicker.
Our sales pitch to Steve was that we needed him to put a gearbox in the boot of his car, drive to the English south coast, get on a train and go 31 miles under the sea, and then drive to somewhere in Germany near a train station, went something like this:
Chris: Hello mate, what you up to?
Steve: Just finishing work. How's the trip going?
Chris: Got a bit of a problem mate. We are hoping you might be able to help us...
And so we broke the news to Mehmet, sorry Steve, that instead of steak and chips for dinner, it would be service station sandwiches and a blast to the continent.
We worked away until it got too dark to see
Chris had had the good sense to pack a couple of blankets and pillows in case of emergency, and after it was too dark to work we huddled in the car and tried to get some sleep. The days were lovely, but the nights were bitter cold and damp.
Steve eventually arrived at about 1am the next morning, bringing the gearbox and some much needed sandwiches and drinks.
We used the headlights of Steve's Saab to get the last few bolts out and get the gearbox out so Steve could take it back with him
Steve stayed with us for as long as he could, helping out with swapping over pipes, etc.
We told him about the new name Mehmet and he was heard to chunter "It ought to be Sir bloody Mehmet after this, whinge, moan, bitch, grizzle...."
So to Sir Bloody Mehmet, and hearty and genuine thanks. We wouldn't have made it without you.
After Steve left about 4am it was too dark and cold to work, so we got under the blankets to get some kip. We were dozing nicely when I heard a car pull up beside us. I opened one eye:
The old Bill had pulled up and were looking goggle eyed at the car. Here we go again for the rubber gloves...
I wasn't getting out as I was toasty under the blanket, so Chris got out. After checking passports and car documents they went on their way, and we nodded off again.
Until someone drove up and stole some plastic chairs that had been left at the side of the road.
The early morning traffic of commuters using the train station woke us up to this stygian vision of gloom...
By god it was cold and damp. There were vending machines in the train station and they were our main source of food and drink during this, so I wobbled off to get some much needed hot coffee.
We waited until the sun burned off the mist, and got stuck in. The building site foremen came and asked us to make sure we put everything back we had used, and we thanked him for the loan of the equipment and assured him we would
All things considered, it went very smoothly, and 23.5 hours later, at 3:30pm, without the aid of a safety net, a method statement, or a risk assessment, we fired her up and drove around the train station car park.
We had done it.
One of the German brickies asked us if the car was ok, and when we said it was he broke into a big smile. I think the guys on the site were running a book on whether we would succeed or not, and I think he had just won a few Euros.
We washed and changed in the most complicated automatic toilet we had ever seen at the train station, and we were ready to go.
We took it steady for the first few miles to bed everything in, then speeded up a bit, then a bit more, then we were back to full speed. We felt we had more than earned a few beers in the Hop Duvel and sped into Ghent, passing a couple of loons on the Belgian motorway who loved the Jensen and trailed us for miles waving and smiling at us. I think they were stoned, drunk or both, but they were having a good time.
I had stopped in Ghent 3 times before and had used the hotel Astoria.
I go to Belgium as often as possible with my mates to try all the best beer cafes and breweries, and we had stayed at the Astoria all the times we had gone before.
The owner had remembered me on previous visits, but not this time. He asked if I had stayed before and when I said yes was surprised he didn't recognise me. As I was sporting "Dave the Do" it was hardly surprising.
We legged it down the road to the Hop Duvel and a big feed and some well earned beers. Chris was introduced to the delights of Belgian beer, and is now a fully paid up Belgian beer connoisseur, and I had a prawn curry, which was fantastic. We had planned to make a long night of it, but were shattered by the lack of sleep and hard graft of the day, so we quietly sauntered home just gone midnight, going out on our last night with a tired amble rather than a bang.