14 March 2011
The first day of the Coppa Milano-San Remo started for our crew with a 5.30am departure from Zurich, destination tech inspection at the Circuit of Monza.
Our untried 1952 Aston Martin DB2, fresh from a 14th month restoration has done less than 50 miles in shakedown before this 900 mile adventure but where better to shake out the new car niggles than in competition?
Unfortunately it was all to go wrong very quickly.
Stopping just 5 miles from home for fuel, unbeknownst to the crew, the handbrake failed to release and turning up over the first range of hills the car was struggling against the drag of the rear brakes.
Quickly the smell of burning brakes entered the cabin and just 3 miles on we were sidelined. Parked on the side of a Swiss hillside with the rear wheels locked solid.
Out with the 1950’s era car jack and up with each side in turn, wheel off, wielding the heavy copper wheel mallet to try and hit the drums hard enough to knock off the brakes inside, wheels on and try and move the car.
No luck. So repeat for 2 hours until the driver is exhausted and a wander around the corner finds a local garage open and a more experienced mechanic who calls for a tow truck to the nearest lift and the demount of the rear drums to free off the brakes.
Given these old cars don’t have a steering lock, in order to tow one with the rear wheels in the air, usually you’d tie the steering to make sure it doesn’t move. Or you can use the Swiss method and make an Englishman sit in there and suffer the waves of all the passing motorist’s while being towed backwards for several miles.
Dawn rises over Dead Aston
Preparing to be towed backwards
So our targeted arrival time at Monza had been and gone and with the wait for the rescue truck it was 10am and we were only 20 miles from home, 12 of which hadn’t been under our own steam! It wasn’t boding well for the weekend and spirits were very low.
However, some swift work from the local tyre and brake specialist, and by 11.30 we were on our way South.
Stunning motoring but the car was struggling a little under load, misfiring a little, clearly we had an electrical issue now that needed to be investigated.
Coming out the far side of the Gottardo tunnel and it was getting worse so pulling over at the first services saw the car coming in “dead stick” as the engine stalled as soon as we came off the power.
Running a swift diagnosis, it appeared that the auxiliary fan thermostat had failed (despite being brand new) and it had been running full time which had put just too much strain on the alternator. So a fuse pulled, jump leads out and a handy Italian coerced into lending us a few amps saw us on our way once again. But the schedule was slipping fast.
Phone call made to Monza and the organisers generously agreed they would wait for us, but the start in Central Milan would end at 6pm on the spot.
How hard could we really push a brand new engine and untried car? But clearly we’d come too far to give-up now so onwards at speed towards Italy.
| Brake man checks the issues
Flat out for Monza through the mountains
Arriving at Monza in rush hour, the car had been running sweetly but long and hard and was pretty warm. Old Astons can often suffer with fuel vaporisation because the fuel pump is so close to the engine block and the heat under the hood was reminiscent of a 24 hour racer during a pit stop at Le Mans. With a transport strike adding extra commuters to the mix, the traffic was grid locked and we had to stop several times to release some heat from the engine delaying our arrival at the circuit until 5pm. So 11 and a half hours “on the road” already and we’d not even reached the start line yet!
The ladies of the organisation of the Coppa had kindly waited for us, and turned us around quickly, but with a red hot car we now had to head into the traffic jams of the Friday evening rush in Milan...
Another 3 stops to cool the car, including in the outside lane of the Monza ring road (!) and we arrived in the Piazza del Duomo at 6.10pm. 10 minutes AFTER the last start and they were already packing up the start line for transfer on to Turin and tomorrow. So we set off directly to Turin, passing through town centre after town centre having just missed the party and arrived in the guarded parking for the night at 11pm. Both driver, co-pilot and car were completely finished and exhausted and a quick inspection showed that the front left suspension had loose elements after the pounding from the potholes in Turin while hunting down the final checkpoint. The extra fan was dead and after driving a very physical car with non assisted steering and gearbox without syncro on all the gears I am bruised and ache all over.
Bed now. Will sleep like the dead tonight.
Your pretty fed up with the World correspondent.