The Longest Kay

We can rebuild him. Better. Stronger. Faster.

March 2009

No officer, I don't actually know how fast I was going back there

You may recall from our last episode that a drastic Speedometeritis affliction had rendered Mini and Me completely lost in space and time - albeit somewhere on the colonial land mass of New Zealand - and in the face of this dire and unfortunate predicament, I did what men do in such situations: I ran away overseas and attempted to heal the damage remotely with the application of vast sums of money. 

Nine thousand miles away I worried. But in the operating theatre of a small town repair shop in South Canterbury, a Speedometerectomy transplant was performed and after a prolonged convalescence at the garage - such a long visit that my mother feared I would be charged room and board - the Mini was resuscitated and presented with a fresh Warrant of Fitness by the New Zealand Government. 

Perfect! The stage was set for our return to Aotearoa.

Almost immediately, we noted that the speedometer pointer was functioning perfectly and the new odometer was also clicking away the kilometers to design specification...! And yet for unclear reasons the temperature and fuel gauges were now ...not.

This discovery was beyond merely 'odd'. Beyond an 'irritating annoyance' even. It was bordering on the cataclysmic. Well that's a bit strong, but it could certainly be filed under 'cause for alarm'. In an aging forty year old car tuned for high performance but also equipped with a rusty radiator and a complete absence of computer controlled engine monitoring systems,  the temperature gauge is considered quite an important indicator of ones near term prospects: In three minutes time, will you be humming along the highway merrily over hill and dale, or sitting on the side of the road with a surprised expression on your blackened face; surrounded by clouds of swirling steam and the charred remnants of an exploded engine? 

The fuel gauge is an equally vital feature on small cars with fuel tanks barely capable of holding a beer stein of petrol. My fancy stateside ride, a nano-technology-equipped teutonic rocketship, came with an unsettlingly efficient little man called Hans, who, dressed in full Barvarian butler regalia (complete with hat), pipes up from the back seat from time to time to remind me to turn left, that my windscreen wipers will soon be due for replacement, that "touching zat is verboten" and to pass on my remaining fuel capacity in minutes, millimeters, gallons and New Deutschmarks in varying degrees of sobriety. The Mini has no such optional extra. It comes factory equipped with a small lump of chewing gum on the end of the piece of string which is tied to the fuel gauge needle. A needle that now seemed firmly stuck on 1/4 full except when we went over a bump.

The suddenly-running-out-of-fuel concern was addressed by me swiftly bringing thirty years of accounting training into practice. Quickly, and quite incorrectly, I calculated the approximate capacity of the tank in Kilometres, and each time we filled up, we wrote down the now-functioning odometer reading, fuel used, the Km traveled and thus could derive a predicted future reading on the odometer where the engine would sputter and die, leaving us stranded, helpless and alone, in the desert wastes of Southland.


As an aside, in the four or so months that I've actively driven the car over  - at a guess - 12,000 Km, I've run out of gas exactly four times. The most recent when I decided to test the (at the time working) fuel gauge's accuracy at the lower end of the scale (partly out of necessity as there are no filling opportunities on the entire trip after 7pm in this pre-industrial revolution country) by seeing if I could travel from Greymouth, on the west coast of the South Island, up over Arthur's Pass and Porters Pass to Ashburton on the east coast. On one tiny tank plus my red plastic reserve container. And I made it! I pootled through Ashburton at well past 'E' on the gauge, passing the BP and Caltex stations with my nose in the air intending to dine first and then fill up at my favourite Shell station toward the far end of town. You know what's going to happen next don't you... One and a half blocks from the Shell, the engine sputters and dies, but the traffic light ahead turns green, so I sail on through. I modulate my speed to time a hole in the oncoming traffic, cut across the road, pull up beside the pump and put the handbrake on. Yes, there's no need to stare. I drive the world's quietest Mini.

So while the odometer calculation helped us with the fuel-level problem, the temperature gauge pointer's refusal to budge from its rest beside the 'C' label was merely worked around by installing a prayer book; which we periodically fanned the engine room with. 

Following the implementation of these somewhat dubious operating procedures, we managed to make it to Bluff and back. On the way back north, the Odometer got its first real test, for the garage had set it at the last officially known reading, somewhere in the 98,000 range, and soon it would be time to cross the barrier into the 99,000's. 

You may recall from an earlier life, before things got all complicated and electronicy, that in the good old days a car's odometer was a set of rotating black dials  with white numbers printed around their edges, all stacked in a row. As the car moved along, after a set number of wheel revolutions, a dial (the 'tenths' in that special yellowy colour) would flip over one click. The dial was equipped with a little tab so after 10 clicks, as it flipped from 9 back to zero, it would catch on the 'ones' dial and increment that by one click and so forth counting on up the stack as required. 

Needless to say, at the beginning of the trip we watched in earnest joy for first the 'one' to click over, and not long after that, for a 'ten' to roll and prove the Odo was indeed in fine running order. Later that day the first 'hundred' - after a brief pause for effect - was effected, much to our delight. But we knew that friction in the old, gummed up mechanical thing might make the big jump to 99,000.0 KMs so much harder because so many dials must be convinced to turn over. Oooo, the excitement of it all. 

Somewhere north of Balclutha we watched 98,999.8 turn to 98,999.9 and then... nothing happened. The odo gyrated and shimmied a bit. It wanted to flip over... I think I can, I think I can. Ohhhh, the straiiiin. Finally, at the end of the automotive equivalent of giving birth, the dials flipped over to 99,999.0 and we continued along on our merry way with smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts.

Upon the next return to Christchurch, the Mini was booked in for a visit to the trusted Tuam Street auto electricians that had dealt  to an alternator/battery charging problem I had last year. A few hours later I drove away happy, because they had discovered that during the previous speedo repair, the voltage regulator had been damaged and that's what had upset the fuel and temperature gauges, which now were back on fine form. As (still) was the speedo and odo and... oh no. The flashing green turn signal bulb in the dash doesn't work now. Nor does the blue high beam indicator light. Sigh.

Behind that fancy chrome and black dash I imagine a set of instruments, wires, components, pipes and levers all carefully stacked up like a teetering house of cards. Don't ... touch... anything....

The final test for the mighty green warrior's dials occurred on another journey south, a journey that would require the odometer to spin over all it's digits - from 99,999.9  to 00,000.0. The second coming.

Again as the moment approached, I watched the tenths click over.... .7 .... .8 .... .9 .... .... .... .... .... And again, nothing happened. Nothing happened some more. And indeed nothing happened for quite some time. Things shimmied and swayed in the constipated odometer. I think I can, I think I can.  But no. 

After perhaps five minutes, as the struggle between the good and evil sides of the Force continued unabated within, a couple of dials to the right of the stack appeared to have rolled partially over from 9s to 0s... like eyeballs rolling back in the sockets of movie zombies.  I wondered if I could hurry this process on a little and wondered which wheel the speedo cable might be attached to. I couldn't decide and took turns at randomly weaving across the almost empty Main South Road between clumps of traffic, buzzing the right wheels on the cats-eyes in the middle of the road for a distance and then back over to the left side edge to hit its buzzy white line.

And after what seemed like an eternity, and at that, an extremely long eternity, the dials finally did roll over to continue their merry counting of wheel revolutions from 00000.0 as if nothing had happened. Little buggers. 

On the surface, all would seem well, my friends. But all is not well. For according to the official New Zealand Automobile Association website, the distance between Christchurch and Ashburton is 89 Km. On this trip, the Mini only counted 62. It took more than 25 Km to cover that millennial one tenth of a kilometre. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I can report to you that the first crack in the space-time continuum has been located. 

It's in the dashboard of a 1970 Morris Mini. 

That's why it has racing stripes.

2009 Darryl K Bond