as experienced by Adam and Marilyn Laws
Here is one way to meet people: drive a Cadillac some 2,000 kms from
home, break down in a remote place and then ask for help from people you
have never met who live over 400 kms away!
Unlikely as it sounds this is what happened to us on New Years Day this
year. Our holiday was meant to be a leisurely drive from Sydney to
Adelaide, then to the more remote Flinders Ranges (see picture above) and finally back to
Sydney via Broken Hill (if you call 4,000 kms in two weeks leisurely!).
It all came somewhat unstuck at the furthermost remote point - 40 kms up
a dirt road in a gorge with no passing traffic! Bang... rumble...
rumble. That’s the sound a broken manifold makes after the lower exhaust
system hits a rock and pulls the studs and part of the flange away. At
over 40 degrees centigrade outside and no-one in sight, the first hope
is maybe the bolts need retightening... but no it was an irreparable
(almost undriveable) amount of damage. We drove very slowly back to the
Wilpena Pound Resort where we were staying–the only casualty a melted
speedometer cable from the escaping exhaust gas and I expect a lot of
frightened wildlife due to the noise.
Wilpena Pound is a beautiful place but still over 60 kms from the
nearest repair garage. Concerned of a possible engine fire and pleased to have my
NRMA Plus coverage, I arranged a tow 60 kms to Hawker. This was the easy
A quick inspection of the underside of the car (it was over 40 degrees
C) showed the manifold break to be beyond even a temporary repair. A new
manifold was needed on the New Year’s long weekend and had to be fitted
if at all possible within two days to ensure work commitments back in
Sydney would not become their own drama. All the phone calls to Adelaide
and elsewhere to locate a part and a courier to deliver it felt like it
should’ve helped lift the Telstra share price. However, persistence
started to pay off.
I owe many thanks to Joe Belperio from Joe’s Golden Gasoline and Ian
Robertson of the Cadillac LaSalle Club. Joe located a second hand
manifold from his parts collection and after making a number of his own
enquiries on my behalf, Ian picked it up. So on Saturday afternoon I had
the part but it was still over 400 kms away. I phoned every courier,
airline and trucking firm I could find to see it I could get an
overnight delivery, but it was just not possible. Monday morning was
looking promising when I phoned Ian once again to explain I still had a
couple more leads to follow. He told me not to bother as he and fellow
Club member, Harold Heaven would be driving the part up and would meet
me around 11 am on Sunday morning. I was very moved by this to say the
least - after spending so much time in the hot sun, was I imagining it!
The next morning I knew it was real. Two people arrived at the Hawker
Garage with the manifold and a set of gaskets and said “where do we
start”. This was a very special moment... not everybody would make an
800 km round trip, spend a day in a garage in 40 degree heat to help fix
a car for people they had not met before.
To cut a long story short this was not simply a matter of unbolting and
replacing the manifold (although it did at first look that way). As it
turned out the exhaust system was bent and misaligned from the impact
and needed to be removed for straightening. A bolt sheared off in the
good manifold so it had to be removed for extracting the broken and
badly corroded studs... and the heat riser butterfly assembly was broken
and we did not have a replacement. This was on a Sunday afternoon in a
town of some 300 people. It would have been a Monday start without the
facilities of Hawker Motors, the helpful assistance of John Teague and
Anthony, and the skill of Mark Hilder of Hildabuilt Engineering &
Mechanical Services. John generously made the use of his garage pit and
workshop available to us. Mark was having a quiet Sunday to himself in
his engineering shop until we called by and asked if he could repair the
butterfly cast iron assembly. When we went back to pick it up, he had
machined a complete new collar exactly replicating the original
dimensions. The assistance from everybody was the most wonderful example
of goodwill, teamwork and good fortune I can remember. Whilst it was
hot, oily work, I think we all had a bit of fun and learnt a few things.
Certainly the timely words of assistance from Harold, came from a much
deeper depth of mechanical knowledge than my own. To the relief of all,
the repair worked (I don’t think the car had ever sounded so good) and
we were back on the road at 6 pm on Sunday heading for Sydney.
That is very nearly the end of the adventure, but on Monday, halfway
between Broken Hill and Cobar, on the most remote section of the
highway, during the hottest part of the day, on the hottest day of the
year.... “bang”, a rapid surge to the left, off the road into the gravel
and fortunately back on again–front tyre exploded - manifold OK! At this
point you might be thinking like me, are classic cars up to long trips!!
But I didn’t have to think about that for long. Both problems were not
the car at fault, the tyre problem being extreme heat.
Did I wish I had flown or hired a car instead? No way. Driving my
Cadillac and meeting such great people was an enriching experience I
would never want to trade for a predictable and uneventful alternative.
Maybe if your Cadillac sits in the garage too much, this will make you
think about all the wide open spaces, and exciting adventures you could
be missing out on.
PS We arrived in Sydney on Tuesday just in time for the first NSW
Cadillac LaSalle Club Committee meeting for the year!