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Cadillac LaSalle Club of Australia
Outback Cadillac Adventure

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 part. 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.

The “evidence” as displayed by the three “mechanics”, Adam Laws, Ian Robertson and Harold Heaven.

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.

Adam Laws

PS We arrived in Sydney on Tuesday just in time for the first NSW Cadillac LaSalle Club Committee meeting for the year!