Driving a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 from Peking to Paris in the June 2019 ERA Rally.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

0083 Gidget goes to China !!!!

29th March 2019
The most hectic 10 days of my life !

But Gidget has already gone !!!!

After getting Gidget back to Queensland, there was not a moment to spare.  Wheel arches, spare tyre mounts, oil changes, undertrays to fit, pressure guages to fit, tools and spares to pack - The list was endless.  I can honestly say this has been the most stressful and hectic 10 days of my life, bar none !!  But, to start at the end, she is now gone, and we got (most of it) done !!

Video as we leave home

Working on the cover
Coverworld factory
While Gidget had been in Sydney, another item I had completed was to get a waterproof yet simple to remove cover for the spare tyre, because we need to be able to store light stuff inside - Like sleeping bags etc.  Generic tyre covers from an auto parts store are OK, but they don't fit perfectly and only cover half the tyre.  I ended up discussing the issue with Coverworld, who custom-make covers of all types, and they quickly understood what I needed.  2 days later it arrived !  Unfortunately, while it fitted, it was just too tight and would have been hard to take on and off repetitively. The only
Lower cover in place
solution was to drive to their factory, taking the trye with me, and get their help, and as they are up on the Sunshine Coast, this took almost a whole day !  But they were really helpful, and within an hour or so they had reworked the covers, added some velcro, and it fitted perfectly.  Basically is is like 2 normal covers - You fit the
Sealed and watertight
first and that forms the bottom of the wheel when mounted.  Then a second similar cover fits over the top, and Coverworld sewed two rows of Velcro all the way round on both covers.  This effectively seals the inside from dust and rain, is quickly removable, and, equally importantly the outer cover can be raised up so the 2nd "ring" of velcro is engaged, meaning we could put another 4 or 5 inches of "stuff" inside for storage if we wanted.    Job done, now all we need is a rack to bolt it to !

Wrapping oil bottles
We are allowed to ship a small quantity of new and sealed bottles of oil in the car, and obviously we will be carrying some with us, and with the rough roads, abrasion and bumping can break these plastic bottles - We have seen it in Alice, and oil spilt throughout
Ready to pack
a boot is NOT easy to clean up !  So for every bottle of fluid I have added protection - Round bottles were easy as I just used some of the beer can coolers I had in a drawer, but oval or bigger items needed custom made protection.  For this I used the same heat-resistant foam sheet that I had used around the exhaust (because I had some left over !!), and used glue and gaffer tape to make protection bags for everything.

Having got back to Queensland late on Friday 16th, I had the weekend to do some of the work on the car.  First item was to check how wet
Mildew inside packaging
everything was after the trip - And on first glance it didn't seem too bad - Certainly less water in the boot than red dust during our Alice Springs Adventure !    However, on closer inspection, down low at the very back of the boot, it was a bit damp, and this could have come in through the boot lid (which we know is too mis-shapen to seal perfectly), or maybe even through the joins between panels which we have tried to seal, but in such heavy rain is always going to be an issue.  I used a fan overnight to dry out the boot extremities, and next tackled the underfloor storage boxes which I had filled with spare parts prior to the trip to Sydney.  When we went to Alice, these boxes were very waterproof, but when we had to remove the floors in order to install new seats, it had taken me 2 or 3 frustrating days with a Stanley knife to cut through all the silcone that we had used.  So when I replaced the floors recently I used less sliicone on purpose in order to avoid a repeat, so I never expected them to be totally waterproof.  But everything in the boxes was wrapped in a cloth, and then put in sealed plastic bags, so they should be OK.  However on inspection it turned out to be more of a condensation problem with moisture INSIDE the still sealed bags due to the greater humidity of Queensland, esepcially in the recent hot weather.  The was some dampness in the boxes, but the issue is not items getting wet, but mildew if the moisture was to be left in the car while it is locked in a sealec container while it travel across the hot and humid equator, even spending a few days out on the wharf in Singapore.  Mildew was a major threat, so every single carefully wrapped package had to opened, dried out, and then repacked and sealed again before repacking into the boxes.  This was a long job that took me several full days and late nights !

Setting the support braces
In the meantime, early on Monday morning, I had an appointment with Andrew to fabricate and mount the spare tyre rack, and for the next two days we were working almost non stop on it. Andrew had cut out the 3 load bearing struts and the light but very
Fitting the base
strong aluminium honeycomb sheet for the base, but the welding and measuring and overall fabrication was still extensive.  Andrew did all the work, but my job was to help him, hold sheets or tools or items to be welded, and generally keep him motivated and busy ! I was already starting to panic about time running out !  More photos are attached, but as you can see, his work was of his usual high standard, and in the darkness of the second evening, I drove
Strengthening the support braces
home with the spare tyre in its new cover, tightly strapped to the new mount.  Interestingly, the boot lid (which as I have mentioned before is quite warped and damaged from its previous life) is now much more rigid, not twisting when it is raised or lowered even
Finished and ready to go
with the extra weight of the spare tyre.  The only additional modifications I had to make were to drill a hole in the rear support plate so water won't build up in the recess, and to run a bead of silicone right around the edges of the base plate to prevent the channels in the honeycomb filling with water or dust and adding weight !

A few decals
The next evening, Craig from Devine Digital came over with the first run of decals for me - And he HAD been busy !  We had 200 mini P2P stickers that supporters can put on their own cars to show their support, we had replacement 3/4 size decals with our number "77" included instead of the generic "7th" that ERA had sent us, plus he had made up two of these decals into plates by mounting them on acrylic sheet, so I
Mounted on acrylic sheet
can use these on the bumpers. He had left me some work to do though, as I had to separate all the small decals out from the big sheets he had printed them on !!    Lastly, he had done our "route" decal to fit along the rear fender, detailing the major cities along our route, and these all needed to be applied, and I started as soon as Craig left, working late into the night.  Thanks Craig !

Wednesday morning early I was off to CCC to see Steve to get our final oil and filter change done, do a complete spanner check, check all oil levels, grease everything, and fit our replacement oil temp guage which I
Jump start post fitted behind seat
had checked in boiling water as soon as it arrived to make sure it work better than the previous one we had fitted, which hasn't moved off the bump stop in 9 months !!  We also fitted the rear part of the undertray, with the front part to be added later. Steve also added the new jump start post behind
Broken alternator bracket
the driver's seat that will enable us to jump start the car without having to remove all the diff covers in order to rach the battery.  Just as we were finished, we noticed that the alternator bracket had broken !  We quickly took it off and I ran all the way back to Andrew's to get it modified, and while he was doing that to make up a 2nd spare (we already have the original unit as a spare). 

Adding route decals
All finished until
The route decals down the side of the rear wings looked great - But they are not easy to apply as they move so easily compared to a large sheet decal.  Then, after all the work, in the news the next morning we heard that the President of Kazakhstan had
Astana or Nur-Sultan ?
decided to change the name of his capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan !!    Doh.  Fortunately Craig had given me enough spare decals of the place names that I was able to cut out the required letters and apply them individually to spell out the new name of the capital - But it sure is a labour intensive business doing it one letter at a time !

Measuring up UJ's in prop shaft
Another job that has been on the list for a while was to pick up two spare UJ's for the propshaft.  I had presumed (as usual, incorrectly) that the Gold Coast Tail Shafts who had rebuilt and rebalanced the actual shaft 18 months ago would know the UJ sizes.  Unfortunately it turned out that they hadn't noted the sizes when they worked on the shaft itself, and needed photos and
measurements of the UJ caps in order to identify them !  Good job we hadn't fitted that front skid plate yet !!!    Eventually we got the measurements John needed and the day before I took Gidget to the port, the spares arrived and I was able to fit them in the underfloor storage box !

Preparing the guards for painting
The day after we had done the oil changes etc at CCC, I was back at Andrew's to paint the front wings, which have been in primer grey for some 9 months as we kept cutting sections out of the wings so the tyres didn't rub.  By this time the weather had turned wet again, so we decided to prepare the wings and then leave the car at Andrew's overnight so everything would be dry and ready to paint the next day.  Unfortunately Andrew's son ended up in hospital overnight, so we only got half the prep done. It therefore
All one colour at last
needed almost a full day to prep the wings fully, sand them back, add base coat, and finally top coat - Time was slipping away, and by the time we were finished, I was starting to really feel the pressure.  The job was of course done really well by Andrew, and the colour match almost perfect, but I now only had 3 days left !

Sharpening tent pegs

Our tents came with pretty flimsy pegs, and Ashton had wisely suggested I purchase some stronger ones.  Unfortunately these came with flat ends, which are always a PITA to get into hard ground, so I ground points on all 26 pegs, plus 4 spares !!  Again, just another time consuming item !!  I also managed to change the rather garish lime green covering of the internal armrest to a black one that Ashton had found in his garage and instructed me to fit !!

Spare wheel packed !
We are not permitted to have any stuff in the cabins of the cars for shipment, so I had to try and fit everything that we plan to store inside the roll cage in the boot somewhere.  Since the small boot was already full of "boot stuff", (and remember we have a bigger spare wheel and an extra 8 gallon fuel tank in there), this took some working out via a lot of time consuming trial and error.  Eventually I got our folding bucket (yes !), 2 easy chairs (yes !), and two of the small soft tool bags inside the spare wheel, before carefully sliding it into place and strapping it in.  Behind and to
Boot filling up
the sides of the wheel I have managed to fit and strap in place inner tubes, spare water pump, and several other awkwardly shaped items that would not fit into the below-floor storage boxes yet were items that were on the "only needed in emergency" list. The tents and first aid kit squished into the boot, and the boot lid was still (just) able to be closed.

Foam on front skid plate
It was then back to CCC to fit the front skid plate, (including
foam between it and the sump), grind off the rear axle U bolt tails, and install a flap over the diff hole.  This last was a difficult one - There is a hole in the rear skid plate to enable the diff to drop though when it is on full droop - Under normal running the diff is above the skid plate, 
Diff hole cover
However we had found that in Alice, when there is a high ridge down the centre of a dirt trail, the rear edge of this hole in the plate acts like a scoop, shooting dust, dirt, and a lot of spinifex grass up into the back cavity, from where it is only removable by taking off the skid plate ! So we purchased some rally mud flap materail, Andrew made up a bracket to sandwich the flap inside in front of the diff, and the plan was to tuck the flap in at the back of the diff hole.  It was all installed, and we will have to wait till we get to Mongolia to find out whether it works !

Austin Healey decals
That evening Craig Devine come over again for a beer and to deliver some more stickers - This time just one that says "1954 Austin Healey 100".  We have been advised that in many places en route, the interest in the cars from the public will be extreme, and to avoid too many repetitive questions, we print the model year and type of car on the bonnet.  So we have done this, but Craig couldn't help himself (everyone is getting so personally on-board with the whole Peking to Paris project !) and made some decals up that were exact replica's of the original Austin Healey badge.  Unfortunately he had made them up saying "100/4", and as I now know, the car is NOT a "100/4" - It is just a "100".   It
Bigger rear view mirror
only got called a "100/4" after the 6 cylinder car was introduced, purely in order to differentiate, but officially it is called a "100".  So he had quickly made up some correct ones that just said "100" !! And over the beer, he recommended we carry a spare stick-on rear view mirror because he knows from experience that they tend to come un-stuck, land on the gear lever, which then breaks the glass !  So the next morning a visit to Supercheap found us with not only a spare mirror, but one that is slightly larger, which should please the driver !

Oil temp guage works at last
With the front skid plate installed, I was then able to install the small piece of grill that I had made up
Lower radiator grill
to cover the open area between the front edge of the skid plate and the lower edge of the front valence.  Potentially an opening not only for water ingress through river crossings, this grill will provide support behind a canvas cover we are making that will fit over the radiator grill and down to the skid plate.  Hopefully this will minimise the amount of water able to flow directly into the engine bay.  Additionally, under normal running, I realised that the gap between the skid plate and the bottom of the front valence could also be letting small stones etc in, and these are the ones that are liable to get caught in between the sump and the skid plate, where they can abrade the sump itself.  We have inserted a thin strip of foam between the skid plate and the sump, so hopefully this would prevent this happening, but the addition of this grill across the front will hopefully provided additional security.

Using the spinner spanner
One day left, and finally the breaker bar for the spinner spanner arrives !  The metre long breaker bar that we had originally planned on turned out to be not only very heavy, but also just too long and cumbersome to fit in the boot !   So we agreed to get the next size down, 630 mm, and to also buy a cheater bar that would fit over the breaker bar handle for storage, yet give us the extra leverage if required.  After running around the Gold Coast to find a suitable steel pipe outlet that could give us what we needed, I finally found some, and for $10 cash I had a cheater bar.  It needed a little fettling to remove any sharp edges off the end, and then I was ready for a first test of the spinner spanner.  The wheels were last tightened in Sydney with a hammer, and I had driven up 950 kms, so presumably they were tight enough.   So first I tried without the cheater bar - and with just the leverage of the 630 mm breaker bar, was just able to undo the spinner.   How good is that ?  No hammering, just a quick turn of the spinner spanner ! Brilliant.  While I was in the wheel arch, I double checked the fluid volume in the rear dampers (which do weep slightly), and managed to get a few cc's into each.  I also checked tyre rubber marks inside the arch because now the car is almost fully loaded, I am starting to hear a few "chirps" when the suspension compresses hard.  It seems to be just the tyre contacting the inner arch itself, so is on a flat area, and not a sharp edge.  I checked the tyre condition all over and could see no evidence of undue wear or rubbing.   Once both rear wheels were retightened, the spinner spanner and breaker bar (with cheater bar) fitted in to the side of the boot.  Once we get all the camping gear out of the boot and back into the roll cage, we will have to find a better spot for these long and fairly heavy bars - Hopefully they will velcro to one of the rear braces of the roll cage.
All packed and ready to go

By Tuesday eveing, I think I was done.  Checking all the benches didn't show up anything major that I had left out.  I just couldn't believe it was all done.  It was time for a beer and some supper !

Setting off from home
Next morning, Wednesday 27th March, (D for Delivery Day)  dawned overcast and drizzly - As they had predicted, and for once, unfortunately, they had got it correct ! After making sure that everything was completely dry after the trip to Sydney, I now had to go out and risk everything getting damp again !   Not much I could do about it.  So after a quick farewell lap around the block, I set off to Brisbane in the rain, which got heavier and heavier as we went north.  An hour later I arrived at the forwarders, and after a brief delay, followed the 3 other cars into the dry shelter of the warehouse .  Rod Wade's 1930 Model A Ford was already
In the warehouse at the port
there - He had trucked it up a couple of days previously.  Now Gidget was joined by John & Marion Crighton's 1972 MGB GT, David and Stephen Gainer's 1972 Datsun 240Z, and John Young and Kerry Finn's 1974 Peugeot 504.   We spent half an hour with chamois' trying to dry the cars off as much as we could, because if they go into the containers wet, they are quickly going to suffer from severe mildew as they pass through the equatorial tropics and spend time in transhipment in Singapore.  We have requested extra dessicant bags are put inside the cars as well as the containers, and just have to hope that this will be enough.   We will find out on May 31st when we pick up Gidget from the docks in Beijing !!

Now it is time for paperwork, visas, injections, insurances, and trying to think of all the items we have forgotten !  My list is already growing !    Stay with us on this blog, because we will continue through the event until we reach Paris.  Of course we will also be on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/austin.healey.73113   or search for "Gidget Austin Healey" in facebook.  Additionally, we expect to shortly have the details of a link to our SPOT tracker, which will enable anyone to log on and see where we are during the rally. Apparently a "ping" is sent every 30 seconds or so from the unit mounted in the rear window of Gidget, so anyone can see our location.  If the "dot" is moving, we are OK, and if it is stationary, then we are either asleep or working on the car !    But a great way for everyone to stay in touch with us.
Thanks for putting up with my rambling during the last 2 years of the rebuild - Stay with us now for the main event !!

Rest of the pics are here :-    https://photos.app.goo.gl/Thjw4kXgtmTk5xub8


  1. Olivier Verhulst4 April 2019 at 01:24

    Congratulations on getting the car ready to be shipped! Really exciting & entertaining to read your updates and looking forward to following you guys on the real adventure. Hope to catch a glimpse of you and the P2P when you pass Belgium near the end of the rally and dreaming I'll be able to join myself one day...

    1. Hi Olivier, thank you for your kind thoughts - we really appreciate the support this provides, and look forward to seeing you in Belgium - our last night of the rally is in Ypres, so if you can find us there, please come and say hello!
      Best regards,
      Ashton (and Giles and Gidget!)

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Ashton & Giles welcome any visitors, support, and comments as we prepare for our Adventure !