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You’ll never make it with that piece of junk

Rosie the Peugeot 504 – what happened next

21/06/2013 08:23 |  Comments: 

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Former car restorer, damper designer, rotary-engine guru and also an automotive engineer, but generally doesn’t talk much about his former activities. András is our mag’s Leatherman tool: when there’s a project no-one would poke with a stick, he’s the one usually assigned to carry it through. When he’s in Hungary, he works 16 hours daily, then every once in a while he disappears from the horizon. Last time he’s been seen in Auckland… Has a huge garage, lives with a girlfriend.

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What a day! I'm checking out my new ride. I hope it won't disappoint me. After all, it's a 40 year old Peugeot, so what can go wrong?

I immediately felt sorry for her, as I recognized her in the bush next to the side road. She's not too ugly. Looks almost like a car. Compared to what I remembered, she's quite all right. Maybe I should expect a horrible wreck every time I go buying a car, then I'd be delighted to see even a half-dead zombie.

This is the story how I brought home my Peugeot 504, bought on the telephone. If you're curious how I got to know Rosie, don't miss the first part .

There are numerous spots where the thick paint and putty is peeling off, but I can't see any huge holes. The interior is not very tasteful, but it used to be blue once and the carpet plus the door panels are still original and in good shape. I quickly start a list in my head beginning with a dash and seats; from there I proceed to the engine bay. There it is, the good old XD2 engine, topped with a frightening, big blue Bosch-glow plug relay, and some jelly in the transparent fuel filter. “Furnace oil from the power-plant,” the guy delegated to sell the car informs us, so we skip this part and hang the feeding pipe directly into the fuel can we brought with us.

Meanwhile my friend Imi, whom I asked to come and stop me from doing stupid things like buying a corpse, gets the carpets out: underneath, the floor-pan seems to be okay. We find out that there is a home-made tank in the back of the car - the Serbian border is close and fuel is cheaper there - and that my extra thick jump start cable is not enough to get her running. After half a minute we have her towed around the farm through some hens, followed by a sheep dog, and on the main road we release the clutch.

At first I thought it'd be a good sign to see the 504 sideways behind me, hanging on the towing rope, because that means it has some compression in the engine. But after three rounds of towing, when the cylinder head was already lukewarm and there was still no sign of combustion, I got suspicious. We verified that the fresh fuel was getting to the injectors, nevertheless somehow she didn't want to start running.

After half an hour and some collective thinking we finally opened the injection pump. It was empty so we poured in some fuel. Lo and behold, Rosie started to spit and shiver, developing huge amounts of blue smoke, then after a few seconds she stopped again. Repetition brought the same result, which was a clear sign that the injection pump is not sucking the fuel - possibly the blades of the delivery pump are stuck.

I remembered the words in running order which I've heard so many times in connection with Rosie, but then I cleared my mind — overhauling the injection pump is an afternoon's routine job for me, this minor problem shouldn't stop me from buying. It was clear that I had to come back with a very good plan to get her to Budapest, my home town, which was about 200 kilometres away, but that was no surprise.

I consulted Imi, the Wise who didn't consider me a fool for being here in late November, but he didn't talk me out of it. He thought the ride is ready for Africa, which was not a requirement, but I took it as encouragement and sealed the deal.

I'd be lying if I said that I was at one with the world after signing the contract. But it was a tremendous relief. On the way home my blood was still rushing. At home, with great pleasure I deleted the ad hunters and all the checked 504s around Europe on my computer. It had been a long time since I bought a car. I knew this one was going to be painful, but I didn't mind, the euphoria was huge.

***

What a great triumph it'd be if she made it home under her own steam – I couldn't think about anything else the whole week after buying Rosie. After all, she was running for a few seconds, the brakes were great, the steering worked. There had to be a way of getting the engine work. Since coming home from the blind date I was contemplating on what tools I'd need to repair her on site. A tow truck was out of question, because the transport would have cost as much as the car, but towing her with a rope all the way to Budapest didn't seem like a fun solution, either. I had to find a more clever way.

There shouldn't be a problem with the police if a temporary permit is issued for the car – a routine solution around here – but I had to fix the injection pump problem. Independently of Imi I came to the same conclusion as he did: if the bastard doesn't suck the fuel then we would pump it in. While I was worrying about the electric pump, the pressure and the back-bleeding, Imi, who virtually talked me into the Peugeot (that's the story I'm going to tell later on if it turns out to be a huge mistake), had put the equipment together in his garage. A Daihatsu fuel pump, some speaker wires and a coolant pipe was all he needed, and a considerable amount of silicone sealant. On a cloudy November night he handed over that piece of modern artwork and bid me farewell.

Of course I couldn't leave the promising base construction like that and completed it with a pre-filter and a pressure gauge, then put the whole thing into a thoroughly cleaned oil can which I intended to use as a fuel tank on the way home. I hope you can follow me even if you're not educated in diesel engine theory for some reason. If not, trust me, it's not a standard procedure to get an engine running with the electric fuel pump of a petrol car, hung into a 5 litre can. But it could help us to get Rosie home without expensive assistance. If you should ask me if I knew of anyone who had tried something like this, I'd say: ”Are you crazy? No!”

Nevertheless, we started off with infinite confidence, but threw a towing rope into the boot, just in case. Rosie accepted the infusion bag with such overwhelming pleasure that she zoomed off with the fully charged battery. No pushing, no towing, just with a turn of the key. Yeah, she produced some thick blue smoke like a two-stroke engine, but even worse she didn't react to the accelerator at all. When we switched on the fuel pump she revved up and when we disconnected the wire, she stalled.

I was scratching my stubble thinking about the cause of all that, but Mark, who came along to help, already had the wires in the cockpit. He explained with a stoic expression that we could switch the pump on and off from the driver's seat. If it works, we can fabricate a contact at the accelerator pedal. First I was scared stiff of the idea, but if we hadn't tried it, the injection pump would never have fixed itself. When we reached the main road, the accelerator was already fully functional.

It was euphoria in its purest form when I realised that I was driving the first metres with my very own 504. Who cares about the blown exhaust? The clutch is good, the engine is running, the steering works. Incredible! We were rolling back to the toolbox, electrified by the pleasure, fixed the oil canister behind the left headlight and started our journey home right away.

We managed to drive about 3 kilometres before the engine suddenly lost all its power. Mark who was driving behind us knew immediately that something must have happened, because thick blue smoke was coming out of the exhaust again. After pulling over to the hard shoulder and opening the bonnet the problem was obvious. The small fuel filter that I had precariously installed was clogged and crushed by the pressure of the pump, stopping the fuel flow. Not having a spare one, we had to continue without a filter and hope that we could get one at the next petrol station.

The Sunday, which we expected to be quite adventurous, started off so smoothly that we decided to run a few extra errands. I called the scrapyard about 10 kilometres away where they had another blue, diesel 504 rusting. I admit I had high hopes for this find, because I had found out earlier on the phone that the interior was blue and the scrappie thought it had no headrests. From this bit of information and the year 1974 stated in the 504's description I speculated that I would find the old-style seats with the flush-mounted headrests and maybe even a three-dial dash I was so desperate to get.

We had the scrapyard opened by the watchman, but our triumphant procession came to an abrupt halt. It turned out that a torso of a last-generation 504 was collecting dust among other unimpressive wrecks, and this one didn't have the interior I was looking for. But I managed to get three quite good hubcaps, a spotless rear-view mirror to replace the ugly plastic one and a pair of window mechanisms. Necessary items since Rosie had electric windows upfront and I can't stand those unreliable motors which move the windows with the speed of the rising sun.

I could bath all day long in such a sea of rusty wrecks, but the watchman had to close the scrapyard. Anyway, we wanted to get home before sunset, although we had great faith in Rosie who had already done 10 kilometres with just one minor problem.

We probably went a further 20 kilometres on the way home when we were finally lucky enough to get a fuel filter at a petrol station, meanwhile however, the heavily turning starter motor informed us that the alternator wasn't working. So we sadly had to use the tow rope to bump-start the Peugeot, and from then on we were saving as much energy as we could, hoping that we'd get home before the battery ran flat. Luckily there aren't many electric gadgets in such an old-fashioned diesel vehicle, so the new, swiftly installed instrument – the multimeter – showed a slow decrease of volts.

As we absorbed the kilometres on the way home, at dusk we closed up in on the safety car in front of us. In the glimmering lights of the dashboard, the sweet feeling of satisfaction started to spread in my body. I was watching the top of the bonnet from the inside, forming knitted eyebrows, enjoying the moonlight through the sunroof which we had to open because of the hen-house smell in the car, my girlfriend gave me the sandwiches from the passenger seat and I had a very special feeling that I had been missing for a long time.

It's hard to tell why. I was steering a wreck which was slurping diesel from an oil canister, freezing in a coat because the heating was so weak and waiting for the moment when the shut-off valve closed because there wasn't enough voltage any more. I knew, I had been longing for this car for years and today we finally succeeded in getting her running, but I'd like to think that the 504 has a special ambience.

The leasurely pace on the B-road, the huge windows, the French gracefulness emitted by all the parts of this Peugeot made it a unique experience, even in this shameful state. I wished this feeling of being independent of the world's events would stay for a long time - the knowledge that this car doesn't belong here, and the ones driving it are just enjoying the scenery being dragged along by a string outside.

My daydream was interrupted by a roundabout close to our destination where I switched off the lights while searching for the indicator on the left hand side. Of course, the indicator switch is on the right hand side in the 504. I had to smile because of this originality; in 1968, when the car was designed, there were no exact standards for the controls. Leering at the multimeter I could just read 9 volts, but the Peugeot was still running. It should make those final kilometres.

Probably our crossed fingers helped, we would never know, but at around 7 volts we eventually reached Budapest, sticking to the taillights of my old Audi. We charged the battery at Mark's home, holding cups of tea in our hands, imagining the glorious future of Rosie. We had good reasons to do so – let's not underestimate the fact that she had done 200 kilometres that day. Luckily she's such a patchwork of shabby, inappropriate parts that the idea of restoration is out of question. Nobody would say she should be saved. So, I won't take her apart, replace all the nuts and bolts, clean the bits and pieces, collect all the original parts. I won't repair every rusty spot either, just to reach a state when I only dare to use her on sunny Sundays. It's a tempting prospect, but if I had wanted a perfect classic car, it would have been much wiser to buy a good one.

This one – drives. And I don't expect much more from her. I'd love to have a nice, inviting interior, but not necessarily a mint-condition car which is 101% original. I'll fix all the mechanical things; that's inevitable for a daily driver, but the body will only get so much attention that the kids won't be frightened by the sight of her. I know this is blasphemy but all I want is a runaround that I enjoy driving. It's not my fault that it's a 40 year old classic.

We'll see what the future brings. For now, with one battery charge we managed to cross Budapest in sweet harmony and she has reached her temporary home. I'll collect some parts and get her to my garage for a first date. It wouldn't be gentleman-like to want everything at once. Let's get an MOT and drive around a bit. Then we shall live happily ever after. But that rarely happens, as you know.

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