Past Events
May Bank Holiday Weekend - Skipton - 2nd-4th May 2014

Chasin' the Haggis 2014

By the middle of May I was confident that my Healey 100, GSK 116, was fully fit and ready for 1500 or so miles in Scotland on the annual "Chasin' The Haggis" rally. On last year's event GSK had an argument with a Vauxhall Corsa that curtailed our rally and thwarted our plans to carry on together to Crieff and the Euro Healey Meet. I wrote about that in the September issue of Rev Counter and at the time of writing that article my nominated repairer, Paul Grogan at the Northern Healey Centre, had just agreed with my insurers the cost of the necessary repairs that included the contentious element of a complete bare metal re-spray that I considered essential to ensure that my car would not be two shades of Reno Red in a year or two's time. For a relatively low speed accident the extent of the damage was horrendous. Under the damaged panels the whole front end of the chassis was bent away from the scene of the accident making it necessary to cut off everything forward of the bulkhead. Thereafter, on completion of the building of the new front end, the remainder of the car would have to be stripped to bare metal in preparation for re-painting. Paul discussed with me work elements that would be considered as enhancement and would not therefore be included in the insurance company payout. Having funded a complete rebuild after a trip around South America in 2005 and a further respray in 2013 I was loathe to commit more funds to GSK but had to agree that certain elements of the list of enhancements just had to be done. The engine, gearbox and overdrive needed painting whilst out of the car and the undamaged "black" bits of the suspension and transmission had to be spruced up as well. Agreement was reached and Northern Healey proceeded to strip the car and rebuild the front end. Then, progressing to towards the rear of the car, Paul decided that it was easier and more cost-effective for him to completely strip the interior and remove the rear axle and suspension; all very definitely in my favour and ensuring a better quality job. The rear was then prepared for painting and a major problem was exposed. I have in the past had several conversations with Paul and with other Healey owners about the advisability of having the cars waxoyled. Most owners are definitely in favour but Paul has always been firmly convinced that Healeys should not be so treated, arguing that the coatings do not actually enhance the longevity of a well-restored car providing that regular inspections are made and any necessary remedial repairs so revealed are carried out. His argument was and still is convincing, especially in the light of my experiences with GSK throughout my ownership, yet I, stupidly as I now know, still went ahead and had her professionally treated with Dimotrol products in 2008. When paint was applied to the boot interior and the rear wings it immediately bubbled around the panel seams, rejected by the protective chemicals that had proved impossible to remove. Paul called me in, we discussed the alternatives and decided that there weren't any; all the panels had to be removed and the car ended up a bare chassis on a spinner - a complete re-build!! I convinced myself that it was all for the best, which of course it was because I have ended up with a brand new car, and the cost to me, over and above the insurance company's major contribution, was actually quite reasonable. On collecting the car for my first drive after the re-build I told Paul that he will not be seeing me again. GSK has had more than her fair share of my limited resources and I do not intend for her to require any more r & r (repairs and restoration) on my watch. But of course that cannot be guaranteed because I will continue to drive her as much as possible, probably too much, and fair wear and tear is unavoidable. Suffice it to say that the quality of the re-build ensures that GSK has retained her basic value and the rise in values in the classic car marketplace will hopefully help fund the frequent trips and extensive use, albeit in the long-term.

After completing some 400 miles around the Yorkshire Dales on the Northern Centre May Bank Holiday Weekend event at Coniston Cold, Skipton and making a couple of return trips to Northern Healey to have several inevitable post-rebuild niggles sorted out, I was happy that GSK would deliver us safely to our favourite Scotland again. On a pleasant Thursday morning we set off into the borders, visiting Dawyck Botanic Gardens near Peebles before heading through the outskirts of Glasgow to Balfron and the home of regular "Chasers" Ian and Joan Walker. They had invited us to stay overnight and we enjoyed an evening with them and their friends Tony and Eda Davey, fellow residents of Balfron and second-time Haggis Chasers. In the morning the weather was fine and we had the views of the Fintry Hills that we had hoped for. On at least one previous occasion they had been obscured by the mist and rain, not the best start for a rally around Scotland, but on this day the conditions were perfect as we drove to the start at the Loch Lomond Arms in the picturesque little village of Luss. Over the traditional bacon and sausage buttes we renewed our friendships for this the seventeenth consecutive running of the rally, all organised by Clerk of the Course "Sir" Donald Gordon and Secretary Joyce Sinclair. Of the twelve entrants on the first event, Galloway to Caithness, six have gone on to attend every year since. Pam and I missed out on the first six rallies but were lucky to pick up a cancellation for the 2004 "Callander to Cuillins" event and have managed to maintain our participation since. Soon we were flagged off into the morning sun and Sir Donald had arranged a celebrity send-off as the starter waving the flag was Sir Malcolm Colquhoun, 9th Baronet of Luss and Chief of the Clan of Colquhoun. I think he heard of our proposed start from his hotel and, as a classic car buff, had decided to honour us with his presence. We thank him for that. A lovely drive ensued that took us northwards along Loch Lomond to Tarbert, over the Rest and Be Thankful to Loch Fyne and Inverary, westwards along the shore of Loch Fyne to Lochgilphead, and northwards on the Argyll Coastal Route to our first lunch stop at Castle Stalker near Appin. Passing the Crinnan Canal Pam and I stopped for morning coffee and on re-joining the main road and our route north Pam noticed a hair on GSK's windscreen. Of course it wasn't a hair! It was the start of a crack that grew ever bigger of over the next few days of our trip. I mused that the windscreen was probably one of the only parts that was removed and returned to the car untouched during the rebuild but, of course, the tension is critical and difficult to get right first time without adjustment. GSK was probably due a pristine, un-pockmarked screen anyway. After lunch we continued northwards towards Fort William, taking a loop around Kinlochleven, and then, a first for Pam and I, we took the Corran Ferry across Loch Linnhe on a circuit through Sunart and Moidart before returning along the A830, the Mallaig Road, to our overnight accommodation at the Moorings Hotel, Banavie just outside Fort William. As we drove through Strontian the sky darkened, the weather changed dramatically and we stopped to erect GSK's hood before driving to the day's finish in ever worsening conditions, glad when we arrived to get out of the rain and into the warm of the hotel.

The following morning dawned much brighter. I joined several of the Chasers fettling cars in the car park and jacked up GSK to access the brake master cylinder and fix a slight problem. On an early test run after the rebuild the brake pedal had gone hard, refusing to readily return to rest and binding the brakes on. This had happened again on the Skipton weekend and Chris Davis, Eastern Centre's local mechanic of choice, had advised me of the solution to a similar problem experienced by Dave Haslam with his 100. The fix was hopefully to slacken the brake master cylinder push rod and introduce a slight amount of play. It had worked for Dave and it worked for me in Skipton and again in Scotland. On a later trip to Europe in July the problem recurred, probably due to the hotter temperatures experienced, and I slackened the rod just a little bit more. I think the problem is totally cured now; fingers crossed!! The crack in the windscreen had grown a little but was not in my line of sight and would not be dangerous; likely to last until a more suitable time to arrange a replacement. The car park at the Moorings Hotel proved not to be a place to linger on that morning as the midges were out in force and biting for fun. May is a little early for midges, even in the Highlands, but I think the exceptionally mild winter and spring weather had brought them into season much earlier than usual. I, like many others, strolled up the series of the Banavie Locks next to the hotel on the Caledonian Canal. The eight locks are collectively known as Neptune's Staircase, the longest lock staircase in GB, and are well worth a look if you are in the vicinity. On that day there were preparations being made for a waterway festival but we couldn't of course stay; we were due off and driving northwards on the next stage of our rally.

In pleasant morning weather we drove north-east following the Caledonian Canal along the shore of Lock Locky to Invergarry before turning north-west to follow the A87, the road to the Isles. Depending on how much traffic one encounters this can be one of the best roads for Healeys in the world. It sweeps by Cluanie Dam and then descends for several miles past the Five Sisters mountains of Kintail and Glen Shiel. Unfortunately there was as usual a little too much traffic to behave like a hooligan so we settled down into a more relaxed driving mode and enjoyed the wonderful views before stopping for coffee at the Kintail Lodge Hotel at Shiel Bridge. After coffee the route took us by Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Duich and northeast through Strathcarron and Achnasheen before turning north-west on the A832 to our lunch stop at Kinlochewe Hotel. There we received a very warm welcome from the landlord and, after lunch, we were reluctant to leave the warmth of the bar as the weather changed to wet and unpleasant again. From Kinlochewe our afternoon route took us in a loop on the A832 around Wester Ross, back through Garve and Contin on the A835, and then north-eastwards through Dingwall to Tain on the Dornoch Firth and our hotel for the next two nights, the Morangie House Hotel.

On Sunday I'm not sure whether the majority of the Chasers were pleased or disappointed when we learned that the day's proceedings would not include a visit to the Little Ferry Karting Circuit at Golspie. On several previous events we have enjoyed "track day lappery" on that lovely little karting circuit that is surprisingly well suited to Healey Hooliganism, but this time it was not to be as we headed northwest on the A836, A837 and A838 roads to our lunch stop at Kylescu. Pam swapped her seat in GSK with Ian Walker, preferring to drive with Joan in her drop-head Mercedes sports (Joan and Ian's transport this year because Ian still hasn't completed his rally-replica Healey - next year he says; a promise he promises will not be broken!!) and, after a stop for a photo opportunity at a wayside old-style AA box, Ian took over the wheel of GSK for a time. Somewhere approaching Loch Assynt we caught up with several of our cars stopped in a lay-by for coffee being served by Alasdair Reid from supplies in his boot. We were ahead of our time schedule so from there several cars took a circuit of the Assynt Penisula whilst other of the lads swapped cars and took test drives for a while. Alasdair offered me a drive in his rally-replica 3000. He must have been reasonable confident in my driving skills because he left Lynn firmly ensconced in the passenger seat. Alternatively he left her there to make sure I didn't misbehave. He went with Ian in GSK and we all made our way the Kylescu Hotel. I'm not sure what Ian and Alasdair thought of their drives in GSK. For them, both rally-replica 3000 pilots, it would have been a very different driving experience. I felt that everything was much more taught in the 3000 and that I wouldn't get a real flavour of the experience without taking it to speeds I would not be prepared to risk on a public road, without previous experience of the car, and with the owner's nearest and dearest beside me. Suffice it to say it was completely different from GSK.

At the Kylescu Hotel we whiled away some time by the slipway that once accommodated the ferry across the Kyles between Kylescu and Kylestrome before the comparatively new road bridge was built in 1984. I then recalled that a news item on national television and on the One Show the previous week had concerned the retirement of the oldest and longest-serving post mistress in the UK from the Kylescu Post Office. Low and behold she duly appeared with, I assume, her husband from the house with what I assumed to be the timber post office/shed in it's garden. They were both immaculately dressed, presumably going to church, and got into a brand new bright-metallic blue Vauxhall Corsa with fancy alloy wheels. I briefly congratulated her on her on her retirement and she told us of the many hundreds of cards she had received from well-wishers as a result of the television publicity. If she and her husband are typical of the inhabitants of the Highlands then they must be proof positive that there is something in the water and the lifestyle that gives them health and longevity. I do wonder whether her retirement would mark the end of the local post office service in that remote part of the world. Lunch at the Kylescu Hotel was good and we were reminded of their wonderful seafood menu that we had sampled when staying with them in their beautiful location a couple of years before.

The weather was now very pleasant as we began our final leg to the Glenmorangie finish. Initially we continued northwards to Laxford Bridge before returning south-eastwards along the shores of Lochs More and Shin through Lairg and Rogart to join the A9 and the short run south to Tain. Over the course of our evening dinner Ronnie Stevenson gave us his variation on the "Address to a Haggis", Joan Walker handed out awards to the winners of her rather difficult quizzes, and Donald Gordon and Joyce Sinclair distributed the finisher's awards to us all. Norman Murray then offered his thanks on our behalf to the organisers for another superb event but also gave us food for thought when he informed us that both Donald and Joyce wished to stand down from their organising roles after seventeen continuous years of effort. They had both agreed to commit to the 2015 event but were seeking volunteers to take over from 2016 on. That became the cause of a considerable amount of conjecture and it will be interesting to learn who the successors will be in due course. For the sassenachs amongst the Chasers Donald had prepared passports for us to keep just in case the "Yes" vote should win the day (at the time of writing the ballot is only just over a week away and I have to say that even I am feeling twitchy - I'm definitely on the side of the status quo and NO). They might just help if the borders are closed to us on our next visit. And so, after three short days, a wonderful event was over for another year.

The weather was bright the following morning as we headed homewards down the A9 stopping, as did everyone else it seemed, at the House of Bruar for coffee and a catch-up on retail therapy. Denis and Margaret Austin had suffered low oil pressure problems in the engine of their BJ8 and, having discussed their options with the mechanics amongst the Chasers, had concluded that their best option was to use their recovery service and trailer the car home. We passed them in a lay-by somewhere north of Perth where it seemed their driver was checking the security of the retaining straps. Everything looked fine but we later heard that they had to change tow-truck and trailer for the second half of their journey down to Cheshire and that their car's pristine bodywork was damaged somehow in the process of the transfer. I trust their service provider stood the cost of the repairs and that Denis's car is back up to par by now. I'm not sure what was the outcome of the oil pressure problem but hopefully that is now solved too.

Our homeward route took us over the Lammermuir Hills south of Edinburgh to stay with friends in Berwick on Tweed for a day before returning home. Bowling along through the borders near Jedburgh in perfect weather the following day GSK's engine died and we coasted to an enforced halt. The road we were on was long, straight, narrow and fast so we opted to push the car to safety into a pull-off in front of a row of houses, the only ones for miles around it seemed. Immediately we were confronted by a very grumpy and extremely abusive occupant of one of the houses who was obviously not used to strangers in his remote location and not a classic car buff. Completely taken aback, we pushed the car back out into the road and decided to call for assistance. Green Flag duly came, moved us to a position of safety, and then fitted a replacement fuel pump from the assortment of spares in my boot. The failed pump was a modern point-less model, not very old, so why it failed I haven't a clue. Perhaps next time I'll fit an old points model. At least one can usually coax them back to life with a hammer!! I must admit to feelings of guilt in having to seek help to fix such a simple problem but these days the necessary strength to push the car, flexibility to crawl underneath and access difficult places, and strength in the hands especially to locate and secure the banjos with the washers correctly intact, are just not what they used to be. Most of you I am sure will know what I mean. It's very definitely an age thing!

So, with almost 1800 miles on GSK's clock since the rebuild and with only relatively minor niggles arising, I now felt fully satisfied with the state of my "new" car. Fuel consumption was averaging 24mpg using mainly 97/98 ron petrol and oil consumption was minimal in both the engine and the transmission. In previous years I had achieved a couple of miles more mpg but the plugs, when removed, showed a perfect burn making me loathe to lean the mixture any further. There were still a couple of issues for Northern Healey to sort and a new windscreen was required so back to Castleford she went to return in finest fettle ready for our next workout together on a trip to St.Moritz and the British Classic Car Meeting and to Europe beyond in July.

Ivor Davies

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