Coming home, the trip home was mostly in very heavy rain, no real problem apart from the bloody vacuum windscreen wiper and flood waters blocking the highway near Bomaderry.
To the amazement AND the cheers of other flood bound motorists 'Esme,' along with a couple of trucks and 4wd's was the only conventional car to get through for several hours that day nosing steadily and unfazed in low gear through a lengthy stretch of swirling muddy water which was level with, and at times flowing across Her running boards.
All I had needed to do to make it through was to close the radiator shutters and remove the fan belt to curb the risk of the fan picking up water and drowning the ignition. When I pulled over on the northern side of the flood to refit the fan belt, the stranded motorists who'd witnessed Her progress gathered around to admire 'Esme' and heap praise on her.
One loud mouthed blokes fruity comment really stood out and I will quote it here verbatim but to protect the sensibilities of the Ladies and gentler souls, I will change a word or two.
As he sauntered over he bellowed on top note., “Ahh mate., Love yer Model A!...Takes a Henry to do it!”
And then, before I could set him straight, he peered at the radiator before exclaiming in amazement for all to hear... “Excrete a piece of masonry, A furshlugginar old gutless wonder! Well I'll be conscropulated...who'da thought it., ...Still a freenbean good old job though., Beauty, mate!”
A lovely man. But anyway, I've never been prouder of our Essex as I was at that moment.
She has transported several blushing brides over the years, free of charge.
Each of these young Ladies had all requested 'Esme' simply because they liked Her angular style, antiquity and character, which is precisely what I had seen in Uncle Jacks Essex all those years ago.
For the same reasons She was chosen in October 2011 to work with me on “The Great Gatsby” alongside our 1930 Chev and 1917 Dodge Coupes and She performed faultlessly throughout. 'Esme' is easily identifiable in The New York street scenes. After the “Gatsby” She didn't see a great deal of use as Her clutch was beginning to fail.
Gone was the sparkling acceleration that I once thrilled to ( sarcasm here ) and most disturbingly, cyclists could now overtake Her effortlessly without having to rise from their saddles and strain to do so. Thirty mph was now top speed, downhill. A cheeky, snotty nosed four year old son of a neighbour would often attempt to race me to the corner on his dinky whenever I ventured out in 'Esme' but now the rotten little brat was thrashing me, even when I had a good head start.
Finally, and just before the battery surrendered She started but just barely ran., I managed to coax Her home (almost) but She expired within sight of my garage and nothing, including a few good whiffs of 'start ya bastard' and a tow around the block with the clutch engaged in second gear would bring Her back to life.
With the help of some of my stronger neighbours we managed to manhandle her uphill with great difficulty and lodge Her safely under cover. For twenty years I had kept a good supply of hard to get spare points sets and it was at this time that I discovered that I was down to the last. I never toss out the old ones, keeping them as 'get you homes,' so using these I
cobbled a workable set together but still to no avail. Though there was a reasonable spark and plenty of juice there was no way the old donk would start.
Weeks had passed and I had tried every possible trick in the book short of stripping the engine down which I was loath to do and kept in reserve as the last resort. We had been approached by Angelina Jolie’s company in regard to 'Esme' appearing in her movie, ”Unbroken,” which was due to be filmed in Sydney, and I knew that once I started a complete overhaul, time could become a critical factor and all bets would be off. There was no other option left however and thirty minutes later I had the head off to reveal that the head gasket, five exhaust and three inlet valves had gone to God and the remainder were in very poor condition.
With all the new and reconditioned parts coming together it seemed to be just about all over bar the shouting but I hadn't reckoned on just what a rotten swine of a job it can be to re install the valves in an Essex Super Six.
Accessibility is no cake walk with the permanent placement of the inlet manifold, which is cast en bloc, and the inconvenient position of the steering box doesn't help., A garden variety valve spring compressor is virtually useless and the job is not made any easier by the valve housing gallery itself which apart from its awkward position is relatively small. Removing the valves isn't too difficult and I reckoned that whatever comes out, must surely fit back in. Simple logic but forget it.
Once again I dug deep into my Dads old tools and discovered that I had no less than five different valve spring compressors to choose from, each dating from the 1920s'30s'. “Problem solved.” I thought., “One of these beauties must be compatible.” Wrong, Dennis. Two came close but rendered installing the collets impossible by completely shielding the lower end of the valve stem from both view or fingertip, no matter what approach was taken.
I briefly contemplated joining
the hot rodding fraternity by dropping a Holden unit back in and I was beginning to understand why I would often hear Dad mutter dark oaths whenever Uncle Jack brought his Essex to him for repairs. Across many frustrating hours I had only managed to successfully fit two valves at the cost of badly pinched and blood blistered fingers, torn knuckles, sore
knees, elevated blood pressure and I'd learnt to swear fluently, all over again, scandalising anyone who dared venture within earshot of my garage.
It got worse. I began eyeing off and salivating over twenty year old Daihatsu Charades!! Horrified by this development Lorraine realized that I was a very troubled man. She was concerned enough to consider calling on Tony Atkinson or Fred Rodgers to come over and kick some sense back into me. Off my own bat I decided to close the garage door on the Essex for a few days and cool down, and to this end I considered an offer from a Herpetologist friend of a relaxing session of milking angry tiger snakes.
When I griped about the
trouble I was having he invited me to his home in Georges Hall where he showed me a Valve spring compressing tool he had invented for this very contingency.
Geoff has always been an avid enthusiast of British and European cars as opposed to my interest in American makes., As a result there have been countless spirited debates between us spanning
our sixty year friendship each liberally sprinkled with good natured insults.
Grinning broadly and needling me with his typically dry, laconic humor Geoff handed me his absurdly simple tool..... “Here Dennis., Take it home and try it on your Yankee black iron, Your Essex sickly six, 'bet it works.” As I reached Geoffs front gate he was still in fine form, calling from his front porch... “You know Dennis, there's always a gallon of petrol and a match...” (I didn't rise to the bait).
I think that I have worked out why we blokes can tend to view our old cars as living entities and to personalise them, sometimes bestowing upon them, feminine names.
“She can be a delight to the eye.,
A stunning beauty that stirs the blood and excites the senses merely standing at the curb.
Age does not dim the attraction either but rather, enhances it.
The deep satisfaction in running your hand lovingly over Her shapely body,
Is never diminished by the frequency of the act and the throaty sound of Her voice is music to the ear.”
She can be the most frustrating b***h of a thing,
the cruellest mistress to cross your path when all of your coaxing and
cajoling are only met with a cold, stony indifferent silence that can only be broken by the expenditure of vast sums of
money together with your undivided attention.
Even so, fools that we are, we will always forgive Her,
feed Her hungers and remain Her subservient slave.
I rest my case.
Dennis Ballard, (hopeless Essex addict)
Found in the The Hudson Hub – May - June 2015
Hudson AMC Car Club of Australia
The Official Publication of The Hudson-AMC Car Club of Australia Incorporated
PO Box 2123 North Parramatta NSW 1750