On the road again!

It turns out that the knocking noise from the back axle was actually a problem with the torque tube. Many thanks to the Austin 7 community for all the advice, special “spasiba” to Alex Myall. It’s a job that neither Chris or Will had done before.

Well done Papa Vanya and Prince Harry’s doppelganger (according to the Russians!)

Last night in Krasnoyarsk, a view reminiscent of Paris in the middle of Siberia!

So, the plan was to drive to Tayshet. The team are a day behind schedule so are planning to do a few long days to catch up.

Plan for the day
Nice roads, nice weather
Great to have the reassurance that we are supported by the roadside assistance service! Thank you RAMC!

Unfortunately the bad weather caught up with the team, and with another 434kms travelled they stopped for the night at a roadside motel. They are delighted with the repair to the torque tube, no clanking at all!

Also at the motel are a group of young soldiers on a rally to Vladivostok in memory of the fallen.

This day also marks the 32nd time that the team have been pulled over by, without exception, friendly police officers.

Behind the scenes!

Lots going on away from the main action in Krasnoyarsk…

We’ve been issued with the required carnet in order to take the car to Japan, which is being delivered in the UK today. It was arranged in super quick time by CARS (Classic Automobile Relocation Services). Also arriving are the tickets for the opening ceremony of the rugby world cup (another reason for the journey!).

On Monday a delivery of 150 more badges should arrive, as all the ones we took to Russia have been given out, mainly to children and the police. They’ve also given out all the leaflets, important because they explain about the adventure in English, Russian and Japanese. Luckily we have plenty more in the UK.

Simon (part of the original team) has also very kindly loaned his spare dynamo.

Now we have a problem – how to get all this stuff to Russia??

Aha! Time to introduce the third co-pilot! Jude Zebedee is flying out to Russia early next week to join Chris for the last part of the drive across Russia. Luckily she lives near the West Somerset steam railway, so Helen and Arthur will combine a visit there (as soon as the badges arrive on Monday) with dropping off all the bits for Jude to take with her!

Her package, however, will not include Simon’s dynamo – it’s so heavy that she wouldn’t be able to take anything else in her flight bag! Chris and Will are quite happy using the two batteries and the charger anyway.

There are also lots of emails going back and forth from Japan – interest is already building there about the arrival of the challenge!

One of the reasons we are here

Krasnoyar U18 rugby team playing well! This club, in the middle of Russia, issued the invitation enabling us to apply for an extended 3 month visa.

Madejski stadium, Reading, 2018

We first met the president and the vice-president nearly two years ago at Madejski stadium in Reading when Krasnoyar played London Irish. We were there with our Austin 7 roadshow to spread the word about the challenge.

Austin 7 roadshow

The car was still a two-seater then, so Chris took turns to take them both for a ride! They were so supportive of the challenge that they kept in touch over the succeeding months leading up to the visa application. This was also the first giving of gifts that we experienced – something that we have since discovered is a very Russian trait. They gave us a Krasnoyar training shirt, and a (very prized) Vladimir Putin car air freshener…

The hospitality of the club now we are here has been fantastic. They arranged accomodation in the visitor section of the football club, a slap up lunch and supper, and garage time with one of their sponsors, the local Kia dealership.

Also including a photoshoot at the Kia garage!

Chris and Will used the garage facilities to fix the hole in the second petrol tank (that problem started in Finland) in preparation for some long distances between petrol stations. They also sorted out the front wheel bearing, and are today resolving an issue in the drive shaft – with advice from the ever-suppotive Austin 7 community back in the UK.

Krasnoyarsk! Half way across Russia!


It turns out that last night Viktor and his wife not only fed Chris and Will after the marathon session in the garage, but also put them up for the night. He then got up at the crack of dawn to take them back to the garage to collect the car (in his pyjamas).

Beautiful scenery

The longest drive of the journey so far – 500km…

They measure distance to travel in miles, and distance covered in kilometres – apparently it’s more palatable!

The dynamo is not causing any more problems, other than not charging, but with a spare battery and a charger there’s no immediate crisis.

Chris and Will have been suffering from watering mouths. They keep seeing enormous melons for sale by the road, but haven’t bought one because they are too big to carry. Imagine their delight when a lorry driver came over and gave them some slices – he was driving an artic lorry full of them!

I finally got a message at 9pm Russian time to say that they had arrived and found a hotel for the night. What a relief! There’s a big day planned for tomorrow at the rugby club, more interviews and hospitality! A really important moment as it was this club that enabled an extended visa, as well as it being HALF WAY ACROSS RUSSIA!!!

Welcome to Russia, Will!

In his own words, Will describes the adventure of the dynamo…

“We started early from our basic motel room (very clean and very cheap £15 or so) between Novosibirsk and Kemerovo. We packed the car ate a breakfast of eggs and meat, and set off with the grinding noise from the Dynamo in full song. We had worked hard the previous evening to fix this problem outside the motel, and had no success. Truth be told, we made it worse. It didn’t help that we forgot to tighten the dynamo to the engine properly before setting off. One of the people helping us very kindly called their wife to translate for him. She said he thought there was a problem with a bearing in the dynamo. A problem common to Russian truckers which is usually ignored for many thousands of miles before anything is done about it. He said we would be fine to travel to the next city 100 km away and mentioned a very good service for generators in Kemerovo, he didn’t know the name but gave us the street. The noise remained about the same for our 100km journey to Kemerovo. We stopped at a Datsun dealership, explaining the relevant history of their company to Austin (the first Datsun being based on an imported Seven) and they tried to help but couldn’t. They did however point us in the direction of Auto Volt on the main drag on town. We arrived at 1300 at a grubby workshop with dour Russian faces all around. As soon as we showed them the car they all lit up. They were so happy to see it. We disassembled the Dynamo and distributor trying to make notes of what went where. Arkadiy, a big man, was working alongside his wife, also built like a brick outhouse. They were repairing old starter motors and Arkadiy almost immediately came over and said ‘I’m free’ in English. More and more people came over to see what we were up to and before we knew it we had 12 + people determined to get the car running.

It wasn’t long before Arkadiy had found the problem. The bronze bush containing the main shaft in the dynamo was worn beyond recognition. The workshop in Novosibirsk had stripped and disassembled it many times and had damaged the ends of the bush but the severe wear to the inside of the bush was due to the fact that it had no hole for lubricating the shaft. Clear as day the hole in the dynamo housing was corroded into the outside of the brass. No oil had ever made it to the shaft, potentially for decades, and at least the 3600km Chris has driven since London four weeks ago. This was a problem because it’s not particularly likely a scruffy Russian auto electric shop would have a spare. “No problem” says the 250lb+ Arkadiy.

I was taken for a ride in Arkadiy’s tank of a Landcruiser with wheels 5’tall while Chris did excellent work finding us some food. We picked up some bushes with the correct OD but the wrong ID. Luckily he got two! When we returned, Vladimir (68 years old and can still bench 150kg and squat 220kg…!) the workshop owner also, very kindly and without saying, bought us a meat pasty each, which accompanied Chris’s sweet pastries very nicely! We enjoyed it all sat in their scruffy office taking note of their surprisingly classy and PG naughty calendars! I was offered one for the workshop at Roach Manufacturing but we don’t have space in the car! We were served chai and doughnuts as well.

Everyone was so helpful, any attempt to get their hands dirty and they were there. I have never met such determined people anywhere. At 1930 I asked Arkadiy what time they closed the workshop. His response was instant and in his very very limited English: “until victory” at 2200 I asked again with a smile and he said the same.

No word of a lie, he’d have been up all night to fix our problem.

Unfortunately when the Dynamo was all together and tightened up, the spindle was locked tight. We disassembled it again and Arkadiy made shim washers on the lathe to space the shaft out and stop it from binding. Chris and Arkadiy put it together and disassembled it more than 10 times in an hour, each time shaving a small amount off the shims with a hand file. Slightly late (but much better late than never) I remembered the spare shim washers from the distributor gear spacing I’d brought out with me, sourced from Keith Roach and Barry Clarke, which turned out to be the correct internal diameter, but too big on the outside diameter so so ground down the outside with my PPE Russian goggles (none…). It was assembled one last time and it worked. Smooth and free as it should be. Luck. Thank goodness!

Meanwhile all of this happening various hilarious things happened, one of which was Victor’s son (21 years old and an special forces paratrooper and also built like a tank) was super interested in the car, he asked via google translate if he could have a ride in the car – what came up on the screen however was “would you like to ride me” which I obviously thought was a joke, and replied “you’re very good looking but you’re not my type.” With a dangerous question mark over his head I translated the error and we were all on the floor laughing! We had a good chat via our phones about Religion, politics, Brexit, Putin, and our very own Boris, and found we were alike in more ways than any of us could have imagined. It was very entertaining and an excellent insight to their world.

One of our helping parties arrived with a Russian stance car, beautifully finished in black with low profile tyres, and a hydraulic system which bounced the suspension on a remote! Amazing.

Chris and I were frog marched to the office for a coffee leaving Arkadiy to get on with it. We resisted but they said with confidence that it was his job and he was highly skilled and wanted to continue alone for a bit. I explained that we wanted to help but they insisted we took a break. We were given a coffee with sugar, a drink neither Chris nor I would choose normally, but it was just the job.

We finished putting the car together, I’d found top dead centre in advance (well practiced having been reminded of the procedure by Chris on the first day, and having done it several times since, using instruction from the Bristol Austin Seven Club) and so starting the car with all the parts installed was very quick indeed. Everyone was waiting with baited breath as the car burst into life on the first turn of the first pull. We set the timing, locked it off and everyone cheered!!! I think they were quite impressed. Chris has impressed the heck out of the guys in the workshop in Novosibirsk after they’d sat scratching their heads for half an hour!

The thank-yous and photos took another hour, with everyone wanting photos with us and sat in the car, we tried tidying but it wasn’t effective so Chris held an award ceremony (on video) in which he lined up everyone involved on any level, and presented them with a “celebrate the seven” badge. They all put them on the top right of their shirts and it was really lovely to see them all there, happy and proud with what little we could give them as a thank you. Chris took Vladimir to one side and did his best to offer payment for their services. Chris is a persuasive chap – he’s made I this far!! He had no luck. On threat of violence he was not allowed to pay a penny for the work. Arkadiy was summoned and also would not accept a bean. We also had everyone sign the car on the off side wing. I hope what they wrote isn’t rude!!

This has been a long day for everyone and we couldn’t have predicted or relied on any of it but have been so humbled by the spirit of the Russian people. They’ve bent over backwards to help us more times than I can count and I’ve only been here three days!

The story doesn’t end here.

We were shown to the office at 2330 where I thought we were potentially going to be offered the sofa and some pillows on the floor, and would have been grateful for that. We were led to Vladimir’s Landcruiser, where we were told we were going to be taken to a hotel. We arrived after a half hour journey outside a soviet residential block of flats. It’s rough as anything on the outside and the stairs are very worn and broken in places but we were shown to the seventh floor into his home where we met his wife Irena. I was immediately presented with a towel, shown to the shower and told to look in the mirror. I was absolutely filthy. The familiar black moustache from a 10 hour day at Roach Manufacturing was visible! I showered and then Chris followed. While we were cleaning up, Irena made us a scratch meal of fresh salad and a chicken stew which was absolutely delicious. Their home is a 2 bed flat, similar in size to a student flat in England. Chris and I had been made beds in their second room and it is very comfortable indeed. We all sat together and ate with conversation via google translate. Between us we shared a bottle of home made whiskey presented to us earlier by some of our helpers. It was surprisingly good. We then had bread and jam for pudding with another cup of chai.

Far from wealth, these people have made us more welcome than I could ever expect and would like to think that should two Russians in England have such trouble we would be equally accommodating. Between us Russians and English we have a skewed view of each other. We are both told that we don’t get on via our respective media’s but the truth is there is so much common ground even between me and Chris who has more life experience than most alive or dead, and the most humble working classes in a town no one in England has ever heard of. Quite extraordinary.

It’s now 0225. The alarm is set for 5:45 ready for a 500km day tomorrow to Krasnoyarsk for the Rugby club presentation with TV and press, and gifts brought in the Austin for the kids there. We can’t miss it! Fingers crossed for a smooth drive tomorrow. A long post after a long day but it had been worth every second. Thank you to everyone who has offered us any advice at all it has been more helpful than I can say, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to reply to everyone as it’s been non stop for 3 days now. Signing off with a snore from Chris (well deserved).

From Russia with love!

Chris and Will

Chris demonstrating specialist Austin 7 technique for tightening the hub

Crisis averted, for now…

Outstanding, touching, reaffirming and almost unbelievable support from these mechanics at Auto- Volt garage in Keremovo. Chris and Will limped there this morning, arriving at 1.00pm, with a very noisy dynamo.

The team worked on the car for 10 hours, including one of them, Arkadia, making new bearings (twice – he shaved a bit too much off first time).

At 11.00pm they called it a day – all the mechanics had stayed on until the end! Viktor, the owner of the garage, got very cross when Chris tried to insist that he pay for all the work. Viktor then took them home to have a meal before taking them to a hotel.

Chris says that he is overwhelmed by the generosity of the Russian people time and time again. We like to think that two Russians driving across the UK would have an equally positive experience…

Whilst the dynamo still won’t charge, at least it isn’t going to tear itself apart – they can look at it again in Krasnoyarsk. That’s 500km away, so a very long day ahead of them tomorrow. They appear to be driving a time machine, already 6 hours ahead of us!

Reminder of the road to Omsk

On the road again, but still problems…

Unfortunately even after the combined efforts of the challenge trio and the dedicated garage team the dynamo refuses to work. With no time left, Chris (Dada Vanya) and Will (Yura) said goodbye to Sputnik Ilya, bought a spare battery and a charger and set off for Krasnoyarsk.

Co-pilot handover

Chris is immensely grateful for all the advice and support from the Austin 7 community. He feels very strongly that the challenge is truly a team effort, even from afar.

Nice weather, nice road! About 45km from Kemerovo

This team in a fleet of BMWs passed the car, they are on a mission to help in poor orphanages across Russia.

Then, 80km down the road, a nasty noise started coming from the dynamo… at the same time they were flagged down by the police, who wanted to get in the car for a photo.

Chris and Will decided that they should find somewhere to stay and spend the afternoon working on the car. The police directed them over the road to a trucker’s hotel.

The usual crowd gathered round the car, and with typical Russian generosity tried to help by phoning friends who could speak English, and searching contacts for a suitable mechanic. One man called Alexei impressed everyone by doing the timing (fag in mouth) just the way Chris does – he took out the plug from number 1 piston, and found top dead centre with a screwdriver!

He knows what he’s doing!

The upshot is that it seems there is a dynamo specialist in the next town, so Chris and Will are going to try and get there first thing tomorrow. With the deadline to arrive in Krasnoyarsk rapidly approaching, Chris is thinking that they may need to hitch a lift on a lorry – he was offered a lift (car included!) already, but the lorry was going in the wrong direction!

Here is a message from Chris and Will about the dynamo problem…

“More advice please, different problem!

We made it 80km down the road and Chris noticed a grinding noise coming from the Dynamo which is new. We never fixed the Dynamo in Novosibirsk but bought a spare battery and a charger and are running illegally without side lights…

There is a nasty grinding noise coming from the distributor end of the Dynamo – without the distributor there is no noise on the Dynamo when spun up, the distributor on its own has no noise when spinning.

When meshed together there is this graunching noise which every time we try something different gets worse. All screws and nuts are tight as far as we can at the side of the road, and nothing is missing as far as we can tell.

The noise came on suddenly. The Dynamo has been taken apart and put back together many times in the last two days to try to fix it (without success) so maybe something internally is making the noise, a gone bearing perhaps?

The brushes look good and the commutator also looks good.

The gear on the distributor is a newly fitted good original after a brand new one was chewed up. The gear in the Dynamo is tired but looks fine for the purpose. We have a spare gear in better condition but don’t see this is the problem.

Would anyone know what this might be, thanks again in advance.”

Damned dynamo

Despite the whole day working on the car, the dynamo problem has not been solved. The electrician at the garage is even going to take it home to try and fix it tonight!

The intrepid trio still managed a bit of mischief though. On the journey, Chris and Ilya have become a little bit obsessed with a certain Russian vehicle known as the ‘bread loaf’. This versatile, four wheel drive van is used for many purposes: campervan, fire brigade, ambulance, people carrier, delivery van to name but a few.

Bread loaf van

Chris being Chris (nod sagely those who know him personally) is now trying to find an angle involving a bread loaf van. He’s visited a show room and interrogated the manager to discover that parts are very cheap and easy to obtain, they have petrol engines, and they only cost about £7,000 new…

He even managed to get a ride in one and was taken off road to demonstrate the four wheel drive. Groan.