Thursday, July 31, 2008

This is why you take a mini to Mongolia!

The mini had been running reasonably well on the rally for the first few days - I thought the engine was running a little hotter than I'd prefer, but various mechanics had told me that the mini's can run a little hot, so nothing to worry about. And then we got to Prague, car running just fine, pulled over to ask for directions to our hostel and the car wouldn't start... This was about 5:30 in the evening, the hard working mechanics of Prague stop working at 4, so Jake and I got Cyrus to come by and pick us up and left the car to be dealt with in the morning. In the morning, of course, it just started, so I optimistically assumed that it had just been overheating and off we went towards Slovenia. Then the same thing happened again in Vienna... but the car came back after only 30 minutes this time...

This may me starting to sound like reasons to NOT bring a 27-year old mini to Mongolia, but it does get better. The following day, I spent the morning playing tourist in Ljubljana, then got on the road around 1:30 heading towards Split, Croatia, where Cyrus and Liz by now were. At around 3, pulled over to get gas, shut the car off, and of course, it refused to start. By now, I'd resigned myself to overheating being the main problem, and figured that installing the high performance radiator sitting in the trunk would alleviate the problem, so I was sitting, waiting for the engine to cool down enough, channeling my Buddhist patience from SE Asia... when all of a sudden a guy shows up and starts talking about the mini. Turns out he's Serbian, from Belgrade, owns two classic mini's, and of course, loves them. So, eventually it comes up that mine's not running, so he proceeds to spend about an hour poking around under the hood, until it's determined that the problem is due to my spark plug cables being 27 years old, and in need of replacement. Having installed the new spares I had with me, the car's back to life! So by now, between Zoran in London, and Dulf and Aleks here in Slovenia, citizens of Serbia are largely responsible for the mini running as well as it is!

And then, it gets better... Fast forward a few days to Serres, Greece, where we had come up to visit with friends of Cyrus'. Shortly upon getting into town, we've pulled over to call and try to figure out where to meet them, as we're getting ready to go again, a guy suddenly appears by my window and starts rapidly asking questions about the mini. Initially, I was just surprised that there's somebody in Serres, Greece, that's interested in the mini, and speaks extremely good English. Soon enough we get to the fact that I'd like to find a mechanic here in Serres so I can get the radiator replaced. "I'm a mechanic" in response, and now, I'm intrigued. So, we agree to meet back up in about an hour, at which point we proceed to Jimmy's garage and he spends the next eight hours making the car far more prepared for the trip than it ever was before. In the process, I learn that he's got a mini truck (yes mini made trucks!) and his grandfather has a '77 mini. He's been working on mini's since he was 13 (19 now), and absolutely knows more about the car and any random trivia about the mini brand than anyone alive. I'm actually not sure who's more excited - me, having found somebody that can get the mini sorted out and really knows how the car works, or him, getting the chance to outfit a classic mini for a trip to Mongolia, and beyond. In the end, I have to convince him to let me take him out to dinner as some sort of repayment... He also runs a classic mini fan site in Greece, so I've got stickers for adorning the windows.

I've driven the car a full day from Serres to Istanbul since and it's absolutely running better than it has before. The overheating is gone, and the horrible noises that the loose manifold clamp was causing are gone with the clamp having been refitted. Best quote of the night, upon hearing about my mechanic experience in Paris: "If you gave me 1100 Euro and a week, I'd guarantee you'd make it to Mongolia!" No guarantees here, but between the two chance encounters with mini enthusiasts on the road so far, I feel much better about our chances of making it, and have a new found appreciation for just how much people love these cars, which would suggest that we may just be able to round up help in fixing the car further along the way too. I now have contacts for mini fan clubs virtually all over the world, including pertinent ones along the way in Japan and California.

And for some pictures from along the way...

Repairing an oil spill in Germany... turns out the oil can in the trunk was simply not properly closed and thus leaking oil...

the mini and the Panda in Prague

We made it to Vienna (had wanted to go to Salzburg, but got scared off by the mountains). Vienna seems like a beautiful town, but we only spent about 3 hours there, including 30 minutes get lost, 30 minutes trying to figure out what's wrong with my car, and an hour having some excellent Wienerschnitzel for dinner. And it rained the entire time. So this was the only picture I took - the Rathaus.

Liz getting comfortable with the mini on the way to Slovenia

Ljubljana... is a beautiful little city in Slovenia

Slovenia also has mountains

Ans stairs spiraling, and spiraling in the castle

A bridge in Slovenia... with cows grazing...

the mini entering Croatia and crossing the Balkans

In Split, on the picturesque Adriatic sea front, Cyrus puts us up at the uber-fancy Le Meredien, so the mini's keeping good company with a Ferrari

Heading SouthEast along the Croatian coast

Ancient walled city of Dubrovnik, damaged during the war in the 90's, but thoroughly restored since

My mechanic/mini fan in Serres, Greece. Also a Nirvana fan

The two minis together, as we're finally done making ours fully amazing just before midnight


b mathew said...

amazing mini stories!

Bertina said...

Hello Alex,

Just heard the amazing story of Dimitris who helped you with your Mini.

Hope you have a great, save and succesfull trip to Mongolia!

Best wishes,
Bertina (Mini fan from Holland)

flynbo said...

I dare say the mind boggles at your efforts in this year's event. It was with considerable trepidation that I waved you off into the great blue yonder (despite Zoran's honourable efforts, the stereo situation was still unresolved, and lets face it you never could sing too well round a Camp Baku oil-drum campfire); but clearly I, the uptight Brit, had not anticipated the winning combo of American/Societ/English/French. Seems you are well on your way Sir, have you had time to read Bouvier now all manifold issues have been resolved?

Marios Zindilis said...

Rest assured that Jimmy repeatedly peed himself out of sheer joy for being part of the journey. He 's told us all about it on the forums. Greek and Cypriot mini fans are all monitoring your trip with great interest and wishing you all the best!

Alex said...

Well, the trip is currently on hold as I'm on my way to Paris to make the French authorities give me a registration whose VIN number actually matches the one on the car. If and when that actually happens, we're back on to Mongolia and beyond! In the mean time... here's hoping!

emil said...

keep going and good luck

emil said...

keep going and good luck