How to fix the old lady with a hammer

Now before I get accused of all sorts of things, let me start by making clear that the old lady here mentioned does not make reference to any close or distant family member of the living kind, but rather to the old lady for which I have had to rent separate living quarters – my Triumph TR4.

As some of you know driving an oldtimer is never dull, neither is owning one. The latter can however easily become financially more challenging, at least when you are as mechanically illitterate as me. Around Zurich there is certainly no lack of specialized garagists very eager to help out, but somehow, in a Western world where inflation is nowhere to be seen (at least officially), the bills these guys send you have something Zimbabwe-like about them in terms of price evolution. So if there is the slightest chance of doing it yourself, you try to, which in my case means calling on far more suitable oldtimer friends than myself, i.e. those who actually understand what happens under the bonnet.

It was around a month ago that my TR4, which has always sprung to life effortlessly even after several months, all of a sudden had problems doing so. Having checked the basics (battery, power supply, corrosion on the bolts etc.) the exclusion method led to a strong suspicion of a defective starter engine. At this stage however the car would not start at all, and the starter engine was no longer even turning. Given the location of the garage, the car can neither be started by running, nor is it easy to tow, meaning just getting it to a mechanic had become a challenge. I felt grey hairs growing as the sunny days went by.

As with any true lady, beautiful to look at, difficult to understand…

Last week I then went for lunch with a dear friend in Zurich, the proud owner not only of some vintage English oldtimers but also of an equally old boat, running on a V8 from the 50’s and having last year had some issues with the starter engine. ”Don’t worry” my friend said between bites, ”try what I did: hit the starter engine with a hammer a couple of times while someone turns the ignition. With a bit of luck, it is just the cogwheels that are dislocated and this could make them spring back.” As if there was nothing more normal in the world than what he had just suggested, he then changed the subject and went on to enjoy the rest of his lunch.

My belief in the suggested solution was, I’ll admit, not very strong. But given the car would not start at all the downside was obviously limited, so I took my son with me and went up to the garage. As he did not want to handle the ignition and could not really be trusted to aim the hammer at the starter engine rather than at something far less suitable, I took the hammer, hit the starter engine three times here and there and then without any hope at all, went round the car, sat down and turned the ignition. As you already guessed, the engine sprang to life on the first try without effort, and has done so ever since (which I’ll admit is only a few days so far, but still).

So what does this teach us? Firstly, whether it relates to cars or in general, take great care of your friends! Secondly, it is actually fun having a car with an engine that still looks like one, and where you can locate things as a starter engine. Would you know where yours is? And finally, an oldtimer requires far less sophisticated tools than modern cars. Sometimes, a hammer will do just fine!

IMG_0568Thanks my friend, I owe you one!


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