written 30th November
I hesitate to even write this in case I jinx something, but after a week of fettling in our free car park home in La Rochelle, we appear to be back on the road! Actually writing this from the road, south of Rochefort, north of Royan to be precise, en route to Bordeaux so it is an incontrovertible truth that we are on the road, not just a promise on the horizon (as it was on Saturday and sunday... :) )
and as I say, not saying it too loudly in case Jules changes its mind in protest at the fettling... ;)
and the new airflow sensor and performance air filter,
we saw it by chance at the vw import boy racer shop when we went to collect the air filter on friday only to discover later that inexplicably, the exhaust pipe on ours is a different size to the apparently standard parts he has and the bolt holes are in a very slightly different place - all seemed to be lost when we took it back on sat only to be told that there was nothing he could do until we asked if he had a file and he laughed at us but eventually agreed to fire up his air powered die grinder and left Will to it - 15 mins later job done!) and we are now officially ARM-powered as Will's "project" is controlling our fuelling. It is flashing its little blue LEDs merrily from its home, blue tacked on the back window, so I am told it is doing it's thing... We spent some time yesterday running both airflow sensors so Will could map from the output of the old one to the output of the new one to get the basic look up table, an a lot of time idling at various speeds controlled by Will's stepper motor controller substitute (since wednesday we have found internet and have a list of about 40 reference numbers for the component we want but can't quite face going and trying again... we'll try bordeaux instead) and now we are running just the new one. the "project" has a goal-seeking algorithm which, by means of subtly increasing and decreasing the fuel supply for a given air flow and throttle position and throttle position change, is, via means of an open loop circuit, balancing the measured output of the lamda sensor at the optimum 0.5v average which is apparently the desired outcome. or so i am told! it is learning as it goes so as we drive along at various speeds and throttle positions it occasionally finds areas it doesn't know much about so it gets a bit juddery but then it sorts itself out - it is very clever - and Jules seems largely happy. Like any self-respecting air-cooled vw, it still sounds like a bag of nails but it is now a bag of two thousand finely-tuned nails all rattling up and down in perfect near fuel efficient harmony... :)
I have visions of a day when Will no longer has to work for a livng and when he will have mad scientist hair and a shed in to which he will disappear for hours on end, and from which he will only emerge to forage for tea or clutching some unlikely looking frankenstein-esque contraption and shouting "by jove, I think I've got it!" - some of you will no doubt be of the opinion that he has achieved this state already but it would be unkind of you to call Jules a shed... ;)
Concern has been expressed about the amount of time spent in la rochelle whilst Will fettles - it appears you can take the boy out of the garage but can't take the garage out of the boy... - and after all, this is supposed to be travelling, not just living somewhere else, but it does need doing - if we had stayed being lean we would have eventually blown the engine up which would have kinda spoilt things... and La Rochelle has been great really. Although our car park is free (which means there is more money in the budget for fettling), we have only been 5 mins walk from the centre of town, so when it hasn't been raining I have been able to potter round town - although circumstances, weather and lunch times have conspired such that I never made it to the model museum - and as well as the boy racer shop, halfords and maplin we have also found the french equivalent of B&Q - so we have had eveything we need available - and it is B&Q++. When you walk in, one half is an IKEA market place of pretty, shiny things, paint colours, lights, curtains and soft furnishings and yet when you duck through a small gap in the floor to ceiling high shelving, like going throuhg the looking glass, you emerge into a complete oppostite world of hardcore usefulness. I have promised myself that I will stop rambling about inconsequential dull things but I have to tell you about LeroyMerlin becuase I am so impressed.
I also found an article about how all type 4 engine owners should switch to a Bosche 009 distributor which, for those who don't know(!), runs only cetrifugal advance through the rpm, rather than cetrifugal and vacuum advance. The main reason most people should change is that the vacuum bit stops working before the centrifugal bit so on most old cars, the vacuum bit no longer works, causing the engine to hunt in vain for a consistent idle. We happen to know that our vacuum advance does still do something (don't ask me how we know, Will looked at me as if I should know), but as we have changed the throttle to one that doesn't give any vacuum feed, we decided we should probably change it. The boyracer shop did have one (and for less money than we were expecting from the article) but unfortunately when Will tried to fit it whilst I was out buying bread, the car battery went flat when he was trying to sort the timing out. We were just at the point of giving in and ringing the AA (so Will was dismantling bits as we have probably invalidated our breakdown cover with the fettling, even though the problem they would be needing to help us with does not relate directly to the fettled parts, so he wanted to make it look a little less obvious) when a keen french boy in a shiny blue boy racer golf pulled up and asked if we needed a hand. He probably throught it would be a quick 2 minute thing but he was fortunately willing to spend a few more minutes whilst Will fiddled in vain - I know enough now to say "it might not work first time as we have had to change the distributor but with a bit of modifying it should be fine" and "I'm sorry about this, do you have enough time to help us, because we have changed the distributor, we need to fix the timing which is why it won't start" and "please tell us if you don't have time, but he is going to change back to the old distrutor which worked this morning before the battery no longer worked" - I'm getting much better! Eventually Will did give in ans swapped it back so it started. The boy even looked quite impressed by the speed - in my magazine it is a listed as a one hour job with a 5/5-spanner difficulty rating but Will can now change a distrbutor in under 3 mins! As Jules seems ok with the old dizzy for now, we are going to leave that for another day (hopefully with electric hook up!) before trying again. Nothing is ever simple and as when we rebuilt the engine, we inadvertently put a bit of it in 180 degrees out (there was no indication as to which was the right way or even that there was a wrong way!!) we need to make sure the new dizzy is also the requisite 180 degrees out which may not be a simple as we first thought - and we lack the required hammer to alter it in the same way that Will altered the original one to fix this problem - I kid you not...
I have also contrived a means by which I can wash my hair in the van (by lying on the bed, with the washing up bowl on the footstool and sloshing water warmed in the kettle around using a water bottle) so that, in addition to flannel washing, means we can be clean and the urgency of finding (and paying for) campsites is a bit lessened - haven't tried the solar shower in any capacity as yet - even with pre heated water ;) - but certainly intend to be trying that at somepoint....
Just as I was running out of car mag (I ran out of books ages ago but refuse to pay €12 for a new english book - they sell them in Carrefour of course like everything else! - which says £5.99 on the back (I don't usually pay that either, I go to the library and get them for free!)) I finally found the secondhand book shop. The directions from the english student in the tourist office on this matter on a previous pootle out were very vague - "its in one of those streets by the town hall, not the one with the perfume museum, the entrance is really hard to see, oh there's a dog, there's always a dog outside" - but second go, I did find it and indeed there was a dog (inside) which was very friendly and cute although the point at which it peed on the carpet and no one did anything about it was the point at which I stopped kneeling on it (the carpet not the dog!) and started only looking at the books at the top of the pile... I did indded find english books at proper charity shop prices so now have 4 new ones for less than the price of one in carrefour although my usual satandard of literature (ie chicklit trash) was not not in evidence so I have been forced into proper classic highbrow literature (amongst others, The French Lieutenant's Lady and Lady Chatterly's Lover - ok scandal trash of another era ;) )
All in all, I was actually a bit sad to finally leave La Rochelle earlier as I could quite easily live there and definately recommend it for a long weekend getaway (Ryanair aparently do cheap flights dontcha know) but there is no point in having a home on wheels if you don't go anywhere and it is quite exciting to be back on the road. We have biscuits (well we deserved a treat!), Pink on the radio (we are temporarily on Alouette having heard RFM's cd collection one too many times), and the promise of sausages and mash for tea when we reach our service station of choice just north of Bordeaux - life is once again good!
oh, and best news of all - we found the other box of english tea bags, at the very back of the cupboard - who would have thought it was possible to loose things in a van the size of Jules (showing i would be useless in a proper motorhome wih all that space... ;)). As we are quite liking our chinese tea, we are going to save them for special occasions or desperate need (like my hangover on Saturday) and will be using our resouces more wisely this time...
Right, here we are Aire de L'estalot (sp?) just north of Bordeaux so time to stop for some tea