In the first few years of the 1980s, when I was an apprentice with the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, a conglomeration of once proud municipal and company bus operators, I spent much of my time at its Sutton Coldfield garage.
On day shift there were two foremen (‘shop floor supervisors’ in modern parlance). One was Alex Salamanis, a thoughtful Polish chap approaching retirement age with a wealth of erudite engineering knowledge in both his head and in self-penned notebooks. The other was a fellow who went by the name of Dave Mellor and he was my first point of contact when first I entered the Garage as a wet behind the ears 16 years old lad.
Dave Mellor was the first person whom I ever heard using the phrase ‘let it develop’, with reference to niggles with vehicles and often it allowed a problem to reveal its source. But in later life I learned that there are times when this practice doesn’t pay off.
For a number of years, between 2007 and 2012, I was lucky enough to own a magnificent Daimler SP250 (Dart), which I used regularly enough to call it a daily driver. At the time I was living in Bishops Castle, Shropshire, hard up against the Welsh border and mostly working in Peterborough, at Bauer Media on its Practical Classics title. This meant a 160 mile commute each way and so I opted for a couple of days working from home, with the remainder spent at the offices, overnighting in an old caravan on the magazine’s workshop yard.
This worked well and allowed me to properly exercise not only the Daimler, but the other vehicles in my all-classic fleet, too. It also allowed developing faults to reveal themselves, normally gradually, but… One early spring Monday morning in 2010, I decided to use the SP250 as my transport from west to east. For a while, I forget exactly how long, a light, metallic tinkling noise had been emanating from somewhere around the nearside rear of the car. To me it sounded like a loose exhaust clamp, or similar. It didn’t occur all of the time, just on rough roads or when traversing potholes.
My route to worked used the M54, a road normally in decent fettle, but as I dropped a gear to roar past an articulated lorry, the nearside rear tyre encountered a pothole, which is when it happened.
There was an almighty great bang, as if something had fallen from the lorry and found its way under the car. The metallic tang of adrenalin entered my mouth as I struggled to control the speeding car and prevent it from slewing underneath the trailer of the artic, while also attempting to find my way over to the hard shoulder. I cannot tell exactly how I managed to reach safety, but I did and so began searching for something large stuck under my car, which thankfully exhibited no external signs of damage.
There was no heavy component, nor an animal wedged underneath, but I did find the source of that tinkly noise.
The SP250’s rear handbrake callipers are a basic cable operated mechanical disc brake. The nearside one had gone out of adjustment due to a missing spring, allowing the outer half of the calliper to edge ever closer to the painted wire wheels, tinkling as it became ever looser.
Eventually it came completely adrift and, on receiving a decent nudge – from that pothole – it collided with the spokes, wiping most of them out on impact or in the following few seconds, but leaving just enough for rotation to continue allowing me to bring the car to the hard shoulder. Thank goodness it wasn’t a smart motorway, or I’d have been dog food.
The moral of this story?
By all means let things develop, but only if you know exactly what it is that’s developing, and never if failure is likely to put you or others in peril.
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