Getting off the Tarmac, - How it started.
I suppose the interest in being off the beaten track etc, started at a very early age. On my first bike at the age of about 7, I laid out a dirt track on Benhall Green, where I was born. There was a big slope on the green and while my friends and I all had bikes we used to ride down it and often ended up in gorse or bramble bushes. When I got my first motor bike, which was a BSA "Sloper" a 500 cc. single cylinder rigid frame machine with a hand gear change on the side of the tank, I started to go up it, instead!
It did not have a kick start and as I was only about 12 years old, I doubt if I could have started it like this anyway. With a few of my friends, we all used to push like mad and then drop the clutch and bounce on the saddle. If I had remembered to pull it back against compression and free the clutch backwards before doing this, it would often start.
It was dated about 1930 and for me went like the wind. It was called a "sloper" because the big single cylinder was inclined in the frame at about 30 degrees, - to accommodate the long stroke. I don't know how it was that I did not do myself serious injury on this bike. It was heavy and I was always falling off it. I still have a couple of minor scars to prove it.
During my service in the RAF I was introduced to the famous Land Rover. We used to use these on the Squadron for towing generators , fuel bowsers etc., whatever. I soon became very fond of their ability to go anywhere and practically do anything.
Later with Decca in Iran, the Station transport was the old diesel pickup version. Hardly any maintenance had been done to these, but they still soldiered on. When I moved to Abu Dhabi, in 1965, the Station transport, before the Land Rover was a huge Dodge Power Wagon. There is a picture of this in the old Abu Dhabi pictures section.
My confidence in Land Rovers was such that in 1975 when I decided, - like a bit of a twit, to tow a boat from UK to Abu Dhabi, before there were roads all the way, I used a long wheel-base Landrover in which to do it. As it took rather a long time, like two weeks, the next year when I did it again, without a boat this time, I chose another Land Rover and it only took 10 days. I went a lot faster! There are a lot of interesting vehicles to fit into this gap in the narrative, but in about 1980 I was introduced to the Chevrolet Blazer and, after having several General Motors cars with V8 engines which had impressed me a lot and which I know inside out, (usually) I was very happy with my truck and the one below is my 5th.
It went today! 2 chaps from Dubai want to turn it into a drag racer I think. Anyway it is no longer for sale and I may start looking for another, - RHD this time, when I get to UK. I shall probably get withdrawal symptoms if I don't.
As we have decided to go back to UK and I hear that Petrol is about 400 pounds a litre, I can't really justify taking my pride and joy with me. As soon as I decided to sell it, realising I was serious, it started to go wrong. I have had to change a tyre, a water pump, an A/C compressor, two hoses, and at the moment I am awaiting an alternator as well. a total of nearly 2,000. Dhs. ! I am still asking about 10,000. because there are none like it here.
When I decided that my 4th Blazer was getting unreliable in 1992, I decided to replace it with a similar "big" Blazer as by then they had brought out a 6 cylinder model, that I hated. However I could not find a good one at all. I decided that the only way I could get one was by importing it myself and then looking after it, so this is what I did. It was 8 years old when I got it, but like new. Now it is twenty years old and still away in front of the field.
I have left the description of it below so you can see what I thought of it before I decided to sell it. Oh, by the way, I have a 3 ltr. non-turbo diesel SsangYong Musso 1996 that I shall have to sell too in a couple of months. The acceleration is dismal, in fact a chap in a bike beat me away from the lights the other day, but it is very cheap to run, quite fast if you can wait a bit for it to build up speed, very reliable, comfortable and Al Ghandi in Fujairah know how to fix anything.
Fast forward to now. This is my current 4WD vehicle, it is a 1984 Chevrolet Blazer. It has the good old small block 350 cu.in. engine and is very simple, - very reliable and will go anywhere. We fill it with everything, including the sink and then when we get to where we are going it is big enough to sleep 4, the kids in the front and a big mattress makes the back into a double bed. I have made a triangular frame that bolts on the bumper supports and is held up by a chain to the rear seat supports and I can lift half a ton on this or I can suspend our portable shower from it or use the shower as a loo tent.
It has a tank that can hold 25 gallons of petrol, which is only just over a US$ a gallon here, and while my friends are struggling to get the last pint into their tanks, I look at my gauge and if it shows more than 3/4 I don't bother.
I need a speedo head and I really need a new Carb. for it It is a Rochester Quadrajet and I have dismantled it so many times I know it is really worn out, but the only thing that suffers a bit is the full throttle acceleration as the second choke valves don't open properly. There is so much power that this is a bit academic, however, if anyone knows a company who could supply GM (Chevvy) spare to the Middle East on a credit card, I would be glad to hear about it. The door rubber seals have all deteriorated, because of the heat here and I would buy an oil cooler kit too if I could. One thing I really like about it is that to get under it you don't really have to jack it up and to work on the engine, you get inside the engine compartment! I have an 8 litre Cadillac engine from years ago, that I shall try and get in there one day. I think it will go in OK - it will just be a bit of work with the exhaust etc. That would make it go better!
Apart from a 1976 Landrover that I used in the Emirates and then sent back to UK with a big trailer full of engines on the back, (see old engine section) The only other 4WD vehicle I have now is a SsangYong Musso. 1996.
This I bought in 2002 because it is a diesel and I wanted to be seen to be using my own diesel fuel additive. It is a bit strange in some ways, but after I got a few teething troubles out of the way, it has turned out to be a super car. Because of the Blazer, I have not really used it seriously off-road. However, even with a 3 litre non Turbo charged Mercedes 5 cylinder engine it will cruise at 120 all day, is comfortable, quiet and the A/C works OK. I am lucky to have Al Ghandi in Fujairah as the agents for it as they have some mechanics who seem to be able to fix it if it ever needs service. Above is a picture of it behind our villa in Abu Dhabi before we came here, taken in 2002. Soon after this we moved all our belongings to Fujairah and a lot of them travelled in the Musso or the trailer I pulled behind it.
To be continued. (for ages)
My friend and ex- work colleague, Jon Harbour has a super web site that is actually dedicated to 4 Wheel Drive Adventures, (and he has had a lot) I am a bit proud to be able to claim that my wife and I, more or less introduced Jon to the Gentle Art (?) many years ago when he first came to Abu Dhabi. His first 4wd was not all that subsequent ones became and I don't suppose he will mind if I say that his first trip over the Musandam (spelling?) was assisted by a tow rope behind my Chevvy. His interest grew and mine waned a bit. If we went out now there is a much better chance that he would end up towing me! He has pulled me out of sand a few times. Have a look at his site and you will see what I mean. http://www.me4x4.info/ It does not seem to be his now. I shall have a word with him!
In UK I have a Series 3 LandRover 1976 (P) reg. This I bought in the Middle East some 25 years ago and brought back to UK when I moved an old engine to UK in a trailer and wanted something to pull it with!
Poor old thing has not been used very much lately. I really must have a go at it over this summer 2007. I wanted it to pull my old Blackstone again. There is not much wrong with it, - a bit agricultural but quite sound.