After noticing another shopping centre trolley ding in a door of my orange P76, I decided I needed a cheap battleship strong runabout. What to get? I already had three P76s and a classic Falcon, but I needed a car that I could just drive and not worry about having panels dented, being stolen etc. A Ute or panel van would be good. Oh, and it had to be a V8. With this extensive list of criteria my search began.
I identified several candidates locally and interstate, using online resources. I looked at several in Canberra. Online, one in particular caught my eye - a white 1988 XF Falcon panelvan running on straight LPG, with a 302 Windsor V8 under the hood, XR8 trim and headlights. I phoned my mate Glenn who lived near to where the car was advertised, and he went and had a look.
Glenn and another friend Sam run a business consisting of buying old Fords, stripping them, and selling the parts on Ebay, occasionally selling complete cars. Sam can decode Ford compliance plates by sight. They both gave it the thumbs up, and for two thousand dollars, I had a new car. Sam said if they stripped it, they could get over six thousand for the combined parts.
I’ve never bought a car using a proxy before, so I was anxious to see it for myself. I was in Melbourne in April, but had my orange P76 with me, so couldn’t bring it back with me. I went over to Sams yard to look at the new car. I was pretty happy. Oh sure, there was typical Falcon panelvan rust around the driprail, the side windows and the sills, but it wasn’t too bad. The ad said ‘stopped working’ but ‘Deeks’ the master magician was underneath the car removing a starter motor. A new starter motor later and the car started and ran. The fluid levels were topped up and I was assured the car would be drivable. I was concerned about the fast failing battery, but Glenn said he had a few spares, and he would change it over.
In short, this was the right car.
I live in Canberra, and with the car being in Melbourne, a trip south was required to retrieve the car. At the end of May I caught the train down, attended my Mum’s 70th birthday and then went and picked ‘the pano’ up. That’s the short version.
On Saturday the ‘boys’ at Glenn’s yard were working on it. It would be fine for the trip up the Hume, I was assured. It hadn’t run since Deeks changed over the starter motor six weeks ago.
On Sunday night I went over to the yard. Glenn fitted his ‘trade plates’ and handed over two bits of paper. One was a letter from him saying I was his agent delivering an unregistered car to a client in Canberra on his companies trade plates, the other was a bill of sale for the pano containing all the details of the car and the cost of the sale.
Then the pano wouldn’t start.
The bonnet was lifted and the peering began. I’ve never owned an LPG car; I’ve never driven an LPG car. I figured that the basics applied though – fuel, power, spark, ignition.
The failure to start appeared to be a combination of LPG flooding and not enough spark. Glenn jammed the nozzle of the ‘start ya bastard’ can in the air cleaner and attached jumper leads to the car, and after some encouragement, it started.
The fuel tank gauge showed FULL. This I doubted. I drove out of the yard, hesitantly, followed by Glenn in his Lexcen station wagon. Five minutes later I pulled into a servo on Mahoney’s Rd connected the LPG nozzle to the Pano -- and added 25 litres to the ‘full’ tank. The car fortunately started OK, and I drove back to my Mums place, noticing that the steering was very heavy.
The next day, up with the sparrows to begin my trip up the Hume. Normally I check everything twice, put air in tyres, including the spare, and make sure I have oil, coolant and food and water for the trip. I have a tool kit in each car I own; with they right size sockets etc.
The pano didn’t even have a spare tyre! I had a flat blade screwdriver and pliers as my only tools. Glenn gave me the screwdriver so I could take the lpg pipe off the air cleaner if I needed to start the pano, and the pliers well, they were to open the bonnet as the bonnet cable handle was broken.
Did I mention the piece of wood to use as a bonnet strut? That was my third tool.
9.30 AM - The pano refuses to start. I call Glenn, he calls ‘Deeks. Deeks comes over and diagnosed lack of spark and flooding.
Solution – pull LPG pipe off air cleaner, crank car to clear gas. Reconnect LPG pipe, start car. With the jumper leads connected of course.
Deeks gets the pano purring and adjusts the LPG flow. We let the pano warm up and then stop and start it a few times, just to make sure I would be able to stop and start to refuel during the day.
I bade farewell to Deeks who headed back to his garage to weld up a drag car, and I optimistically set off for the Ring Road at 11.30 AM.
Out on the Hume twenty minutes later, I sat on a steady 110 kmh and noticed several things.
- The XF Falcon instrument cluster is shite.
- The temperature gauge was broken.
- The radio had interference buzz and was unlistenable.
- This isn’t a bad car to drive.
I was up for a long trip with nothing but road noise, and the constant banging on the rear doors by the flapping trade plates, to look forward to.
An hour later all was well. The car drove remarkably well, soaking up road bumps and changing lanes easily. The 302 V8 kept the pano zooming up hills with no trouble at all. On the straight sections, it was tempting to increase the speed, but I wanted my mechanic in Canberra to go over the car, register the car and have insurance before I did anything like thrashing it.
At the 250 kilometre mark, the tank still read full. I decided to pull into the next servo and refuel. The tank took 60 litres. I emptied my drop tank, bought an Iced Coffee Big M, and anxiously turned the ignition key. It started. I headed off.
I find long distance driving strangely relaxing, and without the radio it was even more so. Watching cars and trucks juggle overtaking. Watching idiots speed by at 150 kmh, and seeing them on the side of the road providing their details to the nice policeman a few minutes later. Wishing I had a rabbit’s foot to rub to ensure the pano would actually make it to Canberra.
Suddenly that familiar burning transmission fluid aroma reached my nostrils. Was it the pano or another car? There was no change in engine noise or handling, and I couldn’t see any smoke coming from the panno in the rear view mirror. I decided to keep going.
Approaching the 500 kmh mark I pulled into Tarcutta and regassed. 50 litres. I once again anxiously turned the ignition key – the pano burbled to life and I was back on the highway. It was now approaching 5.30 PM and I had to switch the headlights on. They worked.
Cruising through endless poorly marked road works and having trucks speed limited to 100 kmh, tailgating me sitting on 110kmh, was requiring concentration. At one point the convoy had to slow to 40 kmh. I deftly overtook a red Astra and sped off. The Astra driver was a strict speed limiter, that type who sits in the right lane at 80 kmh obstinately refusing to shift. I would like to publicly thank that person. I sped off into the distance while a herd of trucks tailgated the Astra in the receding darkness.
My rough mental calculations indicated that I could safely make it to Canberra without refuelling again, and tempting a ‘failure to proceed’. Normally I like to break the Melbourne Canberra drive up with a one hour break and two shorter breaks, this was definitely a marathon drive. I have made similar ‘minimum stop’ drives before though, my record, just after the Albury bypass was opened, stands at 6 hours and ten minutes from my door in Canberra to my Mums place in Melbourne.
The road at night is a strange place, and what is familiar by day is new at night. I prefer to drive by day if
I have the choice, having survived one attack by kangaroo at night its something I don’t care to repeat.
The numerous roo carcasses in various phases of decomposition by the side of the Hume, certainly didn’t add to my pleasure at driving the last two hundred kmh in the dark.
The Goulburn service centre came into view and I knew it was only a half hour and I could park the panno on the nature strip and relax under a hot shower. I needed a feed as well, the pasty and fanta from Tarcutta not really hitting the spot.
Finally the ACT border appeared, and I turned off for Belconnen. At low speeds the 302 V8 sounds wonderful. At road speed, it’s just a dull burble. Why anyone would own anything except a V8 simply baffles me.
The pano had made the trip trouble free. Yet further evidence to support my glass half full attitude. The rocky start aside, it had handled well, braked acceptably, and handled the numerous roadwork traffic stops without overheating or stopping. It hadn’t broken down and had travelled up the hills without a problem. The 302 V8 added a nice edge to overtaking manoeuvres.
Now all I have to do is make it ‘roadworthy’ and get it registered in the ACT.