Category Archives: ifa

Into the Valley*

It always adds a little something to a trip when you set off in the teeth of a Met Office “risk to life” warning. On their website the whole of England had been covered in a yellow puddle labelled “wind,” which isn’t great when you’re planning on camping.

I compromised. I spent Friday night in a curry house with a hot date (yes, further proof that the end times are upon us) and set out on Saturday morning, doing my best to time things so that the Wingman and I would emerge from under the rain cloud lightly drizzling on our home city and head to the Tern Valley Vintage Machinery Trust Annual Show under dry skies.

It nearly worked.

When I say nearly, we arrived in the sunshine but that was the first we had seen of it.

Now, I’m not a wimp about riding in the rain. My ability to charm water from a clear blue sky is in fact legendary. But it’s the Wingman, you see. He’s getting on a bit and getting rained on isn’t great for his arthritis. I have provided him with a screen but Bishop Brennan didn’t come with a tonneau cover or hood. So I wrapped him in his Scruffs thermal dog jacket, the one that makes him look like Emperor Palpatine, and tried to explain about lying down so only his nose got wet. And we duly trundled up Watling Street to Shropshire.

There is something uniquely lovely about heading to an event and knowing your friends are already there. The Wartburg-Trabant-IFA Club UK were representing not just with The World’s Worst Car (TM) but also a selection of Eastern Bloc scooters so Bishop Brennan needed to join the throng and fly the flag for MZs.

We even did a bit of evangelism among small children. I totally respect that many bikers don’t want the littlies clambering over their machines but the MZ has two advantages – it’s not going to topple over, thanks to the chair, and it’s pretty robust (or already battered to f***,  take your pick!). So when two small boys and their little sister ran up and looked hopeful I asked dad if they would like to sit in – or on! – and the grins on their faces made up for all the soggy miles.

And then two little girls proved once again that girls will rule the world once they realise their power.

“Can we go for a ride?”

Now, I’ve never taken human passengers so this was quite a step up. Mum and dad didn’t mind, they’d already been happy for the girls to have a lap of the field standing on the running boards of a Simson Schwalbe. So I loaded one in the chair and one on the seat and off we went.

It sounded like this:


“Can we go again?”


“Can we go again?”


“Can we go again?”


“Can I hold the bars myself?”

Very briefly and in a straight line was the answer to that one!

These days we don’t have Kickstart on the telly to get kids into riding so we all have to do our bit. I think they enjoyed it…




*no, not the MAG one


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It’s sheep we’re up against

P1070441If you are going to splutter to a halt on a remote Peak District byway in your newly re-engined Lomax then there is probably no better company to do it in that in the midst of a convoy of the Eastern Bloc’s most iconic engineering. Spare length of 5.5mm fuel line? Produced after a brief rummage in the boot of a Lada. Someone willing to suck on the end of said fuel line to clear the vapour lock? The driver of the Lada. Moral support, encouragement and a push? From the Skoda and the Trabant behind.

That was Saturday afternoon. It was a blazing hot day and the Lomax Did Not Like It.

Like the Lomax, I was unhappy.

When I pay someone to do a job I would like it to be done better than I can do it. The new-ish engine suffers from chronic overheating. Since discovering this in Wales I have replaced and adjusted the points, sorting out the over-long screw which was scoring the front of the cam and interfering with the centrifugal advance. I’ve redone the valve clearances, because the exhaust clearances were just about closed. I’ve blown through all the carb jets and reset the float height.

And on Friday after a miserable drive through Stoke city centre we worked out that the oil cooler was clogged like a 60-a-day man’s arteries. Rob bravely put it to his lips and blew until a gout of oil gushed out onto the grass. This is not what I was expecting. I suspect it wasn’t what he was expecting either, but I lent him my spanners in exchange so he could sort out his bent boot hinge.

Al fresco engineering is a tradition of the Foxfield IFA Club meet, and it is comforting to be surrounded by resourceful people who remain unconcerned when the exhaust falls off the back of their bike halfway up a hill out of Cheadle and cheerfully discuss the best way of bungeeing it back on to get home without melting any elastic instead of booting it into the nearest skip.

Being good Communists we believe in the good of the collective. But owing to an administrative cock-up somewhere along the line the family who had booked the station for an all-day party on Saturday hadn’t been told there would be a thirsty collection of harmless eccentrics camped next to the miniature railway.

“Hello!” I said to the woman blowing up balloons on Saturday morning. “Whose party is it?”
“It’s for my dad. He’s retiring, and it’s his birthday, and he’s beaten cancer.”
“Excellent. We’re a car club, we come here every year. It’s a shame about the double-booking, isn’t it”
“No you can’t use the bar.”

I like to think that if it had been the other way round and I’d been the party host I’d have welcomed the leavening of my family party with a few interesting outsiders. But that probably says more about how I feel about my family than anything else.

We went to the pub instead.

Saturday was the road run and the total collapse of the Lomax. With the roadside repair of the fuel lines and a boost from David’s spare battery – kept charged in the Lada, just in case – we got going again, only to run straight into the back of a flock of sheep being herded at slow collie pace up the hill. Yes, just perfect when your car is so hot it’s boiling its own petrol.

Eventually they turned off and we trundled agonizingly into the very beautiful village of Hartington for the lunch stop. AdventureDog enjoyed an ice cream. I enjoyed passive-aggressively saying ‘you’re welcome’ to the woman who ignored the fact that we’d stepped back to let her down the stairs from the ladies loo and headed off into the distance. This infuriated her so much that she came all the way back up the stairs to tell me that she was unsteady on her feet and concentrating, and it was much more sensible for the person at the bottom of the stairs to wait. She tailed off after a minute and said, “You’re not in a very good mood, are you?”

Well spotted.

We staggered on. The company was good even if the engine was struggling. Next on the list is a swop for cooler spark plugs and my special hot-temperature coil. And another round of carb cleaning.

Sometimes when the day has not gone well it’s very nice to sit and drink beer with friends. The problem with rounds is that you sit down and other people bring you the pints. The other problem is that I’ve not been drinking much since last September and have become a truly cheap date. So this year it was my turn to have the intervention and have my mug of sparkling East German wine which I was womanfully quaffing round the camp fire on being rescued from the pub gently removed from me.

Well – if my car is behaving badly perhaps I’m also allowed to be.

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Better days

I am sitting holding a leather jacket while the man it belongs to does something daring. This makes me laugh. It’s the kind of thing I imagine a Pink Lady might do for her favourite T-bird. It’s not what I do. I rebuild carburettors, scour North Wales for spark plugs and drop the needle in the throttle to stop my engine running lean.

It didn’t help. Last weekend I came home from Welshpool in Biker Paul’s car while the Jawa went back to Wisbech with a wrecked gearbox. I no longer own it. It has gone back whence it came, for £1500 less than I paid for it. Add to that the £800 quid it cost me to ferry it up to Scotland and back down again, about a hundred for miscellaneous repair parts and a big tin of Jizer to degrease the baffles, two pounds twenty for the jar of Nutella and 50 quid in fuel and 2-stroke that I filled up with but didn’t get to use for the Welsh National Rally and the tiny number of trouble-free miles it covered seem like an extremely expensive luxury.

I am a bit bitter.

It doesn’t help that I am back in Wales this weekend for the Wartburg-Trabant IFA Club’s Eastern Bloc Vehicle Weekend. The first one of these I took part in was based around Lacock and was Scabbers the Trabi’s only happy outing before his long and painful expiration.

As the Jawa has now followed in Scabbers’ tyre tracks, this year I have come to Llangollen in Hortense, who is trying to blend in with her 602cc engine and lack of top speed. Just to rub salt in the wound, the hotel we gather in for Friday night’s meal is about 400 yards from the hill on which the Jawa’s gearbox gave up.

To be fair, if you are feeling sore about the failure of your Eastern Bloc vehicle, there is no better company to be among. Markus the Barkas didn’t make it at all, having broken his clutch cable over the Bank Holiday. Wilfred the Traction Engineer had to rebuild his top end over the winter after discovering that the Tramp had eaten a piston ring. The Ural pilot sat next to me at dinner had to learn how to set up and time his ignition rotor. Cheerfulness in the face of adversity is the secret. Beer helps.

It was a beautiful sunny weekend and AdventureDog and I assumed our traditional seat in the right hand side of the Tramp for Saturday’s train adventure and road run. With a short pause to reattach the exhaust and a second brief halt to change a spark plug after one of the cylinders stops working. Perhaps my expectations of Jawa ownership were too high.

Why am I holding a leather jacket? Because on Sunday morning we had an excursion across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. The lad who opens up and sells the tickets also races grasstrack and does first aid at race meetings. He had a cautionary tale about a sidecar passenger who fell out when the outfit flipped over during a race and was found walking back to base with a broken leg. “It’s only a flesh wound,” I said. Without breaking stride he said “Tis but a scratch” and carried on with the story.

On a glorious sunny day, sitting in a canal boat crossing one of the wonders of the industrial world isn’t really challenging enough for the adventurous two-stroke traveller. MZ Tim said, “can we walk back?”

No problem, said the crew.

I thought about it. I have climbed the Diamond Tree. But no-one wants to see a grown woman cry. Dog and I stood on the towpath so that we could say we had done it but returned to the safe haven of the bows of the narrow boat and sat there trying not to look down. We took our jacket-holding duties seriously and handed it back in the sunshine at the Jones the Boat basin.

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A sort of homecoming

“Are you famous?”
No, not really….
“Do you want to be?”
Er…I just wanted to ask about joining the Vintage Motorcycle Club…

Volunteering for charity is supposed to be its own reward. I have recently signed up to be a Fat Controller for the local Blood Bikers – I have been looking for something useful to do with my time and I can answer telephones and send volunteer riders to hospital while based at home with AdventureDog.

Bob the Rota came to my temporary residence with an impressive set of induction materials and talked me through my new responsibilities. At the end of the evening, after he’d successfully co-ordinated two riders to collect from Nuneaton hospital and deliver to Coventry, he asked if I was going to the Classic Bike Show this weekend.

As earlier that day I’d opened a 600 quid legal bill and a tax demand for another 185 on top, I have had to slash all current spending that isn’t on food or petrol. I explained, with my sad face on. So he slipped me a wristband, and on Saturday morning I took my packed lunch to the NEC – on the train, to save the price of parking – and had a lovely day.

Last year I was being an Eastern Bloc Schraubenschlüsselfrau to promote the SALT tours, blissfully unaware that I was about make a really poor decision and turn my life upside down, again.

This year SALT wasn’t exhibiting but the Wartburg-Trabant IFA Club was out in force and it was just lovely to catch up with everyone and talk about what’s going to be happening next year. Now I am back in England again I’ll be able to join in – even though I don’t have the Trabi any more, because of the Jawa outfit I’m still eligible, so I’m looking forward already to Drive-it-Day in the Spring.

I wandered among the car clubs that – unlike the excellent value IFA Club – want the best part of a hundred quid as a membership fee, and was gently ignored by the sleek chaps at the desks, and then I got to the bike section, led there like a Bisto kid by the tempting aromas of rubber, oil and petrol rising under the hot lights. I couldn’t find Bob the Rota but I did get a warm welcome from the VMCC. We discussed whether I was qualified to be a member, being an owner of a G-reg motorcycle. I didn’t like to say that it was a pedal-and-pop Honda – I might join anyway and keep schtum.

Queuing at the 2CV Shop espresso Acadiene, the chap in front of me said “You have the blue Lomax, don’t you?”

I’m very sorry, but I don’t remember where I met you! Or maybe I haven’t met you, and you just know from my outrageously indiscreet social media profile.

So maybe the answer should have been yes, after all.

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Drive It Day

IFA Club friends were having a lovely time in Lincolnshire. Last year’s Lacock run was immense fun, and in fact the only full excursion I had with Scabbers before his health failed him. He’s now gone to live in East Kilbride, and, rather in the manner of sponsored children in Columbia, every now and again I get sent a photo and an update. He has been fully fettled and took part in the Scottish IFA Drive-it-Day today. I’m glad he has a new lease of life and is in really good hands.

I was hoping to get out with 2CV Ecosse but Hortense has not been terribly well since the mice moved in. And, much as I want to meet new friends now I live in a new place, old friends were visiting, and deservedly took priority. They wanted to re-enact Chariots of Fire on the beach but we paused for a quick photo-shoot on the way.




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I should have ironed the factory

15034008_10154767142872577_354449354_oLife has been difficult of late. I lent Scabbers to the BBC and this happened – a literary and literal demolition job. A replacement engine and gearbox are on their way from Germany but it will be mid-December before they get here and Scabbers went away for pre-BBC fixing in June.  All that stress and not even a lovely story as a souvenir. I think perhaps he didn’t want to go to the factory without me.

Maybe he will be fixed in time for next year’s SALT tour. (That is a tautology, by the way, and causes sub-editors teeth to itch in the same way as PIN number and ATM machine). I have been promoting the splendid collective madness that is SALT at the NEC Classic Car Show. Uniforms are always interesting. In two weeks time at the bike show, most people in the NEC will be wearing black t-shirts, beards and boots. Your classic car chap was more likely to be found in mid-range jeans, a polo shirt and a sports jacket. They roamed in pairs. Some of them roamed up to the SALT stand, where Sarah and I were playing the part of kombinat workers at our suspiciously 2-dimensional car plant.

“I should have ironed the factory,” the Northern Comissar ruefully observed, afterwards. But it does look rather splendid in the photos. The big blue car is a Moskvich and the red one isn’t a Lada, though many of the herds of roaming car chaps took some persuading. Apart from a young lad, the skinniness of whose legs was only outdone by the pointiness of his shoes. “That’s Ed Hughes’s Tavria!” he declared, with joy.

Lots of people thought we were offering actual tours of Russia. That would be dull. It is much more fun to bring Eastern Bloc cars and their owners together to create a little theatre in the byways and fords of the UK. Or in the Pavilion of the NEC.



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Barkas Mad

ScabbyTrabi at the car show

ScabbyTrabi at the car show

“Morning!” shouted my Eastern Bloc fellow-traveller, cheerfully, to the lady cyclist pedalling determinedly up a steep hill just outside Wortley.

“Fuck’s sake,” she replied, Yorkshire brogue as broad as her bottom.

In her defence,we would have been the tenth Trabant to pass her in as many minutes, making an unholy racket and rattling clouds of two-stroke into her lungs.

She’d made the grave error of choosing to cycle along the road chosen by Dominic, Commissar North, for the day’s run through the post-industrial highlights of South Yorkshire.  There were another ten cars behind us, though none quite so bonkers as the Trabant Tramp cabriolet, only recently repatriated from the Canary Islands. Though the Tatra ran it a close second. Imagine a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place in Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon series, with twin fans and side air ducts that could swallow a small dog. No, two small dogs. Now have it driven by three students from Bristol.

Dear readers,  welcome to SALT – Soviet Auto Luxury Tours, proudly described as ‘the best UK-based tours for all classic Eastern Bloc cars.’ And quite possibly the only UK-based tour for classic Eastern Bloc cars.

SALT pulls off that brilliant combination of tongue-in-cheek fun delivered with utter sincerity and meticulous attention to detail, creating a parallel universe in which it’s quite normal to have Karl Marx and Michael Gorbachev turn up at a gala dinner in Sheffield, and for our table’s group effort at the post-dinner quiz to be praised for its collective nature rather than condemned for cheating!

Not a Capitalist Running Dog

Not a Capitalist Running Dog

Before the dinner former Top Gear host and bike journalist Steve Berry put me in a headlock as part of a demonstration of the opening routine of 1980s wrestling star Mick McManus. And that wasn’t the strangest thing about the weekend. On Friday evening I found myself transfixed by several hours of real-time tram footage shot just after the fall of the Wall.  That was quite weird, but not as weird as the episode of DDR children’s show featuring puppets Jan and Tini on a tour of the Barkas factory.

“Did you think,” asked Dominic, “when you bought your QEK, that you’d be sitting on a Friday night watching puppets buff a Barkas?”

I really can’t say I did…but I’m very glad it happened! Now that I’ve sold Werner I don’t really have a need for ScabbyTrabbi, but we had so much fun bombing about the countryside with like-minded fellow travellers that I’m keeping him for the social life. Well, I say ScabbyTrabi and I had fun on the drives but I’m lying – mostly I bombed about the countryside as a passenger in the Tramp, navigating and drinking gin. Someone has to keep the bourgeoise Western end up.


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