The Life and Times of Me. Just Why? Edition

As some people have asked about it, I thought it might be worth writing a little about my very recent experiences I had during my little drive from Germany back to the UK in my 1991 Opel Senator.

As an introduction, people might have heard about the Senator previously, you can read more about the events of my earlier adventure in it during our Euro Oppomeet (and much more!) here:

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So after abandoning it in the Italian Alps because of a burst coolant hose and having it transported back to Germany (thanks to the ADAC for not kicking me out of their club yet), I finally have it back. The whole ordeal took a few weeks, but wasn’t over before everything really went to shit at the very end of it.

Sorry for the long text, but I really think it is worth the read as you couldn’t make up a story like this.

So I’ve basically booked a flight for last Friday to fly over to Germany and pick up the car from my parent’s home where it was stored after getting the hose replaced. I decided against taking the usual ferry trip from Amsterdam to Newcastle (where I live) because DFDS felt like cranking up the prices by at least 100% because holidays yo. So what I did instead was doing the smart* thing and take the ferry from Dunkirk to Dover instead, which was about 900km/8 hours away from my parent’s, and drive through most of England from Dover to Newcastle (580km/5.5 hours) right after.

Obviously, since doing this in a 26 year old car that I have driven for a grand total of maybe 4 days over the last 2 months before it broke down wasn’t interesting enough, I thought offering people a ride on the hitchhiker app BlaBlaCar would be a good way to get some money back. And while the person that sent a request first was a very pleasant fellow (guy from Gambia living in Antwerp who’s exporting cars to his home country for a living, very interesting conversations!), I quickly realized that it would become super close time wise if I wanted to arrive at the Dunkirk ferry terminal in time for the 10pm crossing.

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As it turned out, after dropping the guy off, it would take me 15 minutes more from Antwerp to Dunkirk than I had, so flooring it for most of the way (as did many other British on their way there it seems) was the only solution. But that would still be too easy! It also turned out that I had exactly!! the amount of fuel in my tank to make it to the ferry terminal, and not a single kilometer further. Well, as it turns out, the range display of the 1991 Opel Senator was exceedingly accurate... Out of fear of missing the ferry, I decided against filling up the tank, and drove straight to the terminal (not without possibly being caught in a radar trap not far from the ferry...). I didn’t make it for the 10pm ferry, but got rebooked for the next one 2 hours later at midnight, something I wasn’t aware was even possible.

Problem solved right? No. The car ran out of fuel literally within the border control checkpoint and wouldn’t start anymore. Fun times.

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So close, yet so far...

With a bit of help I managed to push it through the gate. Fortunately, in cases like this, I was able to rely on my “Plus” membership with the Gelben Engel, who would quickly send me a jerrycan of fuel to get me on my way again. Normally, the story would end here, I would fill up my tank with some sweet sweet petrol, get on the ferry to Dover in time and drive a few hours before I arrive at home. But fate was especially cruel on that day (or I was especially stupid, if the stupidity of the previous hours could be topped).

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While being on the phone with the ADAC, one of the border control guards came to me, offering me his help in broken English (English definitely isn’t mandatory for border control in France it seems...). His colleague would show up in a few minutes with a canister of fuel so I could get on the ferry in time and be gone for good. I quickly told the ADAC on the other side of the line that the problem was solved, and that they wouldn’t need to worry about me anymore. And indeed, just a few minutes later someone showed up, with a jerrycan full of fresh fuel, and quickly began filling it into my tank (not without pouring half of it on the ground in the process). Once done, I quickly swung myself into the driver seat of my trusty Senator (which made it there without a hitch, I should note here, before running out of fuel) to turn the key and start it up. And so I did, apart from the actual starting part. Which didn’t quite work out as I had expected. The car would crank normally, but the engine wouldn’t start running. Okay I thought, the fuel lines probably are bone dry and the fuel needs to reach the injectors first so lets try that again. And again, nothing. At that point I slowly started to worry. The border security guard, along with his two buddies (one of which brought me the fuel), were patiently waiting for a sign of life from the car right next to me. So let’s just try that again, this time with some pedal pumping because why not. Again, nothing but an ill-fated attempt at starting the Opel. My worries now really started to grow. Not only was the clock quickly approaching midnight, what would happen if a vital component of the Senator’s 26 year old fuel system decided to bite the dust (literally) because a lack of fuel in the tank? Maybe it was just a clogged up fuel filter from any potential sediments that might have been in the tank?

The guards seemed to become a little more worried as well now. Not knowing what might cause the starting problems, they began to search for something in the engine bay (From what I understood, they were looking for some kind of auxiliary fuel pump that would help getting the fuel to the engine...? Hard to tell when you are communicating with basic vocabulary and your hands). We tried starting the car a few more times, without any real success. Realizing that the car wouldn’t be running again, I decided to call back the ADAC and tell them what happened. They’ve sent over a tow truck which showed up about an hour later. One of the remaining guards quickly explained to the driver what happened, and the car was prepared to be loaded onto the truck. It was clear that I wouldn’t go anywhere on that night, so I got in the truck and started to organize my stay at a hotel.

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This is slowly becoming a tradition

On my way there, the truth was finally being revealed (again, in slightly worse broken English than before). As it turned out, the jerrycan delivered by one of the harbor terminal personnel wasn’t containing petrol (at that point, it is worth noting that the Opel Senator B was only offered with petrol engines during its entire production run, one of them being my 3.0 24V). It was in fact 10 liters of Diesel that the guy filled into my car. At no point was the word Diesel mentioned in any of the conversations I had with the terminal staff (a word that has exactly the same meaning in French btw). At the very least, the guy filling the contents of the jerrycan into my car (well, half of it, the rest went onto his hands/the ground) should have noticed the nice, conveniently placed sticker right on the inside of the gas cap only centimeters from his face, stating what type of fuel is supposed to be used in this type of automobile. “95/98" should be enough information for pretty much anyone on the planet to figure it out. But by then it was too late, and the fuel system of the Opel was filled with Diesel. In hindsight, I really should have confirmed first that the fuel he brought me wasn’t Diesel, but you are always smarter afterwards. Fortunately, this meant that there was at least the possibility of getting back on the road again, as pumping the Diesel out of the tank and filling it with petrol would be all that’s needed in most such cases. And while we stopped at the next petrol station to at least make an attempt, we couldn’t really proceed as French petrol station now mostly seem to be entirely automated, which means you can only pay by card.

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This wouldn’t be a problem if my German EC card wasn’t being rejected by the French fuel pump. At no time in my life have I ever had any trouble of not being able to pay with this card in a foreign country. But on this night, at this petrol station, it would be simply rejected and not work. This basically solidified my fate, I would need to stay in Dunkirk until my car was hopefully fixed on the next day. I was dropped of at a pretty questionable hotel between a motorway and retail park at 2am in the morning. After a few moments of psychological terror from fear of not being able to pay for the room with my German EC card (it worked perfectly fine...), I got my room and went to bed. Maybe I should also mention that I was expected to show up at work at 10 in the UK on the next morning...

My humble accommodation for the night
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The next morning, I called both the Garage that would fix my car and the ADAC to figure out what to do next (thank god roaming costs for mobile plans in the EU were abandoned in June...). The mechanic would look at the car trying to figure out what to do next, and I would later get a call telling me whether they were successful or not. Of course I would not hear back from them before I had to check out of the hotel, so I spent roughly 5 hours in the run down mall next door (with only a single working toilette), trying to come up with a plan how to get from Dunkirk back into the UK without having a car. At that point, I was fairly sure that the car would not be fixed by simply replacing the fuel in the tank. After several attempts of starting the engine, the combustion chambers must have been flooded with Diesel, and I cannot imagine the filter or injectors not being completely clogged up by the time the car was towed out of the terminal.

Well, as it turned out, the garage did manage to get the car running again! God was I glad to hear this! I would be able to drive the car back to the UK and not have to abandon it again in another country, without a plan for how to get it and the parts for my other cars inside where they needed to be, or myself back to work. I quickly went back to the hotel I stayed in the night before, asked them to order a taxi for me, and got to the garage as fast as I could (as I only got the confirmation after 5pm, and the garage closed at 6 - but hey, 2 hour lunch breaks on every weekday, why not?...)

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The Senator finally ready to escape from Dunkirk

I picked up the car (still stuttering noticeably under 2000rpm) and got back to the ferry terminal where I quickly bought another ticket which of course was almost twice as expensive as my previous one as it was booked on the day of traveling. Nothing quite like ripping people in need off wherever you can.

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Made on the ferry after only failing once!

I got on the ferry by 8pm, arrived in Dover at 9pm (local time), drove to the next petrol station to fill up the tank, and got on my way back to Newcastle. Since I didn’t sleep much on the night before, I was pretty tired and decided to stay at a Cambridge service station and take a 2.5 hour nap (free parking only for 3 hours). I got up at about 2.45pm and drove 225 miles back to Newcastle where I arrived at 6.30am in the morning. Surprisingly, I felt less tired as soon as the sun came up, otherwise I would have needed to make another stop and have another short nap before finishing my highly disturbing road trip.

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The Senator finally arriving at the sanctuary. Please ignore the temporary sunroof fix on the E39

And that was it! Easy, wasn’t it? I didn’t wanna go into much more details about various other problems I had encountered during this odyssey as the post is filling several books already. But I thought it would be worth sharing my experiences over the last couple of days. Interestingly enough, through all this crap, the Senator never showed a sign of weakness (even after being run out of petrol and filled up with Diesel...). At least, this story proves that old cheap cars can be reliable transportation if you don’t make borderline retarded decisions, and that it’s not worth rushing to catch an appointment as you risk a lot more than being too late for a ferry (or whatever you are rushing to).

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Thanks for reading!

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