Extract from Chapter 12,
Ferrari on the way to Greece.
After their last stop on the Autostrada, Charles had only been driving the Streak for a few minutes when he stiffened and gestured urgently at Jamie while indicating that he was going to slow down and pull over.
'There's a funny smell,' he muttered. 'And what's that noise?'
Fortunately, Jamie had been following him quite closely at the time, and he pulled up behind the Streak on the hard shoulder a
s they cruised to a halt.
'What's up, boss?' he inquired. 'There seems to be a bit of smoke coming out of the back from somewhere.'
Charles was fumbling with the catches of the rear engine cover, and when he got it open, a huge cloud of whiteish blue smoke and steam immediately enveloped them. Suddenly, flames burst out of the engine bay, making Charles leap back in horror
'Quickly!' he gasped, 'Fire extinguisher, now!'
His voice trailed away as he realised that a powerful blast was already playing into the tightly packed compartment, and as the smoke cleared he turned to Jamie.
'Thank you, Jamie,' he coughed. 'That was quick thinking.'
The younger man smiled.
'First rule you learn as a Fire Marshal is never to open an engine bay without your fire extinguisher at the ready,' he said imperturbably. 'Now then, let's see what's amiss in here.'
He peered at the sooty little engine, and asked, 'Can you override the computer to start it? It's all right, I'll have the extinguisher poised for action. Stand by to switch it off again when I shout though.'
Charles opened the front bonnet and flicked a few switches. After a few moments, the little diesel clattered into life again, sounding distinctly unhappy.
'OK, switch it off again,' called Jamie, and as the engine stuttered into silence, he sat back on his haunches.
Charles looked at him expectantly.
'Well,' Jamie said. 'It looks as though you've blown the head gasket, and not only were you losing coolant, but this engine has lube oil passages through the gasket, and the escaping oil was spraying on to the exhaust. Hence the flames. Lucky you stopped when you did.'
Charles was crestfallen. 'Well, I pulled over as soon as I smelt the burning, but I should have checked the head bolt torques before we left the UK, now that I come to think about it. The engine had very few hours on it when I bought it, and it must have been just about ready for the head bolts to be tightened down even before I sent it hurtling down the AutoRoute. What a plonker I am.'
'Never mind,' Jamie soothed. 'You were probably quick enough on the uptake to have averted any major problems, and I may just have some stuff aboard to get us mobile again. As well as my magic goop I've got engine oil and premixed coolant as well, although I don't expect you've lost all that much. Where are we?'
Charles began to look a little more hopeful, and went to get the road map and check the Garmin GPS.
'I think the last intersection was for Reggio nell' Emilia,' he said. 'Yes, here we are. That means that if we can limp another 20 kilometres or so we could pull off at Modena and find a garage. I'm sure Ferrari could fix it for us!'
Jamie was outraged. 'Limp?' he said. 'I'll have you know my magic goop has got me through a full bore rally stage before now.' He strolled back to the Range Rover to collect his toolbox.
An hour later Jamie had removed the cylinder head, pronounced it sound, and replaced it with a liberal dose of his magic glue on both sides of the damaged gasket.
'Now, all we have to do is wait for precisely 42 minutes,' Jamie said, pushing an errant lock of hair out of his eyes with an oil-blackened paw before Charles could grab his arm. He smiled and checked his watch.
'How about a nice cup of tea?' he inquired. 'I've got all the makings in the Rover.'
And so they sat on the verge of the Autostrada on Mr and Mrs King's picnic chairs, and while enjoying a very pleasant cup of tea they shared, with scrupulous fairness, a rather dusty Kit Kat bar that Jamie had found in the glove compartment of the Range Rover.
Fortunately, there was not much traffic on the road, and they were able to chat happily together as the minutes ticked away. Most of the vehicles were racing along at what were probably highly illegal speeds, and none of them showed the slightest sign of stopping to offer assistance, apart from one car, a low-slung scarlet Ferrari with English plates, which did slow down as if to have a good look at them, but then accelerated away again. Eventually, Jamie looked at his watch, stretched and stood up.
'Well, that should have set nicely by now,' he said. 'There's no rest for the wicked. D'you want to give her a whirl, boss?'
Charles started the diesel, and it purred away as happily as ever. 'Well done, young man,' he said. 'Now then, what are our chances of finding a garage with a Rover head gasket in Modena before nightfall?'
They headed off in convoy, and Charles led the Rover off the Autostrada into Modena in a state of some depression. However, before they had gone more than a couple of kilometres into the town he was delighted to see the familiar Viking ship of the Rover badge, as well as those of Jaguar, Mercedes and Ferrari, on a big garage set well back from the highway.
An urgent clarion call from the Range Rover's mighty klaxon behind them proved that Jamie had noticed it at the same instant, and the cars turned on to the forecourt in convoy.
Pulling up outside the service reception, Charles realised with a sinking feeling that explaining the problem to an Italian service manager with no more than a handful of Italian was not going to be easy.
However, he need not have worried. Signor Bellezzi spoke excellent if unorthodox English, as did his foreman. On the other hand, the availability of the necessary replacement gasket made them furrow their brows.
'The work, the actual work,' the service manager explained. 'Is no a problem for us, but we have a no such a gasaketa here. Allow me for interrogating the computer.'
After a great deal of such interrogation, helped along by much expansive arm waving and intensive discussion with his staff, he turned back to his English customers with a beaming smile.
'We 'ave locate a one a gasaketa, the only one in Italia, and he will be here the next a day, the day after today, in the morning.
Charles turned to his companion. 'Well,' he said. 'There's no way round that. We'll just have to find somewhere to stay overnight.'
'If I can a recommend you?' said Signor Bellezzi. 'There is the famous Pensione of the, 'ow you say, a jumping 'orse? It is close by the factory of a Ferrari at a Maranello, and some of our a customers 'ave a like very much to stay there. And while we a fix your so unusual and excellent a car, you could per'aps like to visit a Ferrari in the morning for a tour?'
Charles looked at Jamie, who nodded with enthusiasm.
'Good, good. I will make a telephonings. They know us a well, and at the factory also.'
After two extensive telephone calls, both accompanied by a great deal of arm waving, he turned to them with a satisfied smile.
'Every thing is a fixed up,' he said. 'There is a plenty of a rooms at the Pensione, and my friends at a Ferrari sound a quite interested in your a car. They have asked, in a fact, that I deliver it to you in the Scuderia reception, for them to inspect. I will give you a instructiones myself, in fact.'
The Streak was carefully driven away by the foreman, and Signor Bellezzi ushered them to the Range Rover, where Jamie was given careful instructions as to how to find the hotel.
'And for the a payment, Signore John?' he murmured discreetly. 'One has a the Carta American Express or something a similare?'
Charles assured him that payment would not be a problem, and the Italian genially waved them on their way. Outside the Pensione, they noticed a dusty and rather careworn looking Ferrari wearing British registration plates, and Jamie gave Charles a nudge.
'That's the same guy who slowed down while we were stuck on the verge, isn't it?'
Charles peered at the car. It looked quite new, but its front bumper was crumpled at both corners, while the passenger side door was fairly seriously bent in.
'I think you're right. Well, he probably thought we were just having a nice cup of tea. Which we were, of course.'
Their rooms in the hotel were comfortable, and Ferrari posters, photographs and other mementos covered every inch of wall space.
'That could have turned out very much worse,' said Charles, leaning back in his chair after an excellent dinner. 'And a tour round the Ferrari factory should be fascinating. Nowhere better to see their techniques of building, more or less by hand, and in fact most modern car plants are distinctly light on artisans. Plenty of robots though, which are fascinating too, of course.
Just then, a rather stout young man wearing a Ferrari anorak came over to their table.
'Hi there,' he said. 'I saw the Rover outside. Didn't I pass you on the Autostrada this afternoon? I slowed down to see if you needed anything, but it looked as though you were just having a picnic, so I pressed on. My name's Justin, Justin Percival.'
They introduced themselves, and Justin explained that he had driven down to place an order for a new Ferrari 360, if he could persuade Ferrari to let him drive one around the Ferrari test track first. They told him that they were going to have a tour round the plant the next morning, and he approved.
'I always have Ferraris,' he said. 'Nothing to touch 'em.'
Next morning they received a reassuring call from Signor Bellezzi confirming that the new gasket had indeed arrived, and that he would personally deliver the car to them at the Ferrari plant.
'You are invited for a lunch by my friend a Ing. Dottore Marciano. He is the a Head of the a Development Engineering for a Ferrari.'
An attractive young woman called Ing Serena, an engineer in the testing department, introduced herself as having been chosen to host their factory tour.
'We all take it in turns to help with the visitors, especially those of us who can speak some English or whatever language we need,' she explained.
The tour of Ferrari, which they had both enjoyed, was to end with a few laps of the test track in a Ferrari driven by one of their test drivers. However, when they arrived Justin was there ahead of them, wearing what looked like brand new Ferrari red racing overalls that had obviously been tailored to fit his generous proportions.
He was talking to the test driver, Gianni, a swarthy fellow of middle years wearing a similar but distinctly grubby set of scarlet overalls.
When he saw Serena, he jerked his thumb at an oil-spattered crimson 360 which crouched, ticking ominously, in the pit lane of the test track. A powerful heat haze was still rising from its engine vent louvres.
Jamie moved forward eagerly, then paused and half turned.
'OK if I go first?' he asked.
Charles smiled his agreement, but Serena motioned to him to wait and went off to have a few words with Justin and Gianni. After a couple of minutes she returned, and asked if they would mind if Mr Percival went for his drive in the 360 first.
'He is a very good customer of Ferrari, you see?' she said apologetically.
So they watched as the portly young man carefully settled himself into the driving seat of the Ferrari, which was fitted with a full six-point safety harness.
The taciturn Gianni checked that his belts were secure, slammed the door, and stood back.
Justin started the engine, and in one vigorous series of movements set it wailing at several thousand rpm, engaged first gear, and dropped the clutch. The result was dramatic. A huge cloud of smoke billowed from the rear wheel arches as the car rocketed forward, its engine screaming as if in pain, the car weaving from side to side, two broad stripes of hot black rubber remaining on the track.
Justin's right foot obviously remained firmly planted to the floor as gearchange after gearchange brought the engine screaming to peak revs time and time again.
Within seconds, the car was a rapidly diminishing dot as it headed down the short straight towards a left hand hairpin bend at the end.
At the very last moment the brake lights flared for a brief second and they heard two staccato rasps from the exhausts as Justin snatched a couple of downshifts before hurling the car sideways into the bend, the tyres screeching in protest.
The Ferrari slalomed crazily out of the bend in a huge untidy power slide, the driver's right foot evidently once more firmly pressing on the floorboards, and hurtled back towards them. They caught a glimpse of Justin's intent face and the scarlet glow from the red-hot brake discs as he flung the car into the right-hander and fishtailed away into the distance.
'Signore Justin, we know him very well. He thinks he is a very fast driver, but in fact that is not at all the quickest way to drive a Ferrari,' remarked Serena conversationally as the cacophony of frenzied exhaust and tyre noise diminished, and then began to increase again. 'Gianni he sometimes drives like that, because he has to prove that our cars can stand up to the absolute worst a customer can inflict. Which is like Signore Justin drives, pretty well.'
Charles and Jamie stared, horror struck, as the crimson car swept past them at enormous speed before skidding round the hairpin again and hurtling back towards them. Serena had pressed the button on her stopwatch as Justin passed them and now stood watchfully, ready to press it again when he returned.
'But doesn't he crash a lot? asked Charles.
'Oh yes, quite a lot. This is why he is such a good customer for Ferrari,' answered Serena comfortingly. 'He needs to buy a new Ferrari every year, just about. Gianni does not crash Ferraris at all, though,' she assured them. 'It is his job. He does this sort of thing all day, every day. You will be quite safe. Gianni is expert.'
Just then the 360 screeched to a halt beside them, the brake discs again glowing red, and the silence after the engine was switched off was shocking. Justin opened the passenger door and unbuckled his harness.
'What was my fastest time?' he shouted.
'1 minute 25.4,' said Serena, and he scowled and got out of the car.
Gianni gestured to Jamie, who climbed in to the passenger seat and quickly buckled up his harness. Gianni's style was much smoother than Justin's, although the fierce braking and tyre smoking acceleration looked pretty similar from the trackside.
When he pulled in again after a couple of laps Serena showed them the stopwatch, Justin crowding forward eagerly.
'1 minute 23.8,' she said, and Justin's face fell even further.
'Well, I'll be buggered,' he grunted crossly.
Charles was just getting ready for his turn with Gianni when Serena's mobile phone trilled.
'Pronto,' she said, and listened for several seconds. 'Si, si, pronto!' she replied, and switched off her phone before turning to Charles with a deeply regretful expression on her face.
'I am very sorry,' she said. 'Your so amazing car is here, and the Dottore requests that you explain everything to him. So you will miss your drive with Gianni, perhaps after lunch will be OK?'
Charles said that he was of course truly desolated, but that yes, perhaps some other time, even perhaps another day could be arranged. By this time Jamie had rejoined them, still wordless, and they all crowded into Serena's Fiat for the short drive to the offices.
As they passed the scarlet Ferrari, Justin seemed to be trying to persuade Gianni to give him another try in the 360. The Italian gave them an enigmatic wave as they drove away. As they drove into the Scuderia car park, they could see a small group of people clustered round the Streak, and once Serena had parked the Fiat, they walked across towards them.
'Ah, a Signore John,' said Signore Bellezzi, turning to welcome them with a dazzling smile. 'Not only is your wonderful a car so remarkable, it is so easy to a drive. Nothing a special to learn, no differencia in techniques, not special controls, nothing. Here is a Ingeniore Dottore Marciano, he is the a Direttore of the Researching for a Ferrari, who is a most interested in your a car.'
Doctor Marciano was a dignified looking individual who first had to be correctly introduced to Jamie. Then he formally introduced them to each of his staff members in turn. Finally, he asked Charles to explain the basic principles.
'Well, I suppose there are two main concepts,' said Charles. 'The first is to use electric traction so that there need be no exhaust pollution in towns. The batteries are recharged by a little turbodiesel with afterburning to provide ultra low particulates emissions. This always runs flat out, at its absolute maximum possible level of efficiency. The engine can be inhibited from cutting in in towns for zero emissions purposes, and driven gently the car can do a full day of urban driving without recharge.'
The Italians nodded their appreciation of this unexceptionable ecological principle without any noticeable degree of enthusiasm.
'The second principle,' Charles went on. 'Is that in your cars you carry a very powerful engine around with you the whole time just for the occasional few seconds of hard acceleration. I made an analysis of the percentage of time a driver uses full throttle in a typical fast road journey, and it was quite small.'
'Not for some of your customers, and of course not for your own Gianni, whom we have just had the privilege of admiring at work, but for most people, most of the time, your beautiful engine is usually working at not much above idling speed. So I use four small but extremely powerful 75 kW electric motors, one in each wheel, using rare earth magnet technology to provide very good acceleration, perhaps even better than a traditional sports car, but for a few seconds only at a time. No gearbox, no drive shafts. Then, after overtaking a truck for example, you return to your usual cruising speed and the diesel recharges the battery. Also, when braking the motors work in reverse, as generators, and pump kinetic energy into the batteries, because it has always seemed to me to be a criminal waste of energy to dump it as heat through conventional brake systems.'
Charles unobtrusively set the genset to run continuously.
'75 kW does not sound very much,' said one of the Ferrari engineers.
'75 kW each,' said Charles. 'And there are four of them, remember. That's almost 400 bhp.'
'This is all very interesting,' said Doctor Marciano. 'And it works?'
'It certainly does,' said Charles. 'Will you climb in and come down to the test track with me? And Serena, will you bring the others?'
After the brief ride to the test track the good doctor professed himself charmed by the silence and smoothness of the Streak.
'Thank you,' said Charles, getting out of the driving seat. 'Jamie, you know your way round the track. Will you show us a quick lap? What is Gianni's best lap time in the 360, Serena?'
'1 minute 23.6 seconds,' she said, and took out her stopwatch again. 'But Michael has done 1 minute 20.2 in an F40,' she added.
Jamie climbed into the Streak with a broad smile, and after a few moments the silver car lowered itself into its fully streamlined form and cruised off at moderate speed on to the track and down towards the hairpin bend. A few seconds later, still driven gently, it was returning on the parallel straight to sweep neatly round the right-hander before heading off into the distance.
'Good,' said Charles. 'He's realised he's got to start his timed lap fully charged.'
And indeed, when the Streak hurtled past them to start its flying lap it was certainly tearing along extremely quickly. Serena pressed the button on her timer and watched with interest as the little car tracked tidily round the hairpin bend without fuss, accelerated strongly back towards them and surged round the right-hander before disappearing into the distance at high speed.
'And so quiet, too,' marvelled Serena. 'No oversteer, no understeer, no wheel spin, no skidding.' When the Streak hurtled past them for the second time she pressed the button, and looked at the watch with incredulity.
'1 minute 23.2, ' she said in hushed tones as Jamie cruised the Streak onwards around a gentle third lap to return to the pits. As the little hybrid coasted quietly to a stop in front of them a couple of minutes later, Jamie was already raising the car up to its four-seater configuration.
Doctor Marciano was powerfully impressed, and walked across to shake Charles by the hand, and the two men were already deep in technicalities when Jamie joined them, beaming broadly.
'Mean fuel consumption 62 mpg,' he interjected. 'How about a special for Le Mans next year?'
Serena showed the doctor the stopwatch, and he looked at her searchingly. She nodded, mute, and showed the watch to Gianni, who scowled disbelievingly. Justin looked shell-shocked.
'My God,' the Doctor said to Charles. 'This may be the most significant technical development I have seen in a decade, more than a decade. Mr John, can you stay for a few days, as guests of Ferrari of course, so that my people can properly analyse your so amazing little car?'
Charles shook his head regretfully. 'Lunch would be very acceptable, of course, but then we shall have to be on our way. We've lost rather a lot of time as it is. But of course we should be happy to work together with your superb engineering team as we move towards production, if you are interested?'
After an excellent meal in the Ferrari Directors' dining room they continued on their journey, and Jamie was concentrating on building up the heavily loaded Range Rover to its cruising speed when Charles' disembodied voice came over the ether from the Streak.
'We couldn't do Le Mans in Streak, of course, because, as we were discussing the other day, racers are always either flat out or hard on the brakes,' he said. 'It was very bright of you to cruise gently round most of the out lap as it was, Jamie, and I'll bet you didn't have much battery left by the end of your flying lap?'
'Just about none, in fact,' said Jamie. 'Which is why I raised her up as we came in, while the diesel was still running. But wasn't Justin's face a picture when he saw our time? Thanks for resetting the genset to continuous by the way. That was a help.'
'You're right about Justin,' said Charles. 'I'm sure he gets a lot of kicks out of terrifying his friends, even when he's not actually crashing his beautiful Ferraris.'
The traffic was light on the road to the ferry port, all the trucks bound for Greece having reported in good time, and they rumbled up the great iron ramp into the cavernous hold of the ferry with an hour to spare.