Electricity and the motor car


I was always taught that physics was an exact science.  What goes up must come down, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, similar magnetic poles repel, pressure is equally distributed in a closed vessel, the speed of light is absolute, e=mc2 and all that kind of stuff.  Well, it’s not.  If you ever want to disprove physics as a science, then buy a car.  They do not obey physical laws.

I have always considered car electrics to be a black art.  Take the battery, for example, and I am sure you have all experienced the following.  You have a perfectly good battery which is just over 12 months old.  In your mind that’s almost brand new.  In fact, you can even remember how much you paid for it, so it must be very new.  And then one morning it won’t turn the engine over.  It worked perfectly yesterday, and now it won’t, or doesn’t want to.

1959 Mini 1959 Mini

You push start the car and run it for half an hour, as you suppose you must have left the headlights on, or something equally as explicable.  Turn it off, and hey presto!  It’s as dead as a dodo.

If you are really into masochism, you then borrow your mate’s battery charger and leave it on all night.  Triumphantly you remove the cables and jump in.  It doesn’t work.  Perfectly good one day, completely cactus the next.  Explain that one, Mr. Edison.

I haven’t finished with electrics yet.  There’s the fuel pump on the original Mini’s, made by Lucas, that company otherwise known as the Prince of Darkness.  In a fit of madness, Sir Alec Issigonis decided to put the fuel pump under the floor of the boot.

Now if the pump had been carefully wrapped in its own pump-sized condom, everything would have been fine.  But it wasn’t, was it?  Puddles, streams, overflowing Pattaya Second Road, or a decent spit, would cause the pump to stop.  OK, OK, water in the points, so the electrical pulse doesn’t, or something.  Whatever, the end result is that you are stranded.

Actually I have had a life-long hate of fuel pumps.  Remember the old MG TCs?  The pump was mounted on the right hand side of the scuttle firewall.  Whenever it stopped ticking you had to get out, and perform black magic to get it to work.  You unscrewed the cap and gently coaxed the points back into flutter mode, then reassembled everything and away you went.

I had another method, which did not require you to stop at the side of the road or unscrew anything.  I used to keep a short iron bar down beside the driver’s seat and when the pump stopped pumping, I would lean out with the bar in my hand and beat buggery out of the pump.  It would start again, either because I had made the points open and close, or because the pump was so frightened it was trembling.  To make it easy, the sides were off the bonnet (‘de rigeur’ in those days, complete with leather straps across the top bonnet panels).

And now they are talking about electric cars.  So help me!