Monday, 29 November 2010

Of differentials and viscous couplings

Much of the past week has seen me kitted out in the fine orange overalls I mentioned in my last post, with grease streaked across my forehead and under my fingernails, and all kinds of pungent Land Rover innards oil in my hair. I must thank everyone at Nene Overland in Peterborough first of all for their endless patience and good-humoured explanations as to what sumps, prop shafts, cylinder heads, gaskets, differentials, intake manifolds, planetary gearings, universal joints, drum brakes  are ... and how they all work together to comprise the Land Rover Defender. It's another world under the bonnet and beneath the chassis, and a fascinating one.

More than once, while watching painstakingly fine work being carried out on unwell engines in the garage at Nene, a parallel with medical surgery occurred to me: at different times, a mechanic must be a general surgeon, a brain surgeon, an orthopaedic surgeon, and sometimes a cosmetic one. I was amazed by how long it can take to replace a starter solenoid (this in itself sounds like some kind of nasal problem that requires antibiotics) in a Range Rover. In Grettis saga, Grettir Ásmundarson, another famous medieval Icelandic saga outlaw, utters the proverb "Verðr þat, er varir ... ok svá hitt, er eigi varir" ("The foreseeable happens ... as well as that which is not expected"). Proverbial words to this effect are also found in the anonymous Old Norse poem Sólarljóð ('The Poem [ljóð] of the Sun [sól]'. The first syllable (sol-) in the name of the vehicle part solenoid is the initial element of the Greek word solen ('pipe, channel') rather than the Latin sol, which means 'sun'. Sun shine on a snowy day? ... at least as far as starter solenoids are concerned, this is one thing that I will not have to worry about failing -- expectedly or unexpectedly -- in my 1990 3500 cc V8 petrol Embulance, since she does not have one, thank goodness.  

Although I did not order it in, the genuine arctic weather that has descended on Britain in recent days could not have come at a better time for me: I got even more out of learning how to handle a Defender 110 off-road today under the instruction of the ProTrax team at Rockingham Castle than I had hoped I would. I will not be going off-road in Iceland as this is banned on account of the fragility of the natural environment there. But many of the saga-sites I intend to reach will not be easily accessible and the unsurfaced roads and tracks will present certain challenges, especially given the size and weight of the Embulance, so much of what I was taught will prove to be extremely useful. After a day of tackling steep and icy rutted tracks in and out of an old quarry, my faithful old 999cc VW Polo felt like a toy car driving back home along the A14. Driving in the snow isn't a game, though...  


  1. More than once, while watching painstakingly fine work being carried out on unwell engines in the garage at Nene, a parallel with medical surgery occurred to me: at different times, a mechanic must be a general surgeon, a brain surgeon, an orthopaedic surgeon, and sometimes a cosmetic one.

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  2. Although I did not order it in, the genuine arctic weather that has descended on Britain in recent days could not have come at a better time for me: I got even more out of learning how to handle a Defender 110 off-road today under the instruction of the ProTrax team

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