Bill’s Barchetta

About a year ago David Robinson joined our club and began to explain the unusual situation by which he acquired a Barchetta.  It sounds to me as though Bill’s Barchetta was extremely fortunate to become David’s responsibility.  Here is the bitter sweet tale and thank you David for sharing your story. (so far!) 

Martin Garrad

You may well wonder why I’ve called this Bill’s Barchetta when I’m called David, well here goes……I first met Bill in 1993 when he was a course officer leading my syndicate at RAF Henlow.  The leadership course was part of my career development as an RAF Officer; little did I know then that I would meet Bill again many years later after his son and my daughter met and who now live together with our granddaughter in Huntingdon.  This car came to me through a very sad circumstance.  Not only was I very kindly given the car but it also came with all of its documented history, including its original specification and order documents.  Here’s the story so far…..

Squadron Leader Bill Scott bought his Barchetta whilst based in Germany at RAF Bruggen.  Bill was an education officer and was responsible for the education and development of staff at the RAF base.  I believe he was a bit of a petrol-head and owned a few classic British cars in his time.  Like many other forces staff, an overseas posting offered the chance of a new and tax-free car, and Bill had a hankering for a little sporty two-seater. The order for his Barchetta was placed in late 1998.  There was a discussion with his family over the colour, various arguments ensued, but Bill decided it would be yellow, apparently the same as used by Ferrari.

The car was kitted out with almost every accessory available including a hard-top and was collected from the Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia dealer in Monchengladbach in early February 1999.  A luggage rack was added to the accessories a little later in the year.  Now 1999 was a good year for both Bill and I, Bill got a new car and I was awarded an MBE on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, and yes we did party like it was 1999….and yet Bill and I were completely oblivious as to how the future would bring us together again.

Both Bill and I ‘followed the flag’ as they say, moving our families and all our worldly belongings from house-to-house and sometimes country-to-country.  I moved a mere 14 times, but I know many more moved far more than that.  Having settled in our own home after serving 22 years I can’t say I miss all of those moves.  Despite following the flag, Bill and his family had a house in Wimblington on the edge of the Fens which served as their UK base.  By the time I met Bill again he’d also retired from the RAF to that house in the Fens.  His son was living locally and he and my daughter met in 2015  through a dating site, such is the modern way……. Happily, this brought us together again; we saw one another through our family get-togethers when we would share stories of our past life in the RAF. Bill was a lovely sociable and kind man and loved being a grandfather.  Bill was a great story teller and would regale me with many stories of past cars and always seemed to look forward to getting his little car going again.  Despite a few attempts by his son, the car never did get going.  Sadly tragedy struck in Dec 2021 when Bill suddenly died, a shock to us all.

After the funeral, Linda, Bill’s wife asked if I’d like to have the car, I was overwhelmed by her kindness, and being a petrolhead I couldn’t resist.  There was also a thought that I’d get the car back on the road in honour of Bill.  Our granddaughter still calls it Grandpa Bill’s car and she’s looking forward to having a ride with the roof down.

Early in January 2022, I met Linda to look at the car, she was in good spirits and was glad the car was going to someone who would appreciate it and get it running again.  The little yellow car hadn’t moved for many years, the first time I saw it, the tyres were flat and the paint work was covered in green algae. At some point the car had a bit of a prang with the offside wing being repaired. Rust is bubbling under the surface by the repair.  The engine didn’t run but I did manage to inflate the tyres and thankfully it had been parked with the handbrake off which meant it was possible to move it.

Having arranged to collect the car I needed to do a little research and a little internet searching led me to many places for parts and advice including this club.  Martin was very welcoming and offered loads of encouragement and advice.  Martin also introduced me to a local member, Mark Simmonds, who has called in to see me, it was a pleasure to meet him too; I must catch up with him soon. Now on with the story…….

A local car transportation service quickly got the car onto a flat-bed where I was able to see the underside which looked in reasonable condition. Thirty minutes later the car was at my house where I set about giving it a jet wash, probably the first wash in over a decade.  After some basic checks and turning the engine over by hand, a new battery was fitted but the car refused to start.  More checks revealed the fuel pump was seized but further inspection revealed all of the rubber seals around the breather float valves on the fuel tank were rotten and gelatinous.  

I stupidly managed to shear one of the mounting bolts when removing the fuel pump so a second-hand tank and fuel pump were ordered from Henk in Holland.  I’ve got to say Henk was a gentleman, he responded to many emails and phone calls even whilst he was in hospital with quite a serious illness; I understand he’s recovered now and continues to provide great service.  Another member kindly gave me a link to obtain replacement float valve rubbers which I obtained from a supplier in Germany.  Once the tank was fitted and another manual turn of the engine, a further check of the cam belt and some fresh petrol another attempt at firing the car was made.  The fuel pump could be heard spinning up and the fuel system pressurised then the last twist of the key caused the starter to spin the engine which fired after a few turns.  With only a little over 18000 on the clock and a running engine it made the car a viable restoration project.  I understand that the odometer may well still show in Kilometres even if the gauge is calibrated in MPH, does anyone know if that’s true?

Parts were then ordered for a full service from Shop4Parts, I also managed to get a pleasantly and surprisingly rapid response from Martin to secure a discount.  Again, Shop4Parts were superb with help and clarification of the correct service items.

Following a full service, water pump change and cam belt change the car was fired up again and once the oil pressure built up the engine sounded fine. Unfortunately, the rear box blew out loads of rust and needed to be replaced, Ricambio supplied that and two new seat belts.  Despite numerous phone calls and exchanges of pictures the seat belts were not correct and were duly returned.  The hangers on the back exhaust box are also way off and need to be heated and bent, a job still waiting to be done.

The hard-top was removed and an attempt to lift the soft-top was made.  Unfortunately, it has age perished and shrunk, it simply won’t stretch enough which is a shame as it’s only got a slight tear, but it will have to be replaced in due course.

With all those years outside and despite having a hard-top water had got into the cabin and had soaked into the sponge like sound-deadening floor liner.  This meant that the seats, trim and centre console had to come out, which is easy enough just painstakingly slow and fiddly.  Once dried out the only serious corrosion was revealed, the seam along the floor-pan to the sill on the driver’s side has a small hole in it where the water had constantly sat, slowly eating away at the metal for years.  The passenger side hasn’t perforated but it also looks like it needs a patch.  I’ve removed the old tar-based sound-deadening pads in preparation for welding and treated the area with rust killer for now.

Even though the discs and pads were replaced about 6 or so years ago in preparation for one of those trips for an MOT that sadly never happened, they are rusty and I’ve got a new set all-around awaiting my attention.

This year I hope to get the car back on the road which means getting the welding done, the brakes serviced, and reassembly of the interior.  The radio needs repairing, I’m keen to keep it period but have it updated with Bluetooth, I know there are a few specialists out there who can do that.  There are also a few trim parts that need replacing, but thankfully nothing major.  The seat-belts are going to be a challenge if I can’t find new ones, but I’ve read a few suggestions to clean the exposed area which has ‘swollen’ with age and dirt preventing full retraction.  The answer may be to send them off to be reconditioned but they are essential for an MOT so they won’t be too far away from attention. 

At some point it’s going to need a new soft-top together with some bodywork TLC, probably a respray at some point.  I’ve got a local trimmer who is going to re-trim the hard top too which also needs a respray in its original black.

So there we are, the story of this car has been an interesting one so far even though it’s tinged with a little sadness.  Yet I hope with the ongoing restoration I’ll get it on the road again and our families can enjoy using it and continue to remember Bill’s Barchetta with a big smile, a smile that this lovely little yellow car always manages to evoke every time you set your eyes on it.    To be continued……

David Robinson

NB.  I had to ask David, as I am sure others will want to know, why was he honoured with an MBE?  It was for Services to the RAF and for Operational Work.  Well done David. (MG)