The oldest car in the club (unless you can prove otherwise!)

Since I have been membership secretary I have endeavoured to complete the club register with details that were missing.  In particular the chassis or VIN number seems an interesting fact to hold on record. This enabled the recent articles of newest and earliest cars which included an account by Matt Jackson about his 1995 car ZFA-18300000001305

Another member that I have nagged away to supply his VIN is Gerry Mann who lives in Glasgow but keeps his car in France.  Gerry was finally able to supply his chassis number of ZFA-18300000001137 making it a tad older than Matt’s car.  So a good reason to have another article from a member who obviously loves his car.  Thank you Gerry for this contribution.

Martin Garrad

(Membership Secretary)

April 2017


by Gerry Mann

Some considerable time ago, Martin Garrad emailed me to enquire about my vehicle’s chassis number.  As my Barchetta was in France, along with all its papers, and I was in Glasgow, I was unable to reply. This applied to subsequent requests as for over a year I was unable to travel.  Last month, when I returned to France, I looked out the information and sent it on.  You can imagine how thrilled I was when Martin replied advising me that my Barchetta was the oldest registered listing within the club.  (Prior to my submission, Matt Jackson was listed as owning the oldest vehicle in the Club – sorry Matt).

I consider my Barchetta to be a truly European car.  Manufactured in Italy, it was first registered in Germany.  Some years later a buyer brought it to England and subsequently it was sold to an enthusiast in Scotland.  I purchased her some six years ago from a man in Fife and brought her back to Glasgow before taking her across to my home in French Catalonia.

I’ve now been driving for close on forty years but until recently I wouldn’t consider myself to have been a car enthusiast.  I did buy and maintain a Triumph Herald for some time about fifteen years ago but that aside, I’ve always considered driving a chore and cars merely a tool.

In 2011, I decided to buy an inexpensive left hand drive car to take out and use in France. My original thinking was a plain run-a-round, maybe a Twingo or the like.

I scanned local advertisements and Gumtree and that’s when I came across the ad for my Barchetta.  At that time I hadn’t previously come across the model and I was curious. I called my brother-in-law (who is a life-long car enthusiast) and he came with me to Fife to check out the car.  It was love at first sight and I had to have it.

This was the first time I’d driven a left hand drive on British roads so I was somewhat precarious in bringing her back to Glasgow. On arrival, my wife was a little stunned to find I’d purchased a roadster instead of a Twingo.  Although there were a lot of mutterings about ‘boys and toys’ and ‘mid life crisis’ I know that she was secretly quite delighted.

Within less than a week, we had it serviced, MOT’d and checked over, booked the Eurotunnel and were ready to embark on the marathon journey. In hindsight, it was probably much more foolhardy than brave to take on a 1250 mile journey in such a recently acquired vehicle, with me as the only driver.  We did however take the precaution of purchasing temporary AA euro breakdown insurance.

Day one started badly when our car wouldn’t start and we thought the whole trip may have to be aborted. It was only after we’d wasted an hour that we discovered that one key on each set hadn’t been chipped to deactivate the immobiliser.

Not uncommonly for Scotland, the conditions were inclement requiring the roof up.  Undeterred, if slightly late, we set off and made steady progress, arriving in Folkestone by early evening.  We’d been pleasantly surprised at the fuel economy, achieving almost double of what we get in our Hyundai Tucson.

The following morning we rose early and made our way to take up our Chunnel booking. Once in France, the weather cleared and for the first time we had the pleasure of driving with the top down. Although we stopped regularly to check temperature and oil, we again made steady progress, other than the long delays manoeuvring our way round the Paris ring road. Late afternoon and mid way through France, I noticed the petrol gauge reading about a quarter full but by my reckoning I thought we ought to be running lower.  I decided to pull in at the next services but before I was able to do so we ground to a halt.  My calculations hadn’t allowed for the significant drop in fuel economy while we were circling Paris.

We made use of our yellow jackets and triangle and we tried calling the AA only to be told they were not permitted to attend breakdowns on the French motorway and we should instead call the police who would arrange for service. Over the coming hours, the police attended and then sent a breakdown vehicle which supplied us with ten litres of fuel. We restarted without a problem and refuelled properly at the next station (less than ten kilometres from where we’d stopped). We cut off at the next town seeking an overnight stay but we were already too late for most hotels to accept admissions. I sat in the car while my wife checked out our third attempt.  They were about to reject our request when the owner spotted the Barchetta.  She quickly arranged for her husband to open their courtyard wanting the car (if not us) to be safe and enclosed overnight.

The rest of the journey progressed without incident and we arrived the following day.  This part of the world is ideal terrain for our Barchetta. It really feels at home darting about the narrow mountain and coastal roads and, as the area has its own micro-climate, it’s very rare that we require to use the soft-top.

Our next challenge was to have the car matriculated into the French system. This was when we discovered the significance of ‘bureaucracy’ being a French word. Every time we thought we had the paperwork sorted out, something else was asked for.  However with a lot of perseverance, accompanied by, amongst other things, the UK registration document, insurance documentation, European certificate of conformity, tax declaration., Control Technique certificate (MOT equivalent) and registration fee, we got there and were issued with a Carte Grise making our  Barchetta a French car.

To be able to legally drive in France, we had fitted headlamp beam benders, however a condition of the Control Technique was that within a reasonable period we needed to have the headlamps adjusted to suit driving on the right. To our horror we discovered that replacements would cost upwards of one thousand euros plus a fitting charge. After a lot of research online, my wife discovered a French website with instructions on how to adjust the lights. (It advised how to open the lights and cut a small piece of plastic but included a warning about how fragile it was and the exorbitant cost to replace it if we got it wrong).  In due course we had a local garage carry out this work, as well as changing some fuel hoses at a combined cost which gave us change from two hundred euros.  Our favourable treatment might well have been influenced as the engineer had a particular liking for the car and we witnessed his apprentice tenderly stroke the wing every time he walked past it.

One final piece of information we discovered was that French garages are not normally prepared to step beyond their normal sources of supply.  We became aware of a problem with fumes escaping the exhaust and remedying the problem required a replacement part.  Our garage said they would acquire it and come back to us.  After chasing them several times, we discovered they were unable to find a supplier.  This whole procedure was repeated at a second garage.  We checked ourselves online and quickly found an English supplier who agreed to post the part to our French garage and at a quarter of the cost the French garage had estimated the part would cost – had they been able to get it.

We’ve found that driving our Barchetta in France has been great fun but as you’ll have noted from the above, it can be a bit quirky.

Gerry Mann

April 2017