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Articles By Mike Rooth

University Fleet Vehicles

As you know,I work in the Computing Services Dept of this great and wise institution.This is the self same place that gave the world Sebastian Coe(We *had* to give him away, he was unsaleable).

In the long lost days of *proper* computers,some wit at ICL decided that he would produce a bit of kit that would transmit messages over half a mile.Yes folks,*that* far!Of course,we got one.Or more precisely we got *it*.I dont think they made another. It,was a large box(a tasteful blue and grey) a card reader and a line printer located across the campus,you've guessed it,half a mile away. Trouble was,yours truly,being at the time Cheif Operator,had to detail the lads on a rota,to wander across and sit with the damned thing for half a day at a time.Yours truly was also heard to remark that forefront of technology or not,a man with a van would be better,quicker, cheaper,more reliable and less wearing on the Chief Operator's temper. I think they listened to the better,cheaper,quicker and more reliable bits and bought a Mini van and half a man.Well a third actually,he spent half his time working for the university library,some of what was left fiddling with the Vice Chancellor's official heap(laughingly termed a car) and if shouted at regularly occasionally worked for us.Trouble was,he was employed as a driver/mechanic,so he tended to get some funny jobs. One morning he was late turning up(So what's new?).turned out he had arrived on time only to be told to go and fetch the Security Vehicle in.This venerable piece of equipment was an old Bedford Dormobile van.Incidentally this is how the term is spelt,not Doormobile,but Dormobile,as in dormitory, which it was,but on wheels.The term got used for that particular van,whether or not it had been converted into a camper.These things had the usual sloppy column change.The security driver.Driver?Well,anyway,he had managed with no effort on his part to get the thing in first and reverse.So what? I hear you say.But at the SAME TIME?Now that takes dedication of no mean order.*We* all had a bash at it,but we are just thick,and couldnt do it. After they had managed this seemingly impossible feat twice,the guy in charge of them(an ex policeman,and a great guy)took it off them.He told them never,never,never,would they have a vehicle while he was in charge, and that they werent safe in charge of a pair of boots.

The minivan was never much good as a commercial vehicle,besides being a temeramental little sod.Really it was built as a cheap two seater with luggage space,for people that wanted wheels but couldnt afford a proper car.If you had a small load for it,it woulkd be too heavy, and if you had a light load,it would be too big.So when the driver retired early with angina,(probably directly related to Dormobiles) he bought the van,and we hired our own driver,and bought a new van. Ford Escort,this one.We had run it a year or two when the driver siad the alternator was playing up.So I went and got a new one (University money,no expense spared,notice)and stuck it in the office intending to fit it the next morning.But.the next morning I was confronted by a white and shaking driver."I dont think you need to fit that new alternator after all"says Charlie."Dont be so bloody stupid" says I,"if its duff,it isnt going to mend itself". "Yes,but have you seen where the van *is*".

The campus is built on a slope,at least this bit is.He had gone to deliver some stuff at the library up the hill and had left the van pointing downhill,out of gear......I'm told the progress was quite spectacular.It started slowly downhill,retarded initially by two brave but misguided undergraduates,proceeded at increasing velocity through a car park missing all but a mini,which proved to have lousy brakes and ended up with its nose buried in a wooden building,and finished three feet shorter than Dagenham had designed it against the wall of a building.The last twenty yards are a forty five degree slope so it was,we reckoned doing about thirty five when it stopped. The thing was,the steering lock was on so it went in a dead straight line.Did I mention the hedge?Oh yes,there was one of those,as well. Took a tractor to haul it out.It was rebuilt,but it was never the same again.One repercussion of this incident was reported to me several days later.It seems that a certain Systems Analyst was wont to cycle in to work.Once in his office,he changed his cycling trousers for his"other" pair.His office was immediately above the impact area.Ground zero,you might say.There was this terrific wallop,and his secretary rushed in thinking he had succombed to a heart attack(probably due to an operation on his wallet),to find him hopping about the room with one leg in his trousers,absolutely speechless.The secretary,a more mature lady,just fell about laughing,which didnt do his ego one bit of good.

The next vehicle was a little Bedford Beagle van.Fords were OK,but the local dealer's maintenance was rubbish.If you think that the 109" has a large turning circle,this van had one twice the size. I've *seen* a 110 drive round the car park outside this office,but the Bedford had to be shuffled roynd,backing and filling all the time. Turned out the local Vauxhall/Bedford dealer was an even bigger prat. Book it in for an exhaust?Yes sir.Get there,no exhaust in stock.The final straw came at MOT time one year.Thye had the thing in for regular maintenance(not my money remember?),so when MOT came round I told Charlie,who was still with us,just to ring 'em up and get it done. So he did.disappeared with the van about ten one morning.Rang me at eleven,to see if he could go and get a cup of tea and a wad,because the thing was still in the MOT bay.Again at twelve to say he wss going for a haircut,and at half past to say he was buggering off,fed up,for lunch. At three *I* got fed up and went into town to see what the hell they were playing at.I thought he'd got a bit on the side and was having me on!But no,the van was surrounded by so-called mechanics scratching their collective knees,with the berk of a service manager egging 'em on.Turns out the thing pulled to the right under braking."Fail it" says I,well pissed off by now.
The next morning I tried it out,and it did,indeed pull to the middle of the road.This little thing had drum brakes all round(I reckon Bedford had some left over and used them up),so I jacked it up on the car park and pulled the offside (RH) drum.Looked OK.So,I thought I'd do a brake adjustment.After all, it cant be *that* bad,I thought.Could I shift the adjusters?Could I heck as like*Both* front brake adjusters were seized solid.And the thing had had all these geniuses round it ALL THE PREVIOUS DAY.Once I'd freed of the adjusters,it was as sweet as a nut!So,back to Charlie"Book it in again and tell them the brakes are OK now".Reply was "we need it for half a day to do the brakes".On the blower gets one b,by now *very* irate Chief Op.Right,what the hell do you want the bloody thing for half a day for?""To fix the brake problem sir"."you've been told that there isnt one any longer,I've fixed it" "Oh I dont think so sir,after all,I've had three fully trained mechanics on it all day,and I'm sure if they couldnt find anything,you're extremely unlikely....."Ever seen anyone go ballistic?I'm told it was a very impressive sight.I asked him how the devil his mechanics proposed to adjust the brakes with seizeed adjusters,likened his mechanics to the primate house in the local zoo,unfavourably,and cast extreme doubts as to his parentage,ancestry,and preferred sexual activities.It passed.But. There had to be,didnt there?They'd run...out...of....the...bloody.... ..sodding...M...O...T forms!
The current vans,all three of them,are Citroen diesels.The Peugot 1800cc diesel to be precise.I'm looking at the con rod of one now.Its banana shaped.Oh it *was* straight.But some wiseacre of a mechanic,possibly with a grudge against his firm,poured water in the air cleaner,and grit in the sump.And I cant prove a thing.Two bent conrods and seven hundred quid (of university money) later the things on the road.Well, I finally got some sense and took it to a local one man garage that specialises in Citroens.He took it apart,fixed it,and put it back together again in three days.Lifes not fair,is it?

Charlie?well,*he* got some sense too.He went to University as a mature student,and got an Archeology degree.He's currently driving around in a S111 2.25 diesel that a friend has lent him.No,life *definitely* isnt fair.


Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2010. Last modified April 30, 2005.
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