The Concours Run 2023 – Day 5: Leeton to Sydney

The final day of our road trip came up quickly.    After a pleasant evening in the historic Hydro hotel in Leeton, it was time to head back to Sydney.     Our first stop for breakfast was a bakery in West Wyalong.     The drive was 130km, and went through far more farmland than we had seen yesterday.   I guess this all part of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

During a stop to let the convoy regroup, I noticed a grinding noise from my engine bay.   Using a hammer as a sound transmitter, it was clear the noise was coming from my alternator.     I had noticed a squeaking noise from my car when cold, which I had put down to belt noise when cold.   I guess 3,000km of driving has been hard on the bearings in the alternator.

The noise didn’t seem too bad, so we kept going and had breakfast in West Wyalong.   The home made potato pies were great!

When I restarted the car, I heard a horrible belt squeal and smoke from under the bonnet.   I quickly shut down the car to see that the alternator had totally locked up.     This presented a problem, as we were over 500km from Sydney.   We cut the belt off, and drove to a nearby auto electrician.

He didn’t have an alternator, nor was there one locally.   What he did have was a battery that should fit, so I bought that as an insurance policy.      We also stopped by a wrecker, who didn’t have anything.   While city wreckers are becoming a thing of the past due to property prices, country wreckers are still very much in business.   Not surprisingly they don’t carry many parts for 80s Mercedes.

We decided to keep going and see how car I could limp the car without an alternator.   I ultimately managed to get the 140km to Parkes before I was down to 11.6 volts.   They car was still running fine but had become rather sluggish.   I was really happy about two things.   Firstly, that I installed the bluetooth battery monitor a couple of days before the Concours Run, and that when I had wired up the amplifier, I triggered it off a relay from the radio.   Turning off the radio turned off the amplifier.

Instead of using my new battery so early, the owner of the 380SEC kindly agreed to do a battery swap.   That way I would use his battery and his car would charge mine.    We were not going to let a seized alternator get in the way of the days agenda, so we headed off towards the Parkes Radio Telescope for some photos.     It is far further from Parkes than I remember, abut 20km towards Dubbo.

Parkes Radio Telescope

After taking some photos in Parkes, we headed off towards Orange.   The drive was uneventful, as agriculture gave way to rolling hills.     Orange was the location of a fuel stop, and another battery change.    The 380SEC had become a mobile battery tender. The W126 has such a big battery that the other cars could not help.  We also stopped in at other wrecker. While they had a D-jet 350SE with an alternator, it was very crusty and much smaller.

AlternatorFrom Orange, our next destination was Mt Panorama.   We wanted to do a lap of the track and take some photos with the cars .    The track is a normal road with houses on it most of the time.  But it is heavily policed and drivers need to stick to the speed limit.

We soon arrived at Mt Panorama, although a short-lived wrong turn into the shooting club was quickly reversed, as there was a live fire event going on.     Our first lap was more about finding the photo locations, and the second lap was about enjoying the track.   It’s my third time driving around it, and the second time in the 560SEC.

Mt Panorama

After yet another battery swap, it was time to head to the final waypoint of the entire journey, Lithgow.    We headed there, and did one final battery swap.   I now had my original battery, fully charged.   I also had the brand new battery in the boot.   It was 5pm, and I had about two and  half hours of daylight left.   If I wanted to avoid a tow truck, I was going to need to get home before headlights would be required.

I had found that my car didn’t use much electricity if I just cruised along.   But stop and go traffic using the brake lights and indicators was draining my battery.  Based on this, I took Bells Line of Road.  I drove with one of our group who lives in that area, and when he peeled off at the bottom of Bells Line of Road, I had just dipped below 12 volts on the first battery.

I continued taking the back way, through Annangrove road, until finally installing the brand new battery near the intersection of the Old Northern Road and New Line Road. I was down to 11.6 volts and 1% on the battery monitor.  At this point, I had about 40 kilometres to go, and was confident by then I would make it.    Up until this point it had been quite nerve wracking to see if I would make it so far with no alternator, or If I would be on the back of a tow truck.  I guess this is what owners of electric cars go through on a daily basis.

After 7:30PM, it was becoming twilight, I turned on my parking lights.   I only had 20 minutes to go.     I arrived home a little before 8PM, still with some reserve power.     Today, I had driven 720km, 588 of it with no alternator.    Total for the trip was 2932.    For most of the day the instrument cluster had been lit up like a Christmas tree with warning lights.

2023-11-20 19-52-50

Granted an alternator is more likely to fail if it is old.   However, I would not have been able to do what I did in a newer car.   For starters newer cars draw so much more power, it would not be possible to drive so for long just on the battery.  Those cars would also be far more sensitive to low voltage.

Secondly, newer cars use a single serpentine belt instead of separate V-Belts.    Even my 1990 300TE is like this.   I like the separate V-Belts because you can recover from a bad accessory.   I can remember cutting off the belt from the A/C compressor on my old W123 230E.

Everyone else got home without incident.   The trip was a big success and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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