Franc Falco – Car of the Month June/July 2019

Bought the car in July 1980 after previously owning a very rusty yellow 1502 but falling in love with the 02 series.

I was also a dedicated motorcyclist and the thought an open top car driving experience seemed to me the best of both worlds!

So, the car was purchased from a chap in Poole and for the next 5 years the car was mainly used as my daily commute to work from Islington N1 to W2.

As I recall, apart from a replacement brake MC and a few small cosmetic jobs the car performed well.

There were a few unfortunate incidents though…

When I was rushing to get my car moved into an exhaust replacement depot and forgetting I had left the car in gear (the handbrake wasn’t great). I jumped in and started the engine forgetting it was in first gear, the car lurched forward smack into a van parked ahead. No damage to the van but the front leading edge of the bonnet and front panel of my car took a bashing.

That led to me getting a replacement front (and rear panel for good measure) in the later style…weren’t body panels cheap in the ‘80’s! In hindsight I know I should have kept it original, but I did prefer the newer look back then.

So, with new panels front and rear and a fairly dodgy respray the car went back into daily use, until the fateful day of July 13th 1985. If that day rings a bell? It should for the more mature person, it was the day of Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. But I wasn’t singing alone to Freddie and Co., I was taking a drive along the A40 to Oxford I think?  Anyway, a few miles out of London and the car suddenly died in mid cruise. Pulling over, I realised something was seriously amiss, by the steam and sludge in the water and rocker cover… the head gasket had gone! A tow truck was called and a journey back home to my garage was planned and coincidently, we drove right past Wembley on the tow trip home with the tones of George Michael ringing out.

The car then spent the next 9 months in my garage and with the assistance of only a Haynes manual (no Google in those days) and a new socket set (that I still have) I completely rebuilt the engine from bottom to top. I really enjoyed those 9 months and learnt so much about the great engineering that goes into the M10 engine. I had the head skimmed and a few valves were replaced but not much else apart from new gaskets all round and a nice repaint. The engine rebuild was finally completed and after getting the timing 180 degrees out, (flames from the carbs can be scary!) it started the time! Soon after, my engineering skills were put to the test as I had promised to drive my parents on a summer holiday. It was driven back and forth to Devon over the course of a couple of weeks covering a thousand miles or so without missing a beat!

Unfortunately, with the engine running well but bodywork now starting to show signs of wear it failed its yearly MOT in late 1986, due to rust in suspension areas. But with my confidence in all things automotive, I decided I could repair the bodywork. Unfortunately, as often happens I made the fatal mistake of chopping bits of rust out without any real plan of action – big mistake! I soon realised it was way beyond my fabricating and welding skills and so it was left to languished in my garage whilst I worked out what to do next. That ‘working out’ took the next 20 years! It was moved from house to house as I got married, had kids, got divorced, got married, had more kids, nearly sold as a restoration project in the mid 90’s (lucky it didn’t). Until finally, in 2008 I decided to get it sorted. I stripped the interior out the car and found a recommended restorer via a ‘02 online forum and he got to work replacing almost every structural panel below knee height on the car. So now the car was (sort of) structurally okay (the rear inner wheel arches are another story) but the car was still cosmetically rough and needed finishing and a full respray. It then sat in my garage for another few years until I finally acquired some really cheap body panels purchases via eBay and I had all the panels needed to complete the body work. I then found a body work shop in South London and with the new metal supplied they replaced all and resprayed the car in the original metallic Fjord Blue. Again, the car went back to my garage for a few more years until finally (again) in 2016 I smashed into my piggy bank and sent the car to JFI Classic Cars to get the car finally, finally, really finally, recommissioned.

A big long list of jobs was given to James at JFI and whilst to me after all the years of waiting it seemed almost an impossible task, James said all was easy.

But there is always a ‘but’ with this car and very quickly it was discovered that the “they look okay’ patched rear inner arches, were in fact rusty Swiss cheese. No problem I said, I’ll buy some new metal. Unfortunately, at that time, new rear inner arches were NLA, the patch panels were rubbish and good second-hand versions didn’t exist this side of the globe. I had to source from a well-known West Coast US ‘02 specialist. However, that didn’t go without incident. I was forced to divulge my credit card details even before we had agreed a deal on some arches he apparently had (his credit card insistence was that he often gets ‘messed about’ with promised enquiries so he wouldn’t deal with me until he had my details), not only that, but the continuing customer service was really the most unpleasant I had ever experience. But I was so in need of these panels that I bit my lip and eventually the metal work was shipped to Wales, were basically the rear of the car had to be dismantled to replace the arches. Another year came and went and finally in April 2018 I finally (again) picked the completed car up from JFI and drove it the 160 miles back to London.

I had promised myself that the first drive after 30 years would be on a dry sunny day (the rear hood needed replacing and wasn’t fitted properly), on lovely picturesque ‘A’ roads and in the daylight (the headlamp reflectors were a bit dull). The reality was that by the time I left Wales it was getting dark, the rain was lashing down and the M4 was the only route back! A terrifying, dimly lit journey ensued getting reacquainted to my 45 year old vehicle, but the car ran well and I did have a smile on my face (for some of the journey anyway).

So now after a 33 year wait, I finally have my car back on the road, but owning a classic car there is never a ‘final’ anything. There are always jobs to do, paint work to sort, interior to retrim, engine to repaint and check internally, get the bright work really bright and see if I can sort out the brakes, so they actual feel like modern brakes – I’ve replaced everything so I’m not sure what goes on with them? But I will get them sorted.

It isn’t my daily driver anymore (I have a scooter and a sensible family car for that boring stuff). I only like to drive it in the dry, but I try to use it every week and it does put a smile on my face every trip and gets all sorts of compliments wherever it goes. Insurance is cheap as chips, no Road Tax, MOT or LEZ charge. I always get let out of side roads and never cut up by other cars, bikes or cyclists… everyone loves it – what’s not to like?


I have promised the car to my eldest daughter when I do ‘pop my clogs’, so unless she sells it for the latest iPhone, it’ll be driving around for a few years to come – fingers crossed!

1 thought on “Franc Falco – Car of the Month June/July 2019”

Leave a comment