Features: All Roads Lead to Istanbul
Location: a tent!, Ciroz Camping, Istanbul, Turkey
Distance so far: 19,978
GPS Co-ords: 37d, 42.321' N, 26D, 39.701'E
Dates: Sunday 3rd - Wednesday 13th December.
Highlights: On schedule for the first time in our trip then pop goes the gearbox. A nail biting 1000 km drive along the length of Turkey through freezing fog.
To remain on schedule and cross into Syria on the 6th December it was time to leave the awe-inspiring views of Cappadocia and head south to Adana. We wanted to pick-up some new gearbox mounts at the Land Rover garage in Adana, something we had been trying to locate since France without success.
Bumble was also reluctant to leave Cappadocia, starting with a little more reluctance than usual. Underway again we wound our way back down the valley in low ratio until we picked up the main road south. It was here while gently accelerating that Bumble failed to change into 3rd gear, instead finding a neutral with the engine racing wildly. Clumsily 3rd engaged followed swiftly by 4th and we cruised on. At the next junction we were facing downhill and this time 3rd engaged with a huge thump. The next occasion was an uphill struggle and third was nowhere to be found instead the engine revved aimlessly until we slowed sufficiently for second to re-engage. We progressed in second until a downhill stretch where we slipped through third and into 4th gear. It was a nervous drive to Adana the nearest Land Rover garage, but luckily mostly downhill from the central Anatolian planes of Cappadocia to the southern coast.
We stumbled across Borusan Auto on the main road from Tarsus to Adana during Sunday afternoon. There were security guards on the gate so we stopped to check that there was also a service department . Little English was spoken, but with true Turkish hospitality tea was offered and an English speaker sought. Without me realising, they were telephoning the Parts Manager at home on a Sunday - oops. I was most apologetic but confirmed we were at the correct place and should return at 9 am Monday morning. We said goodbye to the friendly security guards and headed south to the seaside for some warmth and a quiet place to sleep, again favouring the fishing port.
9 am Monday morning we dutifully reported and were given the VIP treatment by the security guards, reserved parking space and a personal escort with formal announcement to the service manager. After dealing with the Monday morning rush of service clients in their gleaming BMW's complaining that the dashboard illumination clashed with the wife's lipstick, or the clock ticked too loudly - it was our turn.
In all about 6 people came out to figure firstly what Bumble was and secondly could they deal with it. I repeated again and again that the engine and gearbox were from a Discovery and not a Defender but was met with the same answer. Under the Borusan/Otokar agreement Borusan could not touch a Defender. I had been down this road before and Otokar did not have the parts to service an automatic gearbox as the Defender was never fitted with one, and infact BMW used the same ZF autobox so Borusan should have no problem. Confirmation from the parent company in Istanbul dictated that they could not admit Bumble into their workshop despite the merit's of my argument. With his hands tied by superiors Can Cetin the Service Manager who was now involved, went out of his way to help us. Firstly we were sent out with his top Land Rover engineer for a test drive to diagnose the fault. I then asked if he could at least point us to someone who could help, perhaps ZF had an office in Adana, if not a representative and I knew for certain they had an office in Istanbul.
He phoned his head office in Istanbul who would need an hour to find the number. I however have been brought up working for small companies where time-scales like that are not tolerated and you have to rely on your own ingenuity when finding solutions. I remembered at Otokar that I had seen a ZF Calendar on the wall and before leaving I had made a point of asking for Fikret Coruk's card. Within 5 minutes we were talking to the Sales Manager of ZF Turkey who promised to have his local representative phone us within 10 minutes. We only had to wait 5 minutes and an appointment was made for Tuesday morning.
We now had the rest of Monday to waste so went in search of some camping gaz as both our cylinders had run out. In Europe we use 2.5 kg bottles with a pressure regulator. In Turkey their gas bottle is slightly larger but has a handle welded around the top to facilitate moving and our pressure regulator would not fit so an exchange bottle was out of the question.
Again the Tourist office came into use and after a few wrong turns we found ourselves knocking on the front door of the refinery! The security Guards, slightly amused at a foreigner walking up to the front gate of their refinery with a 2.5 kg gas bottle and asking for a refill were none-the-less most helpful. One even escorted us to their bottling plant, where they filled up one bottle and wouldn't accept any money for it. I think they will be dining out on the story for a while to come!
We headed West of Adana sticking to the main roads and staying in 4th gear as much possible, in search of a camping spot. Adana has little to offer the tourist except the surrounding mountains where one can ski, white water raft and hike, but to Bumble any gradient was out of the question.
As dusk drew in, we found ourselves engulfed in a pollution smog around Tarsus, dense enough to match those of 50's London. Fearing for our health it was back to the seaside and a muddy patch of beach but at least the air was clear.
Tuesday came, and we were now regulars at Borusan Auto. Served morning coffee in their cafeteria while the braver staff came to stroke Chaka. The ZF engineer arrived, diagnosed the problem with the 3rd gear clutches and also other problems with the hydraulic unit. Then began lengthy discussion on what to do about it. ZF were amused by the Otokar/Borusan arrangement. Despite that ZF did not have the facilities to remove a gearbox, all he wanted was for the gearbox to be removed by a.n.other and sent back to Istanbul. I suggested the local Otokar garage which happened to be in the next town. Can kindly offered to escort us there, so the entourage set out to involve yet another party.
Our biggest logistical problem is that Bumble is our home, not only are hotels off budget but definitely no dogs allowed in a Muslim country. So whoever removed the gearbox had to have space for us to park and live inside.
The ZF engineer showed Otokar what had to be removed, then we got down to the nitty gritty details of price and timescale. Otokar wanted £150 to remove, refit and supply all materials, which sounded competitive to me. The ZF engineer wanted to look at the gearbox before commenting. Not satisfied I tried to pin him down. I wanted to know the price for him to recondition the gearbox and the price of a remanufactured unit from ZF Germany. I knew the price of a reconditioned unit from Ashcrofts Autoconversions in England www.autoconv.com and was using this as a marker. The harder I pushed for a confirmation on price, the more non-committal he became and the less confident I became.
Meanwhile Sue was out side checking out our new home for what could potentially be 10 days, probably stretching over Christmas. The more I pushed for firm answers on time and price the longer it was going to take. It was all too up in the air and to top it all living in an area that resembled a cross between Mad Max and Scrap heap challenge was not going down well with Sue. After a quick discussion we decided this was not to be and we had to find another solution. Can Celin of Borusan Oto had done more than enough to help us, but we opted to try and drive back to Istanbul where all roads seemed to lead anyway.
We bade farewell to Can Cetin of Borusan and thanked him for all his help and effort. The map showed motorway most of the way which would enable us to stay safely in 4th gear. It was now 3 pm so we filled up with diesel, giving us around 1,700 km range, more than enough to cover the 1000 km to Istanbul. The first leg was back up the mountains, but with the motorway at less than 6 percent gradient we managed to hold steady in 4th gear. Once up in Central Anatolia at a constant altitude of 1000 m we progressed towards Ankara. Every slow lorry or hillclimb was a heartstopping moment, could I keep Bumble in 4th or would the pace necessitate changing down a gear. We were now in the middle of nowhere and terminal failure would prove drastic. Time after time careful use of the throttle and trying to read the road ahead kept us going.
The temperatures dropped as we approached Ankara. In search of warmth Sue retired to the back and the comfort of her sleeping bag. With the colder air came freezing fog, the engine oil temperature was just above 40 deg. C and we were trying to warm the inside of Bumble with every drop of heat from the radiator. The freezing fog began to form a film on the windscreen, so I tucked in behind a car with it's hazard lights flashing hoping that it might be going in the direction of Istanbul. It was a compromise between a safe speed and staying in 4th gear and at no less than 30 mph we managed both. Road signs in Turkey are bad at the best of times and tend to be on the turning rather than warning you prior. Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly caught site of an Istanbul sign and swerved right rolling Sue and Chaka around in the back. After a few more instances of erratic driving, we were on the motorway to Istanbul. It was now 11 pm, I couldn't feel anything below my knees and Sue couldn't feel anything due to the cold. It was around minus 8 degrees and we had been on the warm coast in 20 degrees only 6 hours earlier. At last I had to give in to the cold, pulling over at the first service station, joining Sue in the back and trying to warm up in my sleeping bag. We had broken the back of the journey and were now more than halfway to Istanbul with clear motorway ahead of us. Chaka spent the night trying to snuggle under our feet and no-one had much sleep. In the morning we were still both frozen through.
We have since heard of a survival tip used in Canada. When driving during the winter always carry a sleeping bag and candles. The warmth generated by a single candle in a confined car is sufficient to keep the temperature above freezing and therefore increase your chance of survival.
We hit the road again at 8 am, cruising downhill from the Service Station but the gearbox held onto 1st gear for what seemed an eternity. We thought we were now going to have to cover the remaining 350 km at 8 mph, but reluctantly the gearbox changed up into second, slipped into third a couple of times then wobbled on into fourth. We progressed at a steady 40mph giving the gearbox every chance of making it. As we approached Istanbul we rang ZF Turkey and told them we were coming to see them. To say they seemed reluctant would be an understatement. Luckily, their factory was alongside the motorway just east of Istanbul and no problem to find.
I was greeted by an extremely stressed Sales Manager, the Service Manager and Product Manager. Our discussions went round and round in circles. In brief ZF Turkey's main product were automatic gearboxes for buses which they serviced around 20 per month. In the last year they had tried to service the much smaller car unit for four separate customers with a 50 percent dissatisfaction rate. They were not prepared to offer a guarantee for their work. It also transpired that the only engineer who could do the work was the one we had met in Adana and he was not due back in Istanbul until the following Monday. Parts would have to be ordered from Germany and they had no idea of what the job would cost. They did confirm that the catalogue price for a re-manufactured unit from Germany was DM3000, but the cost of shipping and import duties would probably double that. In all we left ZF Turkey with no answers, just a set of further unanswered questions. We headed back to our friends at Ciroz Camping knowing that we could make it nearly to the door on the motorway.
On Friday armed with pen, paper and a list of phone numbers we set about finding a solution. Our first call was to Fikret Coruk at Otokar. He was dismayed at our predicament and offered to help in anyway possible, saying that he would ask around and phone back in 1 hour.
To top it all my parents had booked flights to meet us in Jordan for Christmas. They were extremely dissappointed with our news. Their deal was non-refundable so they would be going anyway, perhaps we could make it before they left.
In the meantime we had to find accomodation so rang round all the budget hotels but none would take a dog. We had a small two- man tent but we couldn't consider this as a serious option.
Fikret rang back to say that Otokar did not have space in their workshop but he would try to think of another solution. That evening he rang again to say that one of the franchise Otokar garages in Istanbul could do the work, this man Murat Ipek was an aquaintance of Fikret and would look after us. At 6.30 pm he would meet us at the campsite. Despair turned to hope, but quickly back to despair, as without Bumble we had nowhere to live.
In our previous visit to Ciroz I had been befriended by one of the security guards who wanted to improve his English, now it was my turn to ask a favour. I quizzed him, although very slowly a word at a time, about short term rent on an apartment as we thought we were going to be stuck for nearly 3 weeks, buying a large tent, renting a caravan on the site, just about anything I could think of. Within half an hour the manager of the site was involved and all owners of plots on the campsite were being contacted. At 7.30 pm when the Garage people finally arrived we had drawn a blank. The garage wanted to take Bumble there and then, but we had nowhere to stay. We agreed to follow them to the garage to find out where it was and report the following morning.
On Friday morning we hung around at the campsite for eternity waiting for someone to take pity on us and rent out their caravan/tent but to no avail. Eventually the manager offered us their office tent as a last resort, which we gladly accepted.
Within an hour they had removed all their equipment and we were installed. I raced off to Otokar some 4 hours late. I followed the route that the GPS had tracked but somehow missed an underpass that swept under the road and off to the left. Within minutes I was lost in Galatassery - oops, not a place to discuss football!
After endless circles, getting stuck on the wrong lane of a dual carriageway I eventually pulled up to Murat's cheeky smile. He was the Turkish equivalent of Alexi Sale in both looks and humour.
We went for a quick test drive, confirmed the problem then visited his friend who was a ZF Service Agent for cars. At first I was a little sceptical but after and conference call with Fikret I was assured of his authenticity and the offer of a guarantee which is more than ZF themselves were prepared to give.
As the workshop was busy with other clients the rest of the day was spent in conversation, drawing pictures and discussing other work that had to be done. At 4.15 there was a sudden flurry of activity, everyone was rushing around, downed tools and closed all the shutters. I thought there was a storm coming and we all had to take shelter, infact it was Ramadan and dusk was approaching, time to eat. I joined the staff for the equivalent of a transport café supper which was certainly educational.
Back in the workshop which was now quiet, Bumble was prepared for major surgery. It took about half an hour for me to persuade them that it would be easier to take the floor out, a task that only takes 5 minutes. One has to remember that a 101 is a rare site although they informed me that there is a 101 GS soft top in Istanbul. Communication consisted of a series of phrases - 'Problem', 'No Problem', and with these plus drawings we managed to get our points across. It was now 6 pm and time to shut up for the night.
I returned to Sue who had spent the day shut up with a wild dog in his new surroundings. He didn't want to stay in the tent and he didn't want to stay outside. He had been chained to a concrete block which he succeeded in dragging across the campsite. He was then chained to one of our heavy storage boxes which he managed to drag inside the tent. He watched very carefully as Sue did up the zip on the tent door, then when her back was turned, chewed the zip, undid the door and escaped, I thought my day had been stressful.
On Saturday morning I reported to the garage at 9am by which time the gearbox was out and waiting in the back of their pick-up. We drove up to the waiting ZF Service Agent 4 doors down. I was introduced to Mr ZF the guru and his two assistants. The gearbox was unloaded mounted on a jig and disassembled. Within half an hour the benches were strewn with a series of parts. It was very interesting for me to see the guts of our gearbox and the condition it was in. The seals in the hydraulic unit were brittle and cracked as the two halves were separated, this accounted for the gear-changing problems and was a consequence of being cooked. The terminal failure was a disk in the 3rd gear clutches which had displaced allowing a series of roller bearings to separate. There was lots of umming and tutting as each piece came apart. Both Murat and I were peering interestedly over the guru's shoulder as he noted each part to be changed. Now came the expensive part. 3 sets of new clutches, a set of seals and new filter plus £160, in all £760 to refurbish the gearbox and a further £150 to remove and refit - ouch. The good news was that if I agreed, the parts would be delivered by taxi within the hour and the gearbox would be back in that afternoon. I was amazed, all this talk of ordering parts from ZF in Germany. Apparently most European cars use the same ZF autobox. I tried to haggle as the parts prices were quite high, Fikret even had his input reminding me that it was in fact the English who sold Land Rover parts to Turkey and their mark-up's were comparatively low against European. It was the most solid offer we had had all week so I agreed. The only other option was to give up the expedition and ship back to England, even there the same work would have to be done.
Bumble was due a 20,000 km service so while the autobox was being reconditioned I set about saying 'Problem', 'No Problem', whilst pointing to various parts until my list of jobs was complete. The labour charge for a 20,000 km service was £60, that would cover less than two hours labour in an independent garage in England, and probably one hour at a franchise dealer if the BMW influence has crept in. In all about 3 engineers spent the whole day changing diff. pinion seals, transfer box seals, swivel seals, power steering seals, engine oil, transmission oil, differential oil, coolant, oil filters, diesel filters, air filters, checking tappits, bushes, steering joints, brake pads, bearings, fabricating heat shields around the exhaust etc. Saturday evening after some comprehensive test drives by both the ZF Guru and Murat of Otokar I was allowed to take Bumble away for the weekend but to return on Monday for control checks.
Sue knew nothing of the progress and was a little surprised to see me return with Bumble purring. She had been trying to contact John Bowden of Gumtree Enterprises who had carried out the conversion work. As a reputable garage in the Land Rover world we had no doubt he would support his workmanship even though we were thousands of miles away.
Many overlanders have stories of being left in the lurch. Dennis Wilson of African Edventure had a car fire due to careless wiring. Tim and Clare de Wit of African Inspiration spent two weeks in Jordan fitting a new head gasket and a further month in Sudan undergoing a complete engine rebuild after Booker Brothers of London supposedly reconditioned the engine in their Pajero before they left the UK.
On Sunday we celebrated with a fish lunch in Kumkapi and focused on our trip again. On Monday I returned to Otokar for final checks, a complete steam clean including underneath and a farewell to Murat and his team. I took Chaka for the day to give Sue a break, he spent his time keeping the mechanics under control.
The staff at Ciroz camping had been more than helpful during our stay and we made many friends. They charged us nothing more than the £3 a night despite the use of their tent. They even provided a radiator to keep us warm during the freezing nights. It was a sad farewell as they all lined up for a photo in front of Bumble, including Jongo the guard dog.
On our way out of Istanbul we dropped in on Fikret to thank him for his help and to give him some chocolates for all the trouble he had gone to. He was genuinely surprised and I think a little embarrassed by our gesture but none-the-less appreciative despite the fact it was Ramadan.