Exhaust
something resembling a blog, by Lewis Collard

Self-archaeology and the Internet Movie Car Database

This was my mum's Mercedes 220. It was glorious.

Mercedes W115 in red

She bought LRO 468L for £500 in either 1989 or 1990, because back then it was merely an old car (though cars aged much quicker 30 years ago). It was beautiful, silent, luxurious, and very wafty. I loved it, and everyone else did. She sold it a few months later for slightly more than she paid for it, because it needed welding work on the floorpan. A very young Me did not talk to her for a day after that.

It was last MOT'ed in 1990, so we can probably conclude it does not exist anymore (or, to avoid offending those of you who believe in the laws of thermodynamics, exists in an entirely different form). A W114 or W115 is still on my bucket list of cars to own. It might even be the next project I build, if my next project starts before the prices of these go through the roof.

Fast-forward just a few years. Recently, someone pointed out that if you search for a registration plate on Google Images, there's a good chance that it will find a photo of that car, because Google indexes any text it finds within an image, and may notice the text on the numberplate. Like ANPR, but for everything.

It worked on my car. Among others, it found a photo taken at the late Rockingham Motor Speedway, which my brother (the previous owner) took in 2007 back when "camera phone" still meant "thing with a dialpad", and posted on a forum in 2008.

My Mazda at Rockingham in 2007

It worked when I entered the registration of this Mercedes, too. I know the registration off by heart, because my memory is weird. I remember a Windows 95 product key that I last used in anger in 1997, and the registration of my mum's car from 31 years ago, and sometimes draw a blank when I have to enter my PIN into a cash machine.

The first result was the picture you saw at the top of this article. I uploaded that photo to Wikimedia Commons over 15 years ago, and things often spread to weird and unexpected places when you do that. (I'll tell you the story about the wall art in the bogs at Downham Market station some other time...)

The second and third images were the offspring of obsessive categorisation at scale. I would hope any petrolhead would know about the Internet Movie Car Database, wherein a (presumably vast) number of very dedicated people are aiming to identify every car in every film & television program. If your car appeared in the background of, e.g., an episode of The Bill in December 1984, then there's a good chance someone has captured and categorised it.

Mercedes W115 as a background car in The Bill, 1984

Well how about that!

But wait: It's brown! Or at least looks brown. Did it get a respray before my mum owned it? Or did a worn 80s VHS tape not reproduce the glorious red that it was? I won't ever know the answer to that, and I am okay with that.

The cars we knew in our youth are, or will be, almost all lost to time and entropy; only a very few are lucky enough to be recommissioned or restored. But this Mercedes was lucky to have its few seconds of fame on the small screen, and was immortalised, to some very tiny extent and entirely accidentally, by some extraordinarily committed people on the Internet. That's more than most cars will get, and that, is good enough for me.

One more job from the giant pile of necessary jobs

Mazda Amy has a new windscreen. This could have happened several months earlier. More about that in a moment.

My windscreen was not broken. It was, however, severely fogged in the corners, where water had made its way into the laminates and had started to separate them.

Fogging in the corners of a Mazda 323 windscreen

This is not an MOT failure right now, though it may have become one in the future as the fogging spreaded. It may have weakened the glass in the corners, though for many other reasons I'd be so completely doomed in an accident with the modern artillery tractors 4x4s half the country drives these days that I don't think it'd make any practical difference in an accident. I was not convinced that it was watertight. It definitely looked terrible, and was for some time on my list of things to fix.

The used market for vehicle glass is tricky. Whenever I've stripped a car for parts, the glass has always been nearly impossible to sell (and for windscreens, that can only happen if one manages to get the glass out intact, which only ever happens on non-bonded windscreens from very old vehicles). There's usually only a small time window available; you generally try to get rid of the glass at the very end, right before you send the shell off for scrap. That means when you're looking for glass you'll almost certainly not find it.

Not that I really wanted a used windscreen, but going used is often the only option for very old and/or rare cars. I certainly did not think that one of the mainstream glassmongers would be able to obtain one, so I did not try. It was as a last resort that I thought to try Autoglass, whose site claimed they were able to do a replacement. It seemed implausible to me at the time, but I rolled with it.

I originally booked this replacement in October. I heard nothing back for a couple of months. When I poked them last month the very nice lady on the phone explained that it entered their system, and then nothing happened, for unclear reasons.

Not to worry. Autoglass Lady quickly made things right, and Autoglass went about sourcing a new windscreen. When they got back to me, the same Autoglass Lady (or at least sounded the same) used the definite article ("the windscreen") in quite a precise fashion; a fashion that implied the windscreen they had sourced was the only one they could find in the country. So if you've come here from a search engine because you're trying to source a windscreen for your BF 323 in the UK: I probably took the last one. I'm sorry.

New Mazda 323 BF windscreen, with blue tint

The windscreen has a blue tinted sunstrip, which the original did not. My car is blue, and will be staying blue even after I get it into a bodyshop, so I am okay with that. Even if I wasn't okay with that, I'd have to deal with it, because it is the windscreen and I will take whatever I can get.

I can't even remember whether I have windscreen cover on my insurance, and I do not care to look right now. But even if this was eligible for an insurance replacement, which is unclear, claiming for it would have felt fraudulent as I knew about this problem long before I insured the car. So, I paid for this out of my pocket. The cost was a mildly eye-watering £431. That included fitting, of course, as this is definitely not a job I would consider doing myself, but still...

I won't fault Autoglass for this, because this is an exceptionally rare car (even in non-turbo, non-4x4 form) and I would expect the price of the windscreen to be priced accordingly. I'm actually very happy with them, because once the disappearing-booking mistake was rectified their service was outstanding, and because they managed to source the windscreen, which is something I never expected.

So that's one more pile of cash in the furnace, and one more job out the way. This also means I can tidy up the trims that normally cover the very visible gap you can see and get those fitted, too.

Onwards!

Visiting some remnants of the Lynn & Wisbech railway at Magdalen

Word came my way that The Highways Agency's Historical Railway Estate were looking to demolish a bunch of former railway structures. One of those structures is very close to me - close enough to make a rather nice early morning walk. So, not very long ago, I wandered down to visit a pair of bridge abutments in Wiggenhall St. Mary Magdalen that are at risk of demolition in the very near future, to photograph them for posterity (all these pictures have a long-term home on Wikimedia Commons, in full resolution).

MMR/2333, a pair of bridge abutments in Magdalen, Norfolk

HRE calls these two bridge abutments MMR/2333. These used to carry trains from Watlington (previously Magdalen Road), where a branch line left the current Fen Line, to Wisbech. This line closed in 1968. As with many such closures, this one strikes me as rather short-sighted; while many of the smaller stations on the line certainly seemed pointless, one wonders how much less busy the A47 would be if one could hop on a train from King's Lynn to Wisbech today.

A more detailed view of one of the abutments of MMR/2333

This is one of the abutments, which despite the overgrowth on the top looks to be in reasonable condition.

View of the other abutment on MMR/2333

The one on the east side, less so. I could see why HRE would consider it an liability, and an unnecessary one.

As bonuses, because there were no photos of it on the Commons, there are the remnants of another bridge only a short while to the East of this structure:

Another former bridge abutment

This abutment was for a bridge that carried the above-mentioned Wisbech branch over the River Great Ouse. It is unclear when the bridge deck was removed. Just to the East of this structure is a glorious bridge, fully intact, but I didn't photograph it this time around.

There is a campaign group with a Twitter that is aiming to save some of these at-risk structures, especially the ones that have some hope of being repurposed for some alternative use (which MMR/2333 almost certainly does not).

Also, while on my way to MMR/2333, was something even I didn't know about after however many years I've been here: the remains of a spigot mortar emplacement!

Remains of a World War II spigot mortar

Spigot mortars, in particular the Blacker Bombard, were fairly crude weapons to be used by the Home Guard in the event of a German invasion during World War II. I do not know where this one was originally sited; its current location would have been on a railway embankment that was levelled at some point after closure.

And that, is the end of that

What my credit card looks like, as of a few days ago:

Current balance: £0.36

I won't even tell you what it was a year or so ago. All I will say is that the interest payments alone at one point were pushing £250 a month, which is a non-trivial amount of money for anyone that isn't Scrooge McDuck swimming in piles of cash.

This is absolutely not some woe-is-me story, because obviously, I was a fucking idiot who made some very poor financial decisions (see also: cash furnace of a car) and I don't blame anyone but myself.

Still. Not to get too personal here, but all of my late teens and my 20s were spent not so much in a bad financial position as in no financial position at all. I got my shit together far too late, and when one does get one's shit together one starts getting credit card offers.

When you are feeling financially stable for the first time in your life, those offers look all too tempting because woohoo, I can have even more money right now and I can build my credit score and such! And of course you will pay back the whole amount at the end of the month, right? Until you start thinking that just for this month you will make that small minimum payment instead, and then they start upping your credit limit (mine increased twentyfold from when I started)...and if you do that enough times you end up with a substantial portion of your income being dead weight.

So it goes. I was an idiot! But I also learned in the last few months that even when I'm throwing a substantial amount of my income into paying off the capital on that credit card, that I can still be quite comfortable and even have a little money left at the end of the month, if I behave frugally. Which is to say, if Mazda Amy doesn't throw any new and hilariously expensive curveballs at me I might have some hope of building some savings and shit or I might forget what I just said and buy lots of car parts.

Whatever happens there: it's over, and I am much happier for it.

Gratuitous car post

My Mazda 323 GTX, sitting pretty.

Yeah, I know she's an old shit car, that she has her scars, and that she's probably not pretty to anyone but me. But I do love seeing this little thing, ready to go and ready to make tiny turbo noises.

That's all. 💕

In which I get a little boost to my faith in humanity

Today, I lost my wallet. This has a happy ending...

After topping up Mazda Amy with oil this afternoon (she's basically a Diesel at this point, in that she burns nearly as much oil as she does petrol), I went to the shop for supplies and then went for a hoon on the backroads (and by the way, that never stops being fun). When I got home, I realised I did not have my wallet anymore.

It's easy to make me anxious (possibly moreso than most people), and losing my wallet with my various money-equivalent cards and my driving license was enough to trigger something not far off my worst episodes. Not so much that I could not function at all or not be able to drive as in the very worst of my episodes, but...

So I backtracked to the shop, and asked if anyone had handed in a wallet. Nobody had. I went home. Checked every inch of my car. Checked every inch of the car again. Emptied absolutely everything, tools and glovebox contents included, out of the car and checked every inch again.

No dice. Then I remembered that I realised a short while after I drove off from the shop earlier that I had not shut my passenger door properly, and pulled over to open it and shut it again. So I backtracked there to see if my wallet was there just in case I had put my wallet in the passenger door card and it had fallen out while I was loading supplies into the passenger side. Not there either. I went back to the shop and gave them my number in case anyone handed in a wallet; something I had not thought to do earlier.

Panic really set in here. In retrospect I know it was a totally manageable situation: it would require a few phone calls to cancel my cards, and going online and ordering a new driver's license card and some other stuff. But still, full panic, which I dealt with by doing another inch-by-inch search of my car and at this point I am shitting myself.

And while I was doing that last panicked search, as if that would reveal something a complete emptying of the car would not...a BMW E92 with all the seats full of family rolls into my driveway. And as it comes to a halt...the driver holds my wallet out the window. There's social distancing and all, a norm I'm not comfortable with because I wanted to hug the shit out of him and propriety these days requires that I not even give him a handshake, but it is what it is.

I asked him for a PayPal address or something I could use to send my thanks. He refused, but he did tell me the way I probably lost my wallet, which was that after loading stuff into the front passenger seat of the car I likely left my wallet on the top of my car then drove off and it went somewhere. Well, that's happened before and all I nearly lost were some onions, and maybe I need to establish a ritual for checking the roof of my car just as I have a ritual for checking exactly three times that my front door is locked when I leave...but that's another thing.

I did offer again after he explained how he got hold of my wallet to send him some money via whatever means he liked; whatever amount I sent him would have been a tiny price to pay compared to the amount of financial damage someone less decent with my credit & debit cards & my de-facto identity card could have done. But nope. Refused.

I was reminded today that there are decent, honest people out there who do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks, BMW E92 guy. You is good people.