We forget, in these days of ten thousand mile service intervals, what cars used to be like. My modern, the Turbocharged Rollerskate, is now a high mileage car. Yet it is as much an appliance as it is a car, given a bit of maintenance it's functionally exactly as it was when I first drove it off a dealer forecourt eleven years ago. Advanced metallurgy, synthetic oils and modern coatings have given it a nearly wear-free engine and a complete absence of rust.
The Wreck by comparison needs constant attention. Oil top-ups, ignition adjustments, coolant checks, and battery charging. And it's not just the Wreck, I was thinking about the Mini I drove twenty years ago, that was the same. Not a problem for a much younger and spottier instance of me, but how easily I have forgotten the joys of standing in the rain pouring oil.
A couple of weeks ago I took the Wreck on a Grand Tour of the West. The original plan was to visit my friends Nikki and Dru on my way to Bristol, before swinging north to Herefordshire to see my cousin, and dropping on my friend Ian in Gloucestershire on my way back to the Bright Lights. Sadly though that weekend saw the heaviest rain of the autumn, so instead I abandoned my plans after Bristol and headed east through the downpour.
All non-vintage cars have a battery. The Wreck is no exception, it powers everything electrical on the car. The starter, the ignition, the lights, the wipers. On a modern car the battery will be charged by an alternator with a modern electronic regulator, but cars the Wreck's age instead have a dynamo and an electromechanical regulator. A big black box full of electromagnets and switches.
The trouble with dynamos is that they're not very good at what they do. A nice long drive on a sunny day and your battery arrives in tip-top condition, but run the lights and the wipers as I had to and there won't be quite enough power to charge the battery. So when you stop, you won't be able to start the car again.
I've always resisted an upgrade to an alternator, it's a little more hassle than just plugging and playing. On that particular front though I have to admit I'm starting to weaken.