“You are F***** joking mate, for a moment there I thought you said “The Bomb Disposal Experts “Think” They’ve Disarmed The Booby Trap, you could have told me that before I helped you push it off the transporter”
The Transport driver looked relieved that he’d survived the Ferry crossing and the Astra was now someone else’s problem. It’s true, he said, “look here’s my work order, the car was stolen in Belfast, Booby-Trapped and then abandoned, the Army “think” they’ve made it safe and the owners specifically asked for it to be shipped back to you to put a new wiring loom in, the old one was wired up to the bomb, “F*###*** H**# “ there you go again with the “Think” It’s me who does the electrical repairs here! And “Think” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence”
The car was a white Vauxhall Astra GTE, it was less than 6 months old and it had already been stolen twice, We were the supplying Dealer and had sold the car to an Irish Doctor living in the UK, my tail of woe started when he brought it back to have it serviced, he left it parked on our forecourt after we had closed and put the keys through the letterbox. I had seen the car parked outside when I was going out later that night, but when I came home it was gone, the next morning it was back again and the keys were inside on the showroom floor. It struck me as a little odd, and when the guy came to pick it up I asked him if he had been called out and had he used his spare keys, he just looked at me like I was an idiot it obviously wasn’t him that had been out in the car, there was no damage to the car so I didn’t press the matter.
All was revealed a few months later when we got a visit from the local Police who were investigating a reported incident, it now transpired that the car had disappeared indirectly because it was an old run-down garage and there was no double glazing in our showroom, the doors were old wooden things that weighed a ton, they were on rollers so that we could get the cars in and out, the builders in those days weren’t known for their exacting standards and wind used to howl underneath the gap at the bottom of the doors, seemingly the gap was also just wide enough to poke a stick through and fish a set of car keys out before going for a joyride.
The lad must have thought he had committed the perfect crime as he had returned the car without incident, it probably would have been perfect right up until the moment he decided his girlfriend would enjoy a ride out in a new Astra GTE and he went to pick her up. If he hadn’t been a halfwit or he’d been as old as I am now he would have known from that point on he could never ever risk doing anything that would annoy this girl or he could find himself in deep trouble, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Guys never learn, he somehow scorned her and she grassed on him to the cops, I ask you, who could have seen that coming? he was arrested for joyriding and the full details of his crime came to light.
Lightening had indeed now struck twice, the car had been stolen again, this time while the Doctor was back home in Ireland visiting relatives, it was probably targeted because it had English number plates, the thieves had booby-trapped it with explosives and left it near an Army Check Point. It was at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland and I had several friends who had served and were serving over there, I had heard some truly horrific stories most of them concerning bombs or IED’s as they’re now known (Improvised Explosive Devices), I also knew that you couldn’t disarm them by deciding whether to cut the red or the blue wire then changing your mind at the last second as they would have you believe in the movies.
In order to maximize the casualties a spotter would lay in wait for the security forces to approach and detonate it by remote control, radio signal, or a length of concealed wire, should the spotter himself be spotted and “ neutralised “ I had been told that there was usually secondary anti-tamper device fitted which was designed to explode should someone try to disarm it. I really, really didn’t want to do this job, but I couldn’t let the mechanics see that I was scared, I just wished the Army had blown the car up then at least I would have got another sale and some commission out of the Doctors misfortune.
As is my way I make light of the situation now, but at the time the Death of the MP Airey Neave was still in my mind. I had really admired him he was a true War hero and he was the first man to escape from Colditz the notorious German Prisoner of war camp. He had survived the Second World War and the appalling conditions he faced as a P.O.W only to be tragically killed by a car bomb. It was reported that the bomb had been attached by a magnet underneath his Vauxhall Cavalier and it was detonated by a timer, trembler or a mercury switch as he was leaving the underground car park in the House of Commons. For some reason, Vauxhalls seemed to be the preferred method of delivery, I put it down to the fact they were really easy to break into and the alarms were shit It was my job to sell cars and it’s not usually in a Salesman remit to have to repair electrical problems, but car electronics really interested me and the mechanics had gotten fed up of me standing over them suggesting what they should do to fix the faults. They had told me in no uncertain terms that if I thought I knew better than they did then I should do the repairs!, I was confident I did know better and I found the challenge of repairing electrical faults stimulating. I was also unbelievably cocky and with a level of arrogance that has only since been surpassed by Simon Cowell I’d replied, “well I couldn’t do any worse than you 2 tossers could I?”. My Boss had once warned me that when I was in a hole I should stop digging; his advice had fallen on deaf ears and somehow I always used to end up getting myself a bigger shovel.
It seems daft now that I could possibly think that the Army would release a car without being 110% sure that it was safe but I admit I was really very worried and all I could think of was the sickening pictures of Airey Neaves car almost bent in two by the force of the concentrated explosion from beneath the driver’s seat. I know that the Bomb Disposal Squad are probably trained to a pretty high standard, but I thought I would just give their work the once over before I commenced the repair, you never know if the sniffer dog had a cold that day and had missed something, or they had used Semtex as when it was first manufactured it was odorless, years later they added a scent of Almonds to it which made it smell like Marzipan before then it was too easy for the wrong people to go undetected when they were transporting it. Course now I wonder what’s to stop the Bad Guys putting Semtex in their victims Birthday Cake?
I examined every inch of the car, I had originally fitted the alarm to this car myself. It was the standard Vauxhall version and as it wasn’t equipped with ultrasonic sensors it could be defeated by shattering the toughened glass window with a spring-loaded centre punch, then reaching in the car and removing the bulb from the interior lamp. The alarm was activated by voltage drop and would sound if the door was opened, this action would illuminate the courtesy light, the alarm would sense the voltage drop and the siren would sound. The interior lamp in this car was hanging down and the bulb was missing, I was pretty sure that the leads to the Klaxon could be used to detonate explosives too and wondered if the bomb squad guys had thought of this.
It was not a pleasant experience sitting in the car as there seemed to be an air of pure evil inside and knowing that one of the previous occupants could have been responsible for hundreds of deaths made my blood run cold. I carefully removed the door and kick panels, the Instrument Cluster, the radio and the bottom half of the dashboard, satisfying myself that there were going to be no surprises in store for me, it didn’t do my nerves any good when I found yellow blocks of substance stuck to the bulkhead and in the back wheel arches, but later on that day when I hd been home to change my underpants and built up enough courage to return to the car I found that on further inspection it wasn’t semtex it was harmless soundproofing which Vauxhall used to prevent panels from transmitting drumming or road-noise, phew!
With the dashboard dismantled I could see the fuse box, the car wasn’t going to need a new wiring loom it just needed a couple of wires soldering together, coincidently the “Red and the Blue” wires, either the terrorists had a sense of humour or it was done deliberately to taunt and cast doubt into the poor guy’s mind who got the short straw and had to disarm it,
I was still feeling reasonably safe as the car battery was disconnected however at some point or another I knew that I would have to put the earth terminal back on and the only way of doing that was to be under the bonnet, not an ideal situation if I had missed something. So I came up with a cunning plan to connect the battery before I reconnected the cut wires, I crimped very long wires to the bared ends of the severed red and blue wires, in the middle of each newly attached wire I’d put a fog lamp on/off switch, the switches would act as my detonator and the circuit would only be completed when the switches were placed in the on position, Doing it this way I could connect the car battery retire to a safe distance somewhere in the compound, flick the switches and wait for a BOOM.
Even with my foolproof plan I was still apprehensive about connecting the cars electrical system, there is always a spark when the Battery lead of a car is connected even if only the slightest current is being drawn by an instrument such as the clock, but I thought I had disconnected everything, I knew if there was a spark this time it would mean that I had missed something, my eyes were screwed up tightly as I softly and slowly touched the Earth lead to the negative terminal, as if by doing it like this would save me from being blown to smithereens, there was a deadly silence in the workshop but I heard the unmistakable crack of a spark jumping across when the 2 metals touched, I had indeed missed something, the crack was followed by a deafening BOOOOOOOOM!
Luckily for me It wasn’t the car exploding, it was the bastard mechanics who had sneaked up behind me and shouted down my ear. The sound deadening pad underneath the Astra’s bonnet cushioned most of the impact from my head as I jumped, sales of Calvin Klein’s jumped that week too!