To start a Traction Avant you have to pull on the starter switch. This pulls on a wire that turns a shaft with a little cam on it that depresses at copper spring (which is attached to the car body) onto another lump of copper (which is attached to the battery), thus putting current to the starter motor. Our problem was that the copper spring wasn't disengaging from the copper lump, and the starter was continuing to turn once the engine had started.
How the starter switch works.Normally, this would not be a serious problem: just turn off the ignition and the flow of electricity to the switch would stop. Unfortunately, with Traction Avants the ignition switch only controls power to the ignition (i.e the coil and thus the spark plugs). This is how you can flatten the battery if you forget to turn the ignition on - there is always power available to the ignition switch. The starter will crank and continue cranking until the battery goes flat, but without the ignition (in French "contact") turned on the engine will not start.
All this meant that the starter was turning over and over - relentlessly - and I could not stop it. There was a moment of panic, because I didn't actually have any spanners with me in the garage at the time, so I had to leave Célestine grinding away while I ran into the house to get a spanner to disconnect the battery. This stopped the problem of the starter turning, but got us no closer to being mobile.
After an age fruitlessly searching on the internet I decided the only option was to take the switch apart and have a look to see what was happening. With my eyesight, in a dark garage, torch clench between my teeth and reading glasses on, I found a screwdriver, managed to wurgle it between the exhaust manifold and the carburettor and took the switch off.
After some twiddling of bits I decided to pull on the spring a bit, and managed also to lower the copper lump a bit. I figured this would give me a bigger gap between the lump of copper and the spring, hopefully disengaging the starter.
After more plumbing language I managed to get the switch screwed on again (not easy with fingers the size of Mike Tyson's fist). I then - very cautiously - re-attached the battery. The starter remained silent. Susan climbed into the car, and I tentatively pulled on the starter cable. The starter turned over.
I released the starter cable - and the starter stopped. We then tried the same with the ignition on, she started first time and the starter didn't keep spinning.
This is a result. I went for a drive to check that it was all going to continue to work, and so far so good. This is the first real fixing of stuff I have done on Célestine, and I am rather pleased with myself. I am so pleased she is a mechanical car, and if you look at things long enough you can work how it works. On a modern car it would have meant another trip to the garage to have a computer chip looked at.
Pleased? You betcha. I just hope I don't have to repeat the process any time soon.