Don’t believe the weatherman. Yes, he’s frequently right; but he’s wrong as often as he isn’t. Guess that makes the forecast a 50/50 proposition. If you allow your planned outdoor activities to be dictated by the weather, you’d miss out on half the things you wanted to do.
On Saturday, the forecast for Sunday, September 17, 2017 predicted a sunny, warm, humid day, with a slight chance of thundershowers. Except we all woke up to fog and mist. As I headed to the garage and looked at the Alfa, then the Miata, I considered taking the newer car. I quickly changed my mind; it’s not as though I’ve never driven the Alfa in the rain. My determination was to set an example, and as I pulled onto the highway, wipers flailing, headlights barely cutting through the fog, I told myself that we’d be lucky if 7 or 8 cars showed up for this morning’s breakfast run.
Sometimes you feel better about being wrong. Our stalwart group arrived, 17 cars strong, plus one spouse as a passenger. My planning partner Larry and I were trying something new this morning, in the event we had a crowd like the last few outings. For the first time, we sent out maps, directions, and destination info a few days ahead, in the hope that the group could familiarize itself with the route.
What transpired instead was a plan to split the group in two, with Larry leading the first 8 cars or so, and I, your spirited Alfa driver, leading the rest. This worked perfectly. Traffic lights and stop signs did not break us apart; no one made any wrong turns; we kept to our planned pit stop; and we were at the diner by 10:10am, only 10 minutes later than intended.
Larry planned a stunning route, mostly along Greenwood Lake Turnpike, Warwick Turnpike, and Route 94. We dipped in and out of NY and NJ several times, and traffic wasn’t terrible. Maybe the weather was keeping people home. Several times, the sun blessed us with its warm rays, as it worked to burn off the fog.
The Hampton Diner on Route 206 in Newton NJ hosted us this morning, and it was our first time with them. A table set for 18 awaited us as we entered. The service was a bit slow, but it was a New Jersey diner on a Sunday morning, and no one seemed to mind. We’re not shy about yakking it up while waiting for food.
Speaking of yakking, this crowd loves to gab, as captured in the photos. A few of us managed to linger in the diner parking lot for close to an hour after the meal. For one moment, we considered heading back in for lunch.
With the group size continuing to grow, and everyone getting along so well, the biggest challenge may be keeping things moving along so that we eat breakfast while it’s still morning.
The most frequent comment I heard as we departed the diner was “are we going to do this one more time this year?” The answer was “yes, we’re counting on it”.
For only the second time this year, our informal “breakfast club” got its act together to go for a drive on Sunday July 30. After a prediction of heavy rains for Friday and Saturday, the weatherman promised a good day on Sunday, and we got it! At my 7 a.m. departure, it was actually cool (probably low 60s), quite unusual for midsummer NJ. The great combination of bright sunshine, comfortable temperature, and low humidity stayed with us all day. As Ken said to me, with only the slightest exaggeration: “this isn’t the best day of this summer; this is the best day of the last three years!”
The turnout was impressive, something we don’t take for granted, what with everyone’s summer schedule so jammed. We had 15 vehicles, four of which held passengers, for a total of 19 hungry mouths. We were happy to see some new faces out with us for the first time. We pushed off from the Sheraton Crossroads, as promised, as the clock struck 8:30 a.m. Destination for the morning was a perennial favorite, Stella G’s in Hackettstown NJ.
A casual observer of our motorcade would be forgiven for thinking it was the local Porsche club’s outing, with a few non-German cars thrown into the mix. At least it seemed that way, with a total of five 911s plus a 944 cabriolet. The two additional German cars were both BMWs: a 320 and an E30. Three other European sports cars rounded out that continent’s representation: an MGB-GT with a V8 conversion, a Jaguar F-Type convertible, and your scribe’s Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior.
Four domestic vehicles completed today’s field, three of them GM products: a C6 Corvette, a ’66 Buick Skylark convertible, and a ’94 Camaro Z-28. The nineteenth vehicle was a ’64 T-Bird convertible.
After a short run on Route 287 South (we try to minimize highway driving), we exited onto Route 23 north, then turned south / southwest, heading toward Sparta and a rendezvous with Route 517 which would take us the rest of the way to Hackettstown. With a group this large, it wasn’t possible to keep all the cars together on the road, and the back half went their own way in Sparta, eventually taking the highway again, but getting to the restaurant only minutes behind the first arrivals. For those who did stay on the planned course, the roads and scenery made for spectacular driving.
The good news about Stella G’s is that the food is great; the less good news is that it’s packed on Sunday mornings. Our hostess Lauren informed me that “a table for 19” wasn’t going to cut it, so we were seated in waves of three. The seating arrangement didn’t affect the food and coffee, which were top-notch as always.
And what did we do after breakfast? We did what we always do: we retired to the front sidewalk, where the yapping continued for an unspecified amount of time. The party broke up by 11:30 am, which put everyone home by early afternoon. We start early, get a lot done, and still get home in time to tackle that honey-do list. What’s better than that?
Before the 2006 driving season commenced, I needed to do something about the sloppiness in the car’s front end. While I held no illusions that this car would ever steer like a rack-and-pinion equipped sports car, the amount of freeplay in the steering seemed excessive, even by 1960s American car standards. A check of ball joints and bushings found enough wear to warrant the installation of new upper and lower control arms. (I opted to forego the Shelby-invented trick of relocating the upper control arms by one inch, effectively lowering the front suspension.) With the new suspension pieces bolted up, I happily observed that the dead spot at the top of the wheel was reduced by half.
The Garden State Region Mustang Club held its annual car show at a local Ford dealer in April of each year. In spite of poor weather, my car was there, mixed in among ponies both old and new.
In July, we joined the Mustang Club of New England at a show in New Hampshire. It was 95 degrees on Route 95, but that big 390 kept its cool. It was neat to discover at least one other California Special in attendance, a pale yellow car restored to a condition several levels better than mine. I took copious notes.
In the fall, my wife and I had a Mustang adventure of a quite different nature. We decided to take a week’s vacation in Arizona. As I made the travel plans and investigated rental choices, I noted that Hertz was now renting the Shelby Mustang GT-H, a throwback to the original Shelby Mustang rent-a-racers of the 1960s. I signed up for one.
Upon my arrival at the Hertz counter in Phoenix, I was not prepared for the strict lecture coming from the rental agency employee in delivering the car to me. He said in effect: “I’m going to show you every Shelby-specific item on this car, from the hood pins, to the Shelby-signed plates, to the guy wire securing the engine to the body (this to prevent, yes, engine swaps). You must sign here to verify that all these Shelby components are present, and you are liable if the car is returned with any of these missing!” Holy chicken farmer. I was afraid to leave the car in the hotel parking lot!
The car looked sharp in its black-and-gold livery, and was an absolute blast to drive. Even with an automatic, the fun factor was off the scale. The car made all the right sounds, and the steering, brakes, and handling were eons above my ’68, no surprise given the almost 40-year spread between the two Mustangs. For the first time in decades of renting cars, I didn’t want to return the rental.
By the end of 2006, Steve and I were already talking about repeating the use of the ‘Stang in the 2007 NE 1000. I was game. The car was up to it, but there were still a few things on my punch list to attend to.
The town of Hillsborough NJ held its annual Memorial Day parade on Saturday May 27, 2017. The day dawned sunny and warm, in spite of a forecast which predicted showers, and the turnout from the NJ Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) was extensive and eclectic. The club has supported this parade for years, but this was the first time that your scribe was able to join in the festivities.
We were asked to convene by 9:30 a.m., with a planned kick-off at 10:30 a.m. Over 20 member-driven cars and trucks were in attendance, including a LaSalle, a Stevens-Dureya, numerous Corvettes, several ‘60s-era Pontiacs, the ubiquitous 1957 Chevy, two Model T Fords, two Mustangs, and a first-gen Monte Carlo. Among non-American makes were two Alfas and a rarely-seen Sunbeam Alpine GT hardtop.
In a unique approach, we were asked to arrange ourselves by vehicles’ decade (not exactly year order), so perhaps the multitudes lining the route could get a sense of automotive history parading by. We moved along at something less than 5 mph, tough on the clutch, but the throngs were appreciative of all the gleaming sheetmetal and chrome.
We probably drove 1.5 miles, and it was over. The cars dispersed, having fulfilled our civic duty for the weekend. It was a thrill to see happy smiling faces waving at you, even as one young man yelled out to me, “hey, is that a Jaguar?” I suppose I should have been complimented.
We eased into our first driving event of 2017, with 6 cars occupied by 8 hungry drivers and riders. After a cool but sunny dawn, we got the weatherman’s promised warmth. In all, it was an almost perfect early spring day for a drive, evidenced by the dropping of several convertible tops.
Our destination was the perennial favorite Silver Spoon Café in Cold Spring NY. They were expecting us, and we were seated by 9:45, and drinking coffee by 9:48. The food was good, the service was exemplary, and as is our habit, we exited the café only to spill out onto the sidewalk to continue our chatter.
We were happy to be able to drive so early in April, and while we’ve said it before, we’ll say again that our intent is to schedule one drive per month for the remainder of our Northeast driving season.
With the recently-acquired Mustang in the garage for the winter of 2003-2004, I set out to do three things in preparation for the 2004 driving season: join the local Mustang club, subscribe to Mustang Monthly magazine, and obtain as many vendor parts catalogs as possible.
The N.J.-based club was the GSRMC (Garden State Region Mustang Club), and soon after joining, its President invited me to submit an article about my car, as we both surmised it was the only GT/CS in the club.
Prior exposure at events like Carlisle had shown that (especially compared to Isetta vendors) there were dozens of Mustang parts suppliers, so any needed part should be only a phone call or mouse click away. I was soon to learn otherwise.
As weather allowed, I would slip into the garage to perform some preventative maintenance: tune-up, oil change, coolant hoses & clamps, etc. Removing the air cleaner lead to the discovery, missed by me and unmentioned by previous owner Tony, that the heater hoses were disconnected from the heater core at the firewall. Against my better judgment, I reconnected them, filled the system, started it up, and ran the heater. All was dry, so I let it be.
As I placed orders for my Mustang-specific parts, I sampled various vendors, including Mustangs Unlimited, CJ Pony Parts, Virginia Classic Mustang, and NPD. Two truths became apparent: first, the quality of aftermarket parts varied widely, and was not always good, to the point that substandard parts were returned; and second, the idea that any part could be found at any vendor was hindered by my engine.
The “X code” 390 2-barrel FE-block was so rare that most Mustang suppliers did not carry parts for it. (Some catalogs, and some otherwise-well-written tomes on the Mustang did not even acknowledge that Ford used this engine in Mustangs!) Out of 317,000 1968 Mustangs, the X-code engine was put into 476 of them (2/10ths of 1%). Among California Specials, 75, or about 2%, used it. Either way, that makes for one rare engine.
The vast majority of its parts are shared with the S-code 390 “GT” 4-barrel engine. The differences are all on top: intake manifold, carb, air cleaner, emission controls, and various connecting parts. For my needs, I was stymied at obtaining vacuum hose connection parts, and a replacement for the missing air cleaner snorkel. (Much later, I found that the snorkel was not being reproduced, and was available used for about $900. I didn’t buy it.)
Early in 2004, the Mustang Club of America (MCA) announced that it would be hosting a 40th anniversary celebration for the Mustang in April, with the event to be held at Nashville Speedway in Tennessee. (The Ford Mustang debuted at the New York World’s Fair in April 1964.) Checking with the GSRMC, there seemed to be lukewarm interest in attending. However, the New England Mustang Club was organizing a caravan, stopping at various points to pick up participants, and they would be stopping at CJ Pony Parts in Harrisburg PA. My wife was willing, so we signed up.
On a rainy April day, we headed out to Harrisburg. The group, at this point about a dozen strong, showed up a short time later. The New England crowd was friendly, and warmly welcomed us. (They promised a “wicked good” journey.) It was nice to have some company on the trip south. The Mustangs consisted primarily of first-generation cars and Fox bodies. Most were driven; several were trailered. As we traveled, other Mustangs joined, and soon there were close to 20 cars. The group was informed that our destination for the night was Harrisonburg VA, and that we would be in Nashville by the afternoon of the second day. The weather remained cool and damp, but we were comforted by fairly good heat output in our car.
That is, until my wife said something about green fluid leaking from the dash near her feet.
We pulled over, and several other drivers also stopped in solidarity. Fortunately, the coolant loss was small enough that the temp gauge stayed in the Normal range. With assistance from several helping hands, we routed the heater hoses in a “U”, bypassing the core. The leak stopped, but we had no heat. Within a few hours, grey skies gave way to sunshine, and a significant jump in the thermometer. By the time we reached Nashville, temps were in the 80s.
This was the first time I had attended a show of this magnitude. Memory tells me that there were about 3,000 Mustangs in attendance. Once we entered the parking lot, it was first-come first-served to find a spot; except for some pre-chosen cars parked under cover, there was no attempt to organize the field. We parked and walked around. The Ford Motor Company was an official sponsor, so it was a treat to see one of the first Ford GTs. Edsel Ford II (son of Henry Ford II) was in attendance, and had a friendly greeting for anyone who came by his way.
This was a 3-day show, and Day 2 was not that different from Day 1. Temperatures stayed in the 80s, and cars were kicking up a lot of dust in the gravel parking lot. The heat and the dust did not make walking an enjoyable endeavor. I did spot a number of other GT/CS cars, and when possible, introduced myself to the owners.
One evening, there was a caravan into downtown Nashville, where we saw a show at the Grand Ole Opry, and enjoyed some local BBQ. By Day 3, we were ready to head home. We drove sans caravan, stopping at a B&B on the way, and taking in the scenic views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive through Virginia.
We got home without further incident. The Mustang did 2,200 miles, flawless except for the leaky heater core (for which I should have known better). Now I knew what I’d be working on during the upcoming winter!
The New Jersey Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club held an informal Sunday cruise during the afternoon of November 6, 2016. Five club members, led by our chapter head Enrico Ciabattoni, gathered at our starting point at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel NJ. We pushed off around 2pm and cruised to various spots in Monmouth County, including Atlantic Highlands, Sandy Hook, and Colts Neck.
The oldest car in today’s contingent was the 1966 Duetto driven by Alex and Carly. Richard’s 1967 GT 1300 Junior was just a year newer. The eighties were well-represented by two GTV6s, Enrico’s and Bill’s. The newest Alfa for today was John’s beautifully-kept 164. Alas, no new Giulia sedans showed up to surprise us. However, Enrico’s wife and daughter did a commendable job driving the sweep car in their Honda Odyssey. Thanks, ladies!
Plenty of time was allotted for photo ops (what with such gorgeous cars!), and a personal highlight was stopping for pictures at the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in the country. The cameras were not always aimed at cars; the vista from atop the Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook in Atlantic Highlands provided glorious views of the New York skyline and lower bay.
Our day ended at Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck, which also gave us a chance to pick up some produce (Enrico was spotted heading for the Italian chestnuts). Since it was the first day back on Eastern Standard Time, the rapidly-diminishing daylight had this scribe heading for home before sunset.
For those who doubt the reliability of Italian machinery: combined with this morning’s breakfast run, Richard’s Alfa was driven a total of 260 miles today, much of it buzzing along the highways of New Jersey at 70 mph, fending off soccer moms in the SUVs. Not bad for a 49-year-old car.
It was wonderful to be out with fellow Alfisti and to delight in the sounds of 4- and 6-cylinder engines in full song. We hope to get the group back on the road in early 2017.