Lime Rock Park, an historic race track nestled in a valley within the verdant hills of northwest Connecticut, held its Historic Festival #37 over the 2019 Labor Day weekend. The races run all weekend except Sunday, as that is prohibited by local ordinance. Many moons ago, Festival organizers reasoned that the non-racing day could be put to great use for a car show, and “Sunday in the Park” was born.
For me, the static car show in Lime Rock has been an annual treat going back to the early 1990s. So many factors make this show special, including location, size, quality, and variety. Lime Rock delights in creating its own classes based on decade, country of origin, and vehicle type. It keeps things interesting for the spectators. Added to that is the tremendous support from marque-specific clubs, resulting in hundreds of vehicles lining the perimeter of almost the entire track.
Although the park is a 3-hour one-way trip for me, the long Labor Day weekend means that a one-day round trip on Sunday isn’t so bad, as vacationers squeezing in a last summer getaway won’t be clogging the roads until Monday. Pedestrian traffic at the track wasn’t so dense to prevent unobstructed photos, which are presented below, in semi-organized fashion. Enjoy the automotive eye candy!
Mazda Miata in 4 generations:
1st gen (NA)
2nd gen (NB)
3rd gen (NC)
4th gen (ND)
RETRO DESIGN, AND THE ORIGINAL INSPIRATIONS (or, “Oh my child, how large you’ve grown!)
Let’s get this bit of disappointing news out of the way: while this Alfista was in attendance, his ’67 Alfa GT Junior was not. Four days before the scheduled departure, the car’s right front brake caliper locked up, and although repair parts were obtained, there wasn’t enough time to effect a safe and sufficient repair. So the green stepnose stayed home.
This is what happened: Four days before we planned to leave for Pittsburgh, I drove the Alfa to my friend George’s house. George (Geo to his really close friends) lives just five miles away, and while he was excited to join in the weekend’s festivities, he had never driven my car before. I thought it only fair that he have a crack at it before we commenced on a 6-hour journey.
As soon as I pulled out of my garage that morning, I sensed that something was amiss. The car seemed a little down on power, and it pulled to the right. Other than that, it drove OK, so I pushed onward. The moment I entered Geo’s driveway and killed the engine, smoke emanated from under the closed hood. I popped the hood but saw nothing obvious. When Geo came out, I explained what had happened, and we both decided to let him drive the car, if only for 2 or 3 miles.
Once Geo got the car back to his place, the smoke returned, only this time, the source was clear: it was pouring off the right front brake. Hindsight made the drifting and low power obvious: this brake caliper was seized. I was lucky we weren’t seeing flames.
We pulled the wheel and there was nothing visibly wrong that we could try to fix on the spot. Putting the wheel back on, I reasoned that I could “carefully” drive the 5 miles back home, and work on it there. As soon as I bade Geo ciao, I started the car, put it in first, and headed down his driveway to the street, where I would need to turn left. Hitting the brake pedal, it sank to the floor. Thankfully, my parking brake (sort of) works, and I used it to stop at the bottom of the driveway. I backed the car up the drive, and started to figure out what Plan B looked like.
Geo couldn’t understand the loss of the pedal. I reasoned that the heat had caused the fluid to boil. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, a firm pedal returned. But I wasn’t driving this car home. There’s a reason I carry an AAA card. I called, they said one hour, and the truck was there in 90 minutes. In seven seasons of ownership, and in over 11,000 miles of driving, this car has never ridden on the back of a flat bed – until this brake failure. But the risk in driving it wasn’t worth it.
While waiting for the truck, I had time to calculate how I was going to get this repaired by Friday morning, just a few hours shy of four days away. My go-to Alfa parts supplier, Classic Alfa in the UK, was still open, if barely. I had always placed my orders via their website, never by phone, and this seemed like a most valid reason to spend the money for an international call. Given their stellar shipping reputation, I could have the parts by Wednesday, which I reckoned would still allow enough time to make a repair.
I called. ‘Chris’ answered. I explained my dilemma and asked him about my options. He quickly offered the choice of either remanufactured (reman) ATE calipers, or brand new ones. I asked him for the price difference, and he replied about 20 British pounds (approximately $25 thanks to the Brexit-depressed value of the pound). I figured that the small differential between new and reman made the new ones a deal, so I ordered a set. Since a core return wasn’t required, I asked Chris to include a caliper rebuild kit, thinking that I would eventually refurbish the old ones. It was now close to noon on Monday in New Jersey, and Chris said I should see the parts by late Wednesday.
Chris was wrong. The parts were in my hands at 5:30 pm ON TUESDAY. This was a miracle, and I presumed that the boys in the UK pushed the order through, having heard that I was planning on driving this thing to the U.S. Alfa convention in 4 days. So far, so good.
Opening the box, the first disappointment was to discover that while these were certainly new calipers, they were not marked ATE, and I had to conclude that they were ATE copies. I unbolted the offending caliper, and an eyeball comparison proved that the new one was identically shaped. All I had to do was swap over the pads, connect the hard brake line, and bleed the system.
With the existing pads and pad hardware installed, I knelt at the right front knuckle, held the 11 pound caliper in my right hand, and began to thread the brake line fitting into the new caliper with my left hand. The threads would not start. I tried every trick I knew; after perhaps 20 minutes, it felt like the threads had started, but I was unable to turn the fitting by hand more than half a turn. Of course, the dreaded fear is that I might cross-thread it, and ruin the caliper and/or the brake line fitting. After another 20 minutes, with blisters forming on the pads of my fingers, it felt again like it started. I picked up the flare nut wrench, and slowly, carefully, brought the fitting all the way down. It was about 8pm on Tuesday night. I was drenched, from both the 100% humidity and the nervous energy.
The next evening, I removed the (good) left front caliper, and, convinced that the previous night’s issues were behind me, went through the same routine: swapped the pads, held the caliper up to the knuckle, and began to thread the pipe fitting. SAME PROBLEM. Desperate, I removed the hard line from the car, and brought it and the new caliper to the workbench, where I wouldn’t need to struggle with the caliper’s weight. I never came close to getting the threads to start.
I rationalized: I have the new caliper on the right front, to replace the known bad caliper. Certainly, I can keep the existing left front caliper in place and drive the car a few hundred miles. The left front caliper was reinstalled. Geo stopped by to assist. We were ready to bleed (the brakes, not us). I filled the master reservoir, asked Geo to climb in, and we began the “pump, hold, release” routine of manual brake bleeding.
There was a drip at the fitting at the right front caliper.
Reluctantly, I put a wrench on it and got another 10-15 degrees in clockwise motion. The bleeding resumed, and so did the dripping. I told Geo that we were done. While I did have the rebuild kit, it was now after dark on Wednesday, and I was out of time, patience, and confidence. Working on a car under such duress only encourages poor decision-making, unnecessary shortcuts, and botched repairs. My only desire was to enjoy the AROC convention, knowing that I would resume this wrenching at an unhurried pace upon my return. The new calipers would go back to Classic Alfa as defective or unusable.
To briefly recap: Ron bought a derelict 914 many years ago, only to discover that its engine was junk. He purchased a spare motor, and invited me to join in the festivities. We’re on equal ground, because neither of us has ever rebuilt an air-cooled VW or Porsche engine before. To quote Ron: “What could go wrong?”
The good news is, we are still in the disassembly phase, and as anyone who has attempted any kind of project can tell you, taking something apart is easy, compared to putting it all back together (and expecting it to operate).
During my 2nd visit, we were able to remove the rocker arm assemblies, pushrods, cylinder heads, and cylinders (jugs). Ron kept reminding me that he wasn’t too concerned about the condition of all these parts, as he has already purchased new replacements for all of them. However, one issue that is keeping me concerned is that we started with a 1.8L engine (I think), we are now working on a 1.7L engine (I think), yet the new parts are for a 1.8L, as that’s what Ron thought he’d be rebuilding until discovering that it had been stored in a pond. Hey, we’ll figure it out. (If you have any familiarity with the similarities and differences between the 1.7 and 1.8 914 engine, please drop me a line.)
During that same visit, we had intended to remove the flywheel, but we lacked the exact tools we needed (½” drive impact sockets). During my all-too-brief 3rd visit, I brought the required sockets with me, but, even with an air impact gun, the final flywheel bolt would not budge. We worked it so hard that its corners started to round off, so cooler heads prevailed, and we left it alone until a Plan B arises from the pond….
At my urging, Ron did buy a set of snap ring pliers, and they came in handy when removing the snap rings, two per cylinder, one on either side of each piston pin. With those out, the pins were easily knocked free with a drift and hammer, and all the pistons were removed.
I informed Ron that I had a busy August coming up, so in the interim, he had some decisions to make:
If the flywheel bolt can’t be removed, what is our next course of action? Just leave it be? He was leaning in that direction.
With pistons removed, the con rod bolts are accessible, and Ron was considering replacing the con rod bearings (but not the crank bearings). He was actively mulling that over.
While he had previously purchased a complete engine gasket kit, was he certain that it had everything we needed for reassembly? He was going to inventory that kit.
Since that 3rd visit, Ron emailed me with an update: he had purchased a set of bolt extractors, “guaranteed to remove the most stubborn rounded-off bolts”, so he was engaged in that exercise. I hope to get back to wrenching on this engine within the next week or two, but I’ve got the Alfa brakes to tackle, and that’s a project (and a story) that will take me through most of the remaining driving season.
It’s been 10 years or more since the Sunday Morning Breakfast Drives started; my partner-in-crime Larry and I have been spearheading the events for at least the last 6 or 7 years; and the format is almost always the same: rendezvous at the Sheraton Hotel in Mahwah NJ; drive a pre-planned route, with all our vehicles following each other; and arrive at a breakfast joint for food and coffee.
However, we’re always looking for ways to mix things up for our little group, so we decided to try something different this time out. We opted for our own “cars & coffee” type of gathering, in lieu of an actual drive along scenic country roads. So while our participants had to drive to get to today’s destination, The Fireplace Restaurant on Route 17 in Paramus NJ, there was no caravan per se. For consistency though, I still used the word “drive” in the subject line.
A dozen or so cars arrived promptly at 8am in The Fireplace’s parking lot, and as is our wont, we chatty men loitered and gabbed for about 20 minutes before Larry yelled “hey, let’s get some breakfast before it gets too crowded in there!” I confess, one aspect of The Fireplace that I enjoy is that it’s each person on his own for ordering and paying. The usual gig at a diner is for the bill to come to me, and after I’ve calculated the tip and grand total, I’m collecting money from 20 heads. The Fireplace affords me the chance to forego that responsibility.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed outside to admire the hardware. It’s been a hot summer in NJ, and today was not any different. The temperature differential between 8am and 10am was noticeable, but that did not dissuade us from checking out each other’s rides. Several of our regulars arrived in vehicles we’ve not seen before: Julio in his very original Dodge pickup, and Sal in his “I just bought it yesterday” Alfa spider.
We heard no complaints about lack of a tour, and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal, the cars, and the camaraderie. By 11am or so, the group started to break up and head back, which points out another wonderful aspect of our Sunday runs: most of us are home by early afternoon, leaving the rest of the day free for whatever occupies one’s time on a hot sunny August Sunday. Larry and I promised each other that we’ll get another event on the calendar ASAP.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this topic, the Saturday car show at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix was truly a multinational affair, with literally thousands of cars scattered within Schenley Park. While many of these vehicles were late model (built within the last 20 years or so), there was enough variety on the ground that anyone with the slightest interest in automobiles would find something to catch their attention – plus there was the racing!
Below are just some of the many photos taken on Saturday of the non-Alfa Romeo vehicles (see Part 1 for exclusively Alfa pictures). I would have literally covered more ground and taken more photos had the intense 100 degree heat not knocked me out by about 2:30pm or so. This blogger hopes that you enjoy the ones below, organized by country, then marque.
Let’s get this bit of disappointing news out of the way: while this Alfista was in attendance, his ’67 Alfa GT Junior was not. Four days before the scheduled departure, the car’s right front brake caliper locked up, and although repair parts were obtained, there wasn’t enough time to effect a safe and sufficient repair. So the green stepnose stayed home. Every cloud, though, has its silver lining, and in this case, I drove a modern car with fully functioning climate control in the 99 degree weather. (The brake failure and its ongoing repairs will be the subject of future blog posts.)
I can assure you that the rest of this post will be short on words and long on photos. On Friday evening there was an AROC club dinner at the Pittsburgh Golf Club, with dozens of striking Alfa Romeos looking resplendent on the lawn in the setting sunlight. Saturday was the all-makes show, with literally thousands of domestic, Italian, German, Swedish, and Japanese vehicles on display. Saturday night was the AROC banquet dinner. And on Sunday, club members were treated to a reserved spot along the track to watch some spirited vintage racing. (We also saw race cars driven in anger on Saturday.)
The volume of photos means that I’ve divided this blog post into Parts 1 and 2: Part 1 features photos of Alfas from various vantages during the weekend, plus an assortment of racing car pictures. Part 2 will follow and will include photos of cars other than Alfas.
As always, click on the photos to enjoy full-screen resolutions of them.
ALFAS IN THE HOTEL PARKING LOT
ALFAS AT THE FRIDAY EVE PITTSBURGH GOLF CLUB DISPLAY
For varying reasons, we (the “we” being my buddy George) and I are departing Friday morning. It’s about a 350-mile one-way trip, and while my 51-year-old Italian car is more than up for it, there’s still all that last-minute stuff to attend to. Since it got a full tune, valve adjustment, and oil change earlier this year, most of what I’ve put effort into these last few weeks has been cosmetic. After all, it will be on a show field with many of its siblings and cousins, and it needs to look it best!
Here are some of those recent efforts:
When I got the car in 2013, there were custom-fitted carpet floor mats in place. Pete, the previous owner, had had them made, and they fit well and looked good. But during my time with the car, the driver’s side mat had started to bunch up near the pedals. Looking at replacement mats online, the biggest challenge was finding a set that could properly deal with the “standing pedals” (hinged through the floor) on my Alfa. The set in the car had a rubber panel, cut to allow the clutch and brake pedals to pass through. I was looking for similar, and was not satisfied with what I was finding.
The good folks at Coco Mats (www.cocomats.com) offered to make a custom set for me, and went so far as to send me a template for a hanging pedal car, which I could customize. But during my email exchanges with them, they seemed reluctant to deal with a mat that would be slotted for the standing pedals. While I liked the idea of coco mats, I continued to search.
My usual UK supplier, Classic Alfa, didn’t carry floor mats at all, but Alfaholics did (www.alfaholics.com). While the mats appeared able to adapt to the pedals, the image on the screen was less assuring. The Alfa logo AND script were rendered in bright red, and took up a large chuck of real estate on the mat; perfect perhaps for a car with some red on the outside or inside, but my GT Junior has neither. I decided to keep looking.
Centerline, based in the states, possibly had a good-looking mat, as the screen shot showed the Alfa logo done up in proper colors. The issue for me was the entire mat wasn’t shown, and I wanted to see how they handled the pedals. So I called and asked if someone could perhaps take a photo or two and send that to me. The nice chap I spoke to said, “well, it’s Friday, but we could do that for you next week”, to which I replied, “great!”. When “next week” came and went, I called again, and got a different, somewhat less-nice chap. His first question was “who did you speak to?” and I replied “I have no idea”. When I again asked for pictures, he said “well, we’re kind of busy filling orders”. Hmm. Guess I’ll just look somewhere else then, shall I? (I never did receive photographs from them.)
Out of frustration, I Googled “Alfa Romeo mats made in Italy” (U.S.-made mats were for hanging pedal cars only). This brought me to the website of Mr. Fiat, where I saw good-looking mats for standing pedal cars. The Alfa logo was in all-red, but it was small and subtle. I called. Mrs. Fiat answered the phone, and verified that they had my mats in stock (the company is in Atlanta GA). She transferred me to Mr. Fiat, who took my order over the phone. I had the mats in 3 days.
The look is good; the fit is just so-so, but about what I would expect for aftermarket mats. Their main purpose, after all, is to protect the original rubber mat flooring, so these will get the job done!
I will admit that on 90-degree summer days, the vinyl upholstery in my car becomes a bit unbearable. So the idea of sheepskin covers, with their “cool in the summer, warm in the winter” advantages, appealed. I’m also lucky to work for a company which sells aftermarket car parts and accessories, and I bought my covers, through www.carid.com, from U.S. Sheepskin.
They are universal fit, and while the fit on the seat back is excellent, they are quite big on the seat cushions. The color is complementary at best, but that’s OK, because these are for travel only. Once I get to a show, the covers are coming off to expose the original upholstery. I’ve made some short local trips with the seat covers in place, and so far, pretty comfy.
Polish and wax
The Alfa has single-stage paint, meaning, no clear coat on top. Not sure that any 1967 cars had two-stage paint, probably not. I’m also guessing that its paint is lacquer, as it has that “soft” feel to it. Whenever I apply any kind of wax, the cloth quickly turns green, so I know I’m removing paint.
Since buying the car in 2013, I’ve put over 10,000 miles on it. When it goes on one of the New England 1000 rallies, it spends a full week outside, and that quickly takes its toll on the paint. In my garage, the car stays covered, but the paint still needs frequent attention.
Meguiars products have been my favorites for over 10 years now, and I’m 99% exclusive with them. For the Alfa, having tried several different combinations of products, I’ve settled on two: Show Car Glaze #7, and Liquid Yellow Wax #26.
The Show Car Glaze is a polish, designed to rejuvenate the paint by nourishing it and adding essential oils back into it. It has some compounding effect, but very little. I’ve read articles which refer to Meguiars #7 as “Queen For A Day”, meaning that it may be short-lived, but it will quickly bring back a deep shine.
Yellow Wax #26 is a blend of carnauba and other waxes. It’s easy to apply; there’s no rush to remove it; and it doesn’t dry white, so if you get a little in some nooks and crannies, it’s no big deal. It also seems to sit nicely on top of the #7 Glaze.
I started with the horizontal surfaces, which had the most hazing on them, and they cleaned up nicely. I was able to go lighter on the sides, and finished up with the front and rear. By the way, the #26 wax works beautifully on my stainless bumpers, frankly, better than the metal polishes I have. We’ll see how well the car does when it’s judged on Saturday!
The Alfa Convention in Montreal in 2017 was my first visit to an AROC event, and I was knocked out. I missed 2018 in Washington state, and am thrilled that the 2019 Convention is so close. Watch this space for updates and a full report!
As I said in my post about the recent AACA Spring National, it’s really about the people and their stories behind their automotive treasures, more than is it about the cars themselves. This has been true at so many recent car shows, and it was evident again last weekend.
Below are three stories about three individuals whose paths crossed mine on Saturday: one whom I met for the first time that day; one whom I thought I was meeting for the first time when in fact we had met six years prior; and one whom I had gotten to know but had not seen in almost 20 years.
RIDING IN RON’S E-TYPE
Saturday morning; in a golf cart with Leif Mangulson, the Chief Judge, who wants to show me the spot to locate the club’s PA system. While we’re stopped, a gentleman approaches the cart. “Hi Leif, I’m Ron, and we spoke numerous times. I have the Jag”. Hmm, I ponder, a Jag. This gets my attention, and I find it impossible to not speak. “Excuse me, Ron, my name is Richard. What kind of Jaguar do you have?” “Oh, a ’66 E-Type”. “Fixed Head Coupe or Open Two Seater?” I ask, trying to impress him with my use of the preferred Britishisms for the hardtop and roadster. “Mine’s the OTS”. “Oh, and as a ’66, it’s got the 4.2 liter engine, all-synchro gearbox, and better seats, yes?” “Yes, and my, sounds like you like these cars. Why don’t you make a point of stopping by to see it on the show field?”
Not only did I “stop by” to see the car – it was one of the cars for my Judging Team to evaluate! I was happy to see Ron again, and I assured him, AND my Team Captain, that I could fairly and objectively perform my duties within the engine compartment. When we were done, Ron again invited me to seek him out before the car was loaded back onto his trailer.
It was late in the afternoon by the time I worked my way back to Ron’s gorgeous opalescent silver-blue roadster. Ron and his son were packing up their chairs and other paraphernalia when Ron turned to me and asked “Would you like to ride with me back to the trailer?” The look on my face provided the answer. But I did ask “do I need to remove my shoes?” Ron laughed and said not to worry about it.
Ron entered the driver’s side while I squeezed in the passenger seat. With a little choke, ignition key turned to “on” and a push of the starter button, the big 6 immediately came to life. At 5’ 10”, I was surprised that my head grazed the erect convertible top, but at the same time, the seat cushion felt either overstuffed or not broken in, which could explain the lack of headroom.
With the shift lever in 1st, Ron eased out the clutch and we were moving. The view out the front over the L-O-N-G hood was gorgeous. We were in a parking lot with dozens of other valuable cars, so he kept to a reasonable speed, perhaps 20mph tops. But the ride was sublime. My first ride even in an E-Type was worth it, and I certainly hope it’s not the last.
When I got out, I couldn’t thank Ron enough for his kindness and generosity. Turns out that he lives about 45 minutes south of me, and he invited me to keep in touch. I certainly shall.
OWEN AND THE ISETTA
As I alluded to in my previous post, judging a class of cars was a rewarding, if very time consuming, undertaking. One of the most rewarding aspects of it was the sharing from the vast pool of knowledge among the five of us. We were judging Class 24, two-seat sports cars, so each of us had some level of familiarity with these vehicles, and the stories started to pour out.
Somehow, I let it be known that I had owned a BMW Isetta for the better part of 30 years. A while later, when judging was over, Owen, our Team Captain, came up to me. He asked me “do you still have the Isetta?” “No, Owen, I sold it.” “What year was that?” “I sold it at the RM Auction in Hershey in 2013”. With that, Owen removed his wallet from his back pocket, reached in, and pulled out a black and white photo. It was a snapshot of an Isetta with two boys standing next to it. One boy, a teenager, was quite tall, and the younger fellow was pre-school age.
“Wait!” I exclaimed. “I’ve seen this photo before, but I’m not sure where.” Owen asked “do you read Auto Restorer magazine? The photo was in there”. “Nope, that’s not where I saw it”. “What color was your car?” “Red, solid red”. Owen said “I now know where you saw it”, and related this story to me.
He was able to recite in some detail the location of my car within the RM Hershey tent, and remembered that he had approached me in 2013 to tell me how his parents bought a new Isetta which they kept for many years. He had shown me that photo in Hershey, explaining that the tall fellow was his older brother, and the little guy was he at 5 years old. A few days later, Owen kindly mailed me a photocopy of that photo, along with the letter he had written to the magazine.
The coincidence of again meeting someone who had shown me a photo of the family’s Isetta 6 years ago was uncanny. That we would end up on the same Judging Team goes to show how small this automotive hobby can be. But Owen would not be the ONLY person on the Team with whom I had a connection.
YES, THATIAIN TUGWELL
Day-of-show judging at an AACA event always starts with the judges’ breakfast. There, you meet your team, get an overview from the Team Captain, and preview the list of vehicles to be judged. I was a bit late for breakfast, so while the others talked, I was still getting up several times to fetch my eggs and coffee.
When I got back to the table, I finally saw the list of cars, and noted that the printout also included the names of all my fellow judges. A quick eyeball scan revealed that I knew no one at my table, except….. How often do you come across a first name like “Iain?”
I looked up from my coffee. He was sitting directly across from me. The din in the room forced me to raise my voice almost to a yell. “Hey Iain! I KNOW YOU.”
His expression told me he didn’t quite know what to make of that comment. I continued. “I don’t expect you to remember, but the first time was 1998. A buddy of mine and I were on the New England 1000, in a British Racing Green Sunbeam Tiger”. Slowly, his puzzled frown changed to the slightest of smiles. Once I heard the accent, there was no mistake. “Oh yes, the Tiger, yes, I do remember it. How are you?”
Well, other than shocked to hell, I was fine. I grabbed my phone and texted Steve, the Tiger owner.
“You are NOT going to believe this. I’m at the judges table at the NJ AACA show in Parsippany. On my team is a guy named Iain Tugwell. Yes, THAT Iain Tugwell.”
As if I needed to prove it, I snapped a shot with the cell and sent that to Steve too. To the two of us rookie rally drivers, Iain Tugwell was a legend. He ran the Sunday night “Famous Navigators School”, teaching us the finer points of scoring zero in our rally stages. There was probably some ex-military in him, as he was so set in his ways we nicknamed him “The Carmudgeon”. He was probably on the NE1000 with us until about 2001 or so, making it 18 years since we last connected.
Judging with him was fun; he was the old Iain, short, brusque, to the point, but ultimately big-hearted and good-natured. Later on, I got to meet his wife Jane, and then bade them farewell, as they departed the hotel immediately after judging ended, to get home to Buffalo before midnight. I promised Iain that we would again see each other at an AACA event. I certainly hope to make that true.
What a show! Over 400 of the country’s finest classic and collector cars gathered in Parsippany NJ to participate in what was officially known as “The 2019 AACA Eastern Spring National”, but what was simply referred to by the NJ Region members who put it all together as “the National”.
Here’s the background: sometime last year, after a visit from an AACA Director encouraging us to take the leap, the NJ Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) decided to host a National event (static car show, as opposed to a driving tour). This would be the first time since 1968 that a National meet would be held in the Garden State. It was “all hands on deck”, and dozens of Regional members (including yours truly) volunteered for duty.
The dates were picked: June 28 through June 30, 2019. The location/host hotel was found: the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany NJ, conveniently located a mile from Interstate 287 in the northern part of the state. As with any National, the several days prior to the actual car show would include a chance for car owners and club members to join optional tours to points of interest in the area. For me, Thursday and Friday were consumed with staying at the hotel to assist with behind-the-scenes work on merchandise and raffle ticket sales, as well as transporting the club’s PA system.
Saturday, the big day, arrived, and many Regional members were already scurrying around the hotel’s hallways at 6am. After I got the PA moved into position, I put my 1993 Mazda Miata on the show field in the HPOF category (Historical Preservation of Original Features), and rushed to judges’ breakfast.
Last year, as part of my contribution to making this show happen, I decided to offer my services as a judge for The National. Serving as an AACA Judge is a major time commitment. First, one is obligated to attend at least one judging school a year (I managed two, one in Gettysburg PA in August 2018, and again in Philadelphia in February 2019). Then, the day of the show, judges’ breakfast is mandatory. This is your opportunity to sit with your Judging Team, including Team Captain, review the list of vehicles to be judged, and make preliminary plans to tackle the task.
We were assigned Classes 25 A/B/D, which were two-seat sports cars of a variety of model years. We began our duties at 11am, and judged 10 cars, mostly European sports cars (MGs, Triumphs, Porsches, Jaguars, a Jensen-Healey) plus a Cadillac Allante. When one includes the review and tallying of the score cards, the actual judging took over 3 hours. (Besides the Team Captain, the team includes one judge each for exterior, interior, chassis, and engine compartment. I had engine compartments, and spent my time scrutinizing valve cover finishes, hose clamps, and wiring connections, among other things.)
Finally, released by my Team Captain, I grabbed my camera and dashed back to the show field to snap as many shots as possible. We were blessed with a sunny and dry day, if a bit warm (93 degrees and humid). Staying hydrated was paramount, as was protecting one’s skin from the relentless rays. The 400 or so cars were mostly in the points-judged classes, but we had ample turnout in both HPOF and DPC (Drivers Participation Class) too.
Looking at the placards, while most vehicles were from the metro NY/NJ area, I did note many vehicles from PA and CT, and cars from as far as NC and WI. In my haste, I forgot to photograph my Miata, which was vying for its “Original HPOF” award. I’m pleased and humbled to state that it did achieve that milestone.
The caliber and quality of the show cars amazed me. I’ve been attending Hershey since the late ‘70s; I’ve been to various Concours all along the East Coast, including Greenwich, Misselwood, and New Hope. Subjectively, I thought that the vehicles in attendance in Parsippany were collectively the most stunning group of AACA-eligible cars I’ve ever had the pleasure to gaze upon. Brief conversations with some fellow Regional members revealed that they felt the same way.
Saturday evening’s banquet was the icing on the cake. We finally had a chance to relax, have a drink or three, and chat with friends old and new. I’ll happily repeat myself: the older I get, the more I enjoy the PEOPLE and the STORIES more than the cars. And I’ve got stories, and they will follow as separate posts in the coming days.
Saturday was an almost-perfect weather day in NJ, sunny, warm, with low humidity. The sun was perhaps a bit too warm, as I pulled my ’67 GT 1300 Junior out of its stall so that we could work on the Spider in the cool shade of the garage.
Enzo had the correct oil with him, 75W-90 GL-5 gear oil, so we decided to start with the gearbox. Jacking up the front of the car under the front spring perches, sturdy jack stands were placed under the jacking points just behind each front wheel. For some reason only known to Alfa engineers, the transmission case drain and fill plugs are on the same side as the exhaust (the driver’s side), so I found it easier to slide under the car from the passenger side and avoid contact with the still-hot exhaust pipes.
Enzo read the printout he had with him from his electronic service manual: “Remove the drain plug; allow the oil to drain out until you see just a drip. Reinstall the drain plug. Remove the fill plug, and add the appropriate oil until it reaches the top of the fill plug; reinstall the fill plug”. It sounded too easy.
On my ’67, I knew that the fill and/or drain plugs required Allen wrenches, as I had done this job on my own car a few years back. I also knew that I had a rather good assortment of metric Allen sockets. I grabbed my drain bucket and positioned it under the tranny. At this point, I related a lesson I had learned a long time ago, and possibly had witnessed during my own repair travels.
While the instructions were clear enough, I said, they should not be taken so literally. What if the car owner removed the drain plug, drained all the oil, reinstalled it, and then found out that s/he could not remove the fill plug? ROOKIE MISTAKE!
An experienced mechanic would always remove the fill plug first, just to ensure that it could be unscrewed and reinstalled. Having done that, the repair person would have the assurance that fresh oil could be added after the old oil had been drained. So that is what we planned to do.
Peering at the side of the case, flashlight in hand, I saw that the drain (lower) plug required a regular socket, perhaps 19mm or 22mm. But the fill (upper plug) would need an Allen (hex) wrench. I asked Enzo to hand me an assortment of metric Allen sockets from my toolbox.
None of them fit. Most were too small; one was too large. (This too-large one was 14mm, and I’m certain that I purchased it specifically for my car.) So much for my presumption that my ’67 and his ’91 would use the same size tools. I slid out from under the car, and opened a drawer which consisted mainly of Allen keys, in both SAE and metric sizes. I grabbed a bunch, got back under the car, and tried them one by one. None fit. That’s it, I said. We are finished before we even begin.
With that, Enzo opened his car’s trunk and rummaged through the tool kit that came with the Alfa. He pulled out a hex wrench. “Try this one” he said. I did. It worked. Voila! His Craftsman 12mm Allen wrench he just happened to have with him was the “key”.
This wrench was about 5 inches long, and working on my back, I didn’t have a lot of leverage to crank counter-clockwise on this thing. “Get me a breaker bar” I shouted. “There are some black iron pipes in the same drawer as my hammers”. Enzo gave me a pipe about a foot long. STILL could not budge the upper plug. I’m not the strongest guy to have turned wrenches, which is why I keep an assortment of breaker bars on hand. But this fill plug was F.T.
Enzo said “I have an idea – you hold the wrench and the breaker bar, and I’m going to extend my foot under the car”. Before I could ask him exactly what he had in mind, Enzo pushed hard with his leg against the pipe, and we both heard that satisfying “crack” sound when something that’s uber-tight breaks free. We did it. With the upper plug out, the lower plug was quickly removed with a 22mm socket and ½” drive wrench, and the old, possibly original, gearbox oil was flowing out and into my catch can.
I had forgotten to mention to Enzo the need for fresh copper washers, but I just happened to have a few new ones on hand. I think that every drain plug on every ‘60s/’70s Alfa uses the same size copper washer! The magnetic drain plug had a bit of sludge on it, but it didn’t look like anything to worry about to me. I cleaned off the sludge, and gave the threads a quick gentle scrub with a brass brush.
The drain plug was reinstalled, and Enzo snaked a rubber hose from the engine compartment, down toward the transmission. I held the hose in place at the fill plug, while Enzo poured in about 2 quarts of the gear oil. Once it started flowing out of the top hole, indicating a full tranny, I reinstalled the fill plug. This transmission drain-and-fill, with the jacking, prying, and filling, took us over an hour and a half.
The rear axle, by comparison, was relatively easy. Besides, we were now experts. The jack stands were removed from the front. The floor jack was placed directly under the differential drain plug, and both sides of the car were lifted at the same time. With the jack stands in place at the rear, I noted that we needed the same two tools: a 12mm Allen for the upper fill plug, and a 22mm socket for the lower drain plug. We again needed Enzo’s muscular right leg (probably built up from years of playing soccer) to loosen both the fill plug AND the drain plug, but with that. the rear axle oil was flowing.
This magnetic drain plug had the same amount of sludge, and it too was cleaned and fitted with a fresh copper washer. With the drain plug back in, we were ready to add new gear oil.
To route the fill hose, Enzo pulled the spare tire from its well, and unbolted a drain cap, which then provided excellent access to the fill hole. About 1.5 quarts of oil were added. We buttoned up, cleaned up, and started it up. A short test drive confirmed no untoward noises, and with that Enzo was safely on his way. Let’s hope there isn’t too much more to do between now and our mid-July departure for Pittsburgh.
SIDEBAR: THE ALLEN MANUFACTURING COMPANY
Most technicians are familiar with a tool that’s commonly called a “hex key” or “Allen key” or “Allen wrench”: it’s a six-sided hexagonal shape that’s inserted INTO a screw head or bolt head, as opposed to the more-common socket or wrench, also 6- (or 12-) sided that’s placed OVER the outside of a bolt head. The hex/Allen design offers the advantage of a smaller head that can fit in tighter places, and can even be designed to thread down and into a threaded hole or shaft.
“Hex” of course means “six”. But why is this tool also called an “Allen wrench/key”? You can thank Mr. William G. Allen, who, in 1909-1910, patented the design, and began manufacturing both the screws and the tools via the Allen Manufacturing Company of Hartford, CT.
My father worked around production machinery for much of his professional life, and set screws which required Allen wrenches were very common. My father’s extensive collection of Allen wrenches in both SAE and metric sizes are now in my possession, and even include some plastic carrying cases bearing the company’s name.