With spring just around the corner (the calendar says next Tuesday, even if I spent part of this morning clearing some residual snow from last week’s double-whammy storms), I realized that I had been remiss in updating my own “Calendar of Events”.
We car guys and gals patiently wait for those final traces of salt to be washed away so we can unhook the Battery Tenders, check fluid levels and tire pressures, and ease our old iron out into the early spring sunshine. It’s nice to be reminded that there will be plenty to do; here’s what’s on my calendar so far (and this is just the first two months of the season):
Rally brother Steve and I had earlier decided to make the trek on Saturday rather than Sunday, this to give us an extra day to relax, while being certain to join the informal concours on Sunday. We arrived on Saturday night just as any semblance of daylight was disappearing. If there was good news, it was that the car was running just fine, and, we anticipated no need for headlight usage during the upcoming week. Although I had not intended to work on the headlight issue during the rally, my trusty service manual was with me just in case.
The afternoon concours was a delight, helped in large part by stunning weather. The show was held in a park in town, and was therefore open to the public. The variety of cars was the best yet (and yes, I say that for every NE 1000). The photos in this case do provide evidence to support my claim.
Highlights of the week included two nights’ stay at the Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield NH (a wonderful backdrop for photography), and a visit to Hemmings World HQ in Bennington VT. Aside from some fog and frost in the (very) high elevations, sunshine was the order of the week, right through our return drive on Friday.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the 2007 rally would be the final time that my GT/CS would serve as a rally car. It would also be six long years before we returned as participants in the NE 1000. In the meantime, we were both glad that the wiring harness debacle of just one week ago did nothing to diminish our joy in participating once again in such a prestigious event with like-minded individuals.
The event was too traumatizing to even consider documenting it via photography. Besides, there was a deadline to meet.
It was May of 2007, and to my great delight, rally brother Steve and I were once again registered to drive in the New England 1000 classic car rally. This would be our second time using my ’68 Mustang as the rally car, and our fifth event together as co-drivers and co-navigators.
The previous month, I had again shown my car in the Garden State Region Mustang Club’s annual all-Ford car show. Driving it to the show and back proved that it was in great shape. There was little to do to prep it for the rally other than check its vitals, an easy enough task on a ‘60s-era American car.
One thing bugged me. It was like an itch I needed to scratch.
Some previous owner, most likely as a repair, had replaced the door lock cylinders. They worked fine. The issue was that I had 3 different keys for the car: one for the doors, one for the ignition, and one for the trunk. The factory gave you TWO keys: the same key was supposed to operate the door locks and the ignition switch.
Every one of the 19 Mustang parts catalogs I had showed new sets of ignition and door lock cylinders for sale. It looked easy enough to do. Best of all, when I was ready to give Steve a set of keys to hang onto for the rally, he’d only have two. As would I. I placed the order.
The only time available for me to do the job was the day before our departure. The door lock cylinders went in first. While I had the door panels off, I did a quick adjust-and-lube of the window regulators and channels. On to the ignition switch.
The instructions said that I needed to insert the existing key into the ignition, and use a paper clip in an access hole to release an internal catch. Once the paper clip was in, it said, turn the key, and pull outward.
I did all the above. The ignition cylinder came right out. At the same time, I saw a puff of talcum powder emanating from the switch area.
It wasn’t powder.
It was smoke.
My car’s wiring harness was on fire.
It took about 30 seconds for me to run into the garage, grab a ½” wrench, and disconnect the negative battery cable (the hood, thankfully, was already open). The smoking stopped.
WHAT in creation had happened?
Two observations: one, in re-reading the instructions, I had clearly overlooked the line which stated “disconnect the battery before proceeding”. Two, it was very typical on a car like this Mustang for the manufacturer to run an unfused B+ wire from the battery directly to the ignition.
Something had shorted out. I didn’t know what, and at that moment, I didn’t need to know. There were fewer than 24 hours before we would be departing for the rally. Frantically, I began to remove the engine compartment wiring harness. The sheathing had melted, but there had been no open flame. With the harness on the garage floor, I cut it open.
Exactly one wire was damaged, the feed to the ignition. All other wires were fine. Racing off to the auto parts store, I bought all the 14-gauge wire they had. Working through the afternoon, evening, and into the following morning, I was able to replace the one damaged wire, re-wrap the harness, and reinstall it in the car.
The car started up without drama (which is to say, without smoke).
Steve arrived at my house and endured the telling of the tale. We left, a little later than planned, and headed for this year’s starting point, the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock VT. Everything seemed to be working well with the car.
On the NYS Thruway, we pulled into a multi-level parking garage to make a quick pit stop. It was dark in the garage, so I turned on the car’s headlights.
They didn’t work.
We checked turn signal and brake lights, which did operate. But we had no headlights or tail lights. Given our tardy departure, we were almost guaranteed to arrive in Woodstock after dark. We hustled as quickly as we dared push the car, which is to say, with its 390 V8, pretty quickly.
We pulled into the Woodstock Inn just as the sky turned from twilight to black. We made it.
I normally stick to wine or beer on the occasions that I do have an alcoholic drink, but I believe I had a scotch on the rocks that first evening in Woodstock.
And how did we do on the rally? That’s for a future post.
After several years of this, Steve took a job transfer to California, but we both wanted to continue participating in the New England 1000. This meant that Steve needed to fly east, and your scribe needed to provide the rally ride. Steve did come back to this area four times between 2005 and 2015. For those rallies, we initially drove my ’68 Mustang California Special. When that car went away, we switched to my ’67 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior.
Throughout this time, I had always informed him that should a left-coast event become available, I’d return the favor and fly west. Besides, the thrill of driving that V8-powered British sports car of his was something I savored to repeat. During the winter of 2016-2017, we found an opportunity that seemed to hit all the right notes.
The rally was called “Drive Toward a Cure”. Scheduled to be held in April of 2017, it would be a 3-day event, starting in downtown Los Angeles, and overnighting in Paso Robles in central CA. Its mission: raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s Disease. We would be driving in its inaugural run. We were in!
With a rally push-off date of Friday April 28, I flew out on Wednesday the 26th, to meet up with Steve on Thursday and attend to any last-minute details. It was great to see the Tiger again. We changed the oil and buttoned up a few loose ends. The biggest difference compared to last time was the installation of a hardtop, which meant no top-down driving.
Friday morning arrived quickly enough. We were up at 4:30 a.m. (my body still on NY time), because we needed to depart his house at 5:15 a.m. to reach our destination, the Petersen Museum in L.A., at 7 a.m.
This New Yorker couldn’t believe the traffic on the highways of southern California at 6 a.m. on a weekday morning! Steve drove in without issue, and we parked at the Petersen to collect our registration papers, get coffee, and meet some of our fellow rallyists.
There were approximately 20 cars with scheduled check-out times one minute apart. One of the unique features of this rally was that there were another 20 cars doing likewise, but starting in Danville, outside of San Francisco. They would head south as we headed north. We would not see those cars until our rendezvous at our host hotel.
We left the parking deck of the Petersen, and drove directly into… downtown LA congestion. We were trying to get to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), just a few blocks away, but gridlock maximized our time getting there.
Once on the PCH, we were moving along nicely. After a few miles, we turned right, and went straight uphill into the mountains. By this time, there was a lineup of 4 to 5 rally cars behind us, and one in front of us. The lead car was a Jensen Interceptor Coupe, with a Chrysler V8. Another hybrid, just like our Tiger.
The scenery of oceanfront beaches changed to deep canyons full of verdant foliage. The roads were winding, with sharp bends and hairpin switchbacks. For long stretches, there were no guardrails between you and the bottom of the canyon. It didn’t matter. The weather was perfect.
Our first stop was the Mullin Museum in Oxnard. Peter Mullin’s private collection resides here, and it consists of exclusively French automobiles. The museum’s interior design is just as impressive as the cars. The only drawback to our visit was a one-hour limitation, which meant we may have seen about 25% of it.
Yes, we were “encouraged” to keep moving, but it’s important to point out that very much UNLIKE the NE1000, our driving stages were NOT timed. This California Adventure was not a TSD (time/speed/distance) type rally, and as such, it made for a more relaxed driving atmosphere behind the wheel.
Lunch was in the charming town of Solvang (it’s redundant to say “charming” about these California towns outside of the metropolitan areas), and we were back in the saddle to be on time for 7 p.m. dinner at the Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles.
We were very, very late for dinner.
With me behind the wheel, Steve saw it first. The temperature gauge, which we monitored constantly, suddenly shot up well past what had been its normal 200 F. I pulled into a bank parking lot; we opened the hood; and it was a trifecta: the sight of green fluid all over the engine compartment; the unmistakable odor of hot coolant; and a loud hiss as the steaming liquid and vapor tried to escape.
Steve checked the radiator hose clamps for tightness. He had just replaced the factory radiator with an aluminum model to try to stay one step ahead of the Tiger’s Achilles Heel: excess engine heat. Steve reported that all clamps looked good. Because things were so hot under there, we were prevented from further diagnosis.
Our savior on Friday night came in the form of Hagerty roadside assistance, which was part of the rally’s benefit package. Within an hour, a flatbed truck picked up the car, and we rode in the cab with “Junior”. He drove us the final hour to the hotel. We walked into dinner at 9 p.m., tired, hungry, and most upsettingly, unsure of what was ahead for the car.
What transpired on Saturday morning will restore anyone’s faith in human nature. Or, as Steve himself put it, “yes, there is a rally God”. (The details are in the sidebar story below: “Paso Robles Good Guys Rescue Stranded Tiger”.)
While we missed Saturday morning’s driving events, we didn’t miss lunch! After our meal (including a visit from the mayor of Paso Robles, Steve Martin), we were on the road again for the afternoon’s drives. (Another distinguishing characteristic compared to the NE1000: Day 1 is “rallying”; Day 2 is “scenic cruising”.) We drove through the mountainous landscape dotted with vineyards, then out to Cambria, on the coast, before heading back to the Allegretto.
Dinner was at a different nearby winery, and was served family style. You really get to know your fellow rallyists when you must ask the Ferrari driver “could you please pass the potatoes?” The free-flowing wine helped.
Sunday morning started with a surprise visit from the local San Luis Obispo-based AACA club. Several American classics, definitely different from the rally cars, were in the parking lot for us to admire. Soon after, we were headed to brunch at our 3rd winery stop (Paso Robles must have 100 vineyards). After brunch, it was adieus, and we were on our way home.
The trip to Steve’s house was mostly on I-5, a north-south highway in the middle of the state. The ambient temperature increase was noticeable compared to the delightfully moderate Paso Robles, and we were glad for the hardtop. Had we been convertibling, we would have roasted.
The Tiger got us home in plenty of time for a celebratory dinner with Steve and his wife. All hot-running issues were behind us. The car did about 700 miles, and except for the hose failure, proved that you can drive a 51-year-old car in these kinds of adventures. We don’t exactly know what’s next in our quest for another rally, but it’s sure to yield stories.
SIDEBAR: “Paso Robles Good Guys Rescue Stranded Tiger”
After being towed to our hotel on Friday night, it was a non-stop conversation centered around “what do we do now?” While it was necessary to begin to consider options for Sunday (Tow the car home? Leave it in Paso Robles and rent a car? FLY back to L.A.??), we also knew that we had to spend Saturday morning giving our best shot to a repair attempt.
Before breakfast, Steve worked the Google machine and compiled a list of local repair shops. Most of them didn’t open until 8 a.m., so we breakfasted at 7:30, then quickly headed back to the room to work the phones. With both of us making calls, I struck pay dirt on my 3rd try. “Jorge” at Dave Foltz Automotive answered the phone. I must have sounded like a broken-hearted teenager: “Hi, listen, I’m from out of town, we’re driving an old car, it broke down, we’re stranded, WWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”
Alright, it wasn’t that bad. Even if I did sound desperate, Jorge was cool and calm. “Listen, I don’t know what it is, but bring it in, and we’ll look at it right away.” “OK, Jorge, but I need it FLAT-BEDDED. Can you do that?” “No, but call Dennis at 123-456-7890.” I called Dennis. “Sure, I got a flat-bed. I can be there in 10 minutes.” Was I dreaming?
By the time we walked downstairs and out to the portico, Dennis and his truck were waiting for us. Dave Foltz Automotive was 1.5 miles away. As we pulled into the lot, I spotted a NAPA store next store. I mean, five paces away.
I jumped out and Jorge greeted me. But every bay was full, and I was doubtful they’d get to it anytime soon. Jorge said, “we’re finishing one up in 10 minutes, then we’ll bring in the Tiger”. Sure enough, the Tiger was next into the shop, and tech Antonio went to work. I sat in the customer lounge, and tried to distract myself with a year-old People magazine.
Within another few minutes, Jorge was in front of me with a blown lower radiator hose in his hands. “Hey, where do you get parts for something like this?” I said I had no flippin’ idea. He said that he’d walk next door to see what NAPA had. Back to People.
FIVE minutes later, the NAPA parts dude shows up holding a new version of the exact hose. I was so beside myself that I wanted to hug Jorge. (But I refrained.) A few more minutes with People, and I heard a honk. Antonio was outside, beckoning me to join him for a test drive. Halleluiah! They did it!
Total time at Dave Foltz: about 90 minutes. Total charges, including California surcharge for handling cancer-causing chemicals (I made that up): $106 (I didn’t make that up). Antonio got his palm greased to the tune of $20. The Tiger was back at the Allegretto by about 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
The fine auto repair personnel at Dave Foltz Automotive of Paso Robles deserve nothing but our highest praise. At 9 p.m. the night before, even my best-case fantasy didn’t have the car fixed THIS quickly.
The rally Gods smiled. “We’ll take care of you this time….”
Steve again agreed to fly east from his California home to meet me at my New Jersey home, from where we headed to our host hotel, the Black Point Inn, just outside of Portland Maine. All systems were working well in the Mustang; the heater core replacement was holding up, and I had driven the car enough to give me faith in its ability to get us there, around, and back.
Steve was driving it for the first time, and the recirculating-ball power steering took some getting used to. The steering had about 30 degrees slop at the top of the wheel, and at first, the instinct is to ‘oversteer’ then correct – you feel like you’re on a sailboat when the car is driven that way. But it only takes 5-10 minutes to get accustomed to dialing in the correct amount of lock.
We arrived in ME with no issues, except that it was a cloudy and cool day. We paid no attention to the weather forecast. First, this was vacation; second, the rally is a rain-or-shine event; and third, in all our previous NE1000 outings, we had never had more than a day of wet weather, so why shouldn’t we expect the same this year?
The selection of cars continued to amaze us. There were no fewer than 3 Ferrari 246 Dinos, 6 Porsche 911s, 2 Austin Mini Coopers, the usual assortment of Jag’s and Benz’s, and a one-off 1955 Chrysler Ghia show car. Our V8 Mustang was one of two cars grouped into the “Historic American V8” class, the other being a ’64 Sting Ray convertible driven by our friends Chuck and Beth.
It bears repeating: the folks who bring out their valuable classics for the New England 1000 do it to drive them. While all of the cars are road-worthy, many of them, especially cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, are not what you’d call weather-proof compared to a modern car. The British vehicles, for some reason, seem especially suspect to the ingress of water onto their occupants.
And this is how the week went: every driving day, from Monday through Thursday, saw rain. It didn’t rain every minute of the day, but, the threat was always there. The photos bear proof that we did not see the sun for the duration of the driving. Our friend Carol caught a local weather report, and informed us that a large storm system had parked itself over the entirety of New England for the week.
Remember that heater core? Well, the two young men in the Mustang hardtop, with roll-up windows, good weatherstripping, and a functioning heater/defrost system, stayed warm and dry. Observing some miserable fellow rallyists, I started to feel just a little bit guilty. To the credit of every participant, no one dropped out (not even the guys running side curtains).
Friday morning, just in time to load up and begin the trek home, the rain stopped, the sun popped out, and we had a rather dry ride back to NJ. Wet weather or not, we again proclaimed the 2005 edition to be a rousing success. Given the rain, we were secretly glad to have turned in the ragtops for a hardtop!
My excitement was barely containable. For the FOURTH consecutive year, I would be driving in Rich and Jean Taylor’s wonderful vintage car rally, along with about 50 like-minded car enthusiasts. My good friend and rally partner Steve would again be joining the troupe, with one significant difference: we would each be taking our own cars. Steve would be teamed up with his girlfriend (now wife) Carol in their Sunbeam Tiger, and I with my fiancé (now wife) Margaretanne would drive our recently-acquired ’72 MGB. Oh boy.
They can’t say they didn’t ask for it. As alluded to in an earlier post, after three straight years of hearing us rave about the rallies, the ladies wanted in. We departed from Steve’s home in Morristown NJ and caravanned to the rally starting point in Lake Placid NY. My B, purchased just a month prior, was relatively untested, and I’ll admit to some trepidation about its roadworthiness (Lucas electrics and all that). However, Steve’s British car (aside from its Yank lump) had been a bastion of reliability all these years, so I did my best to cast aside doubts.
Arriving at the Mirror Lake Inn on Sunday May 20, the field of rally vehicles did not disappoint; if anything, this year’s variety of cars got more interesting. The number of domestic vehicles was greater than previously seen, and included a ’64 Corvette Sting Ray, ’70 Ford Mustang, ’63 Dodge Dart, ’61 Chrysler 300G, and ’62 Ford Thunderbird (ALL convertibles).
The European sports cars continued to dominate the field, and we became almost blasé at repeated sightings of Mercedes 300-SLs, Porsche 356s, Aston-Martins, Jaguar XKs, and Ferraris. The BMW 507 seen earlier returned; and of special note to me, our friend Dave Allison, who had previously entered an Alfa Giulietta spider, a Porsche 356, and a Lotus Elite, showed up with a 1971 Austin Mini. His conclusion? Of the four, the Mini was his favorite to drive!
And drive we did; as always, it’s almost exactly 1,000 miles over four days (that’s why it’s called the N.E. 1000), not including our mileage up and back. Fears about the MGB were totally unfounded; we suffered no ill effects from driving an almost-30-year-old car (not counting a very fiddly convertible top). For my wife, truth be told, getting up early and adhering to a rigidly-scheduled day was not her idea of a vacation, but she did admit that the concept and the camaraderie made it fun.
The return trip was uneventful. I kept the MG for the remainder of 2001, but with the BMW Isetta finally being show ready, I wanted to focus on only one collector car. Besides, the newish ’93 Mazda Miata in the garage offered plenty of sporty top-down driving whenever I wanted, so in the spring of 2002, I sold the B for exactly what I paid for it.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2001 rally, Steve and Carol relocated to California. Due in large part to our geographical separation, it would be another four years before we again entered a vintage rally together, driving a yet-to-be-purchased vehicle. Stay tuned for that story.
For the third consecutive year, my rally brother Steve and I entered the New England-based vintage car rally hosted by our friends Rich and Jean Taylor. While Steve’s Sunbeam Tiger was the steed of choice yet again, a few details were different. For one, Steve’s job had temporarily relocated him to Sweden, so participation required a flight across the big pond. (Care and feeding of the Tiger was left to me, which I recollect involved filling it with fuel.)
Second, in honor of Y2K, the rally was renamed The New England 2000, with a promise that the driving would encompass 2,000 kilometers (or about 1250 miles). Really not a large change from years past, until you factor in the drive we made from central Jersey to the rally and back. Our total round-trip mileage in the year 2000 was closer to 2,000.
Perhaps most interestingly to Steve and me, the breadth and variety of automotive entries exceeded what we had witnessed in ’98 and ’99. The official route book showed 65 vehicles registered! (Rich and Jean advertise that the field is capped at 50.) No doubt, not all them showed up, as the book must go to print several weeks before the event, and we’ve seen how peoples’ plans change. But the magnificence of the cars in attendance was akin to my favorite automotive picture book coming to life.
This volume allowed the Mercedes Benz 300SLs (10) to have their own class, as did the Porsche 356s (6). Cars that I saw in the metal for the first time included a Toyota 2000GT convertible and a BMW 507 (piloted by an all-female team). A pre-war supercharged Bentley, several Jaguar E-Types, a Shelby Mustang, and a to-die-for Ferrari 330 GTS were other favorites. Well-known drivers included Miles Collier of the Revs Institute and AutoWeek publisher Leon Mandel, who spoke at one of the week’s dinners. Sadly, he passed away just two years later.
The photos show more rainy days than we were forced to tolerate the previous two years, but hearing these classic cars run and watching them move in all kinds of conditions only served to reinforce why we were doing this. Speaking of photos, I’ll let them tell the rest of this story.
There are plenty more rally stories to come. Stay tuned.