FOLLOW OUR PROJECTS GOING ON IN THE SHOP RIGHT NOW
This story is writen by Rob Noyes-Smith my business partner after he made a trip from North Carolina to New Mexico in a Classic Triumph TR3. Rob for those of you who don't know Rob is one of the owners at Overland Motorsports! He is a Great guy and this is a wonderful story so read on!
It all started circa 2005 when Randy on hearing of Franks upcoming restoration of a 1961 Triumph TR3 andwith a gentle twisting of arms, managed to persuade Frank that he was in greater need and thus dictated the beautiful original Triumph yellow.
Randy’s father had served in the US Army Air force in Europe during WW II and his first new car after the conflict was a yellow 61 TR3 in which Randy would accompany his father on sales calls as a young nipper, sans seatbelts.
Being a Triumph man, my father worked in the factory after WW II; I said if he ever wanted to sell it let me know. Come the wedding of Randy’sdaughter in October of 2010 when my wife Maggie drove Lemondrop (she had the gaul to name someone else’s car) along the Blue Ridge Parkway and proclaimed much affection, and how Lemondrop was infinitely better than my racing TR3. I stirred the cogs in Randy’s mind a few extra revolutions and seven months later the deed was done.
I have been accused by many a women upon hearing that I bought Lemondrop for my wife’s birthday of really buying the car for myself. This goes to prove, that women are not infallible, particularly when it comes to cars. Why would I torture myself with yet another British car to work on (I have been restoring a 63 Mini Cooper for 3 years) particularly asMaggie now wants the badge polished, the seat runners moved forward just an inch and the paint chip touched up, all highly unnecessary chores.
Now, I have certain insights into my wife, having practiced discreet observance of her over the 41 years of marriageI know for instance that being a Gemini, I sometimes have to help the process of decision making along by, surprising her, as in the case of Lemondrop. That once experienced, the joy of driving her as her own car, there would be no going back.
The only thing left was to get Lemondrop back from Asheville, North Carolina to Albuquerque NM and while September afforded the opportunity, it would be a solo drive, as that would not only be too hot for Maggie, but I needed the passenger seat to stow the spare newly reconditioned TR4 gearbox.
I arrived in Asheville on Saturday evening of Labor Day weekend and immediately started looking for the various bits and bobs belonging to the car. Randy, unfortunately, was in Italy so it was something of a treasure hunt, locating the copper hammer for the knockoffs, the hood, the side screens etc.I also knew that I needed the front wheels balanced before attempting such a long trip as they had that annoying shimmy right around the 55 to 62 mph speed band, but, I wasn’t going anywhere soon as tropical storm Lee was moving up from the Gulf creating much flooding in its wake; not to be trifled with in an open car with wimpy windshield wipers.
Tuesday morning saw me at the tire shop waiting my turn. Finding a tire shop that can do wire wheels isn’t always easy as the big commercial enterprises seem to shy away for liability reasons and many others don’t have the equipment. Front wheels done, I took the car for a test drive but to no avail, it still had the shimmy. Back at the shop we traded the fronts for the rears, balanced them then test drove a second time. Beautiful!
Randy’s daughter, Kate, had kept me gastronomically satisfied with simple but delicious locally grown meals, it seems Asheville is the national organic hotbed, not to mention good conversation, but I was anxious to get going and Chris, Randy’s son, was monitoring the weather for me on his aviation website. I got the all clear at 1400 hrs, a break in the rain between here and Knoxville Tennessee where I would be staying the night with Frank, the vintage car restorer.
The original plan was to drive through the Smokey Mountains using the back route but weather had now forced my hand into taking the shortest, busiest, dreaded interstate. I hung in with the slower traffic until I was confident that I had distances well gauged when using the wing mirrors. The dashboard mirror was occluded by the plastic rear window of the soft top making it tricky to see any vehicle that didn’t have its lights on given the grey overcast sky. Once in rhythm though and confident of Lemondrops lusty engine, I found it much more fun to overtake the big rigs rather than have them come bearing down on me from behind. The road soon started it’s twisty mountain descent and the combination of the four foot high (my head was no more than three foot above the road surface) concrete median barrier on my left and the big rigs on my right was as if I were back on the track racing in mid pack. It was delicious. The car behaved beautifully, holding the line once set up could be controlled as much by the throttle as by the steering which, admittedly, had a slight 5 degree float between left and right engagement requiring a deft touch. It’s not the speed that’s so enthralling; it’s the concentration, the focus, the commitment to smoothness and safety.
As I approached Knoxville it started to rain and then Lemondrop started to miss a few beats. If I could keep the speed up it would clear up but it was now almost 5pm and the traffic was building until it became stop and go. Come on Lemondrop; don’t let me down in the middle of all this traffic only a few miles to go. I have always found it important to talk to a car. People think a car is an inanimate object but they live and breathe and definitely respond to kindness and affection just as we do. Once through the center of the city the traffic started to ease and again with speed the missing diminished until back at 60mph it was gone completely. Two things to remember, moisture, a very common cause, and low speed.
I made it to Franks house, parked in one of his numerous garages where we decided all issues would be better looked at in the morning after a shower, good food and copious amounts of red wine. Franks little vintage collection included, an Austin Healy, TR4, Morgan, Mustang and the work in progress, a 55 Thunderbird. Ah, for the garage and workshop space so carefully designed into his and Donnas’ retirement home.
Next morning we put Lemondrop up on the lift just to check things underneath but also to diagnose the source of much oil being whisked by the fan all over the engine bay. Damn, it was the front timing cover oil seal. This was not going to be an easy fix as it would require pulling the radiator at best but more likely removing the front body clip in order to take off the front pulley prior to removing the timing cover. Nope, it would have to wait until Albuquerque, I must just remember to check the oil every fill up. We wiped everything clean of the sprayed oil, which no doubt had collected some moisture along it’s travels, checked all the electrical connections and now with everything dried out we turned the key and pressed the starter. Nothing, except, what’s that smoke curling up from the engine bay? Shut off, investigate. Hmm, we had left off the power hot lead to the coil and it was grounding against the bodywork. It reminded me of that scurrilous story about Lucas electronics sole purpose in life was to produce smoke. It is slightly discombobulating to see a perfect plastic wire shrink and shrivel in front of your eyes with the attendant puerile smell. Once rewired she started with a lusty voice as if to say, let’s get going, there’s no sun but also no rain, don’t delay, let’s away.
My plan was to get to Panama Beach Florida to stay with my son Dave, some 300 plus miles in all. It was just outside of Atlanta that I stopped for gas and a bathroom break. Of course with a vintage car one never just gasses up, there is always someone who comes by to admire the car, usually with a story about how their uncle had one and let them drive itall through college.
Ready to go, ensconced in the cockpit, driving gloves on, wing mirrors adjusted, (one can never get them right) press the starter and she fires with great reluctance. I keep her going with deft throttle manipulations and gradually the revs rise and she sounds better but still not good. Okay, so one of the things to remember was that she went a whole lot better at speed, right, so let’s get going. I pull out and head for the freeway a quarter mile up the road hoping to gain speed using the on ramp. Once committed it was full steam ahead but, except for the steam. I made it another quarter mile before she quit completely.
On the side of a six lane freeway is not the friendliest or quietest of places to stand peering into the engine bay with the sun beating down registering 95 in the shade, a commodity distinctly lacking midday in Georgia, not to mention for a desert dweller like me, the crushing humidity. But lady luck appeared in the form of Brian, with his Ford F150 truck and a dolly. Having gone through the normal checks with no obvious solution I took Brian’s suggestion that we get the hell out of here. I asked him for two requirements, an exit with a hotel and a garage. He whistled them both up just two exits away and $50 bucks later I was in Union City.
He dropped me at this little local place called Precision Tune which at least sounded right and there a hundred yards away was a Comfort Inn. It was now mid afternoon and the office was crowded with people picking up their vehicles so it took sometime before Henry the owner listened to my tale of woe. He assured me that Gordon would be in tomorrow and he knew a lot about them funny little English cars. Not having much in the way of tools (I had brought some and bought some) but it was the testing stuff I needed and I couldn’t just barge into the shop asking for this and that so I made arrangements for the car to go into the garage at night and repaired to the hotel to mop my sweaty brow.
That evening I walked to the nearest restaurant which was one noisy sports bar serving up cholesterol city but the beer was welcome. After the bright outside sun it was not only loud but dark until my eyes got accustomed and then I realized that, along with one other white wayfarer like myself, I had stumbled into a local bar where the thick southern black brogue made me stick out like a sore thumb. In no time though I was into conversation with two handsome guys on my left who were checking out the four lusciousladies on my right with some strange banter between the two parties flying across my bow with not a word understood. Strange how the English language can be so manipulated. I had recently talked to bank guy in England trying to sort out a wire transfer to my 91 year old mother in South Africa and I had exactly the same experience, he being a Geordie near the border with Scotland, I finally had to ask for another representative who could speak English.
I ordered the grilled tilapia expecting the worst but got the best I have ever had anywhere, including some very fancy schamshyplaces, all for thirteen bucks. Let’s hope my luck stayed this good tomorrow.
Gordon and I went through a series of electrical checks, despite the lack of a decent testing meter, and concluded it must be the coil. Hmm, was this something to do with the smoking wire of what seemed like three weeks ago or was it the recalcitrant control box that had shown the red light intermittently? A sweaty walk, the temperature was rising, to the auto store and a brand new MSD coil, the only type available, should do the job. Gordon was on hand for the test after said coil was fitted. Woomp, she started immediately. Followed immediately with that acrid smell and more smoke emanating this time from the distributor. Shut off shut off!
Now what? Investigation revealed a melted Pertronix inside the distributor, time to call a friend.
Marc, my partner in Overland-Motorsports, despite being in his twenties, was not only a guru in fabricating rock climbing, go anywhere, rally and survival 4x4’s, but also vintage Mini’s which is how we met. Once I told him of the MSD coil he broke out in laughter and informed me that it was 80 times more powerful than my required coil and hence the smoke. The agony of ignorance. Fortunately, Frank had left the original points in a plastic bag along with other sundry items so it was determined I would refit them and look for a slightly less herculean coil.
It was about this time, time was now fading from my consciousness due to the beating sun crinkling my bald head (wearing a hat only exacerbated the sweating with rivulets running into my eyes, or was that tears) when a voice from the roadside called “Hey Triumph man, need some help?”
Stan the man was nearly of my vintage and had driven many a British car in his time. After more testing, with a correct coil that Donna, the wife of the owner and the real boss, had found on the parts shelf which she said had been there for a couple of generations at least. Still we couldn’t get fire, preferably without smoke, to the plugs. Don’t worry he said, I know a man that will solve this and he called Mario. At this juncture my flaccid mind could only think of Andretti, yes he would do.
Mario arrived holding a bazooka sized Ohm meter. He was from Brooklyn and had owned a large foreign vehicle shop until a transmission fell on him, but, despite his crab like walk he exuded a bright smile and great confidence. He proceeded to stick pointy test needles all over the place until suddenly there was a woomph from one of the cylinders firing and an exclamation of “Gotcha you SOB”
Indeed Mario was the man as he declared, it’s the distributor cap, it’s cracked (even though no such crack was visible) and thus is shorting internally and not sending fire to the plugs. It was now about 4pm so I called my friendly Mini parts supplier who is in Florida and ordered, one cap, wires, rotor arm and coil with please send overnight. We three then went for an early drink and dinner on me. Such is the basic goodness of people who arrive out of the blue and help a hapless traveler from the goodness of their heart and the clear knowledge that they have been there too.
Damn, I thought I might get to sleep- in, waiting for the parts to arrive but a call from the shop at 9am set the wheels in motion. The convenience of America, where else could you order at 4pm one day and get parts delivered at 9am the next. With the wires screwed in, new coil and cap on the magic moment arrived; switch on, contact------ nothing. Bloody hell, what now?
Okay, calm down, one thing at a time. Check all connections de da de da, wait, I hadn’t changed the rotor arm to the new one, could it be? It was.
Lemondrop started with such vigor I felt bad for her that it had taken me this long to rectify what now seemed so simple.
I paid the bill and said my goodbyes with much thanks to Henry, Donna, Chuck, Gordon, Tremayne and Jason. If you are ever stuck in Union City Georgia, call Precision Tune Auto Care.
I now had a logistical problem. It was 1.15 pm Friday and 313 miles to Panama City and the bloody red light was still glowing so it meant running on the battery. I did not want to arrive in the dark and risk the lights failing. Fill up and go.
Everything went sweetly until I encountered Fort Benning Georgia due to my missing the correct turn off. In slowing down to retrace my steps, why does it always happen at slow speed or when one is stopped, she started to miss violently, then pick up for a while, then stutter and stall again. Will she clear up or should I stop. Finally after 15 minutes I decided to listen to my own prognostications often repeated to Faith and Hope, our adopted two girls, don’t call me when it’s stopped, call when you think it’s acting funny, don’t you know, a stitch in time saves nine? So, I pulled over at a Podunk country store in Culleta and as far as I could ascertain the only store for miles around, into the one bit of shade provided by the building at the back. I raised the bonnet but everything was too hot to touch. Out of the blue a client called on the cell and we talked for some 20 minutes by which time I had an audience. Ed, I couldn’t quite get any further name clarification, was in the 350 pound category accompanied by his 10 year old son who was fascinated by this unusual yellow two-seater car.
I now started to check under the distributer cap as it has been my experience that 90% of the time when running points; miss-firing comes from that location. I asked Ed if he wouldn’t mind pushing the car a little with it in gear to get the points on the cam. Now it had taken four skinny white men to do this back in Union City but Ed could not only push, but when we overshot, he just pulled it back with no more effort than me pulling a lawn mower.
It was about this time that we were joined by Hooley, a tall thin black man with some graying hair who had obviously seen the inside of a distributer before as he pronounced after one glance, “Yo need Mo Gep”, indeed I was of the same opinion. However, in fingering around I discovered that the plate, described as the moving plate in the original British manual, was moving way too much. Indeed, it was moving up and down instead of sideways, causing the points to sometimes be in contact with the cam and sometimes not. Hence the stop go, start fart behavior. What to do?
It was precisely then that the thought came into my head, what I would do if I were back in Africa out in the bush in the middle of nowhere. I would cut up a bit of cardboard, remove the condenser, wedge it under the moveable plate and replace the condenser.
That done and with Hooly’s help in guesstimating the 16 thousand gap sans feeler gauges, thank you’s with commensurate folding appreciation, Lemondrop responded again with gusto and the call for the open road.
I was aware of the time/distance factor. I didn’t want to get to Panama City in the dark given that the battery was not being charged. For those not familiar with generators and control boxes they are mystical devices for the generation of electricity (sometimes smoke) and its effective distribution. The control box doesn’t always control and thus sends electricity the wrong way which burns up the generator instead of charging the battery. Checking and adjusting the control box is not a task for the roadside.
Now, I needed to get back to the main roadpronto and so I chose the route via Georgetown. It was 24 miles of sublime driving. No one in sight, no traffic, no buildings, just open winding country road that begged to be explored near their limit.
I pressed on; not drinking much in order to avoid unnecessary pit stops but as I approached my destination with 25 miles to go I looked at the gas gauge which was flirting with empty. Press on and hope to make it? I was cognizant that it was when I stopped that stuff happened versus the sweet hum of 3500 revs per minute.
Not knowing the car I couldn’t gauge the gauge. However, the thought of running out of gas with 2 miles to go persuaded me to stop and fill up. That done with no attendant drama this time, as I approached the busy Beach Front Boulevard, I put on the lights confidant that I could make the last few miles on the battery.
I had planned to spend a few days with Dave, my son, who had an apartment overlooking the beach. He had arranged for us to meet some of his SEAL buddies and go out to dinner on the Sat. night. While he was at work I cruised around looking for an auto parts shop to supplement my meager tools, I definitely needed feeler gauges and a battery charger. I also wanted to change the diff oil. When Frank and I checked it, it had looked a little milky.
It was hot and extremely humid and I started to feel light headed. I headed back to the apartment feeling decidedly peculiar but knowing exactly the cause, I was dehydrated. Driving with a hot 70 mph wind whistling into the cockpit under the soft top and through the side screens, drinking only two bottles of water in 300 odd miles will do that.
So I stayed for five days and relaxed.
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