Friday, March 11, 2011

The Return of an Old Friend

Road Trippin’ 
with Steve Mccarthy

It’s been a year. almost exactly. The clutch blew and in the way of all things mechanical and aged, that led to attacking other issues which meant I may as well do some more. but now, in spite of too damn much rain, dwindling funds, and at times, ennui, The Blue Meanie, car of choice for all these road trips I’ve been nattering on about all these years, rides again! WHEW! 
OK, let’s tell the whole story. I was just out of high school and going to PCC. My first car. a (gulp, I really hate to admit this) was an NSU Prinz that I’d bought from a neighbor for $150. It ran. Back in 1968, you could by a running $50 car, so the Prinz was quite the catch. It saw me through high school and one engine build, but was both unreliable (dates frequently had to help push start it, rarely opting for a second opportunity at such joy) and dying. Time for an up grade. 
So, I prowled the used car lots of Pasadena, looking for just the right car. Tried out an MGTF but my dad (who was financing the Big Purchase) didn’t like it when the passenger’s door flew open under a hard left. He also thought that $1500 was WAY too much to pay for a 1954 car. It was an XK!40 with perfect leather and burgundy paint. He also wasn’t about to go for either of the SS100s the same lot had for something like $1200 each. DAMN! At least it wasn’t as bad as a buddy of mine whose dad thought that three grand was too much for a 1955 car. That one was a 300SL. Actually, both dad’s parsimony probably saved our lives. Can you imagine turning an 18 year old loose in an XK 140 or a Gullwing? We’d have killed ourselves. No doubt about it. 
Finally, I spotted it. A metallic blue TR3 on the  lot in front of Peter Satori’s. They wanted a grand AND they’d take the Prinz as a $100 trade in! I may be the only guy to ever get the best of Pete the Cheat! Of course, I had no idea that the funny knock-knock noise at 3000 rpm was a rod bearing. This was MY baby! 
We did the deal and brought it home. My brother and sister were JAZZED! My mom sat in the car ONCE, saw that she could touch the ground while sitting in the car and loudly declared “Susan, Scott (my younger siblings) you are NOT going to ride in that thing!” 
I got to learn a lot about cars from the TR. How do do a tune up, How to change the oil. That Lucas is indeed the Prince of Darkness. To be fair, since Triumph was smarter than MG, I never had to deal with an SU fuel pump, or even a wet distributor. TR’s have it mounted nice and high, while MG has the distributor down low, where it’s most likely to get splashed. I got to learn that a top and side curtains are pretty worthless, acting more like a funnel into your lap. I got to learn the joys of an open car. The only thing like it is a motorcycle, and those fall over. I learned how not to rebuild an engine when that rod bearing finally went. I made some life ling friends. I dated my wife in that car in the late 70s and she married me anyway, despite the problems and inconveniences. 
All through out this, the Blue Meanie (by the way, I got the car at just about the same time the movie Yellow Submarine came out, the TR needed a name and…) was the one inconsistent constant in my life. By the time Marianne announce that she was pregnant with our first, it was time for the Meanie to rest a bit. Money was short. REAL short and a leaking freeze plug up on Angeles Crest cause over heating that seized things up pretty good, so the TR sat. For about 18 years. 
Three things led to the lazarisification of my baby. The approaching millennia got me thinking that maybe it was about time. The kids were now older and less in need of constant attention. Lastly, Phil Deushane, one of the first people I met because of the TR died of cancer. He had been my mentor in all things TR related. He worked at BAP/Geon and eventually, through him, so did I. He’d amassed a trove of TR parts that his mom asked me if maybe, I might just want. So, I dragooned my daughters and some friends of theirs to pull it out from the encroaching ivy at the side of the driveway. 
Off came the body from the frame. Out came the drill and a thousand paint stripper wheels. Home Depot had a nifty portable sand blaster and off came thirty years of crusted oil, dirt grime and not a little rust. All the time, I kept repeating the mantra I had adopted; “What Would Phil Do?” He was beyond meticulous. Phil was anal. He put the hyphen in anal-retentive. For too many years, I’d done things with the “close enough for government work” attitude. No More I vowed. Mind you, I still have to fight that, but it’s better than it was. 
I got myself a mig welder from Cheap Chinese Tools (aka Harbor Freight) and learned to weld after a fashion. Nothing structural mind you, but good enough to weld up patches in the swiss cheese floor boards. I used my last set of REAL Vanderwell bearings to rebuild the motor, fixed all the niggeliing little crap that had never been fixed, only tolerated and at the end of August in 1999, drove it up to a Car Night in Monrovia. DAMN but it was FUN! 

I learned a few more new things about driving a tiny English sports car in the new millennium. It gets really cold at night in an open car! Everything smells and makes a lot of noise. And worse, DAMN, SUVs are HUGE!!!!! Those foul beasts, driven by diminutive soccer moms with NO IDEA what the mirrors are for scared that crap out of me! Still, it was so great to have the Auld Crate back  on the road. 

We hit some car shows (JEEZE, some of you hot rod guys can be REAL snobs!), and learned about something called the No-Frills-Iron-Bottom-Motoring-Tour. By that time, we’d become regulars at Car Night, and were chomping at the bit. I chronicled some of out Iron Bottom adventures in this column. In fact, this column is a direct result of those experiences and contacts. We even drove it up to Olympia, WA for my dad’s 80th birthday. THAT was an adventure! 3000 plus miles up 101 and back.

So, now, the Blue Meanie is back on the road. New clutch (a rebuilt version of the 365 Daytona Ferrari clutch that can chirp the tires in 3rd!), new rack and pinion steering, new kustom body work over what was supposed to be a rear seat, and new rattle can paint. The head rest and fin are still in the future, but now, it’s time to drive! End of March we have an epic three day, 1000 mile jaunt up the central coast with a few other like minded crazies, emulating the late, lamented Iron Bottom. 
We’ll let you know how that worked out.