|The MGA With An Attitude
|The MGA ODYSSEY - Going WAY out
June 11 - July 24, 1989
This was my first MGA trip of more than a week duration. This story was published in the NAMGAR magazine "MGA!" (without pictures) in six consecutive issues from May 1991 to June 1992. It was first published on this web site in 2004 when there was enough space available to run the text story. The pictures are finally being posted in January 2009 when there is lots more space available.
INTRODUCTION - A Prelude to Craziness
I had this wonderful idea back in December of '88. Well, actually it had been haunting me for nearly twenty years since I owned my first MGA in '68, and my second MGA also in '68, and my third MGA in '69, not all at once mind you. But let me digress for a little background before pursuing the idea.
I regretfully traded #3 for a lemon when I got married in '69, and lived without an MG for years. My wife Debbie really liked the MGs too, before we were married, so I finally got my priorities right and bought another MGA in '77, a real mechanic's special, but I still have it. The body came off real easy the first day, and by day three it was down to the bare frame. By now you all know how these things go; nine years and twelve hundred labor hours later it had a whole new lease on life. And then there was the Chicago Area MGA club in late '86, such a proud day for an MG with only 50 miles on the clock. It was great to be tucked into an MG and back on the road again after so many years of denial. Then those old feelings that had been pushed aside for so long came rushing back with a vengeance. There were club meetings and shows and rallies and races, visits and tours with other clubs and a gambit of other events too numerous to mention. Those two years were really terrific, but it just wasn't enough.
Now remember that wonderful idea? Ever since my very first drive in an MG I've had this overwhelming desire to hop into my MGA with a devil may care attitude and drive off into the sunset, not to return for weeks and weeks. When our Chicago winter put a seasonal damper on things again, there was a lot of time to reminisce and plenty of time to plan ahead. So the wife and I started to plot and plan for the trip of a lifetime. First we approached the local club and kicked the idea around a little, and then we propositioned the whole country. Our come-on in the national news letter MGA! asked "Who's out there, what are you doing and when, and how would you like some company"? Then we sent letters to all the local chapters and several other clubs we knew about and started a flurry of correspondence [all via snail mail, no internet in those days].
By June 1989 we had a six week trip all laid out with about thirty appointments in advance. I had installed a hitch on the MG and bought a nice fiberglass luggage trailer. We made arrangements to ship the kids off to some friends and relatives for the duration, and just in case anyone should mention the point, the navigator was a little pregnant -- almost six months. But let me tell you, we were determined to go! Friday the 9th of June was my last scheduled work day for a while. Since our first appointment was local and not 'till Sunday, we used Saturday to drop off the kids and finish packing the little trailer with ice chest, suit cases, food, spares & oil, and oh yes, the camping gear!
WEEK #1 - The Westbound Run
Naperville, Illinois is just west of Chicago, about twenty miles from the city limits but still in the connected 'burbs with the city traffic, and we're getting itchy to hit the road in our '58 1500 roadster. After last minute completion of the windscreen washer installation and a little Rain-X on the glass for good measure, our first appointment was the MGB club's Lands End Endurance Rally, but we just got a panic call from Bob North, an MGA club cohort. Seems he encountered a broken rocker shaft pedestal; who would have guessed? I just happened to have an extra rocker pedestal lying around (as one is bound to have some parts left over after a restoration). Not to leave a fellow MGA in distress, we dropped it by his place on our way to the rally. He was without a doubt extremely happy to see the part.
The rally was definitely top drawer, starting and ending in Wasco, about a twenty mile drive northwest from Naperville. It was a beautiful top down driving day, and we had just two hours to visit up to forty spots or so marked on a map, and to fill in simple answers on the crib sheet for each spot just to prove that we were there. Close in spots were worth 10 points each, one of three rather far locations would be worth 40 points, and the rest went for 20 points apiece. As this would take some serious map work yen, Debbie drove and I took the navigator's seat. Things worked out fairly well with the little lady shuffling the cogs and levers, and with me screaming "Get on it! Red line it! We gotta make a lotta miles quick!" Sure enough, two hours sixteen minutes and 99 miles later we came in tied for first after being penalized 20 points for returning late. Then we lost on the draw of straws and ended up with second place, and first place carried a $100 prize! Did I mention that we had the only MGA entered out of about 45 cars? Most were MGBs. John Patterson and Joyce Ward from our MGA club entered their "honorary MG" for lack of an engine for their MGA. You know it sure felt good to take a trophy from the MGB club for a change, because they're always taking ours.
After the rally we stopped by to see Bob North again. He was all smiles with his 1500 roadster purring in the driveway, and we were running late, so we quickly high-tailed it home, picked up the trailer and blew town heading west. We spent the night with relatives in East Moline, just a few hours west of Chicago. Didn't get too far, but it was a memorable day and a good start.
First full day with a loaded trailer, we cross the state line into Iowa, head west to Des Moines, then south for Kansas City, Kansas. This day thinks it wants to rain, on and off at random intervals, and with just enough heat and humidity to discourage leaving the top up. Top up, top down, up, down, and so it goes. By about the forth shower we just leave it down and enjoy getting a little damp; it seems very reasonable for an English motor car anyway. Then for the last forty miles we cruise gamely into town running on three cylinders; it may be the little A's way of saying "Just don't take me for granted". It's just beginning rush hour on the K.C. expressways, and the engine temp gauge is pushing up enough to make me a little wary. Periodically switching on the auxiliary engine cooler at our feet gets us in without incident, although we're a little frazzled by the heat. We thank Phil and Debbie Collins for the room and the shower so much appreciated.
First photos of the new trailer with just over 500 miles on the tires
We are shortly joined by at least a half dozen really class MGAs, a couple MGBs, a Ferrari (every car club needs one of those around for a mascot), and a few other honorary MGs. Phil seems to have a couple Twin Cams of his own. He says the one with the bonnet and fenders off is going to GT-14 at Indy in just five weeks, after he gets the paint rubbed out and everything back together. I hope he works faster than I do so we can all see the finished thing in July. In the process of collecting autographs of about twenty Midwest MGA Club members, we also receive several mementoes including a plaque recast from an old cylinder head honoring the occasion of "Far Travelers" in K.C.
Gifts from our friends in Kansas City
It's a grand party with wonderful people, but as it's breaking up we still have to attend to the small hiccup in the roadster. So, nose the car into Phil's shop, pull wires, switch plugs, and test compression; 30 psi on number three. Pulling the cover and slacking off on #3 exhaust rocker produces 125 psi. Wow! A quicker cure than a drink of cold water, but now we need to take a bit off the valve stem end with a hand grinder to get enough clearance, and also find two cracked spark plug tip insulators in the process. I accuse myself of being a little over zealous with the spark advance and suspect a bit of burned valves, but it runs ok so we'll get a good night's sleep.
On a personal invitation from Leo William Long, CEO-President, Long Motor Corp., we visit Victoria British Parts, Inc. for a guided tour of the facility in Lenexa, Kansas. There's 80,000 square feet, 5000 orders and a full semi trailer for UPS daily. Very impressive! While there, we pick up a new set of spark plugs and a small hose to complete the screen washer setup. Then we head west out of town around 10:30 am.
There's a gentle drizzle and moderate temps all day, so the top's up but no side curtains. Like a horse on a loose reign, the little A gets rather enthusiastic about where it's going when it takes a notion. A few pit stops, eleven hours and one time zone later we arrive at Pikes Peak, Colorado at 8:30 pm, having made 630 miles without incident. We make camp at a KOA eight miles west of Pikes Peak entrance road at about 8,000 feet. Even though it rained the night before and this day earlier, and everything is a little damp and cool and breezy, and the firewood we paid good money for is green and wet and refuses to burn until torched for half an hour, it feels so good to get the tent down for the first time in nearly a year. So we sleep lightly with cold feet and smiles on our faces.
The car was running a bit rich on arrival last night (actually having a bad case of the high altitude blues), so I tune the carbs before challenging "the hill". Rich was right! Turn, turn, turn. Both carbs full lean makes it purr like a kitten at 8,000 feet. And then we're off.
Mountains ahead and behind as we approach Pikes Peak National Park
At the entrance to Pikes Peak we pay $5.00 per person as toll to cover the road maintenance. The MG feels honored; apparently he gets in for free. We are also obligated to drop the hitch, as trailers are not allowed on the road up. The puppy who has followed us faithfully for the last three days feels a little put out, but the roadster has new spirit without that little worry. The grade is steep, and the pavement disappears at mile seven. The sand, dirt and light gravel mix under the wheels makes for uncertain footing, but the fleet footed roadster rises to the occasion as never expected. Even when the mix turns wet at 10,000 feet and then mushy with wet snow at 12,000 feet, he keeps right on trucking. 10 mph switchbacks, 20 mph grades and a very few straight moderate shots at 30 or so, toss out a little sand on this turn, a little gravel on that turn, and a little snow near the top. And watch out for the edges; the only barriers to a thousand foot drop are ten inch high sand curbs. We're all glad we came early as there's not too much traffic yet, and we have only to pass a few other cars on the way up. Yes, I said PASS! Twenty miles of switchbacks and general muck from 7,500 to 14,110 feet, and we made it in 38 minutes without so much as a misfire. Near the top we're a little shy on torque for lack of half the air we're used to, but nobody missed a beat.
As we take pictures at the summit and shiver a little in the wet snow, I keep thinking how shared experiences make the heart grow fonder, and how the brave little roadster wouldn't let us down. Debbie and I munch down nearly a dozen home made donuts we bought here while we sit out our high altitude giddiness. We are also amazed at what else has shown up at the summit: a 1932 Studebaker pickup truck, a few Ford T hot rods, some road bikes, a couple of mid-30's Chevys, and a large variety of service trucks. By the way, yes, the view is terrific! The sun, the cloud tops, the slopes, the snow, smiles all around, and the train. For the faint of heart, there's an inclined rail train so you wouldn't have to drive up, but to an MG owner it just doesn't seem sporting.
The trip down is good for stopping and taking pictures and for grinning at the new Lincoln that only made it halfway before blowing its cool in a cloud of steam. Except for all the oncoming traffic, everything is a breeze; just remember to use lower gears to save your brakes.
At the bottom of the hill the puppy in drag immediately hitches up again, and we're off to make more miles. Just west of Denver we pump $5.00 worth of quarters through a DIY car wash to make us all generally presentable again, and take on an oil change and a few shots of grease to the front joints. Nightfall finds us camping in Grand Junction, Colorado, just a few hundred miles down the road, but warm and sleeping on grass for a change, and talking half the night away about what a great day it has really been.
Having some moderately high altitude driving left to do, I opt to leave the carbs on full lean for another day. Good move, as it runs well all day. This is also the day we find out how hot "HOT" really is for the car. Utah is a cooker at 95 degrees F official reading, the roadway obviously warmer, and the hills that just won't quit. mostly we make the hills at about 60 in forth, but occasionally a steep one is taken easily in stride at 50 in third (about 4,000 rpm). Going down the hills we pass the cars that passed us going up. I occasionally find myself tapping the cruise control up or down a couple of marks (yes, I did say cruise), doing a balancing act between the speedometer and the water gauge, in order to avoid using the auxiliary engine cooling system, which can only make the navigator the worse for wear. Even at that, the trip goes full throttle up the hills and generally 70 on the level and down; not bad for a liter and a half at 31 years of age and pulling a trailer to boot.
Some of these hills are steep, some long, and some both.
By early evening I'm fully used to seeing the water gauge pointing due east, more or less, and I'm pushing it there intentionally. A particularly long and steep hill sees the water temperature peak at 100 psi (for those of us who know what a safety gauge is) for several minutes without any obvious problems, but I think if it ever shakes hands with the real pressure gauge we'll be in trouble for sure. Seven pm has us higher and cooler and pushing against a really substantial head wind at 65-70 mph flat out on the level. We play forward escort to three matched semis for fifty miles; they don't catch us, and we don't get away either. Then some tougher hills come, and the trucks fade away. Now it's cooler and we feel good enough to pass up our planned stop for another campground 70 miles farther on. The wind buffeting is beginning to get to us, and I finally loose my favored Michelin hat with just 20 miles to go, but we motor on in to Mountain Home, Idaho where it's warm and clear and the wind turns to breeze after sundown.
Camping is great, and the roadster with its tonneau cover makes perfect silhouette in the moonlight. It's times like this, when I'm feeling so good, that I just can't understand why it took so many years to finish the restoration. We're a little red after 670 miles of top down driving, but I think the 1/2 bottle of suntan oil has saved the day.
I open the points gap about a thumbnails worth from 0.001" to get the engine rolling and tweak the carbs back to a normal mix at 3,500 feet. There's less head wind, much less buffeting, better roads, and sweat shirt weather today, sometimes with the hoods up (but never for the roadster). And the mountains are always nice in June, occasionally with white caps here and there. We're out of Idaho, crossing Oregon and half of Washington. People who travel this part of the country seem to have a genuine respect for the 65 mph speed limit. Maybe some day it will rub off on me. The A with the tail was passing everything in sight at 70-75 all day long. A lot of rubber necks were stretching forwards today instead of backwards, but most were still smiling and waving. There must be something mystical about a noisy miniature red convertible pulling a trailer with jackets and hair flapping in the breeze. The fiberglass trailer with its little eight inch high speed radial tires follows obediently at all times, no body roll, no fish tailing, and very smooth riding. I think that thing must hold the road better than the roadster.
It was a phenomenal experience. We left Mountain Home, Idaho at 9:30 am, crossed one time zone for an extra hour, and are in Seattle at 5:00 pm. We check out our rendezvous point on the east side for Saturday morning, and then head to the south end to set up camp, having netted 570 miles today. With a little time to spare for a change, we visit the local one-hour photo shop to get our first roll of film developed. We got some really nifty stuff on film; good to brandish around for the rest of the trip.
The 21% grade in Seattle, went right up in 2nd gear. Found some lamas too.
On the way back to camp we run across a lama farm and stop to gawk. While leaning on the rail fence counting heads (one per lama), we get to talk to the owner. "How much they worth?", I ask. He says, "Oh, about ten thousand a head, when I can find a buyer". That sounds like an awful lot of money for one animal, so I ask "Who buys 'em?" The guy says, "Well mostly people just buy them for pets". Now that seems really absurd, so I ask, "Who in their right mind would pay $10,000 for a pet?" The guy looked me right in the eye,
sporting a bit of a grin, and said "You got an MG". I guess I really had that one coming.
Back at camp I made some calls to verify appointments for the next few days and finally zonked out while wondering where to get a kite for tomorrow.
We have a really long day scheduled, and I oversleep. "Waddaya mean it's 8:30? We gotta git outa here, like right now!" Dress quick, skip the shave, roll up the mats and bags, tear down the tent, stuff the trailer and we're off by 8:50. We head for the Park & Ride on the east side of Seattle, about 17 miles, mostly expressways, and arrive at about 9:15, in preparation for a 9:30 caravan departure. We're supposed to meet the MG Car Club Northwest Center, and I'm still wondering, "What the hell is a Kite Flying Tour?" But where is everybody? It appears that we're it.
Then there comes a '54 TF, then a '57 TD and a couple of honorary MGs with families and "stuff". That's it for now; others are coming from different start points. Several new friends and a few minutes later, we're on our way to Gas Works Park at the north end of Lake Washington. Did you ever notice how a local MG or two can convert a five mile expressway trip into a thirty minute scenic tour? We passed river front parks, historic buildings, draw bridges, bike trails, sail docks, and accidentally drove through a sizable American Antique auto show, raising more than a few eyebrows from both sides of the curb. We are still the first to arrive at Gas Works Park since others are coming from farther, and we all seem to be running on MG time, so we stake out a good chunk of parking lot and start to unload the "stuff".
We're soon joined by more caravans including at least a dozen MGs and a few more honoraries. There's a nice MGA 1600 double parked, but it won't start, and I have the honor of checking under the hood. Well, well, well! I see an electric starter solenoid with a rubber plunger cover on top. One press and it starts right off. An American made solenoid no doubt, but the owner vows to put the original cable drawn switch back on immediately. And "Thanks" makes the visitor feel warm all over again.
By then there are kites coming out all over. Someone loans me a little plastic one that the kids won't fuss with because it won't fly, and we all head for "the hill". The little kite really won't fly. After a half hour fussing with the bow and balance string, I finally tie my cheap pocket knife to the tail for ballast, and up it goes. The sky is full of all sorts of kites, large, small, trick and novelty. And there's a five foot red and black MG octagon flying with full dress ribbons. My little plastic kite with the long tail looks just like a giant sperm. This is all great stuff, so Debbie holds the string while I run for the camera. By the time I return, the big MG kite has broken its moorings and flown two blocks to the roof of a large building, not to be recovered on this day. Two more kites had gone with the wind, and the giant sperm dropped the knife and dived to the flats below. Being as it's a long jaunt down the hill, bellowing over the prevailing winds pays off, and two kids tie a small rock on in place of the missing knife. Flying good again, I put out about a thousand feet of string and have the highest kite flying. But the reward for success is being late for lunch after reeling in the borrowed kite.
Gas Works Park shows off the gas works facility which used to make coal gas for street lights, house lighting and such. Now a days the machinery is painted up nice as a kind of open air museum. I suspect the big hill of being an old land fill, but the locals seem to frown on the expression, preferring "glacial hill". Lake Washington is a bit above sea level and connected to Puget Sound with shipping locks. Besides docks and ships, it also serves sea planes, some small and some surprisingly large. The local ducks are even good company. Picnic in the park with a large group of MG nuts is always great. The chat runs from MGs to MGs while several people are going ape over our cruise control. The MG Car Club Northwest Center includes T, A, B and C registers, the A's being the NAMGAR chapter. The club also has North and South groups with some overlap. The North group conjures up 25 autographs for us, and we receive a road atlas for coming the farthest to the event. Then the party's over, all too soon.
After fond farewells we spend a few hours around Seattle, driving several bridges and taking in the Space Needle. In the photo at right you can find the MG and trailer just to the right of the building in center of the picture. The parking lot attendant told us to park the car right there, and he was standing watch over it the whole time. We may have another convert.
We then head for Spanaway, just south of Tacoma for our next appointment with the South group, who have been exhibiting their cars at a local shopping mall all day.
We meet in a parking lot and caravan to Spanaway Speedway, just a mile away. There we are honored to use the MGs to present trophies on the track for the trophy dash winners. Debbie and I present the last trophy, she gets to kiss the victor, and our proud little MGA then leads a dozen other MGs on a parade lap, complete with the appropriate amount of lead foot and fanfare, while the announcer hypes the crowd with how "the Gaylords towed a trailer all the way from Chicago with that antique car just to be here tonight". The crowd's eating it up, I'm waving and blowing the horn, and I think the car and my ego just grew another inch. The intermission parade laps are canceled due to expected incoming storms, so after collecting another 15 autographs from the South group and a couple of track officials, we hitch up the trailer and head out at 8:30 pm for Portland, Oregon and our third appointment for the day.
130 miles later at 10:20 pm we're at Portland International Speedway, sweet-talking our way past the gate guards without a pass to get into the pit area to meet with Pat and Kenny Snyder of the Columbia Gorge MGA Club. Reason? They're racing an MGB here today Saturday and tomorrow Sunday and sleeping over at the track tonight, and this is the only way for us to meet after they put a lot of effort into helping to organize tomorrow's event. It's still great! MG enthusiasts are the same everywhere. We chat, they chat, and MGs bond another new friendship that will likely last forever. We get a few flash shots in the dark and collect Pat's and Kenny's autographs at the top of a new list for their club, whom we will meet tomorrow. But it has been a long day with another yet to come, and we all need some sleep, so tonight after midnight we check into a motel to save an hour, even though the weather is still good and we would much rather be camping.
Up early, pack and stuff the bags and get out of this silly motel. Egg McMuffins to go, and we're at a local parking lot on the east side of Portland where we meet two more MGAs and the Gambles and the LeBarres of the Columbia Gorge MGA Club. We take a quick snap shot of the red triplet 1500s. Today, we are told, we're in for a covered bridge tour. The day is a bit overcast, so we figure to be a small group and hit the expressway south towards Albany. About half way there's a short stop to install the side curtains, as Mother Nature is playing games,
and we don't want to float into town. Arriving in Albany we stop for brunch at a restaurant at 12:00 sharp and are promptly met by four more A's and one honorary MG, all with two occupants each from the CGMGAC. Nice lunch break, so we show our photos from Pikes Peak. Great stuff, with several people comparing notes on their own excursions there, and so we're a little late starting again. Sorry about that folks.
There are no less than six covered bridges and we find them all, plus the local fish hatchery. We encounter nice MG roads with the appropriate twists and hills, and lots of sun with the tops down all afternoon. So for all those Portlanders who chickened out from the early morning mist, eat your hearts out, because it turned into a gorgeous day.
After the covered bridge tour we all head for Silverton State Park for picnic lunch and more chat with those we couldn't corner earlier. The road to the park is also good news: steep, curvy and so inviting. A couple from farther south leave early but invite us to drop by later. Well, being late enough, we finally decide it's a good idea and ask for their names and address from the club roster. Fourteen autographs later we're on our way.
Getting down the mountain is fun as I follow one other MGA for a while. We push it pretty good through the curves and switchbacks for fifteen minutes to get back to Interstate 5. All the while I'm thinking of how the fiberglass trailer followed beautifully all day long through the hills and turns, never held us back and never spoiled the driving. So now we have a new motivation. Then comes a quick dash south to find our friends in Eugene, Oregon, a stop for gas and to check the street map. A few minutes later we're in their driveway. "Hey Stu! I want to borrow your drill". And twenty minutes later the trailer is sporting a shiny new MG octagon on the rear, formally adopted and christened "Two wheel MG".
We wish to thank Stuart and Janet Bloom for their hospitality, the use of their laundry facilities, the midnight chat, and the bed and breakfast. Take note: this guy is building a top fuel dragster with an MGA body! He has stretched a roadster body 18 inches and is using it as a horse to construct the plastic shell for the dragster. When finished it will be sporting original MGA grille, headlights, side lights and tail lights. I've seen photos of the horse and the body in process and artist's renderings of the finished product. This thing will be a classic MGA with a slight rake and a little stretch to the body, full roll cage, plastic shell, gum ball slicks and at least 1,500 horses underneath. Keep in touch with Stu; I just gotta see this demon MGA scream when it's finished.