|The MGA With An Attitude
The MGA ODYSSEY - Going WAY out
WEEK #2 - The West Coast
Up early to get Stu and Jan off to work, the four of us stop at a local coffee house for breakfast. A tap on the shoulder and a young fella says, "Hey, is that your MG with the Illinois plates? What are you doing out here in Oregon?" When we told him that we were touring with the other clubs, he said "Wow, you should have been here Saturday. We had this nifty covered bridge tour with the Willamette MG club". Well we did that Sunday. Apparently the Blooms joined with the Portland club because there weren't any other MGAs in the Willamette MG Club. Well, we just found one. Say "Hi" to Chip and Pam, sign here please, and we're rolling. Too bad they couldn't spend some time.
An hour south on I-5 and we're in danger of nodding off. It's been a rowdy weekend, but we have more time to take it easy now, the sun is getting to us, and we know that there are much more interesting roads in Oregon. We check the map and pick out a promising looking gray line looping around about thirty miles to the west through a place called Cow Creek Canyon, to return to the Interstate a little farther south. So we exit about twenty miles south of Roseburg on a short bypass road and drive through Riddle (pop. 1125) to get there.
Wow! Much better! Clean asphalt without a straight slice anywhere. We're cruising fairly level on the contour about half way down the canyon wall with a mountain on the left and a valley on the right. We begin to count the turns; thirty, sixty, eighty, and then at about ten miles in we try a side road for a few miles. While not as smooth and a lot tighter, it still climbs, and we meet a gravel excavation crew and stop to chat.
"Where does this road go? Oh, just back to the interstate? How about that bridge and gravel road over there?" The response is "I don't know; I'm sure it dead ends up there somewhere. Go for it!" And so we do. Sand and gravel, lumps, bumps, dust and rocks like your fist, it's what a map might call a "graded road" (if it was on a map).
We're making maybe thirty, tops, in second gear, with continuous switchbacks, and we continue to climb, dodging potholes as we go and trying very hard not to straddle the ridge, as this can cause nasty bumping noises from below and occasional admonitions from the navigator. Somewhere in the midst of all this I get ticked off at a weak door latch and stop to tie my door shut. Then there's this large fallen tree, sawn off and blasted to clear the road, splinters everywhere. After several miles we crest a hill and see in the valley far below but not a quarter mile out, the blacktop road we were on before the last turn. A little farther on, and down, our trail turns into a muddy cow path, and it's time to return from whence we came. The trip up was a bit of work, but the trip down is delightful with a great view, tossing a little gravel over the edges here and there. Stopping momentarily at the bottom to thank the gravel crew for their advice, we head back to Cow Creek Canyon Road.
Then we see another promising looking side road, make a U-turn, and "What's that dribble on the road following us around"? Stopping to check reveals petrol drizzling gently below the tank. Check the gauge; half a tank, and only 44 miles from the last fill. Check the map; we need a big town for this. Sizing up the situation, and not wanting to waste a good stick of chewing gum, I figure we can make it to Grants Pass before it's dry.
Six tires get a terrific workout for nearly twenty miles getting out of the hills; the navigator's getting finger cramps from the dash and grab handles. Another twenty mile sprint down I-5 and we do make town, drizzle, drizzle, one eighth of a tank left. Five stops, four recommendations, three service stations and two radiator shops later, drip, drip, we find one guy who will fix it. When the tank comes off, it is absolutely empty. Zero! Luckily it's just a small puncture, so a hot iron, a glob of solder, and an hour later we're filling up again. By the way, I do recommend Cow Creek Canyon Road for an MG; just stay off the logging roads.
A quick picnic lunch and now we can try my favorite road in all America, in an MGA and by daylight this time (it was midnight a year ago in a Pontiac, and it's a long story). Just a few miles north of Grants pass we turn west and drive through Merlin (800) and Galice (much smaller) and hang another left on a nice blacktop. Several miles down, we pass one of those unattended waysides, and continue on into the Siskiyou National Forest. Now this road is not likely to be too busy for some time to come, for even though it is a short cut, it's not the quickest way to get to the other end. It's sixty-six miles through the national forest to Gold Beach on the coast, mostly one lane blacktop with nice white lines on both sides.
The first fifteen miles is all uphill, nearly all flat out in second gear going up through hundreds of turns without ever touching the shifter and seldom lifting my right foot. There are the sounds and smells of a hard working engine and hot exhaust, the tires warming up on the pavement, and the feel of a real roadster wrapped around me; definitely a driver's road. Then there's another fifteen to twenty miles up top that's fairly level with just a few short roller coasters but not a straight stretch anywhere. I like to drive leisurely up here for a change, not to miss too much on the fly. There's the sweet smell of the high altitude forest, the beautiful scenery, and a great abundance of only slightly timid natural wildlife. We corner a young deer on the edge just beyond a switchback and get a good picture here.
Then comes the road down, still one hundred percent twists and turns and one of the world's better roller coasters. When the hill doesn't quit I find my arms and legs very busy for about half an hour shuffling all the gadgets I can reach to keep from cooking the brakes. The last five or six miles is leveling off some and much more benign. The road runs along the Rogue River where we can see hydro-jet tour boats, sometimes far below us, literally flying up and down the rapids, having to maneuver around large rocks and rubber rafts. Then as we begin seeing a few houses and a couple of side streets, the Pacific Ocean suddenly pops up in all its splendor, with a very rocky shore line, sea gulls, boats and bridges, and we know we've found Gold Beach. For those who live on the west coast it may be just the ocean, but for everyone else, the Ocean is here! The wonderful Ocean is here!
This road through the Siskiyou National Forest is really very safe by daylight. For the entire distance from Galice to Gold Beach we met only three vehicles in two hours and never found a pothole. After dark you would have the whole road to yourself, if you dare! We like it so much that we vow to come this way again sometime, and to bring friends, and more Mgs next time.
We make a quick stop at the Mail Boat tour concession to pick up cards and brochures for the gang back home, but skip the ride because we did it last year and we're on a different mission this time. By the way, it's 104 miles of the wildest ride you'll ever experience, running up the Rogue River rapids at up to 55 mph in a flat bottom boat.
Down the coast we find great views from US-101 Pacific Coast Highway, thirty-five miles to the state line. After just a minute at the California State Agricultural Inspection Station, we take a left at the first opportunity onto Ocean View Drive, five miles of quiet blacktop with grassy shoulders overlooking US-101 and the ocean from up high. Then a few more miles down 101 finds us pitching camp under the Redwoods at Crescent City, Ca., with cool night air, warm fire, hot brats, thinking of the rest of the gang back home missing all this, and warming our ears after a full day of top down motoring in the mountains. It's party time as the navigator reminds me that it's my birthday, and that 40 is twice as good as 20, and I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend a birthday.
First an early morning call to San Jose to note ETA, then a return call to Raleigh, N.C. to note date of arrival, then head south. A stretch down 101 and we hang a left into Avenue Of The Giants in the Redwood Forest. This is a nice mild twisty little MG road with sparse traffic and 99% shaded by the huge Redwoods. Just don't drive off the edge of the pavement, or you'll find your car wrapped around one of the Giants with their ankles within arms length and their toes ruffling the edges of the tarmac. Dodging the trees left and right for several miles, we happen across the strangest vehicle I've ever seen on the road.
It was a fluorescent green, three piece train about thirty feet long with two pedaled powered tricycles and a caboose like a single axle Conestoga wagon, sporting about forty-five road wheels ganged in sets of five, a copper skull up front bobbing up and down, twin squeeze horns, the family dog, and flotation devices all under; a mobile kinetics sculpture all terrain vehicle good for road, sand, snow, mud and water; part of Kinetics Across America, a two year long race from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back again. The tandem pilots have a ten speed escort/service vehicle, buzzing up and down the road, hazing traffic, and looking for all the world like a fighter pilot protecting an aircraft carrier. We get a ten minute chat, photos, autographs, mailing address with c/o p.o. box number, and a toll free number to check on their progress. Only a day and a half out of the blocks, they're having at least as much fun as we are.
Save yourself, it's moving again!
[For a short flash into the future you can read about what happened to the road train over the following two years].
Farther down the Avenue we pause to drive through a tree, park on a log, stand inside a hollow felled tree, and take photos of the oldest giant.
Back on 101, we just try to make miles for San Francisco. The expressway turns into two lanes and stoplights in every town for a while, but the scenery keeps changing and the weather's nice and cool. Farther down the coast there's more expressway and more heat until we finally hit the big City By The Bay and cross the Golden Gate Bridge with jackets and shivers. Several miles of quick streets with signals, then down route 19, and we're on the I-280 bypass headed for San Jose at the south end of the bay. Another forty-three miles? Man, that's a big bay!
We get a little extra rush from a couple in a British Racing Green Lotus Elan about this time, running side by side for twenty miles at about seventy-five with light traffic. We would like to say "Hi", and they're yelling and waving, but with two noisy little roadsters, nobody's hearing anything. Finally the guy tromps the gas and disappears over the next bridge. When we eventually make our turn-off, there they are again, sitting at a traffic signal. Before I could grab the clip board, the light changed and they were gone, never to be seen again. Doggone! Missed another autograph.
The directions are good, and at 9:00 pm we meet J. R. and Tyane Boye at their place with their gorgeous two-tone Magnette. Then Dave Lion drops in waving a Twin Cam piston with a valve head stuck in the crown, and the great conversation goes on past midnight, as usual. A few calls and plans for tomorrow with the Northern California MGA Register, and we go shopping for a place to sleep. About an hour later we take a room in Santa Clare, not far from O'Connor Classics, our first stop for tomorrow. You know it's tough to find a campground near a big city. The nearest KOA is at least forty miles away, so I guess we'll have to leave the horse out to pasture tonight.
It's early morning, and we're at O'Connor Classic Autos in Santa Clare, where we meet Mike O'Connor and check out his place. J. R. Boye is here doing brakes on a nice TD, someone else doing restoration on a Packard.
We get photos of Mike's slot car set, featuring a right hand drive MGA roadster, an open wheel Ford racer with Lotus stuff up top, and a '55 T-bird. Then there's a full wall of California license plates complete from 1913 to present.
Sprinkled around the shop we find most of what we are told is the oldest MG in the U.S. Built in 1925, sporting live axle and leaf springs up front, seating for four, squared off rag top, wooden spoke wheels, full running boards and a spare on the side. We find the chassis on a high rack, engine in a corner, and pieces of the body everywhere. We're assured that the rest is around some-where and that it will all be back together some-day. Mike digs up an old Polaroid shot of the car taken before it was disassembled, and we settle for a photo of a photo.
Time now to do a few miles to the Coastline Cafe to meet Brad and Sue Wright, of the Northern California MGA Register. They have a nice restaurant, but we can't pry them loose for long, so we head for our next appointment. We quickly corner an MG Midget along the way with no particular affiliation, collect another autograph and say hello to Anne Brandt. We're finding that it's tough to get more than two people together in one place in California. Now we drive forty miles north to Walnut Creek to catch Mike Jacobson, and miss him anyway, because his mother suddenly took ill. And we wanted to see him in particular, because he's one of the few people from the west coast making it to GT-14 at Indianapolis. Man, it's hot today, so let's make for the bay.
We stop to check out British Motors Ltd. in San Francisco. The beautiful old building is nearly pristine inside and out, and having been declared a landmark building, will stand forever. It has been home to some automobile distributorship ever since it was built to show off the new Packards when they first hit the market. The showroom has thirty foot vaulted ceilings, Gothic columns, chandeliers, marble staircase, and new Jaguars all over the place. British Motors has been here long enough to have sold MGAs under this roof when they were new in 1955.
As we collect another autograph and make another call, we're just ten blocks from John (Jay) Johnston, but we'll meet him across the Bay in Hayward after work. So we truck on down 101 and cross the bridge on 92. It's still hot, rush hour is a killer and the poor roadster complains a lot, but we survive the trip. It takes an hour and a half to make the twenty-five miles to Hayward; it takes John only one hour with Park and Ride. A visit to a local air-conditioned soda shop revives us somewhat, and we meet John for a nice barbecue and chat until 10:00 pm. The night is warm and we still feel the need to cool it, so we drive about sixty miles south to Santa Cruz to make camp. As we crash in piece we talk about how these were the toughest six autographs of the whole trip.
We head south to Monterey, check out the fishing fleet, pick up some fresh fruit and head into the good roads of the Carmel Valley. The Valley roads soon find some altitude in the Los Padres National Forest. The car feels better, the traffic is non-existent, and this sure beats the bejaggers out of the expressways.
A couple hours later we're in San Louis Obispo looking for another side road, when we happen across a flashy orange Mini Cooper S at the curb. Stopping to check this out we find British Sports Cars, a nice shop and sales room owned by Peter H. Jurgens, a really friendly Brit who I suspect is one good reason for the popularity of British cars in this area. He says he sold off thirteen Jaguar E-Types in the last week, and he still has a dozen other classic sports cars in his show room.
A check in the back finds a fresh MGA Coupe, a newer B, a Big Healey nearly finished, a Jag XK140 with fresh paint, a TR6 with a new engine, a Jag E-Type with fresh chassis, and of course the venerable Ferrari. Then there is this original looking Lotus Elite in yellow coat and wire wheels with right hand drive, which we are informed is (or was) Sterling Moss' road car, given to him by the factory.
As all good things must too soon end, we get autographs, bid fond farewell, and head on down to Goleta for a quick hello to R. B. Hart and Moss Motors. It's late (well, for a pro shop 5:00 pm is late), so we agree to return in the morning.
Just a stones throw more to Santa Barbara and we meet Joyce Hart to begin two days of laughs and giggles. We get some more photos developed, and since Joyce is officially working late tonight, we go a few miles north and sleep with the horse at El Capitan State Beach campground. The night's a little humid but nice, and as we're munching down dogs and marshmallows over our propane stove (no open fires permitted near cities), we're trying to figure out how and why we arrived in Santa Barbara one day ahead of schedule, and what we want to do with the extra day.
First we head for the hills of Santa Barbara to check out the view and the local habitats. We find a few narrow streets that give the car trouble in second gear and end abruptly around a corner making it a bit tricky to turn the trailer around. These homes are really tucked in up the narrow passes, and I'm told by the locals that there's building even farther up; what some people won't do for a little privacy!
We take 154 several miles north to San Marcos Pass and then head inland and upwards. Things are getting a little foggy as we climb into the clouds. The sign here says "OFF ROAD Motor Vehicle Travel Prohibited". Soon all I can see is the white center line on the road, and then not even that. As I get out of the car to see if there's enough room to turn around, I nearly run into a large sign that says "NO FOUR WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT". I would have a picture of this, but I couldn't get a flash through the pea soup. A good gust of wind blows a small void in the cloud long enough to turn this little rig around in the road. I know there's some nice mountains here somewhere; I'm just having trouble finding them in the fog.
A few miles farther north we find Lake Cachuma, a reservoir so low that the control gates in the dam are high and dry. Into the Valleys of the San Rafael Mountains we pass through Santa Barbara Thoroughbred Ranch which goes for miles along one lane blacktops. Twenty six miles in, the road dead ends in a national forest campground. The map says this road goes through; I suspect the return loop is just across the river with no way to get to it; at least the drive out is just as nice as the trip in.
Then Santa Ynez Airport pops up, and we stop to take pictures of ultra-lights, sail planes, and other nondescript flying gadgets. There's one obviously hi-tech two passenger tandem fully enclosed ultra-light (the one with the yellow tail) labeled "Brig Gen Chuck Yeager". I've seen this one in magazines; a Burt Rutan special I believe. Thirty knot winds have all the small stuff grounded, so no playing with the eagles today.
After a direct run back to Santa Barbara, we meet Joyce and friend for pizza, pictures, and chat until late. An interesting subject comes up: Joyce is Chairman of NAMGAR but can't seem to get up a local chapter in Santa Barbara. It seems really strange that we can't get just five MGA nuts together in one place; I know they're out there somewhere. In the end we stay over at Joyce's place and fuss with the new kitten all night.
Well, we've finally used up the mysterious extra day, and the itinerary now matches nicely. [Flash forward a couple of years and we finally remember that we forgot to do the one day side trip from San Jose to Yosemite National Park before going to Los Angeles. Oh well, it's a good excuse for another trip west some day].
As we're about to hit the road Joyce is doing some serious arm twisting to get us to stay around for the annual Solstice parade and celebration. It's just a short trip to L.A. for our next stop, so we figure a few hours won't hurt. Besides, Joyce has offered to help scrub the Oregon logging road dirt off the roadster, so it seems like a wash (no pun intended).
People in Santa Barbara figure all this extra time around the longest day of the year must be good for something, so they all take the day off and paarrty! The streets turn into a mini Mardi Gras for the day, and we seem to burn up a lot of film. When the parade is over we carefully wash down the buggy with a half bucket of water and a sponge and end up with a half bucket of mud. A swift rinse with another half bucket of clean stuff does the trick.
Now we high tail it down to Los Angeles to see Jose Compean and his wife of the Southern California Association of MG Clubs. They have just sold their humble abode and are frantically searching for a new place, given sixty days to get out, so this is a quickie and we're out of here. Twenty miles north there's a KOA we know well enough to be leery about, and we're not surprised at what we get, so I won't bore you with the gritty details.
We're scheduled for a short drive today, so I catch up with some notes, get a late start, and we stop to play along the way. Just when we're certain that western California is a 700 mile long parking lot/expressway, we begin to see some redeeming social value around us. First a Studebaker, then an old Willys with a surfboard and sand tires. I believe San Clemente is up on that bluff, once home of former President Richard Nixon Then there's the southern California beaches with lots of redeeming social value -- LOTS!
LOTS of redeeming social value here.
But our sole mission for today is to find Jim Alcorn, wherever he may be. For two days we've been leaving messages on his recorder, and today the same. The first number was off by one digit, but an acquaintance fixed that. Then it turned out to be his office number, and we finally dug up his home number. Then we left all those messages. As we close in on his recorder we find the address is his office in La Jolla. A quick check in the local phone book verifies his home phone and pinpoints him in Del Mar, just a few miles north. One last call and we get a real voice! The man has a reasonable sense of value, so naturally we get directions for the scenic route to Del Mar. Seems like we ran across the same route in Seattle: through the park and along the water front.
Still, fifteen minutes later we have him cornered in his garage, grease under his nails, smile on his face, engrossed in his latest project, a tattered looking 1600 coupe with an 1800 engine, about to be resurrected. There's also an immaculate MG VA Tickford Saloon (hope I got the letters right) which we take for a jaunty cruise to pick up a battery for the 1600, and there's a Woolsey Hornet looking undoubtedly better than new. I open the door and take two steps up to get in; then sit on the flat floor with my feet straight out in front of me. The door latches nicely with one finger. With that shiny little polished engine under the bonnet, I'm assured that it cruises comfortably at 45 mph and seems all the while like 90. He has more jewels squirreled away in rented garages here and there, so we walk half a block to check out am MGA MKII which he drives a lot but somehow keeps looking like new.
Now Jim's late for an appointment (read that 'hot date', we think he's getting engaged). Not wanting to blow his gig, we head out and push on south. This night the San Diego Metro KOA is large, heavily populated, very accommodating, and just eight miles from Mexico. I wonder what we're really getting into here.