The MGA With An Attitude
The MGA ODYSSEY - Going WAY out

WEEK #5 - The East Coast

Monday 7/10
Cruising throughout the night from Tallahassee to Tampa, the air is warm, the stars are out, the renewed engine purrs and hums, not a problem to be found, and we arrive at North Tampa Motel-6 at 7:30 am. This day time motel stuff is getting to be a drag. Now I remember why we wanted to get back on the day shift; it's tough to sleep in a tent in the sun.

By evening we're fully rested, up and at'em, heading for the south side to see Tom and Eileen Jevcak for a chat and to thank Tom for his efforts at conjuring up a crankshaft. Tom also has some nice wheels around; a bit more than will fit in his garage I presume. He has an MGT outside giving it a spit shine when we pull in, and more under the roof.

We're there just a few minutes when Debbie declares, "I've got a problem," and we have to go to the hospital for a minor baby tune-up. Well, a little bleeding is stopped immediately, but some pesky micro-contractions persist for a while. The problem has natural causes, quite common we're told, apparently nothing to do with the trip or the car, and not too much to be concerned about. So I retire to the motel around midnight and scratch one nice evening's visit with friends. While I'm considering pitching the tent somewhere, I guess I'll keep the room and stay near the phone. I'm really sorry there isn't much more to report today.

Tuesday 7/11
I'm up early for a status check; not much has changed, and the navigator is stuck for the day. So I take advantage of a little idle time to catch up on my notes, do the laundry, a little posting, some shopping and lunch.

Not to lose the whole day, I drive over to St. Petersburg to see Glen Lenhard and his partner Kurt Languiraud at Bay Imports to thank them for sending the fresh cylinder head to Pensacola, have a nice chat and collect autographs. Nice place! These guys are into quality work on all kinds of import cars from around the world, but judging from the stuff on hand I think they rather favor British iron.

The chunk of my broken crankshaft raises grins, but they really want to see where the new head ended up, so I pop the bonnet on the MGA and entertain for a while. Glen rather likes the finned aluminum valve cover with the big MG octagon cast in, and I can't tell him where it came from because it came with the car when I got it. Then the oil cap nearly falls off in his hand for lack of a cork gasket because I haven't been able to find one to fit. Kurt, observing that it looks like a 1950's vintage American fitting, promptly pulls up the hood on his old American pick-up truck, pulls the oil cap, removes the gasket and hands it to me. It fits my cap perfectly! Now I'm sure this valve cover of mine is an American product, maybe by MG Mitten, remember them? Kurt says to keep the gasket, they're easy to come by, and my oil cap is now snug for the first time in years.

Then we pull the old cylinder head out of the trailer to see what it's worth. We all agree that it's pretty well cooked, so there's just a moderate core allowance for the salvageable valve parts. When the thing is disemboweled we all get a good laugh. Now I'm not one to intentionally step on anyone's ego, but this little story needs to be told. Remember the problem back in Kansas City when I had to grind a valve tip slightly to get enough clearance? Well upon disassembly, we find that the valve seats have been cut very deeply into the meat of the casting -- not burned, but machined that way. Most of the valve heads are at least 1/16 inch below being flush with the casting surface.

Further inspection of the oil supply hole location and lack of air injection ports reveals this to be a later model European MGB cylinder head. I knew that, because I bought it from Moss Motors as a performance upgrade (also because it was a lot less expensive than a new MGA 1500 head), and their catalog clearly said that this was a reconditioned European part. What it didn't specifically state but implied was that it was also refurbished in Europe. This next bit is pure speculation, but it's possible that a small crack or heat warping may have developed because of the excessive machining of the seats, and our earlier head gasket problems may have started here. Glen and Kurt regard this head as a prime candidate for hard seat inserts if it wasn't cooked. At any rate, be aware of the valve seat depth any time you have the opportunity to look. The valve heads should be at least flush or a little above the surrounding casting when assembled.

The last bit of fun was to take a ball pein hammer and smash the side of the cylinder head between the spark plug ports to demonstrate just how thin the casting is and why these heads are prone to crack in that area. With the impromptu tech session over, it's quitting time, and Glen leads me on a bit of a tour around town to check out some more of his personal rolling stock, parked wherever he found space I guess. Then I wheel it back to Tampa General to check on the navigator. The little contractions have been stopped, but there's another stay-over for observation, and I end up cooling it at the motel again. Now let me see; two more days gone in Tampa, so scratch the trip to the Florida Keys and don't plan anything more right now, just hang in there. Hum, this could get to be a drag.

Wednesday 7/12
All is well with the navigator and the precious cargo, but the doctor has gotten wind of our travels in the MG and gets suddenly paranoid. After a day and a half of telling us everything's fine and don't worry, he's suddenly prescribing indefinite bed rest and refusing to release the patient. Considering all the information at hand, all seems back to normal, any additional problems seem unlikely, and we think the Doc is just being overly conservative. So we sign the release against medical advise and promptly exit, stage left.

It's beginning to seem like the spirits and vapors of Florida somehow don't mix well with our presence. Now neither of us is the least bit superstitious, but why press the luck? Our schedule alone is a good enough excuse, so we make our apologies to Tom and Eileen while telling them we're not staying for the MG club meeting tonight. Pointing it back up I-75 we take US-301 from Ocala to Jacksonville, then I-95 north. By nightfall we're checking into a motel in Savannah, Georgia, and feeling a little more settled about being out of Florida for the first time in a week, and just a little silly about beating such a hasty retreat. We also feel compelled to say that the motel room is not a matter of being cautious to avoid camping, it's just that it's raining again.

It also has become possible to do a little longer range planning again, so several phone calls now set up coming appointments, and we sleep very well indeed, thank you.

Thursday 7/13
The weather persists humid in the high 90's with a few intermittent showers to ease the discomfort factor. We're heading north at a good clip, and the car's running just fine. Georgia is quite flat, green and wet here, and we cross many wide rivers, swamps and marshes.

Our oil stock is very low, and I would like to flush the engine now in light of the recent mechanical work, so when we spot a distributor type parts store I stop in and pick up another case of 20W-50. I've also come across a rather novel way of getting an inexpensive oil change while on the road. We look for a sleepy little town without much business, and a full service gas station. The guy on duty will generally jump at the chance to do a simple oil change on an unusual car; he's probably bored anyway. His first comment is, "I don't have a filter for that thing", whereby I proceed to extract a fresh filter, bought on sale, from the trailer, and he agrees to put that one on.

After the car is on the hoist with the oil drained and the filter changed, his next question is, "What kind of oil do you put in this thing?" When I tell him 20W-50 he gets this very low look on his face and says, "Well, gee whiz, we don't have that kind," considering that he's already drained the crankcase. When I produce my own supply, also bought on sale, he looks much relieved and proceeds to finish the job. Not having supplied any of the materials, he only charges about $5.00 for the labor, and the whole oil change costs us under $12.00 including the fast and courteous service. Now don't hold me to this; I'm not guaranteeing anything, but it usually works for me.

After an expectedly nice lunch in their little country restaurant, we hit the road again feeling all refreshed. We make Raleigh, N.C. by early evening and check in with Jim and Cherie Sutoros whom we wish to thank gratefully for their hospitality with bed and breakfast. Note that a night with MG people always takes precedence over pitching a tent, no matter how much we love camping.

I also thank Jim profusely for his assistance with the crankshaft and square the tab with him on the spot. He's very reasonable about the price, and I calculate that the combined cost of the crankshaft, cleaning and polishing, shipping and all the bearings only came to about $175.00, substantially less than a straight commercial purchase.

Spending some time checking out Jim's rolling toys, waving pictures and telling strange but true stories, we come up just a bit short on sleep again, but what the heck, that's what this trip is all about.

Friday 7/14
Time is fleeing, and the east coast is high-density MG country, so we start scheduling extra appointments. By early afternoon we're in Virginia Beach to visit Mike and Jennifer Ash. I venture out to get some photos printed, but with five rolls of film and the shop's equipment problems, one-hour photo service takes 3-1/2 hours here, throwing us off a bit once again. But Jennifer fixes us a nice snack, and then we're off again about dusk.

Late night finds us pitching the tent for the first time since Albuquerque, a little damp, a little cool, and feeling very good about sleeping with the roadster once again, this time just south of Fairfax, Virginia.

Saturday 7/15/1989
Today by mid-morning in Fairfax we make connection with Bill and Martha Ludtke of the Mid Atlantic chapter of NAMGAR. Also give them credit for being heavy into helping to make GT-14 happen. We chow down on some of Martha's sandwiches, make some phone calls, chat a while, flash some photos, you know the routine by now. We find lots of nice hardware here also, some of which is on loan. There's a B, a TF, a TC, several "A"s, a bug-eye Sprite, and a mid-50's Porsche undergoing restoration. Debbie is about ready to take the TC home, but it would be a long way to drive in an unfamiliar car (good a reason as any to say no).

As time flies, so do we, and before dark we're cutting off the interstate in Pennsylvania when the engine stops dead and we coast down the ramp. I'm immediately on the cure this time; the ignition contact gap is down to zero. The rubbing block doesn't seem to be worn much, but they just won't open wide enough, so I bend the contact arm back a little with my long nose pliers, and we're back in business. I casually accredit the cause of the problem to a worn spark advance mechanism and pass it off lightly.

We meet Tom and Janice Funk and family here in Wescosville, Pennsylvania, near Allentown. More good friends, and there's the usual rush of conversation, this time with the kids also very involved. Tom conjures up a bolt for our loose ignition coil bracket, and we're on the road again about 10:00 pm, determined to make the Boston area for a Sunday auto show. I think this is going to turn out to be a long night. Midnight puts us somewhere east past Newark, New Jersey, and headed north up I-87.

Sunday 7/16
In the wee small hours of the morning I have a little problem with the expressways in New York City. It seems like the roads are a bit over extended, meaning that enough extra lanes have been added so that there are no parking lanes, and it's rather dark along this stretch. I really don't want to wake up the navigator for a route reference, and the map light is a long stretch in an MGA, so I take the next exit which just turns onto another expressway. There are so many expressways here that every thirty seconds can produce another wrong turn. The sun is not out, and I'm not a pigeon, so after a couple more such events I'm totally disoriented. I finally manage to find an exit into a business area with lights, people, and a nice all night restaurant where we stop for dinner and take the map along.

As it turns out we're not far off course, so after dinner there's just a few miles straight north up a main thoroughfare and we're back on the interstate. We push farther north up I-84 to I-90 east towards Boston. The air turns chilly, jackets go on, then we stop at an oasis, the top goes up without the side curtains, and the little stove becomes the big stove. We hit the road again and start looking for a filling station, but it's pitch black out tonight and long stretches from nowhere to nowhere. After passing several exits with no fuel or stations closed after hours, I finally see a sign that says "All Night Service". The station turns out to be a full five miles off the expressway, but when you're desperate, it's any port in a storm. Then the exit was a one way ramp, so we have to continue on several miles to find the next entrance ramp.

When that big ball of fire in the sky starts to glare over the horizon right in my face, causing a couple of bricks to materialize in my eye lids, I'm ready to concede that I won't make Boston without some shut-eye. There's a nice parallel road with a few motels, but they're all showing "no-vacancy" signs; maybe they just don't want to be disturbed this time of day. Well, we just make a short stop, take a stretch and walk around the car for some deep breathing, then continue on.

Somehow 7:30 am finds us pulling into Jan Roy Horner's driveway in Westford, Massachusetts, just north of Boston. We find the "MG PARKING ONLY" sign on the front of her garage and put it there. It couldn't be more fair; reserved just for us! Pounding on the door and teasing her gigantic dog into barking up a storm finally brings Jan out in her bath robe, wet feet and all. We really are sorry about getting you out of the shower Jan. But she takes it well and is happy to see us, as we're all old friends. Jan used to be President of the Chicago Area MGA Club until she moved out here about a year ago. I understand that on her first appearance at a meeting of the Bay State MGA Club she was promptly interred as their President, and she's still smiling?

We get just a short rest and a splash in the face to freshen up, then it's out for breakfast at a local restaurant with Jan and her friend Ron (I hope this doesn't cause a row with her husband). A conflict of scheduling in the Northeast forces a choice; we enter the all British car show at Brookline, Massachusetts while skipping the Bay State MGA Club picnic on Cape Cod. Sorry to all you BSMGAC people, but Jan does one heck of an arm twisting.

The day is perfect and the show is a booming success, including a tour of the Antique Auto Museum for the same small entrance fee. As usual for our first attendance at such an event, we find more toys we've never seen before. This time it's a Lotus 11 from 1975 I think, totally knee high with all plastic body and no bumpers, this one only came as a kit and had to be assembled in the U.S. We run across an MG TA Tickford in pristine condition (second Tickford in a month). Also a huge old Rolls Royce sedan, a Daimler limo and an AC Ace that literally stole the show.

It seems like the MGAs didn't have a chance at winning anything in this show, since the classes were grouped by age rather than model. It's like putting a 1960 Ford Falcon in with every American car built between 1957 and 1962. The MGA really does have its own charisma, but we just felt left out in the popular vote judging among all the more exotic cars.

Having completed just over 11,000 miles in five weeks, our Illinois roadster and trailer make a strange sight at the show, Baja dirt now half washed off by the passing rains, still some oily finger prints on the fenders, open U.S. map stuck on the bonnet showing the traveled route, the autograph list growing, and the driver and navigator propped up in the shade for a well deserved rest, retelling tales of the past weeks and making more new friends. We win every prize we came for at this show: just a huge array of smiles. It's all great stuff!

With the show over and back at Jan's place, we're into the trip pictures for an hour, then out for munchies. A few calls for tomorrow's appointments and boy are we frazzled! Goodnight please; we crash at Jan's tonight.

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