|The MGA With An Attitude
The MGA ODYSSEY - Going WAY out
WEEK #6 - The Home Stretch
From just north of Boston I'm told, it's two hours south through the city to Brewster on Cape Cod Bay, two hours north to Portland, Maine, and two hours west to South Deerfield, Massachusetts, unfortunately all in different directions. Since there are no interstate highways going west from Portland, we opt to go there first, then backtrack through Boston to Brewster, then head west on I-90. Well, things still don't always work out as planned.
On our way north we take I-95 into southeastern New Hampshire, hit a toll booth just before the Maine border, and accidentally turn off onto N.H. state route 16 which is also toll expressway for a way. We're enjoying the weather and sun so much that we don't discover that we're on the wrong road until it turns into two-lane about 30 miles up. By that time we decide the easiest way is to continue north a little more and take the state highways east to Portland. These roads are narrow and winding through the hills and would be terrific MG roads if it wasn't for all the traffic. The countryside is nice, but progress is slow; I should just say we took the scenic route.
When we get to Portland the brakes feel a little spongy, so I check and add fluid. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, as it's been nearly twenty thousand miles since I looked at the shoes. The juice is a easy fix, and after picking up another map we're soon on our way.
We go through Portland and several miles north on route 9 to North Yarmouth and Cumberland Center to meet John and Debbie Glasier and talk about their escapades with the eighteen MGAs from "the barn" (see MGA! volume 14 numbers 3 and 5). They've kept a couple for themselves, fixed them up, and the cars are looking pretty spiffy now. In the process of scooping up some more of this history, the chat runs a bit longer than we had planned, and it's suddenly six o'clock.
We have to call and cancel our appointment in Brewster. This grieves us terribly, because ever since late March we've been planning to visit Romeyn de Castellane at de Car Classics in Brewster, Massachusetts, and his MGA "Thtdwyck", quite a character itself with some special engine work. This is the only pre-arranged appointment that we've had to miss on the entire trip. Our profound apologies to the Castellanes, but the time has just gone away on us, and in a few days we must be at Indy. We've even called the Michigan Rowdies in Detroit to put them off from Tuesday to Wednesday night prior to GT-14, and our visit in Middletown, Ohio will have to change from an overnight to a short stop on Thursday. But at least we get a small reprieve today; Goeff Rogers, newsletter editor for the Bay State MGA Club, is in England, so we can skip South Deerfield.
With just a few hours to spare now, we head back south from Portland to Portsmouth, Then west through New Hampshire on U.S. 4, through Concord and on to Brattleboro, Vermont, just across the Connecticut river and state line. This is good MG country now that we're off the expressways -- neat roads, nice hills, green everywhere, and antique shops anywhere you look. With a full moon out tonight we could nearly drive without the headlights, and we have no trouble finding the KOA near Brattleboro at 10:30 pm. Tonight we can pitch the tent and sleep with the roadster again, an increasingly rare occurrence.
We roll out early in the cool morning air.
Flapjacks, sausage and eggs are easy and quick, and we're soon heading upstream for Walpole, New Hampshire. We go north up I-91 and exit at Westminister, Vermont, but the bridge to Walpole is out, so we go farther north five miles to find another, cross the river and come back. One quick inquiry and we're at Abingdon Spares in Walpole checking the place out. They handle most parts for the MG T-models and seem quite busy today. Jan Jankowski informs us that the owner is out today, then supplies directions to The Westminister MG Car Museum, back across the bridge that's not there.
We already know the detour, so fifteen minutes later we're snapping photos like crazy of the largest privately owned MG collection in captivity. All the good stuff is here -- definitely a recommended visit.
I believe there must be one of everything the MG Car Company ever built. Most of the older cars have been fully restored, with a few of the more significant ones kept original by intent. More of the later models appear to be very nice unrestored original examples. There are more in the back doing restoration. I think I've seen at least one of each model before with one notable exception: a very substantial red sedan, looking somewhat like a late 50's Magnette but larger and dressed to the hilt with walnut and leather interior. I miss the model name (maybe an Arnolt sitting next to the TF in the last picture), but the sign says there were only a hundred built -- fifty saloon and fifty cabriolet. This visit has to end all too soon, but at least we can purchase a few small souvenirs on the way out.
We head back south down US-5 through Putney to Brattleboro,
then west again into the Vermont hills on route 9. The weather is ideal today, everything is green and cozy, antique shops and country inns are sprinkled about generously almost at random, and in an hour or so we stop for lunch in Bennington, a quaint little town in the foothills. By two o'clock we're motoring through the eastern hills of New York on route 7 to Albany where we catch the expressway and point it due west on I-90.
Now we can watch the hills roll by without getting intimate with the grades and local traffic. Bless the 55 mph speed limits in the whole state of New York, and all the people who drive 75 anyway. By 8:00 pm we've crossed the entire state, staked out our tent on Grand Island, and are snapping pictures of Niagra Falls from Goat Island between the American and Canadian waters. Sometime after dark we retire to the KOA for a late dinner and planning for tomorrow.
We pull up stakes early and cross over Rainbow Bridge to Canada to check out the "better view" of Horseshoe Falls. The roadster with trailer gets directed to less restricted parking two kilometers away, but the shuttle bus is prompt and comfortable, and the view along the way is exceptional. We get a few pictures up top, then take the elevator to the tunnels below for some phenomenal viewing, although photos are a bit more difficult from here with all the mist. All fun in stride, we have to get moving, so elevator up, shuttle back and motor on.
We take The Queen Elizabeth Way north through Niagra Falls and St. Catherines and west to Burlington where we catch route 2. About thirty-five kilometers more and we stop in Brantford for lunch before heading west on 402 for Windsor. The 260 kilometers goes by in about 2-1/2 hours. We drive the last hour in the rain with the top down again, not getting wet much except while stopped momentarily for the border crossing.
Back in the U.S. and heading west on I-90 from Detroit, we encounter more rain, a bit heavier now and getting worse. The rush hour traffic is doing about 70 mph, rain and all, and since we're still not getting very wet, we're hesitant to stop to put the top up, so we don't. After an hour and a quarter we pull into Jackson at 6:00 pm sharp to meet Dave and Donna Quinn of the Michigan Rowdies, whereupon we very quickly snap down the tonneau cover and run for the house.
After a few hours of warm conversation we discover that "Big Bird made a mistake". A couple days ago from way out east I had called Dave as the Michigan Rowdies' NAMGAR chapter contact to confirm connections for tonight. I overlooked the fact that the people I had been in contact with since April were really Jim and Holly Bolinger. He's the Rowdies' membership chairman, she's the newsletter editor, and they first found out about our trip from a copy of the Columbia Gorge MGA Club newsletter. Another apology is now in order. Shortly after ten pm, we find they also wouldn't mind a late night visit and proceed to unbutton the tonneau and screw down the hood and side curtains.
The little roadster is actually getting quite close to home now; I think he's beginning to notice and wants to continue on west on the interstate. There's a bit of a tussle, but I manage to point him back east, and closing on midnight we're back to Detroit and heading south to Flat Rock to see Jim and Holly Bolinger, also Rowdies. Here we chat until three in the morning when the gals are about to throw bricks at the guys, because we're all getting up early to strike out for the GT. We're welcome to crash here, and we certainly accept; thanks, Jim and Holly.
After a few hours we're all up early and on the road at 7:00 am. Hang the lack of sleep; we've all got things to do. The Bolingers are heading for Jackson to meet the Quinns and some other Rowdies to caravan down to Indianapolis. We say goodbye for now, because Debbie and I are heading south to hook up with our friends Jim and Ann Parsons at Middletown, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.
Except for a little early drizzle, the trip is blessedly uneventful, and by eleven o'clock we're in Middletown, parked in our friends' driveway and rousting Annie out of a shower. This scene is beginning to look familiar! So we're an hour or two early, but friends are friends. While Ann takes her Pontiac to the shop for some minor adjustment, I call home for messages and catch up on the trip notes while Debbie borrows the Parsons' laundry facilities. It seems we have had hardly a spare minute during the whole trip, and today will be no exception.
Jim knocks off work and is home by 12:30 and wants to check out an MGA 1500 he has been considering for a while, so he and I do the honors about town for an hour or so. The "A" is a possible driver with reasonable paint, needing front shocks, tires, oil, and a second gear synchro, not to mention slightly low compression on one cylinder and nothing behind the plastic rocker panels. In spite of a lot of miles on the clock, the engine seems to be original and is still running fairly well. We think the seller is asking a little much for this one at $1500, so Jim says pass and plans on checking out a few offerings at the GT.
Back at Jim and Ann's place we finish stuffing the trailer and their Granada,
pack in some ice and finally blow town for the two hour trip to Indy, figuring to be there for an early dinner with friends from home. Well figure it again, and forget the early dinner! Just across the Indiana state line the roadster decides to add another item to the maintenance and repair list. Cough, sputter, pop, an occasional backfire, and we barely limp off the next exit and into a McDonalds parking lot. This time it's broken rocker shaft pedestals, and the little fellah ain't goin' nowhere without parts!
A few phone calls, burgers, fries, and a few more calls find nothing close, so we do the expedient thing. We all pile into the Granada, shuffle back to Middletown and return with the rocker shaft assembly unceremoniously pirated from Jim's MGA Mark II basket case. At this point about all I can say is, "It's nice to have friends", and thank goodness this friend is particularly committed. We slap it all back together, torque it down, adjust the valves, and we're back on the road to Indy, having lost only 3-1/2 hours this time.
For the next hour I'm reminiscing about the pedestal I gave to Bob North back on day one, June 11th just before leaving home, and about how I just couldn't believe that one of those things would ever break. But now I know how it happens! You start with the wrong washer on top of the pedestal; you know the book calls for particularly heavy hardened steel washers? Well, if you only have a standard gauge mild steel washer there, and torque the nuts up to spec's, you will be forcing a nasty depression into the top of the aluminum pedestal, over stressing the part to begin with.
Now one day you may also over tighten the valve cover nuts a bit trying to stop a pesky little oil leak at the gasket. Since the cover nut goes on the same stud that is holding the pedestal, you may have just over stressed the stud by adding the pull from above. In my case the stud broke cleanly at the minor thread diameter just at the top of the first pedestal. This lets the force of the valve springs push the rocker shaft up at the front end, cantilevering the load to the second pedestal with an even higher stress. Once number one goes, number two is soon to follow, and so on. So beware, and don't hedge on the heavy washers. I remember that the first ones I got mail order were standard dime store cheapies, and from a reputable dealer too! First chance I get, I'm picking up some iron pedestals from an MGB and relocating these aluminum pieces to the fireplace mantle.
Meanwhile, we make Indianapolis Motor Speedway ok, finding old friends and new friends and ogling all the classic sheet metal showing up here. We finally go out for pizza with the old gang from home and spend hours far into the night comparing sun tans and swapping stories about what has been happening for the last six weeks. The most incurable MG addicts have invaded Indianapolis once again with all good intentions of moving the earth a little before the gig is over. And for all you map trackers out there, the little roadster's odometer says it's 12,779 miles from Naperville, IL to Indianapolis, IN, even though the map shows just about 200 miles.
This time it's the Navigator's birthday, and she thinks the circumstances are just keen. The main event for the day is the "Fun Run To Nashville", a country rally running about seventy miles down state from Indy. We pass on this one. Yes, I know it's a little out of character, and ordinarily I wouldn't miss it, but we have all these pictures lying around trying to break out of captivity and be seen, and a couple more rolls yet to be developed. So it's off to 1-hour photo and to the car wash while we're waiting, then to an office supply for poster board and photo mounts. The toughest part of this job is to set aside about two-thirds for lack of time or space to mount them. In the end we've pasted up about 125 pictures, the six page autograph list, and our US Interstate Highway map with the fat black line that followed us all around the country. It's amazing how all that makes time disappear so quickly.
Having missed the rally, the vendors, and the afternoon tech session, we do make it to the brat fest and put the pictures up for display in the hospitality room. This raises many eyebrows and enough commotion that we nearly miss the evening tech session, but finally catch Donald Davidson, the track historian for the past twenty-five years, doing his thing with a large portion of our group. I'm sure glad we didn't miss this one! This guy can dazzle your sox off with speedway trivia and answer any question you can throw at him; most of the stories are real gut-busting humor. A short break finds us back in the hospitality room again, and we miss the slide presentation part of that tech session, so you'll have to get someone else to fill in the details there.
Midnight comes all to quickly, and as we bid everyone goodnight, pack in our pictures and our heads and fight the insomnia in anticipation of tomorrow's events.
The noise outside provides a wild awakening, with hundreds of people with their cars assembling for the auto show. We take a side trip to the buffet breakfast and return to find the lot nearly empty. The entire pilgrimage has moved on to the track infield to line the cars up for the show. We grab our registration packet and camera, check the film and join the party ourselves. A short drive out behind the Speedway Motel, hang a left through the tunnel to the infield, then a right around the infield road to the other side of the golf course to the display area.
And what a display indeed! Rows and rows and rows of MGAs of all descriptions, half a dozen Magnettes, another row of display only MGs other than A's, and the star of the show, EX186. Yes, EX186 from the MG Car Company Competition Department, making its debut after not having been seen publicly for thirty years. Currently undergoing restoration, here in most of its glory, it runs well enough to take a couple of parade laps around the track with the rest of the MGs. Well, the judging comes first, and let me say right off that so many MGs in one place makes it really hard to choose the best. But the collective votes of over four hundred people will put the matter to rest.
Then the time has come to hit the track. There are too many cars to put on the track all at once, so the group is broken in half with us in the first bunch. It takes several minutes just to get us all out onto the track. We're up near the front, so we can wait and watch the spectacle developing behind us. Can you imagine over a hundred MGs on the Indy track all at once? It's not that there's a shortage of space; this place is huge with its 2-1/2 mile track. But they're paired off and lined up all the way from the end of pit row to the middle of the first turn. You just have to be here to understand (or maybe the pictures will help).
We start slow at first, then pick up the pace a bit. It's tough to hold to a 50 mph limit out here, but then there's that flashy pace car up front generally keeping a damper on things. When we take the turns down low they feel pretty good in an MG. Taking the turns up high some of the guys are pushing 60 without getting out of formation. Man, this track is wide too! On the second lap we try another tactic: lay back a bit and leave a good space ahead then push it a bit harder through a turn. Sure enough, 70 is easy too, but we cool it now before the track officials get too irate. See YouTude video. I was there somewhere among 197 MGA, 100 at a time on the track.
At these casual speeds it takes several minutes to make two laps and head for pit row, and we all gain a new appreciation for how big this quad-oval really is. Along the pit wall we pass the names and numbers of this year's Memorial Day racers. For a while we're parked next to "ARIE LYENDYKE 9", then move on. At the end of pit row we pause to have our picture taken over the black and white checkers of the winners circle. Then it's back to the infield while the track clears and the second group awaits their turn. [For the record, the following year on Memorial Day weekend Arie Lyendyke won the Indy 500 race. Attitude is contagious - pass it on.]
More than 100 MGAs at a time on the 2-1/2 mile track. Upper right is Joe Gunderson driving EX-186. Lower left may be Lyle York in his Sebring Twin Cam. Center is Len Bonay in hs freshly restored Twin Cam. Right is Joyce Hart in a borrowed 1600.
But our little roadster isn't finished yet! Our friends Jim and Ann are registered, but without an MG, and we hate to see real MG enthusiasts in this condition, so the car goes out again with the second group and a surrogate driver and navigator to take more laps while we find a good vantage point trackside. EX186 is also in this group, and I indulge myself immensely while taking many pictures and watching the show. I never for one moment doubt who's in control out there; the drivers don't have a chance when the cars take over. That's why the track officials insist on using the pace car. Jim and Ann come around the track with smiles about two feet wide, and there's some girl with a video camera sitting up on the tonneau with her head above the windscreen and hair streaming out behind. I think everybody is getting a few years younger here too.
Some friends from our Chicago club. Upper row L-R, Keith & Shay Lowman in their MK-II, Mike & Bonnie Zadney with the gold wheeled 1600, and Bob Davis. Lower row L-R, Jim & Ann Parsons in my 1500, Dennis Neuwirth from Schererville, IN, and Mike Engleton from Munster, IN.
When the run is over and they're slogging it through the winner's circle, we walk back to the infield to take over the wheels again. But before we can reclaim our car we have to pry the present occupants out of the cockpit, and it ain't easy! All too soon it's over as we pack it in and head back to the motel. An hour in the pool helps to cool off and relax after a hot day on the track. Then there's more time to chat with friends and to massage the hardware, and the evening banquet is upon us. That's my car at right holding Jim and Ann Parsons. Six weeks earlier it had 8500 miles on the odometer after restoration. Today it has well over 21,000 miles on the same odometer. Are we having fun yet?
New friends, old friends, good food, and the mystique of the MG marque permeate the air. The votes have been tallied, awards are assigned, and door prizes go in all directions. We graciously accept the distance award in honor of the thirty or so people here who drove farther than last year's distance winner, and at least a half dozen who drove over 3000 miles to get here. When the banquet finally breaks up, and a half hour or so is allowed for table clearing, the place once again becomes the Hospitality Room. Out come the pictures, the friends, the drinks, the MG banter, and it's suddenly way past midnight again. Goodnight all; the road home comes tomorrow.
We have but a short trip home today, a mere 200 miles or so. We sleep in until 9:00 am; I can't remember the last time that happened. Coffee, Danish, juice and doughnuts are for the taking at the hospitality room. After more smiles and goodbyes we finally pack up and head for home. Being overcast in all directions, you can't get a bet on the weather. Judging by the number of tops up or down I think it's about an even split, and since we prefer damp to hot, ours is down. So naturally we get some generous sprinkles before even getting out of town. But we're persistent and hang in there and manage about fifty miles before stopping at the proverbial overpass to get the thing up. Now we know which half of the people are still smiling. Ten minutes later it's dry and bright of course, and it doesn't take too many more miles to make a pit stop at a rest area and put the hood away again.
Cruising up I-65 we're already beginning to massage the sweet thoughts of being home again after six weeks on the road. We take the exit loop to I-80 west, promptly run into bumper to bumper construction traffic, and the engine sputters and dies. Now what? The new fuel pump I installed in Albuquerque a few weeks ago has just decided for a short life. All the tapping and pounding my arm can take won't make it run, so I pull the pump by the roadside and disassemble the bugger to check it out.
I find nothing obvious wrong with the parts, but the coil housing is full of fuel indicating a leak past the diaphragm, so I clean it out, buff the points a bit and reassemble it. A test with a hot wire and earth return makes it chatter like a monkey, but when it's reinstalled, the least bit of back pressure stops it dead. Ok, now I disassemble it again, stretch the return spring out a bit and put it all back, whereupon it perks up a little pressure, but when it stops it won't restart. A tap with a wrench will get a couple clicks out of it though, so that's close enough for now.
I put the top up and the side curtains and battery cover in the boot and get my trusty wrench in hand. Tap, tap, tap and we're off. It moves, but not good enough for another sixty miles of expressway, so we take the first exit and head north through Gary, Indiana with another plan in mind. I know there are only a few parts stores open late on Sunday, so we head for my brother's house on the south side of Chicago, being only half the distance as home. Tap, tap, tap, north to I-90 tap, tap, and take the Calumet Skyway from Gary to Chicago, tap, tap. No matter how hard or how fast I beat on the fuel pump, the top speed is just about 45 mph, laboring slower up the hills and a bit quicker going down. It idles great at the toll booths and pulls out smartly just to sputter again a few hundred feet up the road.
Thirty miles and about 4500 raps later we park it at brother's place and set out to buy another fuel pump just like the last. Beware of the "Universal Electric Fuel Pump"; the first one they handed me this time was a six volt unit. An even swap set that right, and half an hour later we're running again. Meanwhile, we smell a barbecue, and there's this whole house full of people at bro's place who haven't seen the pictures, and you know the rest; it's nearly midnight before we get home.
After forty-three days on the road, the final tally is 13,042 miles, one punctured petrol tank, one blown radiator, four head gaskets, one cylinder head, one crankshaft with bearings and gaskets, two fuel pumps and a couple of fractured rocker shaft pedestals. Also 590 gallons of fuel (you know I have a heavy foot), and fifty five quarts of oil including three programmed oil changes and an engine tear-down. The car started the trip getting better than 500 miles to a quart of oil, but after the hasty engine job in Florida, it dropped to 250 miles per quart due to significant leaks about the external gaskets.
Would we do it again? Why yes, of course! Will we do it again? Well, nobody is saying just yet, but the odds seem pretty good. I wonder what MG Odyssey 1990 might be like? We haven't been to Fairbanks.
POST SCRIPT - The Aftermath
First things first. To get the most important left over detail taken care of, I did procure an MGB rocker shaft assembly complete with iron pedestals. It has been installed, and Jim Parsons now has his original assembly back in his possession. Thank you very much Jim. The loan of the part was much appreciated, and getting it returned was my top priority.
I also pulled the engine again to clean it all up, replace the tappet cover gaskets one more time and repaint it. It's back in place now and performing nicely with very little oil consumption. And I'm sure that the MGA appreciates it immensely.
I also have a couple more important tech tips to pass on. After the our long trip the car just sat for six weeks before going to the British Car Festival in Des Plaines, IL in early September. It started up easily, ran for thirty seconds and died, having failed another fuel pump. A little research soon disclosed the root of the problem. The two pumps I bought on the road were WALBRO pumps. Warshawski & Company in Chicago stocks this particular part, and the listing in their catalog specifically states "NOT FOR USE WITH ALCOHOL FUELS". Apparently the pump diaphragm incorporates a type of elastomer that will dissolve in 10 percent alcohol gasoline. After installing the new fuel tolerant cylinder head in Florida, I started using premium unleaded fuel, of which many brands contain alcohol these days. The solution was simple; the car is now sporting a different new fuel pump.
This one is a late model General Motors type electric pump. It is an in-line canister, crimped together, with tube fittings for a hose clamp attachment at each end, and looks just like a large metal in-line fuel filter. It is completely sealed, all solid state with no internal contacts and has a two wire hook-up so it can be used with either positive or negative ground systems. It comes with a bracket which attaches nicely to the original MGA fuel pump mounting point as an easy bolt-on. And it's available off the rack from any NAPA store. Their part number is 95-EP425, of Line NFP, and should sell at a discount for around $40.00. For more informatin see tech article FP-201
Be aware that you will have to cut back your steel fuel lines to remove the original fittings and allow for the use of hose clamp connections, so once you make this change, it is not easy to switch back to the original pump. Also be sure you get the low pressure model according to the above part number; it's 7 psi, nearly double your original pump pressure. I'm using mine with Grosse Jets in standard SU carburetors and it all works just fine. Just for information, the high pressure model puts out over 30 psi for fuel injection systems and will probably blow fuel right past your float valves.
The last problem with the ignition contacts also re-occurred. The real problem with the diminishing points gap derived from the Ford ignition coil I put on in New Orleans. It gave me a better spark alright, because it's designed for an ignition system with a ballast resistor in series with the coil. The coil has lower electrical resistance and draws higher current, thereby cooking the contact points set. While the points didn't actually burn or wear, the moving contact block got so hot that the plastic piece holding the moving arm melted and deformed under the normal spring pressure so as to close the gap. That coil is now history, the original spec' unit is now in place, and the contacts have been fine ever since.
Oh yes, for any die hard soap fans out there, eight weeks to the day after arriving home from GT-14, and just one week after attending our local British Car Festival, our newest MG addict joined us for life: Elliot Henry Lee Gaylord, 6-lb 8-3/4-oz September 17, 1989. We had to miss a rally for this event, and I suppose he'll be wanting to drive to GT-30.