Monthly Archives: March, 2012

And this year’s award goes to……!

Fortunately this isn’t the Oscars…so I can take as long as needed to raise my hat to the various friends, family and complete strangers who inspired, intrigued and influenced to bring me to this point!!

Without question, the first nod of appreciation has to go to a family whose name I cannot remember.  They lived in the same village as us back before decimalization had even been invented, and owned a pillar box red Morris Minor Traveller.  I was completely enamoured by that car, and regularly daydreamed about adventures that could be possible, if only it were mine!  In fact that experience would happen some years later, as my very first car was a 1958 Morris Minor.  Grey, four door and affectionately known as Isabelle.

If the Morris offered reliable long distance travel, then the MGB provided a far more exotic sensation.  Enter Auntie Colleen…she was an model for a couture house in London in the 50’s/60’s, and maintained the poise and elegance that came with her career long after it was replaced with other opportunities.  Whenever I think of Auntie Colleen, the indelible image of her standing in front of a white MGB (complete opposite to Henry Ford – she would drive any colour of MG, as long as….), raven black hair pinned into a chignon and always wearing driving gloves.  The car was just as elegant, especially in the summer with the top down.  Her inspiration stayed with me, as the first car I owned when I came to LA was a 1978 bright yellow MGB Roadster.  Less than 35,000 original miles on the clock, and the pride & joy of her previous female owner.  I named her Benina Banana, and we had five happy years & many additional miles of fun together.  Ironically she’s back in England now, being looked after by another friend who continues the trend of driving and smiling.

Back to my childhood, when the sporting theme was then amped up a notch with the arrival of one Mike Hasted’s Silver Aston Martin DB something.  Seeing a real person driving James Bond’s car, in Norfolk of all places, was mesmerizing.  This was also the first car that connected sound to picture for me.  I’d always been drawn to their shapes or colours, but suddenly I started to register the more subtle aspect as I’d hear the engine pulling away.

Teen years… enter first boyfriend, Anthony Fraser.  First boyfriend’s father had a garage with a Lancia Fulvia in it, and was also editor of a magazine called Car during the early 70’s.  So, now not only was I expanding my appreciation of various nationalities heritage; I had discovered the concept of the enthusiast. Clearly the family shared the car magazine gene, as Anthony subsequently became a great car photographer, and his older brother joined the enviable ranks of motoring journalist!

To confuse things a little further, there was another Ian Fraser…this one drove a Ferrari (no idea which model, it was just red).  Nothing more entertaining than Ian Fraser #2 visiting my parents at the weekend, climbing out of said car then staring suspiciously as the sky.  If there was the remotest hint of rain, he would climb back in the car and disappear back down the driveway….sometimes with a wave, sometimes not. Enter the serious collector!

And then of course, there was my mechanical cousin, Harry.  I used to love spending time in the garage watching him work on the engine of his pastel yellow Volvo 1800.  Not quite as smooth as Roger Moore, but I also have to thank Harry for introducing me to Wagner (hard sell), Beethoven (instantly smitten) and the realization that anyone can own an old car!

My later teen years were also serenaded with the dulcet tones of Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit.  We had moved to a village called Garboldisham, and less than 10 miles away was a little village with a big track.  Summer afternoons would often be permeated with the low rumble of carts, cars or motorcycles & I was so disappointed to discover years later just how close & yet so far I was from the truly beautiful and brilliant Ayrton Senna in the early 80’s, as his career was just starting out.

Early to mid twenties….a series of company cars, with a couple of honourable mentions…my black VW Sirrocco, that offset the blonde hair period I was going through quite nicely, and resulted in some very entertaining chases on the A140 or A143 as I’d head down to Suffolk.  I’ve often wondered how life may have been impacted if I hadn’t turned off to Woodbridge that one particular summer evening after reaching the roundabout just before mystery man in his Jag….

Second mention was my faithful Audi 80.  I could and would drive for hours in that car….nothing she liked more than Friday night, hitting the M1 at about 7ish and heading up to Nottingham to visit my then boyfriend.  Each time I took that journey, I’d try to reduce the time by minutes. The plan was going really well until I found myself travelling at 120 mph one evening and not completely sure whether the car was still connected to the tarmac in the same way it had been 20 miles slower…slight boat sensation as the car swayed convinced me that there was a need for speed, just not quite that much of it!

Los Angeles introduced me to the concept of car culture and along the way I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of great car & motorbike collectors, racers and restorers.  Each one adding a little thread of new information and understanding that has kept my interest and appreciation going.

So, to everyone that has nudged me along the path to my current adventure with The Egg, I say thank you!

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“She talks tools, she talks tools real good”

We are now less than a month away from the start of this year’s Copperstate 1000, and I have been experiencing a slight burst of nerves, and feeling more than just a little out of place.  The daily photographic postings on Facebook are a cornucopia of chrome, sleek lines, exquisite styling and tag lines including the phrase “one of only…..”  all too often.  Every new picture elicits gasps and giggles, and occasionally a quick scan of old auction results!

The Egg is definitely charming and with her ’71 Fuchs wheels, she has a certain tough-girl aura. The sound of her exhaust is far better background noise than any radio, and for a relatively old lady she is still pretty fast.  But, we are going to be the company of  such luminaries as a ”64Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, ’42 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Berlinetta & a one-off Jaguar Cozzi Special……

Despite my intermittent feelings of insecurity, the Egg seems completely oblivious.   I headed off to TRE yesterday as her pre-rally  inspection had been completed,  and was met with two thumbs up and a completed form covered in tick marks.  The brake cylinder and replacement tyres still being the only real serious fixes; apparently sorting out the rather inconsistent speedo by checking  its cable and reassuring all future passengers with a new (and now fully  retractable) seat- belt were both far easier than I’d anticipated.  The boys hadn’t discovered any surprises and as we talked about the route (as much as I know…Phoenix, Flagstaff & Southern Arizona weather conditions is the only information provided so far by Copperstate), they gave plenty of great tips and suggestions, and reassured me that I really don’t need to worry about anything other than having a good time.

Dave kindly explained the concept of, and how to deal with, vapour lock (a distinct possibility with the elevation); and then Jeremy placed a rather understated black canvas bag onto the counter and presented the pièce de résistance of my preparation so far…..a tool kit.

I have a few bits and pieces in the garage.  Mostly cast-offs, interspersed with occasional good deals for items I have absolutely no idea how to use, that add a level of reassurance to my future plan to become totally self-sufficient and a little more DIY than I am today.  However, fortunately for me both Jeremy &  Pete, his assistant in the tool kit endevour, are experienced drivers, with a full understanding of what I may need in case of….essentially any emergency.

Within about 30 seconds the bag had taken on a rather TARDIS like appearance, as Jeremy had pulled out fuses, light bulbs, crimpers (apparently this happens to more than just hair, who knew!), socket wrenches, screw drivers, WD-40, hand cleaner, gloves, spare belt, rags, tie-ons, tyre pressure gauge, and the list went on…….

It was absolutely and completely fantastic!

Suddenly I’m starting to feel like a real driver.  Hey, I may not be able to catch Mr. Lusso, but I have ALL the kit!  In fact, I’ll hazard a guess, I may even have a few items that could end up helping some of the other neophytes too.  I can already see my weekend movie watching including Grand Prix, Le Mans & Bullitt!

We tucked my fabulous new toolkit, my chuck, two extra quarts of oil and the jack into the boot, and after a quick photo op with my brilliant pit crew at TRE, it was time to test the new wheels.

She’s obviously a little grumpy as we haven’t driven any distance for a couple of weeks, but after a slightly gassy exit from the car  park and onto the streets, the Egg soon found her stride.  Yes, she has a steering wheel that is almost as large as that of a double-decker bus, I have to admit the gate on the gears is probably more tractor than sports car; but once you get her out onto the open road, she’s a total rockstar!

The combination of virtually no weight, great aerodynamics and the ability to still hold her own on the freeway, makes this little German Fraulein a small force of nature.  The brakes are reliable, the acceleration is more than enough to avoid trouble, so it’s impossible not to have fun.  Dave  warned me that the new tyres may be a little smooth, and she does seem slightly more skittish than before as we corner; so the weekend plan is to drive as many miles as possible, just in case there are any teething problems we need to address.

Now I just need to order my warning triangle and we’re done!

If it was that simple, I guess everyone would be doing it….

The phrase “heel & toe” has been floating around all afternoon, so I headed off to Youtube to seek out inspiration.  Fortunately I found it, in this great example………

Of course I know what I’m doing??!

I’m a great believer in asking the experts, so I’ve sent a few emails out to men with far greater driving skill and expertise than I’ll ever manage to acquire.  The responses so far have added to the enthusiasm and slight concern about our upcoming adventure!

Steve Wheeler, ex-racer, car enthusiast & jolly good chap started the ball rolling………”I suggest be gentle on your little egg at first, until you both become acclimatised to the new regime, let the tyres and brakes ‘scrub in’, be easy on her, always (ALWAYS) change gear like you’re going to Sainsbury’s!   If your pedal setup allows it, practise heel & toe on change down, to save both Gearbox and engine stress and avoid locking the rear brakes (If they’re good enough to lock!).

At the end of the first couple of stages, gauge your pace against those in your class, or those against whom you feel the need to compete / BEAT! Then adjust your pace from there, not all of your competitors will finish… and as you know ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’!”

Alain de Cadenet – Alfa aficionado, Vintage car enthusiast & Le Mans racer generouslyoffered the following comments………….”Such a good idea for you to be doing all this; perfect car too.  Make sure your people change out your brake fluid for fresh before you go. It’s hygroscopic and can be nasty when it gets hot if it’s old; bit like us too!

I only run a 165 section tyre myself with a 1720cc big bore engine.  Have good run on your 195’s to feel the steering isn’t too heavy etc. The folk on the run are a good lot and not in the least intimidating.  Also, take plenty of water in the car as it gets bloody hot out there!!!  Maybe a quart or two of whatever oil they put in too. I run Pennzoil 20/50 that Dave’s Lube uses. You might seek a GPS on board just in case your co-pilot gets you lost.”

So – on the plus side, I have the right vehicle.  On the slightly more negative……I have absolutely no idea how to heel/toe, need to be thinking about avoiding shopping carts every time I gear change, anticipate recurring nightmares of us lost amongst the tumbleweeds desperately looking for cell-phone coverage as the desert sun beats down & feel duty bound not to let these guys down by coming last.

No pressure there, then!!!

Remembering someone special…

Life in California for the past 17 years has included some great experiences, places and people.  At the top of the list of people continues to be someone I was lucky enough to call friend, and he was kind enough to refer to me as “The Tea Lady”….a wonderful man called Bud Ekins.  Bud was and still is a legendary figure – a great motorcycle racer, the stunt man responsible for the Great Escape jump and a wonderful raconteur.  Until you were accepted into the inner circle, his ability to completely ignore was almost as impactful as the classic one-liner putdowns.  But once he’d decided to grant membership; the opportunity to just spend a few hours listening to stories, re-visiting old races with him, or just hang out quietly…..they were all such special opportunities.

My first meeting was intimidating to say the least.  The Saturday crowd (a collection of old racers, friends and gear-heads) had already assembled at his workshop.  Bud was holding court; sitting on his bar stool, occasionally waving his finger and chain-smoking unfiltered Gauloises (he raced in France during the 50’s, and came back with the name Chanticleer & penchant for their cigarettes); with an incredible collection of early teen motorcycles and automobiles as the backdrop to his tales.

Clearly an outsider due my gender & lack of motorcycle knowledge,  I hung back to let my then husband talk all things Triumph with him, for a while.  The sign above his pool table “Women Keep Out”, was pretty self-explanatory; so I just listened. Bud was electric, and the audience ADORED him.  It’s a strange phenomenon, to see grown men in the presence of their real life hero………….

A few visits later, I warranted a smile or two; and then one day the world changed completely.  Bud and the ex were heading  to a motorcycle related something, and happened to be also dropping something off to me at the office.  Walking away from the car, I turned back to wave goodbye – and received one in return from Mr. Ekins.  It was a magical experience & from that day on, & I was part of the team.  A slightly different membership category, as my racing stories were limited at best.  So instead we would talk about his racing days in East Anglia, memories of travelling with his wife Betty when they first married, endless excursions to Ireland for his participation in an annual motorcycle rally…and anything else that just went “quite nicely, thank you” with a cup of tea.  The pool table wasn’t used much when we first visited, so I persuaded Bud to teach me.  A born winner, and highly competitive; he was still happy to tolerate my endless appalling attempts at scoring anything when we played – simply because I think it always amused him that I refused to accept that I really wasn’t very good.

Over the following ten years, I grew to know and love this old curmudgeon dearly. We were lucky enough to go to motorcycle auctions, racing events, car and bike shows with him.  The number of fans that he had never diminished, in fact with each passing year the affection and respect seemed to deepen.

Our friendship seemed to percolate from the routine of tea with milk in the yellow cup, and he would make many visitors wait for my to show up with it before he’d pay them any attention.   It wasn’t hard to spend hours listening to his stories, as they always came with an affectionate twinkle in his eye; but even more importantly I came to understand that Bud was a great man to have in your corner.  He loved women, in a “they’re tough, really are the stronger sex, can do anything” way.  He never doubted my ability, even when I was faced with situations that didn’t seem so easy.

Unfortunately Bud’s health deteriorated, as his body started to pay for all those years of riding, racing or occasionally throwing himself off a bike in the name of a great movie moment and; so towards the end our visits were to his home more often than anywhere else.  The routine stayed relatively simple – ordering fish & chips from “Pizza Man” (because he delivers!!), whilst I was in charge of pouring his whiskey (2 fingers, easy ice) and we just spent evenings talking about nothing in particular. It was more about the opportunity to be with a man I had certainly come to consider more like of father than even a friend.

And then in 2007, we lost Bud.  For all of us that knew and loved him it was, & still is, a void that can never be filled.  I managed to see him one last time in hospital, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to tell him how important his support. understanding and friendship had been.

To celebrate the man,  his life and the legend, a memorial service was held at Warner Brothers lot on 2nd December.  I’m not sure what the studio expected, but it  was a truly incredible day.  More than 750 people showed up to pay their respects one last time, and remember this great man.  Assorted stories were told by racing legends and automotive aficionados, but the moment that bought us all to tears was hearing Donna & Suzie (Bud’s daughters) recount the alphabet the way Daddy had taught it….from Aprilia to Zundapp.

For me, there are some great memories, some special moments and then of course the tag line he gave me, that still makes me blush and smile….”It’s the tea lady.  I like to see her come, but I love to see her go”!!!!

(For more information about Bud’s racing history, go to http://www.budanddaveekins.com)

Countdown begins….!

Friday Feb 3rd…..email arrived, confirming that I’d been accepted for the 2012 Copperstate 1000.  I am soooooo excited, in a couple of months, the Egg and 75 of her newest best friends will be tearing around the scenic roads of Arizona!

Immediate flurry of activity, as the car & mechanical inspection list were dropped over to TRE.  Delivered her with my own list of small concerns – passenger seatbelt less than auto-rewinding, constant hot air (eventually) coming into the cockpit which seems to be more than just heater operator error, gears a little sloppy – but hopefully no signs of anything we should have to worry about.

By following mid-week, first question from the garage…..do we replace the tyres or keep fingers crossed that enough tread on 6 year olds will suffice?  Quick conflab with my oracle for all things, and new tyres were decided upon.  Initial decision may have been easy, but the selection process immediately turned into something slightly more intimidating.  As the car already has ’71 Fuchs wheels on her, with 185/65-15 originality wasn’t a requirement and it seems likely from previous event year’s routes that we could be experiencing a variety of different driving conditions…plus I wanted her to feel at least a little racerish (current set are not the most exciting round a corner)!  TRE threw out the idea of full blown racing tires as a second set…but with a garage already full of stuff I’ll probably never use, I decided to use a more unscientific approach to my tyre investigations…

  • How appealing is the tread pattern?
  • What are the reviews like for handling?

Happy that the combination of both points would come up with a variety of options, I started by looking at tread patterns (because aesthetics count for plenty in my world, shallow as that may seem) & then looked at user feedback on a variety of sites.  Growing up watching Formula One with my mother dictated that Michelin, Dunlop & Bridgestone were automatically included in the selection process, but after a couple of hours I settled on something completely different; 195/60-15 Kumho Ecsta ASX (ASX for All-Season Xtreme).

By week two, the tyres were delivered, brake master cylinder & heater valve replaced, new passenger seatbelt ordered, bracket for the battery (used one from a later model 911) installed, fire extinguisher fastened, TRE Dave was organising my tool kit & I’d been trying to work out exactly how easy a Le Mans style start is going to be…….!