Snowy conditions……my favourite! That news greeted us over the coffee and croissants for Tuesday’s breakfast, and presented a few more options for all of us than initially expected. Our route was to take us up to an elevation of at least 8000 feet, so the weather change shouldn’t be ignored. A quiet review of road conditions with the mechanical cousin, based on the theory:
- We had The Egg (German engineering)
- All weather tyres (rain and snow no issue), and
- Two drivers born in England (bad weather is synonymous with our cultural identity)
Left us flipping a coin and deciding we’d chance our luck until it ran out, and take the original mapped route.
Heading through Flagstaff, we seemed to be driving for an awfully long time with nothing listed in the route book, showing up on our horizon. With no visible landmarks, there seemed to be only one option – good old Google maps. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to offer the immediately expected result, so I decided that old school was the last resort. We pulled into a garage forecourt, and I headed inside with the route book and was happy to discover that we had done nothing more than overshoot a turning about four miles earlier.
At this point, I should also mention that my mechanical cousin is many things….all good….but keen navigator is not one of them. It’s not that he can’t navigate, he just occasionally forgets. Not a serious problem, but certainly added a level of excitement throughout our entire trip. By the time we retraced our steps and found the right track, we’d eaten up about an hour and better still, given the sun enough time to start drying out the road.
And what a road…..forty plus miles of gently undulating curves that took us up and over a mountain pass. Tall pines and the occasional deer our only companions as we headed through some of the most desolately beautiful countryside of the entire rally. Our plan paid off, as we made it all the way to the lunchtime stop, an airplane museum in Valle. Now on the other side of a mountain, weather conditions had changed from cold and snowy to just as cold wind, a not completely welcome change. Lunch was a welcome break before heading off to our next exploration, the big ditch.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for eighteen years, and am embarrassed to admit that I have not seen the Grand Canyon. Many trips to Las Vegas, and yet there never seemed to be the time or inclination to add it to the itinerary. Having seen so many photographs, there’s a sense of familiarity which may be the reason….but all of that changed on Tuesday afternoon as we paraded through the Grand Canyon National Park.
Stopping at the first recommended viewing point, I finally managed to see it with my own eyes, and the only word I could come up with seemed to be “wow”; which obviously falls short of any real description, but if you’ve seen what the locals affectionately call ‘The Big Ditch’, you will understand. Photo opportunities were perfect as we reached our destination early enough in the afternoon for the combination of sun and shadow to play across this natural wonder.
Our cruise back to Sedona continued the slightly alpine theme, from the vegetation at least. The last few miles coming back into the valley was breathtaking…..the layers of red sandstone forming beautiful rocks that are so unusual it’s tempting to expect Tim Burton’s Martians to be hiding in crevices. Or maybe I’ve been living in LA too long!!!
Story swapping back at base was a mixed affair. Those who opted for the alternative route were either relieved or disappointed to find out what we experienced. After all, being in a convertible when the top almost works is not really conducive to winter climates. For a few others, the realization that if The Egg could do it, so should they was a little more bittersweet. Best news, no real casualties either way; which is all that everyone hopes for by the time cocktail hour arrives.
Sitting in our Monday morning driver’s meeting, listening to the Highway Patrol officer explained the day’s route to us, I thought I heard something that sounded like “sandbeach”. Figuring it was simply a combination of bad acoustics and my apparently not so great hearing, I assumed he was warning us away from a rogue sandwich vendor. A suggestion that didn’t seem like too difficult a prospect, especially in comparison to dealing with the weather we’d be encountering.
Weather which started as soon as we tried to leave the hotel. Pushing, because the wind was so strong, it was almost impossible to open the door. All around us, palm trees seemed on the verge of breaking instead of bending and for the first of many occasions that day, I thanked the Egg for being a coupe rather than convertible. Heading to the open road, cross winds were strong enough to make driving “interesting”, and within 10 minutes we found ourselves faced with a sandstorm. It seemed as if we’d stumbled into a Steinbeck novel, with limited visibility adding to the ominous look of this more rural environment.. Adding to the mood, my cousin started explaining what to do when lost in a sandstorm – an experience he’d had during the first Gulf War near enemy territory, after stepping out of, and subsequently being able to then re-find, an armored vehicle just as one of these things had kicked off.
Fortunately our route took a sharp left, at which point the sand was blowing with us, instead of across our path. The difference was instantaneous, opening up the view as we continued our route through the Mojave Valley. A small group of SUV’s had been in front of us, and turned in unison to join a car on the side of the road, sitting rather low to the ground. As we went past, I realized it was nose down into……sand, and the officer’s words drifted back to me. There was a verge, however we needed to avoid it like the plague as it was nothing more than deep, soft sand…like the beach.
Glad we’d worked that one out; it was time to focus on directions and our next hazard; tumbleweeds. These are not just a product of western films and depression era memories; they are alive and well, bouncing in the wind all through the more open parts of Arizona. Sizes range from football to VW Beetle, and there is no point trying to avoid them – sheer number and speed makes it impossible and you’ll end up in more trouble very quickly if you try. Running with the tumbleweeds eventually bought us to Oatman, an old mining town that relies on tourist traffic from Route 66 that runs through it, to keep what seems to be a rather tenuous life support system going. The main attraction of the place is free-roaming burros, that have been living for the past 70 years, since the last miners moved on. They are rather like sacred cows in India – you can’t move them, unless they want to be moved, and they have total free reign of the place.
It was strange to find ourselves on Route 66, once the primary road across the country and now suffering from neglect due to the arrival of interstate highways. The road was magnificent, but trying to imagine it as a viable route at night, with no lights and the endless curves and twists to contend with, was more than a little daunting.
After lunch, I had one of my magic Copperstate 2013 moments. Pulling out of the car park behind the GT40, they decided to head for petrol whilst we turned back to the afternoon route. Within 5 minutes the car appeared in my rearview mirror and for a couple of truly glorious miles, the combination of traffic and road conditions kept him there. Inevitably my luck would have to run out in this particular instance, and sure enough the beast roared past us as soon as an opening allowed. Happily we waved as the car disappeared into the distance, because even a few seconds in front is tale worth telling!
The rest of our day took us onwards to Sedona; and as the altitude increased, so did the weather. Our sandstorm had been replaced with glorious sunshine, only to then change again to rain and finally sleet & snow. Following a Cobra up through the mountains, we were grateful for the all weather tyres and weight of the rear engine. Although the Cobra was maintaining a reasonable speed, they couldn’t avoid an occasional slight fishtail, which looked more than a little intimidating from our vantage point.
Our route included another town called Jerome, which again owed its success to mining. In complete contrast to Oatman, this is a place that has continued to thrive and develop its identity despite the changes. Perched high on a mountainside, it resembles a European town in both architectural design of buildings as well as the road that takes one through it. Small, windy and steep, all it needed was three small Minis and Michael Caine to complete the experience….
From there, the route into Sedona was spectacular. Glorious curves, framed by the unmistakable red rocks. Although the light was a soft, wet grey it was impossible not to be mesmerized by these extraordinary formations. Geological time makes all other seem so inconsequential, and this area is a perfect example of the monumental changes that come with it. By the time we reached our final destination, the sleet had turned back to a lighter rain, and the shared stories of mountain climbs and descents became enjoyable memories over evening cocktails.
A great Copperstate day….and on to the next one!
Monday morning, quick update. Rumours of possible rain and snow conditions were heard in casino corners last night; which adds to the thrill of the event.
We’ll be heading to Sedona this morning, and the possibility of presenting my California car with real English weather is exciting. This may seem to be an oxymoron, as she has languished in the sunshine for so many years, but don’t forget that under that bonnet (really that should read “boot” as it’s rear engined) there beats the heart of a true European. You can’t sped through mountain passes or tear around race tracks over there if you’re not prepared to switch on the windscreen wipers now and again
I realise that my anticipation may not be shared with all parties – there are a number of convertibles on the event, including a Lotus Seven that seems to have two speeds (stationary or very, very fast) – but, if we were looking for a more docile driving experience, this is not what any of us would have signed on to.
Off for now, as the coffee beckons!
Sunday morning – up relatively early, and reasonably bright. The mechanical cousin is fascinated by the concept of daily sun this early in the year (he lives in England, remember), so headed for the pool for a pre-breakfast swim. Once organized, we headed down to the stadium for breakfast, driver’s meeting, last minute windscreen polish, photo opportunity and eventual cry of “ladies & gentlemen, start your engines!!!”
America holds a number of things dear, including sport. So I feel it’s important at this point to take a slight detour and reassure any readers that, despite the photographic evidence they may see to the contrary, no baseball fields are injured in pursuit of automotive enjoyment. The cars are indeed set up around the outfield, but we reverse very slowly onto the running track before exiting at a sedate pace; promise!
We had enough time to check out the car park (always worth a wander at these kind of events), and sure enough; there were a number of local vintage car owners who had come in their own fabulous vehicles to wave us all off. My personal favourite was the Triumph owners club, as they consisted mostly of T2’s & T4’s; both models that are quite rare over here.
Morning route, Phoenix to Salome. Initially reminiscent of our first day last year, we started out on the freeway and watched a number of the big cars cruise past us thanks to their more powerful engines. Despite her lack of horsepower, The Egg was unfazed and soon found a happy rythmn that still kept us moving at a more than acceptable pace. Once we reached Wickenburg, it started to feel as is the open roads were beckoning. Less traffic, smaller roads and a greater variety of desert scenery began to appear. More noticeable, was the change in that scenery, as it seemed that with every twenty miles we passed another colour or variety in the rock formations. For a relatively small state, AZ really is beautiful…and, with the sign we spotted as we drove through the town called Hope, clearly with a sense of humour ; about some things at least.
Lunchstop at Buckaroos in Salome and, although we’d passed a number of cars that seemed to be having problems, the overall number of running vehicles was still in the 95%. The Egg had certainly found her stride – oil pressure consistent, as was the temperature – and I think she rather begrudged us opting for food and a rest stop over the option to just keep driving.
Phase two – Salome to Laughlin. By the time we reached our final destination this evening, we’d travelled through three states (Arizona, California and Nevada) and seemed to have experienced at least as many ecosystems. No matter what the terrain, The Egg maintained her equilibrium. Better still; when my mechanical cousin took the wheel, he remembered which side of the road to drive on, even when we had it to ourselves!!
From Parker to Needles we enjoyed great stretches of undulating roads, gentle curves, perfect temperatures (nothing more than mid 80’s) and vast desert scenery. America is a big country, and one I would love to see much more of. Best news, if today is anything to go by, so would The Egg!
We came into Laughlin in the late afternoon, hitting the last stretch with a number of other cars. The combined sound of our engines as we all pulled into the car park really was an impromptu symphony; that seemed to be appreciated by the other hotel guests.
As we all compared stories, most were positive; and even those who hadn’t been too lucky still seemed to be smiling (an unavoidable side effect of this event). Most unfortunate award of the day went to a couple in their Allard. Cruising happily at 80mph, they encountered a vortex created by a large semi coming towards them. The leather straps on the hood were no match and unable to stop it from being ripped off by the wind. Fortunately both passengers were wearing helmets, which kissed the hood as it sailed over them to land on the road behind. Remarkably unaffected by the entire experience, the driver kept calm and in control – able to bring the car back to the end point and hopefully able to join us for the rest of the trip.
Yet another sunny day in California as the mechanical cousin and I set off to Burbank Airport. One quick hop, skip and jump later thanks to the ever-happy Southwest crew and we arrived in Phoenix, ready to finally start our really big adventure.
Arriving at Tempe stadium, we found The Egg already placed on the field, sitting proudly between a Citroen SM & Lotus Seven. The number of entrants this year is considerably higher, and includes another broad collection of automotive highlights. We wandered the field, taking in some unique and unusual combinations of marques, curves and pedigrees. If automotive porn exists, we’d certainly stumbled on it.
This year’s rally number is 64. Not what I’d initially expected, but an excellent vintage and in retrospect a perfect selection…our new (get) lucky number. We signed in, asked a very nice man to apply number and name decals, and proceeded to meet some of the other entrants. For me, it was a fun reunion with a few people I met last year, as well as a combination of excited first timers and returning attendees. Without question, there is a school reunion vibe about this event…but of the best kind. We were all in the same class, with the same kooky interests; and are happy to share those same aspects again even though we’re all considerably older!
Cocktails and dinner at the Phoenix art museum, with a chance to explore their latest exhibits. It’s a relatively new museum, only opened in the mid sixties – but they have an impressive collection of contemporary art; definitely worth visiting if you find yourself in the city.
Monday morning, and off to the Egg Doctor. His face as the engine sputtered and choked told me more than I needed to know…..Houston, we have a problem. With enough understatement to qualify for English status, he stared accusingly at the offending sparkplug and reassured an update as soon as possible. Meanwhile, somewhere in Northern California; my mechanical cousin remained blissfully unaware of the current state of our pre-rally preparation….a situation I did not relish having to change!
Monday turned to Tuesday, and my usual wake-up alarm was replaced with a call from the doctor. Good news, the machinist had been available, and was already working on…something. Not so good news, when your automotive GP is using terms that resemble a mechanical surgeon, things are looking down, way down. He asked when the car was scheduled for collection, and I couldn’t help noticing the slightly longer than hoped for pause when I answered, “Thursday”. Another reassurance of an update when he had one…and all I could do was head off to the office, and consider at least a Plan B, if not a Plan C.
By lunchtime, I’d worked out that if more time was needed to eggmend, we could resort to an alternative option – drive out to Palm Springs on Friday evening, find a Motel 6 and then head onto AZ early the next morning. Not a completely awful plan; it just meant ensuring everything important (Maximus to Cat Camp) was sorted out a day ahead of schedule. From there, my Plan C became a little more vague, as vintage cars do not grow on trees, and I really wasn’t sure how easy it would be to disguise my SpaceCar as a ’64 Porsche without anyone noticing. Adding to the air of general concern was my cousin’s now imminent arrival at Burbank airport later in the afternoon.
Just as the clock struck 12:30, the Egg Doctor called. His patient had not only left the operating table, she was completely cured and ready for pick-up!! Once I arrived, he showed me a few offending articles – snapped o-rings, valves imitating a trumpet judging by the differences in their locations, rubber seals clearly past their prime – it was one big unhappy family of parts. All of which made me realise, the one extremely bright light at the end of this particular tunnel was the situation occurring BEFORE I left CA, rather than AFTER arriving in AZ. Doc then handed me the keys and kindly told me not to call again any time soon! A request, I had every intention of keeping.
Into the driver’s seat, turn the key….and she sounds AH-MAY-ZING. Doc had assured me the Egg was now bulletproof, and listening to her idling, I absolutely believe him. The level of the engine lower, but the overall sound sweeter. Pick-up noticeably improved, revs better…..it may be an oxymoron for something almost 50 years old, but she seemed to be a brand new car!
Mechanical cousin arrived on schedule, and I shared the excitement with him over an obligatory cup of tea. The panic already replaced with a sense of real Copperstate Adventure, he seconded my enthusiasm that the situation was really nothing more than making both of us feel a little more rally-ready!
Easter Sunday, a perfect day to get some more miles under the Egg’s belt before next weekend. We pootled off towards Fallbrook, planning to make it up to Santa Paula and maybe even Ojai for a late lunch. The temperature was perfect, warm and slightly overcast, and taking the backroads allowed us to watch the nightmare of I-5 rather than experience it. All was good in Eggland.
And then it wasn’t. I became aware of pops, bangs and a sound that can only be described as high speed blender coming from the engine. Pulling over in somewhere called Newhall, I opened the boot and surveyed the scene. All constituent parts of the engine seemed intact, no huge sprays of oil & nothing burning. However, where there should have been a lead disappearing into the valves, I spotted a sparkplug. Not a good sign.
One Triple A call later….and at this point I have to stop and give them a quick thank you; the service is great, it’s especially great for women. Whenever I’ve needed roadside assistance, the average time has been no more than 15 minutes, and whoever they sent has been knowledgeable, helpful and really pleasant. Breaking down (especially alone, which is my usual experience) is one of those moments where it’s all too easy to feel very vulnerable. I can maintain bravado for up to 20 minutes, and really appreciate that Triple A has never pushed me to try and extend that record….as I was saying; one AAA call later, the Egg was on a flatbed, and I was chatting to the mechanic who would very kindly take us home.
I’ve never professed to be very mechanical. I understand the basic premise of combustion, having spent many hours watching vintage cars and bikes being restored or worked on. Seeing an engine, whether it’s a motorcycle or car, completely stripped down to component parts certainly helps with general understanding…and one thing I’ve learnt is sparkplugs out of their holes when the engine has been running, is not a completely positive sign.
Once back at home, feeling a little distraught, I chatted with a very understanding and more mechanically minded friend, who then kindly sent links to various forums and help pages about Porsche 356 plug removal, replacement and problems. It quickly became clear that I shouldn’t feel too bad about my inability to work out where the plug belonged, as its apparently one of the less elegant design aspects of this car; and keeping them secure is a more complex problem than I realised. His instinct that the helicoil may be at least part of the dilemma was borne out this morning, when the Egg doctor removed it from the offending plug.
So, now we wait for the full diagnosis….the clock is ticking, my bags are more than half packed and I’m doing the most extreme version of the Happy Egg dance I can come up with to ensure we make it to the starting grid on time.