This is usually the time of year when I come out of blog-hibernation. Girding my writing loins for the inevitably too few posts I’ll manage, thanks to Copperstate euphoria. Lists are made, mechanic contacted, excitement barely contained, plans finalized etc. etc. However, 2018 promises to be a year of change, thanks to unexpected family circumstances…….
Last year’s vehicular shenanigans resulted in the decision my navigationally challenged cousin would take over all organizational activities for 2018’s entry (optimism is my middle name, clearly). After all, as the Jensen was on track to be finished well in advance, it seemed the most sensible plan. Application time arrived, so I dutifully forwarded the information his way, with a few of those heart-y things to make the handover less formal. Time ticked ever onward, and as the end of 2017 became imminent, I chucked a couple of emails his way to confirm he had all information needed.
The response was muted, to say the least. Actually, the response was non-existent, but England is eight hours ahead of us, and they do like to celebrate Christmas and New Year in a far more exuberant fashion; so I assumed he was recovering from an overdose of Christmas pudding or stuck in a badly fitting, ugly Xmas sweater – rendering it impossible for any keyboard reply action.
I waited until the early days of 2018 and ventured once more with a simple question about the actual state of Orangina (not as pretty as Oregon, lacking in beaches), and less than 24 hours later, an email appeared. Short & sweet, rather like cousin dearest, he laid out a few minor concerns about the car actually reaching it’s first being finished line, and then immediately launched into the real issue.
“We’re expecting 12 lambs this April”.
Suddenly the picture of lederhosen he’d sent last year, and I immediately shared with all of you, made perfect sense. It wasn’t so much of a cultural exchange or appreciation moment, I’d been given the early warning signs of his somewhat existential midlife crisis.
Harry has become a shepherd.
Now, he’s not completely alone in this kind of left field decision – after all, you can have your shoes repaired by Daniel Day Lewis when he’s not winning Oscars, or possibly find out Bruce Dickinson is the pilot for your next package holiday…but I had never pegged dear cuz to have such an alternative streak.
Once I’d wrapped my head around the image of him in a flat cap, whistling off key to a dog called Shep; rather than squeezed into skinny jeans, trying to grow an Oasis ‘do’ to capture his inner child whilst embracing Kale on everything I realized that no Copperstate this year equaled the opportunity to find as many alternative events as possible!
There really is no downside, dear reader. The back end of 2017 included an excellent adventure known as Targa California, followed by the totally insane SoCal TT. Best news of all, I was joined by a REAL navigator. My dear friend Kelly, is both a huge car enthusiast and can tell her left from right…it’s an extraordinary experience. If we found ourselves slightly confused by the directions, it was clearly author error as inevitably we’d be surrounded by a number of other entrants also trying to work out if its not too late to try navigation by constellation.
So, to whet your blog reading appetite, we will be Driving While Awesome in February, exploring the Central Coast of Cali with a bunch of excellent reprobates in April and hopefully back on the list for both Targa and SoCal TT later this year…..stayed tuned!
Creeping ever closer to our deadline; we reached mid-March with the TR6 lurching ever forward in much the same way I imagine 1960’s advertising executives walked, following yet another boozy lunch. Apparent progress but no real sense of the final destination in terms of time or location.
Meanwhile, in my corner of the world, rally back-up plans were being wrapped up. The Egg returned from her doctor with a clean bill of health and re-balanced wheels. We’d also begun the conversation about future improvements to consider – replacing the Fuchs wheels with something as interesting to look at, but lighter in weight and better in performance, and the reality of fifty-one-year-old metal bodywork. She still looks great, but much like her owner, needs a more comprehensive ‘skincare’ routine these days. For the Egg, I’m looking at moving ahead with at least a partial restoration come 2018. For myself? A similar plan seems more and more likely with each year that goes by!
Cousin Harry continued to insist that all would be well and yet seemed to be doing little else than directing the rest of us to complete various tasks…..a situation I realized was completely and utterly of my own making. After all, until now his only job was to show up, look pretty and try not to fall asleep before we made it out of the stadium car park. Everything else had been taken care of, with almost military precision, by yours truly; the family Rally Fairy. The wings are clearly optional, but the ability to sprinkle my fairy dust has become second nature over the past 5 Copperstate years. I reminded him we still had Plan B waiting in the wings, should she be needed; but my suggestion we ship The Egg over to AZ, just in case, was rejected outright with no chance of renegotiation.
So, I opted for a slightly different tactic and made sure to send reminder emails and texts every couple of days until we reached last Friday, and the collective sigh of relief could happen. Boxes ticked, mechanical updates finished, paperwork completed and submitted; all signs are hopefully go.
Early on, during one of his super-enthusiastic phases about the TR6, we’d had a discussion about goggles, and how we probably needed matching pairs. However, I require prescription lenses and the options he’d found seemed to have more in common with a swimming pool than automobile. Instead, I decided to tread a somewhat different sartorial path, and can report with confidence that I’m going to look fabulous, even on the back of a tow-truck. Cream coloured Davida Helmet, vintage style mirrored (prescription) sun-glasses, my fabulous driving gloves and scarf thanks to the team at Autodromo. I may be missing the Egg this year, but I’ll be representing her in style!!
And so, with two days left before I fly to Phoenix, I’m happy to report I’m really looking forward to this year’s event. I’ve made a couple of appropriate offerings to the rally gods in the hope they’ll smile kindly on dear cousin Harry’s endevour. The Copperstate app has been updated (available for free download on either iPhone or Android), and we have another collection of spectacular cars and fantastic people to explore the back roads of Arizona, with. There will be photos, hopefully a few blog posts and the guarantee of some really wonderful memories, again!
Two weeks and counting to Copperstate 2017, and this year’s rally feels less like a well-oiled machine and more like a re-enactment of the Titanic. To say the last few weeks have been interesting, would be a perfect example of English understatement; and to be fair, dear reader, will make little sense if I don’t turn the clock back to 2015.
Two years ago, this particular Copperstate lunch was supposed to be nothing more than very tasty and rather uneventful, somewhere in the backwaters of Northern Arizona. I was enjoying varied conversation with fantastic gearheads, whilst my navigationally challenged cousin was being introduced to the joys of technology and the infamous Bring A Trailer website.
And then it happened…. before I could even reach over to pick up the milk for my coffee, said relative had reached into his pocket, found and dialed a phone number and announced triumphantly to some random person at the end of his phone, “well, I think we have a deal!”. The entire table went quiet as we all turned to look at the deliverer of this pronouncement, and my heart missed a beat.Instead of the usually mild mannered face I’ve become used to seeing asleep in the passenger seat, I was presented with the classic symptoms of ‘Buy Now, Think Later’. Slightly myopic grin, mixed with the unmistakable red mist in the eyes that only comes from that first-time adrenaline rush of successfully bidding, sight unseen, on something one REALLY doesn’t need.
I frantically looked at the rest of our table, hoping I was wrong; but their combined expressions of abject horror confirmed my greatest fear. A long, uncomfortable pause followed by closing and re-opening my eyes didn’t produce better results. Nothing else for it, but be strong and look at the iPad to answer the question I did not want to ask. I gripped the table, glanced down, and there, staring defiantly back at me, in all its rumpled, orange glory, was the culprit. One decidedly aging, non-running Jensen Interceptor Mark II.
Having finally snapped out of his dubious purchase love-bubble, H immediately sprang into action; explaining we must leave immediately, so he could complete the transaction. Clearly this item was far more popular than I realized, if there was an actual possibility it would be snapped up by another equally optimistic individual before we could complete the rest of our day. So, as our rally buddies headed for Jerome to experience my favorite section of road in the entire state, we drove through a collection of no-horse towns to find something that resembled a real bank, rather than just ATM’s in liquor stores.
By the time we returned to base that evening (having probably covered more miles that day than most would be enjoying all week), said transaction was complete and Harry had the entire plan mapped out…. ending in our return in 2016 & the great unveiling of his new acquisition (it even included balloons and a marching band).
The only upside I could see, was insisting we show up in period costume. 1971 will never be remembered as a high spot for men’s fashion, but the idea of seeing him in polyester slacks and stick-on mutton chop side burns, as I insisted we listen to the Greatest Hits of The Osmonds on 8-Track, was quietly appealing.
So, why are we now desperately trying to find a lifeboat before the iceberg reaches us? After all, as Harry pointed out, he (translation we, or more likely, me) had a year to complete the task of Jensen resurrection & that date was reached 12 months ago.
Because, as everyone knows…you take the time expected for said project, double it, add the age of your first pet hamster at its sad demise and maybe, if you’re lucky….really lucky……
Fast forward to 2016 Copperstate and the Trusty Egg performed in all her bulletproof glory. The subject of the Jensen a regular discussion over breakfast, lunch & dinner; with a combination of commiseration “aah, English electrics, what could possibly go right?”, confusion “wouldn’t it have been cheaper to buy one already finished?” or fascination “he lives in England and decided to buy a car in America, but not ship it home?”. Harry added to the excitement by buying a gas barbecue in Phoenix and then taking it, boxed,on the entire rally, leading to the mistaken four-day assumption we had the final piece to complete the car, and it was only a matter of hours before Orangina would appear.
And so, moving swiftly along, we come to Copperstate 2017. More than reasonable progress has been made with the Jensen, but my practical nature ensured the smart money was on my application going in with The Egg as car number one, and Orangina as the back-up. Lady Luck decided to smile again, and confirmation arrived in early February that we’d made the cut once more. As this event continues to grow in popularity, and receives unanimous praise whenever featured in articles, I consider our repeat inclusion to be a real compliment. And so, Egg preparation began in earnest.
Opportunities to get out and drive included a fantastic run with the LA Porsche Club last month, that took us up to Ventura and back down to Malibu for an early morning boost, and ensured we easily crossed the threshold of ‘300 miles in 3 months’ requirement. A comprehensive list of possible issues to be checked by the Egg Doctor was made before booking her in for the mechanical inspection, as well as the decision to switch out tyres this year to the Classic Porsche range from Pirelli (reviews are extremely favorable, and they look great!!)
All was good in my world. Enough time to balance a hectic work schedule without additional stress, all signs pointing to go with the car. What could possibly go wrong? Until an email arrived; containing one seemingly innocuous question….
Tune in next week for the next episode 😉
Our morning started fresh but overcast, as late spring clouds rolled slowly across the sky. Waiting for The Egg to warm fully before heading off, we were greeted with a sight that exemplifies the eccentric charm of Copperstate. The throaty snarl of a 1951 Cunningham C2 racecar (and 2015 Pebble Beach
winner), whose provenance includes Le Mans and Mulsanne, accompanied by the rainbow coloured sombrero and perfectly tuned maracas, modeled as a perfect driving ensemble by one of my favourite co-drivers. Other car rallies may offer more exclusive settings (Mille Miglia) or limited attendance (Race to the Sun), but none of them can beat the wonderful camaraderie and gentle eccentricity Copperstate inspires!
Today’s journey would take us south again, finishing outside the city of Tucson. The route included a stretch of road I implore anyone reading this, to consider. Fifty plus miles of sweeping bends and glorious vistas known as Lake Mary Road. The combination of tall ponderosa pines, and wind etched sandstone with dramatic cloudscapes as a backdrop, made me half expect to see Heathcliffe’s swarthy cousin ride across on our horizon. It may be April, but the colours and temperature could be mistaken for an early Autumn day.
Cars this year are, as ever, a fabulous selection of familiar and unusual. Everyone a winner, but we had the chance to watch, see, chase and be chased by some real stunners on this section. One of our younger applicants this year is an electric blue 1973 Lancia Stratos, which the owner affectionately describes as ‘barking mad’. Briefly spotted in the rear view mirror, Harry desperately tried to find, point and shoot his camera before the blue peril disappeared out of sight around the next bend.
Top of the list for me, this year, a 1968 Iso Rivolta, painted fly yellow. Gorgeous to look at in the car park, but seeing this perfect shock of colour winding along the road, interspersed against the red sandstone rocks and lush green base of a long dry lake, was breath taking. History for the marquee is almost as interesting as the vehicle’s look. Renzo Rivolta was known for building fridges before WWII and expanded (or maybe that should be shrunk) into the iconic Isetta bubble car. Wanting to add a Grand Tourer to the portfolio, he smartly took the best aspects of various international components – American muscle in the Chevy small and big block engines, timeless elegance of Italian design by Giorgetto Giugiaro and French suspension from De Dion. This model’s provenance is particularly noteworthy as it was owned by a Dutch real estate mogul who was not only kidnapped, but negotiated his own $4M ransom payment!
Our route continued through a selection of little towns, including the affectionately named Strawberry, famous for being home to the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona.
Lunch stop by the Roosevelt Lake, and a chance to compare adoration for the morning run before heading on to our afternoon. The roads continued to offer a glorious combination of twisties, sweeping bends and gorgeous vistas across lush high desert. Recommended gas stop in Mammoth, which unlike its California cousin is small and has no sign of any skiing in the vicinity. The afternoon is usually my time to navigate ( as it’s the only way I’ve found to stop dear cousin from taking an afternoon nap) so we were actually running ahead of schedule and able to take a quick detour to check out Biosphere Two before reaching Monday night’s rest stop. Unfortunately our timing was not good enough to manage a tour, but the information centre provided enough fascinating detail to ensure we’ll be back!
95 cars filled the Tempe stadium by early Friday evening. Another great selection, with a few wonderfully idiosyncratic inclusions to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Copperstate 1000. As we caught up with friends, and watched the sun go down across third base, the general consensus was this could only be another fantastic event.
An early start today, thanks in equal part to excitement and sun creeping through window blinds I’d forgotten to close properly. The stadium car park was equally full of interesting cars, as this event has become a great reason for all the local gear heads and enthusiasts to bring their own vehicles out for inspection. Hot rods, muscle cars, genteel vintage and tricked out modern all played happily together as mutual appreciation conversations surrounded them.
At midday, we had the first drivers meeting; and within 30 minutes all engines were running & cars began their slow procession towards the starting flags. Although the run was shorter than usual, the organizers ensured that what we lacked in mileage would be more then made up for in variety of scenery & ideal highways.
Within ten minutes we were heading away from Phoenix and out towards long sweeping bends that would take us into the Ponderosa. The Egg was more than happy to keep up with her larger engined companions, however our joint enthusiasm was slightly dampened as I noticed the temperature gauge needle climbing a little too close to the redline for comfort. As she runs so smoothly now, it’s become almost impossible to remember that she’s a middle aged lady, and there’s always a little more acceleration available it seems! However, dropping back to a slower speed, and letting her coast down the hills as we enjoyed the quickly changing scenery soon resolved the problem. Unfortunately not everyone was quite so lucky, and we saluted a few other vehicles on the side of the road as we cruised along.
I continue to be surprised by how quickly the environment changes in this small state, and today’s journey was no exception. Sandstone oranges and reds soon replaced with gorgeous shades of green and purple as we headed to higher altitudes, and through little towns like Peyson & Strawberry. This was ranch land, as proven by some really impressive log cabins, and long dirt roads that seemed to lead nowhere!
Playing chase and be chased by a variety of other entrants, we both agreed the high spot of the journey was sitting behind a 1932 Lincoln Boattail speedster. The car was immaculate, with gorgeous sweeping lines that shouted Art Deco at the top of their lungs. Chatting with the owner later in the afternoon, I discovered that the coachwork was new and had been done in the style of two renowned american custom builders, Hibbard and Darrin, who worked in Paris in the late 20’s and early 30’s. Not only was the restoration stylistically correct, all materials used were correct for the period. It really is a piece of industrial art.
As the temperature continued to slowly drop, The Egg’s mood was unmistakably exuberant. This is her type of driving conditions, and we were rewarded with smooth handling at every corner and a final bug count on the bonnet, that easily ran into triple digits.
By the time we arrived at our final destination in Flagstaff, it was a case of follow the sunlight to ensure the remaining not so warm temperatures could be appreciated. Swapping stories, I was given a simple but worthwhile tip regarding engine temperature. If you’re concerned, rather than reading the gauge, stop and see how long you can hold the dipstick. More than 3 seconds, nothing to worry about. Hopefully I won’t need to test the theory tomorrow, but it’s good to know!
It’s an overcast day here in Los Angeles, which seems sadly fitting. In the early hours of this morning, we lost a quiet gentleman, and I can’t help feeling the sun has chosen not to shine as a mark of respect.
Drino Miller was born in 1941. A Los Angeles native, who ventured up to Monterey in Northern California for Junior College at a time when the area was known for its rural charm rather than a valley of silicon. His fascination with engines appeared at an early age; purchasing his first car before the age of eleven, determined to understand how it worked. This passing phase never completely disappeared; and by the time he reached his late teens, Drino was exploring the South Pacific with his brother, following a year spent in Tahiti working on a not so large yacht they intended to sail back to California.
Returning back to Newport Beach, Drino continued to work with boats until he decided it was time to finish school.
A remarkably clever man, who never forced his opinions on others. Drino was well-read & well-traveled, with a wealth of knowledge and information. His educational background reflecting all of those attributes as he first studied Political Science at UCLA, and once he’d graduated then turned to Law School. Despite his intellectual interests, he combined his love of vehicles and travelling whenever possible; exploring such areas as Baja when there was a break in the educational action. The terrain was grueling and regarded as motorcycle, rather than car friendly. However, in 1967, the off-road racer Ed Pearlman invited Drino to join him in the attempt to set a new speed record through Baja. Although the plan to beat any records was thwarted, their experience set wheels in motion for what was to become the Baja 1000.
Drino’s involvement with Pearlman led to a meeting with Vic Hickey; a designer at GM who was to become synonymous with such iconic vehicles as the Chevy Blazer and Humvee. This was 1967 however, and Hickey in the early stages of developing his future. He offered Drino a job, to join the GM team as they started development of the first purpose built off-road racing vehicle. A temporary blip on the horizon, when General Motors decided not to move forward with the project – however Hickey managed to obtain private funding and immediately called Drino to rejoin his team. The result of their partnership was to become known as the infamous Baja Boot.
Drino’s involvement with this new approach to off-roading sparked more of his own ideas for designs, and was to be the beginning of a remarkable career. He also met world class motorcycle racer, Bud Ekins; and the two men enjoyed a friendship that lasted until we watch Bud ride off into the sunset in 2007.
Drino was an engineer, an enthusiast and a racer. That combination ensured he both continued his development, and tested his theories off-road. By 1970’s he not only entered the Baja 1000, but earned overall victories in that race as well as Baja 500 and Mint 400. This passion for success expanded into his own business, Miller-Havens Enterprises. Working with another engineer, Stanford Haven; they specialized in engine, transmission and conversion kits for Baja Bugs (the Boot being a based on the VW Beetle). Their idea was clearly successful, as it spawned a number of other companies offering similar kits for other cars. The off-road market has continued to grow and develop, without question owing a great deal of thanks to Drino’s early imagination and determination.
In less than a decade, Drino’s business & expertise had expanded to include sports cars and midgets; as he worked towards his plan to build Indy Cars. By the mid 80’s, it became apparent to his peers that Drino had as much talent with people as vehicles; and based on his success at Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 he was invited by Andial, the high performance Porsche tuners, to join their sports car program. From Germany to Japan, joining the team at Toyota to manage their TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Program. Here, Drino joined forces with Dan Gurney; supporting his race wins in the four main categories of motorsports – Grand Prix, Indy, NASCAR & Sports Car.
Leaving Toyota in 1996, Drino focused his attention back towards motorcycles, working with ProCircuit to develop engine parts, and support a number of successful riders. It also gave him more time to enjoy the other aspects of his life – exploring Europe with his wife, Lisa; heading over to Ireland with Bud to explore the delights of the Irish Rally, racing in a more gentlemanly style.
So, why am I sharing this story with you? Because Drino was always so humble about his experiences, knowledge and success; and because I was lucky enough to consider him a friend. Sadly, the more recent times we spent together were overshadowed with his illness; but both he and Lisa shared enthusiasm and support for my small attempts to contribute to automotive history with the Egg. Hanging with Drino and Bud, listening to them recount their stories and adventures? Truly special memories indeed.
DRINO MILLER July 30, 1941 – March 4, 2014
Wednesday arrived, and with it the final leg of the 1000 miles of this year’s Copperstate. We had almost made it out of the hotel car park before the mechanical cousin realized he’d left his cell phone happily charging in the breakfast room. Fortunately I have excellent turning and reversing skills, so we returned, retrieved…and headed off again.
Through Sedona, only to be met with extremely bad traffic. Living in LA, this is not an unusual experience; unfortunately we soon discovered the cause was not regular congestion, but an accident involving one of the Copperstate Highway Patrol. All emergency services had come out to help one of their own, a reassuring but still worrying sight. We later discovered what had happened – turning into a forecourt to check on another entrant, the Patrol officer was hit by a driver who decided to pull straight into traffic without stopping to look first. There was no time to take any avoiding action, and serious injuries were sustained. A situation I’ll revisit later.
Our ultimate destination was Scottsdale, and the morning route took us out to and through Prescott, and with it more stunning scenery, charming old towns and happy waving people as we drove through. The weather couldn’t have been better if we’d special ordered it. Moderate temperatures meant the Egg’s “two windows down” air conditioner was all we needed, as we meandered along small single track roads with only other Copperstaters for company. It was difficult to believe we’d already covered almost 800 miles in a 49 year old car, she was literally singing like Maria as we cornered every bend; and everything about the performance continued to improve the further we drove. We kept pushing the distance between gas stops, for no other reason than she was running more and more efficiently; maintaining a speed of anything from 65 – 80 mph was simple, because that’s where the car wanted to be. “She’ll be bulletproof”, the Egg Doctor told me, and he was absolutely correct!
The last stretch of the morning took us up and down and through switchbacks coming into Bagdad. As this section had been included last year, I was delighted to see it again, and just as happy to let my mechanical cousin drive, and enjoy watching him enjoy the experience. He smiles a great deal anyway, but by the time we reached our lunch spot, I was sharing the car with a human equivalent of the Cheshire Cat. Good times.
There are some great cars, and some really great drivers on this event. One of which was a professional Porsche racing instructor/racer; who very generously offered to let Harry ride shotgun for the afternoon in his exquisite Jaguar XK150 OTS. The remainder of the route was easy enough for me to navigate and drive, so I reassured him that I’d be fine. He left, I continued chatting with friends…but there was just something that didn’t feel quite right. Sipping coffee, I replayed the late morning….switchbacks, happy cousin, pull into car park, get out of passenger seat…happy cousin locks car and we walk into restaurant…happy cousin has my car keys. Happy cousin has gone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In less time than it takes to shout “get out of my way”; I left my seat, sprinted (much to my amazement, had absolutely no idea I could move that fast) and found the Jag literally about to disappear into the wild blue yonder. One “oops” later from the family member, before they disappeared in a roar of engine, and normal service was resumed.
The final leg from Bagdad to Scottsdale was a great combination of open scenery that stretched for low desert miles in either direction, with occasional bursts of small towns. At one point it was just me and the Egg, cruising happily along a route that was so quiet, I wondered if maybe I’d accidentally taken a wrong turning and stumbled into somewhere the world had forgotten about. Time has a different meaning in this situation. No radio, no need or desire to be glued to some electronic device, a watch that I inevitably forget to wind most mornings…all I could do was just enjoy the moment and the environment. Through Wickenberg, every speed limit was fastidiously observed – as the local constabulary had politely alerted us that any decision not to do that would be dealt with appropriately. The Copperstate isn’t a race, it’s a rally – but when you’re presented with perfect driving conditions, and long inviting roads, it’s easy to forget that there are limits we’re expected to maintain!
One final section before reaching the outskirts of Scottsdale included another change of scenery; driving through Peoria and the tall pines were back. A few miles that reminded me again of Europe, before coming back into the early afternoon heat and sunshine that everyone associates with AZ. I pulled into the car park, and was quickly amused to discover that I’d beaten the XK150….which explained the stationary flash of red I’d spotted on the way out of Wickenberg!! My tortoise to their hare, clearly benefitting from the classic F1 move of the when to fuel. How often it all comes down to time spent (or not) in the pits 🙂
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.
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!