I have road trips and the Americruise on my mind this month. So when I got an e-mail from Gary DeFer (which isn't so uncommon) telling me how much he likes when one of his old cars breaks down while he's driving, I thought I'd pass it on.
I enjoy breaking down. Yes, I know that's an unfathomable statement to some ears, but it's true. It's only true, though, when I'm in an old car. I really don't look forward to them, but I've never had a breakdown in an old car that didn't turn out to be the highlight of the trip. My friends and I seem to break down fairly regularly because of the type of old cars we drive. I build and mostly hang out with people who build and drive nostalgia rods (you know, "birds of a feather"). I try to use only parts that builders in the '50s would have. I've heard stories of people who don't drive their old cars because of their fear of breakdowns, but they don't know what they are missing.
On the return trip from Bonneville in 2004, I was driving my Mustang-powered, steel-bodied T-bucket (a '50 Cad engine with four chrome 97s has now replaced the too-reliable small-block Ford) and my friend Jay was driving his dual-carb Flathead-powered '29 A roadster. And guess what! A Stromberg 97 started puking fuel. We pulled off I-80 in greater downtown Lovelock, Nevada, which was pretty much shut down on Sunday except for the McDonald's. We drove into the dirt lot behind it and started taking the offending carburetor apart. All of a sudden a big rig with an enclosed trailer attached pulled in behind us. Out jumped this rather short, stocky, full-of-energy guy asking if he could be of any help. It turns out it was Ricky Ruiz, the "Nevada Rattlesnake," returning from a race towing his AA/nitro-burning Fuel Altered in the fully equipped trailer. After he introduced himself, he told us his trailer full of tools was at our disposal and asked if we minded him helping. When Jay gave the go-ahead, Ricky proceeded to dive in, dismantle the 97, clean everything with carb cleaner, and help put it back together. After that, he gave us T-shirts and posters and graciously refused when Jay offered to pay him for his help. The breakdown might have been the highlight of the trip-it's certainly what I remember the most!
I could go on about the owner of a Goodyear tire dealership that stayed open late until he found an inner tube that would work to replace the one with the broken valve stem on the front of my roadster, but I'll save that for another time.