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.
The only way we can thank these people enough is to be the next guy who stops and helps fix a cool old car stuck along the interstate.
I couldn't agree more with Gary, although there's something to be said for trouble-free trips. Many a lunchtime conversation while out with the R&C staff and the guys over at Street Rodder has turned toward road trip adventures. The most interesting and memorable always have something to do with breaking down in a small town and the help from strangers that come with it.
At this time, we're still putting the details together for the driving tours to the Americruise event, but it's a good bet we'll be driving 1,500-plus miles in something that's guaranteed to provide some form of adventure.
The event in Lincoln is a little further along in the planning and is shaping up to be much more than a lawn chair event. Our lunchtime banter isn't just about broken water pumps and flat tires; the topic of how much fun some of the early rod runs were is a common topic. With this in mind, we are planning to incorporate some driver participation events within the Americruise weekend.One of the events will be an autocross course (reminiscent of the old Streetkhana) set up to test your hot rod's handling as well as your driving skills. Another will be a Go & Whoa that will test how fast your car accelerates and then stops within a set of predetermined lines. Both of these should provide many opportunities to haze the tires and test your reflexes.
Rod & Custom will also be awarding a Rod of the Year and a Custom of the Year at the event. These are not awards for trailer queens. These cars will not only be judged on their build quality and styling, they will be evaluated on how they do in some performance testing. We'll pick the Top Five in each class on Friday and then those cars must participate in a cruise to somewhere in Lincoln. On Saturday, these cars will also run for time in the road course as well as 40-0-mph brake test and 0-40-mph acceleration test.
The Americruise is shaping up to be an exciting event and we're looking forward to driving to Lincoln and putting some cars through their paces. The thought of watching participants smoking their tires and having some fun using their hot rods for their intended purpose is just the icing on the cake.
For more information about the Americruise, read about it in this month's issue, or for the latest developments, go to www.rodandcustommagazine.com