It’s Thursday morning and my fuel pump is dead. These two facts are normally of little consequence, but this happens to be the third week in August, and that means the Monterey Historic Automobile Races are coming. Every year a substantial percentage of Southern California walks off the job and heads up to the Monterey Peninsula. I’m driving up in a 1967 Morgan 4/4 this year, and for some reason the car’s mechanical fuel pump has chosen this moment to call it quits.
Fortunately, the car doesn’t have a top, otherwise I never would have fit everything in. Now, of course, it all has to come back out so we can get at the firewall from inside the cockpit. A fuel pump for an English Ford. 105E engine is not to be had on short notice, so a friend is helping me rig an electric fuel pump stolen from an MGTD. We’re boiling it to the firewall, which requires that the cooler be removed from the footwell. To get at the cooler, we must first unpack the tent, jackets, cameras…all to install one bolt.
With the new fuel pump in place, I’m off again. The first race isn’t until Saturday afternoon, but I want to arrive up there on Thursday to get a good campsite. Every year it becomes necessary to leave earlier as more and more people attend the races. Campsites are either dust with a view, or just plain dust. There are showers available, but much to the chagrin of a member of our group, there’s no place to plug in an iron. Oh well, we’ll just have to rough it.
My friend tells me to stay on the freeway so he can spot me on the side of the road when I break down. Thanks for the support and the confidence in my car, pal. Not long after getting on the freeway, little signs start to appear that perhaps I just might need the roadside support. The car suffers fuel starvation going up hill. I have a race-prepared 1500cc engine in a 1300 pound car, and I’m being passed by Ford Pintos!
The drive should take a little over four hours if all goes well. This year is no milk run however. I hit freeway construction around San Luis Obispo and after cruising for twenty odd minutes in first or second gear the car won’t accelerate when traffic clears. An inspection suggests that there’s no fuel in the old Webers. A few raps with a knuckle-buster (adjustable wrench) and ticka ticka ticka, the jury- rigged pump comes tuck lo life. Around Santa Margarita I’m having to stop every couple miles and bang on the damn fuel pump, so I pull off into town, find a parking lot and go to work on the original mechanical pump. Ultimately. I get to produce a steady, if inadequate, supply of fuel.
I arrive at the track to the sound of what? A blown manifold gasket perhaps? The sound is about right, and we’ve had that problem before. I no longer care though. I’ve arrived al Mecca, all other considerations are secondary. Besides, I don’t have to drive anywhere until Sunday and I hear a beer calling me.
1987 is Chevy’s year at Monterey. The scourge of all real sports carts, the Corvettes, dominate the festivities. The obligatory paddock tour would make any Sprite owner nervous. These cars have air cleaners big enough to pass a Bugeye without so much a hiccup, and the rumble of big lock exhaust systems leaves a certain uneasiness in this Anglophile’s subconscious. That night I dream about racing down the street as fast as I can go with an early Stingray on my tail. I’m tapped out, running redline rpm in fourth gear, but the monster draws inexorably closer. Just as its giant maw is about bite down on the unprotected flanks of my wooden wonder (actually the Morgan does have a metal frame, sort of), I awake to the sound of somebody’s old Ferrari doing its morning exercises. Vroom vroom. it’s race day!
Watching old black and white photos come to life is an experience not soon forgotten. Modern turbocharged race cars don’t make the pleasing sounds which once characterized each marque. The thunder of an American V8 mixes with the wide open scream of a Ferrari V12. The old cars run first. Some of them make you wonder if they’ll survive long enough for a second lap. Between the snorts, pops and occasional bursts of clean power you realize the extent to which technology progressed between the wars.
When the sports cars run, it’s all eyes on the lookout for British cars. The preponderance of American iron has taken a bite out of our ranks this year, but there are still plenty of cars to choose from. Perhaps the most outstanding performance this year is turned in by Chris Lawrence (of Morgan racing tame) driving an AC Aceca to second place against a host of larger, faster cars. The best British car dice is between a pair of Jaguar XK120s and an Austin Healey 100. Sorry Jag fanciers, the Healey won.
Sun. wind, and noise take their toll. By the time the last race has ended. I’m ready for a shower and some dinner. When the sun goes down, so too does the temperature, and by the time it’s dark we’re all crammed in around a camp fire attempting to act warm. There is still an entire day of racing on Sunday, but that doesn’t stop people from staying up until all hours. You don’t have to pay for the late nights until Sunday and the long lonely drive home.
I got back to Santa Barbara around 10:00pm Sunday night. Fortunately the “blown manifold gasket” turned out to be a dislodged o-ring in one of the carb mounts, and the Morgan gave no further trouble on the trip home. The car knew how tired I was and figured that if I broke now I’d just leave it on the side of the road, so it didn’t cause trouble. Wise move, Mr. Morgan.
The aura of Monterey, should be experienced by everybody at least once. If your favorite old race car is not represented among this field, it must not have been much of a car. One of these days I’ll get up some nerve, finish one of my project cars (if I don’t grow old and die first) and apply for a spot on the grid at Monterey. I don’t think I’ll feel truly fulfilled until I’ve been out there at least once.
By Lance Freeley
Lance will receive a Moss gift certificate for his contribution.