By Rob Mullner, logo by Mike Andrews, photography by the author.
The phrase “Iron Bottom” doesn’t conjure good things, to some it’s an insult and to others it’s just offensive. As a TR6 owner and driving enthusiast I proudly wear the Iron Bottom mantle, let me explain why you should too.
Nearly 10 years ago a couple of car friends became fed up with the swanky high dollar vintage rallies that began to pop-up in and around California. Distraught that fellow car guys were being charged exorbitant rates to drive their cars on public roads, Ed Pasini with Jack and Margaret Brown launched a loosely organized, bare bones operation they named the No Frills Iron Bottom Motoring Tour. Their concept was brilliantly simple—assemble a group of guys with cool old cars and drive two days and 1000 miles across scenic and little used California back roads
Their rules were… Well, there were no rules, just a few guidelines: paramount was that your car had to be pre-1976. It didn’t matter if you were rolling an MG, Mercedes or Mercury Montego, as long as it’s from before this country’s Bicentennial you are in the club. No entry fees or lengthy applications, no scrutineering, just show up and drive.
I first heard about this event through the automotive underground; a friend of a friend had mentioned that a friend had taken part in the previous years event and had a great time.
It sounded much too good to be true; how could an event like this have eluded me for so long?
There is no advertising, just a few mentions on the web and word of mouth. After a little bit of research I found some information on carnight.org linking to a few photo galleries and a brief line listing in Miss Information. It appeared legitimate, a free event that lots of cool old cars had gone to and everyone had a great time. To complete the legend they even had an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon (just like my Aunt Maria and Uncle Gabe had owned) serving as the bar car to celebrate the end of each days 500 miles.
I began to prepare my car for the journey which began at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Thursday April 12 at 7am sharp. I had recently fit the Moss Motors supercharger kit to my TR6 and it was running great. An oil change, u-joint greasing and wash and wax completed my pre-trip prep. From there I began to coax, coerce and pester my old car friends to join me. Most dismissed the notion of driving 1000 miles over two days “just because.” My friend Paul told me that he needed “a reason and a destination,” and without one he wasn’t interested in coming along in his pristine BMW 2002.
Realizing that there are different kinds of car guys in this world I understood that not every old car owner/enthusiast likes to “just drive,” but I have always been ready and willing to jump in the car on a lark. I saw the Iron Bottom as a chance to commune with other car guys and enjoy my TR on deserted twisty roads and experience parts of my home state that I rarely see.
Arriving at the Rose Bowl at 6:30am old cars littered the street like unwrapped presents under a Christmas tree. From an immaculate E-Type and Lamborghini Muira to an armada of Citroen DS’s; rough and ready Mustangs shared the street with all manner of Porsches; a couple of MG’s and Datsun Roadsters and Z cars were there too.
One friend of mine was courageous enough to accept my challenge. George Weigand and his sweet green TR4 arrived just as I was parking my 6. We greeted each other, then walked over to the drivers meeting area to grab a snack and listen to Ed address the crowd through his bullhorn.
His instructions were brief and he directed everyone to grab a routebook from the nearby table, suggested that if you have a car club nametag that you put it on, and after honoring a few car guys that had pulled into the great garage in the sky, sent the crowd on its way.
Ed had charted an interesting way to get to Paso Robles that night via backroads. Or you could always go your own way if you felt like it. Day two would take a coastal route that would wind its way back to Paso Friday night to complete the thousand mile ramble.
The Thursday drive was entertaining with mountains, plains and the oil patch town of Bakersfield serving as our lunch stop (it’s on your dime, so live it up), and the afternoon took us onward toward Paso Robles via beautiful twisty roads with little traffic.
To celebrate arriving in Paso I stopped at Meridian Winery, tasted a few varietals and purchased a sweatshirt for my lovely wife. It’s always smart to come home from a big car event with something non-car related for the missus.
Pulling into the Black Oak Motor Lodge, participant cars dominated the parking lot and the Vista Cruiser bar car was the hub of activity. Steve Abernethey, the master of the bar car, asked me what I wanted to drink; I asked for an icy cold beer and his wife Cynthia handed me a chilly bottle. I thanked both of them and inquired about the heritage of their Vista Cruiser. Cynthia told me that she recently rebuilt the motor herself! I was truly among car people.
I cruised over to my car and popped the hood to check fluids—and once the hood went up fellow Iron Bottom Tourers asked about the supercharger set-up for the rest of the evening.
The next morning I went over my check list and prepared to warm up my TR. As I pulled away my car started to sputter, like it was missing a cylinder or two. Upon checking all of the usual suspects like plug wires and fuel filters without finding a culprit, I took one more lap around the parking lot to determine if I was ready for another 500 mile day. Unfortunately my trouble persisted and after consulting Moss Motors R&D wizard Mark Luis, I decided to have my car flat towed to Goleta so Mark and his crew could take a look. After a brief diagnostic, lead mechanic Tim Barnett traced the intermittent sputtering to a faulty ignition switch. A new switch later I was back on the road.
Although my Iron Bottom Tour was cut short I enjoyed the trek and will be back for more next year. The date has already been set, the 10th Annual No Frills Iron Bottom Motoring Tour will happen April 10-11th 2008. If you have a pre-’76 British car consider this your engraved invitation to join the fun. I can’t wait to see what Ed, Margaret and Jack cook up. Look for my white TR6; tell ‘em Rob from Moss sent you.