After many, many years of pining for a TR6, I was finally able to acquire a 1973 in remarkably good condition, which I drove to and fro along back roads and byways at breathtaking speeds. For four years, my manly mallard-hued motor was a ready companion, never failing to start, never failing to run, never failing to thrill. Until, one day, it didn’t. I was stranded, armed with nothing more than a bag of tools, a bottle of water, and an ill-conceived belief that, whatever the problem, I could “fix it.”
What an idiot.
Chaucer introduces us, in the Canterbury Tales, to an educated character (the Prioress) who speaks fluent French. Chaucer satirizes the Prioress’ inability to speak the language as a native; rather, her vernacular is limited to that which she learned in a book.
When it comes to things automotive, I know exactly what Chaucer was talking about. What I know about cars I learned from surfing the web, reading books, and the patient (so far) tutelage extended by members of my online TR6 forum. I’m big in the lurking biz.
Let’s be clear, while many high school folks took shop classes and learned skills that might be vigorously and beneficially applied in later life (e.g., auto mechanics, carpentry, metal work), I was busy making cupcakes and crepes Suzette in Home Economics. Why? Because, of course, that’s where the girls were.
Sure, over the four decades since high school I dabbled in things mechanical, helping friends and family members affect car repairs or to rotate their tires. My assistance was limited, for the most part, to handing tools to someone doing the work. On occasion, I even managed to replace my own alternator and, one memorable time, a starter, always under the watchful eye of someone who actually knew what they were doing (mostly my brother-in-law, a mechanic of some repute, who looks constantly at me as if saying, “How can you face yourself in the mirror each day?”). Upon reflection, most of my automotive “training” involved fetching and consuming beer. But I digress.
So what? you ask. So this, I say: Just because you’re a mechanical moron is no reason you can’t thoroughly enjoy your own magical mystery tour in your own magical, yet mysterious, motorcar.
Where was I? Ah, yes, broken down on the side of the road. Technically, I was at the exit of the local public library, safely pulled over to the side where I stopped to read a text message (Safety First! is my watchword). The sun shone gloriously, temperatures were unseasonable and comfy, hovering in the mid-60s. It was a GREAT day to be rendered inert in one’s little British car.
While reading the brief text message, the content of which has absolutely no bearing on this story whatsoever, my beloved conveyance (we’ll call him “PD” for the purposes of this story; mostly because that’s his name, in memory of PD Eastman, the man who penned the ultimate automotive tome, Go Dog, GO!) ceased, for the first time EVER, to run. Naturally, I turned the key to restart his stout and reliable engine. For the first time EVER, he didn’t (you know, start). He made lots of hopeful starting “noises,” but none resulted in the desired result. I was, for the first time EVER, less than thrilled.
It’s times like that when ones “book learning” can be a real kick in the shorts; it gives you false hope and a completely unfounded belief in yourself and your obviously limited capabilities. I hoisted the hood and got from the boot, the tools.
In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing or what a bag of tools in the hands of an idiot could possibly accomplish (for the briefest moment, I considered placing the bag behind a rear wheel in case PD, parked on an incline, decided to roll backward). Since I knew what I didn’t know (a man’s got to know his limitations; mine seem considerable), I called a gentleman in Louisiana I had met online through the 6-Pack.org forum. He was in the middle of a haircut but didn’t hesitate to stop immediately and offer assistance. His name is Ken, and he is legendary for his knowledge and giving nature. With the patience of Job and the recognition he was not dealing with any ordinary dufus, Ken had me do all sorts of “things,” using all sorts of “tools,” my understanding of which was zilch. Sure, I can turn a wrench, but as my brother-in-law has learned, you better give me the right wrench, put it in my hand, and guide me to the correct nut. My cell phone battery running low, I let Ken go and attempted to follow his instructions, flying solo, as it were.
Frankly, I think I could have made better progress if I hadn’t been constantly interrupted by all manner of folks, many of whom chatted amiably about British sports cars they had owned, or offered to call someone on my behalf, or to give me a lift, or to offer a bottle of water. Those dang people were really, really nice. I just wanted to shout, “I can do this!”
At some point, a truly Good Samaritan interrupted my unrequited search for a screw I had dropped while attempting to install a new “condenser” and started talking to me in some strange language about “points” and “distributors” and “coils.” It turned out he was a member of a local British car club and knew more than a little bit about cars. It was embarrassing to find myself back in my usual role, handing tools to someone working on my car. I wondered if I’d ever seen beer being sold at the library counter.
Despite the veritable steamer trunk worth of spare parts I had carefully packed in my car, no “gizmo” or “whatsit” or “thingy” met the need; I was forced to turn to the ultimate roadside repair kit: a cell phone and a towing plan.
It’s possible I wept when PD was dragged ignominiously upon the flatbed, dispatched in an efficient and timely fashion to save the day.
Over the course of the next thirty-six hours, I pestered my online brain trust, describing symptoms, following the sage advice offered, and posting the results of my diagnostic endeavors, all the while admitting freely my lack of automotive acumen (trust me, it was pretty evident from the outset). One guy actually complimented me for being unafraid to admit just how much I didn’t know. Eventually, PD roared back to life!
So now, I can identify all the parts and pieces associated with a 1973 TR6 ignition system, I understand how they all work together (admittedly, I’m not totally versed on that condenser bit), I can gap points, and bypass switches, and test sparkplugs and plug wires and, well, I can do lots of stuff I couldn’t do before. Most importantly, I know now the importance of a tiny little ground wire inside my distributor…
The point of this bastardized Chaucer’s tale is that throughout it all, I had somewhere to turn for help. Despite my lack of experience and knowledge, no one made fun of me, no one turned their back. A community of car lovers, including Ken and that Good Samaritan on the side of the road, all pitched in to ensure my little British car regained its mojo and to make sure our hobby and its thrills are kept alive.
If you’re one of those “car guys,” be sure to keep lending that patient and helpful hand. If you’re someone like me, the least you can do is buy the beer.
By Tad McDonald