Sir Stanly Hooker, a brilliant engineer at Rolls Royce from WWII through development of the Olympus engines used on the Concorde, wrote an autobiography titled Not Much of an Engineer. He was lying. Stanley Hooker was a brilliant engineer. Well I’m not much of a mechanic, and that’s the truth.
As proof of the premise, we shall investigate why a certain metallic gray Midget, with silver flames on the hood – disparagingly referred to among friends as The Cockroach – spent its entire summer laid up in the garage. It was a sunny Saturday morning in March, and we were heading to the market when, without prior warning, it all went pear shaped. That’s not true either. Something odd was in the offing. I just chose to ignore a year’s worth of warning.
The story really begins on the way to our Buttonwillow race weekend in May of ’08. While terrorizing traffic along the California 166, the Cockroach was going off song under boost. Probably a bad fuel filter, so upon my return, a new part was installed and all was well (or at least further ignored) until the fateful moment.
A day or two prior to finally giving up, the rough running returned. My street runs down hill to a “T” intersection. The cross street is busy on weekends, and with limited lines of sight, pulling out into fast moving traffic with a cold engine requires a delicate application of throttle and nerves of steel. Being fatalistic by nature helps as well.
Fortunately, the car quit at the stop sign, before launching me into the path of fast moving, tourist driven SUVs. It quit cold too. No winding down, just out like a light. This suggested electrical to me, and a little wire jiggling under the hood brought fire back to the Roach’s evil heart, however, not for long. I at least had the presence of mind to head back toward the house, rather than into the maw of traffic. The car quit again and for good about 50 feet below the crest of the hill. Had it run another 51, I could have coasted home.
So, after rousting one of the guys to come give me a 50.1-foot tow, your resident “genius” set about diagnosing the car. The fuel pump ticked as one would expect. I could smell gas, so the obvious conclusion was electrics. Always start with the easy stuff I say. Cap, rotor, coil, ignition wires, Pertronix, fuses, ignition switch…let me know if I’ve left anything shy of the whole bloody wiring harness untouched.
Months later, having spent a good five minutes per weekend trying my latest pet theory without success, the car still occupied its place of dishonor in the garage. At least the spiders were happy with their new artificial spider habitat.
Fearing the car may never run again, I finally sat down for a learning session with MossTV. We have an ever-growing collection of technical videos on the MossTV channel on YouTube. After watching some videos, I went out to the garage, took my electrical multi-tester from its dusty spot on the shelf and dug in. According to the instructional videos, the problem had to be a bad coil wire, cap, or rotor. Everything else checked out.
Having previously replaced all three items, this couldn’t possibly be my problem, only it was. The new replacement rotor was bad. It’s an odd occurrence to be sure, but if I had followed good diagnostic procedures in the first place odds are the car would have been running within a couple days. I may still be a lousy mechanic, but at least I’ve learned to test, and trust what the results tell me.
By Robert Goldman