Keeping the Faith on Thanksgiving Day Felix Wong

Ever since I met Goldie, my ’69 MGB sports car, a few weeks ago, she has given me only immense pleasure. The rhapsody of her glorious exhaust note, phenomenal handling, graceful lines, perfecto British driving position… heck, even all her electrics work and she doesn’t leak (too much) oil! Almost as amazingly, I had driven her more miles in 3 weeks than I drove my former B in 3 years, without having to make a single adjustment. Was my B even British or what?

But alas, no real Brit car would be half as fun if it didn’t break down once in a while. And finally, on Thanksgiving day, my B decided to tease me a little…

The scenario: driving down highway 85 at midnight, around Saratoga, CA. The plan: to burn a little fuel in the Santa Cruz mountains after a long day, in which I studied/worked from 6am-10 pm straight. Had her hood up for the first time since we met (never new how nice and cozy a “hooded” B could be as my ’74 had no top whatsoever), and KFRC was only playing the Beetles that night. Cool.

The sound: vrrroooommmvroooooommmvroooooommm cough vrooom vroom cough hush-a-bye baby silence. Good night.

Sounded like she was out of gas. Funny, I had just put in 6 gals (gallons that is) a few days ago and her fuel guage read one-third full. “Well these Brit guages probably were never too accurate,” I surmised.

Put her in neutral and we rolled down the shoulder of the highway with her blinkers on. She finally came to a stop, 200 ft in front of one of those highway call phones. Cool.

I made a quick call and the cheery CHP dispatcher sent for a tow truck. It would take the truck 30 minutes to arrive, but then again, the top was up and the Beetles were playin’ on the radio, so I was happy…

The tow truck arrives and the driver would stand there for a minute or so and just admire the car. “I always wanted one of these, and yours is in such great condition!” he exclaims. Nice guy.

We talk about Brit cars all the way to the nearest Shell station, and I expressed my suspicion that I had just ran out of gas. I fill ‘er up. To my dismay, she only takes 7 gals before the gas nozzle clicks off. “Oh, but look, the car is jacked up and is about 30 degrees from vertical due to the tow truck,” the driver says. He had a point, and the B started right up, seemingly confirming my suspicion that I had just ran out of gas. We’re ready to roll. “How much do I owe ya,” I ask the guy. “Nothing, man, your Triple A card will take care of everything.” Cool.

So off we go, back to home in Palo Alto. I was about a mile away from the Page Mill exit when I started to estimate her gas mileage. “Let’s see, I went 90 miles since I last filled her up, and she had at least 6 gallons in her, so she could only be getting at most 15 mpg?” Funny, at about that time her engine cut off again and she decided to take a snooze. Apparently the problem wasn’t due to the lack of gas. We come to a stop on the shoulder again. No call phone nearby this time, oh oh.

Refusing to panic, I instantly realize that all we had to do was go about 200 feet until highway 280 would just go downhill into Palo Alto to the Page Mill exit. I switch on the ignition, and the fuel pump, now clicking violently and rapidly, builds up enough pressure to start the car and even allow her to go that 200 feet before the engine clicks off. Yes! We roll down the highway, and make it to the exit.

Page Mill Road has a couple of rollers too, but again, the same technique works each time. Just 3 miles from home. We’re going to make it, we’re going to make it!

We coast down to El Camino Real, now just 2 miles from home. The strategy: we would limp home, and I’d replace the fuel pump or somethin’ in the morning and drive to Stockton to visit friends and family in the evening for Thanksgiving. Oops, I was thinking too far ahead, as I realized that El Camino Real has no hills to help us keep on rollin…

By that time her fuel pump is dead, kaput. We roll into the parking lot of an Italian restaurant. It’s 2 am, and I reluctantly resolve that I have to abandon her. We say our goodbyes and I walk the 2 miles home. Thoughts go through my mind: what will I do? Are there even any auto stores or service stations open on Thanksgiving? Will I be able to make the trip to Stockton? What will I tell my friends and family, and my folks especially, who never really liked the fact that I had bought “yet another unreliable, unsafe British sports car”?

So there I was, now in my room, thinking. There’s no way I’m not going back to Stockton… besides, I had a date that evening. But my B can’t run without fuel going to the carbs, hmmmmm…

And there was another problem… even if I found an auto store that was open on Thanksgiving, it wasn’t all too likely they’d have a fuel pump that would fit a ’69 B without requiring some fabrication and ingenuity. And how in the world would I get to an auto store… all my local friends with cars had left for the holiday…

The solution to the latter was staring at me… my trusty ol’ American piece of aluminum, my Cannondale racing bike. My main source of commuting not all to long ago, although recently she has been relegated to recreational purposes only. Today, she’d be my parts runner. Only one slight difficulty: days before I had completely diassembled her rear wheel, as I had planned to build a new one with her old hub and a new aero rim (to replace the old rim that accumulated about a dozen cracks over the years). No problem, I’ll build her new “wire wheel” right now. Of course, that meant staying up till 5:00 in the morning as wheel building takes a lot of time and patience…

I managed to get a few hours of sleep before my alarm clock went off at 8:00. I open up the yellow pages and call a dozen or so auto stores. None open now, maybe one will open at nine? I wait an hour before making the second round of phone calls, but still no auto store opens up.

So scrap plan A (the one where I would fetch a new fuel pump for the MG). On to plan B: I would ride over to the Italian restaurant where my car was (unhappily I’m sure) awaiting, and fix the fuel pump.

I loaded up my backpack with tools and went off with my C’dale. Fortunately the new rear wheel I built did not collapse or fall apart, but that was the least of my worries…

Now at the the parking lot. I open up my B’s bonnet, disconnect the fuel line from the rear carb, and switch on the ignition. Funny, fuel was coming out, and no air bubbles. Fuel pump making some funny noises but it was working! Happy days are here again…

I start and drive the B home, amazed that the fuel pump had miraculously recovered. Maybe it was all a bad dream. Unfortunately it couldn’t have been as I had to walk back to the Italian restaurant and fetch my C’dale (there’s no way it would fit in the MG without scratchin’ something up!)

But now time for the big decision: would I dare attempt the 90-mile trip to Stockton with a temperamental fuel pump that had already left me stranded once? I consult with a friend and he asks me what are the chances of the car not breaking down again. “I’d say 60/40 that she would break down at least once,” I respond. “Cool,” says my friend, obviously the type great at giving advice!

I ponder a little more. I eventually recall the words Moss Chairman Howard Goldman wrote back in ’92 regarding his decision to drive his untested newly supercharged Sprite across country, for 3000 miles. “It”s an English car after all, we must have faith, so let’s go for it.” Suddenly the decision was not very difficult after all.

I bring along my tool chest just in case. Off we go, and what a beautiful Thanksgiving day it was! Great weather, the sun is shining, the air was fresh–in other words, days we British car nuts live for…

The B was running normally, and I feel a whole lot less nervous when we successfully go over the Dumbarton Bridge. “Aha, nothing’s going to stop us now!”

Needless to say not much later she decided to take a snooze again. There was the daunting feeling of pressing the accelerator and yet the car was decelerating. The engine cuts off… hey hey, I’m S-O-L and the turkey today…

She comes to a complete stop on the wide shoulder on 84 right across from the Dumbarton toll gate, just on the other side of the freeway. Lucky I brought those tools…

I quickly make sure that the problem is in fact the fuel pump. Yup, no gas agoin’ to the carbs, and my trusty multimeter confirmed that there’s 12V going to the pump with the ignition on. Hmmm, maybe it’s the contact points in the fuel pump like in those SOL posts…

So there I was, lying on the ground right next to the rear wing, trying to figure out how do I take apart this darn thing. Here’s one place the PO didn’t do such a great job, as I quickly discover the fuel pump is duct taped together. Gosh, sticky stuff…

But, after an hour or so, the pump is apart and the points are in full view. Egad, lots of carbon buildup on those points…amazing that electricity could even go through them at one time. Out comes the file from my trusty tool chest and I clean them up…

After another hour comes the big moment. Has 2 hours of lying on the highway been in vain? I switch on the key…the fuel pump builds up pressure. Sounds a lot better… not clickin’ like crazy any more. Yes, she starts up. Yes, we’re on the road again! Yes, I had actually diagnosed the problem correctly and fixed it, something that didn’t happen often at all during my teenage years with my ’74 Migbee. What a glorious feeling!

The drive was uneventful ever since, just beautiful weather and a great drive. I arrive in Stockton hours later than I had planned, no big deal. So this is what it’s like owning a British car, eh? I’m hooked….

BTW, the B didn’t fail to please my date that night (far from it), in which we went to see the new James Bond flick, GoldenEye. Funny, I read an article in Newsweek the other day in which a writer expressed his outrage that 007 would drive a Bimmer. So I guess I was waiting to be outraged myself. In fact, though, the exciting car scene is Bond racin’ a fetchin’ Russian in her Ferrari with his Aston Martin in the mountains. Bavarian Motor Works sure paid a lot of dough to have the car shown for 5 seconds in a scene where Bond’s gizmo-man says, “Hea’s yo new cah–it’s a Beeeee Emmmm Doubleyouuuuu” and then for 15 more seconds where Bond (slowly) drives some chick through a flower field. (And no he doesn’t even seem to be liking it!)

Well hasta la vista. Hope to hear your own Brit car adventures, I’m sure y’all having an abundance of them…

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