The Road to San Diego Felix Wong

Screeeech! Bam! Smack! On a particularly icy/snowy day in San Jose, the rear end of my car slid out, and upon hitting the brakes—a no-no in a skid—I promptly found myself hitting a wall. First the front right end of the car smacked the wall and bounced out, and as if to add insult to injury, the rear end kissed it next. Talk about amateurish driving. Thank goodness, however, the car was only my ’86 Porsche, and not the MG. (The Porsche has since been repaired.)

The problem, however, was that the day after this had happened, I was to see a close friend down in San Diego. This friend was not someone I get to see very often, as she normally lives in Florida. The trip, therefore, had a sense of importance and excitement to it, but as San Diego is a approximately 500 miles away from my Fremont home, the initial plan was to drive the Porsche. “It’s too far, it’s too cold, and the trip will be too rushed,” I thought, “so I’ll give Goldie a well-deserved breather.” But after my little wall-banger, which relegated the Porsche to the body shop, I had no choice: Goldie suddenly was to have all the Christmas transportation duties, including this grand excursion down to sunny San Diego. And here, in this short essay, I shall describe what it can be like to drive an MG on a 1100-mile journey.

Preparation

The trip, already abbreviated due to a funeral of a relative on the day before Christmas, was now even more rushed, as I had to drop off the Porsche at a body shop the morning before I left. Preparation of the MGB for the trip, then, was woefully lacking-no tune-up, no stocking up on spare emergency parts, not even the basic checks of coolant levels and tire pressure. Ominously, I even forgot to bring my large tool chest, and hence only had a small box of “emergency tools” in the boot. I did, however, have the sense to bring half a box of Castrol 20W-50, or roughly 7 quarts of oil, which proved to be judicious, due to an oil leak I would only fix later.

In addition to the lack of preparation was the dismal weather conditions. Underscored by the very rare snow that was falling in San Jose the day before, Northern California had been hit by an Arctic blast. It was freezing outside. “Ah well,” I thought, “at least it’s not raining outside,” although it was definitely cold enough to warrant putting the top up. Still, even with the top up, I wondered just how warm I was going to be able to stay.

We’re Off

But I couldn’t even think of the cold as I had to go. I was merging onto I-680 when I realized that Goldie seemed to be rather lacking in power, as acceleration up to normal highway speeds was dismal. To my satisfaction, however, she was able to maintain cruising speeds of 70mph with ease, so I didn’t think much of it at the time. Instead, I just threw in a Deana Carter album in my portable CD player, and listened to that for miles and miles.

This lil’ regimen was only interrupted by stopping off at a gas station every 100 miles or so to add a quart of oil, fill her tank up with gas, or fill my stomach up with food and drink. Or to throw in a Garth Brooks or Shania Twain album in the CD player. For some reason, this Christmas I felt like driving the miles away along to country music. Sang Shania: “If you’re not… in it… for love”, to which I added in my mind, “…for love of an adventure, for love of an inviting, open road… don’t even bother to do something as crazy as driving a 30- year-old British car 500 miles down California in a single day or so.”

I would be reminded of the craziness of it all while experiencing the chilly winds all the way from Merced to Bakersfield. Even with the top up, enough of the 30-degree air was seeping underneath the top and the windows that my ears would be hit by a blast of the arctic wind. At one point, I had my plaid blanket on top of my head, just to keep my ears warm. I had to come up with a better solution, however, as I needed the blanket to keep my legs and torso warm, since Goldie’s one-speed heater is not exactly the most effective in frigid conditions. Therefore, I unzipped the rain hood from my jacket and wore it around my head. Imagine wearing a rain hood inside a car when it’s not even raining.

The rest of the drive down to San Diego, however, would be relatively uneventful, until just 75 miles north of L.A. Here was a mountain pass that got to as high as 4,500 ft, and Goldie was practically crawling. First I had to downshift to 3rd gear, then 2nd, and-what the heck-1st gear, until we couldn’t even keep up with the semis that were barely making it up the hill. “What is wrong?” I thought, when I pulled off the road just for a few minutes while revving the engine, just to regather my wits. Here I was, late at night, miles away from civilization, without a comprehensive assortment of tools or spare parts, while it’s freezing outside, and I was having a few minor doubts about whether we’d be able to even make it up these darn hills. But after a couple of minutes, I was composed again, and Goldie seemed to be running okay enough to at least keep up with the semis again.

Woohoo. We made it over that mountain pass, and after that it was pretty smooth sailing, with numerous steep downhill sections. I still was making lousy time, however, more due to getting off to a late start than to Goldie going slow. In fact, I only had a chance to see another friend in the LA area for approximately 15 minutes or so, before I had to jet again. Towards San Diego we go. Just after midnight, however, I had enough, and pulled into a motel. I still had about 60 miles to go.

The next morning I did a little tinkering under the hood, and in particular, pulled the spark plugs. For years the #2 spark plug had oiled fouled a bit more than all of the others, but when I saw its condition this time, I was astonished. The entire plug was heavily fouled, and the spark plug gap had been reduced to nil. So that’s what happened up that hill… Goldie was basically running on only three cylinders. I was amazed we even made it that far. I replaced the spark plug and was ready to complete the last 60 miles that morning.

In San Diego, under the sun

What a contrast to the Bay Area. The weather was gorgeous, in the high 60s at least. Nary a cloud in the sky, and with the top up, I was positively warm. What a nice feeling it was. But with this weather I had to have to top down. Unfortunately, however, I had left Goldie’s tonneau cover at home to let it thaw out from the ice/snow of a couple of days before, so I merely folded down the removable top into the empty space behind the two seats. I could have simply detached and removed the entire top, but I decided she doesn’t look as good totally “naked” like that, especially with her tan lines that resulted from being left in the sun all these years with the tonneau cover on.

Now all I had to do was find where my friend lived. This wasn’t a major problem, as she gave me rather good directions. Soon I found myself motoring down a narrow alley right by her vacation home, with Goldie’s loud exhaust note reverberating off the houses. Imagine the euphoria I was experiencing after a total of nine hours of driving to realize, we had made it.

Conclusion

The experience I had down in San Diego is something that should be kept between my friend and me, and the trip back to the Bay Area is another story in itself. But to sum it all up, I had driven 1100 miles round trip for 19 hours in my ’69 MGB, just to be in San Diego for 2 days/24 hours. Frigid temps were endured, 7 quarts of oil were consumed, and at times only 3 cylinders were being used… but my faithful MGB amazingly fought through it all to bring me to an awesome friend, a land of sunshine and numerous beaches, and scenic roads to cruise with wind flowing through our hair. Adventure, smiles, and fun. This is what the MG experience epitomizes. Sometimes I imagine what would have happened if I had been able to drive the contemporary Porsche instead, and the conclusion is always the same: the road trip would have been more bland, and the entire experience less memorable. It remains to be seen whether I will repeat a similar trip in the MG anytime soon, but if I do, I can be assured that the trip will be an adventure, one in which there will be a story to tell.

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