The afternoon started out innocently enough.
It was a sunny winter day in Portland. I asked my friend Chris Bright, founder of Collector Part Exchange, if he would go with me to Pro-Tek Automotive, where the SCM Alfa Junior Zagato, Jaguar E-type and Citroën DS21 are stored.
Our plan was to fire up the Junior Z (it had been started a couple of days ago, I was told). Then Chris would drive me to a low-traffic area so I could begin to master its newly installed vacuum-operated clutch, which is activated by a button on the shift knob.
I’d like to start driving this car more as the weather improves, but I want to have a higher confidence level before using it in traffic.
When Chris turned the key in the ignition, we didn’t even hear the dreaded (and sadly familiar) “click” from the solenoid. There was nothing. The lights didn’t come on, the battery was totally dead. While this was a mystery, it’s also possible that something like the heater fan was left on. On early Alfas, nothing is shut off by the key, and not a few times I’ve been left stranded because of this.
I do have a few of those glovebox jump starters, but they were all carefully stored, charging, in my condo.
Luckily, our V12 Jag was parked next to the Alfa. Chris thoughtfully (or perhaps out of learned necessity) carries jumper cables in his Giulia Super. The Jag fired right up, making its magnificent V12 sound.
After 20 minutes or so of charging, the Junior Z came to life. All was good.
We decided to fill the tank with fresh gas.
To our dismay, we learned that the battery had not yet picked up enough charge to turn the engine over when we tried to start after gassing up. There we were, at a busy gas station with a dead car.
The attendant helped us push it aside – once again, I am glad I collect small cars and not classic Packards.
Chris approached a car parked near us and asked if we could get a jump. The driver shook their head no and drove away. Chris then asked the station attendant. She said sure, and a few minutes later she pulled up in a lifted, Super Duty pickup that dwarfed the Alfa.
Seeing the Junior Z and the truck nose-to-nose reminded me of why driving our old cars in modern traffic is such a sketchy deal.
The Alfa fired up, and we spent the afternoon exploring Sauvie Island, a nearby nature preserve.
I have driven the Junior Zagato the least of any of my cars; I had my stroke not long after I acquired it. I had local Alfa guru Nasko install a 4.1 limited-slip differential and an Alfaholics suspension kit of springs and front sway bar. The Junior Z had been upgraded from a 1300 to a mild-build 1750 by a previous owner. It’s strong.
Chris remarked as to how tight and planted the car felt compared to his Super. It was a joy just being a passenger.
By then we had run out of time, so my training session with the hand clutch will have to come on a different day.
While I was watching Chris put on the jumper cables, I wondered if in 20 years we will still be carrying jumper cables. Or if cables will be arcane tools we look at like the stuff hanging on the wall in a blacksmith’s shop.
In any event, clearly, we need trickle chargers. That’s next on my list.