Keith’s Blog: One Road Trip, Two Dead Cars

“Scraping! Your tailpipe is scraping!” That’s what my daughter Alex was shouting at me as we pulled into a parking lot in Astoria, Oregon.

The adventure we had planned seemed simple enough. My daughter, Alex, and her partner, Ross, would take our 1965 Volvo 122S. Bradley would join me in our 1971 Jaguar S3 coupe. The goal was a one-day, 200-mile round trip with both cars.

I haven’t had Alex and Bradley with me on a car trip in years. All of us have been quarantined and have no fevers. We were not planning on interacting with anyone else. We felt we were talking all appropriate safety measures.

Both cars were fettled. I had just had the Jag out the day before for a 75-mile run chasing neighbor Chris Bright and his Ferrari 348 through Oregon’s wine country.

The only problem we had had was that the idle speed set too low, which caused the car to die at intersections when the a/c was running. Bradley solved this by turning the throttle stop screws on each of the Stromberg carbs one-turn clockwise. It helped.

We had put 300 miles on the Volvo since Ed Grayson at Consolidated Auto Works tuned the carburetors. Both cars were on the button and ready to go.

What could possibly go wrong on this 200-mile roundtrip?

The outbound journey was uneventful. We took Oregon State Highway 30 up the Columbia River to Scappoose. From there, it was back roads towards Mist and Olney. Both cars cruised effortlessly at 60 mph on the type of roads they were built for.

As we came into Astoria, I heard a slight scraping noise from the rear. I dismissed it as nothing important, as it came along with the groans and squeaks from the suspension and brakes.

We pulled into a Chevron station on Commercial Street in Astoria. Alex and Ross came up next to us and told us our exhaust pipes were hitting the ground.

Upon inspection, we found the brace that attaches the tailpipe to the body had failed.

Alex and Ross went to a nearby NAPA and came back with a roll of baling wire (no baling wire and English car jokes here please). They also got a pair of pliers to twist the wire tight. This was not my first baling wire rodeo.

Twenty minutes later we had enough of a repair to head home. When Alex tried to start the Volvo, it wouldn’t fire. So she used the choke. After a bit, it started and we were underway.

The trip home was devoid of vehicular excitement. We took Highway 26, which is smooth and features fantastic views.

We got to Portland and pulled into the SCM garage. I noticed fluid coming out of the overflow from the header tank on the Jag. I didn’t think much about it.

Alex and Ross headed out. I fired up the Jag and the temp gauge immediately went to full hot. I drove around the block and put the car back in the garage. When I parked it steam was coming out of the overflow hose from the header tank. Lots of steam.

I left it. I would deal with it in the morning when it cooled down. Bradley and I hopped into the Volvo. (Always good to have a back up.)

To my surprise, the horrible running issues that caused us to take the car to Ed some weeks ago were back. It would barely run. If you pulled the choke all the way out you got two cylinders. We struggled to drive up out of the garage and limped the two miles across town to our condo.

Now, I’ve got two dead classics waiting for the flatbed.

I know Ed will get the Volvo going in no time. I wonder if pulling the choke cable threw something awry.

I’m more concerned about the Jag. When it is cold I will add coolant, and fire it up with the header tank cap off. I pray to the Coventry Gods that I don’t see any exhaust gases from a blown head gasket bubbling.

There was no indication of overheating before I pulled into the garage, and the engine never ran rough or smelled funny.

I have long maintained that old cars create adventures.

This time around, I got a little more than I had bargained for. And my kids got another story to tell their kids two decades from now.

 

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market, now in its 33rd year. Keith has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and had his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity. He has received many honors, including the Lee Iacocca Award, the Edward Herrman Award, was inducted into the Concorso Italiano Hall of Fame and more. He is on the boards of directors of The LeMay Museum and Oregon Ballet Theater, and was formerly the chair of the board of the Meguiar's Award.

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9 comments

  1. No question about it (well, that may be a little strong) — the pots on the Amazon’s SU carbs are hanging up. Or the choke cables have slipped. Right, Cam?

  2. You have some guts taking a Jag down the driveway let a lone a 200 mile drive!! Plus to let a older Volvo tag along is also pretty brave!!! Being a pro mechanic for over 30 yrs I know this stuff!!

  3. The Volvo, disappointing. The Jag, expected, V12 Jags overheated when new.
    Too bad you are not allowing British car/bailing wire jokes! Bet you won’t venture out again without it.
    The local Jaguar club has a nice TSD rally once a year. It’s a charity event so they invite all the other clubs. There are always some nice XKE’s at the start, and occasionally at the finish.

  4. Ah, Keith! The Volvo problem is surprising. I towed both of my racing cars with a 1968 122S station wagon (admittedly bored 80 thou over, and with an oil cooler.) Any problems were due to my own negligence. As to the Jag Lucas instruments?

  5. Sorry to hear of your misadventures with the E-type. I own a ’70 series two, so no worries about English car pokes. But the more relevant issue is the fact that your new acquisition is 49yrs old. Come on, cut her some slack. Plus, you don’t really know her intimate history. I suspect the rough idle you mentioned had a key role in the bracket failure. Before your next jaunt, she should probably have a thorough, head to tailpipe check for tightness and fatigue.
    Don’t give up on her…
    Hope you can get her back on the road soon!

  6. Keith I had exactly the same overheating problem on my S3 30 years ago. I replaced the radiator – still same overheating problems. I solved the problem by attaching an overflow bottle to the radiator. So when running hot, coolant was expelled into the bottle, but more important, as the engine cooled, the coolant was sucked back into the radiator. This $5
    fix lasted many years until I sold the car.

  7. My dad and I had a four speed 71 V-12 E-Type in the early 80’s. Only had it for a couple years, but was towed home more with that than any car since! Still love it and want another.

  8. Keith – the moral of your story is :
    1) NEVER buy an old Jag.
    2) have a back-up car following you, if you do !
    My wife and I are keeping our Pebble Beach Concours week
    Hotel and still planning on going to Monterey that week.
    Will rendezvous with friends , Fred and Bonnie, in
    Carmel that same week . With no car/ auction venues will
    Take in the Carmel Art galleries and dinner hopefully at
    Pebble Beach Lodge, join us ! See you in Carmel
    During Pebble Beach week ! Ps- don’t attempt this trip with an
    old Jag this time of year!

  9. Did you top up the oil in the top of the S.U.’s? Jag sounds like a loose or split hose. Please don’t be like all those Forums that never post how the issues were resolved!

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