Towards the first week of June I started wondering to myself whether it was time to bring my dear old TR6 back to Georgia after its lengthy stay in storage in Missouri....
Around About Town July 2014
Towards the first week of June I started wondering to myself whether it was time to bring my dear old TR6 back to Georgia after its lengthy stay in storage in Missouri. Those of you that know me may not even be aware that I own a TR6 having only come to events with the GTA in my trusty Stag. Well as with all things, there’s a story to it. When I first moved to Georgia in 1991 I brought with me my Stag but not my TR6. The idea at that time was that the 6 was in good shape and did not need restoration. The Stag was in poor condition having taken the brunt of my college years. Alas, life got in the way and the Stag restoration put on hold. I brought the TR6 down and drove it for a while until we relocated to our second house some 9 years later. At that time it became apparent I didn’t have enough garage space as the second house’s garage was smaller. I thought at that time that I would sell off the Stag. After a few insulting offers from various parties, I decided to keep it and I sent the TR6 back to Missouri to be stored so that work on the Stag might progress. Well, again that didn’t happen and we moved to our present house where I finally picked up the ball and completed the Stag rebuild. In the process, as with many projects, my TR6 sat derelict for 7 years in my parents’ basement. Now, this might sound rather bleak for the TR6 but as I do visit my parents a couple of times a year, I visit the TR and put it through a regimen which involves lubing the cylinders and cranking it with spark plugs out, oil changes and short drives when possible. I did manage to take the car to a high school reunion in there as well. Did I mention this was my first car and that I’ve owned it since I was 16? Well, it’s true and this year is its 40th birthday having been built in April of 1974 and in my custody for what has now been 30 years. There are however, some things that you just can’t control even in a dehumidified air conditioned basement and that is rubber deterioration. During the years in storage I replaced the fuel pump and the last time I visited it the o-rings around the carb plugs in the float bowls had perished resulting in the requisite fuel dumping onto the exhaust.
So with these thoughts in mind, I planned to retrieve the TR6 over the 4th of July holiday, but not just retrieve it but to DRIVE IT home to Georgia. Yes you read that right. So in preparation I contacted Mike Hurst and Shawn Tarleton to inquire if they had any spares that I might borrow for the drive of nearly 700 miles. Mike and Shawn both are experienced TR6 owners. Mike’s knowledge of all things Triumph is of course well known and Shawn has certainly logged more miles in the seat of a TR6 than anyone I know. A special thanks to both for their parts and moral support.
Back home, my Dad had rolled it outside when I arrived and I started assessing the car. First was removing plugs and oiling cylinders as I have always done. I removed the air cleaner and then the plugs from the bottom of the carbs knowing the o-rings were perished. They came out with ease and did not break…a miracle in itself. I replaced the o-rings with ones that Mike had supplied replaced the air cleaner and it was job done. Checked the oil level in the Strombergs. After disconnecting the coil, I climbed into the car and hit the key. Dead battery. Well, Dad had it on the charger for a few days so I figured it was toast. I had planned for that as well and snatched the spare battery out of the trunk of the Toyota that I brought with me from Georgia. After installing the battery, I keyed it off again and this time it cranked over. I gave it a second, released the key and did it again until I felt certain that oil had completely made its rounds in the engine. Next, I got out and verified there were no leaks from the carbs. Yay! Now it was plugs back in, hook up coil and plugs and light it off. Yep, on old fuel and cylinders will lots of oil. After only seconds of cranking with a little choke she lights off in a plume of smoke and is alive and purring like only a TR6 can. I let it run for about a minute and then shut her down. Pulled up my oil catch and drained the oil. New oil and filter, Check coolant…creaaaakkkkk. Pressure cap comes off but leaves spring and plug in radiator. Grab pliers and extract remains. A bit crusty and the coolant has a skin on it. Remove lower hose and drain coolant. Flush with clean water with car running. Reattach hose (rubber still feels good) and top off with fresh coolant and a can of Prestone radiator anti-rust and water pump lube since water pump is making odd noises. Also lube pulleys with belt lube which lessens the racket. Dad has an old pickup with a cap that fits so he gives me his good cap. Good ole Dad to the rescue! Check hydraulics, brakes are solid, clutch…eh, working but obviously needs to be bled. Checking fluid level on brake and clutch looks good. Tires…not flat but very low. Top off with air from portable cigarette lighter compressor. Gas station just down the road maybe 1/4 mile. Let’s do it! So start it up, hop in and drive to gas station. Lots of shaking from the tires which haven’t been on a real drive in almost 3 years. At the station, add some fresh fuel and inflate tires. Drive back to my folks, tires shaking less but still bad.
Back home check for leaks and other anomalies. Engine running a little rough, find oil fouling on some plugs from the initial light off so new plugs go in. Over the course of the next 5 days I use this car as my daily driver to get around with wife using Toyota. Sometimes we take both cars to wherever we are going, ‘just because’. Shawn had told me to drive it as much as possible before heading back so that’s what I did. Over the course of the next few days I replaced the wiper blades and topped up air in the tires as needed. Also on a tip for removing flat spots that I found on the internet I over-inflated the tires for a short run and then backed the pressure back down. The tires were starting to loosen up and return to normal shape. These were brand new Michelin X one’s with about 6 months of driving time on them when it was parked so yes from an age standpoint they aren’t the best but having been in the cool basement they seem to have aged well with no cracking even after the 700mile trek home. I also hosed it off and tossed a quicky coat of wax on it. I was ready to go.
For the trip back we decided to break it into two days since neither my wife nor I really like to drive more than 8 hours in a stint anyway. We left out at 8:00 am so as not to hit St. Louis traffic before 9:00 which would be a disaster. Hwy 61 is rougher than a corn cob as it uses concrete slab technology for its surface to protect against the freeze and thaw conditions in Missouri. Every vehicle we have, even those with cushy suspensions still suffers from the clip-clop effect as you roll over the slabs. You can imagine the effect in a TR6 with flat spotted tires. All I can say is imagine life in a paint shaker for 80 miles. It was so rough that when I stopped for gas in Illinois the door catch mechanism was falling out of the door. I got out my tools and re-affixed it but wow. I felt awful from the buffeting and ride and wondered to myself that the car might make the journey but maybe I can’t! After freshening up a bit at Mc’D’s and grabbing an iced tea, we headed to a gas station for fuel and fluid checks. All was well and off we went onto leg 2 which was uneventful until we hit a logjam on US57 due to construction. We had seen this on the way up and thought we needed to avoid it on the way back but we forgot exactly where it was. As I sat there in the 90+ heat, the 6 started to get warm, but I was getting even warmer. I pulled off to the side and my wife pulled in behind. I got out and went to sit in her air-conditioned ride for a bit (I was feeling a bit envious) and to plot our escape from this highway of doom. Didn’t take long to figure out we could cross the median up ahead where others were doing the same and return to Ina where we could get on US37 and bypass this mess. With a plan, we executed it and were again on our way. Next stop our hotel. Day 1 was over.
Day 2 started out uneventful. It was cool, overcast with occasional sprinkles. Perfect. The car was running great when we pulled into Murfreesboro for gas. Leaving however there was a problem. When I reached the 3rd stoplight and started onto the on-ramp the car stumbled and died. I pulled onto the shoulder and it lit off again but was running very rough and bucking. Driving up the shoulder I kept feathering the throttle until in planed out and was running on all cylinders again. I assumed I had sucked some bad gas, thought it might even be a whole tank of bad gas from the station I just filled at. I was not happy and a bit worried about maybe having to drain the tank, but she kept running and soon we were back at our previous pace. We stopped again after coming down from Monteagle to eat lunch. There were some odd noises coming from the gearbox area and I knew the rear gearbox seal was leaking a bit but how much I was uncertain. Rather than gamble on toasting a gearbox due to no oil, I told my wife we would be making an extended stop while I gutted the interior of the 6 to gain access to the gearbox oil filler. Not much choice given the place I was at and the replacement tunnel cover had no access door. No worries, I remember quite well how it comes out having rebuilt the gearbox at the ripe old age of 18…oh did I mention I am driving with a gearbox that an 18 year old rebuilt after blowing the layshaft? Just another bit of info for those keeping score. Wife and daughter play ‘shop hands’ for me with my wife organizing the haphazard array of tools in the trunk and my daughter passing tools and getting into those places that a 46 year old man doesn’t fit real well in anymore. So about an hour later the gearbox oil is topped off, not really down much, about a pint since the rebuild some 28 years ago, but better safe than sorry. The noise I believe is actually the throw-out bearing but will investigate that more now that it’s home. Back to the story though… After topping off we are back on the road and the miles are clicking by. At this point I am road weary but enjoying the drive. The tires have sorted themselves out and now realize they are supposed to be circles and not squares so the ride is much better and I am confident as I am heading into the home stretch as I roll onto GA 20. That’s where things start to go wrong. After sitting at the light which seemed like an eternity, I get stopped at a second light which proves to be my undoing. The car starts sputtering and bucking again before finally dying. I coast to the side of the road and try to crank it again as I had done in Murfreesboro. No joy this time. It won’t start. I am only 35 miles from home, and yet here I sit. Damn! I give a quick call to Mike Hurst who suggests a few things to try. No joy. Looks like a tow for sure. Damn! again. After ringing for a tow I also call Shawn and let him know what’s up. It seems like it may be a fuel pump but I’m not 100% sure as the fuel pump is only about 3 years old, granted it sat, but I’m not totally convinced since I drove from Murfreesboro after the same condition happened there. My wife decides to travel back to Wendy’s and grab some Frosty’s and an iced tea..it is hot after all. I stay with the car and decide to give it another go. It lights off! So I try to drive up the road a bit. It sputters a bit but remains running as I pull off onto a grassy area and away from the treacherous traffic on 20 threatening to kill me while I work. Folks, if you see someone stalled on the side of the road, change lanes! It’s common courtesy and if you are ever on the side of the road you’ll appreciate it too, but enough soapbox. Eventually my wife returns and I tell her what is going on. We decide to make a go of it and attempt to at least reduce the tow charge. Heading down the road the car bucks and chugs until we crest the next hill and after a bit more feathering of the throttle eventually it planes out again and we are off. It starts to dawn on me that this is exactly how my old motorcycle used to behave when it had water in the tank. Looking at the fuel gauge I realize it is low on fuel and maybe I am sucking poor quality fuel as I roll into Canton I stop at a station to top it off. This is where things get ludicrous for a bit as if I was born under a bad sign. The gas pump clicks off after adding .3 gallons and displays ‘ERROR’ on the pump. WTH?! Pull up to another pump, it says, ‘Prepay Cashier’. Double WTH?! Give up, drive to the Racetrac down the road. Put in 8 gallons, car stalls and won’t start again. Go inside grab bottle of ‘Heet’ and dump in tank, grab another glass of iced tea and dump inside me. Moral of the gas station story is, ‘Make it hard for your customers to buy gas, lose sales.’ Basic business. Did I mention it was hot and I was irritable as Ashford at this point? At any rate, after a few minutes, car cranks and dies, repeat 2 times. Finally, the car is running smooth again and we drive home which concludes the epic journey of a crotchety old TR6 and its owner. Don’t think your car can make a simple GTA drive? Oh, I think it can. The question is, can you?
Addendum: A few closing words. A lot of people were pretty incredulous that I attempted this journey and I got to thinking about why I really wasn’t worried about it. Was it foolhardiness? Perhaps, but more I think it was that distinctly American trait of, “It can be done”. Much in the same tradition as those that ran their first ever Ten Countries Run and succeeded where so many others have failed. It was my belief that my car was in better nick than some of the cars fielded on that trip, so there should be no expectation of failure on this 5 States Run of 700 miles. The other thing I thought about is the legion of friends that I could call on if I did get stuck, a friends list that I owe, in no small part, to my membership in the GTA and all the connections and network of others that I have met as a result. So, if you are considering the ‘intangibles’ of membership, even if you opt to be a member for a short time, your access into the extended community of LBC owners will benefit your lifetime of ownership. Shawn even met me at my house with a victory beer in hand. How can you beat that?-Tony Graham Triumph, It’s what’s inside.