Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Big Idea

Home, late 28 Dec, 2008

Later while sitting at the computer surfing for cheap cars for sale under 500 dollars, my surprise-me-spouse came up behind me and gave me a big hug. “I had a good time this weekend. That was fun.” She said. “I liked hanging out in Brownie. You should keep it.”

I spun around and looked at her in disbelief. “What? Really?”

“Yeah. I like him. We should do that again” She said.

“Well ok! I can do that! I just got to fix a few things on him first.” I was stunned.

She walked away smiling and I almost forgot what I was doing. I had been looking for a late Rubber Bumper MGB to buy cheap. A few days earlier I had been volunteering to help at the 24 Hours of LeMons “Arse-Freeze-Apalooza” event at Thunderhill raceway and ran into a few friends including one of the Judges for the event, and Chief Perp Jay Lamm. That's when I threw out an idea...

I had a hard time falling asleep the night before, mostly because our race car did not show up in time for the race. I had resolved to put together my OWN car for the next event, and my "I-can't-believe-I'm-saying-this-spouse" even suggested I buy my own race car. It occurred to me that I had a garage full of used MGB parts. Why not an MGB?

Well for one thing, I hate the idea of killing any classic old car. Its fun to watch these races, but I don’t know if I could stomach sentencing one to death myself. I would get attached to it and have second thoughts, blah-blah-blah. It’s just the way I am.

Steve, one of the drivers from team #88 Lemon/Martini put it a different way that changed the way I looked it. He said “Most of these are cars that are already condemned, rotting away in junkyards or under trees. Many of them can’t pass smog or be registered, and on their way to the crushers anyways. This is a way to let them go out and play one last time and have some fun.”

That was a cool way to look at it.

Besides, there is no reason it has to be a death sentence. Some of these cars go on to become full fledged racers.

Hmmm… the wheels started turning.

Ok, why not an MGB? A late unloved Rubber Bumper MGB? They are everywhere, cheap, neglected, hard to smog, unwanted, and have FULL potential of being a fast track car when freed from the smog police.

Obie, my wife’s MGB (that I drive) started out as a late Rubber Bumper car. The first thing I did to it was cut those bumpers off. Then I retrograded the suspension back to chrome bumper spec. I keep a set of early S.U. carbs to throw on for “Off-highway” occasions, and the car is dang quick. I have made grown men scream like little girls while showing off its cornering ability on freeway overpass cloverleaves. It sticks like an angry cat on carpet.

The front suspension technology may be a little dated (ok, a LOT dated) but it works real well. And it is nearly destruction-proof due to the king-pin design, which seems to be a main problem with the Hondas and BMWs at these events, to the point of teams bringing spare cars. In fact, when an MGB gets in a serious front end accident, the damage is usually contained to forward of the massive front cross member. MGB rally cars would have the damaged front sheet-metal cut off and replaced, and they would be sent back out for the next event.

MGBs are a tinkerer’s car. If you understand electricity and don’t mind tinkering with it on a regular basis, they make astoundingly reliable cars. (Yes, yes, go ahead and laugh… get it out of your system.) I’m here to tell you I have driven MGBs on a daily basis as a PRIMARY vehicle for over 15 years, rain or shine, Tahoe to San Diego, day or night, well over 30,000 miles a year (when the speedo works). I put over 250k miles on my MGB-GT before deciding to restore it, and it was a clapped out high mileage car when I got it back in 1993. I just replaced whatever got worn out and kept on driving. The things just never quit.

They do however keep you full of material for funny stories. Wipers don’t work when it rains etc etc.

MGBs do not like to sit. Things go wrong when it sits. They will tell you when something is wrong long before it breaks. If your MGB breaks down it was YOUR fault for not paying attention, or not taking care of that squeal/squeek/thud/shudder sooner.

If you have someone else do the work on your car you may as well give them full access to your open wallet. But they are so simple, if you can hold a screwdriver or wrench and read a Chilton’s repair book, you can keep an MGB alive with basic hand tools.

The perfect lemons racer.

And I have lots of spare parts in case they are needed. 3 engines, 7 transmissions, axles, carbs, radiators, fenders… you name it, I probably have at least one in my massive (obsessive) stash.

All these thoughts went through my mind as I struggled to sleep the first night of Ass-Freeze-Apalooza. Then I thought of the old John Belushi “King Bee” bit from Saturday Night Live and I had my “Eureka!”moment.

The next day I asked Jay, the Chief Perp who also used to be an MGB addict, “You know, I have been trying to get into this stupid race for a long time now. What about an MGB? Team Killer bees?”

Jay responded, “An MGB would TOTALLY get accepted. The problem is we have more entries than we can handle, and everyone wants to race a Honda or a BMW. It’s boring. But I GUARANTEE you a spot with an MG.”

And so recorded! Excellent!

I had the go ahead from my go-ahead-spouse, a verbal guarantee from the organizer, and just enough room in the driveway for another MG. The first thing I did when we got home from the race was to look for MGBs on every west coast Craigslist.

$400. $350. $500. $750.

"Hey Honey, come take a look at this." I shouted several times to "regret-she-said-that-spouse". "Here's another one."

Next: Craigslist

Previous: Almost Home, Last leg, 24 hrs of Lemons

From The Begining - The Hook... (Part 1)

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