Classic Car Travel Preparation

Classic Car Travel Preparation

Taking an old car on a road trip

Old cars are a delight to see in Museums, but for me the real fun involves taking one on a trip. It's always an adventure. You never know what's going to happen, and it can be a test of your perseverance and resourcefulness. A case in point involved my trip from Hamilton, Virginia, to York, Pennsylvania, in early June, in my 1934 Ford coupe. My goal was the National Street Rod Association's East Coast Nationals, which attracts me every year, along with about 5,000 other entrants and a huge crowd of spectators.

My '34 Ford Coupe

I had bought this car last fall, from a friend in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who wasn't using it much, and I had only driven it around town, never over 55 mph, and probably not over 20 miles on a single trip. It's just an old hot rod, with a supercharged Mercury flathead engine and a '39 Ford floor shift transmission. The top has been chopped three inches; it sits low thanks to a dropped front axle and modified springs. There's no paint, just gray primer with flattener, no windshield wipers, no seatbelts (yet), no radio, heater, nor defroster...and no jack or spare tire. It's pretty basic. Kind of like a car a high school kid would have built in the Fifties.

I always carry a few tools, spare oil, and usually a battery box, but I had just charged the battery so I took the tools and left the jump starter at home (bad idea).

Even though I'd never driven this car more than 25 miles before, that didn't deter me. From my home in Virginia, through part of Maryland, past Gettysburg then east to York is only about 120 miles each way. Piece of cake, right? Wrong...

Things Heat Up

Heading up Route 15 over the mountains, one side of the engine began overheating. I should mention that there are two temperature gauges, one in each cylinder head. Being an old flathead hand, I thought there might be a head gasket problem or an internal crack. But the coolant was topped up and the temperature, which had hovered at the 210-220-mark, came down as I descended toward Gettysburg. The engine was too hot to put any sealer in the radiator, so I slowed to 50 mph (which seemed to help), added a quart of oil, and soldiered on.

It was just as well because by then I was dealing with a clutch that had slipped out of adjustment. By carefully double-clutching, I could still shift without grinding gears. At this point, I reckoned once I got to York I could use a jack and jackstands courtesy of the Michigan Street Rod Association. They offer a repair facility at every NSRA event-and free advice, too.

Minor Adjustments

Once I arrived at York, I borrowed a jack and adjusted the clutch. For the pinhole leak, I bought a container of Barr's Stopleak (old-fashioned, but it works!). When I arrived at my motel and turned off the car, I discovered I had a dead battery. It was fully charged before I left, but it had gone flat once over the winter, despite occasional attention with a battery tender, so I should have been more wary. I was able to jumpstart the car with borrowed cables and drove two miles to an auto parts store. By this time, it had started to rain, really hard.

At the parts store, I bought a new battery, as close in size to the old one as possible. Unfortunately, in this car the battery lives in a cubby under the drivers' floorboard. The new battery was 1/4-inch too big all around. It was still raining, and the hold-down clamp was wedged under a crossmember. How they'd ever gotten it in, I don't know. I finally managed to bend the bracket sufficiently to remove the old battery and shoehorn in the new one. Then I remade the bracket, outside in the rainstorm, and the coupe (mercifully) fired right up. The people at the parts store generously let me use their employee lounge to change my wet and dirty clothes.

Rain and Show

I was number 4757, and people were still arriving despite the deluge, so there was a lot to see. I felt sorry for the roadster boys, but I was snug and dry, except for a small rear window leak. The next afternoon, a friend accidentally slammed his '40 Ford coupe door on my arm while he was demonstrating how well it fit (my wrist was okay, just badly bruised) and not long afterward, I broke my glasses! Soon I was driving home in the still pelting rain, with no wipers (thank goodness for Rain-X). Peering through the narrow windshield, listening to the rumble of the glasspacks and straining to see through the mist, comforted by the dim instrument lights, I felt as though I were back in high school driving my old '40 coupe. It was a nice feeling.

Homeward Bound

On the plus side, the block sealer seemed to do the trick. I motored merrily along at 65 mph with the left-hand temperature at 170-175 degrees all the way at 65 mph; the right side was 160 degrees, so I think it's pretty nearly fixed. The new battery was fine, of course. I actually had a decent charge going any time the engine was turning higher than 2,500 rpm. It pinged under hard acceleration, so I'll adjust the timing when I get home, maybe change the plugs too.

Best of all, the engine really started to come alive about mid-way home. I think just running it made a big difference. Like many old cars, after a couple of hundred miles, and a tank of fresh high-test laced with Marvel Mystery Oil, all that storage carbon goes away and you're left with a happy motor. And a happy driver.

So other than a few glitches, I had a really good time. Aren't old cars fun?

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