(Or..........."18 Hours In An America!")
The Big Plan:
I've decided that since 2002 is the 40th Anniversay of the ADO-16, I'm going to as many events as
After keeping a close watch on the "Calendar" page of British Car Magazine's web site, I chose The
Wheels of Britain Car Show in Phoenix, Arizona as the first event of the year. It's held in a beautiful location and
is hosted by several British car clubs in the Phoenix area. The other enticing thing about this show, was that it was
quite a drive at 575+ miles, which is about 9 hours each way, and the America and I were due for a road trip!
Although I've driven the America this distance a few times, I haven't made this long of a trip since
the mid-80's. I pre-registered for the show and reserved a hotel room near by. Let's face it, once
you've spent $15 on an entry registration, you're committed...no matter what! Plus, the "MapBlast!" directions made
it look easy. Just a few simpe steps: 188mi south to Los Angeles, 37mi south east across the LA Basin and then 388mi
east to Phoenix, AZ. No problem. Wait a minute......388mi across mostly desert.....in an America?!
Being the procrastinator that I am, I didn't give the car a pre-trip inspection until Friday
afternoon, and we were planning on leaving the next morning at about 6:30am. Of course when I fired the car up
I found quite a big fuel leak from a bad hose connection at the fuel pipe on the firewall. This leak was my fault because
a few months earlier I'd replaced the steel braided flexible fuel line to the carb with 5/16"dia. fuel hose that I had laying
around, instead of going and buying the correct 1/4"dia. fuel hose. I thought I could get the hose clamp tight enough,
and it didn't leak at the time. Now months later, it was leaking quite nicely and I could hear the fuel pump fluttering
away in an effort to keep up with the leak. (What is that thing 'they' say about doing it right the first time?
Oh yah, never mind.) This was no way to start the trip!
A quick trip to pick up some fuel hose and the leak was repaired in minutes. However, when
I fired the engine back up, I could still hear the fuel pump points fluttering away! This can only mean a few things:
1) Low fuel 2) A leak after the pump 3) A bad reed valve or valves in the fuel pump 4) A bad fuel pump diaphram.
I quickly ruled out the first two causes and new that I wasn't going to make the trip to Arizona
and back without replacing the fuel pump. This was the America's original fuel pump, now 32 years old and still alive
and kicking. I'd done quite a bit of work on it last year while diagnosing my poor running problems. At that time,
one of the problems with the pump was dirty reed valves that weren't sealing properly and causing the pump to basically cavitate
and not suck or pump any fuel intermittently. I'd replaced the valves with some out of another pump that I had and this
had cured the problem. With all you hear about Lucas electrics and S.U. pumps being the root of all evil in British
cars, I've always been proud of the fact that my car was still using the original pump.
Since we were going to be spending a "significant" amount of time on the road, and most of it in
the middle of the Arizona Desert I decided not to attempt another repair. I purchased a new pump for $73 and had it
installed in about :15min. A far better use of my time and money than being broken down in the middle of nowhere
waiting for a $300 tow truck ride. Also, since my wife was going, a good way of maintaining marital bliss!
The Drive to Arizona:
We left Saturday morning at 7:30am and after getting gas headed south bound towards Los
Angeles. You can imagine the look on my wife's face when I told her I wasn't bringing any tools. The America ran
flawlessly and 3 hours later we were headed east bound and out of the LA Basin toward the California/Arizona border and the
Once out of LA, civilization dwindles off rapidly except for areas like Palm Springs, Banning
and a couple others. We stopped for lunch and fuel just east of Banning and I just couldn't resist parking between 2
CHP (California Highway Patrol) Cruisers in the parking lot. I couldn't help not taking a photo of a giant VW Beetle/spider
sculpture next door to the fast food restaurant. Since the America was always pitted against the VW throughout
it's sales, it was ironic to find this piece of artwork.
After lunch and about 8 gallons of gas, which put us somewhere in the neighborhood of 35mpg,
we headed east to the California/Arizona border.
The drive across the Arizona Desert was awesome! The freeway is just endless... hot
... and endless. You definately know you've arrived when the giant Saguro cactus are all around and there isn't anything
else as far as the eye can see in any direction. We finally arrived in Phoenix about 4:30pm and checked into the hotel.
After 9 hours averaging 3,800-4,200rpm's the entire time, which is 75-80mph with the
3.1 final drive gears, the car was running beautifully. Even with the high tempuratures and constant wind, we averaged
well over 30mpg. The seats were even still comfortable.
The show was held at Heritage Square, which is in central Phoenix. It's a huge city
block that has been turned into a historic city-scape with a collection of restored vintage brick buildings, houses,
and vintage street lights. It made an excellent setting for the 167 cars that were on display.
The various local British car clubs that come together to make this event happen did an outstanding
job with parking and organization. There were raffles all day long and it appeared as though half the entrants received
a door prize of some sort. A great selection of prizes by the way! From 40 piece socket sets, to gift boxes of
teas and gift certificates to local merchants, they had it all!
As usual, the America was placed in a "catch-all" class. It never ceases to amaze me where
we are placed at the events we attend. This time we were in the "Classics-1956 and later" class. We shared
this class with 3 other cars, a Triumph Stag, an Anglia, and a 1956 Austin Taxi. I have know idea why British
car shows don't have an Austin class. There's always a class for every other make, but rarely ever Austin.
One of the highlights of every show we attend is the ridiculous comments made by spectators.
(The other highlight being how ostrisized we are for showing up with an America. I guess if you're not driving one of the
umpteen MGB's or Midgets, then there must be something wrong with you.) One of my past favorites was barked by a club
staff member at the 2001 San Diego British Car Days Show as he handed me my entrance packet, "Look, a wanna be MG!" This show was no different and I thought it worthwhile to list some of beauties:
- "Does it go? Does it move back and forth?"
- "This is what they had before the Cooper."
- "Yeah, we were just trying to figure out what American car that dash came out of because we know 'they'
liked to use other parts in there cars."
- "Did you know that BMW is starting to make these again? They're bigger and have more horsepower.
I used to race one of these."
- "With that color, if you parked it in the desert you couldn't find it."
- "This was 'their' attempt at a sedan. They didn't sell very well."
Always an intellectual treat!
The America Brings Home An Award:
We brought home our first award, which was a really nice surprize. We received
recognition for the car that was driven the furthest . . . go figure!
The Trip Home:
As it says in the manual, "Re-assembly is a reversal of the disassembly."
And so it was for the trip home. Equally long and uneventful. Due to the time of day we drove several
hours directly into the hot and low western sun. The last 45min. before sunset were absolutely brutal! The sun
was so low in the sky, yet still so bright that it was nearly impossible to see cars ahead. It was the same effect
as driving in heavy fog. All we could see were dark silhouettes. On top of that, the high winds coming from
the west had quite an effect on the power required to keep the car at speed. Our fuel consumption dropped to 26mpg for
the portion of the trip from Phoenix to Palm Springs.
Overall, we logged about 1,200 miles in 48 hours and encountered almost every type
of road condition imaginable. From the winding 2-lane mountian passes just north of Santa Barbara, and 5 lane freeway
traffic in LA that would go from 80mph to stop-and-go in a matter of minutes, to the long hot straight I-10 freeway across
the desert. Even with long hours of sustained high speed and high revs, the car didn't use any oil or coolant.
A great little adventure for us and the America. Definately the makings of a great road trip! Alec Issigonis would
be smiling for sure.