Thursday, February 19, 2009

On the Road...

We all have our favorite "Road Trip" stories. Some are focused on a harrowing incident, like limping an uncooperative old machine many miles to an exit or shop for repair. Or maybe a full on break down that involved the better part of a day laying on the ground fighting a mechanical problem with limited tools. Then again some are all sunshine and rainbows. The road trips when it all goes right. The weather holds out, the car couldn't be happier and wants to keep on going even after it's back in the garage, the friends who were scheduled to be on the trip all make it without exception or complications. 

It's hard to say which is more satisfying. I suppose the really memorable ones contain just the right amount of all the above. I'm pleased to say that I've had a couple of those in my life, but I've also had the others in extremes. 

I'd have to say that possibly the worst road trip I may have experienced would be the time a limped ( literally ) a 1991 VW GTI from Los Angeles to Nashville during the height of summer. I had spent the better part of 4 months out west doing some music work and had stumbled across a dead mint, low mileage, one owner, red with grey little 5spd GTI. It was a loaded California car that looked and felt new. I was already a GTI owner, having owned an ex-SCCA solo car, a red '86,  for a few years at that time, and I was hooked on these little German anvils. I made a nice deal with the owner and decided I'd drive it home when I left town later that month. 

Well, the car couldn't have been better driving around the Hollywood hills. There were several nights driving home, dead tired from a full day in the studio, when I would suddenly get a huge second wind and go up on Mulholland drive for a good 45 minutes of winding switchback fun. I can still feel how tight, whisper quiet, and rattle free that little car was. 

Yup, it was a great one...  until about 80 miles outside of LA at around 10pm when I was on my way home. Suddenly out of nowhere, it began doing what can only be described as the exact symptom you'd have if someone where sitting in the passenger seat next to you and turning the key off and on off and on. It would only do this under high vacuum situations, as the problem would go away if you put a load on it ( perfect problem to have when you're heading out across a dead flat interstate for 2,200 miles ). 

I limped it along bucking and snorting like this for a couple hundred miles and finally pulled off for the night. The next morning I spent the first hour of my day inspecting everything under the hood. Looking for any kind of bad vacuum hose or leak of any kind. I tried to locate what grounds I could see and read if they were corroded or not. I found nothing glaring. In fact, everything looked great.. just like a low mileage car from a perfect car climate would. 

So, I fired it back up and got in to see how it would behave for day number 2. Would you believe- perfectly fine for the first half of the day. But, when it came back it came back big. I was struggling to stay out of peoples way in the slow lane ( traffic moves along notoriously well out in the wide open sections of I-40 ). I finally got to Alb., NM and found a German car shop. They couldn't take it until the morning. So, without putting in much of a day of driving I got a hotel and waited for morning. 

The next day it was off to the shop. Of course on the way there it wouldn't act up. When I dropped it off I explained the problem but that it was behaving. he said the would use it as the parts runner for a while and get it to act up. I remember not liking that very much. Around 2pm I got a call from the shop saying the car runs perfect and shows no problems when hooked to the diagnostics. Come and get it and that'll be $280.00. 

I understood their side of this but I also have to say they were pretty uncaring about the old "just passing through" tourist. Bed side manners are so important. 

So it was back on the road...  and within a few hours back to the bucking and snorting. I somehow made it to Nashville and thought to myself,"I'll never ever do that again in an unknown car." 

For the next couple of months I tried everything imaginable to fix my sick but minty little teutonic box. New ignition switche, clean all grounds, made sure of zero vacuum leaks, replaced the crank sensor, replaced the distributor, replaced the computer...  nothing, unchanged. I kept it for the better part of a year, just using it in town where it was mostly fine, and then sold it to a German car dealer and never heard of it again. 

So why, might you ask, am I going on about a little cross country journey that I once took in a car so unruly that it would have made Jack Kerouac decide to stay home on the couch???,,,  well, starting at 8am tomorrow I will be setting out on a cross country drive for the first time in few years ( at least with me at the wheel ), and you know, I couldn't be more excited. It really is a great love of mine, and hey, they can't all be bad right? 

The only potential problem I see is the fact that my choice of transportation is a frighteningly familiar one...   are you ready for this???...    a pretty little silver VW GTI!!!!   ( Cue Horror film soundtrack ) . But really, I mean, it couldn't happen AGAIN could it? ...    really, could it?   

We'll see, and you'll find out. My route will take me to the 3 shows I have to play for the tour this weekend on Thurs, Fri, and Sat., ( Springfield, Mo. , OKC, Ok. , and Dallas ). Then it's on the road to LA. I can't promise I'll be able to check in everyday ( internet can get hard to find out in the wide open west ) but I'll do my best. 

PS...  the photo is not of the "lemon" but my old faithful track-day/race school car, the ex-SCCA '86 GTI. A car that also drove its way out west and back and never even thought about a hiccup, had 280,000 miles on it when I sold it, and would have happily still done a full day on the track in July heat. 

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