I signed up to run the Puget Sound British Automotive Society's "Run to the Gorge" rally this year. Chris and I went last year and had a great time. It is a gathering of about 60 cars, mostly "LBC's" for a semi-casual drive on back-roads from Tacoma to Hood River and back. It was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, and I made the reservations and what not about a month prior to the event.

Of course the weeks leading up to the event were a bit hassled. The E-type's starter was acting up. Every once in a while it just won't start... and almost never if the car is hot. I bought a new starter to replace it, but haven't had the time to actually do the job... as it is a real PITA to do. Anyone familiar with E-types knows what I mean... it is as if they built the car around the starter. It is buried under the intake manifold and very hard to get to.

Additionally work has kept me very busy. Late nights, too much time on the phone, and even a 4-day, rather intense, business trip immediately prior to the event, complete with all sorts of weather and mechanical-related travel problems. Needless to say, I was not mentally prepared for a weekend of even casual vintage rallying, though I did need the mini-vacation!

The day arrived, and I had not really done *anything* to prep the car, or myself. I pushed a change of clothes and my toothbrush into my bag, tossed it in FedEx envelope that passes as the Jaguar's trunk, and drove down to Tacoma with Christopher on Saturday morning. We actually considered driving my VW Jetta TDi instead, as the weather looked like it might be crappy. In fact I thought about taping pictures of the Jag on the Jetta windows with the caption "Visualize two guys in a leaky Jaguar." The sun peeked out a few times, so I thought it would be best to just buck up and take the Jag. I wish I hadn't.

Advantages of the VW Jetta TDi:

  1. German engineering
  2. Bosch
  3. Doesn't leak
  4. 50mpg on $2.15 Diesel
  5. Nice stereo, with Monsoon speakers and connection for Apple iPod.
  6. Makes that cool (but real) turbo sound when you press the accelerator.

Advantages of the Jaguar E-type:

  1. It is a Jaguar E-type
  2. It goes like stink!
  3. It is a convertible
  4. It goes like stink, passing is FUN
  5. Who needs music when you have Sir William Lyon's Sixth Symphony!?
  6. See number 5

Disadvantages of the VW Jetta TDi:

  1. It is NOT a Jaguar E-type
  2. Peak 90 HP at 4000 RPM
  3. Nobody ever lusts for it
  4. Passing requires planning, timing and luck
  5. It is a four door sedan fercrissakes
  6. Yawn

Disadvantages of the Jaguar E-type:

  1. British Engineering
  2. Lucas Electrics (aka "The Prince of Darkness")
  3. I'm too tall to fit inside when the top is up
  4. 17 MPG on $2.75 92 octane "Premium Unleaded" (would really prefer 100 octane leaded)
  5. No radio, tape deck, etc.
  6. Only submarines with screen doors leak more water

I took the Jaguar.

In hindsight, we'd have been better off in the Jetta. Things got off to a lousy start, and just got worse and worse. First, I nearly spin it on SR530 when I pulled out to make a left turn. The road was a little wet and the E-type has way too much torque. Then, I realize as we are on our way that I have left the AC-adapters for both my laptop and my cell phone at home. I consider stopping at my office to get my other set, and even angle toward the I-405 exit when I figure "what the heck, it is only a day and a half... " and keep going south on I-5. Within a few minutes I am pulled over by a Washington State Trooper, who says I am going 80. My speedometer is wildly inaccurate (another item on the "to do" list for the Jaguar) but I carry a little cheat-sheet that tells me how fast I am going, based on engine RPM's and the gear I'm in. I know the tachometer is correct because I fixed that issue last summer. Here is a photo of the cheat sheet mounted on the front of the roof above the driver:

Theoretically 3000 RPM in 4th is 80MPH. I was thinking that couldn't be right, as everyone else seemed to be going 80 too. As I was contemplating that the flashing lights appeared in my mirror. Officer Friendly let me off with just a (verbal) warning (I have very good cop karma, despite being frequently lead footed) and I didn't even have to explain the whole broken speedo thing, or my pondering of the implications of adding larger, radial tires to a car designed for thinner bias-ply tires and using the factory-generated RPM/speed tables and what the variable diameter of bias plys might do to affect the math thereof. I think he picked me out of the crowd to have a closer look at the car. Believe or not, that does happen.

Did I mention it is cloudy... very cloudy... with sprinkles of rain.

So we eventually arrive at Jaguar of Tacoma... a little late, but things were slow going so we were OK. I had to park somewhere with some open space in front of me, in case the starter wouldn't start.

There was a nice collection of cars assembled.

I like the plate frame. =)

Plus a bunch of E-types:

We attend the driver's meeting, and Chris get his fill of free donuts.

We get into the lineup for the start... get our route instructions, and go...

A Jaguar Saloon car lined up behind us.

A very rare Jaguar XJ220. I want one.

Above: Ace Navigator Christopher Goolsbee.

We proceed along and the first 10 miles are an odometer check, and sure enough, right as we are within a mile of the final 10 mile checkpoint, we make a wrong turn. Wait, that was incorrect... *I* make a wrong turn. This was NOT my Ace Navigator's fault... it was all mine. Christopher is an excellent navigator, and has never lead me astray, ever. I totally bungled our chances to calibrate my finicky odometer. Oh well. We come to our self-checkout station and get ready for the first segment, which follows some nice rural roads in south Pierce County. We leave at 10:35 and head south towards Morton. For most of the way we are following a nice silver Series 2, E-type. It is a guy who is self-navigating. It is always fun to have more than one E-type on some nice curvy back roads. As we are zipping along the Jaguar mis-fires once as I accelerate (cue ominous foreshadowing soundtrack) and I make a mental note of it.

We get a glimpse of the XJ220 ahead of us at one point, but my chances of photographing it vanish when we get stuck behind an RV for several miles.

We arrive in Morton for the self-checkin for segment one, and check-out for segment two. The checkpoint is a Chevron station, so I pull in to fill up on gasoline and check the oil. As the gas hose is doing it's business, I lift the bonnet to check the oil. I grab a rag out of the car, check it, note that it could use about a pint, and head to the boot to grab some Castrol. While I'm there I see that the fuel pump has come loose from it's moorings and is now fallen into the spare wheel well, hanging by it's electric cords. Did I mention it is very cold, windy, and spitting rain? Well it is. While I'm back with my head in the boot the bonnet slams shut from a gust of wind. (cue more ominous foreshadowing music) I get the fuel pump sorted and lash it down with a handy bit of duct tape. I ponder the possibility that my sudden acceleration was what threw it off, and maybe that cued the misfire??? *Click* Fuel is finished dispensing! I wander inside to pay, pee, and grab Christopher some lunch.

I come back outside, into the force 3 gale, toss Chris some chicken and chips, and attempt to fire the starter. Sure enough, it fails. Chris hops out to give the car a shove, and it fires up. Off we go. About three miles down the road I turn to Chris and say "Do you smell something burning?" (cue MORE ominous soundtrack). He kind of does that blank stare around in a circle, sniffing, and says... "yeah..... OH MY GAWD, DAD.... FIRE!!! THERE'S A FIRE!" For half a second I think he's pulling my leg in some sort of teenage stunt, but as I turn to look at him I see genuine terror (not the expected teenage smirk) and as I follow his pointing arm forward, sure enough, I too see flames through the bonnet's louvers. I had been looking on the passenger side, as my logical brain was saying "fire needs fuel, fuel is on the intake side of the engine" Christopher's primal teenager brain has no such logical mechanisms... the fire was clearly on the exhaust side, right in front of me. I've played out this drill in my head, several thousand times, as I've been mentally preparing myself for a car fire since I drove an old VW Beetle in my 20's. This is what unfolded, all within about 45 seconds, probably less:

It is a shame that I didn't have another hand, or two, as then I could have had my camera too! Why? To prove what a colossal MORON I AM with more than mere words. There, sitting atop the exhaust-side valve cove, is a well-toasted, in fact flaming, rag. Un Petit Chiffon d'Huile Flambe courtoisie de chef Goolsbee! I put the extinguisher down, reach over and grab what remains of the un-burnt part of the rag, and toss it onto the wet road... walk over, and stomp it out.

While the outcome is positive, and anti-climactic (way better than a fully engulfed fuel or electrical system!) it doesn't change the fact that this is a completely self-inflicted bit of stupidity that could have cost me & Chris life, limb, and at least a really nice car. I kick myself a few times. Grab the camera, just so I could document the depths of my stupidity:

You can see the smudge from the burning oily rag just behind (this side of) the filler cap.
Here is the rag, where it landed on the side of the road. I'm keeping it now. maybe I'll frame it as a reminder of how stupid I can be if I let myself get distracted.

The Series 2 E-type rolls up behind to ask if we are alright, and I tell him about the moronic stunt I just pulled... even holding up the burned rag. He chuckles, and we both head back to the rallying. (Did I mention I am an idiot?)

This segment heads west, along some nice roads near Mt. Rainier, down towards the western lowlands, finishing at Seaquest State Park near Castle Rock. The following segment winds down around the southwest quadrant of Mt. St. Helens, and to the Columbia Gorge, the rally's namesake, and the town of Hood River. (rising ominous soundtrack) We're not going to see those roads today. We do have a bit of pleasant driving, with the Series 2 E-type, and an old Jag Saloon, along the way (see above). About 30 miles into segment 2, at a left hand turn onto a highway, the Jaguar just sputters and dies. I nurse it to the shoulder, and try to restart it. Thankfully we are on a flat stretch, and I have Chris hop into the drivers seat to guide the car as I push it to a wider spot of shoulder about 150 yards down the highway. Within a few minutes I have three other rally cars there, asking if they can help. Based on the incident with the falling fuel pump, I am in the middle of checking it when they all converge. I can clearly hear it running, and the dash brake light is strong, so I figure the battery is OK. I'm stumped. They have all seen us push/roll start the car, so one of them suggests doing that. I figure, "wtf" and hop in. Four people roll it down the highway, and sure enough the car fires right up and runs fine. Go figure. We drive the rest of the route, and other than a sputter or two, the car is OK. However, as we approach the finish, I note that the gauges have all gone wonky. Then, as we enter the state park, the car dies again. More folks show up, this time including a guy I have met who is working on the restoration of an E-type of somebody I know, plus he just finished the resto of his '66. I figure if anyone can diagnose this, it will be him. After a few minutes with a multi-meter he pronounces my battery dead. We push the car to a safer spot at the side of the road, and I call my insurance company who provides 24 hour roadside assistance. I send all the rally folks away, leaving them to at least continue to compete.

I call the insurance company on the cell phone, and they are great. They say they'll have somebody there within an hour. Chris and I chill out on the grass and wait.

...and wait.

...and wait.

Several cars stop and ask if they can help. I wave and say to all of them "help is on it's way." One of them is this guy in a red Camaro. He drives by a couple of times, then comes out of the park parking lot, full throttle, does a 180ยบ in the middle of the highway, and scares the bejesus out of me and Chris. Me, because I thought he was going to plow into the front of my car, and Chris, because he was making an unbelievable amount of noise. He rolls down his window and asks if we need help. I reply "No thanks, help is on it's way." he drives off.

The promised one hour is now long gone, in fact it is almost two hours now. Those of you that know me, know that patience is probably one of my better traits... I have LOTS of patience, but in this instance it was perhaps too much. I call the insurance company again. I give them my name, number and ask an ETA on our roadside assistance. The guy from the insurance company says, "hang on, I'll call them..." I listen to hold music for too long, and the guy comes back on the line and says "I just spoke with the tow company, they say they came out, but you refused service." I stammer "whaa???" He adds... (I quote)

"yeah, a guy in a Red Camaro..."

Almost twenty-four years to the day, the ground beneath my very feet at that moment felt the rumble of nearby Mt. St. Helens as it gathered the power to blow 1300 feet off it's top. Fast forward twenty-four years and Mt. St. Chuck was about to blow.... the rumble was beginning... building pressure to a peak...

...and then...

...my cell phone battery died.


I scream a bit, then I gather myself, tell Chris to wait, and start climbing the hill in search of a telephone. The park must have a payphone somewhere. Chris had been up there earlier, and bought some sodas and visited the bathroom. I strode purposefully up the hill. I was almost to the top when the Park Ranger drove up next to me and rolled down his window. He said "you guys are still here?" I repeated the story, probably stammering incoherently and inserting expletives about "that @#%*$!^# in the red Camaro" when I managed to blurt out, "Do you have a phone?" He said "Hop in, I'll give you a ride." Well the ride was only about 20 yards, but he did provide a phone, and a phone book. First I called the Insurance company and complained bitterly about the Friggin Moron in the Red Camaro, as being unbelievably unprofessional for one, and a complete idiot to not even mention that he WAS the "help that was on the way"... not to mention completely unprofessional for driving like an 17 year old...

...that just saw his first naked girl... and just had a sip of real beer for the first time.

Well, you get the picture... I ranted. Justifiably, but ranted.

I ranted a bit more, and told them they should NEVER do any business with that guy, or his employer EVER again. etc etc etc. The insurance guy was as apologetic as he could be, and said he'd dispatch a *real* professional ASAP. He put me on hold, and then promised somebody there in under 20 minutes. I then grabbed the phone book and started calling nearby parts stores. I needed a battery, and it was 4:30 PM on a Saturday... the Saturday before the Sunday before Memorial Day. The window of opportunity was closing fast. In my home town of Arlington, the local NAPA, Stillaguamish Auto Parts is run by a bunch of real cool "car guys"... who would probably do whatever it took to help out a customer in need. Well, the same can't be said of the NAPA in Castle Rock, WA. I called them first, and asked if they could wait for me, I'd be there in about 45 minutes, to buy a battery. The guy literally said (and this is so lame) "All the computers and registers shut off automatically at 5pm, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't help you." What total and complete B.S. I mean, don't friggin make up some lame lie, when "hey, it is Saturday night, forget it pal" truth would be so much more believable? Try the next one, I can't recall the name of the store. They said "we'll try, but I can't guarantee anything..." Wonderful.

I thank the Park Ranger, and hike back down to the car and Christopher, who is napping in the passenger seat. True to his word, the flatbed arrives about 15 minutes later, and unlike the Bozo in the Red Camaro, this guy really is a professional. His shirt says "KC" on his name patch, and he really was a stroke of luck in an otherwise bad situation. He took my frustrated, pissed off, and frazzled self, and had me calm, cool and collected within minutes. He understood, at a visceral level, what it was like to be the caretaker of a classic car, and assured me that the 65E was in good hands. I began to explain that the Jaguar has very few places where it can be jacked or towed. He told me that he had been towing for over 20 years and had handled these before. We were both on the ground under the nose and he just completed my sentence for me "...I'll need to attach the hooks here, and here... and once she's up on the bed, we'll strap her down with nylon over the tires." The stress just began to evaporate. I told him about the parts store down the hill in Castle Rock, and he patiently explained that we'd be far better off down the highway a bit in Longview. The parts stores would be open later, and the prices lower. The tow was covered by insurance, so it really didn't matter price wise. It made sense to me. I surrendered and felt at ease. I even started taking some pictures:

He invites us to ride in the car, which is too cool to pass up, so Chris and I climb back into the Jag, and enjoy the ride. We joked and made funny movies. I'll encode them and post them here soon.

We arrive in Longview, and it is raining. I buy a new battery, and drop it into the car. As I'm doing this KC and I chat about kids, cars etc. Turns out he's restored a 1965 Mustang... I tell him about the '65 'Stang my dad had when I little (in fact, my earliest memories are from that car!) He mentions that my problem could be my alternator, which I consider while the parts store guy comes and hauls away the old dead one. We have a look at the V-belt, and sure enough it has a bit too much slack in it, so we tighten it up. The moment of truth comes and I climb in, apply the choke, and hit the starter. That wonderful sound of the straight-six XK engine roaring to life is what greets our happy ears! I wait while the paperwork is prepared. KC's wife is in the tow truck so I wander up to apologize for interrupting her Saturday night with her husband. She smiles and asks about the car... "What kind is it? Where is it from? etc. It sure is beautiful!" I fill in the details for her, and then the paperwork for her husband. I sign where required, then thank KC for his help, and hand him a nice tip, saying that he can use it to take his wife to a nice dinner, with my apologies. I am SO glad now that fate sent the Idiot in the Red Camaro away and blew KC and his magical flatbed my way. I was able to witness both ends of the professionalism scale in under ninety minutes. Enjoy the dinner KC and Wife!

(Note to the A-hole in the Red Camaro: Those were Jacksons scattering in the wind behind your stupid car, not leaves. Burn outs may impress the girls, but you would do well to take a lesson from a pro like the one down the road in Longview.)

We hit the road again, with the goal of making Hood River in time for dinner with the rest of the Rally. The car is running great. The weather goes from bad to worse, but this is all Interstate driving, down I-5 to I-205, then I-84 out to Hood River. We make it to the hotel just in time to check in, change clothes, and head to dinner. We missed the cocktail party, but hey, we handed in our score sheet before they had finished tallying the rally results. Chris and I firmly believe we have a lock on Dead Last.

Dinner is great, and afterwards they hand out door prizes. Chris wins a door prize, and gets awarded with a "Young Navigator's" medal, which he shares with two other boys under 16.

Awards for the top ten are handed out. We of course are not mentioned. Chris asks if there is an award for "Dead Last" and much to his disappointment, there isn't. Rally Organizer Arnie Taub regales us with tales of awesome roads on the route tommorow, where there are nothing but tree farms, and "you could go 200 MPH, and nobody would know." Plans are laid for breakfast in the town of White Salmon. The whole town is expecting our arrival and will close off the main street to set up a "mini concours" for us. Dinner over, we wander off to bed.

"Breakfast" is really "brunch" as we are expected to arrive in White Salmon about 10:30. We line up the cars in front of the hotel at 10 AM. The sight is pretty cool... a large group of interesting, mostly british cars, caravaning over the bridge and up the hill. I note a rather unique Aston-Martin has joined the group (I never saw it yesterday.) I am not an A-M expert, but I think it is a DB2. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Breakfast is excellent. I highly recommend the Elkhorn bar and grill in White Salmon.

We have parked our car facing downhill, just in case the starter won't start, and sure enough, it doesn't. We roll down, bump start the car, and head down the hill and stop to fill up at a Tesoro station. We head west on SR14, enjoying roaring through the tunnels and zipping through the curves. We are having fun, and looking forward to the great day, and some fun driving... and getting home. Then suddenly, the car just sputters and dies. "F$@# Me!" I holler, as I try to coax some life out of the mis-firing XK. I note the guages are all wonky again, just like yesterday. I think fast, and spin the car around (we were heading uphill) and park off on the shoulder. I call home. I am exasperated, and hope talking to my wife will calm me down a bit. I think out loud with her, and try to come up with a plan. Maybe she can rent a trailer and come get us (forget it), maybe our friends Richard and Suzanne can bring their trailer (nope, Richard is at work in Alaska), I finally tell her, I am going to see if I can nurse the car into a town, or better yet a city... Vancouver is the goal. At least there I can probably find parts. I tell her I'll call again in a bit. I try roll starting the car, and it fires up again. We drive about a mile further, maybe more, and it dies again. I pull over on a wide shoulder and stop. I open up the bonnet and try to figure out what is going on. The lights are dim, so it looks like the battery is low. Damn. Maybe it is the alternator after all. The Ammeter in the car never budged, so I assumed the battery was OK. I recall now all the times guys said on the E-type mailing list how useless the ammeter is, and how a voltmeter would be far more informative. The v-belt is OK, so perhaps the alternator is shot. I figure my chances of finding a Lucas 30 Amp alternator on a 3 day weekend is nil.

A few rally cars drive by, and check to see how I am doing. I let them know something is up, likely my alternator, but to carry on without me. I figure it is time to get another tow. I call the insurance company, on my barely alive cell phone and let them know I need yet another tow. They aren't too happy, but they agree to send one. I say I need a flatbed. They ask where I am... and I have no idea. Other than on WA SR 14, somewhere east of, and over the river from, Cascade Locks, Oregon. I tell them all I can see is about 1/10th of a mile of road, in a sharp curve, and a nice view of the river... other than that, I only have a vague idea of my location. There are no cross streets, or homes nearby. The insurance lady says she'll call back in 5 minutes with a tow operator and we'll figure it out. As I'm waiting a guy pulls over, and asks how I'm doing... and about the car (he's always wanted one) I reply by asking him if he knows where we are. He says "sure I live right down the road." I pull out a map and he points to where we are. My wild guess was pretty accurate. I thank him, and we sit and chat about cars for awhile. The insurance lady calls back, and I let them know exactly where I am, and the tow guy says he's on his way. I sit and chat some more with the local, when the flatbed arrives and I begin the process of getting the car onto the bed. I show the driver exactly what he needs to do, and we get the Jag loaded for the second time in two days. He promises to take me back to his shop, in Cascade Locks, and then we'll figure out what to do.

I took advantage of the tow truck's DC power to charge up my laptop battery, and read a PDF that describes how to replace a Lucas alternator with a Hitachi. I will likely find a Hitachi, which is for 1980's Nissan pickups, much easier than a Lucas, for an early 60's Jaguar on a holiday weekend! The tow brings us to Cascade Locks, which is on the Oregon side of the Columbia. Sue calls, and tells me that she, and/or Richard up in Alaska have found a parts store in Vancouver that might have what I need. I tell this to the tow guys and they say there is a location of that chain even closer (in Gresham, east of Portland) that they'd be willing to bring me to. I get on the phone and call around for an alternator. As expected, no Lucas, but plenty of Hitachi's are available. I find one close by in Gresham and he head out. The tow guy is pleasant and professional, and we chat about cars and life for the 20 minutes or so it takes to drive to Gresham. We find the parts place, I go in with my shopping list, and buy the Hitachi and required items for the job. The tow guy drops the car... and within minutes we are mobbed by people who all want to look at the car, including one guy who tells me a sob story and asks for money. The tow guy senses my exasperation at the situation and chases everyone away. I get down to the task. I read the directions a few times, make some calls to Jaguar friends Ray and Paul (in California and Colorado respectively) to ask for moral support. Neither is home, but I leave messages. The tow guy leaves, and looking around, I realize that I'm in a neighborhood that is probably not conducive to sitting around next to a expensive looking car. Thinking fast, I call my wife, and she calls her sister, who lives about 15 miles away in Portland. She comes out to help watch Chris and do crowd control. This turns out to be the smartest thing I do in a weekend full of massive blunders.

My sister-in-law arrives, and makes sure Chris is entertained. I get to work on removing the Lucas, and transplanting the parts (pulley and fan) over to the Hitachi. Here is my reference picture of my Lucas should I need to reinstall. (Digital cameras are a vintage car mechanic's best friend!):

I get to the part about the bracket, and I get stopped in my tracks. I do not have a drill press handy, nor a vise/hacksaw combo. Crap. I guess this is really a garage mod, not a roadside one. Beth offers to arrange a tow over to her house, where maybe I'll have the tools and opportunity to finish the job. For the third time, the car gets towed, this time to Portland and her house. I won't bore you with more towing details, but it took two tries to get the right tow vehicle, and even then I wasn't too happy. I probably drove the tow driver nuts watching his every move. The car arrived safe and sound (mostly... I found a broken horn later.) at Beth and Harvey's house. At least now we were somewhere I could have the room and the time to get the job done. I borrowed their computer and Internet connection to post to the E-type lovers mailing list, via their web interface. I threw myself at their mercy, begging for some help, as I was stranded with a dead alternator. I then went out to a Home Depot and started collecting the parts to help mate the Hitachi to my bracket. When I returned I logged in to my email, I was amazed. Help had come fast and furious. I was offered Lucas alternators to be overnight shipped, suggestions for parts sources in and around Portland, and lots of help with the Hitachi conversion by way of pointers. Both Ray and Paul called me back and offered suggestions. Then the miracle happened. List member David Sweet, located just down the road near Salem, Oregon, offered to loan me a Lucas from his car. I was floored. I replied to his email privately and let him know I might take him up on it.

It was now getting late, so we packed in the mechanical work for the day and I bought some great take-out Mexican from a great hole-in-the-wall on Alberta street in Portland. I sat down and ate my burrito and drank a beer on Beth and Harvey's patio. The burrito and beer tasted great. I actually relaxed. There was a light now at the end of the tunnel, tomorrow we'd be home. A little while later, I crashed on their guest bed (Chris took the couch) and slept like a rock.

The next morning I considered the options. It seemed my best bet was the borrowed Lucas alternator from David Sweet. It just seemed like the least-hassle option... I should be able to bolt it in and go. I called David, and discussed the option - then borrowed Beth's car and drove down to Salem. Meanwhile Chris stayed behind and helped his aunt do some yard and house work. Nephews can occasionally come in handy.

David's directions were impeccable, and I found his place with ease. The last bit of driving to his place was along a nice bit of hilly, twisty road that had me longing to be at the wheel of the 65E again... Beth's Ford Escort was not doing the road any justice!

David's small collection included his (Opalescent Maroon... a great color!) '66 Series 1 E-type, two XJ's and a Porsche Boxter. He graciously allowed me to remove his alternator, while observing me and making notes with his camera. I noted that he should replace his v-belt, as it felt a bit old and brittle to the touch. Here is his engine bay minus the Lucas:

We chatted about cars, and kids, and what not for a bit. I thanked him profusely, and offered to return the favor any way I could. I hopped back in the Escort and drove back up I-5 to Portland. It only took me a few minutes to get David's alternator onto the car:

All there was left to do was fire it up and watch it work! The Jag started and I went for a tentative test drive around the block. Much to my dismay, the ammeter just laid there like a dead thing. I knew that my battery was in need of a charge, but the needle would not budge from it's parking place halfway between "C and "D"... It should be firmly buried in the "C" end of the scale. It was obvious to me that the alternator, a KNOWN GOOD one, was also failing to charge my battery. I parked the car, re-tightened the v-belt, and tried again, just to make sure. Same result. I go into the house and call my jag buddy Paul in Colorado. He's been working on Jaguars professionally his entire life and has forgotten more than I'll ever know. I'm perfectly willing to admit that I understand very little about electricity in general, and certainly not enough about automotive electrical systems. I mean, it has all those big words like "amp" and "ohm" and "watt" and "volt"... I traffic in simple things like "Transmission Control Protocol" and "Internet Control Message Protocol" and the plainly simple "Border Gateway Protocol 4"... I don't have room in my small geek brain for complicated stuff like "amps"!!! I obviously need the advice of someone smarter than me.

I explain the situation to Paul, and he says two words "Voltage Regulator"... see here I was hung up on "amps" and it really was "volts" all along! Sigh. Paul does tell me that if I can charge the battery with something other than an alternator, I can make the 200-some miles home, provided I don't use lights, or any other extra electricity. I thank him, and proceed to formulate a plan. Off to a local NAPA to buy a charger, then sit down with my Jaguar shop manual to read up on this little weekend-killing box called a Voltage Regulator.

While the battery is being fed juice in the driveway, I compare the drawings provided by the manual about this device to what is attached to my car. They DO NOT match... at all. The voltage regulator on my car is a very small black box, which is completely sealed. The voltage regulator in the manual, and even Ray's Hitachi Conversion PDF are VERY different from what I have. I remove the voltage regulator on my car and turn it over in my hand. No markings beyond a part number on the back and a faint "Made in USA" stamped on the side flange. The manual shows a larger, well-labelled Lucas (obviously NOT made in USA) unit with a very different shape, and a removable face plate. Here is what I see:

By now it is 5 pm, on the last day of a holiday weekend. While I have many hours of daylight left, I know that I-5 will be a car-choked nightmare for the rest of the day and night. We are destined to spend another night in Portland. I call home, tell Sue what is going on, and she is OK with our delay. I grab Chris and take him to a movie (Shrek 2) to alleviate his boredom. It is nice to put my mind in neutral and just veg for a couple of hours. We come home, and I wait up for the battery to finish it's charge cycle. Shut off the charger, and go to bed.

I awake in the morning, re-install the battery, pack up the scattered tools and manuals, gather up Chris, and hit the road. For the first time in many many days, the sky is mostly clear, and we drop the top. I can now ride in comfort in a fully un-slouched position. You see, the E-type was designed by lilliputian Brits, who obviously rarely exceed five foot, eight inches tall. When the top is up, if I sit straight up, my head pushes the top up about an inch or more, and a bar rests against the back of my head, which of course gives me a hard knock whenever we hit a bump in the road:

In the above picture, I am slouched down and forward a bit, so as not to place too much stress on the top. If I scoot my posterior forward in the seat all it does is puts my head farther back, which of course places the TOP of my head in the path of the avenging bar. Ouch. I try to only drive this car with the top down, in fair weather.

The drive is uneventful... just a few hours of monotony going up Interstate 5. I keep the Jag over to the right side of the road as much as possible, expecting the sputtering death to strike at any moment. I also just lope along between 2500 and 3000 PRPM... fast enough to pass trucks, while allowing the majority of traffic by. I can't run the Valentine, and don't want a ticket, or have to stop really. As we motor north, I recall a chance meeting with a mechanic from Rick Korn's Woodinville Sports Cars who happened to be at the gas station when my starter first acted up. I figure it would be a smart thing to stop there and see if they have a Voltage Regulator... and to actually test the theory that the Voltage Regulator is actually the problem! It will kill a few birds with one stone:

I make up my mind to go there. When we get to Tukwila I veer off and onto I-405, and up to Woodinville. I pull off, and pull in, and tell them my (Cliff's Notes version) tale of woe. Geoff, the very same mechanic who helped me out that day is assigned my car, and in minutes has the diagnosis confirmed and the new Voltage Regulator installed. They suggest that we let the battery charge out of the car for at least 30 minutes before we get out on the road again, so Chris and I walk over to Dairy Queen to satisfy his growling teenage innards. That need satisfied, we wander back, pay for the repair, stop by my office to put a few minutes charge onto my cell phone and see if there are any fires waiting for my attention (there are not, thankfully) and head on home. Here is a photo of my Proper English Voltage Regulator, with the US made imposter:

They charged me a very reasonable fee, and it saved me wear on the battery and a wait for a new Voltage Regulator to get shipped to my house. It is satisfying to watch the ammeter function once again, with the needle leaning toward "C" and wavering when RPMs change. The battery charges as we drive home. We get home, and unpack the car, and I set about crossing "t's" and dotting "i's"... I take David's loaner Lucas alternator off the car, give it a good cleaning, and package it up to ship back to him the next day. I fit my original Lucas back on, and also take the time to replace my hasty duct-tape job on the fuel pump with a nice neoprene strap, left over from my youthful alpinism days:

All's well that ends well I guess. I've learned a few things along the way though...

I hope Christopher learned a few things too. Like you can be trapped with your Dad for a few days, and survive. Also that patience and persistence are great things to have.

I still plan to prep the car for the Hitachi conversion, as I have personally witnessed the Lucas's failure before. I'll pre-prep it and carry the gear with me. I think I'll also toss a spare voltage regulator in the bag too!


Epilogue: July 2004. I have fixed the "starter" issue. It turned out not to be the starter motor at all, but instead was the dashboard mounted igintion switch! I was doing more work on my alternator conversion when I quick test drive around my block produced an odd result. When I stopped the car, I noted the igition key was almost too hot to touch. I also saw a bit of smoke coming from behind the dash(!) Needless to say I took a close look at the wiring harness where it meets the igintion switch. One of the contacts was loose, and all were quite dirty. I gave them a cleaning, and went in search of a replacement. I found a new switch from Terry's and swapped it with the original. It turned out that the back half of the old switch was cracked, and was not making a good contact. Since I replaced it, the car has never failed to start. Now I am on to the next annoyance: my wildly inaccurate speedometer. It never ends.