Phil's TR4 adventure
I got home on Wednesday, but have not had much of a chance to put fingers to
keyboard. But here is a summary.
Saturday, August 19:
Up at 4:00. In San Antonio by 8:30. Wonderful things, airplanes.
Met the owner and drove the TR4. Trunk full of spares. Accepted the car
took off with the top stowed away. Arrived at the home and shop of Fisher
and Elizabeth Jones in Comfort TX. Fisher supplied excellent work and
advice at reasonable prices. Elizabeth made a magnificent lunch of scallops
parmesan. We were joined by Mr. and Mrs. John Black. John had done the
pre-sale inspection of the TR4, so it was wonderful that I could thank him
personally. Good luck on your California venture, John. The heat and
humidity was getting to me, especially when I was doing some wrench work in
the foot-box. Fisher completed his inspection of the car, capped by a rapid
test drive up and back the winding road that leads to their place, and
pronounced the car good to go.
Arrived in Austin TX two hours late for the Hill Country Triumph Club party
at Matt Baker's. The folks there made me feel right at home. Matt had me
drive the car right into his front yard. I was pretty well strung out from
the road and the heat. My head ached, my elbow tingled from the pinched
nerve in my neck, and my stomach felt queasy. I stayed there a couple of
hours, chattering nonstop and slugging down water, after which I felt much
better and drove on to Waco. A gentleman (whose name I have forgotten,
damned Oltimers Disease) in an MGB led me from Matt's to the freeway.
Two LBC's splitting the night with their beautiful exhaust music. Heaven.
The stars, from an open car far from city lights on a clear night, are one
of life's greatest sights. As I drove into a valley with an active river,
I could immediately feel the temperature drop, giving me a welcome chill.
I got to my motel at 1:00 in the morning and collapsed.
Sunday: Up at 7:00, called Jay Mitchell's cell phone. He was already at
the site. I took a shower, shoveled all my possessions into the TR4 and
headed for the site. Jay recognized me by the car, if not by my infamous
river-rafting hat. I had broken out my old sailing pants so I'd have lots
of reflectivity on a day expected to be about 107 degrees. The effect was
nearly monochromatic: White hat, long-sleeve white shirt, white sailing
pants, white socks, sun-block-drenched white skin. The only break was the
canvas shoes. I had white athletic shoes, but I know from experience
that they won't work in a Europa. I really like to actuate only the
pedal I intend.
The good news about the weather was that it was much drier in Waco,
and I didn't feel the heat like on a 90-degree day in Minnesota. I
worked the first run group, meeting several folks including long-time
netter John Steczkowski from the Texas Spokes club in Austin.
The TR4 waited patiently, with the tonneau protecting the interior from the
The Europa was very familiar. The seating position Jay uses is identical to
what I use in my Europa. The steering wheel is the same Grant GT unit I
have, though Jay has the original Lotus horn push mounted in his. The
clutch is new in his car, and grabs more sharply than mine. The gear-change
is nearly as good as mine. Jay told me not to be afraid to spin the tires
on takeoff. These cars are very light and easy on tires. I have 6" wheels
with BFGs and Jay has 8" wheels with Hoosier radials. He is also running
stiffer springs than I. The result is that Jay's car has similar roll
angles to mine, but you are pulling more gees in his car. The result is a
similar car in which things happen the same way, but just a little faster.
I think at the end of the day, I was less than 2 seconds behind Jay. Since
I have not autocrossed my own Europa in over two years (!), I'm pleased with
the results. I have often mentioned that I must sit on the pavement to see
the pylons from the same perspective as from the driver seat of the Europa.
I demonstrated this by sitting on the pavement next to Jay's car with
someone sitting in the seat. We saw eye-to-eye on the matter, literally.
After the autocross, we repaired to the shade of a hanger for awards. Then
it was time to fire up the TR4 and head for the Cracker Barrel and my
traditional post-autocross meal of a chef's salad and large quantities of
water. For dessert, a nice sprightly 118-mile jaunt to Jay's house in
Rowlett, TX. The sun set as we arrived. The heat and the buffeting of the
cape on my hat was starting to get to me. A shower and a call to Sue helped
a lot. She told me that Carol, the lady who sold us our house and whose son
Don has married our daughter Amanda, had friends in Goddard KS, near
Whichita. They wanted to see the car and have me as their overnight guest.
I abandoned my plan to look for a motel in Winfield KS.
After a nice breakfast at Jay's, I tried to get out of the Dallas area.
Unfortunately, I wound up stuck in traffic at a series of stoplights. It
was already hot, and the TR4 is blessed with a radiator shroud but not a fan
shroud. The temp needle was starting to head a bit farther to the right
than my comfort zone. By switching the engine off when I anticipated a
delay, we were able to survive until the road opened up. As soon as we hit
40 miles-per-hour, the temp dropped right back to 185.
Somewhere north of Dallas on 75, I had a fueling incident. The gasoline
nozzle had some sort of bellows attachment and the pump sported a warning
label; "DO NOT TOP UP". This should have set off warning bells in my brain,
but it did not. I let the pump shut off, then removed the nozzle.
Everything looked fine. I went into the building for a few minutes. When I
returned, there was gasoline dripping out of my car. Rats. I looked in the
filler and saw the level was on the high side. I reasoned that there must
be a leak in the filler nose or elsewhere in the top of the tank, where the
previous fill did not reach. Stupid nozzle. I figured the quickest way to
get the fuel level to lower itself was to get this rich-running car on the
highway and burn some fuel.
In Sherman TX, I stopped in the shade of some trees at a golf course and
called Elton Clark. Tony gave me directions to his shop. We spent some
enjoyable time together swapping stories and looking at each other's cars.
Tony has an extraordinary collection of Lotus cars, including Elan, Elite,
51, 23 and the prototype Lotus Eleven. Wow.
I determined that another day in the sun and the wind in an open car was
going to kill me. Tony and I figured out how to put up the top frame and
snap the top over it. It all fit perfectly and looked great. Then he
reached into his pickup and gave me his cool-seat. I bent it fit the
TR3-style seats in this early TR4 and headed west towards I35. The seat
cooled me two ways: The coil-springs-on-their-sides allowed air to
circulate between me and the seat. The assembly raised me up so the top
provided more shade. Soon I saw Texas in my rear-view mirror.
I stopped for lunch in Oklahoma City about 2:00. The traffic was not bad,
and soon I was back in the country, cruising the interstate at about 65
When I crossed into Kansas, I dodged west to 81 and headed north. The TR4
liked getting on the two-lane again: I could swear I felt it smile. In
Wellington KS, four high-school girls in a late-model car saw me turning a
corner and pointed and screamed that I had a gorgeous car. This machine
seems to have an effect on people.
I was on a narrow two-lane with no shoulders when a large truck really
hauling the freight passed me going the other way. The air blast shook the
car and made me think the top was going to blow off, like what happened to
that journalist with the Viper in Italy. But not a single snap popped.
Good thing, too, as his partner was next, and pummeled me again.
I arrived in Goddard just in time for dinner. I called autocrosser Loren
Williams to see where the Wichita gang was. They were at the Brews
Brothers, way across town, and Loren had to leave for a short meeting. I
apologized for being late. We agreed that Loren and a few of the folks
would meet me at Loren's place in Maize KS at 8:00. Since Maize is right
next to Goddard, this worked well. Loren and two compatriots were there in
the fading light when I drove up at eight. I gave some rides and Loren shot
some flash pictures in the dark. Twist his arm and maybe he will email them
Again, I was sorry to be late for our meeting, but breakfast, traffic, and
Elton Clark's Lotus collection slowed me down. The first and last were
enjoyable and the middle one was unfortunate. So it goes.
I phoned Chad Jester in Winfield. He agreed with my diagnosis of a rear-end
clunk as a perished damper-link bushing, not fatal to the enterprise.
Determined not to repeat scheduling problems of Monday, I politely refused
breakfast and was rolling before dawn. I made it through early traffic in
Wichita and headed north. The rising sun greeted me on the Kansas Turnpike,
bound for Topeka. I took a delightful two-lane up to Atchison KS and on to
Saint Joseph MO. I was just walking into the welcome-to-Iowa building when
I realiazed there was a beetle walking across my left shoulder blade, under
my shirt. Must have blown up my sleeve whilst I was at speed with my arm on
the window sill.
Soon I began to enter some overcast. Ironically, the first raindrops hit
the windscreen while I was in a sunny patch. The sunshowers and more
conventional rain lasted long enough for me to appreciate the pristine
windscreen (made in Finland!) and the apparent use of Rain-X by the seller.
This was especially welcome, since the wipers work about as well as you
would expect in a 38-year-old British car.
After some confusion, I found the hotel in Des Moines and checked in
mid-afternoon. The weather was now clear, but muggy. I phoned Dan
Buettner, who informed me the party was at Porky's drive-in at 6:00.
Porky's, like its (unrelated, I think) namesake in Saint Paul, is a
street-rod-oriented place not normally busy on a Tuesday night. Several car
folks showed up. I gave some rides, and Dan Buettner agreed to give a ride
so I could see and hear the TR4 from ground level. The sportier-than-stock
exhaust does tend to announce the car's presence. I have not had any
negative comment from the constablury yet.
I was up at 6:00, fueled the car, and headed out on the freeway. The rain,
which made me walk to the front desk with my luggage to load the car under
the marquee, had stopped. I proceded on the I35/I80 commons, blissfully
unaware that I was about to encounter the one truly terrifying incident of
the trip. Bob Metz called me on my cell phone. I told him that I was sorry
to hear that his Esprit had acted up in Detroit and that he had missed our
dinner at Porky's. Traffic was OK. I put the phone down to negotiate the
switch to I35 and got in the right lane. Good move. Soon I told Bob I
would have to hang up, there was fog coming. I signed off, not knowing I
was about to get a serious scare.
I drove into thickest fog I have ever seen from an automobile. I could not
see road signs at all. All I could see was ten feet of the white line on
the right side of the road. Cars passed me and immediately disappered.
Those were the ones with lights on. The morons with no lights were mere
ghosts. If I drove fast, I could get involved in a chain-reaction crash.
In a TR4 with a pre-Nader steering column and only lap belts, I didn't like
the odds. If I slowed down, I'd get run over. I knew I had to get off that
freeway. I followed the white line up an exit. I sensed as much as saw a
stop sign. I could not read the signs describing the towns, their
directions or their distances. I turned onto the two-lane and drove slowly.
Some fool passed me going the other way, showing no lights. I saw his car
only as it was beside me. As I was passing a driveway, I saw a man in his
front yard. I got off the road and walked over to him. He directed me to
Huxley IA. I eventualy found that city, parked before the Royal Cafe,
walked in and ordered breakfast. An hour later, the visibility had changed
from several feet to a half-mile, and I was on my way up the highway to
Ames. I scooted over and rejoined I35.
I rolled into my own driveway in mid-afternoon. I spent the rest of the day
showing off the car to friends and family.
The gasoline problem turned out to be a dried-out-and-cracked gasket on the
fuel-gauge sender. I can't seem to get a new gasket in there without
removing the tank from the car. Meanwhile, I removed the gasket, cleaned
the surfaces and experimented with using Hylomar with no gasket. So far, so
good. I removed the panel behind the gas tank, and will replace it with a
reproduction. The panel ahead of the tank also smelled like fuel. It was
masonite with carpeting attached. The panel does not show, so I replaced it
with one I built of the Magic Material: Lexan. This stuff is wonderful.
It is strong, easy to work with and bulletproof. It is transparent, so you
can acurately spot the edges and holes you want to cut. I had a perfect fit
and the job took less than an hour. Now we can peel back the
top-frame-cover and keep an eye on the gas tank. Sort of the Visible
Sue and I went to the Capitol Crusers tonight. Sat in our folding chairs
and smiled and answered questions about the car. Every Friday and Saturday
night from 6 to 10, May through October, the city shuts down several streets
and you car must be made before 1965 to enter and park. Great fun.
Next I need to get the seat tracks working well so that Sue can take her
The shotgun-the-lists approach to this story has now run its course. Most
of the technical discussions will be limited to the Triumphs list to avoid
boring the rest of you to tears. There will be some autocrossing in its
future, but don't expect me to win HS at Nationals.
I want to thank all the many netters from all these lists who have helped me
with this project. You folks are the best. If you ever need help in the
Twin Cities, you know who to call.
Phil Ethier Saint Paul Minnesota USA