by John Babos
Small Town Garage
Crystal and I just completed the 2006 Copperstate 1000, and like the previous one thought it was an absolute joy. As you may or may not know, if your car suffers a mechanical break down during the Copperstate, or you do something really stupid to your car, (as in my case), a new luxury sedan is provided to you for completion of the rally. Meanwhile, your vintage automobile is loaded on a flatbed and sent safely back to Phoenix. That being the case for Crystal and me, we jumped into this new car and began the final leg of the tour.
This new sedan was really something. It had quad climate control, 15 setting ride control, self correcting and speaking GPS direction control, seats with heaters as well as coolers, (the seats could actually blow cold air up your wazoo), and every other accoutrement known to the modern car industry. It made me sick. After driving the Dino for 738 miles, my ears ringing from the business like sound of a heritage racing engine, a car that gushes with character, a car that begs to be driven fast and hard, the new sedan was somehow lacking in excitement for me. As nice as it was, I just couldn’t help envisioning this as a car for older ladies with blue hair looking through the steering wheel. (No offense intended for Ferrari club members with blue hair or luxury sedans). So, after giving Crystal a quick peck on the cheek and wishing her well with her new driving partners from another participant’s breakdown, I jumped into the passenger seat of an event supporting flatbed. At least I could enjoy the scenery from the flatbed as opposed to falling asleep in wrap around leather chairs. This would be an adventure.
After a short distance we came across a beautiful vintage Ferrari in some sort of trouble. The owner believed that the fuel filter exiting the fuel tank was probably clogged. The Ferrari’s clearance and tank access wouldn’t allow road side repairs but he thought if we could get it to the next town and throw it on a lift, it could be fixed inside of 20 minutes. With the car carefully loaded on the flatbed we came to the small town of Monticello Utah. We proceeded to the first service station that had a lift and were quickly turned away when the proprietor saw the car. Driving to the next potential garage we got the same response. With not much of the small town remaining we arrived at the last prospect. After that we would be heading into the Canyonlands and hundreds of miles of John Huston’s Hollywood scenery before the next city. Like the previous two station owners he turned us away. He was afraid of the consequences of a long term problem caused in his station to a car that was worth more than the net worth of little Monticello. As we prepared to drive away, the owner came back out of the station and told us of an old car dealership that might be able to help us. We were told to go a few miles east of town where the pavement ends and look for trailer rental signs.
After a 2 second discussion we decided to go for it. So the car’s owner, his driving partner, the flatbed driver and I ventured east of town past the end of the pavement and drove up to the old car dealership. The building had the ambiance of the 1940’s when Hudsons were the car of choice. Now only old and dilapidated trailers awaited one more use before they succumbed to rust and rot. The building sat there as if it was waiting for civilization to find it somehow, but unfortunately it never did. We entered the old place and found the manager in a ragged office reading the paper. We asked if we could use the lift. Without looking away from the paper he said, “Sure, tell Josh I said it was okay.”
We drove around to the back and marveled at the garage scene from yesteryear. Only one of the two garage doors functioned. Most lighting was natural, beaming through the open garage door and two cloudy windows last cleaned during the Eisenhower era. Tools were scattered helter-skelter around the area and enough oil and grease had built up on the floor that it could qualify as a super fund sight. To make the garage complete an old dog, large enough to pull one of the derelict trailers was scrunched into a small office chair sleeping the afternoon away. When the old dog heard us, he opened one eye, yawned and went back to sleep.
We found the mechanic Josh under an old 1970s Mercury that was used for towing farm implements. We approached Josh and told him our problem. Josh was in his late teens, extremely polite, and wearing coveralls passed down from his grandfather. As we unloaded the Ferrari and gave it a crank, he said it sounded like a bad electric fuel pump. We thanked Josh for his advice, told him the car had mechanical fuel pumps, and would call him when we needed him.
Upon raising the classic Ferrari on the lift a quick inspection showed there wasn’t a fuel filter at the tank. Josh came back and asked if we were sure that it wasn’t an electric fuel pump. The owner pointed to the two mechanical fuel pumps and thanked him for his advice and said we would call if we needed anything else.
After a brief discussion we decided to trace the fuel path from the tank to the Weber carburetor. We pumped out the gas and removed the fuel lines to check for obstructions. Finding none we then disassembled the carburetor to examine the float. The float turned out to be fine. Josh returned from the old Merc and asked if we checked the fuel pumps. To show him we knew what we were doing, we proceeded to trace the gas line out of the tank, around some frame members, through a splitting tee of some sort and then behind the fender well where we found… an old electric fuel pump. And it wasn’t working. “Son-of-a-gun,” we thought. So with Josh’s help we scrounged around enough bits and pieces to fix the fuel pump. With all of the components reassembled, we thanked Josh and told him we would call him if we needed him.
The car was lowered, the gas was refilled, and the Ferrari owner cranked it over. To our amazement, all we heard was a peculiar “CRUNK.” With another turn of the key the car responded with another “CRUNK.” As we stood there wondering what was wrong now, Josh approached and said simply, “You’ve hydro-locked the engine, and if you wait just a few more seconds you’ll see gas running out of the tail pipe.” As we all leaned down to look under the car, as if on queue, gas began running out of the exhaust.
It was then apparent that this small town kid knew more than we did. So we humbly approached Josh and asked him what to do next and if he could help. Josh gave a slight smile and said, “I’d be glad to help sir.” He removed all twelve spark plugs, cleaned the cylinders, adjusted the retro encabulator, reset the vector control module, (I’m going to ask Dave Helms about these parts), and cleaned the gas off of the intake manifold. Then, with a turn of the crank the old Ferrari purred like a tiger. We thanked Josh, and even though Josh didn’t ask for anything, the Ferrari owner gave him a healthy tip.
Our quick 20 minute fix had become a 6 hour project. As we prepared to leave, I couldn’t help but think that regardless of car, they basically all function in the same manner. This million dollar Ferrari was the first Josh had ever seen, and he got it running understanding the basic automotive principals that have been around for over one hundred years, basic principals that the four of us missed. So before driving away, we all stopped by the old pop machine to wash down a healthy serving of humble pie. After all, we just learned that you can’t judge a small town mechanic by his coveralls.
By the way, that old pop machine actually had Pepsi and Fanta in glass bottles, and I remember when Pepsi or Fanta only came in glass bottles; before plastic was invented.