Matthew & Douglas Hansen’s 3000 mile road trip to VTR 2011
Road trip from Seattle to Denver and back with my brother in a 50 year old sports car to attend the 2011 Vintage Triumph Register (VTR) convention? I was a little bit skeptical but began to make the arrangements. Schedule the time off, arrange for my parents to come for a visit to assist with daycare, find a suitable route, manage the logistics, and finalize dozens of tiny unfinished maintenance tasks on the TR4.
The local Tyee Triumph club was hosting the All Triumph Drive In (ATDI) the prior weekend in central Washington so it was logical to begin our trip after this event. Being a former backpacking instructor and wanting to save money I convinced my brother Doug to forego expensive hotels and take a tent. I was even able to convince him to forego the overcrowded traditional campgrounds and instead find suitable ad hoc camping locations as we drove. Now the shoe was on the other foot with his skepticism.
The ATDI event was a huge success by our standards but that is another story. We had driven up from Seattle that morning and after the awards banquet we decided to immediately start our drive for the VTR. Across eastern Washington at about 9pm in the evening not knowing where we would be spending the night. GPS on the iPhone eventually identified a potential camping area. A wildlife preserve should serve us well and we were able to take a couple of hours off our next day’s drive. Admittedly we had a hard time finding a good place to camp in the dark but finally settled on a small pullout near a field.
Initially we just placed our sleeping bags and pads directly on the ground without a tent because the weather was so nice
and it would have taken time to set up the tent but after just a few minutes of mosquitoes buzzing in our ears we changed our minds. Just the tent without the fly was sufficient. Placed directly in from of the Triumph the curvature of the tent netting made the grill appear to be a smiling face. That was a nice sight to see when first awakening.
Day two was a drive to Butte, MT where some of my wife’s relatives live. It was one of the few times on the trip where we would get to sleep in a real bed and take a shower. Day three was to drive through Yellowstone. We chose a winding route in order to see as much as possible. Hot pots, the smell of sulfur, and massive crowds. At one point I noticed a side route that paralleled the main road. Grabbing the chance to get away from traffic we took it only to find out shortly that it was a dirt road. No matter, the rally car made quite the showing as we sped haphazardly among the hills and curves.
Shortly thereafter we ran into one of the infamous traffic jams. Tourists were stopping in the middle of the road to photograph wildlife. In this case it was a grizzly bear. Without the intervention of the Park Service Rangers the roads remained almost permanently blocked. Eventually the bear chose to cross the road and we were able to make our getaway. The backup extended for miles behind us.
Waterfalls, more steam vents, and the occasional lone bison or elk were to be found during our day in Yellowstone. We didn’t encounter the large herds that I had seen in the past but we did get a small sampling of each type.
We finished up the afternoon at Old Faithful and began to make our way out of the park. We were too late to make the sunset over the Grand Tetons and by this time we had kind of underestimated fuel consumption and were low on gas. Or at least that’s what the fuel gauge told us. Lacking cell phone coverage in this area we resorted to a search on our rudimentary GPS device. Eventually found a station near the south end of the park only to find that we still had a reasonable amount of fuel left. There’s more to come on that topic.
It was kind of late when we got into Jackson, WY and we found that all of the restaurants had closed. Plenty of bars though but we were hungry and went to fast food instead. Then it was time to find a campsite again. Eventually found an established parking area for camping near a river that meanders through one of the valleys on our route.
Day four started out uneventful. The terrain was starting to open up into more of the plains environment. Long stretches of empty and straight (but rolling) hills afforded me the opportunity to catch up on some email. We would go for about an hour or so without seeing any other cars. There were plenty of pronghorn antelope grazing within sight of the road though.
Eventually we connected to the interstate and proceeded east. This would become our first mechanical adventure. The car suddenly dies. Just happening to be a few hundred feet from a parking area we coasted to a somewhat decent place to stop in case you run into this type of situation. Fuel was low but there was plenty. Open carburetor fuel pots to find that they were empty. Manual lever on the fuel pump was not feeling correct. We discussed the option of calling for a tow truck but instead prepared to use the fuel pump repair kit we had brought.
However, before starting this endeavor Doug removed the fuel lines coming from the fuel tank only to find that nothing would come out. Out came the original carjack. A rubber grommet is removed from the floorboard underneath the carpet in the cockpit. The jack is inserted into a hole in the floorboard and hooked into a space on the frame. Then it lifts the entire side of the car! We chose to raise the driver side because the fuel line exits the fuel tank on that side. Looking around for a suitable item to use as a jackstand we didn’t have much luck. It was amazing to see how much trash people leave at these desolate parking areas that lack and structure other than a single garbage bin. Lacking facilities it also had a strong smell of urine.
Removing the rear tire was necessary so we had to empty the trunk of all our camping gear. Off with the tire and the heavy duty camera case became our temporary jackstand. When Doug removed the fuel line from the fuel tank nothing came out! Using items at our disposal a zip tie was small enough to fit into the opening. Upon doing this something was dislodged and fuel immediately began to gush out onto the ground. Fortunately Doug was quick enough to refit the fuel line so not all the fuel was lost. We put everything back together and rolled the car forward but we never did find the object that had clogged the line.
Stopping at the next exit we filled up on gas. We noticed that the brakes had been feeling a bit soft so we decided to bleed the brakes but needed a wrench size that we had not packed with our small supply of tools. Leaving the gas station we took a side road only to change our minds and take a different route but it did afford us the opportunity to see a badger crossing the road. That was unexpected.
Finding a parts place the price of a single wrench was almost the same as buying a small set. Bleeding the brakes we found the brake line nipples to be all different sizes anyway. Not having anymore fuel problems and brakes no longer soft we finally hit the road again. My good friend in Denver was expecting us for dinner.
Thunderstorms and rush hour traffic escorted us to Denver. Finally arriving we checked the various components of the car again. Valves needed to be adjusted. Carburetors were struggling with our constantly climb up from sea level. The temperature gauge was fluctuating. Almost always reading low it was more comforting than reading hot but we knew that it couldn’t be that cold all the time. After our little delay solving the clogged fuel line the temperature gauge went back up to normal only to go back to a low reading after we stopped for gas. It was very strange. Of course the parts place in Denver did not have any of the parts we needed. We got the usual, “Triumph? Who makes that?” from the guy at the counter.
On day five we drove up to Breckenridge for the start of VTR. Climbing over one pass on the approach the carburetors did not like 11,000 feet of elevation. Filling up at a gas station near our destination we had someone approach us and take a photograph of the car. He was one of the many persons on our trip that stopped to talk to us about their experience with this type of car.
Registration was delayed by our ogling in the parking lot. Lots of nice cars had already arrived. So began our week of meeting new people and conversations about our passion with people that shared the same. At one point I went out to the parking lot only to find two pre-war cars parked next to my TR4. Those cars really draw a crowd. Another owner of a different pre-war car also arrived but the spaces near the other cars were taken so he had to park elsewhere. I quickly volunteered to move my car so they could all be together. The crowd grew even larger.
By far the largest gathering of Triumphs I had ever seen was the photo shoot the next morning. I counted at least 80 cars but it was difficult to count and they kept appearing even after we thought everyone had arrived. There was a TR8 that had some bad luck and arrived by flat bed tow truck. In the first take the car was excluded but when the drivers all stood next to their cars for the second photo there were shouts (for and against) the inclusion of the TR8 on the flat bed. Eventually it was driven to the back of the lot gaining a round of applause from the crowd.
Getting to know some of these owners it was quite the spectacle to witness their performance in Funkhana which is a comical but timed event. Being a showman the owner handcranked the car. I can’t say that I had ever seen that before. They obviously didn’t have the fastest time but they got a lot of style points from the judges.
Our choice of accommodations for the week was a campsite that I had reserved next to Lake Dillon which is a few miles from Breckenridge. There were lots of waves and comments as we drove through the campsite each morning and afternoon. The campsite lacked showers but we did take the opportunity to jump in the lake. It was cold but refreshing. We did have another visitor to our campsite. I thought it was strange that a cracker was in a tree. We found that some chipmunks had found a package of unsecured crackers and decided to shred the packages. In their scramble to make off with this bounty some crackers were randomly distributed among the tree branches..
Over the course of the week we attended various informational seminars and participated in events. We checked out the town of Breckinridge and met a lot of nice people. One of the seminars we attended was the Concours judging school. I found it to be very insightful and the guidelines reasonable and fair. Even though there were a lot of cars at the VTR many have been modified so dramatically that it’s hard to fit them into a single category even among the same car types. Most cars entered a friendly, less competitive people’s choice. Initially I did not enter my car in the concours event but at the prompting of the event organizer I did change my mind. Upon arrival in Breckenridge and seeing the gorgeous cars outside I changed my mind again when registering. After attending the concours class I thought that perhaps I did have a shot only to find out that my last change request had not gone through so we were still in concours after all.
There were not many cars in our class and we did take third place. Not bad for lacking bumpers. It has a great foundation for everything else on the judging list though so we could afford to lose a couple of points. And now we know what to do for the next event. All I need is money.
On the morning of the last day we had the much anticipated autocross. There was a lack of maps available so I took a photograph with my phone at the front booth of what was available and walked the route. There were two runs and during the first both Doug and I were workers on the course. In our areas not many cones were disturbed by the competitors so it was an easy task. It did allow me the opportunity to photograph and film some of the competitors. After the first run I shared my contact information with some of the drivers and eventually posted the videos on YouTube.
During my first run I completely missed the first gate. The course was sloping in two different directions so it was not possible to view all the cones from a single location. Knowing that I would learn from this mistake I still pushed the car and felt good about the remainder of the run. Doug drove a Spitfire belonging to a friend. He pushed a lot harder than me and as I recall drove over a lot of cones and spun out on some runs. On my second run I made sure to get the opening gate correct and had a really fast time but discovered that it had been ruled as a DNF. I never found out why I had been disqualified. On my third run I clipped several cones and almost came to a stop because I thought I was dragging cones but the course workers urged me on anyway. So I had a really poor time on the third run.
During registration for the autocross we were issued numbers to be taped to our doors. I took the liberty to modify the application of my numbers by using the tape in a manner to imply speed. Using extra tape I made small racing stripes extruding from the rear of my number as if I were driving really, really fast. I thought it was cool. The VTR newsletter thought there were wings and essentially slammed my performance by saying that my “wings” did not help my times. I was robbed!
For the second run in the afternoon the TR4 seemed a little off. We decided to retire. We drove back to the campsite and checked out. We went back to the autocross so Doug could race again in the Spitfire. At one point his borrowed car would not start. I think he became a little worried that he had broken the car. Eventually the problem was traced to a distributor rotor that had disintegrated. A replacement was found and he went on to take first place in his class.
Continuing to work on the TR4 we found the right rear tire to have a slight wobble. Even after switching tires with the spare the problem persisted. Perhaps accounted for a vibration we noticed on the drive from Seattle. There was also a slight noise from the rear end that we could not account for. So with these potential issues and lacking a working temperature gauge we set off for Seattle.
We chose to return via a more direct route and due to a lack of time chose to drive straight through. The performance of the car degraded when we got into traffic. It seemed to be overheating at times so we made frequent stops to cool off the car. We passed through Salt Lake City around midnight only to find lengthy construction delays. Even at night we had some overheating problems.
Continuing to drive through the night we cleared the major cities and made our way into Idaho. Near the border of Washington State I knew that the fuel gauge was reading low although at earlier stops the tank still contained plenty of fuel. Pushing on to one more stop seemed the logical choice up until we ran out of gas about 4 miles from the nearest gas station. The fuel gauge still showed that we had plenty.
Just as I was preparing to call or walk a state trooper appeared and gave me a ride. It was the first time that I had ever ridden in a police car. Getting in to the back there were no cushions rather a hard plastic seat that was oddly shaped and a loose seatbelt stuck to the divider by a magnet. I told the trooper to remind me to never get arrested. I purchased a small gas tank and filled it. Back to the TR4 and we made our way to the next gas station.
Closer to Seattle we again encountered heavy traffic. This was the worse though. Crawling for about an hour and then completely stopped for another hour. We had to pull off a couple of times to let the car cool. We finally made it back home completely a nonstop 27 hour drive from Breckenridge. We were glad to take a shower.
So the current status of my prize winning TR4 is that the cylinder head has been removed. Overheating was contributed by the loss of a valve seat and the machine shop indicated that it’s already been counter bored to its largest diameter so they can’t repair it. The inconsistent temperature gauge is most likely a bad sending unit. Still got some more maintenance tasks to resolve and have discovered some news in the process. I guess that is pretty standard though.