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An American Odyssey, and NAMGAR at The Glen

IRIS - MGA  2006 DCoyote

Pamela and I returned home late September 2003 from a thirty-day 6,800+ mile nearly coast-to-coast trip in Iris, our 1960 MGA roadster. The saga included the incredible three-day NAMGAR Watkins Glen event. For good reason, weather was on our minds.

On Thursday, September 9th, rain didn’t keep nearly eighty MGs from driving into Corning, New York, for the 50th anniversary of The Glen. NAMGAR hosted a friendly welcoming wine & cheese evening reception at the Holiday Inn. Talented and gracious Tim Coyne, NAMGAR Chairman, always as smooth as highly polished chrome, mastered the event’s informal ceremonies.

To smiles and applause, Kathleen Bucher and Joan Decker, assisted Tim in unveiling the "Bob Bucher, Sherm Decker Memorial Cup" trophy. It will be awarded annually to the highest placed MGA in the "Collier Brothers Memorial MG Trophy Race" held at Watkins Glen. It was a fine evening. Old friendships were renewed and new ones made

The next morning, maybe a hundred or more MGs gathered at the “Wings of Eagles Museum” fifteen miles east of Corning for the Tour de Marque drive to the Glen. We caravanned there, and took two laps of the new and old courses behind a slow-moving pace car.

By noon, the streets of Watkins Glen were shoulder to shoulder with people watching the passing parade of vintage MGs. After the track events, folks returned to town for the Friday night Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival. Because ol’ Lucas’ ghost was dancing in Iris’ wires, we missed some of the fun. Like some sunset Cinderella, Iris had to return us to our room before dark.

It was my first time at the Glen. Me: Toad from Wind In The Willows. The WGI weekend featured SVRA's "Zippo Vintage Grand Prix". The races were a rush but I had as much fun in the pits, up close to the cars and drivers, talking story and getting grease on my hands.

I think MG people are just the friendliest and most helpful folks. When Iris had a little rough-running engine, four pairs of hands were there to help. The problem resolved quickly and Iris purred like a contented cat with a bowl of warm milk. The electrical problems didn’t vanish. After the race weekend, we took a two day quiet rest break in Livingston Manor. I tried, but gave up when I couldn’t find the culprit in the wires.

Weather news said, “Head home!” rather than drive to the coast, as planned. Friday the 17th. We were getting serious rain. Hurricane Ivan the Terrible swept in from the Caribbean. Two days of downpour had me looking around for the Ark. By the time we got to Milton, West Virginia, the windshield wiper motor burned out and seriously caused a short in the wiring harness. I called Moss Motors, ordered an overnight delivery, and left Iris with a real gentleman, Hubie Hatfield, expert mechanic and racecar driver.

There wasn’t a motel in Milton, so Hubie’s wife, Barbara, gave us a seven-mile drive to Barboursville in midst of a street-flooding deluge. We holed up there for the weekend. On Monday, the parts arrived promptly and Hubie replaced most of the wiring harness. I tried everywhere I could think of but couldn’t find a wiper motor, and no one seemed willing to try a rebuild.

Thanks to Hubie, we were back on the road on Tuesday the 21st. The weather was beautiful. Mother Nature gave us sunshine and drama-cloud filled skies, but there were more bugs than rain on our windscreen. Altitudes from well below sea level to over 7,500 feet gave Iris something to deal with, but our MGA ran for days on end at 3,500 RPM, 70+ MPH, and never once overheated.

Here’s a little side story: We pit-stopped in Winslow, Arizona where I added a quart of oil. A mechanic from a nearby shop strolled over to take a look under the hood.

“There’s a guy over there,” he said, pointing to a building a few hundred yards off the road, “who has a big MG sign on his barn. I think he has three of four MGs inside.”

That got my attention. I looked where he pointed and saw a fenced lot with four old Brits covered with dust. There was a ’60 MGA roadster body up on blocks and a ’58 MGA coupe…well, most of it.

“Go talk with him,” the guy says. “He likes MGAs.”

Under a ninety-degree cloudless blue sky, we drove to the yard, into the gravel driveway and parked behind a trailer and pickup next to a lovely home. While Pamela took pictures of the cars, a nice lady answered the door.

“Can I get you something cold to drink?” she immediately asked. “Come in out of that hot sun. My son-in-law isn’t here. Most likely he doesn’t want to sell his cars. Shall I call him for you?”

How nice can people be? We talked for a while and I promised to send pictures via email after we got home. I was still thinking, MGs in the middle of the desert?

When we were less than a hundred miles from home, I told Iris she could get some exercise on our drive up highway 74 from Palm Desert to Anza, California. You should have seen those Detroits trying to keep up through those tight uphill curves. In the appropriate gear, Iris sounds good at the orange line. That built-for-MGs curvaceous course has more than one rusted-out wreck on its rocky flanks. Iris negotiated the change of elevation from just above sea level up to 4,000 feet, and though it was desert hot, not once did her temperature needle pass 190 degrees.

Listen up: We saw a lot of broken, stranded US metal along the roadsides on that cross country great American adventure. Who says British cars are unreliable and temperamental? Not Iris.

David Coyote
NAMGAR # 3147

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