Back on the Road

Sunday, 09 July 2017 15:30
Print Email

vanc1 leadFinally, an update to the blog...

Greetings, faithful readers! It’s been a long time since I’ve written a new post to the Roadster blog, but sadly that’s mostly because I’ve been lazy and not because I haven’t been traveling. I have been roadtripping quite a lot since the last post, but mostly in the pickup truck. I’ve kept notes and photos from those trips with the full intention of making posts out of them, and I promise, I will…soon. Soon-ish, maybe. Especially the Lewis & Clark one; I have a small novella ready on that. However, my most recent trip is an honest-to-god Roadster Roadtrip in an actual roadster, so I thought I should quit slacking off and actually write this one down.

You might be thinking “Wow, the deer damage is fixed and the car is back on the road!”, and that certainly would be a reasonable assumption. It is, however, a false one. Both the remarkable amount of rust and the fact that I keep jetting off to foreign lands to work on new projects have conspired to keep me from getting old faithful back up and running. Current status is that everything under the body is done, but the body itself is still on the rotisserie getting a remarkable amount of patch panels fabricated and installed to correct the rust issues. It’s not a speedy process. Obviously if I wanted to get back to roadtripping, I needed a stand-in roadster.

I bit the bullet and got a rotisserie for the car...makes things a lot easier Donor patch panel from another car going in to fix the worst of the deer damage
Most of the rust repair panels I've had to make by hand Completed frame and drivetrain headed to storage to make some room

Enter the orange car from a few posts back, aka blog reader Cyrus’s old car from Portland. I’d been driving it around town a bit as well as using it as a three dimensional reference guide/cheat sheet for reassembling the red car, but it wasn’t really in shape for a lengthy road trip, with the primary concern being the motor, as it had a pretty healthy rear main seal leak going. I really wanted to go to the Roadster show at Solvang this year, and the timing on that show coincided with an “adventure” weekend I was planning with my eldest niece, so a scheme was hatched. I would swap the leaky motor out of the orange car and put in the freshly rebuilt motor from the red car, and theoretically that would give me a reliable ride for some impromptu adventuring. I could drive my niece back to northern California from southern Nevada in that car as the second half of our adventure, then drive south to Solvang to attend the show after my NoCal niece delivery, breaking in the new motor in the process. Everything was falling into place.

I took a Saturday and did the motor swap, which went fairly well, albeit with the occasional pause to fix things here and there, like a leaky heater valve. The new motor fired right up and ran pretty well after some carburetor tuning. I contemplated swapping the wheels and tires off the red car frame as they were in better shape than the Ohtsus-of-indeterminate-age that were on there, but I kind of liked the authentic look of old skinny Japanese tires on the stock steel rims, so I kept them on there.

Getting ready for the swap Old motor coming out... Spiffy new motor going in

The first order of business was to re-engage “adventure mode” and embark on the uncle/niece overnight kayak trip on the Colorado River, which was the primary adventure of choice for the weekend. The trip would take us 11 miles upriver from Willow Beach, AZ to Hoover Dam with an overnight camp somewhere along the way, then back downriver (with the current this time) back to our launch point.

Black Canyon below Hoover Dam is a bit of an unknown and underrated Las Vegas attraction, as you can only get to it either by boat or kayak, or by hiking in several miles from the highway. The boat/paddle option is easily the best, as you get to see the entire canyon, including the old depth gauging station with its vertigo-inducing wooden plankways and cable trolleys that the gauge reader used to get out to the station. The gauging station and trail was put in by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 to monitor river flow rate and water levels after the construction of the dam to help assess the actual impact of the dam on the river. Nowadays, they’d generally do the study first and build the dam after, but I suppose it’s better than not monitoring it at all.

The trip upriver was impressive as always; the water is crystal clear and the canyon walls are immense. There are a number of small waterfalls, side canyons, and hot springs along the way as well, and we stopped in to check several of these out. As we reached our desired camping spot at White Canyon, we quickly discovered that the spot was pretty popular on a holiday weekend, as there was a giant noisy youth group already staking out most of the area, having arrived via canoe from upriver some time previously. I knew there were a couple of other good camping spots a little farther upriver, but apparently it was also time for the Bureau of Reclamation to release quite a bit of water from the dam. We were paddling into a current that was gradually growing more and more intense until we reached a point just past the youth group site where we couldn’t paddle against it anymore. At the time, we weren’t quite sure that it was water release going on, but it was pretty evident that we weren’t getting any farther up the river that night, so we found a small sandy nook, pulled the boats up, and set up camp.

The lovely Black Canyon of the Colorado River Yes, it's even got beaches Paddling skills were vastly improved by the midpoint of the trip

It wasn’t apparent at first, but the increased current brought with it a remarkably fast rise in the water level. We noticed that the kayaks were magically floating again while we were busy setting up the tents, and thinking that was probably about it for water rise, we pulled them a little farther up the bank. About an hour (and three more tent/kayak) moves later, it looked like the water was done rising after having crept up the bank at least thirty feet from where we initially beached the kayaks. In the morning, the water level had gone back down below where it was when we initially pulled up, which is pretty impressive—that’s a lot of water.

The next day’s adventure involved a hike and a soak in Ringbolt Hot Springs, and a paddle all the way up to the dam (or at least as close as we could get to it). We hung out there for a bit and had some lunch, then explored a couple more hot springs on the way back down river. We were lucky enough to encounter a small herd of bighorn sheep grazing on some foliage at the edge of the river. I’d seen bighorn out there before, but it was a nice addition to our adventure to hang out with those guys for a little while.

Nimble residents of Black Canyon Climbing up to the hot springs And eleven miles later, we're at Hoover Dam

We had a great time on the river, with fabulous weather, nice paddling, some great wildlife encounters, and beautiful scenery, but once we’d finished up the river adventure, it was time for our roadster return trip to northern California, roughly a 650 mile trip. I had put about 100 miles on the new motor prior to that weekend to gain some level of confidence that the build was solid, but just in case I packed some extra tools and spares in the trunk.

We went north out of Las Vegas up to the Rhyolite ghost town, then west into Death Valley. We took a couple of small detours in Death Valley to gaze out over the expanse, visit a couple of below-sea-level site, and take in the view from Zebieski Point. From there, we climbed out of the Panamint Valley over to Bishop, CA where we stopped for the night. I definitely hadn’t gotten the carburation right on the first try, as the car was very unhappy with higher elevations, but overall it ran great, and as usual we saw some lovely scenery.

Nikole contemplating the vastness of Death Valley Big desert, little car

The next morning we went north out of Bishop and attempted to visit Devil’s Postpile [], but the road up there was still closed due to snow and general winter damage. Instead, we continued northward and stopped in at Mono Lake to marvel at the tufas, then on up to Bridgeport for lunch at the inn. Other than encountering a decent sized snowstorm heading across Carson Pass, the remainder of the drive across the Sierras and into northern California was lovely and uneventful, and we arrived safe, sound, and on time, thus concluding Niece Adventure 2017.

Twilight in the Panamint Valley The always interesting Mono Lake More Mono Lake. Also more Nikole.

I crashed there for the night, then continued south along the coast toward Solvang, stopping in for lunch with my friend Jim, crossing the Golden Gate, having dinner with my friend Caiti in the Mission, then heading down to Half Moon Bay for the evening. The next day I discovered that parts of Highway 1 near Big Sur had been washed out by mudslides (not the big slide though, that came later), so I’d have to make an inland detour around that, but first I stopped at Ana Nuevo State Park beach for a little hike and some fossil seashell gawking.

Obligatory Golden Gate shot A layer of fossilized shells in the cliffside at Ana Nuevo More fossilized shells, in artsy black and white

The inland detour wasn’t too bad, partly because it was short, and partly because the new motor makes highway driving a bit less terrifying, as now I’ve got enough power to hang with traffic and even occasionally pass other cars. The intention on the motor build was to make a “roadtrip motor”, with reliability being the number one goal, followed by a little more power and torque in the midrange. Pursuant to that, the new motor is stroked to 1750cc, and the crank journals have been resized to accept a larger Chevy-sized bearing, and those new journals are now supporting Eagle H-Beam rods and JE pistons, so most of the major reciprocating parts are very, very understressed. The top end of the motor is still largely stock (albeit freshened up with new valves and springs), and all that combines to make what’s pretty much the motor I was after, with a super-stout bottom end and about a 15HP increase over stock, but with a totally stock-appearing exterior.

After stopping at the Firestone Brewery in Paso Robles for a great pizza and a beer dinner, I got back to the coast and Highway 1 as soon as I was able to, and headed south to Morro Bay where I was treated to a great sunset by Morro Rock. I got up in the morning and did a short hike in one of the local state parks, then got on my way toward the largest annual gathering of roadsters in the world.

Sunset at Morro Rock Some cool trees on the Coon Creek hike


My destination the following day was Solvang CA for the 31st Annual Datsun Roadster (meet?) [link]. Many of the attendees went to the Mendenhall Museum [link] for Friday night pre-show registration and pizza, and as usual a good time was had by all. It was great to see the roadster gang again and catch up on what everybody had been up to since the last time I attended.

I had entered the car in the “Diamond in the Rough” category, which states that it’s for the car “that shows the greatest potential” [check quote], and I figured that an almost entirely original but semi-rough car had pretty good potential. However, the category has a lot of leeway for creative interpretation, ranging from “rattiest, most terrible car that actually managed to drive to Solvang under its own power” to “most ambitious (but still incomplete) restoration project”, all of which are valid criteria. It seemed like a good category for the little orange car though, so there we were.

I believe that over 100 cars were registered this year, with just under that actually showing up, and as usual it was pretty cool to see that many of them all gathered in one place. The show is also fun for me as I’ve sort of inadvertently become a semi-notorious roadster guy due to the big road trip and the Petrolicious video [link]. Lots of people came up to say hi and “hey, you’re the road trip guy!” and relate tales of how they were inspired to restore their cars and venture out on their own road trips, and that is always really gratifying to hear. In the end, we got 2nd in the ‘diamond/rough’ category, so maybe my ‘most potential’ rationale wasn’t too far off.

Pizza night! The unintentional theme this year was "red" Plenty of chrome
The little car showing its stuff Second most rough diamond. Almost 100 cars this year

Heading back to Vegas over familiar ground, I began to hatch a plan for the next few weeks. I had to go up to Vancouver for a couple weeks in the middle of May for a quick job, and I had been considering driving the truck up there with the kayak, as there’s some tremendous kayaking to be had around western British Columbia and Vancouver Island. However, the car was running great with the new motor in it, and there weren’t all that many things standing between its current state and really being roadtrip worthy, so by the time I got to the Nevada border I’d decided to go for it and finally get back on a real Roadster Roadtrip…

As if the car wasn't short enough already Nothing like a new motor break in with some stakes involved I did contemplate not taking those old skinny tires on a dirt road. Briefly.


Next: A real roadster roadtrip commences

Only registered users can post comments.