THE PAN AM CLASSIC RALLY 2017

OKLAHOMA TO TO EUREKA

Amarillo was our next destination and as we left Oklahoma, we saw some large junk yards full of old classic cars which were rusty and weathered but to the car enthusiast, they were fascinating!  Luckily we didn’t have time to stop!  The landscape became very flat and we saw lots of small oil extracting ‘nodding donkey’ vertical pumps as well as a few enormous drilling rigs used for the new fracking method of extraction.  We hit the dirt tracks and cars disappeared in clouds of dust as they powered along the dusty red tracks, then white sandy tracks.

We stopped in Cheyenne for lunch at the Tumbleweed and heard about a great car collection owned by a local man.  We were soon being shown around 3 large rooms of vehicles by Tracy Smith whose father started the collection in 1997.  Sadly her father was recovering in hospital from an operation so could not show us round  but  Tracy and her two daughters evidently enjoyed our interest in the collection.

The first room contained an amazing collection of Model A Fords which included almost every model ever made including two real rarities which were an original Model A taxi from 1927, still with its meter working, one of only seven know to exist, and a half track half ski Model A which had been to both the North and South poles on early 20th century expeditions.

The second room was full of the most desirable 60’s and 70’s muscle cars available, including a 37,000 mile all original numbers matching RT Challenger, a super charged Dodge Charger, a near perfect 429 Mack 1 Shelby Cobra, a Plymouth Barracuda and a 1971 AMX Javlin manual.  What a treat!!

The third and largest room was an amazing mix of cars and commercials ranging from the 1930’s V12 Lincoln Sedan, in near perfect condition, recently used for the daughters wedding and alongside was a custom made V12 Lincoln powered motorbike commisioned by Tracy’s father.  Other gems included a 390 Fairlane pickup, two quite unique Mack trucks, one dating from approx 1910 chain driven and a 1918 Mack truck with the origional tipping body.  The rarest of all was a 1896 motorised carriage.

The journey continued through the planes of Oklahoma, dotted with large grain silo’s, oil refineries, a huge wind farm and long trains pulling rolling stock with two containers piled high on each and the train stretching for over a mile.

The cars all went well that day and we arrived in Amarillo in the early evening and went for dinner at OHMS which served up some delicious seared tuna and prime rib steaks.

The next morning we set off across the flat grasslands of Texas, passing cattle, quite a few deer, a coyote and gophers.  There was an early off road jogularity along dirt roads which had seen some recent rain which added a little extra spice to the driving.

We then had a regularity on a hilly section which was reportedly one of the last few stages of the old Pony Express postal service trail.  Angus had some car problems when his rear center differential mount collapsed which meant Dickie had to travel in the support car to reduce the weight in the Mercedes as we drove on to the hotel in Taos!

On arrival in Taos that afternoon at the luxurious El Monte Sagrado, Alastair found an on-sight mechanic for Angus, who did a great job of making a large washer which, once fitted,  pulled the wheels back into the shape.

Taos is well known for its adobe dwellings and is a meca for local art.  It has a picturesque square, in the middle of which students from the local operatic college were taking it in turns to sing popular aria’s and up a side street, the Alley Cantina, which had been there for over 50 years, served delicious Margaritas.

We set off at 9am the next day as we only had 252 miles to Durango.  We turned off the main road after 16 miles and followed a gravel track beside a river in a beautiful  valley.  The regularity started at a designated point in Carson National Forest but was never completed owing to a Forest fire blocking the road and firemen turning everyone back.  We all processed behind the marshalls back down the hill and round to the other side of the regularity and continued on our way.

We followed the road through some beautiful valleys on gravel with red cliffs on either side and then stopped at the Wild Horse Casino in Dulce which is run by the Navajo people.  Alastairs battery needed a recharge and Paul and Arjan showed great team work in changing a back tyre which had blistered.

We drove through pine woods, followed streams down valleys on gravel tracks and passed Juanita’s Cemetery and crossed the Navajo River.

Arriving at the Doubletree Hotel in Durango mid afternoon, we found that the Tatra needed some work done to her – The exhaust manifold gaskets needed changing and then her dynamo and regulator were replaced.  Sadly the new dynamo and regulator did not work so it was decided that Alastair would have to continue to have his battery recharged each day. The following day was a rest day and Toby repaired a leaking radiator hose on the Mercedes, with a convenient length of galavanised water pipe sourced locally.  He also reattached the alternator which was falling off and changed the spark plugs and coil which transformed the engine performance.

The Rover had a loud rattle to the rear which turned out to be a loose bolt rattling in a beauty cap and after that found all the bolts to the exhaust manifold were loose and blowing badly.  The Porsche needed her front brake pads changed and the rear brake pads unseizing as well as the clutch and handbrake adjusting and getting the washers working.  It was a busy day!!

Our day off in Durango was beautifully sunny and hot. From Durango one can visit the Mesa Verde park to see the cave dwellings but someone told us one had to book 2 days in  advance and it was a 1.5 hours drive to the caves.  There was also the narrow gauge train trip to the top of the mountain which took 3.5 hours each way.  One could also visit the train museum or wander down the main street in Durango and visit the many photographic art studios, Navajo craft shops, vintage clothes shops and many other shops and bars.

The Balcony bar, in which Steve and Karl stationed themselves after lunch, became the general meeting place for everyone.  Beer and margarita’s were the order of the day and at 5pm the music arrived and we listened to a young man with a guitar play excellent country and western!!

Ken and Sue’s Restaurant had been recommended to us so we sat on the back terrace and enjoyed some very delicious margaritas and tasty food.

In the morning we were told there was a landslide about 45 minutes away and to expect long delays.. Luckily we only had to wait 15 minutes and we were on our way again.  Half the road seemed to have slipped into the valley so only one way was available.

The road swept us up into the Colorado hills, through pine forests, and wide sided valleys.  We had a great switchback descent from about 11,000 ft through the fir forests, past a waterfall, through Ouray and on into Montrose Country.  We arrived at the top of Millionaires Highway and for about 35 miles drove down a deep gorge with high sided red rock faces on either side.  At the bottom was the Gateway Auto Museum, in which part of the Hendricks collection is housed.  The building contained the most immaculate selection of cars every seen!!

The exhibits documented the history of American automobiles ranging from Model T4’s and Hupmobiles, the birth of the American industry, through the 30’s depression years with the utilitarian cars, contrasting the great excesses and hollywood style cars from Deucenburg, Auburn, Cord and Cadillac leading into the vaste change after the second war with the increase in mobility and the start of the flambouyant 50’s cars.  The cars were all perfectly restored with acres of chrome and over the top designs.  The 60’s and 70’s included some real rarities such as one of only 10 original Yenco Camaro’s leading up to two ex-modern Nazcar’s and rarest of all the Oldsmobile C88 concept car, which when it sold for 3.4 million dollars at auction, was the highest price paid for an American Classic at auction.  All the cars were beautifully displayed in the most remote and beautifully organised museum.

The road continued on, down through John Brown’s Canyon, with high sided cliff faces on either side, all deep red.  The river ran beside the road and we saw the local  rafting companies in operation and even a paddle boarder!

We arrived in Moab, Utah, which was a mining town, created when Charles Steen discovered a significant amount of uranium ore on the Colorado Plateau in 1952.  By 1955 there were over 800 mines producing high grade ore.  The bottom then fell out of the Uranium market and many people moved away from the town which then gradually began to be populated by hippies.

We dined at the Sunset Grill, perched up high above the town with beautiful views of the town and sunset.

From Moab we headed for Page 331 miles away, and early on we had a marvellous 28 mile regularity stage through Canyonlands National Park on the most wonderful gravel track which worked the cars through the ever changing landscape of Utah and then Arizona.

We stopped at the Twin Rocks Café for coffee and then headed for the Valley of the Gods, with its impressive pinnacles of rock and amazing formations and it really does look as though the Gods are standing in rows, high up on the surrounding hills. 

We drove on into Monumount Valley which is a must-do for millions of tourists so after a few photos of the famous three pinnacles of rock everyone hopped in their cars to continue on the route, leaving the coach loads of japanese and spanish to tour the valley. Monument Valley is in the Navajo National Park, 5,564 ft above sea level and displays one of the most tremendous natural structures created by erosion.

We arrived in Page that afternoon and it was definitely much hotter.  We dined at the Rainbow Room at Lake Powell and Alastair told us about Rachel’s visit to the gun range on the way in.  She is a brilliant shot and thoroughly enjoyed herself.  Alastair met up with a Czech contact of his who had bought a Tatra from the same person that Alastair had.  The man lived about 250 miles away and had come down to meet Alastair and see his Tatra. 

From Page we headed for Las Vegas.  The first regularity of the day was a 36 mile drive down Cottonwood Canyon and a fast regularity was planned but called off as the road was deemed too rough for the cars.  We then passed by Byce Canyon with the wonderful rock formations.  We had experienced over 100F before but as the day wore on, the temperature rose even further as we navigated the wonderful roads through the Kodachrome Basin National Park and Dixie National Park.

The scenery changed continually with every new valley and mountain top but the final 125 miles into Las Vegas on the motorway brought us down from the hills to the intense heat of the lowlands and Las Vegas.  It was 109F as we drove into Las Vegas but none of the cars except John and Jeff in the Mustang, had airconditioning so they all roasted!

We checked into the Tropicana, a massive hotel and casino.  We queued to check in and then walked through the slot machines, up escalators, down walk ways to find our rooms in the North Tower.  That night we tried out the bar at New York New York followed by a few other local bars.

The day off in Las Vegas started with Paul and Arjan taking their Porsche to a dealer who changed the oil, repaired the rear engine mount, relined the handbrake shoes and gave it a full service.  Meanwile Karl and Steve in the Rover found a ‘lube’ place to change the oil and Angus and Harvey (Harvey had arrived the day before armed with spares for the Mercedes and was to take Dickies place for the next week) had their rear differential mount changed which made the wheels look straighter!

Later in the day John and Fiona rode the roller coaster opposite the Tropicana, others walked the strip and generally admired the shear decadance and over the top showiness of up-town Las Vegas…. and I am sure there were more than a few flutters on the fruit machines and card tables!

In the evening nearly everyone went to see a Cirque de Soleil show – some saw the water show and others Zumanity with topless girls!  Both were a great success!!  Afterwards there was a migration to Premont Street, a street packed with people, performers, shops and with a huge ceiling over the top, brightly lit up.  Performers dressed up as Miss Whiplash or ……………………………………………. and one had ones picture taken with them much to everyone elses amusement!

As we were driving through Death Valley the following day, it was agreed that we should leave an hour earlier at 0630 so it would hopefully not be so hot!  We had a 394 mile drive that day, our longest day, and it was 105 miles to the ticket office for Death Valley.  It was 95F at 8am and we stopped for breakfast in Furnace Creek, the only oasis for miles around!  As we drove on through Death Valley the temperature topped 119F but was generally around 105F as we drove past the huge ‘Soda Lake’ which left a white streak on the landscape.  There were snow topped mountains in the distance as we were came out of Death Valley into Olancha and we were basking in 94F!

We stopped at the Ranch House for lunch and then turned off and climbed up into the hills past dry grass with little bushes and then we 4956 ft and the vegetation became greener until we hit the sequoia and redwood forests.  We passed signs directing people to Jackass Meadow, Bitter Creek Trail, Pack Saddle Trail and Quaker Meadow and then watched smoke billowing above the horizon – A forest fire was raging and we were heading straight for it.  Luckily we avoided the valley on fire but we passed groups of firemen on the way and watched the smoke get bigger.

We drove for about 124 miles along the mountain roads and just as you thought you were on your way down, the road climbed up again.  We arrived in Porterville in the late afternoon and Toby set to work on the Rover which had lost its brakes on the way down which made for interesting driving.  The over heated front brakes had destroyed the caliper dust seals, which needed replacing and the carr also needed new front brake pads.  All the grease had melted and run out of the wheel bearings which were also overheated and very worn.  The bearings were cleaned and repacked with the hope that the car would make it to San Francisco in two days as tomorrow was Sunday!  There was also  a bad engine tapit noise which meant one hydrolic lifter had gone solid so hopefully we can get one in San Francisco!

Toby, Steve and Karl eventually joined us at the Black Bear Diner at about 10pm and tucked into some well deserved steaks.

Porterville to Morro

We checked into the Tropicana in Las Vegas, a massive hotel and casino.  We queued to check in and then walked through the one armed bandits and slot machines, up escalators, down walk ways to find our rooms in the North Tower.  That night we tried out the bar at New York New York followed by a few other local bars.

The day off in Las Vegas started with Paul and Arjan taking their Porsche to a dealer who changed the oil, repaired the rear engine mount, relined the handbrake shoes and gave it a full service.  Paul later walked 3.5 miles to collect the car in the searing heat!  Meanwile Karl and Steve in the Rover found a ‘lube’ place to change the oil and Angus and Harvey (Harvey had arrived the day before armed with spares for the Mercedes and was to take Dickies place for the next week) had their rear differential mount changed which made the wheels look straighter!

Later in the day John and Fiona rode the roller coaster opposite the Tropicana, others walked the strip and generally admired the shear decadance and over the top showiness of up-town Las Vegas…. and I am sure there were more than a few flutters on the fruit machines and card tables!

In the evening nearly everyone went to see a Cirque de Soleil show – some saw the 02 Water Show and others Zumanity with topless girls!  Both were a great success!!  Afterwards Angus hailed a taxi party bus and we were subjected to a lurid light show and thumping music while sitting on long plush seats, before finding ourselves in Fremont Street, a street packed with people, performers, shops and with a huge ceiling over the top, brightly lit up.  Performers dressed up as Miss Whiplash or had Alice Cooper style painted faces with long black wigs and one had ones picture taken with them much to everyone elses amusement!

As the route took us through Death Valley the following day, it was agreed that we should leave an hour earlier at 0630 so it would hopefully not be so hot!  We had a 394 mile drive that day, our longest day, and it was 105 miles to the ticket office in Death Valley.  It was 95F at 8am and we stopped for breakfast in Furnace Creek, the only oasis for miles around!  There were lots of photographs there, of the miners and their families, and transport wagons pulled by 20 mules bringing out the Borax mined in Deaath Valley.  What tough resourceful people those early settlers must have been.

As we drove on through Death Valley, which descended to minus 282 feet below sea level at one point, the temperature rose to 119F but was generally around 105F as we drove past the huge ‘Soda Lake’, a white streak on the landscape.  There were snow topped mountains in the distance as we were came out of Death Valley into Olancha and we were basking in 94F!

We stopped at the Ranch House for lunch and then turned off and climbed up into the hills past dry grass hillside with little bushes and then we reached 4956 ft and the vegetation became greener and we arrived at the sequoia and pine forests.  We passed signs directing people to Jackass Meadow, Bitter Creek Trail, Pack Saddle Trail and Quaker Meadow and then watched smoke billowing above the horizon – A forest fire was raging and we were heading straight for it.  Luckily we avoided the valley that was on fire but we passed groups of firemen on the way and watched the smoke cloud get bigger.

We drove for about 124 miles along the mountain roads and just as you thought you were on your way down, the road climbed up again.  We arrived in Porterville, California, in the late afternoon and Toby set to work on the Rover which had lost its brakes on the road down which made for interesting driving.  The front brakes had over heated badly and the discs had changed colour, the brake pads were down to less than 3 millimeters and the front wheel bearings had lost all their grease and had also changed colour.   The bearings were cleaned and repacked with the hope that the car would make it to San Francisco in two days as tomorrow was Sunday!  There was also  a bad engine tapit noise which meant one hydrolic lifter was not working properly. 

Toby, Steve and Karl eventually joined everyone at the Black Bear Diner at about 10pm and tucked into some well deserved steaks.

Morro Bay on the coast was our next destination and it was a moderate 240 miles to get there.  After 10 miles we took a mountain road for the first regularity of the day and weaved our way through golden grassy hills on a sandy track with a stream to one side and the odd raptor gliding over head.

The landscape flattened out as we arrived in a valley and we then drove through mile upon mile of fruit , almond and pistachio trees, corn, tomatoes, vines and other crops. 

We suddenly popped out of the cultivated area and were surrounded by nodding donkeys oil pumps and yellow grassland.  We stopped at the Oaklands Bar BBQ at McKittrick, better known as the ‘Penny Diner’ because the bar is covered with penny’s.  The bar, walls and floor are said to have over 800,000 penny’s covering them.

Alastair and Rachel went to see the site where James Dean died and joined us at the beginning of the next regularity which took us along a remote valley, down a sandy track where some locals were doing some target practice!  We saw wild turkeys as we headed through El Choro Regional Park and rows of gum trees as we passed the marina on the way into Morro Bay, a quiet sleepy backwater with a small harbour.  Paul reported having seen seals and whales swimming in it.

We dined at Windows overlooking the harbour which served up the most delicious scallops!  Toby, Steve and Karl worked on the Rover until about 10pm.   The front caliper had been so badly overheated that it had fried the caliper seal and a chevrolet nova caliper seal was used to replace it.  Angus’s Mercedes had a totally disintegreted front wheel bearing and the outer bearing rollers were now triangular!!  New bearings were sourced from O’Reilly’s Motor Parts and refitted in the morning after the puprchase of a ‘puller’, which removed the hub.

We awoke in the morning to our first taste of the West coast misty fog!  It was the first time we had seen anything but sun since leaving Savannah.  We drove through acres of vineyards in the rolling hills and finally stopped for a wine tasting at the Heritaage Cowboy Vineyard where we tasted four different wines and several people bought a case or two.

There was a lunch stop in Monterey and not long after leaving there, Paul and Arjan had total electrical failure and had to leave the main road and take refuge in Denny’s car park.  After some fiddling about and a partial repair, it was decided to transport the car to San Francisco, due to the late hour. 

We stayed at the Regency Hyatt in the middle of town with a huge foyer that was open up to 16 floors high and looked like a science fiction set.  The next day was a rest day and Toby met up with Hayden, who had come to meet Alastair, and together they fixed the Porsche with a temporary switch in the engine bay due to a disintrigrating wiring loom which had also knocked out the wipers, lights and horn so it is daylight only for them from now on!

Alastair and Rachel went off in a helicopter to see the sights of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, etc, and then had a taxi tour around town with Hayden and his wife Tracy.  They saw a pod of almost 100 whales close to the shore, near the Golden Gate Bridge, which took about 15 minutes to swim past.

Paul met up with his daughter Nicole, who has worked in San Francisco for the last 4 years and enjoyed spending the day with her.

In the evening there was a huge fireworks display at Pier 39 to celebrate the 4th of July but sadly the fog bank called ‘Carl’ (it even has its own website and twitter account! – only in America!) moved in to cover the whole bay area so one could only see the bottom half of the display and the flashing colours occasionally filtering through the fog. 

Karl and Steve where walking down to see the fireworks at Pier 39 when Karl was caught short and popped into an alley way only to find there was’alley way protection’ in force in the form of a sprinkler system which drenched him to the skin and he had to beat a hasty retreat to the hotel to change into dry clothes!

We left San Francisco the next morning and drove 33 miles to the Blackhawk Museum in Danville.  Jerry Fick was a farmers son who developed an early fascination with Indians and started collecting Indian artifacts after finding a spear point near a well on his family’s farm.   Jerry’s deep passion for history and collecting soon expanded to include pioneer, cowboy, cavalry and gunfighter artifacts.  The exhibition displayed topographic tables of thousands of miniatures which Jerry had built to tell the story of the settlement of the Western Plains of the United States.  The collection was bought by Ken Behring, an amazing man who became one of the largest housing developers in Florida and he created the Blackhawk Museum as a tribute to the birth of the American Nation, the indigenous inhabitants and the settling of the West.  Ken Behring also collected a fascinating American time-line of automotive history ranging from the humble Model T Ford to the influence of Rolls Royce which included the ex Al Fayed Harrods Limousine, the 30’s Auburn’s, Packards and Cadillacs and a late 30’s Mercedes 500.  The collection included cars right up to the 70’s and was enjoyed by all.

We continued  on and passed more vineyards in the hills and drove 24 miles of narrow mountain roads, passing Walk About Ranch, 14 Mile Ranch and Dry Creek Ranch, avoiding quail wandering across the road and when the landscape flattened out there were huge stockyards full of cattle and rows of chicken houses.  We drove through another valley growning fruit, pistachio, walnut and almond trees and corn, corn and more corn!  At 4.30pm it was 100F!

We drove up into the Sierra National Park and passed under  the huge sequoia’s and redwood trees and into Mariposa County.  Our destination that day was Yosemite and we stayed at the Tenaya Lodge Hotel high up in the hills. 

The Rover needed her hydrolic lifter changing and her camshaft inspecting and Toby found that the camshaft had lost a lobe, meaning a temporary repair was not possible so the next day they had to continue with a modicum of caution!

Yosemite covers 7 square miles of parkland in northern California and is visited by 4 million visitors per year.  It was $30 to take the car through the park and we joined the convoy of cars processing through the park.  There was road maintenance going on and now and again we had to wait to be escorted by a lead car past the machinery and workmen.  We drove through miles of forest passing camping and RV campsites and the route took us through Mariposa Grove, a deep valley with huge rock faces rising on either side and with the tall sequoia trees and picturesque waterfalls,. 

We had a regularity section of 32 miles in the  Stanislaus National Park and then came across Road Closed signs.  Roger, the Clerk of the Course, turned the cars around and we retraced our steps and took the larger roads to lunch in Columbia.  Alastair ignored the Road Closed signs and drove over the top of the mountain with no problem!  At 1.20pm it was 104F. 

We continued on through pine forests and passed dams and ‘Vista Points’ with names like Hell’s Kitchen Vista Point, with views of the rocky pine forests and snow topped mountains in the distance although the temperature was in the low 100F’s.  We climbed higher and passed signs to Moaning Cavern and Bear Valley Ski Resort.  There were snow drifts beside the road as we climbed higher and when we topped the ridge at 8,050 feet the snow was everywhere!  The road switchbacked its way down next to a frothy white river and then up again into Toiyake National Park and this time we topped the mountain at 8,730 feet.  Once again the scenery was spectacular, changing around every corner.   We had our first shower of decent rain on the way down but it only lasted 5 minutes. 

We drove along Lake Tahoe for many miles before finding shelter at Squaw Creek Resort Hotel with a view of the ski lifts from the the hotel rooms.  We sat outside for supper next to a fire pit and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains.  Tahoe had 40 ft of snow last winter!

Eureka was our next destination, a 365 mile drive, and we drove out of Tahoe and through small towns with high streets full of buildings with old fashioned shop fronts and traditional  houses, made of close boarded wood painted different colours and with porches.  The pine forests were full of log cabins, some painted deep red and in the valleys were the farms with live stock.

Alastair had a broken exhaust pipe bracket so he stopped in Truckee to find a garage to make a new one.  He visited two or three garages but at two the welder had a day off and another couldn’t do the work.  He tried to find someone in Red Bluff as well with no more success than before.  He later found a hardware store and bought a plumbing part which he thought he could fashion into the right shape but while preparing to do the work, he layed his tools and the ‘plumbing part’ on the tarmac in the car park, where upon John drove up in his Mustang and drove over it all.  Snap the part was broken!!