Hung over but recouping, no sleep, a six hour drive if we were lucky plus one tired 912. I was ready to go home. We had run my car once during the four day weekend and it ran normal. All the flogging didn’t throw it out of joint which was a good sign. In fact, I think it kinda liked it. But the drive home would present a new challenge, the Grapevine. We took the 101 freeway north on the way up avoiding the it but it loomed over me all weekend. The Grapevine is this uphill battle on I-5 from the dusty, hot, dirty stretch of Bakersfield where crops and cows grow for our grub, up over the Tejon Pass (elevation about 4,100 ft), and down the other side to the dusty, hot, dirty stretch of Los Angeles. Many signs adorn the roadway such as turn off air conditioning and use lower gear. A slow truck lane is always filled with 18 wheelers with flashers on, a few VW buses and the occasional 1970s pick up truck, overloaded with someone’s life story on their way to start fresh somewhere better.
I shifted into 4th gear and settled in to about 3,800 rpm which had me doing roughly 55 mph. A good motor would have no problem doing 80 mph over the pass. Revving the car for short bursts didn’t seem to bother me as much as cruising up a very steep grade for a long period of time, putting constant load on the engine in 90-degree heat. The pass, once a single lane as seen here in 1934, was notorious for breaking your car. I didn’t want mine to break. Mike was following diligently behind me in case of trouble but I didn’t quite see how he would come in handy. I’d still have to tow the car and there was no way to fit all of my crap in with all of his crap plus Dan’s and be comfortable in that cocoon of a back seat. Back to the temperature gauge as it rose just past halfway. The highest temp I’d ever seen the car but still quite a ways from being dangerous.
To cut to the chase, the car made it and we were cruising 75 downhill. The temperature fell off a bit, we were clear, yeah baby. That is until a ka-chunk in my engine compartment and the generator light came on. I cut through traffic, pulled to the side to reveal a broken fan belt. It could be worse. The car still wasn’t overheating, so we decided to drive to the next gas station to get it fixed. I watched carefully but the temperature gauge was still a good ways from going too hot and as I talked to Mike on the cell phone, we discussed letting it cool and then driving it again, limping it home the next 60 miles if we had to. We pulled off, found a Pepboys which is why driving with a buddy is invaluable, bought the only fan belt in stock for ’69 912 (same engine as a ’66, glad I knew) and a big-ass adjustable wrench since our wrenches were too small. We returned to the car and 20 minutes later we were on the road, an hour diversion when all told. Huh, the car took a while to start, sounds a little funny but hey it’s on and running. Hmmm, just doesn’t feel right. Is the timing off? Did the old belt whip around and slap something out of whack? The car never over heated… it should be fine.
Got the car home for a much needed nap and haven’t started it since. I call my mechanic to hear the not so good news. Paul, anytime you have a car running at the saturation point of high heat and then the fan stops working, it gets really hot. It doesn’t matter what the gauge reads. The extra heat that doesn’t dissipate starts reeking havoc on old metal parts. Piston rings that are worn, start to crack and what might have been an ok engine gives up a lot more. You’re just lucky it happened on the way home and not on the way up. True that.
Suffice it to say I’ll be saving my money for a rebuild. If you’d like to contribute to the fund, feel free to follow the link at the bottom of the tribute site I built, The 912 Anthology.
In the meantime, it was one hell of a way to go out. Thanks my little 912 for the journey.