What do you do when your job sends you across the country and you no longer have a trailer or tow vehicle to get your LBC there? You begin to lie to yourself until you are convinced that an across the nation road trip is a great idea. And so it came to pass that my wife and I began planning to caravan the E-Type and MINI from Tucson to Pensacola.
I put a lot of effort into prepping both cars so this wouldn’t be a misadventure. I packed oil, antifreeze, tire pressure, tire rotations, full new wiring harness, brighter tail light bulbs, carb damper oil, wiper and washer switches replaced, etc. My spares list covered fuel fittings, jets, plugs, wires, condenser, fuses, gaskets, rotor arm, fuel pump, tires, etc. Against these, I had arrayed an impressive tool set encompassing SAE, metric, and Whitworth along with a multimeter, modern jack, compressor, test lamp, cutters, crimpers, strippers and the like. I even threw in the show-only original tool kit as a talisman against evil.
Departure day dawned clear and bright as we did our final load-out and preparations. We’d planned on a relaxed three-day trip with about seven to eight hours on the road each day. The E-Type gets mighty hot through the metal accelerator pedal. I wear Nomex driving shoes for this very reason. To help fight this, we planned each leg to last just under three hours before stopping for fuel and a break. We made it exactly one exit past our house before it all went wrong.
Traffic came to a complete standstill and the Jag’s thermometer began to climb from HOT to WORRYING. I’d installed a brand-new temperature sender two days before as well as a new fan thermostat. It turns out that the new sender reports higher readings than the old one, forcing me to reevaluate what temperature exactly was WORRYING, an abstract number I wrestled with for the entire trip. The traffic stoppage was caused by a truck fire. Looks like I wasn’t the only one redefining what the definition of WORRYING was. We were soon on our way with an uneventful leg to Deming, New Mexico.
Next up was a planned routine stop in Fabens, Texas on the east side of El Paso. Upon our arrival in Fabens an oil and water check caused a near stoppage of my heart as I came face to face with the shredded remains of my new fan belt, still clinging to the pulleys by a few threads. It was well past three as friends to cross reference the belt. Naturally, it’s unique to 3.8 liter E-Types with no Gates, Goodyear, or Dayco replacement. My Tucson friends mobilized, calling everyone they knew in the Las Cruces, NM club. That’s the great thing about this hobby. The Las and their bunch turned Las Cruces and El Paso upside down to find a belt nearby. They came close with a gent willing to take the belt off his son’s 4.2 liter E-Type and run it out to me, but I knew that belt wouldn’t work. I can’t thank them enough for trying. In the end, it was XKs Unlimited that had to come through. Before I could order the belt, I had to get an address to send it to first. That meant cancelling the hotel in Ft Stockton and a getting a new reservation on the east side of El Paso. “No ma'am, I don’t need the confirmation number, I need the street address now! My parts place closes in five minutes!” At a couple minutes past four, I placed the order for two belts to be Fed Ex’d to our hotel. They said I’d have them the next morning, but I was dubious. Why two belts? Because my wife is brilliant and quietly said, “If you’re air freighting one, you might as well get two so you have a spare.”
That still didn’t have our two cars and us at the hotel. Those who know me also know that I limp slightly due to my right foot actually being made of lead. I led the most ginger interstate ride ever for the 20 mile limp back to El Paso. If that belt had popped, I’d have lost the water pump for a guaranteed flatbed ride. Still, we made it, found favorable parking that would let us rebuild the car when (and if) the belts came. It was just past 4:30, but it felt like it was 10:00. We were shot.
Day two dawned clear and bright. Every day was clear and bright. After breakfast, I checked in with XK’s Unlimited for Fed Ex tracking. To my surprise, the package was already in El Paso and on a delivery truck. I got busy taking the car apart. While I didn’t have the spares I needed, I did have every tool I even thought about needing. The job entailed jacking up the car, taking off the front wheel, inner wheel arch, battery, and the generator. Getting the generator out (or in) is a real bugbear. By 9:30, I had my package. I’ve never been so happy to get a package as that day. Mike and the boys at XK’s Unlimited dropped a package in San Luis Obispo, California at 4:30 in the afternoon and had it to me early the next morning. Most impressive.
Our parking lot tech session, and possibly my stream of invective, drew an occasional crowd as we fought to wrestle the belt and generator back in place. We knocked on the wheel and dropped the car back on its feet at noon and were on our way a few minutes later. It felt great to have beaten the odds and get back on the road. We stretched things a bit to carry us to Junction, Texas, just short of San Antonio about an hour after dark. The girl at the desk of our hotel took pity on us and gave us a suite with a whirlpool so we could park outside the window. Things were definitely looking up.
Day three (clear and bright). We knew this would be a challenge as we had to navigate through both San Antonio and Houston. That actually meant a delayed departure to miss rush hour. San Antonio truly sucked as a 18-wheel gravel truck nearly drove over me at a merger of two on ramps entering the I-10 bypass. In Houston, I nearly missed an exit, but my wife zoomed up next to me and gestured me over. What gesture she made remains an item of debate, but you cannot ignore a MINI Cooper S when that supercharger wails up to you in the next lane. What a great sound! About an hour short of our planned stop in Lafayette, Louisiana, I noticed that the ammeter was solidly on the DISCHARGE side of the gauge. Fortunately, we made it before dark and I didn’t need the headlights.
A quick check in to the hotel and time to attack the Jag with the multimeter and jumper leads. I was smug in the knowledge that it was a bad voltage regulator and that I’d soon have things right as I had a brand new spare in my tool kit. Even so, I started at the generator. I discovered that I make more electricity walking across the carpet than my generator. Now what? I’ll be damned if I was going to take that generator off again and I sure didn’t want to hang around Lafayette to get it rebuilt. We were six hours from Pensacola and determined that we’d get there by relaying batteries between the MINI and the E-Type. We still bought an extra battery with a massive reserve capacity to get the job done as the MINI does not have an aggressive charging system, giving only 13.5 volts compared to 14.5 volts on most cars. Hey, something’s got to give when you’re working with only 1.6 liters.
Day four (of three planned, but still bright and clear). I’m out early to install modern-style clamp cables on the Jag to ease the swaps and get the new battery installed. Soon we’re off for a day of battery swaps in the back corners of enroute gas stations. Finally, we made it safe to Pensacola and the end of the misadventure. All told, we traveled just over 1,600 miles to complete the trip. We got the cars unpacked with just enough time to make it to the beach for sunset.
The next morning, we washed off the bugs, road grime and greasy fingerprints from both cars that looked much like Le Mans finishers before tucking the Jag into its garage I’d rented. It was a great and terrible trip all in one. I couldn’t have done it without my wife alongside giving calm and often brilliant advice when she had every right to complain about what a stupid idea this was. Thanks to Ernie and Marla of Ernie's British Cars in Tucson. Mike at XKs Unlimited went the extra mile as well to make sure we got back on the road. Finally, thanks to the Las Cruces club who really worked hard to let me know they had my back if I needed anything they had. I know the New Orleans club and the Pensacola club would have rushed to help too if I couldn’t have solved the electrical issue. The cars are why we get into this hobby. The people are why we stay. Thank you all.
070 Mission Start
073 Ten Minutes After Mission Start
082 Car Dismantled, Coffee Ready, & Waiting For FEDEX To Arrive
124 Record Time Fan Belt Installation
161 Mission Complete!