By Kerry “Danger” Fores
I would have been in a tight spot had a speaker not just been stolen from my 1968 Triumph GT6. That fortunate theft is why on this day in 1986 I had one tool in my car, rather than none. But as I looked down on a squalid Chicago neighborhood from the debris-strewn shoulder of Interstate 90—a five-lane wide tract held high above disheveled homes by graffiti-covered concrete pillars—my mind formed a question, “Who do I call—how do I call them—where do I get the car towed to—how do I get the car home—will I be killed?”
I was passing through Chicago (well, trying to) on the outbound leg of a three-day trip from my home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Waterloo, Indiana, to adopt a Chow Chow puppy (a girl, black, Kodi, thank you!). The interstate’s five lanes were smothered with motorists creeping slowly toward their destination. I was performing alternating leg presses (right foot in, left foot out, right foot out, left foot in) in the center lane when the idling engine failed to respond to my right foot. I thought the engine had stalled but as I reached for the key I saw the tachometer was still twitching with anticipation at 800 RPM. My eyes grew large as both they and my mind darted through multiple scenarios. I diagnosed a broken accelerator cable and began idling the car across crowded lanes of traffic to the (relative) safety of the shoulder.
After lifting the bonnet I was relieved to find the accelerator cable intact. Inspection revealed a rubber accelerator link between the carburetors had dried, cracked, and lost its grip on the threaded pushrod that motivated the butterfly valves. The problem looked manageable. I combed through the debris in the median—of which there was plenty. I discarded any notion that broken bolts, rusty exhaust hangars, or shredded tire remnants would be useful. Glass shards? Maybe for self-defense. Cigarette packages? Only if one still sheltered a cigarette, as it seemed like a good time to take up smoking. Then a 12-inch length of heavy, solid core, copper wire winked at me and I lifted it from the ground and coddled it in my hands. I told it how beautiful it was. I knew it was the answer but it raised a new question: How?
A few days earlier, while I was delivering pizzas to hungry (or high) college students, a speaker was stolen from the GT6. The evening before my trip I performed some critical car maintenance, which is to say I rewired the one remaining speaker. Afterward, I cleaned out the car to make room for luggage and the puppy. Now, while performing an inwardly frantic but outwardly calm roadside search for tools I knew I didn’t bring, I found the X-Acto #1 Precision Knife I had used to wire the speaker. I celebrated as if I found a winning lottery ticket I had discarded.
With focused determination I sawed through the impossibly thick wire with the impossibly small knife (“…the sleek design fits comfortably in the hand, allowing you to continue making the precision cuts needed to finish the job, no matter how long it takes.” ~actual excerpt from the X-Acto website). My nervous fingers struggled to twist the short, stiff wire tightly around the cracked rubber link to force it to grip the threaded pushrod. But it worked…long enough to get me back into traffic.
When the engine again failed to respond to the pressure of my right foot I returned to the highway’s shoulder, lifted the bonnet, and re-enacted the nervous twisting of the wire while adding teeth sucking and the promise to investigate (not join, but investigate) the priesthood. I tested this second repair extensively and, satisfied it would hold, signaled my intent to reenter the traffic lanes. No one was willing to let me in and sacrifice what little forward progress they might make so I forced my way in at the risk of causing an accident to unfold in slow motion. This was back in the good ol’ days when angry drivers expressed their displeasure with a horn rather than a homicide.
Two years later I sold the GT6. As I watched it drive toward its new home, not too far from my own, I realized my temporary repair had unintentionally become permanent. I kept tabs on the car by peering into the new owner’s open garage when I drove by. A few months after I sold it I noticed it was disappearing under boxes. I inquired about the car nearly two decades later and learned it was still there, under the boxes. So many boxes, in fact, it was impossible to put an eye on the car. Its owner believed the car had appreciated significantly in value during its twenty-year rest but I could only imagine the devastation from inactivity. Another decade has passed since I last asked about the car and I believe it is still sitting there. I also believe my roadside repair is still intact.
I’ve owned and driven—often as my only car—Triumphs (the GT6 mentioned here and three different TR6s) almost continuously since 1982 but none have ever left me stranded. That’s not exactly true, but true enough. I push-started one while saving for a new starter. I brought an aged battery inside on a nightly basis—for weeks—to give the GT6 a fighting chance at starting on cold winter mornings. It always did. I drove a TR6 hundreds of miles in city traffic without a functioning clutch. I had a main wiring harness melt from a poor earth connection but, after the smoke cleared, I was able to restart it and drive it home. I’ve had distributor caps and rotors fail. Hoses have burst. I’ve learned to carry spares and to carry tools. I’ve learned something from each incident but the most valuable lesson I learned was from that breakdown in 1986: avoid Chicago at all costs.
Kerry Fores maintains his world headquarters at TheLifeOfDanger.com