Three years after college I decided my life was established to the point I could afford a big boy toy again. It was the rugged sportiness of the Triumph TR6 I lusted for in the ’70s. I had to have one.
After several months of disappointing test drives, I found a mechanically sound 1974 TR6 with no rust and a fresh Carmine red paint job. A gloss so deep you could shave by your reflection in the bonnet. I lived in the city and drove it to work when it didn’t rain with occasional trips on the interstate or Blue Ridge Parkway. After three years of basic maintenance, a confidence-boosting problem fixed here and there, a Monza free-flow exhaust upgrade and a new interior, I couldn’t have been happier.
During a top down drive early on a cloudless blue sky morning, I was enjoying some spirited driving. Accelerating on the entrance ramp with the thrum of the exhaust singing in my ears, I hit the near deserted interstate, grabbed fourth gear, wound it out and was about to hit the overdrive switch when the engine died like it was out of gas. The fuel gauge read half-full, the coolant temperature was normal and the TR hadn’t missed a beat until it stopped running.
I coasted to the shoulder with the most difficult to fix problems flooding my mind. I popped the bonnet looked around and every thing seemed fine. I walked to the back of the car and pushed down on the trunk a few times and I could hear gas sloshing around in the fuel tank.
I thought for a minute or two about my next step and selected the simplest. With nothing to lose, I got in the TR, murmured a plea to the British car gods, turned the ignition key and the straight 6 engine loped into life. With a quick thank you to Lord Lucas I roared off down the interstate, but a couple of miles later the engine choked to a halt. I waited a few minutes, and she fired right up. Feeling I had used up all my favors I headed straight home.
I was fortunate to have Tom nearby. He’s a mechanic who has worked on British cars for many decades. The next morning at his shop Tom listened and nodded during my tale and said he would have the TR ready later in the day. That afternoon I watched Tom twist the ignition key and the TR started up and ran sweeter than ever. I happily paid up, drove away ready to enjoy a top down ride and I almost made it home before the engine died.
The next morning Tom again promised the TR would be ready by the afternoon and it was. It ran so well I couldn’t help but wind it out a bit, and just before the first traffic light the engine died. I was close enough to the shop that with a little push through a U-turn I could coast back to the garage. Tom stood there looking at the ground and shaking his head. As I made my silent approach Tom waved me into the garage and pulled the door closed behind me.
When I picked up the TR the next day I tried to quiz Tom about what he found. He was clearly very frustrated and replied, “Drive it.” I tried another question and got a stern response of, “Just drive it.”
I almost made it home before the engine died.
I had underestimated Tom’s frustration and on the phone he unexpectedly told me I might be limited to driving on city streets because he had no idea what to do next. I felt abandoned by my long-time TR guru and apparently if the problem would be fixed I would have to do it.
I reasoned the problem had to be located in one of two systems, fuel or electrical. Tom had concentrated on the electrical side so I picked the fuel system. I disconnected the fuel filter and it looked pretty clean but I installed a new one anyway. When I was about to attach the rubber fuel hose to the intake side of the fuel filter I noticed the hose was packed with weird tiny fibers. I disconnected the other end of the rubber hose from the metal fuel line. Both the rubber and metal lines were packed with fibers from end to end all the way to the fuel tank.
I didn’t own a compressor so I got a 10-foot length of some small diameter bailing wire and carefully pushed it through the metal fuel line until it came out the other end. Then I tied one end of the bailing wire into several knots until it was just smaller than the inside diameter of the metal fuel line. I gave the unknotted end of the bailing wire a couple of wraps around a screw driver handle and pulled the wire, knot and all through the metal fuel line. As I pulled the wire the tiny fibers were pushed out by the knot and began to make a pretty big pile as they spilled out onto the garage floor. I repeated the procedure another time or two until the fibers stopped coming out.
With every inch of the fuel line plugged, the fiber source had to be in the fuel tank. I drained the tank, removed it and carried it out into the bright sunlight. With the sun shining into the fuel filler hole I rotated the tank looking for anything that shouldn’t be there. I spotted a dark mass in one corner but couldn’t tell what it was. About that time my roommate and his girlfriend came out to see how I was doing. With a straightened out coat hanger I carefully hooked the dark glob in the corner of the tank and fished out a softball-sized mushy glob of fibers and string. From behind me my roommate’s girlfriend exclaimed, “That’s a tampon!” Sure enough, it was. My mind flashed back to a bad break-up with a girl about a year and a half earlier. She was pretty angry and the last thing she said was, “I hope your car dies.”
It took a year and a half for the gasoline to break down her parting gift into tiny fibers and fill up the fuel line and poison my TR6. After a little cleanup and a careful inspection, the fuel tank proved to be immaculately clean. After all it had been scrubbed all that time with a bloated tampon. When I told Tom the story, he admitted he had never heard anything like it and we both laughed.
I dated more wisely in the future and married the coolest girl ever who loves me and the TR. The TR and I have been together for 22 years, and I have been married to my wife for 17 years now. I can’t imagine my life without either of them.
I had the custom plate before I met Deb and she let me keep it. She said she would never be threatened by a license plate and she is proof the plate is accurate.
By Mike Hofbauer