By Bob McCowan
My story begins with my first acquisition of a Triumph TR3. In January 1959 I returned to the US after spending 15 months as a Marine fighter pilot in the Far East. I was in need of a car after failing to purchase a Mercedes Benz 190SL in Tokyo at a discounted cost. After test driving a MGB, a Healey 3000, and a Jaguar XK, I settled on the TR3 for the simple reason it had enough foot space to accommodate my military brogues. Also, it was quite peppy. It easily tromped my squadron mate’s Porsche 1600 coupe in a drag race on highway 1 in South Laguna, California.
Before I get into my moment of invention, it is only fair to add that my background before going into service included building hot rods and formal training on aircraft engines and air-frames. While visiting my parents in Sacramento, I was showing off my TR to my dad’s best friend whose hobby was being the mechanic for Indy racer Bill Vukovich, Jr. When I mentioned that the TR handbook suggested giving the engine a valve job after the first 5,000 miles, he immediately insisted I bring the TR to his shop the next day and do the valves. He quickly realized that his valve grinding stones that he used on Offenhauser race engines were much too large for the TR. Not deterred, he ground down the grind stones to meet TR specs and off we went. The entire valve job did not take him more than a couple of hours. So I had already acquired some knowledge about TR engines by the time my story begins.
On July 9, 1960, I married my wife Mary Jo and we headed off to Mazatlan, Mexico, on our honeymoon in my TR3. Anticipating poor gasoline in Mexico, I bought a 12-bottle case of octane booster and off we went. Remember, the year was 1960, or almost exactly 60 years ago. While Disneyland had dictated the invention of the “freeway” in Los Angeles, it was still unheard of in Mexico. Although the TR was totally crammed to the top with no room for a spare gas can, I did make sure I included my Craftsman toolkit. The trip to Mazatlan was a story in itself. It was about a 1,000 miles and took three days to get there. Towns were few and far between and motels were primitive. They all had air conditioning, but none worked. We walked into one, turned on the bathroom light, found the floor covered black in thousands of crickets, and walked back out. We passed on that one.
We finally arrived safely and found Mazatlan to be a quaint small town. We stayed at a nice motel on the beach with underground parking and spent a pleasant week there. On the night before we were due to leave for home I decided to adjust the valves on the TR. That’s when the fun started. On piston number three, after testing the clearance with a feeler gauge, I cinched down on the jam nut only to find I had stripped the threads on the rocker arm adjusting screw. It was an “oh sh[oo]t” moment. What do I do now? I had no spare parts and the closest TR dealer was a thousand miles away in LA.
After some careful thought I decided that I somehow had to re-thread the adjusting screw since I had no spare. I backed off the jam nut and saw that its threads seemed to be okay. Luckily, the adjusting screw had a driver slot on the top end. Taking a large screwdriver from my tool kit, I succeeded in driving the screw back through the rocker arm. The rocker arm threads straightened up the threads on the adjusting screw. Very carefully, I extracted the adjusting screw from the rocker arm and tested to see if the jam nut would thread on. Voilà! It worked. Again, carefully, I adjusted the clearance and lightly cinched the jam nut. I was unsure it would hold until back in LA, but it did.
Felling quite proud of myself, I went up to our room to relate my story to my bride. I celebrated by treating myself to a scotch on the rocks. While sipping my drink I noticed sediment dissolving from the ice cubes. I ran to the ice machine to see if they used bottled water. The city water was piped directly into the ice machine.
Oh God, Montezuma had his revenge! MM