By Matt and Reese Krajniak
I first met Reese after a drive she was on with the Chicago Mini Motoring Club, which probably should have clued me in that we were meant to be. We hit it off from the start and never had cause to look back. I proposed in August of 2013, and we had a courthouse marriage that December. With the legal marriage in the books, we saved up for the “real” wedding. Why would we involve Elvis and bright lights for the one that only counted on a tax form?
It was Reese who first floated the idea: “What if… we went back to Las Vegas for the wedding (since the cost of wedding insurance is pretty low there)…and we took the TR6 when it’s finished?” I searched for any part of the idea that I didn’t like. Vegas wedding, Triumph driving through the mountains—yes, please! The TR6 would take some work, but I didn’t see how I couldn’t finish the car over the next few months.
Our date was set for October 3, 2015. We had deadlines and budgets to follow. I enlisted the helping hands from several members of the wonderful Illinois Sports Owner Association. In time, appropriate welding was done on the chassis, the body moved to a professional for paint, and LOTS of parts were ordered.
What is it they say about the best laid plans? We hit a snag.
“I just got off the phone with the painter,” I said to Reese with a grim expression, “There is a lot left to do on the car. Probably not enough time to put everything together without screwing it up somehow.” I was caught in a whirlwind of thoughts of how I could speed things up. We had come too far!
Then Reese said, “So plan B then? It’s a better looking car anyway.”
The Little Red Car
In August, I bought a 1964 Triumph Spitfire 4 from the family of a former club member. He had a reputation for his restoration work. Unfortunately, this one had sat in a garage for the last 20 years. The fuel was sludge, the engine turned but would not run, and two of the brakes were rusted solid. We had a tiny window to take an even smaller car with less power from Chicago to Vegas and beyond.
While wrought with problems, when viewed from above all of them seemed easily fixable with either some time or money. The tires were so old they did not use the current system of date stamps—new tubes and tires! The carburetor needles looked as if they had been on the Titanic—rebuild the twin SUs with new needles and jets! Only half of the gauges worked—replace the speedo cable and the crusty float in the gas tank! With all new fluids, a from-scratch tune up that started with setting rocker clearances and static timing, the Spitfire was road ready and getting tested regularly.
It was about this time that I suggested joining in on the Moss Motoring Challenge so we would have something to occupy ourselves while on the road. Reese’s reaction? “How is this the first I’m hearing of it?!!” I fell for a competitive woman, what can I say?
All Roads Lead to Vegas
We headed west and stopped near Omaha for some sleep after about ten hours on the road. On day two we plowed through the remainder of Nebraska, and headed south into Kansas on the “scenic” US 83 (by the way, we used a GPS only to check travel times, with all of our route planning done with good old-fashioned maps). At US 40 we veered west heading towards Colorado Springs where we stayed the night. We had driven for over 20 hours with no need to stop for anything more than checking the oil, which remained very nearly full for the trip. Miraculously, our backs weren’t sore—the seats were quite comfortable for being 51-years old. I will admit, however, that after packing a large suitcase on the luggage rack, a propane grill, folding chair, tools, spare parts, cooler, tent, mattress, like lucid mattress, pillows, blankets, camera case, various maps, and other small items, it made packing the car every morning take some time. It was also difficult to find things. I now have a spare feeler gauge and extra cooking utensils that I bought rather than continue digging.
There is nothing quite like waking up in your hotel to find that the view has changed overnight from flat terrain filled with corn and beans to a new landscape dominated by mountains and deep blue sky. The driving was long, but the stress was gone, as we knew we were creating lifelong memories. The scenery with the top down confirmed that the decision to drive a classic Triumph was indeed a wise one.
The road took us across Colorado via Hwy 115 to US 50—“The Loneliest Road,” according to our road trip travel book. The car was running well, but seemed to be a bit down on power. It wasn’t faring too well when in traffic or coming to a stop either. Then it hit me—we had been climbing much of this time. Unlike modern cars, these old LBCs can’t self-adjust for ambient air pressure, and so the Spitfire was running rich. A quick adjustment under the hood and the RPMs at idle shot up. The engine could breathe, and she was eagerly calling to get back on the road! We reached elevations of over 11,000 ft at Monarch Pass.
If I had the trip to do over again, I’d avoid night driving through the mountains. However, we were on a time crunch—it’s considered impolite to arrive at your wedding several days late with 40 guests waiting on you. Our route bounced around the Arizona and Utah border as we made our way towards Vegas.
In lieu of a banquet hall, we rented an enormous room (with an air hockey table) and opted for an in-suite reception following a ceremony in the chapel where Elvis was married. It was a perfect night we will remember for the rest of our lives. We even had a visit from the king of rock and roll himself! Reese’s parents arranged to have Elvis stop by for a private concert after his show at Planet Hollywood. I’d include more about the wedding details, but what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay there, so on to the west coast!
Honeymoon Road Trip
We drove south through the Mojave National Preserve and stayed in Joshua Tree for the night. Next stop: Oceanside. The view from our campsite at Carlsbad State Beach couldn’t be beat. Unzipping the tent door and stepping outside put us directly in front of the Pacific Ocean. Nearly two years after the first wedding and we finally could start enjoying our honeymoon!
We visited the Moss Motors facility in Goleta just before it closed, and we were even offered a brief tour of the warehouse. I have now seen Santa’s workshop, and my wife feels better knowing that our basement doesn’t have that many parts stored in it by comparison.
The next day, we enjoyed gorgeous scenery while driving along the coast—particularly Highway 1 through Big Sur. There were endless curves jutting out toward the ocean and back again. The road took us to Napa Valley where several bottles of wine managed to find their way into the back of the Spitfire. When you’re not rushed, you can truly start to appreciate how these cars can transport you to different world.
The roads toward home opened our eyes to wonders of natural beauty. Craters of the Moon National Preserve, Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park—if only we had months of time to explore all of these places. At Badlands National Park we saw a man wearing all black, round sunglasses, with long hair and a silk scarf. His accent was British, if slightly slurred, and we weren’t the only ones to notice. “Is that Ozzy Osbourne?” It was! We were able to meet Ozzy in person and he congratulated us on our recent marriage, and obliged us with a photo. I later would ask how many Moss Motoring Challenge points I’d have gotten if I could have gotten Ozzy to hold up the points guide or endorse it on camera, and was told, “However many he wanted. We wouldn’t argue with a rock legend.”
In the spirit of having had a wedding in Las Vegas, my friends and family had started a pool—gambling that we would certainly break down in the several thousand miles of driving on the way home. Even if we had, this trip was enough to teach us a couple things. First, the less-obvious ways to travel have value that many will never know. Second, we learned that our marriage is a good one. Certainly we’d be divorced by now after three weeks in a cramped car if it wasn’t! I don’t know if we’ll take the Spitfire on another cross-country trip any time soon, but we’ll remember this adventure for the rest of our lives. Now, to finish that TR6 for the Triumph convention in Texas coming up…