Three Thousand Miles in a TD…Pickup?

I was offered a chance to drive the Moss Motors’ TD pickup to GOF this year, and considering the state of my MGA. I accepted. There is nothing like driving a car to find out what they are really like… and after talking to lots of people about their experiences in a T-type, I thought I could get some of my own. My wife agreed immediately that an alternative to the “A” would be great… but what exactly was the TD pickup? After describing it, we agreed that we would go, if we had a chance to drive the car for a week or so before the trip. After all, who in their right mind would set out on a long trip in a 1952 anything without checking it out?

The TD pickup was built as a shop truck in 1953 from two wrecked TDs. It belonged to Al Moss for years, and saw service at many a race track, hauling track workers around.

It was sold to Tiny Naylor’s Restaurants, then to a Los Angeles policeman. Eventually Jim Bigler bought it, and he, in turn, sold it to Howard Goldman. Since then it has traveled around quite a bit— including the Ocean-to-Ocean T-Tourist Trophy cross country leg. Given its background, I was confident that a mere 3,000 miles would be no problem. The car had been fitted with a supercharger years back, and we thought it would be nice to have the extra power on the trip—1250 ccs and 7 to 8,000 ft. altitudes being somewhat at odds with one another. After test driving the car, it was determined that we would have a potential problem with overheating in the Nevada desert: a supercharger increases the power and the heat output of an engine. We reluctantly pulled the blower a couple of days before we left, and refitted the twin SUs. I drove the car home and we packed the pickup… so much for extensive test drives. The car was running fine, and we started for Sun Valley with a load of spares for the rest of our group from the Santa Barbara Special T’s, consisting of a TC, an MGA, and three TDs.

Our first day took us through North Africa. Honest, I know the map said California, but the heat was so intense I’m sure we made a left turn somewhere and wound up just south of Egypt. In spite of the heat, nobody had any real overheating problems in the traditional sense—you know, steam everywhere with a dead car on the side of the road. The SU fuel pumps are prone to quitting when it gets hot, and one did after a brief stop. Once you stop, the fuel, which acts to cool the pump, quits flowing. If the pump gets too hot, the fuel vaporizes. The pump will also seize. End result—no fuel to the carbs, and once the float bowls are empty, the engine sputters to a halt. Solution—dip a rag in the ice chest and wrap it around the pump. Once cooled, a few taps with a screwdriver restored the pump to life. Wind works the same way on the people inside the car. It does not seem unbearably hot until you stop… Actually we did expect it to be warm (after all, this is the desert, and it is July) but nobody really knew how hot it was until that afternoon when we found a thermometer in the shade that said 110°. As soon as we found out, it immediately seemed at least 20 degrees hotter than it had been…we put the tops up. I know it was hot. Even the camels were resting in the shade.

After a long climb up 6,000 feet (long is 4,000 rpm in second gear for hall an hour), three Winnebagos passed me, and one 1967 VW bus. I made their day. We had waited until the sun set to attempt the long climb, and so avoided any serious overheating…Chris Nowlan and Paul Johnson patiently plodded along behind me in a supercharged TC, but finally gave up and passed me. With lots of power, they scooted on up the hill. We caught up with everyone else and discussed plans for the next day over dinner. Looking at the map, we made some quick calculations… our route was simple. Go north to Reno, turn right, drive across 300 miles of the Nevada…UH… desert…”How’s everybody feel about driving in the late afternoon and evening?” I frankly was glad. I was not sure how long we could keep pouring water over our heads trying to keep cool before somebody took a picture.

The next morning we gave the cars a thorough going over. The pickup was running a bit rough and after popping off the distributor cap I discovered why. The distributor was full of oil. Since I hadn’t put any in, it had to have come from the crankcase. How? If you have excessive crankcase pressure, oil from the engine will be forced into the distributor. It seems likely that the piston rings had not seated as well as they might after the last overhaul; combustion gasses blowing past the rings pressurizes the crankcase a little. This pressure will force oil out of the crankcase. Poke a hole in a water balloon and you’ll see what I mean. A little oil inside the distributor is OK, but lots of oil is a problem. It eventually fouls the inside of the cap, and the engine will stumble and miss. Using “Brake Clean” solvent and paper towels, the oil was sopped up, and after resetting the points, it ran better. Because we were going to be up between 5,000 and 7,000 feet most of the way across Nevada, we leaned out the carbs a bit. There’s less air up there—run a block and you’ll get the idea—and the air/fuel mixture is therefore a bit rich. The real answer to our power problems was a small V-6…but we decided to make do with what we had.

The run across Nevada was, well, long. It worked out perfectly to leave the mountains in the afternoon—by the time we had dropped down into the desert the sun was setting behind us. We left the top down, and drove on into the night. The pickup was fitted with TC headlights, and although I could not tell much difference between low and high beam, they were adequate. So was the heater. I never did find out how to turn the thing off, but at night it made the cockpit sort of cozy warm. As near as I can tell the entire cockpit is fitted with invisible heater ducts, with a big 4″ duct right over the gas pedal. I would probably have appreciated the heater more in, say, Greenland. We pulled into our motel in Battle Mountain at about 2:00AM after an incredible high speed run (4500 RPM+) across most of Nevada. I suppose that was all of 60, 65 miles an hour. It’s not much in a Lincoln, but try that in a TD for 3 hours and you’ll appreciate the experience. By now I’m beginning to be impressed with the TD. It didn’t overheat—It got hot. It didn’t quit on hills—it just was slow. It was not blindingly quick—it was steady. I’d been in more comfortable cars, but I appreciated the chance to get acquainted with parts of my anatomy that had not been heard from in years. Alter a reasonable amount of sleep (you know, you can’t shut those beds off after you drop the quarter in, no matter what you do) we met for breakfast after I changed the oil in the distributor.

I also noticed that the rear main seal arrangement was not doing such quite a bit to drip out, you can trace your steps back to the freeway after getting gas…this is no way to treat a finite natural resource, so we’ll have that fixed. In the meantime, I buy oil.

The rest of the trip to Sun Valley, Idaho is uneventful. The weather was great (meaning cool) and the scenery was beautiful. After GOF, we went on to Montana to visit some friends on our way to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Here we discovered the true element for a T-type. Once inside the park, we folded the windshield flat. You cannot imagine what it’s like cruising through Yellowstone in a TD like that. Your vision is unobstructed in every direction, and the sense of freedom is wonderful… until you realize that there is nothing between you and the bear… given enough head start. I figured we could outrun (downhill) any bear we met. I don’t know how fast the pickup will go backwards, and I’m glad to say we didn’t have to find out. But it was really nice to travel that way. All through the park we were able to photograph the animals, while the tourists took pictures of the car… Coming back across Nevada was another story. Hot does not convey the feeling of being baked for hours at a time as you travel across a couple hundred miles of high desert. We’d learned enough on the way to GOF that the top can make a 15 degree difference to the top of your head, so the top went up early. Apply half a bottle of sunscreen to the “outside” arm and away you go. The car behaved well until we hit a long, steep incline on Highway 6 outside of Tonopah. The road was two lanes wide, and it was laid on fill-meaning there were guardrails on either side of the very narrow shoulders. About half way up the TD started to miss—oil had fouled the points again. We limped on three cylinders for a bit, and then it just died. Twenty feet ahead, the guardrail stops and the shoulder gets positively spacious; right here there’s no room at all. The semis blasting by convince me that I need to push the car up those last 20 feet—to pass me the semis have to pull halfway over into the lane going the other way. So, Lida and I swap places—she can work the brake in between my pushes. As I leaned up against the tailgate on the TD, I was thinking to myself that I was lucky; the large flat area was just right for leaning against and pushing…only there was room for three people, and there I was all by myself. I found that If I bent my knees a little, dug in with my new running shoes, grabbed the bottom of the tailgate with both hands, then straightened out my legs, I could move the TD about a foot. By telling Lida when to release the brake, and when to re-apply pressure to the pedal, I could make pretty good progress. It’s kind of a very slow waltz…anyway, all was going just fine until I stepped into the oil that had drained out of the bellhousing when I stopped the car. Remember that business about the rear main seal I mentioned earlier? Well, I went from standing in the oil to sitting in the oil so fast I wasn’t sure what happened…except now the inside part of my left elbow is resting on the tailpipe, my right elbow is jammed down between the bumper and the body, and the TD wants to go back down the hill, meaning over me. The tail pipe was incredibly hot, and I lost a patch of skin when I removed my arm, but I didn’t have time to think much about that because other parts of my body were complaining about the hot oil I was sitting in and I was sliding slowly down the asphalt as the TD started rolling backwards. Now Lida knew I was supposed to be back there, but I disappeared so fast she couldn’t tell where I was (the top’s up, remember, and the back window is cloudy isinglass, and not too big to begin with) so she calls out, “Mike, where are you?”. I yelled back, “Stop the car”, which didn’t answer her question. She still couldn’t see me. I tried to stand up, but the oil on the bottoms of my shoes voided the manufacturer’s claim to “sure traction in all weather” and I sat down again. “Stop the car… Where are you?…”STOP THE CAR…” “I can’t see you…”” STOP THE CAR!…” And it stopped.

I don’t know the name of the guy from Washington state who pulled up behind us at that point in his electric green VW Dasher, but he really is a nice guy. I’m sure he’s convinced that I’m a really unpleasant fellow, but he’ll just have to forgive me. I can’t remember what I said when he asked me “Is everything OK?”, but under the circumstances, I don’t think I was my usual cheery self. Together we pushed the TD the rest of the way up and off the road. He asked if I needed help, and I lied. “No…I just need to clean up the points and we’ll be back on the road.” What I meant was “I need a shot of morphine and a double scotch, no Ice.” I cleaned out the distributor, reset the points and contemplated the wisdom of pushing cars that leak oil. After that, the rest of the trip was uneventful.

All good things must come to an end, and we had to head back to California. After eight days on the road and 3,000 miles. I must confess that I’d do it again. Not real soon, mind you…


By Michael Grant

Moss Sales Manager

(Our thanks to Sales Manager Michael Grant for sharing his adventurous cross-country trip with us.)

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