Vintage Victor

For earning the most points with a pre-1960s vehicle in the 2015 Motoring Challenge, Scott and Nancy Gilbert won the Vintage Victor Award. This is their story:

My wife Nancy and I are privileged to be the current custodians of MGTD #16872, otherwise known as Sassy Cathy. She came to me from my cousin who got her from a gentleman who shipped her to Skagway, Alaska, and after touring a bit drove down the Al-Can highway back home. Shortly after Nancy and I were married in 1986, having taken several “dates” to GOFs up and down the Pacific Coast, we heard of a New England MGT Register trip up the Al-Can to Alaska and of course had to participate. So Cathy has driven both ways on the Al-Can with a 35-year gap in between, she has a wandering spirit!

Last year’s Challenge started out with animated conversations as we plotted where all the destination requirements could be met. One early vow was that the destination of “Elevation Over 8,000 Feet” would not be a repeat of anywhere we had been, including the 12K of Independence Pass. Research on the web revealed that the highest paved road in North America was Mt. Evans outside Denver: Challenge accepted! So went our planning for a long summer trip, aided in no small part by my getting furloughed by the company I had worked for 32 years and being able to roll right into retirement at the beginning of July.

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We got a few shorter trips in during the spring to get the juices going, including finding Lincoln’s infamous Toe Truck. Our summer travels started from Seattle on July 2. We headed east to Montana to a family cabin in Glacier National Park. Our course was laid out to hit the 17 western states, three western provinces and see a number of National Parks such as Mt Rushmore, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite.

We left as scheduled but started having ignition problems. When we got to the cabin we decided to resolve the problems prior to heading off into the badlands and the summer heat. The question did arise as to whether being stranded in paradise qualified as being stuck.

Destination: “Fireworks Display” had to be postponed as all 4th of July shows were cancelled in Northern Montana given the extreme dryness. With shipments slowed by the holiday (UPS gave their folks the weekend off, which we applaud!) and the replacement distributor (Moss P/N 143-004) not immediately resolving the problems, we realized we wouldn’t complete the trip as planned.

I caught a train back to Seattle and got my truck and a trailer to get Cathy back to our garage where I could find the cure. As things always seem to go, the time on the train allowed for some unhurried diagnostic thinking and while home I picked up some parts which, upon my return to the cabin, fully cured the problem. Cathy didn’t like the new-fangled carbon plug wires I had used to connect to the new distributor cap and old coil.

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We hit the road again Sept. 9, with a route thru Washington, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota to the Rushmore area. While there we were looking at information on Mt. Evans, we ran across the comment that the road often closes right after Labor Day. Since it was already a week after and there was some cold and precipitation headed for the area, we cut short touring the Black Hills area and picked off the corners of Nebraska and Wyoming on the way to Cheyenne. The following day we passed through Denver and headed…UP! After Cathy started to sputter and complain at the upper road entry area, I did a bit of ignition retiming, removed the air cleaner element, and dropped the carb needles down to lean the mixture. She proceeded to motor right on up to the top at 14,130-foot elevation, even managing to pass most of the hearty bicyclists on the way. Prime destination reached and a great big feeling of accomplishment on all our parts! The weather did close in a day or so later so our timing worked out just right.

We wandered around Colorado including the Poudre River canyon (destination Palindrome: Kinikinik), crossed the continental divide several times (seemed like as much time over 8K as under!), overnighted at Leadville on the way to St. Elmo (destination: Ghost Town) on the way out onto the plains at Lamar. The corners of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico added to our states total but convinced us that there was still enough heat out there to exceed our desires, so we headed west. Trinidad, Taos and Durango followed with a day of rest for Cathy while we celebrated my 65th birthday with a trip on the Durango-Silverton narrow-gauge steam train.

Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners, Grand Canyon North Rim, and Zion Park led us to our one real technical difficulty of the trip—“someone” left the headlights on while we went hiking in Zion and upon our return at dusk we had a dead battery. The battery was old, like about 20 years or so, and never really recovered but since we had the starter crank we fired up and made our night’s destination of St. George. We had hoped to make it to Death Valley, after getting to Las Vegas, to offset the highest road in North America with the lowest, but the heat of the Mojave Valley and the battery condition convinced us to head to Los Angeles. Nancy was flying home to Seattle for an appointment so with a little time in hand we had a leisurely day to get to Santa Monica (destination: Pacific Ocean) before I dropped her at the Burbank Airport and headed for the coast again.

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The next morning I got to Goleta, took a photo at Moss Motors HQ and enjoyed the hospitality of the whole staff there from Robert Goldman on down. I also delivered a bottle of emu oil we had brought along to David Stuursma so that he could research it’s many culinary, medicinal and beauty applications. I also changed Cathy’s oil and bought her a new battery, which perked her right up. The next two days were spent driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, much of the time in the company of a number of elderly German sports cars (almost as old as Cathy) who were headed for a gathering at Carmel. That is truly one of the greatest roads I have had the pleasure of driving! Nancy rejoined us in San Jose and we headed off to tour Yosemite National Park.

The rest of the trip came quickly, Sacramento (destination: final state capital), a day visiting relatives in Redding, our 17th state (Oregon) and on to Yakima and Zilla, Washington (cities Y and Z). We stopped to visit our son at college in Ellensburg and had a great final approach to home thru Mt Rainier National Park. We got home October 2, after about 7,500 miles in 24 days on the road, having never put the top up. I unloaded Cathy and as I was backing her into the garage, it started to rain: somehow a fitting conclusion to the major part of our 2015 Challenge.

Traveling in Sassy Cathy has been a source of enjoyment for us since she came into our lives. Nancy has coined the phrase that we measure our trips in Smiles Per Mile. Whether it’s enjoying the scenery, talking to the folks who either owned, knew of or lusted after one of “those” cars in days past—or trying to come up with the right answer to the question “are you nuts?!!”—with Sassy Cathy, life is never boring. Our thanks to Moss Motors for running the Challenge. We and Sassy Cathy are well on our way with Challenge 2016: “The Race to the Finish.” Here’s hoping someone incorporates an “X” town on the Pacific Coast soon!

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'Vintage Victor' has 1 comment

  1. June 12, 2016 @ 6:04 am Greg Foster

    My wife and I participated in MMC 2015, coming in 7th in our Miata. We had a clear objective to drive across the country and knew exactly where we were headed each day. This year we are not participating but have been doing a lot of exploring places we have never been. After reading your story, it is clear that you were able to solve a problem we are finding difficult to work efficiently. That is the problem of making sure we have a place to stay each night when we are not sure were the exploration will take us. We just returned from a trip through PA, NY, MD, VA and WV and often stopped to explore such things as caves and Civil War battlefields and did not like the pressure of having to have reservations for a place to stay. How did you work that problem? Another time, I would like to hear about your experience on the Alcan Hwy. We are considering it. Thanks for any comments.


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