Through the Windscreen: Summer 1999

Recently me and the missus drove our 1962 MGB out to Phoenix from Santa Barbara. (I say 1962 even though technically it is known as a ’63 to the DMV. However, as it was built 37 years ago on April 18, 1962, that’s what it is—a ’62!)

We battled our way round the eternal freeway zoo known as Los Angeles. As we hummed along through the Coachella Valley and up to Chiriaco Summit, I suddenly realized that it’s a good job the MGB is frugal on gas and that we’d filled up before setting out. Virtually all the gas stations between Indio and the California state line had been closed down because they had failed to meet the rectification requirement date of January 1 to have their tanks inspected and replaced where necessary!

Pity the poor motorist who didn’t know this fact of life. No gas for the next 90 miles! You know, in the good old days, there was a gas station on virtually every corner.

After a very enjoyable time at the Phoenix All British Car Day held in beautiful downtown Heritage Square, we started to wend our way back to Goleta. Near Palm Springs it started to rain, and, because we were in the MGB and I didn’t wish to battle with the 18-wheelers around the Los Angeles basin freeways in the pouring rain, I decided to take an alternative route northwards on I-15 and across Apple Valley to Lancaster and Palmdale.

What happened next was almost unbelievable. We climbed the Cajon Pass and turned off at Devore when a sign appeared through the windscreen of the MGB: CHAINS REQUIRED BEYOND THIS POINT. “They’ve got to be kidding,” said my nagavator. But they weren’t, and snow started to come down even heavier. Now, bear in mind, this is California, and this car had probably never seen snow before. Culture shock in excess.

I kept the MGB in third gear to avoid spinning the wheels as we climbed up past the Wrightwood Ski Area. Making our way gingerly around a jack-knifed trailer truck, we crested the summit where the visibility was now about 50 yards. We were in a cloud, it was still snowing hard, and the usual inefficiency of an MGB heater was well in evidence. We were freezing, but our little British car ran strongly—wipers (as usual) moving once a fortnight. Eventually, we came down off the high plateau by Edwards Air Force Base and back into the valley, heading for home. An adventure in the San Bernadino Mountains comparable to the last time I drove in snow some 16 years ago in England. For once, I was able to identify a little with our readers back east who call and give me snow horror stories from time to time.

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