Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

I met two of the men who built my car this weekend–Alan Aught (I think that’s how he spelled it) and Jack Fussenegger. As I’ve posted, the Fusseneggers founded British Coach Works in Arnold, PA in the late 70s. Jack was one of two sons Charles Fussenegger brought into the business. Aught worked the chop guns, I think. And one of the women he was with said she did all the wiring on the cars.

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We flat-towed Bridget this time, not wishing to brave either storms or monster heat waves on the four-hour journey over mountains. It was less stressful although ironic: with Bridget in tow, my truck handled the hills with about as much speed as Bridget did when she had the 50-horse VW motor. Other than feeling a bit under-powered it was an easy trip.

This time Karen and I stayed at the Century Inn so we would be at the starting line for the Countryside Tour on Thursday. The Century is a beautiful and very old historic home (1794, the owners say) with an expansive set of dining rooms, an old pub and a pretty good kitchen. The sleeping rooms are not the best we’ve ever had, but we were sleeping, so that’s good enough.

Bright and early Thursday the Century’s front parking strip filled up with wild rides.

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The tour stepped off on schedule into a beautiful day. Sun and mild temperatures followed us through a morning of twisty, shaded back roads. Karen got creative with the framing of some of the pictures.

IMG_5863It was great to meet–if only for a few minutes, fellow TDr guy Vicenze Filieu, who’s red TD looks enough like mine that I was glad for the big meatballs on Bridget, that I not get in the wrong car. Our group somehow caught up to Vicenze’s group, which left 10 or 15 minutes after us. It was pretty cool seeing a big Healey, TD, TR4, MGA, MGB and another TD all in a row–and heading to Jellystone Park.

IMG_5866(We did not actually go to Jellystone).

Instead we stopped at Ohio Pyle. That was where I showed off Bridget’s engine to our guide, Don Stewart, who led our group in his cream-colored MGA.

IMG_5873I know, I know, Don…what does one say when confronted with such a thing.

Bridget ran nice and cool throughout the ride, but the stalling-into-intersections problem had got out of hand. Later I plugged in the scanner and got a new code–for the “air idle control valve.” That’s a nifty looking little device atop the engine, just left of the throttle body. If replacing that gets me a good idling car I’ll be happy.

The only other troubling things on the tour were a progressively mushy feel going into 4th gear and my worry that my phone battery might die. I’d stupidly left the charger cord in the truck and, although I thought I had an easy enough idea of how to get back to Rt 40 (and thus the Century Inn), I was not entirely sure. I put it out of my mind while we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Coventry Inn. Even got to use the new light duty tonneau!

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The man sitting next to me in the restaurant had a bit of a scare. Walking out the door, his knees buckled. We found him slumped up against the wall in the vestibule. He said he had no idea what happened. He said he’d kept hydrated, had breakfast, ate lunch and was fine until a minute or so before he got up–when he started feeling clammy.

I think he was dehydrated. He had coffee with breakfast and (like me) a beer at lunch. It was a fine day, not too humid, but all that open-air motoring would tend to wick away one’s moisture, I think. Anyway, he seemed fine a few minutes later. He got some water and sat on the couch to wait it out a bit.

Meanwhile, Vicenze took flight. Turns out he had guests to meet in Philly. He and his wife drove their TDr all the way, about five hours, then drove the tour (another 4) then home, which he later said took almost six. That is a lot of stick time in a car like this.

Finding our way back to the Century proved problematic. My phone told me we could do it in an hour and a half if we paid a toll, but I’d also left the EZPass in the truck, so I (wrongly) figured that the two-hour option would cause us no pain and–probably–keep us more on the back roads.

Two hours later we were stopped in a bank parking lot while I tried to re-adjust the shifter linkage.

IMG_5885Fourth gear had disappeared, along with my patience. By this time it had gotten pretty hot and humid, and we were into the sixth hour of drive time. If I had not had the good luck to find just a tiny bit of shade I’d probably have given up.

The new shifter–a Vintage Speed–works beautifully when it is adjusted correctly. It’s so much better than the stock unit that I’ve cursed my frugality in not having bought one earlier. But it has a weakness: those little allen screws are all that anchor it in place. Unlike a stock VW, whose shift rod guide is welded in the tunnel, Bridget’s is just clamped in place by the shift screw. There seems no good way to torque it down enough to keep it in place. So: new grade 8 bolts with lock washers and big flat washers are on the shopping list.

Took me about 40 minutes to get all four gears and reverse. Now it’s better than ever.

Because of the phone glitch, we ended up back-tracking and going through the toll anyway. Good thing Karen had a $5 bill. Getting back to the Century took the rest of the day, and we were pretty wiped out by the time we got there.

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Next morning we were bright and early on the way to Schenley Park, following the directions supplied by the PVGP. Those did not work either, unfortunately, as the highway exit we needed to take was closed. We spent about 40 minutes on a detour behind a flatbed that must have been hauling slabs of plutonium, judging by the speed he was able to muster.

Finally found our way to German Hill where we were welcomed by the VW group with “open arms,” as promised. Amid the Bugs, Ghias and a very nice array of well-restored buses, we were slotted in next to a beautiful old 911 Porsche which was itself parked next to a 356 Coupe. I was told later that the Porsche group charges $80 to park with them, so some of the more frugal Porsche guys throw in with the V-dubbers.

Next to us came the first of the water-cooled Volks folks, fit and in their 20s, they provided a nice contrast to the more mature air-cooled owners.

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I explored the hill, filled as it was with BMWs, Mercedes, Minis and all manner of fun stuff.

The Isetta makes the Mini look like a Semi.

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The old Minis do too….

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I met the owner of this a few minutes later. He’s an old racer. Of the new minis: “There is nothing mini about them.”

They were flying around the track though–the new ones. People paid to be in the passenger seat.

Back at our parking spot, a man walked up while I was cleaning the road grime off Bridget. “Is that a British Coach Works?” he asked. I’d never been asked such a thing. “Good eye,” I said. “How’d you know?”

“I used to build them,” the man said. I shook his hand. He introduced himself as Alan Aught, and said he used to work in the BCW factory in the early 1980s. I think he said he worked a chop gun, but not sure. A lady he was walking with volunteered that she used to make the wiring harnesses for the cars. I warned her not to look under Bridget’s dash.

“So there’s a big debate on our board about how many of these were made,” I said to Alan. “I read there were 5,000, but I don’t think there were near that many. I’m guessing closer to 2,000.”

“No,” he said. “No where that many either.” He said he did not know what the real number might be, but that Fussenegger was on the field. “He’s got a Healey with a 427 in it, painted up like a Cobra,” Alan said.

So when I got a chance an hour later I walked over to the British Car Day hill and found the Healey in question.

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Jack Fussenegger gave me a business card. He said production of the BCW cars did not number more than 700. “A lot of them went overseas,” he said. “Mostly to Japan.” He said they stopped making them when the Chevette was discontinued.

For a while in the ’80s, British Coach Works was the only registered automotive manufacturer in Pennsylvania. Fussenegger now runs Smoothline, a company that makes fiberglass hard tops for modern convertibles. The Healey has an LS3 Chevy motor, he says. It’s built on a tube frame with an aluminum body.

The British hill had some beauties. This 1937 Bentley was a stand-out for me. IMG_5953

I love seeing this sticker on old cars. IMG_5954

As the practice laps started I wandered around the field. At Turn 13 there was some pretty good action.IMG_6012 IMG_6013 IMG_6014 IMG_6016

There were a couple spinouts too. This lady ran of the track and stopped.

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We got to see Bill and Audrey again. Bill bought a TDr a couple years ago and by now has taken it completely apart, so bad it was assembled originally. He’s welding in new floor pans, adjusting the spring plates, new from beam and suspension, brakes, wiring–the works. The car will be as new when he’s done. But, boy, does rebuilding a car eat up the hours.

We caught some lunch with Bill and Audrey and found ourselves near the Porsche tent, where Janis Joplin’s famous 356 cabriolet was parked.

IMG_5978Right next to it: this four-cam Speedster with Rudge knock-offs.

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Nobody raced Rudge wheels–they were way too heavy. They sure look cool though. And they look just like the chrome 8-slot Mangles a lot of Speedster replicas come with. If I every get an IRS Speedster, that is the look I’ll replicate.

I saw some more track stuff before heading to the paddock–which turned out to be miles away.IMG_6005 IMG_6003 IMG_6002 IMG_5995 IMG_5989These guys were going hard, even in practice. It was inspiring. At the pits, though: lots of wrenching and head-scratching.IMG_6043 IMG_6049 IMG_6051 IMG_6053 IMG_6055 IMG_6056 IMG_6057 IMG_6058 IMG_6059 IMG_6060 IMG_6061 IMG_6062Natch I favored the older MGs. There were some really hard-ass 914 Porsches there too, plus a whole brace of formula sportsman cars. At least one Devin, plus a bunch of stuff I could not readily identify. Anywhere you looked was something odd and/or beautiful, and often both. IMG_6048

Bill and Audrey invited us to their house for a quick dinner before heading back to the B&B. Bill said he’d come with me so I wouldn’t get lost, and we sent the wives hiome in his car. I had a hella scare when I went to start Bridget–the keys were gone!

In a panic I ran back under the VW club canopy–which was already down–and started feeling around for them. They could have come out of my pocket on the shuttle bus back from the pit area. My mind raced with scenarios: there is no spare, except somewhere in the house in Joppa. The car is on the field. We could have it towed to the B&B but then we still can’t flat-tow home without unlocking the steering column. That means breaking that. Somehow. Dammit dammit! FUCK. Bill was all like “don’t worry about it. We’ll get it settled.” And we did. Turns out I’d dropped them right behind the car in the grass.

Bill bought “The Battleship–a legendary sandwich at this corner bar down the hill from his home. He ran in and grabbed it while I waited in Bridget. He basically had to carry it like a soldier drilling with a rifle in order to take it through the door.IMG_6064

“How the hell are we gonna fit that thing in the car,” I asked.

We got back to his house before our wives did. They had those keys, so we checked out Bill’s neighbor’d Mustangs, which were stored in two different garages along the alley at the top of the steep hill Bill lives on. Then we sat on his patio and waited for the women, who came shortly. Bill lives on a wooded lot with flocks of butterflies visiting all the bushes Audrey planted. The sandwich was good.

Bill showed me his car, which is in a state of almost complete disassembly in his garage. “Every time I take something apart I find something the builder did wrong,” he says. “So I finally decided just to take everything apart.” He means everything, too. The rear suspension is a torsion bar inside a thick tube, held together by many strong bolts. The whole mechanism is spring-loaded, making disassembly dangerous. Bill bought special tools to do the job right. There’s nothing else left on the car to unscrew, so now the re-building begins.

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Getting back to the Century Inn was a project. As with last time we drove in Pittsburgh, concise printed directions and phone navigation both failed, causing a lot of stress and frustration for both Karen and I. We drove around the same block several times, seething, after missing a left fork to stay on South Braddock Avenue.

We eventually got back to the Century, which is about an hour from the park. It was a lovely evening, a bit hot but not too bad; the threat of rain banished. IMG_5849

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About stuntmidget

I'm a poor mechanic and general wisenheimer. I love old cars and the stories behind them, true or not.
This entry was posted in Fixes, Shows and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

  1. Pingback: Actual Mileage | bridgetmgtd

  2. Tom says:

    Enjoyed reading this! Thanks for writing it up and posting all the great pics.

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