Historic Class Rallying
The Last Great Adventure, or "But
Modern Cars Have Things Like Good Brakes
and Working Heaters -- That's No Fun!"
|The close proximity of the last
two events of the season nearly proved the
undoing of Rallybug. I had obligations in
Europe that required me to basically hop out
of Rallybug and onto an airplane immediately
after the finish of Midnight; and then hop
off an airplane and back into the car immediately
for Totem. The only problem was that we limped
through the last half of Midnight on only
|In the three weeks between the
events, with me in Europe and unable to assist,
would there be a car to immediately hop back
into? This is the joy of running a historic
class car--no suitable hot spare unless it
is 30 years old an happens to be running that
day (Like your brother-in-law's '66 International
Harvester Travelall -- no, second thought,
like I said, no suitable hot spares available.)
||The seriousness of our predicament
did not become apparent to well into the second
week. Dave had delivered 069 KAY to our local
Beetle repair god. Frantic calls from Dave
in Seattle and me from Paris resulted in no
visible progress. Our usual calendar challenged
VW mechanic blamed the initial delay on the
fact that a Roundtoit had not arrived (as
in "I'll get around to it - maybe").
When the Roundtoit finally did arrive, we
suddenly had a two-week problem that needed
to be sorted in two days. "No way I can
fix this--if only you'd brought it in two
weeks earlier." To which he had to be
reminded that if he had only brought the car
into the shop from his parking lot were it
had sat for the last two weeks, we wouldn't
be having this conversation. Mechanics seen
to live in a universe where the fabric of
time is strangely interrupted
|Is only offered solution was
a used engine. Though I recall there was some
static on the line when he said, "used";
perhaps what he said was "abused."
I am not sure now. Four marginally operable
cylinders did seem better than two, so we
agreed on this plan--used engine, cleaned
up, installed, nice tight heater boxes and
secure heat pipe connections, good exhaust,
new fan belt, ready to go--pick the car up
on Thursday on my way back from the airport.
No time on Friday. Done. Do it!
||So why all this fuss? We have
a numerically thin chance of being the 2002
RallyBC Historic Class winners. Though hard
work, thrift and industry (dumb luck also
a factor) we have managed to be in a position
where we have a striking chance. Rallybug
was purchased on a whim, just to do T-bird
at the start of the 2002 season. Clearly,
we have taken the bait, hook, line and sinker
on this historic thing. We owe it to Rallybug
to give it our best shot for the Expatriate's
Martini Club de Paris.
So, off the airplane and
directly to the shop to pick up Rallybug.
My poor taxi driver did not understand why
someone would want to go into the really
scary part of run down industrial Seattle
at that time of night. But soon all would
I arrive and there is Dave and there is
Rallybug. Amazingly, there is an engine
under the rear trunk lid. It is even warm,
as if it had recently generated heat under
it's own locomotion. Good sign. But of course
in the middle of the night in run down industrial
Seattle, with only a 15 watt light bulb
to inspect by. One does not want to spend
much time attracting the attention of the
local populous who cling to the shadows
but seem to be circling. A quick exit is
called for. Grab key and go.
|Car starts--good sign--seems
to idle OK, so off we go. The feel of the
engine does at first seem a little strange,
and perhaps a little slow. But realistically,
I have just spent the last two weeks driving
big Grosser McGerman cars with fully Automatic-this
and complete Anti-that. After 8 hours of high
speed motoring from Geneva to Paris on the
Auto Route at speeds just shy of 200 Clicks
to catch the plane, jumping back into 1969
(or as this is a Volkswagen Beetle, perhaps
1939) requires an initial adjustment in one's
mental expectations of vitesse rapide.
||Car makes it to parking garage,
which is a good sign. But I am not sure which
is operating slower than normal--my mind after
13 hours of flying, or perhaps my new used
"excellent runner, like new condition"
replacement mill. Even the surrealistic blue
fog that emanates from the engine vents fails
to grab my attention. The next objective is
clear--blissful sleep. But tonight I sleep
well knowing 069 KAY is primed and ready for
the RallyBC Historic Class finale.
|The next day is spent madly
finishing a Boeing proposal that must be in
at 5PM. Around 8PM, it's time to start thinking
I am a major believer in night
before car preparation. It adds a certain
clarity to what is really a priority, and
what is not. The prioritization is simple.
The question must is asked-"what can
be accomplished with blue tape, hot glue
or self tapping sheet metal screws in the
next twenty minutes?" Or, it divides
critical tasks into two major categories:
"What can I do now and what can I defer
to the Petro Canada truck stop in Hope?"
Dave returns from our local overpriced
VW part purveyor. A brand new fan belt,
the life thread of any VW engine, has been
purchased especially for this rally occasion.
Only this thin strip of
vulcanized rubber can provide some illusion
of heat output for the occupants and keep
the engine from turning into a Chernobyl.
It sits on the workbench, still in it's
Continental Rubber orange package, awaiting
careful stowage per the preparation checklist.
With the secure knowledge that Rallybug
had been thoroughly prepped and prepared
by a seasoned automotive professional, this
made last minute adjustments a lot easier.
It was a matter of what is the blue tape,
hot glue and self tapping sheet metal screws
now still not holding from what was fixed
the night before the last rally? So by 8:20
PM, car prep is over and it is time to start
the long journey north to the land of Eh?
and our final 2002 historic rally adventure.
|The slow response to locomotion activity
from carefully measured inputs of spark, air
and fuel hint at things to come. This engine
is not warm, and awakening in it is like trying
to arouse a sleeping bear around Thunderbird
time. Much coaxing finally brings it to life,
but the embarrassment of having to warm the
car for ten minutes to make it up the ramp
of my parking garage is our first indication
that "excellent runner, like new condition"
might have an alternate meaning.
||By 9PM, were on I-5 and cruising north.
Dave is driving. Jet lag for me is seriously
setting in, but the buckboard ride of studded
Nokians inflated to three atmospheres keeps
me thoroughly focused. Tires filled to exactly
45 PSI is Ballard Les Schwab's revenge for
having the gall to bring the car back and
ask them to hand torque the wheel nuts to
something that can be actually loosened by
a human life form. (We had to borrow mining
explosives to get the wheel off to fix our
flat on Midnight. Luckily in rural B.C. you
can find mining explosives fairly easily).
|A quick time speed distance calculation
discovers we would arrive Cache Creek after
the pubs close, so an alternate plan is hatched.
Bellingham, city of our old alma mater is
selected as the alternate midpoint destination.
By this time, even with my mind just waking
up at breakfast time somewhere over the
Atlantic, it is clear something is amiss.
We are spending a lot of time in third gear,
and going nowhere fasr. Also, the interior
of the car is starting to take on the characteristics
of the firebox of a poorly combusting oil-burning
stove. A quick roadside inspection, once
the smoke clears enough to inspect, finds
oil sluicing from the valve covers onto
the red hot heat exchangers, which Volkswagen
engineers have thoughtfully mounted directly
below the valve cover/head mating surfaces
(i.e. the parts that always leak). Oil +
heat = smoke, and plenty of it. Our fate
is clear--we are now piloting a mobile smoke
|By the side of the road, with the four ways
flashing, drowned in the mass of blue haze,
the world takes on a strangely surrealistic
look with a hint of disco effect. We manage
to seal off enough of the heating system to
be really, really cold but inside the oil
cloud remains about the same. Bellingham soon
arrives and this will be tomorrow's problem.
Perhaps it will go away during the night.
The good news is that the bars are still open.
The alarm goes off at oh dark hundred hours.
We scurry to the local Bellingham car wash
to remove some of the oil slick and perform
damage control. We find three people washing
their cars at 4:30 AM. Is life this slow
in Bellingham? Even after a quick spray,
the motor looks like it was just hauled
up from the center of the La Brea tar pits.
A quick read of the repair invoice states
"install new valve cover gaskets."
We look in the trunk and under the seats,
in the glove compartment--but we just can't
find where they've installed them.
But it is now 5:00 AM and Cache Creek
is not moving toward us any faster than
it has in the last thousand years. Time
to go. Precision air circulation management
(socks stuffed in the heater ducts) and
carefully balanced ram air induction (pulling
out the radio mounting hole filler plate
in the dash) provides an acceptable level
of survivability. Off we go.
The truck customs in Blaine is always amusing
fun. Which customs inspector will we get?
What level of early morning humor will they
attempt to rise to? When you roll up in
a slightly tatty Volkswagen with large numbers
on the door, "Martini Club de Paris"
on the windscreen and your name and blood
type posted on the side, what can they say?
"Spies traveling incognito, eh?"
|There are actually
three classic responses:
1) "Hey, sounds like fun--have a great
time in Canada!"; or 2) "You say
you were born in Cache Creek? Do you intend
to leave anything, um...this...um...vehicle
in Canada?; "You say you were born in
Cache Creek?", "Are you traveling
with more than $10,000?," "You say
you were born in Cache Creek?" or, 3)
"...just get otta here...(I haven't had
my coffee yet")... (not actually spoken,
but communicated with a bored wave of the
|So once crossed, we are now officially foreigners,
complete with funny accents and strange spelling
habits. We know this is true because we have
to stare blankly at money when handed to us
for long periods for no apparent reason. "Hum...,
is that the two dollar coin, or the one? Or
is there a three now?"
|Tech closes at 9:30. It is four hours to
Cache Creek. We have three and one half hours.
Time to jet seriously. But other characteristics
of the "excellent runner, like new condition"
engine are becoming apparent. Gentile hills
seam to take on a Mt. Everest like character.
Log trucks with half the forests of Canada
strapped on the back pass us on going up 10%
grades with ease. Clearly, Rallybug can hardly
get out of its own way. Something is seriously
||Only one large truck hauling an oversize
load of pre-cast cement beams can match our
same power range for passing, but only just
so. We seem to have exactly the same power
to weight ratio, except that he weighs 80,000
lbs. We alternate passing each other all the
way to Cache Creek. Fortunately a road construction
induced stop at a one-lane bridge gives us
enough pause time to dump in more oil into
the engine in order to keep up the chase.
Finally we arrive in Cache Creek, amazingly
with time to spare.
|"Dave, did you
grab the fan belt?"
WCRA efficiency, the Tech Guy is there to
greet us. OK--no problem--it all worked
three weeks ago. "Right turn, left
turn, brakes, back-up, brakes, four-ways,
brakes, brakes, brakes...brakes?" No
brake lights. Volkswagen mechanic god has
|Investigation finds a loose "ball'o'wire"
which once used to transverse the engine compartment
prior to installation of the "excellent
runner, like new condition" engine. Coincidentally,
"ball'o'wire" used to connect to
the brake lights to power and the brake light
switch. But mere field replacement of the
"ball'o'wire" is too easy of fix.
A peek at the master cylinder finds the sensor
terminals broken off. Hum.
|Plan B is already in place. Auxiliary brake
light switch and relay already installed after
Golddigger. Said switch is a serpentine length
of brass strip clamped to the brake pedal
with a band clamp. This strip facilitates
electron transfer (i.e.-a spark) to the metal
floor of the car upon downward movement of
brake pedal. Said fix installed ten minutes
before leaving on that event. Crude, but an
effective and elegant solution, thank you.
You just have to remember to scrape the rust
off the bare patch on the floor before each
||A hasty external rewire and rally bug has
brake lights. We sign the forms and we are
ready for action. But alas, our beloved season
favorite car number, No. 12 is given away
because we arrive so late. Is this an evil
This is a wet season rally. Fire
danger is zero. This means one thing--flares!
We get to light flares! Heck with triangles--real
men light flares! But you can only light
a flare if you are going to be there until
in burns out-i.e. a long, long time. And
that means the big call to the CAA--"Beam
me up, Engineer Scot, I'm somewhere east
of Van and it doesn't look good!"
|But no flares unless, the unthinkable happens.
Dave looks really sad about this. I am banking
on the unthinkable.
Dave and I each look
first at the "excellent runner, like
new condition" engine and then exchange
knowing glances. "Better see if we
can buy some flares." Petro Canada,
here we come...
vote to abandon the sophisticated calculating
system implemented on the last event because
after the third calculation my brain imploded.
Our game plan is survival, within the context
of "excellent runner, like new condition"
engine's ability to propel us through the
tundra. We adopt our fallback "Go Like
|To implement the "Go Like Hell!"
strategy, you must first manage to loose 15
or so critical minutes of transit time to
the start of the first regularity. This requires
either careful effort or a suitable distraction.
In this case, it was either deciding, "did
we want a cache of flares at both the front
and the back of the car, or just one really
big stockpile between the live bare copper
electrical distribution panel and the leaking
gas filler hose?" Or, perhaps it was
just hanging around for that second cup of
Petro Canada coffee. Needless to say, those
fifteen minutes were gone like a pre-election
tax cut promise.
|Having implemented the requirement for the
"Go Like Hell!" strategy, a "Hot
Start" is called for. In case you have
not experienced this phenomenon, this is when
you are quietly sitting beside the road, expecting
to enjoy the sounds of nature for the next
fifty five seconds or so, taking that last
sip of cup of coffee, when suddenly this blur
appears in the rearview mirror and bliss is
interrupted by a spray of gravel and the smell
of burning Havoline as a car seven numbers
ahead of you speeds by at full tilt. Mission
"Hot Start" accomplished!
||The one thing you have to remember about
a hot start is to carefully note the car number
of the car whose reverie you have just disturbed.
This defines the extent of your "Go Like
Hell" strategy. The ideal scenario is
to pass by a car with a number about six higher
then yours. That means reeling in six cars
by the end of the 35 kilometers. I inform
Dave of this strategy, but he retorts "Winter
Rules! Winter Rules!"
||No! It can't be! This is not T-Bird. I quickly
check the supp's. Sure enough, those dreaded
words-"winter rules apply." "Damnation!
Oh, what fiendish mind created this evil curse,
these vile Winter Rules"! The offending
page is ripped from the car rulebook and is
tossed into the B.C countryside.
"Damn the winter rules, full speed
ahead! Go Like Hell!" (Note: that is,
within the context of the 46-ish but likely
considerably less available horse power).
The "Go Like Hell!" strategy is
now fully implemented.
snow. Nature's way of reminding mankind
who is boss. Never enough of it in November
or February in B.C. for my tastes. Today,
it is patchy with mud.
|I am driving. I am lost in a winter wonderland.
I think of myself as a small boy, holding
my trusty sled "Rosebud" on the
hills of Seattle, watching cars slide down
the hill backwards and pile up in the yard
of my neighbor. One, two, three -crash, bang,
smash! But now the scene changes. I am in
a car. I am sliding down a hill, backwards.
The place I am sliding toward is not the safety
of my neighbor's yard, but a quagmire of snow
and mud leading to a steep bank.
Some how I must convince the engine end of
the car that it really belongs at the opposite
end of the direction of travel.
|I do this with my right foot and the help
of a small tree, who is none the better afterward
for it's assistance. Luckily, Beetle running
boards are only $14.95 from JcWhitney. Somehow
we maintain enough forward momentum to not
get stuck, and continue on.
comes to mind. "Dave, you did grab
the fan belt of the workbench, didn't you?"
|Rural BC is a Lonely
Rural BC is a lonely place,
but always full of nature's beauty and surprises.
A deer, a chipmunk, a rabbit, a semi truck
and low-loader trailer carrying a D-9 Cat
sideways, these are all the interesting
things you might see and must dodge while
on a scenic tour of BC. However, deer, chipmunks
and rabbits take up considerably less space
than a sideways bulldozer on the roadway.
|In the case of a D-9 Cat, the length of
this bulldozer is roughly a foot less than
the width of a plowed logging road. When mounted
in a sideways configuration, it pretty much
overhangs the available roadway.
This requires Rallybug to morph into Arcticbug.
Arcticbug can go where mere mortal vehicles
cannot. Magically, Arcticbug maintains enough
momentum in the foot deep slush to not become
Stationary bug. We press on, but toning
things down to "Go like Heck!"
just to be on the safe side.
|We catch up slowly, keeping up our speed,
but this is the section where every other
corner is labeled "corner of death!"
or "exposure to the centre of the earth!",
"bottomless pit on right!".
make it across the Frazier on our favorite
bridge, but now Rallybug has upward hills
to deal with. We arrive at the summit to
find the yellow Rabbit (definite Historic
class material--next year!) having spewed
most of its fluids, which were now running
down to join the Frazier on its trip to
|Later we discovered their expansion tank
had literally exploded from age. They display
it proudly at the finish of the event. Bronzed,
it would make a great coffee table conversation
piece - I am reminded of another key advantage
of air cooling. "Dave, you did remember
the fan belt, right?"
Down the hill
again we pick up the speed we lost. Then
a triangle appears, then another, and another.
Three triangles in a row? Who carries that
many triangles other than Petro Canada?
Where are their flares! Real men use
flares! You could do a whole line of them,
down both sides of the road, alternating
the spacing for effect Extra long burning
20 minute ones! It would be beautiful!
And so we round the corner and there it
is: The car on a rock pedestal, suspended
in time and space, a sacrificed to the rally
gods. It is a primitive rite, but it must
be done so others can pass unscathed. We
stop to admire the beauty of this achievement,
and they signal they are OK-so we motor
on. Dave wants to stop to give them some
flares, but there is just not time.
But one last time the opportunity for defeat
to be snared from the jaws of victory presents
itself. On the last stretch, we hear a characteristic
noise like someone put pea gravel in a washing
machine. The fan belt has broken. This is
the thin blue line between marginal cooling
and the China syndrome for a Volkswagen
"DAVE, DID YOU
REMEMBER THE FAN BELT!?!" "...er,
This is it. No way
out. No nylon stocking offered up from the
pretty French girl walking by the roadside
to be wrapped around the pulleys like in
the movies. The vision of the pristine fan
belt, still in its orange Conti wrapper
sitting on the workbench is seen with disturbing
Dave! We get to light the flares!"
So the flares come
out. One, two, three - seventeen, stretching
for as long as the eye can see. A festival
of sputtering red light bathes the roadway.
The cars behind us slow as they pass, mesmerized
by this ethereal beauty. If extraterrestrials
are looking for a landing spot tonight,
this is the place.
||But now the first flares are starting to
go out. Suddenly a vision of the little match
girl freezing in a cold square of Copenhagen
appears before us. We must light more, but
there are no more flares to light. A frantic
search ensues. Areas of the car that have
not seen daylight in many a moon are explored.
The old sail bag, stowage place of all emergency
gear never used is quickly emptied in desperation.
"FAN BELT!" The rally gods have
smiled on us once again. We bid our column
of red light goodbye, knowing that the cool
and wet BC mud will safely extinguish our
"Dave, Go Like Hell!"
|We eventually settle into our rhythm and
complete the rest of the day with only minor
disasters. We pull into the White Spot, oil
stained and haggard. Fortunately artic suits
are not out of place in Williams Lake. We
slowly begin to thaw in the warmth of the
camaraderie our fellow competitors.
dawn comes early. O69 KAY is carefully parked
on a hill the night before, but this has
warded away evil electrical spirits so a
clean, uneventful start is achieved. The
first critical leg, to the White Spot, is
achieved without drama. We even get our
same table, so I guess we are now considered
regulars. With a few cups'o'coffee, the
world is looking brighter.
We bid the warmth of the White Spot farewell
and put on our artic survival suites for
our remaining hours in Rallybug.
The car ahead of us drives by the turnoff
to the first regularity, and amazingly,
we actually notice this. So we know that
we are ON, or at least have had enough coffee
for a successful morning.
This section of the rally route could be
named bliss, because that is what we are
feeling on this high valley plateau. Until
suddenly all things electric die. Power
to the rear of the car where all the important
bits are, has ceased. Ball'o'wire cannot
be blamed this time.
Moments ago we had bliss (electrical power)
and now we have nothing. Maybe this time
we will get to light a flare! It starts
to feel like a CAA phone call is coming
So many things to power under the engine
compartment lid. First check the electronic
ignition, then the fuel pump, then the coil,
then the starter solenoid, but where is
the starter? A quick search finds it smack
in the middle of the mobile La Brea Tar
Pit, well under the car. "Who goes
under? Do we flip a coin? Heads?! OK, I
loose, how about two out of three? Is this
a Loonie or a Toonie?" No. We solve
this problem like engineers and gentlemen.
|Volkswagen beetles are illogical cars designed
in 1936. In 1936, cars had headlights (actually
two by that time) and one brake light. We
have already visited the brake light on this
adventure. Therefore it makes perfect sense
(on an illogical car) the problem must be
with the headlights.
How can this be? Well,
logically in an illogical car, all power
goes through the headlight switch.
Out of nowhere, locals start to appear.
"You OK?", "Need tools?",
"I've got a welder?" "Want
some coffee?", "Have some cake?",
"Voting conservative are you?",
"Is Gordon Campbell a member of the
Martini Club de Paris?" All of Canada
suddenly appears out of nowhere with offers
of help, and to wish us on.
|A quick check of the headlight switch area
finds the problem. A large cascade of arcing
sparks over the gas tank annunciates the problem.
The main power feed has separated from the
headlight switch. The aerospace quality wiring
job by the former owner (his patented soldering
technique, found throughout the wiring loom:
"the bigger the glob, the better job")
had let go. An equally professional and expedient
"quick wrap'o'wire" fixes the problem,
at least until the middle of the next rally.
Thunderbirds Are Go! And "Go Like Hell!"
||Were off, exactly 358 seconds later. Pray
for hills. Downhill ones.
"William, Go Like Hell!"
And somehow, we managed to finish.
That's our 2002 Totem story. That's how
we managed to clinch the Rally BC Historic
class title in 2002. And looking back, we
wouldn't want to change a moment of the
Just too damn much fun!
William McRae / Dave Harms