Friday, April 3, 2009

Gidget Stories

When I started this blog, I was partially thinking about some of the adventures I had with Gidget. I was thinking of one story in particular, but felt I needed a picture to go along with it and that sent me off looking for old photos. You few loyal readers have been subjected to the results of the photo search, but I only came on one lonely picture from the original story I intended to tell. This is it. Its pretty poor since its 32 years old and taken with a cheap, 110 film camera.

As you can see, Gidget was red in those days. Her factory color. I had taken a month between the end of school and my first job at Chrysler. I packed up Gidget with camping gear and headed west to visit friends and explore.

On this particular day, my goal was to get over the Colorado Rockies and end up at the apartment of the sister of a my college friend who lived near Aspen. Naturally, I didn't want to just take the freeway across the mountains. I had read about a little dirt road, high in the mountains that went from the old mining town of Central City, up through Virginia Canyon to the mining camp of Russell Gulch, and then down into Idaho Springs. For a history buff like me, this seemed like a fun little side trip.

When I got to Central City, it was about 3 in the afternoon and I was getting a little low on gas, but I figured to fill up in Idaho Springs which was only about 10 miles away. I found my little dirt road and headed up into the mountains. I kept going and going until it was beginning to look like I was on the wrong road because there was no Russell Gulch and less and less mining. Finally, I came around a corner and saw my road blocked with snow as it climbed up to the wall of the Continental Divide. Nothing to do but turn around.

So now I'm going down hill toward Central City, but I suddenly realize that I have even less gas that I thought. On top of that, I'm having to press fairly hard on the accelerator to make the car go down hill.

Checking over the car, the left front wheel is very hot. It looks like the brake caliper has stuck on. Finding a wide spot in the road, I proceed to pry the brake pads out of the caliper so that the car will roll, however, I can't use the foot brake in case the pistons move in and leak out all of the brake fluid. I'm also pretty much out of gas, but I manage to beg a coffee can of gas from a miner, splash that into the tank with a homemade funnel, and start down the mountain with engine braking and my handbrake to slow me down.

I managed to make it into Central City 10 minutes after the only gas station closed and conveniently after dark. My only choice is to go on to Idaho Springs by the highway, coasting engine off as much as possible to save gas. When no one was coming, I'd turn off the headlights to save the battery. Nothing like driving a mountain road by a sliver of moon. Finally arriving at an open gas station, its now about 7 pm and I have to plan my next move.

I decide to make for Denver and hope to find a place to fix the car. Since I still don't have more than a handbrake, I go slowly, by back roads down 5000 feet of elevation to Denver. Arriving on the edge of town, I check the yellow pages and find a British Leyland dealer not too far away. Yes, they still had British Leyland dealers in those days. Amazingly, there was a salesman still at the dealer and he offers to hold my car keys for the service manager in the morning.

Being a poor student, I didn't want to spend the money for a hotel, so I called on a friend that lived on the other side of Denver and asked to stay the night. The next two hours were spent crossing town at nearly midnight by walking, by bus, and finally by taxi. The freaks were out. Don't let anybody tell you that Denver is just a quiet little town.

In the morning, I called the dealer and learned that they wouldn't repair the caliper for more than 2 weeks. Too many customers in line ahead of me.

Calling around town, I was lucky to find a Lola racecar dealer that would do the job that afternoon. So it was back on the bus to the dealer where I learned that they had pulled my car into the shop. They sent a girl to get the car, but didn't tell her that it didn't have brakes, so the next time I saw my car, it was crashing through a roll-up garage door. The car had a bent fender, hood, and broken headlight. The door was toast. They had the nerve to be angry at me for breaking their door and refused to offer any compensation for bending my car.

A little shaken, I start off across Denver in the middle of the day in a car without brakes. The good thing is that when you know you can't stop quickly, you can plan for it and even city traffic is manageable.

What a difference at the Lola dealer. My personal stress level went from banging off the rev limiter to a smooth idle in no time. The mechanic was totally competent. I got to nose around some pretty cool racecars while he worked. And in an hour or so, I was back on the road. All I had to do was replace my headlight and head on west.

I guess its stories like this that make me love old cars. Today's cars are competent and reliable, but they are boring to drive and adventures are few. Adventures may not always be pleasant when they are happening, but they sure make for good stories when you get home.


  1. I love stories like this. The sense of adventure is very romantic, but I'm sure that it didn't seem that way at the time. Some of my fondest racing memories are of surviving against the odds. Not really the same but entertaining none the less.

  2. Anonymous,

    I agree with you. That's why I love endurance racing. You can crash early in the race, fix it, and still make it interesting just by surviving.

  3. Steve and I are vaguely considering taking her down to Virginia in October for his sister's wedding. Here's hoping that we have less adventures than you!

  4. It is true that these adventures seem a lot more fun when you are young and stupid. Just a few years more and you really don't look forward to "adventures".