Dear Tom and Ray:
I'm a 50-year-old male. For my midlife crisis, my old college roommate and I are taking a 1960 Triumph TR3 roadster on an 8,000-mile road trip, retracing the route of a 1987 trip we took in the same car right after college. Back in '87, the car literally disintegrated along the trip, shedding parts (generator, hood, left rear wheel, even the steering wheel) all across America. We limped home with a blown radiator, a leaking gas tank, a completely non-functioning electrical system (thank goodness it had a hand crank) and a body held together with black rubber straps. The car has been in my friend's garage for the past 25 years. We recently rolled it out, replaced tires and rubber bits, put in a new voltage regulator, drained and refilled the fluids and repaired the radiator. Here are my questions: (1) Are we nuts? (2) What else should we do to the car, and what spares and tools would you recommend that we take with us? — Patrick
Tom: Of course you're nuts. And I wholeheartedly endorse this idea, Patrick. It sounds great to me!
Ray: Me, too.
Tom: What spares should you bring with you? Well, probably the most useful spare part would be another car. Maybe a 2004 Toyota Camry?
Ray: No, this is going to a be a marvelous adventure, Patrick. Are you going to break down? Absolutely. Are you going to get stuck in places you'd rather not be, under circumstances that will make you uncomfortable? Definitely. Might you be forced to abandon the former husk of this car at some point along the way and find another ride home? As the Magic 8 Ball says, "It's highly likely." But if you go with the right attitude — and it certainly sounds like you will — you could have enough adventures and laughs to last the rest of your lives.
Tom: So here's our practical advice: First, get the car checked out for safety. You particularly want to look at the structural integrity of the car. If the frame is mostly rust at this point rather than steel, it would provide no protection in the event of an accident. So that could be a deal-breaker.
Ray: And check to make sure the wheels aren't going to fall off and the brake lines aren't rusted.
Tom: Then take a few spare key belts and hoses with you. There are some oddball parts that were still common in 1987, when this car was only 27 years old, that are no longer easily obtainable. You'd hate to get stuck in East Armpit for a month waiting for a cooling hose.
Ray: Second, have a parts-shipping system in place. Establish a relationship with the old Triumph parts purveyor of your choice. In fact, do better than that. Establish an account, and credit, and set the guy up with your overnight delivery number so that every time you break down and need a part, you can call him and have him overnight it to you wherever you are. That could be a trip-saver.
Tom: And finally, pick up a gross or two of flares, and install an aftermarket emergency-flasher system. Those'll both come in handy.
Ray: Once you've taken reasonable precautions, then plan a route that relies on secondary and tertiary roads. Under no circumstances should you risk your lives in this thing on highways at 65 miles per hour.
Tom: Plus, the back roads offer a lot of other advantages: There are more car repair shops and, perhaps more importantly, more motels!
Ray: As for tools, you just can't bring enough with you to anticipate everything you'll need. So bring the basics, as well as a good supply of wire and duct tape.
Tom: The good news is that this time you'll be able to travel with a couple of key tools that weren't available to you in 1987: cellphones to call for help, and enough money to rent a Lincoln Town Car and rest your road-sore buttocks when you come out of your motel room one morning and find that this Triumph has disappeared, and all that remains in its parking space is a pile of orange rust.
Ray: Have a wonderful time, Patrick. I'm jealous!
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)