This is the fourth in a series by Howard LaPlante on his early experiences with cars.
Oh yes, the 1950 Nash Rambler – the problem car, the problems seemed to be built in. The next thing that happened, again out on a date, top down, driving along enjoying the night, then it started to rain; well that was not a problem. Just push the button and put the top up. Well it went up half way and then made rather disturbing sounds and stopped as crooked in the tracks as if it had been drinking! We were getting wet! Luckily I spotted a closed gas station that had a canopy over the pumps, drove in and parked until the rain stopped, then took the girl home. The next day I took the cover off the wind up drum in the trunk. As I took it off, cables literally exploded out of the trunk! Cables all over! It was quite a job, but I finally was able to get them wound up again and working!
PORSCHE, there, got your attention. I will get to the 11 Porsche that have owned – and I am driving a 2013 Boxster, but there are a few other cars to talk about first! To put things in perspective, at the 1951 Le Mans 24 hour race, a 1950 Porsche won its class! It did so with a 46 HP engine in a 1400 lb coupe with enclosed front and rear wheels. The best lap was at 87.3 MPH and a top speed on the Mulsanne straight of 101 MPH!
It was at this time that I landed my first major job. Time to look into a new dependable car. The choice was a new 1953 Studebaker Champion coupe – 6 cylinders, 169.6 cubic inch displacement, producing 85 HP. This was the very new Raymond Loewy design. It was totally unlike anything on the market! It was a good 6 inches lower than anything available at that time. It was long, 201.4 inches! (The Panamera is only 197.4 inches!) The car served me well, until a year later when I spotted a 1954 Studebaker Commander "hard top" with a V8 engine! It was a step up, 127 HP from 232.6 cubic inches. A trade was made, but the car was not nearly as satisfactory. A lot of squeaks and rattles. Much later I found out why. Seems that the frame was too light and as a result it flexed. They later beefed up the frame and discontinued the hard top model. The V-8 engine caused the car to be terribly front end heavy. I remember driving down a steep sloping street that turned into a dead end. Had to back up. Problem – the wheels spun even with very light pressure on the throttle! Finally had to turn around, hard to do on a narrow street! However, the car remained for some time. It was about this time that I got into the farm implement business. During this time I traded in a 1950 Studebaker two door hard top. Yes, this was the car with the "NOSE"! If you do not remember it – oh I forget, it was before your time! Well look it up, it was an unusual design. I also traded in a 1939 Chevrolet coupe. This was such a nice car! Very few miles and well taken care of – a car that I wish that I had kept!
It was 1958 and the car fever was raging again; sports cars were becoming more and more interesting – Porsche, MG, Morgan, Alfa, Austin Healy, Berkley, Jaguar, and Triumph. I got to be on a first name basis with many of the import dealers. Our son was now three years old, so an important consideration was that the car must have a bit of a back seat. The choice was narrowed down to Porsche, Austin Healy 3000, and Triumph TR 3. Unfortunately price was a large consideration. The Porsche was my first choice, however the price was $5000. Next choice was the Healy it was $4000. and the TR 3 was $3000. I ordered a 1958 TR 3, white, white top and black interior, wire wheels. I seem to remember that we waited three months for delivery. Such an experience! To put the top down it was necessary to undo 10 snaps across the windshield, many more around the back, fold up the top and place in the trunk, remove, separate and place the bows in the trunk, take a special tool and remove the side curtains, install toneau cover. Needless to say putting the top up if it started to rain was a job. But it was different and fun to drive. But the real problem was driving in the rain! The water came in over the top of the windshield! Repeated application of Kleenex on the top inside of the windshield simply slowed the water! Many trips to Elkhart Lake for the sports car races. One day as we were heading across rural Wisconsin, I noted a car catching me. What was it? Porsche it turned out. Well, I had a larger engine than the Porsche. We will see about this! But not only did he catch me, but pulled out and passed! How dare he? And not only that but he went by with only a whisper of sound! I was impressed!
The TR proved to be fun, just needed to stay away from traffic! At the third stoplight the heat gauge would start to rise, by the fourth or fifth it was steaming! Over time we tried everything, but were never able to get it to run cool. Of course the unique feature was that one drove the car, and then you tuned it up and did maintenance! Adjust the Solex carburetors, take off the wire wheels and clean and grease the splines! This led to a major problem. I had made the decision to trade the car, and the maintenance was being put off.
We had gone to a show some distance from home one spring night. We started home quite late, then the flop, flop of a flat tire! Well I knew the routine, get out the spare tire, have the wife get out of the car, push back the seat all the way, remove the floor mat, remove the rubber plug, put the jack through the floor and crank the car up. - Sure, the jack went into the ground the car did not move! Find a rock to put under the jack. Jack the car up. Take out lead hammer and pound the spinner to remove the wheel. Grip the wheel and pull – and pull, and pull! It would not move! NOW WHAT?
To be continued.