Nuts & Bolts: Getting to the Big Show

While I like all facets of this sports car hobby, I wouldn’t say car shows are my number-one passion. Sure, I like going to cruise-ins and the biggies like Concorso Italiano and Pebble Beach, but overall I am more of a racer, autocrosser and restorer than a regular car show participant.

That said, when Amelia Island Concours founder Bill Warner approached me at Monterey last summer and invited us to be part of their Group 44 reunion, I was dumbstruck. It would be an honor to have our Group 44 Triumph GT6+ at this fabulous event, so I quickly replied, “Of course we’ll have it there.” I walked around on Cloud 9 for the rest of the day.

In my mind, I could see the stunning white paint on that GT6+ gleaming against the backdrop of that perfect Florida golf course. I could picture the crowds cheering as I hoisted that glass statue toward the heavens; I could see myself thanking all the beautiful people for making my dreams come true and helping me make that car the award winner it was certainly meant to be.

The next day, of course, the reality of the situation set in. The faded, unrestored GT6+ had been sitting in my pole barn for at least three years. The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance was just six months away.

Crap. I had just spent nearly three years restoring the Tiger. How the heck was I going to do a ground-up, Amelia Island-level restoration in half a year? I was willing to dedicate all of my free time to the Triumph’s restoration, but I wondered if there were enough evenings and weekends in the time remaining to make it even possible. And how could I do so and remain happily married?
I am a pretty good salesman, though, so I figured I could convince Margie that an invitation like this could not be denied. It would also be an honor for us as well as for the publication. I hoped she would realize that if I didn’t at least try to get the car done, I wouldn’t be fit to live with.

So as soon as staffer Gary Hunter and I returned from Monterey, we made a plan and got started. The first stop was Tom Prescott at The Body Werks. His shop has put the final paint on many of our project cars, but we’d need a little more help with this one. While we normally love to weld and bang, since time was short we’d need his shop to replace all four fenders before spraying the paint. He’d have less than two months to do the work.

He agreed, and we delivered the bare body by the first of September. Less than a month later, Gary and I had all of the subassemblies apart so we could deliver all the black parts to the powdercoater.

Next we needed a competent partner for the drivetrain. We didn’t want a whiz-bang, modern vintage race engine in this famous car; we wanted exactly what it had in it when it won the SCCA national E Production championship in 1969.

Kent Bain and his Vintage Racing Services turned out to be the ideal partner. Even though Kent races an indecently fast Spitfire, he understood our desire to keep this one period correct. His engine guru, Harvey Thompson, actually bought, rebuilt and campaigned a Group 44 GT6 engine at the 1974 Runoffs. Here was a guy who understood what we wanted.

With that out of the way, we continued the arduous process of deciding what was original and what wasn’t so we could source and order parts. This is where the people aspect came into play, since this project could not have come together without some outside help. Gary enlisted the help of his friend and fellow Triumph enthusiast Jere Dotten, and the two of them joined me on a lot of those nights and weekends. Rennie Bryant spent his Christmas vacation with us wiring the car. Nigel at Spit Bits helped source parts, Peter at Nisonger sourced an original tach cable out of England, Eric at BAT figured out the oil cooling, and Lee Grimes at Koni rebuilt the original shocks.

Thanks to all of these people’s efforts, we were going to make our six-month deadline. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Group 44 GT6+ fired up for the first time just one week before the big event.

The night before our Friday morning departure, as the clock struck midnight, detailer extraordinaire Tim McNair and I put down our polishing rags—microfiber, of course—and hoisted a celebratory beer. The car was finished.

Of course, we would soon find out that the brakes were adjusted incorrectly and prone to lock up, and the hoses to the surge tank were routed incorrectly which would cause overheating, but damn it, we had done it. The car was complete and ready to go to Amelia.

There is a special level of tired that comes with thrashing on a car nonstop for nearly every available moment. I have never been in state-sanctioned combat—although I did get a couple of tastes of warfare at home during this restoration—but I can only imagine there’s a similar feeling of nonstop weariness.

In the end, the record will state that we did make the big show and we did win an award. I got to drive the car through the judging area, and I did get to hoist that trophy.

The real truth is that between my exhaustion and my duties as a class judge and representative of this publication, I was too tired to really enjoy the fruits of our labor. I was trying to do three things at once all weekend, all while making it look casual and low-key. Add in the stress of worrying about ruining the clutch or blowing the engine in the unsorted car, and my stress level was even higher.

So we had come, we had conquered, and afterward we just wanted to sleep. Unfortunately, we had another tight deadline in front of us: The Mitty—and the car’s public track debut—was just six weeks away. I could tell you about the stupid mistake we made that nearly destroyed the engine just two weeks before that event, but that’s another story.

A reader once asked me how automotive problems could happen to us, since we’re supposedly “in the business” and above all the normal problems one usually encounters in a restoration. I was proud of my answer, and think it still fits: They say that to really sing the blues, you have to live a life of pain. To be able to publish an honest magazine about classic sports cars, you have to have some cuts on your fingers.

Enjoy this issue, and if you want to see more on the Triumph at Amelia, including some cool video, check our Web site. And of course, the full story on the car will be in the magazine later this year.

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