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Spitfire Magazine Typical Story

Ann & Mark Jones, 1980 1500

The Lil Bit Spit Trip
by Ann & Mark Jones and Sam Chandler, Nova Scotia Canada

This is the story of the 1980 Triumph Spitfire dubbed "Lil Bit" for reasons that will unfold later, that made the almost trouble free trip from Jenkins, Kentucky to Seaforth, Nova Scotia.

Part One - Preparation by Sam Chandler, Jenkins, Kentucky

A few short years ago, I became acquainted with Mark, when he responded to my post on the MGB Experience bulletin board, offering to trade for a 1971 MGB GT manual for anything of comparable value. (We are both proud owners of MGBs: Mark a 1973 MGB GT, myself a 1979 MGB plus a 1971 MGB GT.) Thus, began a friendship that principally involved trading local interest items across the international border.

This past winter, Mark became aware that I had a Spitfire for sale, and had read my posts on the MGB bulletin boards about an attorney colleague from Whitesburg, Kentucky, who had been trying to trade his 1990 Jaguar XJ Sovereign straight-up for the Spitfire. To the consternation of my fellow attorney, I declined to trade the Spitfire for a big Jag that wasn't running, and had some electrical issues. Mark in the meantime was hatching a scheme to purchase the Spitfire for his wife's (Ann's) upcoming birthday, and failing to completely convince her that one English sports car was not enough for one household ("but it has overdrive", he futilely explained, adding "and we don't have a roadster"), a vacation to Jenkins, Kentucky was planned to meet and to see the mountains of eastern Kentucky (and well, at least have a look at the car).

So, with adventure alarms going off like the Queen's Jubilee, and wind-in-the-hair images of driving through the countryside from Kentucky to Nova Scotia, Mark and Ann bought airline tickets to the Cincinnati airport, located in northern Kentucky. The arrival date was set for Sunday, May 12, 2002. Anticipating their arrival and knowing that the Spit needed to be prepared for some serious travel (just in case), I set about having the Spit checked out by my "free" mechanic, Paul. This involved new tires, new brake pads and shoes, one new and one rebuilt wheel cylinder, differential seals, rear axle half shaft seals, plugs, ignition wires, oil change, new gear oil, etc. The UPS man was bewildered at the almost daily deliveries he was making to my house from places like Moss Motors, British Racing Green, SpitBits, and Little British Car Co. The fix-up was relatively painless, thanks to a mechanic working off an attorney fee. "So far, so good", I thought.

But alas, the day before Mark and Ann were to arrive, my mechanic phoned with a frantic message that the Spitfire had caught on fire in his yard. Apparently, Paul had gone inside his home to call me and happily report that the repairs were finished and he planned to drive it back to my house, when "Canoe", his brother-in-law, who was relaxing with a beer in the front yard, yelled that the car was on fire. A screw had backed out of the choke assembly, allowing gas to spurt onto the hot intake. Poof! A real SpitFIRE! That evening, I sadly informed the Canadians of the dire course of events, but the bags were already packed and those plane tickets were nonrefundable, so Mark and Ann (still in adventure mode) were coming anyway. Of course, as I later found out, my previous enticements via e-mail, including Memphis ribs, Chesapeake Bay crab cakes, warm weather, among other things, aided the decision to proceed as planned.

After meeting at the Cinci airport on Sunday afternoon (I was readily identified by an Appalachian British Car Society ball cap), the trip to my home in Jenkins and a few days of R&R and car repair began. At this point, Mark and Ann were even more determined to return home by motorcar, after encountering horrible air turbulence that caused their enroute drinks to hit the above baggage compartments and drip down on them during the final leg of their flight. They found the beauty of eastern Kentucky's lush fields and handsome horses, as well as the contrasting mountains most striking. They also discovered, contrary to the US Customs official's remarks when his query revealed their destination, that shoes are indeed worn in Kentucky!

The next day (Monday) found us at Paul's house at the head of Round the Mountain holler (aka hollow), near Mayking, quite a bit off the beaten track, even for eastern Kentucky. This was an adventure in itself. Paul lives at the end of a one-mile dirt road, high in the hills, with his wife, three kids, four dogs, five ducks, a host of game chickens, and a tough old tomcat that rules the farm except the house Chihuahua. Most of the day was spent on the phone with various parts houses, British car mechanics and fellow club members, before deciding the course of action. For the road trip back to take place, Mark and Ann would have to be on the road home by Thursday; time was of the essence. A carb rebuild kit, throttle cable and mechanism from Victoria British were ordered. The melted hoses and battery were replaced locally. Overnight delivery of the parts from Vicky B, didn't happen, so a trip to the Pikeville, Kentucky UPS hub at the break of dawn on Wednesday morning was necessary to intercept the order before it got on the route truck.

The remainder of Wednesday, the hottest day since their arrival, was spent at Round the Mountain holler, repairing the fire damage. We watched and waited as Paul, who was not to be interrupted by frequent calls from "Canoe", worked diligently. Naps and other lounging activities by the lookers-on were interrupted, however, by visits from Paul's three outdoor dogs, a Rottweiler and two hyper Jack Russell mixes, and the tomcat. The indoor Chihuahua, an oddity both in its name and the fact that it was so out of place in these Kentucky hills, made only one brief appearance.

Finally, everything appeared in order, but the little Spit would not hold an idle. Ann, in a stroke of true genius, attached the new leather Triumph key fob to the ignition key, and VVROOM! The engine churned over (Ann's view) and started purring like a happy kitten (Mark's and my view). More fiddling permitted a hair-raising test drive (that is for myself and Ann who were in the chase Jeep and not able to keep up) by Mark on the twisty mountain back roads. Top down, of course, Mark and Ann drove the Spitfire to my house late that evening.

The time spent together in Kentucky was not all work and anxiety, fortunately. In between carburetor re-build activities, Mark, Ann, Ricki (my better half) and I managed to drive my MGBs, enjoy scenic drives, such as the one to Breaks Interstate Park, and take pleasure in lots of fun activities and feasting. The Memphis barbequed ribs, fresh Maryland crab cakes, Grainger County strawberries, and Ricki's southern home cooking, as well as refreshments (both Nova Scotian and the local - lightweight according to Mark - variety) eased our troubles immensely.

Ann and Mark decided to leave for home the next day. Ann, hooked by the test drive, was keen to travel back roadster style. And, being quite taken with the car, she had secretly decided that its personalized plate would read "Lil Bit" thereby sharing the name with Paul's out of the ordinary Chihuahua.

That night though, Mark began to worry. Insisting that daily calls be made to check-in on the trip back, Ricki and I too were somewhat concerned. Many questions haunted us: Will the Prince of Darkness make an appearance? Will the little Zenith carb hold out? Will the magical Triumph key fob continue to guide them home, through Virginia, New England and beyond?

Part Two - The Journey Home
by Ann MacLean Jones, Seaforth, Nova Scotia

On Thursday, May 16, 2002 at 1:30 pm, Mark and I left Jenkins, anxious to get on the road but sad to leave our new found friends. It was a sunny day and temperatures were in the 80's, a great day to start out! Armed with Ricki's knowledgeable recommendation of historic towns, we headed for Abingdon, Virginia (Highways 23 and 19). Here, we stopped at a coffee/gift shop and being fine wine connoisseurs, picked up a white wine labeled "Our Dog Blue". Caffeine in hand, we cruised into Salem, Virginia (US 11), where we arrived in time for a great Mexican feast at the "El Rodeo".

Continuing north the next morning, top down in the sunshine, we traveled through Roanoke, Virginia and into the Blue Ridge Mountains for a short stint on the Parkway. The mountains were magnificent.

A lunch stop in the historic town of Staunton permitted the sampling of Sierra Nevada's Flying Dog's In Heat Wheat (we are also fine beer connoisseurs) and the purchase of red "Fat Bastard" wine (there's a theme developing here!) Cloudy skies, cool temperatures and spitting showers accompanied us into Berkeley Springs, West Virginia (Highway 522). Here, we checked into what was later found out to be a very religious B&B, complete with chapel, ornaments, and brochures depicting where said ornaments could be purchased. There was a small Italian restaurant here; the marinara sauce was fresh and the spaghetti and balls and lasagna were satisfying. The main interest was the hot springs, however, where George Washington was known to have spent his summers bathing.

Before heading out on Saturday, I convinced Mark to "take to the bath", a 100°F and very invigorating mineral water Roman Bath, which was followed by a refreshing crisp morning walk. Life is good! After a brief shopping spree for gifts for the folks back home, we headed north (US 522) and east (US 30 to US 233), through the Caledonia forest. Glimpses of Fiats and MGs were caught in Carlisle (US 34), where the Import Auto Show was being held. Back window unzipped, we continued east (US 11 and US 322) through the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania into Harrisburg and then Hershey. Being in Chocolate Town, and with visions of dipping fingers into vats of fresh chocolate, a visit to the Hershey factory was in order. To our dismay, the closest thing to fresh chocolate was a large Hershey double chocolate chip cookie, after eating which we became as hopped up on sugar as the majority of the little people in the Hershey park. Adding to the disappointment, the only specialty chocolates were made in Dartmouth, NS, not 20 minutes from our home town of Seaforth!

An overcast day that eventually became sunny, we continued through the rolling hills and farmlands, following the base of the Appalachian Mountains, until Stroudsburg (US 422 to US 501 to Interstate 78 to Route 61 to Route 443 to Route 895 to US 209), located at the beginning of the Delaware Water Gap. Here a smelly room in a budget motel was a sign not to chance the restaurant; a feast from the grocery store, including Vermont cheddar, crackers, New Brunswick sardines, apples, rye bread, pastrami, avocado & hummus, and the Our Dog Blue topped off the day.

The next day, we followed the Delaware River (US 209) through the Water Gap to Bushkill, where we stopped to hike into the Bushkill Falls. $16 less and 2 hours later, the roaring falls and creeks dubbed the "Niagara of PA" were experienced as well as the not so friendly hospitality of those trekking to the Poconos from the nearby cities (some folks need a lesson in southern manners). Anxious to be on the road again, as the temperature had climbed at least 15 degrees while on the hike, we headed out top down and reached Middletown, NY by early afternoon (US 6). Seeing a sign at a country store for Hershey's ice cream, and determined to have a good Hershey's experience, we stopped. But alas, the Heavenly Hash in a pint size box turned out to be a heavenly blob of marshmallow, most of which became a heavenly mess (on US 211). So much for the Hershey experience!

Opting to head northeast (US 17K and Route 9D), we entered into the very busy area of Poughkeepsie before continuing on along the Hudson River (the stop-and-go Routes 9/9G). Hindsight being what it is, north into the Shawangunk Mountains would have been better. At Hudson, the Berkshire Hills were calling, so we headed to Pittsfield, Massachusetts (Routes 66 and 295), then into Vermont (US 7) through the Green Mountains. This was a very nice drive, however, the temperature had dropped into the 50's. Tired, cold and hungry, we found a small inn called the Killington Pico and later a pub in the Cortina Inn at the base of Killington Peak near Mendon (outside of Rutland, Vermont) (US 4). A couple of large local Rutland brews, a burger and pizza, and the final predictable episode of Survivor ended the day.

Now Day 5, Monday, Mark and I woke to a frosty sunny morning, and after taking a outdoor hot tub and finishing a quick continental breakfast, we buckled up anticipating a leisurely two day drive back home in familiar territory. Unfortunately Lil Bit had other things in mind. Being that it was at near freezing temperatures, it figured that the Spit would be a bit cranky starting. After chugging up and coasting down hills for 17 miles, however, it was evident that something was not as it should be. Literally coasting into a gas station at West Bridgewater (no cell phone service here), Mark found a pay phone and called a British car service shop in Putney, Vermont. The mechanic recommended tapping the carburetor float bowl to release a potentially stuck needle valve, which was thought to be allowing fuel to spill out of various ports. He also provided the name of a local shop in Wilder, Vermont. After traveling a trouble-free 955 miles, the Spit hobbled another 6 miles to Bridgewater, and came to a halt on a sharp turn. It was 10 am and time to call AAA.

One hour and 15 minutes later found us in the tow truck heading to Wilder. Three Audi/BMW/Mercedes "experts", as evidenced by the parking lot, examined the Spit and determined that it had "issues". Other than the carburetor, they concluded that the Spit had a loose front-end, bad connecting rod bearings, cracked exhaust manifold, a slipping clutch, and possibly body work around the sills. Uh, oh. The carburetor problem turned out to be a faulty float, which had filled with fuel. Draining the fuel and coating the float with a gas-resistant sealant fixed the problem. The rat-a-tat-tat, deemed to be the rod bearings, was thought to be a result of low oil pressure and worn bearings. It was recommended that the 20W50 oil be replaced with straight 40 weight. This done, but not prepared to spend all our life savings at a garage in Vermont, we left Wilder, confidence shaken by what later turned out to be an alarmist bunch of mechanics. Tuned into every noise, rev and bump, we gingerly drove to Bethel, Maine (US 5, US 302/115, US 2), arriving late in the evening.

Hoping for a day that would take us to the border, we left Bethel behind at dawn. At Bangor, Maine a stop for a much needed coffee at the Vault Café (best coffee ever!) picked up our spirits. A straight run was made into Calais (US 9), where a six- pack of Sea Dog Old East India Pale Ale was obtained (in keeping with the theme). Only quizzical looks at the car and the plates were encountered at US Customs. Waiting at Canadian Customs, Mark collapsed in a chair at the far corner of the room, relieved to have reached the border, but looking mighty guilty at the same time. My insistent glance brought him to the desk, where, after seeing the declaration form, the official cheerily announced, "Oh you have a car, I need a form". He checked out the VIN, deducted the $750 allowance, and of course charged the obligatory 6.1% duty and 7% GST. It took half an hour. Wow! The Kentucky plates must have made it seem that this was too crazy to be of concern!

Now in New Brunswick, it was 2 pm, and a nutrition stop was required. A small restaurant conveniently located on the side of the highway in Pocologan on the Bay of Fundy fitted the bill with a feed of clams before heading to Sussex (Rt 1). The windshield wipers had previously quit working in Saint John, and as fate would have it, intermittent showers began. Not to be out done, Mark wiped the windshield with Rainex at a gas station outside of Moncton. (Just hang on Lil Bit!). On the Trans Canada Highway near Memramcook, an Royal Canadian Mounted Police car zoomed by then quickly shrank back and slipped behind the Spit, where he tailed for several miles before deciding that it wasn't as suspicious looking as originally thought. Black clouds, blue skies and rainbows accompanied us through New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia. Not until arriving home in Seaforth did the skies finally clear. Home at last, after a long but relatively uneventful day.

1675 miles later, Lil Bit had made it!

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