From the Director
Seattle or Bust—Serialized
Here is my Director’s Article for the April issue. Due to a set of disagreeable circumstances (all computer related) I did not have time to author an article from scratch as is my wont. Still, it gave me an opportunity to go back through my files and pull out this—an accounting of one of the weirder trips I have ever undertaken—and includes a number of friends familiar to most of us CCEers. I had not finished the story—I realized that this would be a great opportunity to finish it, not to mention a real impetus to do so.
This is also timely. The upcoming CORSA convention in Tacoma, WA is a short distance down the road from where the 1975 Seattle Convention was held. If you’re going, you will see many of the sights that we beheld almost 40 years ago.
I hope that the folks mentioned in the article might be persuaded to write about their own experiences of this trip—memories and experiences differ, and I am sure there are many more interesting and hilarious tales to tell. Corvair stories, indeed. This story does run on a bit long, so it will be serialized in order to give our esteemed editor, Charley Biddle, a break…
It was the summer of ’75, and I was planning to go to the CORSA National Convention, which was to be held in Seattle, WA. This was to be my first convention, and my first road trip not taken with my folks. My situation at work had changed, with very little notice, and I suddenly had the vacation weeks that I needed to make the trip.
I was going to make this trip with my pal, Larry Claypool, in his Corvair 95 van- powered by a 4-carburetor “Special High Performance, Turbo-Air” 140 HP engine—a combination never offered from the factory, due to concerns about cooling and reliability. Such things did not scare us, of course, because we were in our early 20’s, and we were defiant in the face of merely mortal concerns.
Besides, we wanted to go fast.
Along for the trip, were our friends Pat Carroll and Skip McCue, driving Skip’s own Corvan, with the standard 95 HP engine. We equipped the vans with CB radios (this was the beginning of the craze) for inter-truck communications, tossed in our suitcases, and we were off!
Other members of our club, the Chicagoland Corvair Enthusiasts, were also making this trip. Bob Kremer, on his Suzuki GT750 “Water Buffalo” motorcycle, Charley Biddle in his Corvair Monza coupe, not to mention various other club members who chose other forms of transportation. Deserving of special mention, for reasons soon to be made clear, was Laura Schoenher, Laura’s daughter, Michelle, Laura’s sister, Judy, and their friend, Cindy Love. Laura also happened to be Larry’s girlfriend.
Except for Larry, Pat, Skip and me, all were going their separate ways, due to scheduling, etc. but all intending to meet up at the convention.
I got off work at 7 AM (midnight shift), drove over to Larry’s, tossed my bags in the back of the van and we were off!
We took off west on I-80, turned north on I-29 at Omaha, then decided to go the northern route, all the way up to I-94. We drove continuously, stopping only long enough to get gas and change drivers. The next day saw us cruising through Montana, and I sacked out in the back.
Tossing and turning, I had a very fitful sleep. I woke up smelling an unpleasant “rotten egg” smell. I mentioned this to Larry, and he replied, “I suspect a defective voltage regulator may be cooking the battery.” This made sense, because the battery box of a Corvan is inside the vehicle interior, adjacent to the engine compartment in the back. If the battery was overcharging, the fumes would become noticeable.
“Well, Larr, what’re we going to do?”
“I saw a billboard a while back that said ‘K-Mart, Billings, Montana.’ We’ll be able to pick up a regulator there.” A quick check of the map showed we were about an hour away.
In last month’s Airhorn, I began telling the story of my trip to Seattle, WA for the 1975 CORSA Convention, with my pals Larry Claypool, Pat Carroll, and Skip McCue in two Corvair vans, Larry’s “AbsurdoVan” and Skip’s more prosaic Corvair 95. We had left Chicago two days before, and were driving along Interstate 94 in southern Montana, when I had noticed a “rotten egg” smell in the back of Larry’s van while I was trying to get some sleep. Our intrepid adventurers were approaching the grand metropolis of Billings, and Larry was determined to find the K-Mart in order to purchase a $3 voltage regulator…
Arriving in Billings (“BILLINGS NEXT 2 EXITS”) we got off at the first exit and began our search for the K-Mart. Asking directions of several people, we ended up getting quite a tour of Billings, but still couldn’t find the K-Mart. We passed a number of GM dealerships, and in frustration I suggested that we stop there. Larry growled, “I’m not going to spend 15 bucks, when I can get it for three!” I kept silent.
As we drove around town I noticed a fair number of Corvairs. This being 1975, Vairs were not all that rare, but still it was pretty cool to see them so well represented. I would point them out as we cruised on.
We eventually found the K-Mart—naturally, right next to the second exit off of I-94. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed another Corvair ahead of us. In fact it was a Corvan. In further fact, it was a green Corvan. I pointed ahead and started to say, “Hey, there’s another Corvair, hey, it’s another Corvan, hey, it’s Laura!”
What actually came out of my mouth as recognition dawned on me was “L-l-l-l-ook!”
Laura’s van was up on jack stands (yes, in the parking lot), and we could see a couple of figures underneath. As we pulled up, I was thinking, ”1200 miles from home and we arrive by accident at the same place—My God, what are the odds?” Larry was muttering under his breath as I hopped out of the truck and strolled over. Thinking we would be greeted as heroes, as Judy crawled out from under the van, I grinned widely and said “HI THERE!”
Expecting a squeal of delight at our sudden appearance, I was somewhat nonplussed when Judy simply said glumly, “Oh…hi.”
This “What took you so long?” attitude became understandable when I learned that Larry had arranged to have Laura call his mom if she had trouble on the road. He would then call home every day to see if she (Laura) had. Because my work schedule had delayed our departure, we had raced to make up for lost time, and Larry had simply forgotten to check in. The girls had been waiting for us since shortly after we had left. Ironically, other than getting off at the wrong Billings exit, we could not possibly have gotten there any faster!
While working all of these details out, we got up to speed on Laura’s problem. The Powerglide transmission had ceased to function right there in the parking lot. Fed up with waiting for us, Laura had decided to pull the transmission out, and see if she could figure the problem out, herself! I was stunned. I knew she was unusually self-reliant, but this?
During their imposed stay in Billings, the girls had made the acquaintance of some Corvair people, including a fellow who lived a couple of blocks away who had some Powerglides for sale. The front pump of Laura’s trans had failed (a very unusual circumstance) and was not repairable, so she bought a unit from him, and we finished the installation of it. Once installed, the trans began to pump out copious quantities of ATF. A short drive (at least it moved!) to the home of the local Corvair guy, where we pulled off the front pump cover and replaced a damaged gasket. We left Billings, leaving the old transmission in a K-Mart shopping cart.
Our next stop was Yellowstone Park. Larry and I leading the way, Skip and Pat bringing up the rear, the girls (sans CB radio) were in “the rocking chair” in the CB parlance of the time. We drove through the little town of Gardiner around 12 Midnight and arrived at the North entrance to the park. The park ranger asked if we had reservations, to which we replied, “Huh?”
Told that there were no camping spots available that night, we pulled through the gate to turn around. Suddenly the CB crackled to life, “The girls’ van won’t move!”
Sure enough, the new (!) Powerglide refused to engage low gear. Larry suggested that we try to push the Laura’s van up to speed with his, in order to see if second gear (Drive) would engage. Once up to about 30 MPH, the van pulled away under its own power, but when Laura stopped, the trans would just whine in neutral. Another front pump failure!
We all got turned around and headed back to Gardiner to find a campground.
Next month: the voyage continues…
Recap: In the April Airhorn, I began relating the story of a trip I took to the 1975 CORSA National Convention in Seattle, WA with friends Larry Claypool, Skip McCue, and Pat Carroll in two Corvair vans. As luck would have it, the voltage regulator in Larry’s “AbsurdoVan” went the way of most things electrical, and we went in search of a cheap replacement at the K-Mart in Billings, MT.
While wandering around the metropolis of Billings, we finally arrived at the K-Mart, only to find Larry’s girlfriend, Laura Schoenher, along with daughter Michelle, sister Judy, and friend Cindy Love disassembling the automatic transmission in Laura’s Corvair van in the parking lot! (Well, OK, Michelle was only three at the time, so she wasn’t exactly turning a wrench.)
The girls had already made the acquaintance of some Corvair people in Billings (easier in 1975 than today, certainly) and we were able to get a replacement Powerglide transmission in short order. After replacing said Powerglide, our merry band proceeded to the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to find a campground. We arrived around midnight. Told that there were no campsites available in the park, we turned back to the small town of Gardiner, MT. Our troubles began anew when Laura’s newly purchased transmission expired while we were turning around…
Continuing the Saga
We all got turned around and headed back to Gardiner to find a campground. We found one pretty easily and it had…SHOWERS!
The next morning, Larry removed the offending Powerglide to diagnose the problem. It turned out the input shaft from the torque converter to the front pump that activated low gear had sheared. Larry and Laura took off to find a junkyard. Ranging far and wide (which is pretty much the case with anything you do in Montana), they visited two or three junkyards without success. Leaving dejectedly, they happened to spot, not a Corvair with an automatic, but just a Corvair Powerglide, in some weeds, already out of the car!
Quickly removing the input shaft, they returned to our campground and installed their trophy. Now we had three operable vans again.
We spent the next day cruising through Yellowstone, checking out the hot springs, the geysers and the “Little Grand Canyon.” While following the trail down towards the Upper Falls of the canyon I was startled to see one of my co-workers, Bill Adney, climbing back up the same trail. As I was unaware that Bill was even on vacation, (he worked a different shift), much less in Yellowstone, I began to wonder about the nature of coincidence!
After Yellowstone, we resumed our trek to Seattle. Getting back on I-94 we traveled through Butte, Anaconda, and Missoula, entering Idaho the next morning. We had been rotating drivers as we drove, and as we entered the stunningly beautiful town of Coeur d’ Alene, I was driving Skip’s van with Skip resting, Pat was driving Larry’s van, with Larry asleep in the back, and the girls still in the “rocking chair.”
I was remarking to an agreeing Skip how gorgeous the view was, when suddenly, Skip’s van quit running. As we coasted to a stop, I grabbed the CB mike and transmitted our problem to Pat in the lead van. At least I thought I did. The problem turned out to be a total electrical failure—CB included.
Skip and I pondered our situation. The battery still seemed to have plenty of juice, but nothing worked-starter, horn, radio, headlights—nothing. We waited for the return of our comrades—surely they were keeping a close watch behind. Hmm.
After about 40 minutes, we saw them traveling the opposite direction on the interstate, looking for us. Going to the next interchange to turn around, they soon pulled up behind us. We told Larry of our mystery, he grumbled briefly, and proceeded to open the engine compartment. He immediately wiggled an electrical plug on the firewall, and voila!—instant electrical power. He explained that that was the main body connector, and it had a tendency to get crud in it (I believe that is a technical term). Off we went.
Next Month: More Powerglide woes!
This is the story of a trip I made out to the Seattle CORSA Convention in 1975, with friends Larry Claypool, Pat Carroll, and Skip McCue in two Corvair vans. Along the way, we encountered (through mere happenstance) Larry’s girlfriend Laura Schoenher (also a longtime CCE member), her sister Judy, Laura’s daughter Michelle, and their friend Cindy Love, broken down in Billings Montana (see previous Airhorns for the whole story).
As we rejoin our adventurers, we are headed west along Interstate 94, just after restoring electrical power to Skip’s van—Larry and I in the lead, Skip and Pat driving chase car, and Laura, Judy, Cindy and Michelle in “the rocking chair”.
The Story Continues:
Entering Washington State from the beautiful forested mountains of Idaho, I was perhaps expecting to see the giant redwood forests that I had heard so much about. What I had never been told about eastern Washington, though, is that IT IS A DESERT! Temperatures began to climb, and before long it was close to 100F. We motored along, taking it easy, as we became concerned about the 140HP engine in Larry’s van. Tending to run hot in the best of circumstances, 140’s are notorious for dropping the steel seats that seal the valves in the aluminum cylinder heads—the hotter, the worse the problem.
Indeed, in our case, the problem was compounded. Pushing a vehicle several hundred pounds heavier than the car it was supposed to be in, the cool air induction system was not as efficient as on the car, either. Add to that our luggage, tools and spare parts, Larry and I were sweating from more than just the heat. Well, for that matter, we turned on the heater as well, just to try to draw more heat off the engine. Outside temperature was now over 110, according to the radio. God knows what it was inside the van.
Still, things seemed to be going okay.
The radio rasped, “Hey, Larry, Kirk! The girls’ van just stopped!”
Sure enough, the transmission had failed. This time it failed while traveling at highway speeds, so we knew it wasn’t the front pump. Still, we tried pushing it up to speed, but no luck. Now we had a problem. We were still about 150 miles from Seattle, and the map showed we would have to climb Snoqualmie Pass (elev. 3022 ft.) about 2500 feet higher than we were. It was now midday, temps still climbing, the girls’ transmission completely inoperative, and the only vehicle with a trailer hitch was Larry’s. We unloaded Larry’s van, and the girls’ van, putting all the stuff (my god, did the girls bring a lot of stuff!) in Skip’s. We hooked up Laura’s van to Larry’s with a towbar that we had packed, thinking we might at some point have to tow Larry’s van!
With the exception of Larry and Laura, everybody piled into Skip’s van, lying across all the stuff, and off we went. Again.
We drove gingerly, Larry keeping an eagle eye on his cylinder head temperature gauge, and me probably driving him crazy, requesting updates on how it was doing over the CB. The higher we climbed, the hotter the engine got, to the point where I began to fret about the engine of Skip’s truck. Powered by a relatively cool running 95HP motor, we still carried six people, and now all of our expedition’s gear. Because of all the stuff loaded on top of the engine compartment, I could no longer hear the engine running, a bad situation if I could not hear the pinging of an overheated motor. Skip’s van did not have a temperature gauge. Chevrolet had thought it unnecessary. Chevrolet had not anticipated us!
We all breathed a loud sigh of relief as we crossed the pass. The temperature outside grew dramatically cooler and more humid, we were surrounded by pine trees, and the grade grew steeper in the right direction (DOWN!), and we soon saw the Kingdome, the Space Needle and Puget Sound.
We pulled into the Sea-Tac Hotel, site of the 1975 CORSA National Convention, and went in to register. The first thing I saw was Bob Kremer walking through the lobby, both hands and forearms bandaged to his elbows. I cried out “Holy Moly (or words to that effect), Bob, what happened to you?”
“Well, you know I was riding out here on my motorcycle, right?”
“I was getting on an entrance ramp outside of Fargo, ND, when I hit an oil slick, and the bike went down. I slid with my arms outstretched and got this.”
“How did you get the rest of the way here like that?”
“A trucker behind me saw me go down and managed to stop in time. He came up and offered to take me to the emergency room. I told him, ‘I can’t leave my bike and all my gear here unattended.’”
“’No problem’, he said, and led me around to the back of his truck—it was equipped with a lift. We loaded everything up and went to the hospital. When the nurses started to bandage me, I had to tell them to wrap my hands curved so I could hold the handlebars. The trucker then drove me to the Suzuki dealer in town. They got the bike so it would run, but the distributor shaft is bent, so it starts to backfire when you get over 55 or 60.”
“You drove the rest of the way out here like that?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t very pleasant, but I made it.”
As I walked away from Bob, I thought about the determination it took him to continue. I’m sure I would have turned around and gone home.
More next month.
Previously, in the Airhorn—
This is the story of my trip out to the 1975 CORSA International Convention (not so far from Canada, eh?) with friends Larry Claypool, Pat Carroll, and Skip McCue in two Corvair vans. Along the way, we had encountered Larry’s girlfriend Laura Schoenher, her sister Judy, her daughter Michelle (3 yrs.) and their friend Cindy Love where THEIR Corvair van had broken down in Billings, Montana, and after numerous mechanical breakdowns and repairs on Laura’s van, we succeeded in reaching Seattle and the CORSA Convention.
One of the first people from Chicago we ran into was Bob Kremer, who had driven his Suzuki GT750 motorcycle from Chicago to Seattle, but had had bad luck along the way—still, he had persevered and arrived shortly before we did.
Now, About the Convention—
I enjoyed the rest of the convention immensely. The Pacific Northwest is stunningly beautiful—being a flatlander, I was overwhelmed. A local told me that usually you couldn’t see much because of the rain and fog, but for about two weeks a year you get clear weather. I don’t know if my leg was being pulled or not, but, damn! it was nice.
Looking southeast, rising out of the haze, you could see, not the mountain itself, but the glaciers of Mount Rainier, reflecting a brilliant white through the normal haze of a clear summer day. AMAZING!
On the convention’s road rallye, and the subsequent econorun, I rode with Ray and Diana Johnson from CCE in their rented Olds Omega (let’s see—N is for Chevy NOVA, O is for Olds OMEGA, V for Pontiac VENTURA, and A is for Buick APOLLO—yeah, I think it was an Omega) through the Rainier National Forest.
It was the most beautiful national park I have ever seen. Any attempt by me to describe it will only fail miserably. If you ever get a chance to see it yourself, GO!
While I was out having fun, back at the Sea-Tac Motel, Larry and Laura were trying to solve the mystery of the Non-Functioning Powerglide. Well, not really. They removed the offending transmission and threw it in a dumpster, rendering it the ignominious end it deserved, and purchased another used trans from a local Corvair guy.
The 1975 CORSA Convention was pretty cool. In the lobby of the hotel was a new (unsold) 1969 Corvair 500 coupe with six miles on the odometer. Ugly color, ugly interior, but, hell, a new Corvair. Next to the ’69 500 was a Corvair powered Gyrocopter, combining my two loves, Corvairs and flying. The autocross was held at the Boeing factory where the 747 was being built (DAMN! No tours!).
The awards banquet featured Bob Benzinger, engineer in charge of the Corvair engine project, as the after-dinner speaker. Modern conventions no longer have after-dinner speakers because of the large number of awards to be given out, but in 1975, we had a great time listening to his story of the development of the then radical Corvair powerplant. Not just a copy and expansion of the VW four cylinder, the key challenge was cooling the center cylinders on each side of a flat six. A lot of thought went into that little problem!
Once the awards were given out, at the end of Dr. Benzinger’s excellent reminisces, the event chairman began to give out door prizes. Many Corvair parts vendors donated many items to be handed out, but the sheer volume of small items began to tire out all the attendees. Giving out Corvair key fobs one at a time, or sets of valve cover gaskets had us looking at our tickets, hoping we would not receive something small, because it would take us out of the running for something really cool.
This process dragged on for an interminable period, when, suddenly, the event chairman was called away to some important phone call (this was probably around 11P.M.) The event chairman excused himself (he had to have been getting pretty tired, himself) and he asked for someone to temporarily take over.
A shout came from a far corner of the banquet hall. A fellow named Christy Barden volunteered and jumped up, leaping onto the table, and jumping from table to table, screaming, “I’LL DO IT! I’LL DO IT!”
Christy berated us for not having the proper amount of fun during the door prizes, saying, “I cheered when I won a full set of engine decals—I have an Ultravan, and I CAN’T USE ANY OF THEM!”
This over the top behavior completely broke the ennui that had been developing, and the attendees roared with laughter. Christy then dispensed with the awarding of valve cover gaskets, saying we’d find another way of giving them out tomorrow, and proceeded to start throwing key fobs across the very large room, with Corvair people leaping out of their seats, like girls going for the bridal bouquet at a wedding reception!
He then got to some significant prizes, like a complete dual exhaust system. Christy decided to announce the numbers from two different tickets, one digit at a time, the first winner to race to the main table getting the door prize. We laughed ourselves silly—I literally fell out of my seat. We quickly got through the rest of the prizes.
By this time, the cash bar in the banquet hall had closed. I went out to the hotel bar to get a refill, but as I walked through the hallway, I noticed that the event chairman’s wife giving a special kind of hell to Christy for disrespecting the event!
I went and got my beer, and on the return trip, I noticed Christy standing alone and looking rather glum, no doubt reflecting on the tongue-lashing he had received. I could not leave this alone. “Christy, I want to thank you for saving this banquet. This was the best time I could have imagined—I have never laughed so hard!”
As I walked away, his visage had brightened considerably. Other people started to walk up to him and also congratulate him on his unorthodox but hilarious performance. I felt pretty good to be the first to offer him some validation.
Next month, starting the trip home…
This is the story of a trip I took, along with buddies Larry Claypool, Pat Carroll, and Skip McCue to the 1975 CORSA International Convention in Seattle, WA in a couple of Corvair vans. For the rest of the story, please refer to previous issues of the Airhorn.
As we pick up the tale, we have just concluded the convention, and are going to take a roundabout route home. I guess we’ll call this part, “Rockin’ and Rollin’ Through the Rain Forest”.
Rockin’ and Rollin’ Through the Rain Forest
Sunday morning, all the events were done, and we blearily loaded our gear for the trip home. Laura, Judy, Cindy and Michelle decided to go to San Francisco. Larry, Pat, Skip and I wanted to go west (I had never seen the Pacific Ocean), but we didn’t want to travel as far south as San Francisco. Charley “Wind ‘Em Out” Biddle chose to travel with us, Bob “Fists of Bandages” Kremer went straight back to Chicago (almost) on his Water Buffalo, and the rest of CCE found their own ways back.
My traveling crew took the ferry across Puget Sound (another first for me!) and we landed on the Olympic Peninsula. Off we went, in search of adventure and “Corvair roads!” We cruised at high speeds through the twisty roads of the Olympic Mountains, occasionally scaring ourselves half to death, when we would round a curve and confront a gigantic logging truck blocking the road. Thank God the Corvans’ brakes were commensurate with their cornering capability. Charley followed, knowing we would be traveling fast enough to have fun, but there would be no chance of our outrunning his Corvair coupe.
We got behind some local driving a beat up Chevy pickup truck, and figured we would show him a thing or two about how well these weird vans could handle. Well, maybe we did impress him, but he clearly knew his roads and his vehicle. It was all we could do to keep up, sliding through curves at up to eighty MPH! If we were down in Georgia, I would have been convinced that our escort was a moonshiner used to running the revenuers ragged. Eventually he did lose us. I hope he enjoyed it as much as we.
We got to the Pacific Ocean shortly before sunset. At this point, we started to think about food, as we hadn’t eaten since leaving Seattle that morning. Looking at the map, we realized there was nothing nearby! We went from one dot on the map to the next, getting hungrier by the minute, eventually landing at a bar on an Indian reservation. All they had were prewrapped microwaveable hamburgers, but at that point I was willing to chew bark off a redwood! Ignoring the seemingly hostile glances from the barkeeper and the two patrons shooting pool, we ate and got out before the regulars showed up.
Heading out, we continued south towards Portland, OR, still on the back roads. Well after dark, Larry was driving, Skip and Pat were following, Charley bringing up the rear, and I decided to sack out in the back. I slept pretty well, considering we were still going at a good clip on winding roads.
Suddenly, I woke up, sensing something was wrong.
“Larry, what’s happening?”
“I’m not sure- I think I saw some flashing lights behind us, and now I don’t see Charley in the rearview mirror.”
We came upon a closed restaurant on the left side of the road, and pulled into the darkened parking lot. Skip and Pat trailed us in, and we took stock of the situation.
While we were standing outside of our vehicles, with the lights off, we wondered if we should go back to find Charley, fearing the consequences if he had indeed been pulled over by the local constabulary, and we were next.
After a few minutes, our decision was made for us.
VROOOOOOOOOOM!!! went the Washington State Patrol car, blasting past us, no doubt trying to catch up with us, and not realizing we were there in the dark.
Now what to do? “Where’s Charley?” We all wondered.
VROOOOOOOOOOM!!! went Charley, trying to keep up with the trooper who had given him a ticket for speeding, who was now on the hunt for us, without getting another ticket in the process!
Uh, Oh. We quickly jumped in the vans, and gave chase, hoping to catch Charley without US getting ticketed. A wild ride ensued, but we were successful in catching Wind ‘Em Out. We never saw the trooper again.
Next Month: Rocky Mountain High, then home.
This is the continuing saga of my trip to the ’75 CORSA Convention in Seattle, WA with my friends Larry Claypool, Pat Carroll, and Skip McCue. As told in previous episodes we encountered many other CCE friends who were also attending the same event. For more information on those exploits please look up previous issues of the Airhorn.
The Voyage Home
We pick up our story as our intrepid adventurers have just narrowly escaped a close brush with the Washington State Treasury. We drove south into the state of Oregon and then east onto I-90 through the Columbia River Gorge. Strange that we never noticed the largest object in the landscape, Mt. Hood, perhaps we passed it in the dark. Continuing homeward I recall stopping for dinner at a Barnaby’s in Boise. Turning south we drove into Utah arriving at Orem at daybreak where we grabbed a quick breakfast before pressing on into Colorado.
At some point, top mechanic Larry noticed that one of the rear wheel bearings was growling and would soon need to be replaced. We found a machine shop in Grand Junction that was able to press on the new bearing that Larry had thoughtfully stocked for our trip (belying the old adage about you never need what you plan for!) Heading south from Grand Junction, we arrived in Gunnison, CO where we searched for a place to have dinner which we found at the A&W drive-in. As we had not eaten since Orem, UT that morning those burgers went down pretty well.
Morning found us climbing through the high passes of the Rockies towards Colorado Springs. Larry’s 140HP Corvan handled the mountain passes with relative ease. Skip’s Corvan with its small-valve 95HP engine labored mightily to keep up. Still both Corvans succeeded in crossing the Continental Divide without incident.
We decided to take a break from our driving and find a campground in Colorado Springs. On route to the camp site, Larry spotted a bar named “Filthy McNasty’s”, and quickly concluded that was the place for us. We cleaned up at the camp, Pat, Larry and I headed back in Larry’s van to the nightclub. Skip chose to remain behind and replace his front shock absorbers.
(Odd story about Skip’s van. We have been making fun of Skip’s van because the driver’s side front wheel was furiously bouncing up and down at highway speeds. Curiously enough, when I drove Skip’s van, even though I knew the wheel was vibrating wildly, the ride inside the van was as smooth as glass! Apparently Skip got tired of us teasing him so he set out to fix the problem.)
Our evening at Filthy McNasty’s turned out to be a pleasant one and we danced with several of the girls there. Despite its name, it was a very nice place.
The next morning we were confronted by this very large hill. Larry decided then and there—we NEEDED to climb Pike’s Peak. Leaving Skip’s van (we didn’t think the small-valve 95HP would make it), we lightened Larry’s van by loading our spare gear into Skip’s van and the four of us took off for the Peak.
Most of the trip up Pike’s Peak is nice clean blacktop pavement. However once you are up in the altitude the road turns into gravel and dirt switchbacks. At various points during our travel we had to inch past disabled RV’s, trucks, and cars that couldn’t hack the thin air. The last 1,000 feet or so Larry’s 140 van was wheezing pretty badly but we succeeded in getting to the top.
We encountered a park ranger driving a then new 1975 Impala with a 454 dragging an RV up to the top with a chain. The Ranger was clearly a car guy and happily answered our questions about the special equipment that these patrol cars had that enabled them to complete these Herculean tasks. Altitude adjusting Quadrajets and REALLY tall gears did the trick.
The trip down turned out to be a bit more exciting than the trip up; with Skip and Pat rolling around in the back, laughing their butts off! Larry threw the van and ourselves into the switchback curves with wild abandon. Skip, in particular, being a fairly rotund guy, made me concerned about the shifting center of gravity. I looked out the passenger window several times and became quite alarmed at how close the rear wheels were sliding towards the shoulder (or lack thereof). In other words, there was no shoulder, just lots of open space! We got down to the Ranger station halfway down where all vehicles had to stop for a “hot brake” inspection. Many vehicles were sidelined while their brakes cooled enough to allow them safely complete their exit out of the Park.
The Ranger strolled up, touched both of Larry’s front wheels, and immediately waved us through.
The rest of the trip home to Chicago was uneventful, but I will add this one last note. Oil consumption in Larry’s van started out at approximately 1200 to 1300 miles per quart—at least until Pike’s Peak. Afterwards our oil consumption increased to about 200 to 300 miles per quart.
It turns out that while Larry was pushing his van through the attenuated atmosphere of the mountain he was forced to open up the secondary carburetors of the 140. We were at this point quite a ways up a dry dusty dirt road. The accumulated dirt in the secondaries did a pretty good job of erasing the piston rings. Of course, Chevrolet had never intended that motor for that van and made no provision for air cleaners for the carburetors it wasn’t supposed to have. I guess it’s proof positive for the need for air filters…