Editors Note: This is the fourth article in a series written by longtime XKs Unlimited customer Lois Knudsen of Nevada, who completely restored a 1964 E-Type -- by herself. But lets let Lois tell the story
The Pumpkin Guy
Its done! Okay, so technically, maybe he said three words to me. Doesnt matter. I had butterflies with lead wings flapping in my stomach. How could something I wanted so badly, cause such a feeling of doom? The heart of the beast the engine -- had been reborn and the $2,000 I still owed on the work was light-years away. I stuttered and stammered and pushed the words out of my mouth, Wow! Great! Uh, you know its going to take some time for me to figure out just how I am going to pick it up, so Ill have to get back to you. Randy agreed and said there was no rush. They all knew my 67 VW Bug wasnt the right tool for the job. Two thousand dollars. Two grand. 2K. There was just no way to say it without it sounding as bad as it was. Oh well, I had bought a little time to figure it out. Besides, I had something else that needed my attention.
My neighbor showed up at the front door with a grin on his face and motioned over his shoulder at the newly rebuilt pumpkin. Woo hoo! I could now get going on reassembling the entire rear-end. I knew just what page in the Complete E book to turn to in order to pick up where I had left off, for I had cleverly marked the page with blood. Believing the quaint engravings in the shop manual that depict a lab-coated mans hands gently tapping U-joints from half-shafts with a mini Thor hammer, I employed the same approach to remove the inner bearing races from the hub carrier except with the full-size Thor I had found in the back of the car. Tap, tap. Tap, tap? Hmmmm. TAP, TAP!! WHAM! YeeOWW! Needless to say, I slipped. The hammer came down, glancing off my first two knuckles and pinned my ring finger squarely to the top of the hub carrier. I cursed loudly and hurled the hammer. It flew a lot farther than I thought and ended up in the middle of the street and narrowly missed a kid on bicycle. I gasped at what I had almost done to that poor kid.
My attention turned back to staring in disbelief at my mangled finger. I snapped out of it and quickly began working my ring past the filleted chunks of flesh to get it off before my finger swelled. (Note to self: Remove jewelry before working on car.) I had to stop writing a moment to admire the scar. I cant imagine how such a thing could bring a smile to my face, but it does. Maybe I should have been wearing one of those lab coats. Hmmm. (Second note to self: Never again throw tools, no matter what.)
New bearings, spacers, shims, U-joints, stainless-steel lined brake calipers, fresh pads, turned rotors, it all came together by hook or crook and it was truly beautiful. The crown jewel was that sparkling differential -- and I do mean sparkling. You see, as a special touch, my pumpkin neighbor had the cover chrome plated. The chrome popped against the Chinese Fire-Cracker Red paint that adorned the rest of the pumpkin and the four coil springs. (Just now I felt the Universe hiccup as all you concours people shuddered at the thought. Be forewarned, this was not the last of unspeakable things I did to this car)
I am not sure why I found the front suspension so daunting. Compared to the rear end, the front was light, airy and easy to get to. I guess I had visions of not getting something just right, which would cause a front wheel to fall off and result in a fiery crash. It seemed every other paragraph in the Complete E started with, Do NOT or It is not advisable or Care must be taken when or Important or Must not. Do not, do not, do not! I was stricken by what turned out to be a series of paralytic episodes. (I think they call it paralysis through analysis.) I became overwhelmed. My brain froze. Beaten and ashamed, I shut the garage door and walked away.
My guess is that it wasnt more than a week before the drug of that car started to itch my brain again. It was like I could almost hear it whispering to me through the walls, coaxing me to take a look at some innocuous interior piece and then, mystically, inexplicably, I would find myself, trance-like, standing at the parts washer, scrubbing stub axles, carriers, and the like. Weird. Wonderful -- but still weird.
Looking back, I see that that pattern repeated itself many, many times over the years. I still marvel at the internal dialogues I would have with myself. They would swing from, I know how to read; I can figure this out. Many people have done this; I can do it too. It just may take me longer because I am brand new to this. I want this and I will make it happen, to What the hell was I thinking? I dont have a clue! Who did I think I was fooling? Maybe it was never meant to be. Usually, the negative thoughts appeared right about the same time the words in the shop manual began to melt and swirl into a blob of what might as well have been Swahili. Then the whispering would eventually lure me back for another go.
Whether it was the whispering or the cold hard ring of the telephone when the machine shop called again, I put down my crying towel and finished rebuilding the front suspension and steering. With the front-end largely done, I now had a place to put the engine. I still had the Grand-Canyon-of-an-issue of where to come up with $2,000, however.
I talked my dear roommate into taking all of my jewelry to the pawn shop. Not many pieces, but I knew what they cost originally and that they should pay for well over half of what I owed on the engine. I remember so clearly when Paul came back and held out his hand. Instead of cash, he poured my jewelry back into my hand. They would only give two hundred, so I didnt go through with it. With every fiber in my body hating to do it, I called my Dad and told him of my dilemma with my engine being in hock. On more than one occasion, he had turned down my requests for monetary assistance, so I was totally unprepared when he agreed to do it as a loan mind you complete with a Promissory note. Wonderful! Weird, but still wonderful!
Irushed down to my friends house (she and her husband lived next door to the pumpkin guy). I told her the good news about getting my engine out of hock. Her husband, Vic, said he could pick it up in his truck and he would help me assemble the tranny, clutch, and engine into something that resembled an almost complete drive train. The guys at the machine shop were glad to see the engine off to its home and out of their hair.
True to his word, Vic helped me get the drive train together and installed. Undoubtedly, the two of us trying to get that engine into its cradle is where the expression about the two monkeys and a football came from. It was heinous. I dont know how we walked away from that without losing a finger. To this day, Vic can still show you the scar on his forehead that he received when the engine hoist lurched and an acorn nut protruding from a valve cover delivered a deep gash. Even with blood running into his eye, we pressed on and got that sucker seated. After mourning all the gouges to the sub-frames, I went ahead and installed the new driveshaft.
This was truly amazing; all of the major mechanical stuff was just about done! Well, OK, the entire intake assembly, complete with three totally rotted SU carbs was sitting, untouched, on the workbench. The braking system needed finishing. And darn it if the entire electrical system (gauges, switches, regulator, generator, starter, solenoids, and all wiring harnesses) needed to be repaired or replaced. So, I got a wee bit ahead of myself there but my project was definitely picking up steam. The part in the shop manual about rebuilding the carbs didnt scare me. (I cut my teeth in the world of carburetor rebuilds on a Rochester Quadrajet. Fired up on the first crank. Literally. Not only did the Oldsmobile it belong to start right up but a healthy flame shot two feet into the air out of the top of the carb!). The brake lines and master cylinders needed major help, but the vacuum bellows system seemed OK. I was on a roll. Bring it on!
Unfortunately, my momentum was short-lived. Remember the collapse of the savings and loan industry? Guess who was working for the nations largest savings and loan at that time? We were all going to be laid off. At least we had about six months notice. By this time Paul and I had finally figured out we had a future together and that we wanted to move to Northern Nevada. We saw it as a great opportunity to live in a beautiful place, pursue careers that made us happy, and to actually be able to afford a house with property. Almost immediately Paul was hired into a life-long career in law enforcement. I was getting zero bites on my resume from any Nevada firms. It was decided that (since I was finally making fairly decent money), Paul would move to Nevada, secure a rental, and I would stay behind, put the entire household into storage and live with family to save money until the lay-off was finalized.
The tow truck was to show up in the early afternoon to haul the Jag to the storage unit. I knew I would have to push the beast out into the driveway so the tow-truck driver could hook it up. Since I was by myself, I knew I had to be extra cautious. I carefully positioned chocks just a few yards forward of the front wheels to prevent the car from rolling merrily across the lawn and into the neighbors yard. I checked the steering position, made sure the transmission was in neutral, checked my aim once more and gave it a good push. It didnt budge. Another good push. Nothing. The car would rock forward an inch but recoil right back. I checked the stick shift, wiggled it good and went through the gears, then back to the middle. Yep, its in neutral. The tires were definitely aired up. Well then, what the hell? I pushed and grunted until I thought I would have an aneurism. The thing would just not move.
Back into the car I went. The emergency brake? Nope. Not hooked up. Pads locked against the rotors? Nope. Theres clearance. I was standing at the back of the car getting anxious about the arrival of the tow truck. Ill try giving it one last push a big one! to gain momentum, just before I pushed, I pulled back a bit and what? The car glided smoothly backwards. Ahhh, it must have broken loose! I pushed again. Nothing. I pulled, the car rolled easily backward. I was running out of room and almost to the very rear of the garage when the answer exploded in my mind: THE $$@**!! PUMPKIN GUY! Even the cool chrome cover couldnt save me from the fact that he had totally botched the job.
My car would only roll backwards. The tow truck was only a few hours from arriving. I had emptied and cleaned the house and garage. It was Sunday, the last day of our lease and the day before I had to return to work. The only thing standing between me and getting our rental deposit back and not having to pay a premium off-lease rent payment was the Jag. How was I going to make it out of this one?
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