Forty-five Years and Still in My Life!
It was a warm spring evening as I sat outside my Bachelor
Officer’s House on Mather Air Force Base, just east of
I was a new U.S. Air Force second lieutenant, with still shiny “brown bars” and navigator wings. Somehow the green VW sitting in the driveway did not fit my image of a young flying officer in Bomb/Nav Upgrade and Combat Crew Training for an assignment to Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-52s in 1964.
As the son of very frugal New Englanders the “beetle”
seemed like a good purchase, after graduating from the USAF Aviation Cadet
Program at James Connelly Air Force Base in
Off we went in the “beetle” to search the town. First stop was the MG dealer. At 6 feet 2 inches, my head hit the roof. The Triumph Dealer was just down the street.
Turner Motors, authorized dealer for Volvo and
Triumph, appeared ahead as we drove down
It was love at first sight as “she” sat there that warm evening! “She” had a white top and tonneau cover, wire wheels, white wall tires, black leather seats and painted white. The frugal New Englander kicked in, for just a minute, and told me that the white top and tonneau would be difficult to maintain. So, with the salesman’s help, we took the black top and tonneau from the car beside her on the lot.
“Yes, this fits me,” I thought.
The car salesman asked, “Are you a salesman with all those miles?” I answered, “No, just a single Air Force officer.”
The VW with all the miles got me a $1,600 trade in allowance. However, I still owed $1,050 so only $550 really counted. Total sticker price $3,534.70. It is interesting to note that the heater was considered an “Accessory.”
Thirty minutes or so later I was the proud owner of
a 1964 Triumph TR4. I am now $2,984.70 poorer! And, really excited about top
down drives in a “foreign” sport’s car in
With the top down it was back to Mather Air Force Base for one happy second lieutenant. My amazed friend kept asking, “How can you make up your mind so quickly?”
I had some friends with TR3s, with side curtains, who chided me. “That is really not a sports car. It has roll-up windows,” they would say to me. When the “monsoons” hit the area I was the one dry inside my TR.
Her name became Mergatroid, Merg for short. I am not sure of the circumstances of the naming as I look back. I remember it as from a poem “Mehitable and the Cockroach” that I seem to remember from high school or was it from Red Skelton’s exclaiming “Heavens to Mergatroid.” Still searching Google for clues.
According to Merg’s birth certificate, obtained
from the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, she rolled off the
assembly-line December 23, 1963 in
As a side note, Merg “met” one of her sister’s
years later at a Triumph Travelers club meeting in
Before the days of computers, and all the sophisticated
vehicle tracking, on Merg’s hand written registrations, the “L” was changed to
a “W.” She was in
She is still in great shape with an estimated 210,000 miles (odometer quit for a few years). The “life-time” warranty has supplied 7 sets of free Midas mufflers (total 14) since her first set of Midas’ mufflers in 1967. Shell supplied four “life-time” warranty batteries until they canceled the program. At an average of 22 miles per gallon of gasoline she has consumed about 9,600 gallons of gasoline and who knows how much oil. Spark plugs would total 80 helping to wear out 20 tires, 3 sets of wire wheels and four tops.
Merg has been registered in
Merg’s list of National Parks and Monuments
include: Yosemite, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Grand Tetons, Dinosaur,
The fall of 1964 I drove her from
A 1965 Canadian trip included
Other trips found Merg in the White and Green
Mountains of New England. Going further south Merg had her first flat tire
The USAF, SAC, years found her parked in view of
“loaded” B-52s on alert during the Cold War years. Some were painted the
sinister looking black camouflage as they were prepared for deployment bombing
Winter was greeted with the addition of a ski rack, from the VW, converted and mounted on the TR’s reversed luggage rack. This allowed the skis to go over the top. The luggage rack had been purchase at Sears. “Cost effective.” It has been questioned at car shows many times as to its “authenticity.” I’m convinced car show judges love to deduct “non-original points.”
The New England cold and the factory installed
Many times I used “ether spray” to get her started
when freezing occurred while parked. One afternoon at a ski area in
The final solution? Take it off, install a hose from the valve cover and let it hang down to the frame. That solved the problem and has hung there for 44 years. Hopefully, not doing too much environmental harm.
Getting married meant a move of my furniture from
bachelor living to my new apartment. This was within the same apartment complex
so it was relatively easy…how to move the dining room table? Solution: top down
and onto the luggage rack it goes. The table, now in Chris and Jim’s garage in
After three years in SAC, the next move was to
Everyone said “the VW will make it and the Lucas
Dark Knight will strike the TR.” Well, the TR made it. The VW burned out a
generator early one Sunday morning in
Its now “
While finishing engineering and MBA degrees the TR helped commute when the weather did not permit comfortable bike rides to campus. The altitude did require high altitude needles in the carburetors.
The pass was known for its whiteouts of blowing snow and avalanches. One day coming back from skiing at Breckenridge, it was really blowing. I was following a Coor’s Beer truck which kept disappearing in the ground blizzard. The pass did not have guard rails in many places so the snow plows could push the large quantities of snow over “the edge.” It was a long way down. Merg performed admirably and got me home safely.
Camping was easy with sleeping bags on the luggage rack and the TR stuffed. We never forgot anything since if there was any space we knew we did not have everything. In those days when tents had aluminum frames they just fit beside the passenger’s seat and the passenger’s feet rested on the curved ends.
Racing thunderstorms in the mountains proved a “sport.” “Will the road bend around so we pass the storm’s fury?” I would think. I soon discovered that with the top down, windows rolled up and driving over 70 mph, you didn’t get too wet until you found shelter to get the top up. “Getting the top up quickly is an art and science,” I must say.
One afternoon coming down Garden of the God’s road
It was beginning to rain in torrents. We came around the front looking for shelter as best we could find it. I quickly realized one of the service bay doors was going up. The grease rack was empty. As we clattered up the ramp onto the rack I let out a yell, “THANK YOU!” This was clearly service! The downpour started, thunder rolled and lightning flashed.
Needless to say there are many stories to tell
about the Merg’s “adventures.” The most spectacular
was being attacked by a 600 pound female grizzly bear in
I have pictures and a piece of the top with the bear claw’ tears. Black foot-prints were on the trunk where she had walked. To this day the bend is still in the luggage rack where one paw rested.
Merg has driven over the old
After 3 years in
With 3 years in
For the next two years I spent time finding new
parts, drilling out spot welds, sand blasting and related activities. All the
work done accomplished in the driveway of my house. “Thank you
Many memories were found during the disassembly…a dented rocker panel from fording a Rocky Mountain stream on the dirt road to the old marble quarry where stone for the Lincoln Memorial was quarried, a deep grove in the rear fender created by a falling ski, rock dings from many dirt roads, dent in passenger door when a VW van backed into her…
As parts lay strewn about in the garage my family kept asking “how will you put it back together?”
With confidence I replied, “I will weld it back together.” This triggered the response, “you do not know how to weld!” Again, with confidence I reply, “I will take a welding class.” So it was off to night school, at the local high school, to take the class. I completed the course.
My life-long rule is that no project should be undertaken unless it justifies new tools. The local welding supply dealer makes another sale and I am ready to weld and braze. “Hmm, I need welding clamps, a sand blaster, masks…”
I now have a lot of tools, so it takes some creativity to find a new project that “needs” a new tool.
Lesson learned? Simple dust masks do not help someone with allergies. “Achooo!” One ton or so of sand later the rust is gone and new primer applied. Yes, all in the driveway. Oh, lots of Kleenex too.
Another lesson learned was a much greater appreciation for automobile body alignment. A few mistakes on my part still show today. “Oh well, still fun to drive!”
I got to become a familiar voice to the secretary of the British Leyland North American parts manager. Tracking down parts with this company was an interesting experience. No Moss Motors in those days with the parts I needed. Need I say more about the survivability of these two companies? I am thankful Moss Motors, and others like them, are still in business today...
A fender from
I learned that the leaks of the TR had preserved Merg’s frame and undersides very well. I call it my “British blessing.”
At one point I gave up for 6 months. However, the
call of the wind in my hair, the smell of hot oil and the
My daughters, then 3 and 5 years old, watched the process and rode their Big Wheel through the sand scattered around the rusty shell. One named the ratchet wrench the “doll baby.” This was the beginning of me sharing the mechanical and home project world with them.
I got to make some parts at the Hewlett-Packard Model Shop in the same building where my office, or I should say cubicle, was located. HP had a policy in those days that you could use the shop and bar-stock for personal purposes, as long it was reasonable. I am sure that is very different today.
The shop night shift thought it was wonderful that a “marketing type” would get his hands dirty and want to learn metal turning and sheet metal bending. I turned parts, such as the “packing piece,” Moss Motors part number 400-305, which I call a “domed” washer. It was turned of some esoteric nickel alloy; I am sure archeologists will find these turned parts thousands of years from now in perfect shape wondering what they are. The same holds true for the channel that holds the door weather seal.
I learned making compound bends for the radiator duct, replacing the fiberboard duct that spread paper-mache looking stuff all over the engine when steam cleaned.
Parts that needed to be painted were either HP stipple black or gray. They still look like new after thirty plus years. Great paint!
Merg is now back together so off to the paint shop owned by a Harley rider who does custom painting. Excellent results…mostly. She looks great. So, it’s back into the garage and off on a business trip.
I get a call from my then wife. “I had a little accident in the garage” she tells me. “Oh, what kind of accident” I reply. “I hit the TR,” was the answer. I pause. The conversation continues. I complete my trip and head home. I call the insurance company, USAA, who thinks it rather unusual for two insured cars to have an accident in the home garage. They waved the deductable since both cars are insured by USAA. Back to the paint shop. Nice match. Between the Volvo wagon and the TR it is a few thousand dollars to fix them.
When my two daughters approached age 16 they wanted to drive Merg. To qualify they had to learn stick shift on the second family Volvo wagon, affectionately known as the “Twinkie.” Its gold color reminded us of the highly calorific Twinkie snack food. As of March 2009, it is still on the road with over 300,000 miles on its odometer.
The other twist was they had to take the driving test with the Volvo stick shift. This included the days when you had to parallel park. They passed. Now, for the Merg qualification with the “tricky” clutch, and the use of the choke. Merg did not “like” the choke in or out when “cold.” They passed that too with a few stalls early on. Fortunately, there were new housing developments nearby with all the streets and a few residents for the practice.
The final test was changing a tire. Need I say more to those who own Triumphs? Passed that too with questions such as, “why is the car jack inside the car?” Of course part of the instruction included how to hit the knock offs so as to minimize the damage to the “ears.”
The main ground rule was “no friends are to drive and only you are to be found at the wheel.” The other was if you have problems call Dad first. I was Merg’s AAA.
My two daughters drove her to high school. One day
the TR decided to “die” on the way home from high school. Parked in a
On a Southwest Airline flight from
The grand prize was a weekend trip to
I worked at HP and lots of people there saw Merg in the parking lot over a number of years. I was privileged to have a company car later on so my daughters could take the TR to high school. I soon found that I would get reports of where HPers had seen the car. Ohh, did I get that message quickly conveyed.
One sunny day it was a call from a
So, AAA Dad says, “raise the hood and look at the fan belt.” A few minutes pass and I hear “it is just hanging in front of the engine in one piece.” “Hmmm, not broken?” I say to myself.
“Look for the generator” which I describe. The answer: “it is not there on the side of the engine.”
“Not there!!” I exclaim. “Not there” comes the reply in a tentative voice. Guess AAA Dad was sounding frustrated.
“Ok, I will be there in about 30 minutes,” I say. Off to the garage for the tool box including the spanners, wrench for those non-British car owners
Sure enough the generator brackets had broken and it was resting peacefully on the TR’s frame. Now, a call to the real AAA. Flatbed shows up, at extra change, since the TR cannot be towed due to its gound clearance and definitely not backwards with wire wheels and knock off hubs.
Another AAA Dad call came one evening. “Dad I need to go to Susan’s house for homework.”
“Ok I say.” Off she goes as I hear the low purr
from the exhaust going down the driveway. What I did not think about was she
“Dad, I was part way home and the lights went out.” This time I knew the problem. It was the fuses that need to be cleaned every now and then. “Are you at Susan’s?” I ask.
“No, I had to knock on someone’s door in the neighborhood and ask to use their phone.”
Off, I go in the trusty old Volvo with a small piece of sand paper in hand. Needless to say this has become a favorite story over the years. Imagine walking up to a door in your fuzzy bear slippers in the dark and asking to use their telephone.
Under daily use Merg seems to “eat” a battery about every three or four years. So, you guessed it the battery dies at high school one day. Jumper cables in hand my daughter looks for a car with a good battery.
Positive ground was part of the training for my fortunately more technically minded daughters. Now the macho teenage guys appear. Off course they know how to jump start a car.
Merg still wears the small hole along the inside of the fender where the sparks flew. I think to myself as the story is told, “a lesson to the machos, may they remember in the future when talking to other women.”
Merg journeyed to the Senior Prom held at Miramar Naval Air Station, known for its Top Gun Program. Imagine the band set up between two F-14’s and dancing in the hanger?!
The family cats enjoyed the TR too. One cat had black and white markings that looked like a turban. “Sinbad” loved to stretch out and sleep on the drive shaft tunnel between the seats. It was always warm after a drive. Another cat had her kittens one afternoon on the hood of the covered TR in the garage. I thought to myself, “I guess the warmth of the recently driven engine must feel welcoming to a mother to be.”
When the family car was not available, the daughter with the horse used the luggage rack which fit a 120 pound bale of hay perfectly. It was as wide as the car. While she was in high school she only bought hay one bale at a time. She would stop by the feed store to pick up a bale. The bungee cords always held, although she did figure out that the drive was much “cleaner” with the top up or the tonneau cover on before driving. Somewhere in Merg I am sure there are still some pieces of straw. She got a lot of funny looks with a small convertible and a bale of hay on it!
Merg became a loaner car for one of my daughters and her husband who needed a second car. They soon discovered that she was not an inexpensive car to maintain. But, they did take good care of her.
When three of us started a software company one of them had his very old Honda Civic die. He even left it in a parking lot for week with the keys left in it. Sadly, no one wanted to steel it. Merg became this guy’s transportation for a while. At about 6 feet 5 inches tall he had to “fold up” to get in.
After 26 years in sunny southern
We joined Triumph Travelers, attending their
meetings and other events. A trip south found us at Triumphest in
The 3 years in this area led to a lot of fun
driving through the
Merg and I would start out driving through
Merg was purchased with gray painted wire wheels. I had always dreamed of chrome wire wheels, especially when I would see a classic Jag. I did it and the local Goodyear dealer convinced me to add new wider, better roadability tires to these new shiny wheels. I have enjoyed them ever since. “Wow, what handling in this corner,” I find myself thinking frequently as I am out for a drive.
The summer in
Of course, there has to be an “incident” to share. A local shop was recommended to do some work on Merg. After the work was finished we drove down the Interstate for an early evening ride through a local park. The daylight hours are long there.
As we entered the park I thought I heard a rock clicking away in a tire. I stopped, looked and could not find a rock. “That is strange,” was my thinking as I got back into the car. Back on the road. “The sound is still there,” runs through my mind.
In an instant there is a shudder, the car drops to the pavement and sparks fly out from the left rear. The wire wheel goes cruising by me at what seems like the speed of light…down the street a short distance…over the curb...through a stand of trees…into Minnehaha Creek. It is not amusing as I sit there in wonder on the edge of the road. “Nice way to end a workday” I say out loud.
In starched button-down collared shirt, khakis and my dress leather boots, I start my mechanical duties. To the trunk I go…flashing emergency light out…it works. “Yes!” Jack out…over the bank…down to the creek to recover the wayward wheel. I sigh in relief, when I find the creek is shallow. There sits the wheel center stream.
“This is weird” I say out loud, now not afraid to have a conversation with myself. The boots and sox come off. The knockoff and hub are still attached. “Hmmmm”
Up the bank rolling the wheel, boots in the other hand…I hear the clicking sound…”Lug nuts, not rocks” I think…traffic goes around me as I sit jacking up the car. Working the handle of the jack Merg slowly rises from death’s door.
It then hits me that this highly recommended shop of mechanics for British cars just worked on my brakes. Expletive!! “The nuts were not tightened on the hub” flashes through my mind. Another expletive!! Probably more, but it has been almost a decade since it happened.
As I completed the reassembly, on that warm evening, I finally get amused at the image of me rolling this wet chrome wire wheel up the bank…“baptized in Minnehaha Creek” rolls through my mind and makes me laugh out loud.
Needless to say, there was a telephone call the next morning. The good news was only the shackles had to be replaced. Free of course. I really got great service after that. Scratches on the tailpipe extension still show today as a reminder of the “Baptism.”
Fall drives were beautiful with the different varieties of trees. The fields of corn were harvested and the stocks turned brown. Winter is on its way. This is the first year, after 35 years, Merg spends in winter storage. It was difficult leaving her.
The year 2000 brought us to
I was able to get the same driver and 18 wheeler
for the move to
Merg now spends winters in “the bubble” or officially The Car Capsule. Amazing how something this simple really keeps the musty smell and rust away while in storage.
Over the years both daughters have received, from me, TR sweatshirts and T-shirts. A few years ago an “older man” stopped one of them saying, “Young lady you are much too young to know what a Triumph is.” A conversation ensued. He walked away understanding she certainly does know what a Triumph is…and has personal experiences and stories to back it up.
Merg has won car show awards every now & then
even though she is a driver and not a show car. I am a life member of the
TSCCSD. I have been a member of the Triumph Travelers Sports Car Club (TTSCC)
Currently my only car club memberships are TSCCSD and the Vintage Triumph Register (VTR), since the other clubs in the area are about an hour drive in various directions. I am one of the TSOA people who in 1974 quickly signed up for VTR. My member number is 76. I still have my original TSOA badge from when I bought my TR-4 in 1964 and joined TSOA.
The winter of 2007-2008 found her with Lance Tegeder of Exceptional Finish Works. She looks better than new in her white paint. The clarity of the finish and reflections of Merg’s surroundings are amazing
Next it was Ragtops & Roadsters for some much needed mechanical work. The steering and braking are so responsive. With the two rebuilt carburetors she feels much better about her environment when I hit the road.
Both Lance and Ragtops are in
Moss Motors had the needed parts for most of the reassembly after the new paint and some of the mechanical work. Thanks to all involved. Merg seems better than new!
With all this work completed I decided it was time to remove the old cassette player. Prior to the cassette Merg previously had an 8-track player. The original installations of these two were a challenge since they were based negative grounds. The original AM radio is still installed. Will an iPod be next?
Merg continues to be driven in New Jersey. No winter driving. We wait until at least three rain storms wash away winter residue from the roads. She is enjoying a much more “relaxed” life being driven only during warm, rainless top down weather through the winding, hilly back roads of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
As I look back, and forward to another year on the road with Merg, I think “the wind in my hair, a tanned face and arms, and the smell of oil is still appealing after all these years!”