Last week, I watched my ‘77 Fiat 124 Spider roll away on a flatbed, off to get electrical work done. Chris at Artie’s Auto Electrical finished up the work by Thursday, and we made arrangements to have him drop the car back at my place on Friday.
Unfortunately, he came down with some sort of bug and wasn’t going to be able to drop it off until today or later— I’m about to head out of town for a Business trip, so I started to ask myself: “Do I trust the car enough to drive it 30 miles home?” I don’t. I call and buy AAA, just in case.
I reached the shop in the heat of the afternoon, when the temperature was plateauing around 100 degrees F. I checked through the systems after paying the (pleasantly reasonable) bill; I now have a fully functional Classic. The lights work. The ventilation system works. All gauges are functional. The cold start works correctly now. I can remove the keys without the running lights staying on. The brakes were a little seized from sitting so long, but he’d been able to free them up with some use and lubricant. I was ready to go.
I promptly stalled the car leaving the parking spot. 10 months driving the Xterra have spoiled me; the Fiat’s clutch is not so light, not so forgiving. I start her back up, give it a little more throttle, and I’m off. Immediately, I feel the difference with the suspension and steering. It hasn’t been aligned on a machine yet, but the new shocks, springs and control arms seem to have worked wonders— I’m down to a slight pull to the left. Speed bumps and potholes arrive and depart with the forgotten familiar thump-thump of an old unibody. This isn’t so different from my old S30 Z... except the car feels light, sprightly even.
In fact, everything feels near perfect until I brake. The car darts and pulls to the right under hard braking. My eyes remain riveted to the oil pressure gauge and coolant gauge. Oil pressure hovers between 20 and 40 PSI on throttle, and about 5 psi at idle. The coolant temp seems to bottom out around 180F when driving straight, and top out around 210F when in lights or traffic. I allow myself a brief respite to feel the wind through my hair, hear the buzz of the Twin Cam, to feel the road speak to me through the tires; a pure poem not tainted by Hydraulics or Electronics. It’s around this point that I realize I have a shit-eating grin on my face.
As the light ahead turns red, I began to apply some braking force, and... am extremely disappointed. They squish and give, but the car does reluctantly come to a stop well short of any danger. I pulled into a nearby Cul-de-sac and called AAA — looks like I stopped short of getting the service I wanted; they’ll only tow me 3 miles without overages, and they won’t immediately upgrade me to the plus membership. Whoops. At this point I’ve been standing in the sun for 10 minutes, my phone is dying, and I could likely find a cheaper tow on my own. I cancel the pickup, head back to the car, and test out the brakes again. After a few pumps, the pressure feels fine again.
I returned to the road with paranoia in my heart. It’s not until about 10 minutes later that I again allow myself a smile. The brakes are again functioning, neither me or the car is on fire, and finally, we’re both home.
Leftout detail: I checked the coolant and oil levels an hour after making it home. Both were at the same levels as when it was towed away.