Ryan Davies' 1965 Triumph Spitfire
My first encounter with what later was to become a lifelong obsession happened during the summer of 1998. I had just graduated from high school, and was spending a summer on Vancouver Island as an ensemble actor at a local theatre. When I arrived on the island, I knew I would be staying in a room at a family friend’s house, but had no idea how I would be getting to and from work. My friend merely said “I’ll make sure I have something worked out.” Once we got to his house, this friend opened his garage to reveal a tiny car (or mostly a car, there were many pieces strewn across the garage floor). He said, “You’ve got two weeks until you start your job, if you can put this back together before then, it’s yours for the summer.” I was floored, not knowing whether to be excited or terrified. Fortunately, we had the car back together in the time we had, and I spent an amazing summer blasting up and down the island highway. Over the summer I learned exactly what this little car was. It started life as three separate cars; a Mk1 Spitfire (providing most of the body and interior), a Mk1 GT6 (providing the hood and some other parts), and a mid-70s TR6 (providing the engine and transmission). It was clear someone has a vision of a great low cost “frankencar,” and never completed the project.
When the summer ended, I was off to college and it was time to return the car to my friend. I spent three long years dreaming of the chance to drive that car again. When my friend called to say, “I’m very sorry, but my wife won’t let me keep the car in the garage anymore. I have to sell it.” I was heartbroken. I wasn’t yet finished with college and I had no way to buy it from him. Being the awesome friend he is, we worked out a payment plan. I convinced a few college friends to spend spring break driving from Spokane, WA to Vancouver Island in a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a trailer to pick up the car. (Suckers!) When we got to the island, the car wouldn’t even start! We pushed the car onto the trailer and headed home.
During my last year in college, I replaced the transmission, generator, voltage regulator, and repainted the body British racing green (from white). I have many wonderful memories of driving my girlfriend through the rolling wheat fields of eastern Washington on dates. I also have fond(ish) memories of failed wheel bearings in northern Idaho, an overheating engine in the Spokane Valley, and snapping an axle in the middle of nowhere. Sadly, my plans to go to grad school across the country were not in harmony with my only transportation. I sold the car to one of my professors, and used the money as a down payment on a Dodge Neon.
It was shortly after I finished my graduate program that my old professor called me. He had come into some legal trouble and needed to sell the ASAP. Without consulting my wife (oh yeah, I got married just out of grad school too!) I made plans to buy the car, fly to Spokane, and drive the car to our home in Chicago. Another friend of mine learned the car was even less reliable than before. He volunteered to pick up the car, trailer it to his home, and he began work to ready it for the nearly 2000 mile journey. When my wife and I arrived in Spokane, we learned that the car had been repainted burgundy. We learned the engine inhaled copious amounts of dust while driving the dirt roads of northern Idaho. We also learned that the seat foams had also turned to dust. This was going to be a very “interesting” journey. We departed a few days before Memorial Day weekend, in sweltering 90 degree desert heat. Our first few days were enjoyable and uneventful, though I noticed a few spark plugs were continually getting fouled. It wasn’t until we reached Yellowstone that things really got bad. Bad went from bad to worse when we “ran out of electricity” coming down the pass at night on the Wyoming side. What happened next is a full two page story on its own, so I’ll just say that a very kind family took us in, helped us dry off, and charged our battery enough to get us to an auto parts store in Montana that had a high voltage regulator from a tractor that fit our car. Back on the road, things were going fine until somewhere in Wisconsin. Blue smoke starting pouring from the tail pipes, and we couldn’t go any faster than 40 mph. That spark plug issue was a tell-tale sign that we were close to complete engine failure. Limping into Chicago, I pulled the car into a garage space I rented from a nearby hospital, and there the car stayed for several months.
My wife and I knew family time was coming. While we loved Chicago, we felt it was not the place we wanted to raise our children. Fortunately, this was an excellent news for the car as it meant leaving our one bedroom apartment and moving to Indiana into a house with a garage! Over the next year I stripped the engine compartment down to the frame and completely rebuilt the engine. With some help from VB, a local mom and pop hardware store, and excellent machinist, and a shop that specializes in high performance race car engines, my car’s inline six was running better than ever.
It’s been three years since the engine rebuild, and I haven’t has a single significant issue since. In fact, before departing on a recent road trip, I had to decide which was more reliable, ny 2001 Volkswagen Jetta, or my 1965(ish) Triumph Frankencar. The Triumph was the clear winner, and it got to transport me 200 blissful miles without incident.
I just want to thank my friends who taught me how to take care of old cars and my extremely supportive wife. I was only 18 when I fell in love with this car, and thanks to them it’s a relationship that should last a very long time.