Dave and John's Cross-Continent Road Rally, 2006, Part 1

Imperial Home Page -> Imperials by Year -> 1961 -> No Excuses

Part 1, Background and Prep

Part 2, Day 1, 2 Part 3, Day 3, 4, 5 Part 4, Day 6, 7, 8
Part 5, Day 9, 10, 11

Part 6, Day 12, 13

Part 7, Day 14, 15 Part 8, Day 16, 17, 18

No Excuses!

Our team motto (above) and logo (below)

The following is taken from a blog (of sorts) about Dave & John’s Adventure in Cross-Continent Road Rallying as the IMPERIAL EXPEDITIONARY FARCE. Team #61 in the 2006 National Guard Great Race, starring a 1961 Imperial Crown Convertible, with a supporting cast of a hundred other vintage cars, in a two-week endurance contest of precision driving and personal exhaustion: 4100 miles from Philadelphia to San Rafael, CA


Those who know me know my preference for the 1961 Imperial as the epitome of automotive sculpture.  It’s also a really well-engineered car.  I started to collect them in 1999 or so.  You may have seen the site I started to log the acquisition and restoration of a 4-door hardtop called Subtle XS, or you may have come to this page from there.  With a family, business, and a real life to lead, that project came into hiatus a few years back, but not until I had amassed (good word here!) FIVE 1961 Imperials.  One was a rare convertible in fair condition and needing a pretty thorough restoration, but I set it aside until the original 4-door got done.  Then, my friend Dave Ullman and I decided to enter the Great Race – a long-distance endurance road rally across America.  It just seemed like it might be WAAAY more appropriate to do that in an open car, so the convertible project jumped to the front of the line in the summer of 2005 – one year to get ready for the Race: deadline June 24, 2006.

Still having to work, I knew I'd need professional help (with the car!), so I searched out for a restoration shop capable of a complete mechanical overhaul and some cosmetic clean-up.  Somehow I settled on a shop in Bradford, Ontario (not TOO far from my home).  They had a very presentable facility, had done some similar-vintage Chryslers, and they were REALLY eager to take this on.  I should have seen that as the hard-sell it was.  I have rarely made worse mistakes.  This shop (that shall remain nameless except in the complaints I will send to Hemmings and the BBB) overstepped their authority and pulled and stripped the body from the frame without asking!  Now I had to decide: go forward with a full restoration or stop.  No contest.  We agreed on a budget and off they went.  Mistake #2: I should have pulled the project from them right then.  They quickly shot through the budget and we were nowhere near done.  The level of communication was poor and the project management was abysmal.  Finally, in February 2006; I called it quits and pulled the project.  At that time, it looked like this:

Mel Benzaquen of Classic Restorations in Stony Point, NY had agreed to take on the project and get ‘er done in time, based on the first shop’s representation that the car was ready for paint and reassembly.  HA!  Little did we know they had butchered the body with bad bondo – to the point that the trim pieces wouldn’t even fit on!  A huge push ensued to get the car ready in time.  Thanks, Mel et Cie.! We did it.  For details about that process, check out Classic Restorations project log HERE.  When I picked it up again (Friday, June 16 – just days before the Race), it looked like this:  

OK, it cost a WEE bit more than originally planned, but it’s all done and we’re ready to Race!  

Oh, well, there is the small matter of getting it legal (state inspection) and insured (it’s worth a bit more now) and stocked with spare parts, and broken in (brand new engine rebuild – new brakes – etc. – all need some break-in); and packed for a two week trip with two persons.  And I have to finish prepping the folks at my small business to do without me for a few weeks, and I really should help dear wife Sue get my son Ethan ready for camp and daughter Sam starts a new job, but she’s under the weather; and I have to get the Scout Troop ready for our week-long camp-out 6 days after I return from the Race.  No time to waste!

Dave Ullman, my old friend, has foolishly agreed to participate as Navigator, and he arrived Tuesday June 20.  I had tried to get the Imp inspected Monday, but the back-up lights are mysteriously inoperative (they worked yesterday!).  Is this an omen, or just a sign that there’s No Going Back?!  The brake booster is hissing, too – a major vacuum leak during brake use – can we live with it?  Can it be swapped out in time?  I posted my first plea for help to our Imperial club online mailing list:

"HEEELLLPPP!  It's two days before we leave on the Great Race and the '61 failed inspection - no back-up lights, AND, the brakes are making a vacuum-leaking hiss when the pedal is pressed unless I really press down. Does anyone know where the back-up switch is and how it works or fails? Can I trust the booster with a vacuum leak like this or must I pull it out and try a fast swap? near panic. jc"

Dave, Ethan, and I work feverishly through Tuesday night and Wednesday, finding and resolving these bugs.  We’re legal Wednesday afternoon.  Packed that night, and off to Philadelphia Thursday morning.  We have a beautiful, but untested and unfamiliar car, but psychologically, we’re ready!

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