“Uh oh,” I said to Mark as he was driving, “this road is getting thinner, not bigger.” As the organizer of an ambitious gravel-road adventure for classic cars, the last thing you want to be is lost. But lost I was…
The Rush to Gold Bridge (R2GB) is our annual event that mixes a love of classic cars with gravel roads, and tends to bring out the most adventurous of our classic car friends. Despite the name, we weren’t actually going to Gold Bridge BC. The event enjoyed an overnight stay in Gold Bridge on the first year, and the name sort of stuck. This year’s event is sponsored by Roue Watch, and I contemplated how many jokes there would be about checking the time, had I given away the two prize watches at the start! I had planned on the group exiting the first gravel section at about noon, more than enough time to get to Merritt for lunch time. As I checked my watch, again, and noticed the time was 1pm and we were certainly lost I feared this year’s event was quickly becoming a possible Rush to No Where!
We started out on Friday morning in Hope BC, from one of our favourite coffee shops, The Blue Moose. After a brief driver’s meeting, ten classic cars headed north on Highway one, bound for a gravel road just a touch past Boston Bar. Knowing that not every classic car owner is as excited for a gravel adventure as we are, the route book also offers a tarmac-only option which allows the group meet-up at various towns throughout the day. So it was with a fair bit of surprise to find that the whole group had turned off to venture up our first gravel option.
Leading the pack was an Austin Mini, with rally lights and roof rack it certainly looked the part. The dry-weather track tires, in soft compound no less, was an interesting choice. Our group included an Alfa Romeo Graduate, a Rover 3500s, a Saab 96 Rally Car, Mercedes 250, an Intermeccanica 356 replica, an MGB, TWO Lotus Elans, a Lancia Beta Montecarlo, and a Lotus Seven that looked strangely like a Land Rover (which had to be substituted due to some engine issues). Should a logging or hunting vehicle happen upon this group, they were sure to be very confused!
We began to climb almost immediately, finding the road to be a little rough in sections, but not too bad. Ten kilometres later, the assessment of just how rough seemed to depend on which car you rode up in. The Saab rally car, and the Rover, found the road to be like freshly laid pavement. The Elans and Intermeccanica had an opposite assessment! We drove past mountain creeks, through a massive washout (thankfully repaired) and regrouped at an unexpected junction. “The route book says we should go straight ahead”, commented a faithful entrant. “True,” replied another, “but the road name we’re supposed to follow is a left?” “Hey Dave,” they asked, “which way are we going?”
Uh, well, according to the map…this junction isn’t supposed to be here. We weren’t “lost”, in the respects that I had no idea where we were. We simply didn’t know which way to go to get where we wanted to be. That’s different, right?
We tried straight ahead, and quickly came upon a rough water crossing that the Elans definitely wouldn’t be able to cross. Tire marks, however, suggested that the Saab and Alfa Graduate (which had gone ahead) did make it across. After back tracking, we tried the left and soon Mark and I were leading along a road which was getting thinner, and less used, with each passing kilometre. My stress level, and fear of leading a group of classic car owners three-hours into a dead-end, were increasing with each passing corner…
Suddenly the road opened up, another junction (which shouldn’t be there) appeared, and the route was obviously correct. A right turn, and twenty-plus glorious switchbacks dropped us over 2,000 feet down to the highway. As we rolled out onto tarmac, the feeling of accomplishment and joy was shared by everyone in the group. We had done what shouldn’t be done, what some would say couldn’t be done (especially in an an Elan!), but we had made it…and all before lunch!
Well, if you’re in the habit of having lunch at 3pm that is. I suppose you could say our gravel pass took a little longer than planned! Pizza at the Spences Bridge Log Cabin Pub was just what the doctor ordered, however, and we ate as though we’d been lost in the forest for weeks.
We returned to the parking lot, discussed the afternoon route, and were about to fire up our cars when we noticed a slight problem with the Intermeccanica. Engine oil, generally speaking, does it’s best job when located inside the engine. In this particular case, however, the oil was making a fast escape to ensure no dust would ever rise from the parking lot. We were going to need some axle stands, and a clean-up crew on parking stall sixteen. With no axle stands to be found, we improvised and dragged over a pair of railway ties. The improvisation was just beginning!
The air-cooled beetle motor only has 2.5 litres of oil from the factory. Many enthusiasts bolt on an additional oil sump to increase the capacity, in this case an extra 3 litre sump on the bottom of the Intermeccania. 3 extra litres of oil, bouncing around for four hours on gravel, can be quite the force pulling down…and the cast aluminum pan simply couldn’t take the abuse. 4 mounting holes had cracked or failed. While I removed the broken pan, Mark and Robert got to work fabricating a new engine sump plate. Roofing flashing, emergency fiberglass, a series of washers, judicious use of engine goo, and about two hours later, the car was fixed with a clean bill of health! Not only would it not leak, but we increased the ground clearance by 3 inches!
While we fabricated and repaired, other cars enjoyed a billiard-table-smooth run on gravel from Coldwater through to Tulameen, followed by a twisty paved mountain drop into the town of Princeton. Our whole group reunited in Princeton, just in time for dinner, and the sharing of heroic stories that comes with each classic car adventure day. Our rally had been chock full of adventure so far, and it was only the end of day one!