Sarah’s Vineyard Invitational (August 21, 2010)

Fast forward to 2010. What happened in 2009, you might ask? Well, the Met just wasn’t ready for any long drives. Craig was my Met wizard and swapped out the drum brakes for disk brakes, which has made a world of difference in the way the car stopped but more importantly, the confidence I felt when driving it. Only after the new brakes were installed did I realize that I used to drive very tensely, with every part of my body on high alert. With the new brakes, I felt like I didn’t need to worry.

Although the brakes were done by mid-August, Craig still had other things he wanted to do on the Met, so we made the decision to skip the California Melee. We did, however, decide that the 2009 Pullover Rally would be a good drive for the Met. Luck, however, did not hold out and something happened to the engine on the way to the morning meeting place, so it had to be towed home. More time in the garage and even a visit back to Harold, the restorer, and then Craig spent the spring of 2010 getting the car in tip top shape. I drove it to work a few times, to shake out some of the kinks, and our first real drive on twisties was in late August, at the Sarah’s Vineyard Invitational, a drive put together by Michael Ashby.

I was a little apprehensive, only because I hadn’t really driven the car in a long while on twisties, just to work and back, which is all freeway driving. Twisties require a different skill set and a different thought process, at least for a newbie like me. I mean, yeah, I had finished the Pullover Rally nearly 2 years ago, but my memory for driving the twisties was gone, only the loss of brakes remaining starkly present in my head. But I was really looking forward to the drive, because it would be a great practice run before the 2010 California Melee.

We met the group up at Alice’s on Highway 84. It was a lovely summer day, cool and clear, which is great weather for a drive. After getting our map, we took off. The route was really beautiful, winding its way through the Santa Cruz mountains, going through roads with deep green trees and small (or small-ish) towns. All the cars get appropriately ogled, but of course, Aqua Met gets the most looks (in my humble opinion!). It is really neat to see a bunch of old cars go roaring along, though. If I were the folks in the road, I’d stare, too!

The “adventure” part of the day happened while on a twisty road. Craig, as navigator and resident mechanic, was coaching me the best way to drive. The big thing for me is to keep my momentum as I go through the curves while driving uphill. This is tough for me, because I have a tendency to take my foot off the gas as I coast through the curve. In a modern car, that’s OK because you have the “oomph” in the engine to gather speed again as you continue up the hill. Not so much in a 50-year old car and a non-speedy one at that. We ended up driving up rather a steep hill and I let off the gas and then I couldn’t gain any speed back. I kept going slower and slower and finally, I had no power left and we just … stopped. The engine killed. *Sigh* Talk about feeling like a really crappy driver! See, in an old car like the Met, you don’t always have synchronized gears, meaning that downshifting (to get more power) can be difficult. My 2nd and 3rd gear are synchronized, but not the 1st, so I can’t downshift into first unless I’m at a complete stop.

So at this point, I’m stopped and I’m trying to start the car again. Of course, I’m extremely nervous, because Craig is RIGHT THERE as I’m trying to resolve things and I “conveniently” flood the engine. AARRGGHH!! Rather than have me fight my way through this (while sitting in the middle of the road) we switch as passenger/driver and Craig gets the car started and we start s-l-o-w-l-y chugging up the hill … in first gear. The car barely makes it, the hill is so steep. Actually, it’s deceptively steep — it doesn’t look bad at all. Most cars wouldn’t be affected by the steepness, but with all the factors of the Met (older, not very powerful engine, unsynchronized 1st gear and most of all, not a real experienced driver!), the drive was very difficult.

That was the only less-than-stellar part of the day, though. We continued our drive, meandering southwards toward Gilroy, ending at Sarah’s Vineyard. Now that was a fun way to enter a winery! As we drove up, we started looking for a parking space in the regular parking lot. A man stopped us and said “Um … why don’t you park in front of the winery?” We looked and WOW! It was a prime spot, making for a gorgeous view! Here’s a snapshot:

We spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the cool summer sun, drinking delicious wine, eating fresh-from-the-outdoor-pizza-oven pizza and chatting with good friends. The vineyard has a bocce ball court and a gorgeous view over the beautiful flowers and shrubs at the nursery next door. It really was one of the most perfect days we experienced this summer!

This was a great shake-down for me and the Met. I learned more about how the car handled, a LOT about keeping up momentum (!) and just generally driving the twisties. Now I just had to remember everything before the Big Event of 2010. More on that in the next post.


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