Tuesday, July 23, 2013

GPNW MicroCar Extravaganza, Part III

We soon came to the small town of Carlton and stopped for lunch.  This was a choose-your-own-adventure affair... there were a half dozen food options on the tiny main street. Dave, Kris and I chose a food cart right by where we parked - great food but we were totally on our own - everyone else had gone for a 'real' restaurant.   Kris called her folks who happened to be close by.  They drove over and eyeballed the street-full of micro machinery while giving Dave a hard time just like any daughter's Dad should.

I chatted with the photographer who had taken the aerial shot at the heliport - she turned out to be a Subaru fanatic- she and her husband have five of them (including the spotless red 360 van on the tour), they race Subarus, and both work for Subaru!  Not a bad deal if you can make it work!  Her van was clean and very original except for one repaint.  She told me that all Subaru 360 vans originally came in white, something I did not know.
After lunch we prepared for the drive back to McMenamin's and suffered our first casualty of the day: Mark's Honda 600 rat lost the brakes just as it pulled up behind the Messerschmitt.  Lucky for all, the driver (a friend of Mark's) reacted quickly and managed to avoid contact - Mark would have been wearing that Messerschmitt for life!  The catch-truck loaded the Honda and we were on our way.
We zipped out onto the highway, this time in a Lloyd sedan that had been redone as a taxi - the owner really liked yellow!   The Lloyd cruised along comfortably, not showing any signs of strain despite three passengers - I know my Crosley is noticeably slower for each passenger on board.

After a while it became clear that we were lost... not just the Lloyd, the whole group.  A few cars had peeled off after lunch and a few more cars had drifted away during the ride, and now there were less than a dozen cars cruising... none of us exactly sure where we were since Mark had gotten separated from the group.  We were behind the 250 cc Goggomobil sedan - it was really struggling to keep up on the hills and I think we must have missed a turn that the lead cars had taken.
We pulled over to regroup and I went over to the owners of the Multipla - they had mentioned that they lived in Forest Grove, so I knew they'd be able to find their way back.  They agreed to lead the contingent home and I took advantage of the stop to ask if I could ride in their car.  They told me to hop in.
The Fiat Multipla is probably the only car I could imagine selling a Crosley for.  I've loved Fiat 600s since seeing home movie footage of the one my Dad had back in the early sixties - if Fiats hadn't been so hard to find parts for pack in the nineties this blog might well have been called "Fiatkook."  I loved 600s, but I flipped for Multiplas when I ran across a picture of one 20 or so years ago - I'd cut my teeth on VW busses, and the Multipla was like a half-sized bus, only cooler.  I wanted one in the worst way, but when the only one I'd ever heard of for sale popped up in the local paper, my pal Chris Sanchez snapped it up instantly. It had some problems, but it was still one of the coolest cars I'd ever seen and I was terribly jealous.
Cut to 1997, when I'd just discovered Crosleys and had been looking all over California for one.  After nearly a year of searching I'd found a derelict Super Sports right in Sacramento - the price was in my ballpark and I was saving up to close the deal.  Right then is when Chris called to let me know that he'd decided to sell his Multipla - running and driving - for $1250, $250 less than I was about to pay for a basket case project Crosley.  I went over to test drive it.

Chris had already done a bunch of work and it was running pretty well. There was some stuff that still needed to be done, but it was a serviceable driver, and by far the neatest car I'd ever driven.  To say I was torn is to way understate the situation - I was in knots.  In the end, I said no.  Parts availability was one of the things that had made the Crosley so appealing - whatever I bought was planned to be my daily driver at that point - and parts availability for Fiat Multiplas in 1997 was basically zero.  So, I said no, Chris sold the car to Tony Grillo (who totally restored it and still has it) and I haven't stopped kicking myself ever since.  The Fiat Multipla - my unrequited love.
So, here I was, in a Multipla for the first time in 16 years.  This thing was perfect, absolutely brand new in every way... the owners had finished the car the day before the meet and it had less than 50 miles on it when I sat down in the middle row seat - this was the 6 seater with the rear seats that fold flat into the floor.  The engine sounded great and hadn't seeped a drop of oil so far - the owner kept checking the engine compartment at every stop.  He even had a temp gun for checking the block and exhaust - everything was perfect.  Except for one missing hubcap.

He'd lost a cap just as we'd started the tour - it had zinged off as we rounded a corner and rolled into the bramble-filled ditch on the side of the road.  He'd pulled over and made a quick look at the time but hadn't found anything so we stopped again on the way back for a more thorough search.  The whole gaggle of cars pulled off, making for quite a sight for passing cars.  The roadbed was raised about 10 feet above the ground level and the slope was full of bushes, small trees and poison oak.  We all started digging into the bush and after ten minutes Tony emerged, hubcap in hand.  "I figured it'd be in the darkest, deepest spot, so I started looking there and there it was!" Amazingly, the hubcap looked brand new, with no rash from bouncing down the road.
The rest of the trip back to McMenamin's was anticlimactic.  We cruised comfortably toward Forest Grove, as oncoming traffic ogled our fleet of brightly-hued oddities.  The best moment was watching the Goggomobil struggle to overtake a cyclist on a long straight - I don't think they'd have ever passed him if they hadn't come to a hill. We cheered when they finally left him behind in a cloud of exhaust.
We'd just gotten back to the hotel when Mark suggested a run for ice cream - and who can say no to ice cream on a balmy summer afternoon?  A small group headed out - I had cadged a ride in a Subaru 360 truck which was a neat little cruiser.  As luck would have it, Rex, the owner, was restoring a Crosley station wagon, so I finally had at least a little bit of Crosley-interaction.  Unfortunately I realized that I had forgotten to bring some copies of the Tin Block Times for any Crosley nuts I might meet.  I promised to help him try to find some of the bits he was missing for his restoration.
We chilled at the ice cream place, swapping stories about absurdly tiny cars and the interesting folks you meet driving them.  After about an hour we headed back to McMenamin's to put the cap on a very full day....

to be continued

Back to Part II

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