*This post is not about Texas. And we were not murdered in our beds.
The oldest church in America, the San Miguel Chapel dating back to the early 1600s, is in Santa Fe – things you learn poking around places as a tourist. After exploring the old town and a Mexican breakfast at the Palacio Café, we returned to the car, overhearing people walking past commenting on the smell of gasoline. Calling long distance to the guys at Tech 9 in Liverpool, they quizzed me about leaks in the suspect areas – I hadn’t been able to find any and assured them it was dry so we moved on to the possibility of the charcoal filter and a couple of other things. I then gave the Porsche Centre in Palm Springs a call, made an appointment a couple of days after we were due to arrive and asked for them to order parts in.
Back at the motel I did a Google search on the issue, finding a Rennlist thread relating to overfilling the tank, something I had done a couple of days ago, and how it can cause the cabin to reek of fuel. Armed with a mini tool kit I set about taking the expansion tank off, checking all the hoses underneath it, and flushing the overflow pipe with the El Rey’s fancy shampoo ($28 if you take it home apparently). It seemed to have worked until we hit the main road.
A woman driving a beat up but oh-so-cool Pontiac pulled up alongside and told us she could smell gasoline coming from us two cars back. The issue was worsening, fast. Houston, we have a problem.
The cabin was now so thick with the rich smell of fuel our eyes were itching, and the temperature outside rising by the minute heating up our poorly air conditioned car. The two of us were concerned, today was a much shorter day than the ones behind us at a little over 400 miles and just under seven hours but still, we were in danger from fumes. Worse, a potential fireball if the fuel is leaking and ignites.
Calling ahead to the Porsche dealership in Albuquerque I explained the situation, asking if they could make some room in the workshop, and that we’d be there within the hour. An eager team greeted us as we pulled up, quickly diagnosing an injector pouring fuel into the engine bay. We were not talking a drip, this was a full-on spout of flammable liquid. When I checked the engine earlier that morning it was off, a simple mistake. The sheer heat must have dried the fuel puddle before I was able to see it, making me believe the issue lay elsewhere. At least the fault was identified now before the inevitable barbecue happened.
The issue now was parts. We didn’t need much but spares for a 911 that went out of production more than 20 years ago are not found sitting around in a dealership selling 2019 992s and Macans. The cut off for a next day order had passed and most of what we needed was in Atlanta, Georgia. We were looking at a delay running into days, possibly a week. With our accommodation pre-booked, and in many cases paid for up front, it was a potentially a major, and expensive set back.
Working with the one of the mechanics, we bounced around some ideas. I wanted to get this car back on the road and over to Palm Springs where I knew we’d have the time to fix it while we sat by a pool enjoying eight scheduled days there.
“Turn off the injector causing the problem, we will run on five…”
It may be a crude solution but I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work, The mechanic’s opinion on this madcap idea was we’d be seriously down on power over some quite hilly geography. My view was the original Fiat 500 (also air cooled) had just two cylinders and less than 25 bhp. People crossed the Italian Alps in them. The 993 has six cylinders and 325bhp – we’d be fine. Together, we set about seeing if we could cut the flow to the leaking injector. Mike, the mechanic, started lifting the injector seat and turning it slightly, whilst I was looking with a torch and reporting what I could see. Trying again, and again, it was possible to find a position where the pour became a slight drip. Good enough, and the car still had all six cylinders firing. When I called Tech 9 earlier in the day, the first question asked was “did you get a fire extinguisher as I told you two years ago?”. So, armed with a list of parts for Palm Springs to order in advance, we made a stop off at Lowe’s to buy fire extinguishers, and we were back on our way. If you are reading this Phil I now have two fire extinguishers, and have even done a fire drill!
We needed luck now. I hoped we would not have to use the AAA Platinum membership bought just before leaving London, but having it gave some comfort.
Albuquerque, New Mexico to Winslow, Arizona
The next two days were supposed to take in parts of the original Route 66 and the Petrified Forest. Our agenda was different now – nurse the car to our hotel in Arizona, then get to Palm Springs in Califorina the following day. Setting off from Albuquerque we headed gently for the I-40, a main interstate road which replaced chunks of the original Route 66 now lost forever. Coming out of the city it’s a motorway but as you get further away it becomes a dual carriageway. Not what we had in mind but neither was a car leaking fuel in the engine bay, so with our speed low and gear changes smooth we hoped for the best. We were still two days from California. As the miles piled on, a cautious 55mph became 65mph, and then 75mph.
We couldn’t smell fuel so confidence in the MacGyver repairs grew, so much that we chose to add the Petrified Forest back to the route. Unfortunately, similar to the race we faced approaching the Badlands in South Dakota, the day was likely to disappear before we got where we wanted to be, and we had to make up lost time. Looking out at the available light we had maybe an hour. Being realistic we were further away than an hour. Without stopping for gas, a wee, or a wrong turn we might ‘just’ do it.
Petrified Forest, Arizona
Pulling into the national park visitor centre car park bang on 7:30pm, the light was perfect and entering that stage just before dusk. Time for a wee and then into the forest 10 minutes later. Approaching a barrier stopping all traffic in and out where you pay a fee, we were told the park was now closed. We’d missed it. We should have arrived half an hour earlier, maybe if we’d found a solution quicker in Albuquerque? Or not been as nervous about the make shift repair as we cruised at low speeds earlier in the day, we’d have made it in time?
I talked to the woman who was packing up for the day in the security booth and explained our predicament. Very firmly she agreed we could travel part way through, at least enough to see the Painted Desert and to return. Any further and the Park Rangers would pick us up. With a point of her finger and a stare that said ‘don’t mess with me’ she opened the barrier. Exclusive access! The place was empty as we stood out there overlooking the Painted Desert. And our return through the forest was on what was effectively road closed to all traffic. So lucky.
On the old Route 66 (or Historic Route 66 as it is known) sits a town called Holbrook, and with it an interesting piece of Americana, the Wigwam Motel. It is one of two survivors of a little chain once thriving in the 1950s, where guests sleep in concrete wigwams complete with showers and tellies.
The owners have parked up old cars from the golden era of America’s Mother Road outside each wigwam giving incentive for people passing through to stop and look around. We stopped, it is cool, but having looked it up online before leaving the UK I’d already booked somewhere else with a few more amenities. Not that this place was missing out on business – it’s busy.
We returned to the I-40 where it swallows the old Route 66 between Holbrook and Winslow, not that it mattered as it was dark. The good thing about the interstate roads is they have lots of fast food, we stopped at a Taco Bell and feasted on cheap Mexican food given how unlikely we’d be to find anywhere open by the time we arrived.
Winslow is an old railroad town, and a popular stop along Route 66. And our home for the night. We were late, but we had made it.
La Posada Hotel
When organising this trip, we could have given ourselves some freedom by finding places to stay as we arrived in places along the way, today being an example of why that could have been a good idea. The risk is you have nowhere decent to stay and spend hours looking when you reach a destination. Given how late we have been arriving we still think we made the right call. Or at least so long as the car still runs we have made the right call.
There are not a lot of options in some of the places we were over-nighting. La Posada looked OK to me, but it wasn’t somewhere I was all that excited about staying. How wrong could I be! There can’t be many places left on the planet that truly let you step back in time like you do here. One of those buildings you wish could talk. A labyrinth of communal rooms to hang out in, play games, hide, look at art, be silly and get lost in. AmTrack trains still pull up in the garden for people to get on and off.
Co-owner Tina Mion has her contemporary art of US presidents and dead celebrities scattered throughout – it fits perfectly. One is titled: ‘A new years party in purgatory for suicides in which Liberace makes an appearance down from Heaven just for the hell of it’. I’d love to see Tina’s old school reports from her art teacher!
Sitting in the Turquoise Room at the old copper bar where Albert Einstein, President Roosevelt and John Wayne once drank, we sipped cocktails toasting our luck. What a place. What a day. One I will never forget.