I knew what I wanted, and I also knew what I could afford.
Between the two constraints, I didn't have a lot of cars to choose
from. I wanted a car that would be fun to drive, and up to the
occasional autocross, "just for fun." I was influenced by the
cars I had known in the past, my father's MG Midget and a buddy's Fiat
X1/9. But as I started looking at cars on the internet, I came
across the Triumph Spitfire. I had seen the before, and always
liked the styling, so I added them to the list of cars to look out
for. During the process, a friend told me about a Midget for sale
locally. I went and looked at the car, and while it was a good
car, in great shape, I decided that the Midget was not the car for
me. They are very small, and none too comfortable. While
basically the same size as the Spitfire, the cockpit of the Midget just
didn't fit me. Not long after, I found a Spit advertised a couple
hours away. As it so happens, the car was in Peoria, and we were
going to drive through on the way to my Parents home for Thanksgiving
in a couple weeks. So I made arrangements to see that car.
It was a decent car, but it had clearly had a hard life. The car
had extensive modifications for racing, and was not running especially
well. So we passed on that car too. In the mean time, I had
been discussing cars with the local import car shop, and they were
giving me all manner of advice. Most of it involved buying an
Alfa, as that is their specialty.
Then I found Murphy. I saw the car advertised on Cars.com, and
exchanged a few emails with the owner. He didn't know much about
his car, but put me in contact with his mechanic. From what I
could tell on the phone the car sounded like it was in good shape and
at a reasonable price. It had a Weber DGV carb conversion, a
factory hard top, a new convertible top, and very little rust.
The transmission shifts good, and doesn't slip out of any gear.
All of the lights and electrical work. New exhaust. Good
A picture of Murphy supplied by the DPO
before we went to look at
Click the picture above for a larger image (1024x768,
So my wife and I drove from Cedar Rapids, Iowa over to Davenport on a
Saturday morning to look at the car. Now when I left Cedar
Rapids, which is about 100 miles away, the forecast was for clear and
cold, no precipitation. When we got to Davenport, we stopped for
a quick bite of lunch, and that's when it started snowing.
Hard. We went over to the owners office and looked at the
car. It was pretty much as described, with no major flaws.
I drove the car a bit, but didn't go far or fast for two reasons.
One it was SNOWING, and two, the owner had the hard top on the car, and
it was not properly installed. Mainly because he didn't know how
to secure the front attachment points, and was missing the hardware for
the tie bars as well as the front attachments. The car drove
fine, and I didn't detect any mechanical difficulty on this quick trip,
so we went inside to talk about the price.
Murphy on the day we went to look at
The crazy DPO
brought her out in the snow.
Click the pictures above for a larger image (1024x768,
I know the owner was in bit of a rush to sell the car, as he had
already moved from is advertised price while we were exchanging
email. But I was not prepared for what came next. We talked
about the condition of the car and so forth, then he quoted me the
price that he mentioned in his email. I told him that I had one
more car that I wanted to look at, and would have to give it some
thought. Like any good car seller, he asked me to make him an
offer to buy the car then and there. I shot him a price, about
$500 less than he was asking, but still a fair deal. He then
offered to sell me the car for $100 less than I had offered him.
Now at this point, red lights came on in my head, and a big warning
sign popped up in front of my eyes. But the deal was too good to
pass up, so I agreed to buy the car.
We did a bill of sale on the car, and made arrangements for me to
return Monday and pick up the car. Then My wife and I got back on
the road, and headed back towards Cedar Rapids. Did I mention
that it was snowing? Still not too bad, but the road was getting
a bit slick. We did fine, traveling along about 70 mph on decent
roads, until we got about 20 miles east of Iowa City, or about 50 miles
from Cedar Rapids. Then traffic was slowed to a crawl. We
soon found out why as we began passing slide-offs and wrecks.
Probably a dozen or more in the next 20 miles or so. And the road
just wasn't that slick! I can only assume that there were some
drivers out there doing unbelievably stupid things to cause all
this. So when we finally got home, it was about 4:30 Saturday
I started out by trying to find a trailer to retrieve the Spit. I
had no intention of trying to drive an unknown car over 100 miles in
the winter. As it turned out, this was a very fortuitous
decision. Actually finding a trailer was a different story.
I started by calling a couple local rental outfits, but they either
didn't have a trailer, wouldn't rent one locally or required that I
pull it with their truck. Since I intended to rent the trailer in
Cedar Rapids, pull it with my Suburban, and return it in Cedar Rapids,
none of these sounded like a winning deal. Finally I checked out
U-Haul’s web site. They quoted an Auto Transporter at $55 / day
plus tax, etc, etc, etc. So I reserved the trailer, and was told
that the one of the local U-Haul branches would call me back in 24
hours or less. This made me a little nervous, since if they
didn't call as promised, that would put me be less than 24 hours away
from needing the trailer. I couldn't find any other options, so I
went with the U-Haul.
Next, I turned my attention to my tow vehicle. I have a ’95
Suburban that I intended to use for this purpose. Only problem is
that the hitch on the truck is pretty rusty and I wasn't sure if it was
up to pulling over 3000 pounds of car and trailer. So I called a
local shop and made arrangements to have a new hitch put on Monday
morning, before I picked up the trailer.
I had other things that had be done Saturday evening, so I tackled the
next issue on Sunday. I also needed to update the wiring for the
trailer harness, and wanted to pick up a couple extra tie downs to
supplement the micky-mouse system that comes on the U-Haul
trailers. While I was at the parts farm store, picking up parts,
U-Haul called back with the trailer pick up info. Since I wasn't
there, my wife took the message. She got the location as the Sinclair
station on the corner of Wilson and 6th in Cedar Rapids. When I
returned from the parts store I started working on the truck. I
forgot to ask her if U-Haul had called, and she forgot to mention
it. Several hours later, it occurred to me that I had not heard
from U-Haul, and started to call them. I was just asking the
U-Haul Rep about my reservation when my wife told me about the earlier
message. I knew the corner she mentioned, but didn't recall a
Sinclair station there. This should have been a warning, but I
just figured that I had not been paying attention when I went by there.
At this point I was feeling pretty confident that all was well in
hand. I had my trailer lined up, the wiring on the truck was
done, and the hitch was to be installed the next morning. I
dropped the truck at the shop on Monday morning, and then went in to
work. About an hour later, things started going wrong. The
shop called and told me that they couldn't put a hitch on the truck
because of some modifications that had been made by DPO
. The guy
had removed the rear bumper and installed a “roll pan” panel.
Apparently on some trucks this is a minor mod, but on the Suburban, it
involves cutting of the end of the frame rails. This is where the
stock bumper mounts, and also where one of the hitch attachment points
is. The previous owner of the Suburban also took the Class III
hitch that was on the truck, and cut off the rear attachment points so
he could re-install it. So now I have a hitch that I don't know
if I can trust, and no way to mount a new hitch on my truck.
I called around, and none of the local shops could deal with the
problem on short notice. I also called around to try and find a
truck to rent, but to no avail. So my choice at this point
was pull it with the Suburban, or call off the pickup until another
day. Since I was going to get charged $50 if I canceled the
trailer reservation, I decided to risk it and try to pull the car with
the hitch I had.
It was noon by the time I stopped at the bank and drew a certified
check, so I stopped in at McDonald’s on Williams for lunch. Then
it was off to get the trailer and head out. I went to the
location that I was given for the U-Haul depot, and did not find
it. I did find a Sinclair station a couple blocks away, but they
did not have any U-Haul. I asked the guys there, and they sent me
to a trucking company further on down the road. The trucking
company also did not have U-Haul, but they told me where the U-Haul was
(only a few blocks further down the road). So I got there (not a
Sinclair station in sight) and was told that I was at the wrong U-Haul,
and that I needed the Sinclair station on Williams (not Wilson).
About two doors down the street from the McDonalds I had eaten lunch
at. So I finally found the proper U-Haul and got my trailer
hooked up. I was not expecting much from the trailer, having
dealt with U-Haul equipment before but to my surprise this one was in
decent condition. All of the lights worked, all of the tires were
in good shape, and loading ramps both deployed and stowed properly.
So I got hooked up and was going to head straight out of town, but I
discovered I had left my cell phone at home. I decided not to
attempt a trip like this without it, and that I would have to stop by
the house on the way out of town. This was an annoying side trip,
but I figured that at least I would get a chance to practice backing
the trailer into the driveway in the daylight. That went ok, and
I retrieved my cell phone. I called the owner of the Spitfire in
Davenport to let him know that I was on my way. At this point he
told me that at some point between Saturday, when I drove the car, and
then he had lost the key. The one and only key. He said
that he was going to try and locate it, and had a good idea where he
had lost it. Unfortunately it had snowed again since that time,
and he thought it might be covered with snow. I figured I might
as well head that direction anyway, and that even if he didn't find the
key we would probably be able to get the car up onto the trailer.
I left Cedar Rapids at about 2:00 pm. While the surge brakes on
the trailer were a little grabby, overall the trailer towed ok
empty. I decided to go easy, since there were so many things that
could go wrong still on this trip, and I kept my speed at 55 mph.
This made the trip a bit longer than usual, however it was an
uneventful trip. I stopped once at a rest area and verified that
the trailer and hitch were still looking good, and all was well.
I arrived at the owner's office, he still hadn't found the key, so we
were reduced to trying to move the car by hand. We did the
paperwork at his office, then drove over to his home, where the car was
stored. When we got there, the car had the factory hard top
installed, sort of. The owner did not know how to install it and
was, as it turns out, missing some pieces. His solution was only
to drive very slowly with the hard top on, but obviously that was not
an option for the return to Cedar Rapids. So we decided to put
the hard top in the back of the Suburban (it fit easily) and raise the
convertible top for the trip. I decided to leave the rag top down
to make things easier till we got the car loaded on the trailer.
The biggest issue in getting the car on the trailer was that the car
was in a garage which sat on and perpendicular to an alley, where the
trailer was. With no key, we were not able to release the
steering column lock. So we pushed the car straight back into the
alley and then turned it with a floor jack. Then we lined the
trailer up on the car and proceeded to start pushing her up the
ramps. We got the front end about 1/3 of the way up the ramps,
but couldn't get much further than that. And worse, the car
wasn't exactly centered and wanted to veer right a bit. So we
rolled her off and lined up again. This time she went on
straight, but again we only got the front wheels about 1/3 of the way
up the ramps. So we switched to the only tool we had, a
ratcheting tie down strap, to winch the car up the ramps. It was
slow going, but it worked. After about a half an hour of pulling
and pushing, we finally got the car on the trailer.
Next we went to work getting the top up. Not an entirely simple
task, as it had been down for quire some time. The DPO
had a new top
installed, and then never put it up. That coupled with the fact
that neither the previous owner nor myself really know how to put the
top up, made this task a little arduous. But, finally we got the
top up, and I got the car properly tied down to the trailer. I
used the provided U-Haul front wheel straps in addition to four heavy
duty ratcheting tie downs. I figured one part of this operation
needed to be robust. The pervious owner did give me a little cash
to make up for the hassle, and in case he didn't find the key.
That done and once satisfied that the car was secure, I hit the road.
Murphy on the U-Haul
Click the picture above for a larger image (1024x768,
I took it easy on the way home, and stopped about halfway back for
dinner. I arrived back in Cedar Rapids about 8:30 that night, and
unloaded the car into my garage. This was by far the easiest
portion of the entire operation. I was able to back up to the
garage, and roll the car right in. I was tired but feeling good,
as I had my new toy, and all I needed was a key. Or maybe a
new lock set. Either way, not a big deal, right.
Not quite. The next day, I was going over the paperwork, getting
ready to do the title transfer, when I discovered another
problem. The VIN number on the title did not match the VIN number
(Commission number actually) on the car. I did some calling
around and sent and e-mail to the previous owner. I eventually
got in touch with county treasurer where the previous owner had titled
the car. They were very helpful in looking up a photocopy of the
Illinois title that had been on the car when the previous owner bought
it. The error also existed on the Illinois title. So it is
possible that this problem has existed for some time. Next I
called the local county treasurer and they put me in touch with the
area DOT investigator. She took down my information, and agreed
to meet me at the house the next day to look at the car.
Friday, the DOT investigator came over to the house and looked at the
current title and the car. She verified that the Commission
numbers on the car matched, and that there was not another car titled
in Iowa under that number. Then she gave me a certificate, which
I took to the County Treasurer, to fix the VIN. The treasurer
fixed the problem and issued my new title, registration and
plates. So that was at least one problem solved. On the way
back to work, I dropped of the trunk cylinder lock with a local
locksmith, to see if they could make me a key. I had no idea if
any of the locks on the car were keyed alike, but the trunk lock was
the easiest to remove, so I started there.
The locksmith had the lock working the next day, so I stopped in to
pick it up. It only cost me $20, but if it solved the problem,
that would be a really cheap fix. When I got home, I tried the
other locks, and found that none were keyed the same. In fact, it
seemed that the doors didn't even have the same key profile as the
trunk and ignition. So that was that. I weighed the options
available to me, and decided to just go whole hog and order all new
parts. I checked on the stuff I wanted, and decided to order from
Victoria British. The prices for the locks were about the same a
Moss, and Victoria had several items that I needed that Moss did
not. So I sent my first $450 offering to the LBC
gods and hoped
that all would fit and function properly when it arrived. I
never did get the original key from the DPO
, but the new
lock sets were easy enough to install, and with that I was finally able
to start and drive the car!
Thus began my adventure. I had owned the car less than a week,
and had already made up my mind that she would be called Murphy.
Little did I know how appropoe that name would be. See the Projects and Maintenance
more of the joys of owning a LBC
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