1976: Seeing the West at covered wagon speed
Back in 1976, my wife and I took a road trip to Indiana to see my Grandma. I'm always wanting to try new roads -- nothing has changed there -- so after dropping off a sister-in-law with HER grandmother in Lubbock, Jannie and I headed on east through Texarkana and up through Arkansas and Kentucky to Attica, Indiana, where my grandparents lived.
As I got into the gentle ups and downs of the Arkansas hills, my Toyota (a '75 Corolla SR5) seemed to lose all it's "get up and go." It was normally a fairly sprightly vehicle, but it started acting like it was running on less than the sum of its cylinders. The more gas you'd give it, the less it wanted to run.
My Grandfather and I looked at all the normal stuff you'd think of when facing a problem like that -- and after fooling around with it for a day or two, it seemed to run a little better. So I struck out for home (Phoenix).
The problem hadn't gone away. It kept getting worse the farther west I got. Finally, in Oklahoma, it got so bad that anytime I put pressure on the throttle, the engine would choke. I was reduced to letting the car idle along -- maybe at a max of 20 mph when the road was flat and the wind was behind me. Oftentimes, the speed was much less than 20.
In those days, there were not many Toyota dealers anywhere except on the west coast (and maybe the eastern shore as well, I don't know). In the "heartland" there weren't any to speak of. I finally found a new (& inexperienced) Toyota dealer in Altus, OK, and crawled in there so they could have a look.
After "rebuilding" my carburetor (and rupturing the diaphragm in the high speed circuit of same), fooling with the timing, replacing the distributor, and spending the better part of two business days scratching their collective head, they gave up, and I crawled off across the western plains at about 15 mph. All they charged me for was the labor for the carburetor work.
After driving all night, at Clines Corners New Mexico, frustration peaked and I called my Dad in Phoenix, begging him to bring a tow rope and come get me. He said I should have it looked at one more time in Albuquerque before giving up. So, on Saturday morning, I limped into a Toyota dealer in Albuquerque. They let me sit all morning, then announced they were closing at noon since it was Saturday. They'd see me on Monday morning! I HAD to be at work on Monday AM. A mechanic had looked at my car, and in less than 5 minutes had determined the source of the trouble (he'd seen the problem before). But they wouldn't let him work overtime to fix it -- so he suggested another shop down the street that was open all day. They fixed the car and I was on the road in less than an hour.
The shop he sent me to was a Midas Muffler shop! The problem was the baffles inside the muffler had distenegrated, and were blocking the engine's ability to "breathe." Funny thing, my Dad had suggested three days before when I was in Altus, that if they ran out of things to check, they should look at the muffler. They dismissed his idea as far-fetched!
That's better than at Indy 500 speed!
The first year we were on the road, (1994), the Phoenix One's engine was plagued with an odd and an in-the-moment terrifying problem. With no warning at all, the engine would suddenly race (beyond 5000 rpm) with the resultant burst of speed and usually this happened on hairpin turns with radical drop-offs on the passenger side...
After one especially pulse-racing event, I limped the vehicle into the small town of Arco, Idaho a couple of hours before closing on a Friday. Despite a garage full of cars and trucks, the mechanics, Gene Davies & Delton Humphreys, dropped everything and began to attempt to diagnose this problem. Of course, everything acted just fine, until Delton had the inspiration to jump up and down on the bumper while the truck was idling. Good thing the vehicle was in park, with the brake set or Delton would have become a wall adornment... on the property next door. The Phoenix One attempted to reach a low orbit while roaring past 7000 rpms.
The culprit? A loose grounding wire on the electronic brain. Once a new grounding wire was installed, we never had that particular problem again!