I did very little maintenance on the car other than replacing the batteries on the portable radio [the stock AM radio for the entire trip - no way!], checking that I had extra oil and a coffee mug. I did think this through and decided to make certain I had spares of the sort that I could not find at an auto parts story in a hurry: fan belt, fuel pump, oil cooler and alternator. All are unique to the Corvair and while available through a specialists like Clark's Corvairs, I didn't have the extra time to wait for an overnight delivery.
Despite the near-record amounts of snow last winter the roads were dry and I sailed along rather comfortably until I turned off onto the Merritt Parkway in central Connecticut. I noticed quite a number of blown down trees along the side of the road and saw evidence of crews at work. So I didn't think that the odor of something burning was anything but men at work - wrong! I rolled down the driver's window to figure out the source of the smell and realized that nothing changed. In fact, the smell came from inside the car, as did the traces of white smoke.
I pulled over onto a grassy verge and turned off the motor. Upon opening the trunk I watched some smoke billow out and smelled burning rubber. At least the engine wasn't covered in oil! I started up the car again and then returned to the rear to watch the carnage. What I found was the smell was the fan belt melting; I could see the smoke rising from above the alternator.
Removing the belt I noticed it was warm and gummy. To my delight, the fan appeared to turn without bad noises, as did the idler pulley, but the alternator made a raspy sound as I spun the pulley. Could that cause all this fright?
What to do? Well I had tools and a spare alternator, and while it was chilly outside, it wasn't raining and it was still mid-afternoon. I called Clark's on the cellphone to find out where Chevrolet had hidden the alternator bolts [they were hidden from view underneath] and figured it was worth a try. That's when a Good Samaritan named Greg pulled over in his minivan to see if he could help. Well, actually, he couldn't as he didn't work on cars himself "but I liked watching my grandfather work on them."
So I got out the socket set, the replacement alternator, the spare fan belt and the Never Seize. Within 45 minutes I'd swapped everything out. I held my breath while I restarted the car. There were no untoward noises, no smoke, no odors. I drove off and an hour later arrived at the home of summer friends here on the island.
The Auto Show experience was, as always, amazing. Land Rover pulled out all the stops to introduce the new Range Rover and I found myself at their "private" party for 600 + people.
The drive home to Maine really showed off the Corvair's capabilities. It wasn't long into the trip north that it began to rain - hard -and then sleet and/or snow. In fact, the miserable driving conditions continued through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and into Maine. Every truck that passed me threw off sheets of water that buried the car. Yes, it leaked under the dashboard and onto my feet, but the car never lost its composure at 65-70 mph, barely wavered as the extreme crosswinds slammed against its side, and it still returned 25 mpg on the trip.
Fair dinkums' to mention the breakdown, as Connecticut friends were astounded that I carried a spare alternator, but really, if you're using your classic car on a trip set to a schedule, you should carry parts like this with you.