Ferrari Club of America - Southwest Region

Oldtimer's Corner - Stupid Car Tricks

By: Ed Niles

Life is a sexually transmitted, terminal condition. OK, but why hasten the process?

Like the time I rolled a car over. 360 degrees over. At 25 MPH. In a Gymkhana. Thank you, oh safety belt God!

Or the time I ran a Ferrari into the wall at the Virginia City Hillclimb. In one of those slow-motion moments I made the entirely rational decision that it was better to run into the wall than to fall off the side of the cliff, down into automotive Hell!

Then there was the time that I flipped a borrowed Ferrari upside down and end-over-end into a ditch in rural France. (That's twice, oh Lord of the safety belts!) All I got out of that one was a little bump on the noggin. Car owner Jess Pourret (God bless him) insisted on having me thoroughly examined by a neurologist (or was it a psychiatrist?). Not only that, he allowed me to pay for the car in easy monthly installments!

Too bad there isn't a Hall of Fame for dumb car tricks. Just think, I could have been Joe Di Maggio! On a lighter note, I have pulled some tricks which seriously shortened the life expectancy of some of my cars, if not my own. Early in my hot-rodding career, for instance, I decided to rinse off some of the accumulated filth on my engine with gasoline and a stiff brush. I poured some gasoline into a coffee can, and then set the can on the nearest flat surface. You guessed it -- the battery. The battery shorted through the can, causing the entire can and its contents to burst into flames! Not to forget the car itself.

I seem to have had a great deal of difficulties with batteries. In an earlier car, a '34 Ford, I once attempted to pull the battery out of its resting place beneath the floor boards by grasping both posts with pliers. I didn't think six volts could cause any harm. Unfortunately, the handle on one of the pliers touched the ring on my finger, and before I knew it, the ring was red hot. Then to compound matters, my finger immediately swelled up to the size of a bratwurst, making it impossible to remove the red-hot ring. Well, maybe it wasn't life-threatening, but it certainly was finger threatening for a few minutes, before somebody came with the giant nippers to cut my ring off!

If you have ever taken a good look at the engine of a pre-1960 Ferrari, you will have observed that there are little rectangular pans under each carburetor, with tubes attached leading to the back of the engine. The idea is that if the float should stick on one of the carburetors, the overflowing gasoline will at least be directed back toward the clutch housing, and then to the ground. Uncle Enzo had a reason for installing these devices; the spark-plugs are in close proximity to the carburetors. We call these early engines "inside plug engines", don't we? You guess it; one of my friends saw no reason for the little pans and removed them. With predictable results. One of his carburetors overflowed, the engine caught on fire, and before he could do anything about it, the entire car was consumed in flames!

Not nearly so dramatic, but ultimately pretty destructive, was a trick we used to use. Those of us who were involved with the early Ferraris noticed that there would be excessive exhaust smoke when the valve guides experienced a little wear. It became difficult to sell these cars for all their smoke. Someone discovered that a racing fuel supplier in Glendale also had castor bean oil for use in Ferrari engines. It was sold because of its allegedly superior lubricating qualities, but we had another reason for buying it. It didn't burn, and thus didn't smoke. It was an instant cure, we thought, for the dreaded smoking Ferrari engine. And it smelled neat. Sort of like being at a race meet. What we didn't understand was that the bean oil turned to varnish inside the engine, not to be removed short of dynamite. I have since talked to several mechanics who attempted to rebuild an engine that had had c

For a complete look at Sempre Ferrari, you may want to check out the rest of the articles from Volume 2, Issue 6 - July 1995