My story begins on Christmas break during the late 1980’s when I was driving my 1961 356 B Super Coupe back to Iowa from Memphis. I had thoroughly enjoyed my brief escape from the Midwest’s winter cold and snow for the warmer temperatures and good friends in the River City. The weather forecast for the drive back to the Quad Cities was for freezing temperatures with the possibility of scattered snow showers.
I was pleased at how well the car was running and what a pleasure it was to have my Super back on the road again. While in graduate school I did not need to drive to get around and thought it best to keep my car garaged, avoiding those salt laden winter Iowa roads. My trip was kind of spur of on the moment as I had a few days off and was enticed to head south by several friends.
Driving north out of Memphis was uneventful as the weather was good and holiday traffic was surprisingly sparse. About one half hour south of St. Louis my blissful motoring tranquility was suddenly and shockingly interrupted by the immediate silence of what had been the sweet sound of my coupe’s well-tuned motor. Safely on the side of the freeway I set about to diagnose my car’s inability to start and run again. I did not suspect any catastrophic type of failure as the engine just quit without any unpleasant noises and there were no obvious signs of engine damage.
Watching the accelerator pumps squirt gas in both carburetors confirmed fuel flow and there was plenty of gas in the tank. My attention now was focused upon some sort of ignition problem. Removing the distributor cap showed good spark at the points when hand cranking the engine, however there was no spark at a removed and grounded spark plug. The distributor cap looked good. It was hard to imagine all four spark plug wires and their spark plug connectors failing at the same time so it was my conclusion that for some reason the distributor rotor must be at fault. No problem as I always carried spare ignition and carburetor parts with me. Except this time I did not have my spare parts box with me as for some reason I had taken it out of the car before storing the car for the winter.
After expressing several chosen words to myself I began contemplating my situation. There I am on the side of a freeway maybe 30 miles out of St. Louis in the winter with several hours of daylight left. Back then cell phones were not an option and the prospects of catching a ride along a major freeway seemed slim at best. About the time the reality of my situation set in an Illinois State Patrol officer pulled up behind me. After explaining my situation to him he said there was a service station a few miles up the road and he could drop me off there. He really liked my car and by the time we arrived at the service station he had a good understanding of Porsches, especially the 356.
Once at the service station I was greeted by a large burly young fellow whose name I do not recall but went by the nickname Bubba. No wanting to waste any time I again explained my situation and then showed him my distributor rotor which I said needed replacement and if there was any possibility of locating one before evening. Bubba inspected my rotor for a few moments, and looking at me with suspicion answered that there was nothing wrong with my rotor, there were no car parts shops open and he didn’t work on “them foreign cars”.
I detailed my diagnostic testing procedures to Bubba and after failing an ohm meter continuity check I suggested soldering some wire across the resistor portion of the rotor. By now Bubba was slowly warming up to this young know-it-all with a foreign car. Neither he or I were convinced that my repair option would work, however it was the best plan available as I was not interested in spending the night there. Once the jumper wires were soldered Bubba and I hopped into his truck headed back to rescue my car. After installing the rotor and with as much positive mojo I could project I twisted the key to fire up the engine, without success. Bubba suggested returning to his station, request a tow truck and call it a day. Not ready to give up I indicated that maybe the soldered wires were not sufficient and that maybe we could adapt some sort of other metal part to fix the rotor. Once back at the service station I set about looking for a suitable piece to repair my rotor. In the back of the garage there was a small cabinet on the wall that had the appearance of being there for many years. Inside this cabinet were various small boxes containing ignition parts. To my total surprise I opened one small box and discovered a rotor which had a remarkably similar appearance compared to mine. To Bubba’s and my utter amazement the new rotor appeared to be an exact match to the one out of my car. I could not believe my luck, that out in the middle of nowhere there was a precise replacement part for my almost 30 year old car. Shocked, I inspected the new rotor’s box for any information as to why this part would fit my Porsche. The listed applications listed on the box indicated this was a replacement rotor for several models of Allis Chalmers tractors. By now Bubba and I were good buddies and we toasted to my good fortune with a cold beer. It was now dark and snow flakes began falling as we returned to my car. The new rotor fit perfectly and the sound of my coupe’s engine again running was sweet music to my ears. I thanked Bubba for all his help and gave him some extra cash as a token of my appreciation.
Once again on the road heading north I wondered if this tractor rotor would get me back to Iowa. As the miles and hours went by this concern was left behind. My Super Coupe performed flawlessly for the rest of the trip and I returned the car safe and sound to its garage for the rest of the winter.
I suppose a moral to this story might be that back in the old days things were much simpler. Many years later I still find it interesting and amazing that two totally unrelated vehicles shared such a seemingly vehicle specific part.
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