The knocking on the door sounded far
away, coming from some remote corner of a dream. Gus Wilson rolled over and
buried his head in the pillow, but the knocks came again, insistent and
louder. Gus struggled up to a sitting position and squinted at the old alarm
clock by his bed. It was seven a.m. and Sunday.
"Come back this afternoon!" he called out.
"It's urgent." Gus groaned. "Okay, okay. Just a second."
He muttered his way into a beat-up bathrobe, slid his feet into slippers
and scuffed to the door. A big man with a fiery red mustache stood in the
"I say, I'm terribly sorry to disturb you at this beastly hour, Mr.
Wilson, but I'm in a bit of a fix!"
Gus blinked, and wondered foggily what an Englishman was doing at his
"C'mon in." He motioned to a chair and plugged in the hot plate.
"Thank you, no. C.T.V. Pinkerton is my name. Everyone I spoke to in town
recommended your work. You see, the sports-car races up at Wicker Creek Road
start in just two hours, and my MG is acting strangely. Mr. Wilson, money is
no consideration. I'll pay whatever you ask. I just jolly well don't want to
miss that race!"
Gus was feeling a little better as he sipped a cup of coffee. "Well, let
me get my clothes on and we'll have a look. What time did you say the race
"The race itself begins at 10. But qualifying trials start at nine, and
they're part of the entry requirements." Not quite two hours, and Wicker
Creek Road was 15 miles north of town. Gus dressed hurriedly and they went
The brilliant red MG squatted low at the curb. It was an older model, a
TC, and its jaunty length of hood, spoke wheels and continental flavor were
something to admire. Gus lifted one side of the hood.
"What seems to be wrong, Mr. Pinkerton?" "Well, while I was driving
slowly through a small town south of here, she started spitting and missing.
The beggar acted cold, and was actually running warm!" Pinkerton started the
engine, and the exhaust rumbled smoothly.
"Now listen to that, will you? She runs fine now. That's the way it's
been going. Good one moment, bad the next."
Gus checked the plug leads, the distributor connections and didn't find
anything loose. On the other side, he studied the twin carburetors.
"All I've found so far is a small radiator hose leak. When was the last
time you had the carbs cleaned and adjusted?"
"Just the day before yesterday. Tried a spare set of plugs, too. No
"Okay. Let's take her down to the shop."
They drove to the Model Garage and before long Gus was reading dials on
the engine tester. There was nothing abnormal.
"Look at that. The vacuum gauge shows 21 inches of mercury. That's good
in any language. So, with time short, all we can do now is take her out on
the road. Just drive as you did last night."
At the edge of town, Pinkerton began stepping hard on the accelerator.
Gus watched the needle slide up until it hung on the upper lip of 80.
"How fast do you turn a racing course, Mr. Pinkerton?"
"Depends. I understand it's a two-and-a-half-mile course at Wicker
Creek. I should judge about two minutes or so. The hotter machines, Jaguars
and Allards, for example, do it in much less."
Gus pictured the narrow twisting little road that circled the picnic
"Oh yes. These beggars hang on in the corners like footprints in soft
asphalt. Allow me to demonstrate."
Gus grabbed his seat and tried not to believe the turn he saw cutting
sharply to the right.
Pinkerton twisted the wheel, the tires began to scream and the car
leaned slightly. Gus waited for the inevitable loss of control, the spin -
but the MG hung on and stayed with it like Grandma LuLu Belle out for a
15-mile-an-hour drive in her Teaboiler Eight.
The Englishman's luxuriant mustache blew about widely in the windstream
as he turned to observe Gus's reaction. "See?"
Gus didn't attempt a reply. He kept a deathlike grip on the seat as they
sped through several more turns. The engine didn't change a note.
"It's making a blinking liar out of me!"
The road led steeply down to another turn before rising over the next
hill. Off the road, beyond the sharpness of the turn, was another MG,
wrapped around a tree . . .
"I say!" Pinkerton squealed to a stop.
A girl was trying to move the driver from behind the wheel, crying as
she tugged at the unconscious man. Then she caught sight of them and ran
toward the car. "Please help us!" she pleaded. "My brother, he's been
Pinkerton lent a hand, and when they got him on the grass, looked him
"Nasty rap on the head. We should get him to a hospital right away."
"How'd it happen?" Gus asked the girl.
"Some fool forced us off the road. Wish I had his number. Bob tried to
avoid him and--" She broke down again.
"Look, miss, get in my car. In the center on the drive shaft. We'll
carry your brother over, put him in the seat, and you hold him as steady as
"Hold on," Gus put in. "I'm not so sure we should move this man at all.
We'd better go get a doctor and an ambulance."
With an obvious effort at control, the girl turned to Gus. "Please,
please," she begged. "Let's not waste time - let's get him to a hospital as
fast as we can."
"I'll drive carefully, old boy," Pinkerton added. "And the delay might
be dangerous, too, you know."
Against his better judgment, Gus gave in.
They eased the injured man into the car. Gus unsnapped the cover over
the luggage deck and kneeled sideways in the narrow space. Pinkerton turned
the car around and started back toward town.
"You were on your way to compete in the races?" Pinkerton asked the
"Yes. We were headed there when the accident happened. My name is Lindy
Walton . . . Can't we hurry?"
Pinkerton let it out gradually to 60 and held it there. Gus leaned low
over the back of the seat and concentrated on the instrument panel. Oil
pressure, 30 pounds. Temperature, 174 degrees. Oil pressure, temperature. .
. .All of a sudden he had an idea.
The familiar brick walls of the hospital came into view. Pinkerton
rolled to a stop at the emergency entrance and they carried the injured man
The nurse checked the pupils of his eyes and his pulse while Lindy
explained what had happened. Then two attendants wheeled him down the hall.
"Dr. Barton will look him over right away." The nurse put a reassuring
hand on the girl's arm. "I'm pretty sure he's not seriously hurt. We'd
better have the doctor check you over too, young lady. Meanwhile, try to
relax. It won't be long."
Gus and Pinkerton sat with Lindy in tense silence as the wall clock
measured the slow minutes. Then footsteps along the corridor, and Dr.
Barton, white-haired and brisk, walked in. "He's all right - just shaken up.
Better leave him here for a few days." He smiled at Lindy. "Your brother has
come around and he seems quite concerned about something - you'll probably
understand. He said, 'Tell Lindy to let me know who wins.'"
Lindy laughed in sudden relief. "Oh, yes, yes. I know what he meant. And
thank you so much, Doctor." She turned to Gus and the Englishman. "You've
both been wonderful. I can't tell you how much I--"
Pinkerton harrumphed politely and Gus said they were glad they had come
along when they did. "I'll let you know about the race," he grinned, "just
as soon as I can."
When they got back to the car, Gus checked his watch. Eight-thirty.
"I thought of something when we were on the road. Let's get back to the
Pinkerton tugged at the starter pull. The engine caught, rose to idling
speed and then fell into a rumba-like hit-and-miss rhythm. "I never thought
I'd be glad to hear that."
Gus lifted the hood and listened. "What's normal oil pressure in this
"Around 60. This type of oil filter doesn't have a by-pass to keep
pressure up when it becomes congested. Mine is overdue to be changed. The
dealer in Long Island was out of them, but he said 30 pounds was safe enough
for the race."
Gus cocked his ear at one carburetor and then the other. "Listen to the
Pinkerton leaned down and put his ear close. "Slight whistling noise."
"That's your trouble. Right behind the carburetor. It's your intake
manifold. Come on, we'll get you in that race yet."
Pinkerton rapped through town while Gus explained.
"Back on the road, I got to thinking about overheating in engines. The
fact that your oil filter needs changing, plus that small hose leak, has
made your engine run warmer than it normally should. Every time you get
caught in slow-moving traffic, or do any hill driving in low gear, the
temperature is naturally going to go up. It rises sharply when you turn the
motor off, because the water and oil that normally cool the engine aren't
moving. Now, overheating doesn't necessarily do the engine any harm, and
there's always heat expansion in most parts of a motor. But in this case,
the soft metal of your intake manifold didn't expand uniformly. It warped
slightly and started sucking air. That weakens your mixture in that
carburetor, throwing it out of tune with the other, and the engine runs
"Why doesn't it run rough all the time, then?"
"Well, the thing isn't badly warped yet, and the gasket takes care of it
as long as the engine is running at a fairly cool temperature. But when it
warms up a little, the metal expands more, and that opening is enlarged. The
gasket fails to function, and you have an air leak."
Back at the Model Garage, Gus filed the intake facing smooth, and they
drove like a four-wheel stampede to Wicker Creek Road, reaching the races
just in time to run a qualifying lap. Then Gus settled back and watched
Pinkerton settle onto the starting grid.
There was a short, electric silence . . . then the sharp crack of the
starting gun. The thundering roar of the unmuffled engines rose to the
treetops, and the race was on. The cars howled to the first turn with
tire-screaming acceleration and vanished from sight.
Gus listened to the whine of the high r.p.m. as the cars hit the far
side of the course. He crossed his fingers.
The cars rounded the hairpin at the beginning of the straightaway and
left rubber on the road as they went through the gears. The bigger roadsters
shot by, an Allard, two Jaguars, and an Italian Ferrari fighting their
separate battle. The road was clear for a few seconds . . . and then a red
MG came out of the corner in a four-wheel slide. It was Pinkerton leading
his class! The next MG followed 20 seconds behind.
Lap after lap, Pinkerton held the lead and Gus began to worry. It was
stiff punishment for both car and driver. And then there was that oil filter
- only 30 pounds pressure for a thirsty, straining engine.
The air began to vibrate with excitement; something was going on, but
his vision was blocked by a sudden shift in the straining crowd. Before he
could squeeze to the ropes, the race was over.
After a few minutes, he found Pinkerton in his pit, calmly downing a
bottle of pop.
"Oh, there you are Mr. Wilson. How'd you like the race?"
"Fine. But that oil filter - how did it--"
"It held up. But what are you so jittery about, old chap? The Allard and
I shared the laurels! Thanks to you, I won!"