MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Tall Winter Tales - Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally-Part Two

Phil Coconis
by Phil Coconis
memoirs of an independent repair shop owner em tall winter tales extreme weekend

We rejoin our tale of high adventure—en route to Golden, CO, for the purpose of taking delivery of a slightly used superbike—aboard a newly acquired and undertested first-gen Toyota Van; in the process of plowing headlong into the high country in southwestern Utah in a driving snowstorm, through the zero-dark hour leg of our non-stop round trip run.

From my point of view behind the wheel, it seems like a fair fight, all things considered.

“The Mint”, my friend and co-conspirator, sitting quietly—and with not an unnoticeable amount of tension, I might add—in the passenger’s seat, was seeing the odds much less in our favor.

It took some miles of the wheel-spinning, opposite-lock, damn-the-torpedoes-and-full-speed-ahead snowplowing constancy involved in our I-70 ascent for him to relax and see things from my perspective.

It wasn’t that I was in any way overconfident—the potential dangers involved in what we were doing being as much in my field of vision as the windshield in front of me. It was more like experiencing the natural progression of a plan based on a sound judgment of our prevailing assets and liabilities at the outset, and at the moment.

I find such opportunities to be a source of some road going visceral entertainment. That—on such occasions—local Law Enforcement is not even on the palette of consideration, just adds to the entertainment factor. In such cases, “Law Enforcement” comes in the form of natural laws governing the process being experienced. If you go outside THOSE laws, well, the penalties are imposed rather immediately, and they certainly can’t be argued with.

Motoring in it’s purest form, this is!

As it turned out, through the entire mid-blizzard thrash symphony we experienced on that fuel stint, there was only one p-factor moment I can recall. We were just cresting a rise with integrated gentle right hand sweeper at the very beginning of our descent to the eastern Utah plain and southwestern CO border, just at dawn. It wasn’t snowing at that moment, and the road, while wet, was snow-free. Just as I was considering the fact that this was a rather exposed section of road, and that the surface was difficult to read—owing to, among other factors, that it was concrete—that our cable chains probably weren’t enhancing road grip at that precise moment, and that we were now on an increasingly downhill incline, it happened. While most desirable to experience on a dry road, in some kind of performance vehicle, a four wheel drift outside of the desired cornering line, in a an unladed rear-drive utility van, moving a little too fast for conditions, downhill, on black ice, is, well, UNDESIRABLE!

All I could do was to get completely off throttle, and maintain as tight a line as I could, without risking a spin. As we inched toward the concrete dividing wall, I felt an improvement in grip on the “shoulder marbles”, and reacquired the little Van with about a foot to spare.

Had that not happened, we’d have had us a nice little brush with the wall, but probably wouldn’t have sustained any serious damage.

No sooner had our own immediate drama resolved, than we spotted a Ford Ranger on its roof—presumably going the opposite direction just moments before—on the other side of the road, with Highway Patrol unit in attendance!

We definitely had pause to count our blessings, and continued on, our unscathed journey still intact.

We were not out of the proverbial “woods”, by any stretch of the imagination, however. That Ford Ranger turned out to be just the beginning of the vehicular carnage to come.

Stay tuned for Part Three, next week.

Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.`

Join the conversation
  • Redmondjp Redmondjp on Jan 25, 2013

    Black ice is the worst. One time I was westbound on I90 approaching Snoqualmie Pass, on a slight uphill section, on perfectly straight and 'wet' road, doing just fine, when a crosswind kicked the rear end of the car over about 3 feet quite suddenly. I was able to correct it thankfully. That's when I realized how slick the road was! I was really fortunate while growing up in that part of our monthly trip to the grandparents involved crossing a mountain pass which we did in the winter as well. Our dad turned off the 8-track and us kids all had to keep quiet so he could hear when the slush sounds quieted up so we knew the road was frozen. I learned a lot about winter driving from these trips. We spun around three times and ditched our then-new 1971 LTD on black ice on that same pass (White Pass, Hwy 12), and a guy with a 1955 Chevy and a tow rope pulled us out and we were back on our way. You really remember stuff like that!

  • Noxioux Noxioux on Jan 28, 2013

    I-70 through there can be a real experience. Especially through the Clear Creek section. I've had many pucker-factor moments on that road. Going downhill is by far the worst. There are some very long, steep grades. Sometimes you hit the black ice over a bridge, and you just have to let go and pray. I've had a few times when the only thing that saved me was that both I and the road were going in a straight line. Never mind all the deer infesting the entire run. Luckily, when the weather's really nasty they usually go to ground. I always have a chain and tow line in my 'crash cart'. I can't tell you how many times I've had to yank someone out of a ditch.

  • Jeff S If AM went away I would listen to FM but since it is insignificant in the cost to the car and in an emergency broadcast it is good to have. I agree with some of the others its another way to collect money with a subscription. AM is most likely to go away in the future but I will use AM as long as its around.
  • BEPLA I think it's cool the way it is.If I had the money, time and space - I'd buy it, clean it up, and just do enough to get it running properly.Then take it to Cars and Coffee and park it next to all the newer Mustangs.
  • Dave M. I suppose Jethro’s farm report comes via AM, but there’s a ton of alternative ways to get that info. Move forward people. Progress is never easy.
  • BEPLA For anything but the base model, I'd rather have a pre-owned Polestar 2.
  • BEPLA "Quality is Job........well, it's someone's job, but it's not our job.Neither is building vehicles that people actually want or need.We only build what's most profitable. If only someone would buy our 97 day supply of SuperDutys."