The Great Beater Challenge 2018: Day 1, Part 1

The Great Beater Challenge is an automotive event that gives unloved, marginal vehicles one last shot at glory on an epic weekend road trip. There is a scavenger hunt of check points and challenges along the way. It is not a race but an event. Follow along for an account of the 2018 edition.

Here is the map for Day 1. We will cover roughly half the distance in this post.

My boys and I piled into the Laurentian three abreast on the front bench seat and hit the road. There was one in town challenge before we ventured out onto the highway. Due to a last minute time crunch there had been almost total lack of testing and this moment marked the first time I had driven the Pontiac on the highway. In fact the first time it had been on the highway at all in almost forty years. So a trial but hopefully not by fire. Almost immediately an issue popped up. Take a close look at the photo above. See anything odd? The speedometer maybe … yes it is displaying over 100mph. I suspect the speedometer cable came loose as the needle would bounce around wildly before setting in at zero or one hundred plus miles per hour.

Several teams including this Power Wagon passed us but I am used to being one the slower teams in the event every year. A quick note on the in car photos, they were taken by my sons in the front seat but they leaned over to take them from the driver’s perspective. Two reasons for this; I think they look better and the cracks in the windshield get in the way more on the passenger side.

We used a phone based GPS speedometer for a while just to verify that our speed was roughly 100km/h (60 mph) which seemed like a reasonable balance between a highway friendly speed and sympathy for an old and largely untested drive-train.  Those Canada flag sunglasses did not last long on my face as they were hard on the eyes. The little compass ball hanging for the rear-view mirror has come on all three challenges with us despite being almost always inaccurate.

The initial portion of the journey involves heading west from Lethbridge through flat prairie landscape before giving way to rolling hills and finally mountains. This year there is a pronounced smoke haze from wild fires burning in British Columbia and Montana.

The first real out of town stop was at Beaver Mines and these old mining carts. The front middle seat was deemed to uncomfortable at this point with one boy retreating to the rear.

We were still bunched closely enough together to see other teams at this point. Except for our organizer who had running into fueling issues and was broken down at the side of the road.

Both the Tercel and Escort were part of the challenge. One of the competitors from last year’s run was without a vehicle this time around so he jumped in with us for a stint.

A fixture on all three challenges is Frank’s Slide. Most took the opportunity to stop and make sure their rides were running reasonably well.

A photo of the mountain and slide from a couple years ago on much clearer day. On April 29 1903 the eastern edge of mining Town Frank was covered by 90 million tons of rock sliding down from nearby Turtle mountain. The mountain was the site of an active coal mine which likely contributed the slide on an already unstable mountain. Ironically many of the men working in the mine were safe and returned to find their families and homes gone. Total loss of life is estimated to be between 70 and 90. The railway was covered but quickly repaired, the mine re-opened and the remains of the town re-located. With the exception of the highway and railway cutting through it the site of the slide remains as it was in 1903.

A Hillman, a Pinto and a Volvo walk into a bar. Wait … that is not right. Regardless there cannot be too many times this trio of cars is seen together. The guys in the Volvo had fired up their generator and were cooking Swedish meatballs in the back as well as playing Aba and Ace of Base music exclusively.

My friend Rod and his family are also three time challenge participants and this Civic has been with them each time. They were good enough to drive at the Pontiac’s pace in case (when?) I ran into in trouble. As the second oldest vehicle in this year’s challenge trouble was certainly a good possibility.

At this stop we had to name a rock, ours was Bob. Somewhat surprisingly our Pontiac was running well. I would have liked to have added an engine temperature gauge before we left for extra insurance but luckily the weather was pleasant and warm rather than hot thus far.

We then set off further into to the Crowsnest Pass in search of lunch and fuel. I was not keeping good track of mileage but a rough calculation showed that the Laurentian achieving 16mpg or so. She was burning a bit of oil as well so that was also topped up. An older couple were drawn to my car and wanted to know if I was restoring it. I tried to explain a bit about the road trip and that I might consider fixing it further if it made it back in one piece. I think they left puzzled.

The Crownest Pass is the southern most route in Canada through the Rocky Mountains. Normally one can see the mountains from the road but not today unfortunately with all the forest fire smoke.

Occasionally we got a glimpse of a mountain but they were mostly shrouded by smoke.

As we head into British Columbia I could not resist a quick photo stop next to this giant dump truck bed. The car generated a few more thumbs up from fellow highway travelers.

British Columbia is currently experiencing the worse fire season in its history and we saw a few water drop helicopters filling with the water but never did see any fire thankfully.

Seeing the Volvo proudly flying the Swedish flag I realized I missed similar opportunity with my own car.

I always seem to find myself near the back of the pack on these adventures. Even the Hillman was slightly ahead at this point.

And the 1935 Ford/1973 Jeep mash-up.

At this stop we discovered that the Plymouth Voyager had a matching Coleman Voyager cooler! My apologies for the blurry photo.

The Pontiac lived all of its life in southern Alberta so I would like imagine that it visited the Elk River Hotel once before perhaps when they were both in their prime.

We kept on rolling.

We briefly stopped in Fernie at the historical oil derrick.

The Pontiac had a hard to fitting in at the small town dealerships as it is all about trucks and more trucks these days.

I thought the minivan might be in a spot of trouble but they just killed a large bug and were taking a photo.

We were supposed to prove how bad our car sounds in the tunnel. My new exhaust is working at least as it was only wind noise.

The miles pile on. The Pontiac has much lower handling limits than my daily driver (2004 Acura TSX) so corners needed to be taken with less speed and more caution.

We managed to join an impromptu car show about half way through day one. Unfortunately the Triumph TR7 had engine trouble and had to drop out. I had heard later from others that it did not sound healthy even at the start. GBC 2018 claims its first victim. With that we will wrap up part one of day one with more road trip goodness to come.