Why is the club team MG driving trophy named after Paul Johnson?
"COAST TO COAST IN A T-CAR CAN BE DONE IN UNDER 60 HOURS"
--- Paul Johnson, July 2l, 1979
That was not just an idle boast Paul made. In August of that year he made good on the claim. In the "Sea To Shining Sea" challenge he and co-driver Tom Scott crossed the country in his TD from Staten Island, NY to San Diego, CA in a little over 50 hours! (Read about the hair-raising trip below!)
That was a pretty typical driving exploit for Paul. He is acknowledged by every MG owner that knew him to be the leader of the "Drive our MGs" philosophy. Few could keep up with him; no one surpassed him. It was an easy choice for Paul to represent the MG driving spirit and lend his name to the club distance driving trophy awarded each year at GOF Central: The Paul Johnson Memorial Driving Trophy.
Tom Scott and granddaughter Ally take the supercharged TD in question on a lap of the Indianapolis Speedway in 2015.
Who was Paul Johnson?
Paul Johnson helps Chris Nowlan repair a TC wheel at one of the GOF West events. (Above)
Two of Paul's cars: TC (left) & TD (right)
The afternoon of August 19, l979, Paul Johnson and Tom Scott departed Staten Island, New York en-route to San Diego, California in Paul's supercharged TD. They arrived 50 hours, 28 minutes later.
What follows is their account of the trip.
Interview with Paul Johnson and his co-driver Tom Scott conducted by The Lord Neuffield Crier and reprinted from the December 1979 issue.
Crier - What route did you follow to get to San Diego?
Paul - We came off of Staten Island on the Goethals Bridge. We got on the Garden State Turnpike into Philadelphia, then the Pennsylvania Turnpike right on into Pittsburgh.
Tom - We picked up 70 at Pittsburgh to St. Louis; jumped on Route 44 in St. Louis, which is old Route 66, took that clear into Amarillo, Texas. Then we jumped into some mountains on Route 60.
Paul - State Route 60 and 70 cut diagonally from Amarillo to las Cruces, New Mexico. Then we took interstate 10 straight into San Diego.
Crier - Do you know what route Smolick took?
Paul - He took interstates basically. He went through Harrisburg and a southern route that took him through Nashville and Arkansas. Our routes were the same from Oklahoma City to San Diego. He had this thing about hills and tunnels. Changing the subject completely, you saw Moss's "Y." You should have seen what they did to it at San Diego. They filled it full of those little Styrofoam packing
things - right through the sunroof.
Tom - So, you know what he does, he just opens the door. The whole hotel was full of these little packing things.
Crier - What did you take with You?
Paul - (Looking at a small notebook) Well, here's Moss Motors 800 number' Krekavich's number. $37.51 worth of junk food Staten Island Deli, $12.56; but we threw that away because it fell in the cooler, and in 0klahoma City we spent $8.42 for burritos.
Tom - I was driving for the first time. When I first got into the car, I'm pushing it, I mean, by God there ain't nothing in my way. I'm not passing. I'm just going. There's this staty up ahead of us and everybody slowed down behind him. I'd start to slow down and the car would start to miss. I'd speed up and it'd clear up. So, pretty soon we started getting in the hills and I didn't have any choice but to pass him. It would run fine going uphill, but going downhill it just cut off, just like you turned the key off. l say to Paul, "l haven't got any choice but to pass him." So I just pass him. So we get into Ohio and we decide I've got fouled plugs. We stop to change the plugs and an Ohio State Trooper pulls off right behind us. We're out around Zanesville and this guy wants to get in a discussion with us about running Ohio historical plates.
Paul - He says, "Where are you going and where have you been?"
Tom- And he said, "You can only go to two club functions a year." The first thing he says is if he can help us. I feel like saying, "You change the plugs and we'll just go get a beer."
Paul - He wanted to discuss those historical plates and I thought we'd never get rid of him. Finally some guy comes up and says, "How do I get gas." He starts to tell him how to get gas, and we're gone.
Tom - We're coming out of Amarillo, Texas and I'm driving the second night. Paul is sleeping and I'm just zonked. I fall asleep driving down the mountain and took the car right off the side of the road into the rough - well, that kind of woke me up! We stopped in New Mexico, right there where it says coffee, went in and bought about four dollars worth of coffee.
Crier - What time did you leave?
Paul - We left Staten Island at ten minutes after five, Sunday night the 19th of August. We arrived at 4:38 p.m., Tuesday the 2lst. That's Pacific time – that's 50 hours and 28 minutes; 2,879.7 miles and 160 gallons of gas even. It averaged out to the penny at a dollar a gallon.
Crier - Tell us about the gasoline set up.
Paul - We had a 12 gallon outboard motor tank behind the seats with a separate fuel pump. We had two switches. We only carried the 12 as a spare just in case we ran into an area where gasoline was not available. But, gas was always available, so, we'd run the main tank till the green light would flash, switch to the reserve tank and run it out, switch back and get serious about looking for gas.
Crier - What was the range on that much gasoline?
Paul - About 400 to 450 miles.
Crier - How many times did you actually stop the car?
Paul - Six. And then we stopped out around Las Cruces.
Tom - Yeah, that's where l wanted to buy a big Mexican hat. From the East coast
to the West coast we stopped the car seven times.
Crier - Did you have the top down all the way out?
Paul - All the way except between Amarillo, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico we got cold.
Tom - What happened was we put the top up and we got sleepy cause the fresh air was keeping us awake.
Paul - Well we hit a sand storm going into Amarillo, followed by rain which turned into a mud storm. The rain falling through the dust turned it to mud, so, we decided maybe we'd better put the top up. So, we put the top up but left the side curtains off; then it started really getting cold so we had the rear side curtains on, all the clothes we owned on, and the mitten wrapped around us.
Tom - Paul had an original fuel pump box and we stopped someplace in Texas to put the side curtains on. I can't get the side curtains out because his goddamn fuel pump box is in the way. Paul says, "Don't destroy the fuel pump box," and l say, "F--- the fuel pump box," and I grab it and throw it out. We're going to San Diego! I threw that fuel pump box right out and it's still sitting out on the highway down there on Route 10.
Paul - But you saved the parts.
Tom - Yeah, we saved the parts.
Paul - Then we got the side curtains on, we got all cozy and sleepy and I'd drive for like twenty minutes.
Tom - We're in the mountains and he says, "You better drive." When Paul pulls over and I get out and there's this curb knee high, and it hits me right in the knees and I go ooooh, boy did that wake me up. Damn that woke me up. It was just like being hit with a baseball bat. l say, "Ooooh, l can drive. Here we go." The greatest thing was when we were coming through Arizona and they pulled us over to check for wetbacks. Paul says, "Yeah, they're under the hood pedaling." There's two guys in this car just freezing their asses off, shaking. Paul is wrapped up in the car cover and they're going to check us for wetbacks.
Paul - Oh yeah, they checked for fruits and nuts going into California and we, of course, pointed at each other, but that was just routine. But down on this Route 10 we were following, its right across the border from Mexico, they were checking for immigrants hidden in the car.
Crier - Was gas ever hard to get?
Tom - We stopped at this place, where we need to get some gas and it's one of these places where you have to pay before you get the gas.
Paul - Where you give her $5.00, and she lets the pump run for $5.00 and then turns it off.
Tom - I go in and I say just let it run and I'll pay you for what it is. I walk over and there is a cooler and some cans of beer. I grabbed a can of beer, opened it, and she says, "You can't drink that in here." I said, "l can't leave, cause you won't pump any gas." I'm just in a hell of a shape. I've got an open can of beer and I can't leave.
Paul - I've got to go to the john something fierce. And Tom's in there playing these silly games. Finally he comes out - thank God! That's when we learned about Seven Elevens. One of us would go and be hostage while the other pumps the gas.
Crier - How did you time the end of the race?
Tom - We're getting ready to check in, and I'm driving into San Diego. I know we're twenty miles away and I've got my foot in it. We're shooting for under 50 hours at this point. We come off the ramp and see the motel with a stop light there. I run the stop light. They've got this big covered area in front of the motel and I pull into it the wrong way. l run inside to the front desk to get this card stamped. The guy stamps it and l come walking out. All these chauffeurs are bitching because we're in this covered area the wrong way, have traffic screwed up, l said "Okay I'll leave." Paul's car has that supercharger on it and it's oil injected. So, when we stopped the carburetor filled up with oil. When I started out I laid a smoke screen through that whole motel.
Paul - They won't have mosquitoes in there for a month.
Crier - What happened when you got there?
Tom - We get to Yuma and Paul's buying gas. I go in and call Gates' wife. I say we're in Yuma and we'll be there in four hours and we need somebody to check us in. She says, "Fine, there'll be somebody there." So we pulled in and I say to Paul , "Let's go to the bar." Well, my hair is like an Arabian oil well, its just dripping. We're in a plush, very posh hotel and they won't let us into the bar.
Paul - This guy says they do have a dress code.
Tom - Somebody from the local MG group shows up, and says, "I know another bar we can go to. " We sit down and he buys us a beer. Well, he didn't have it up to his lips and ours were gone. He says my son drove from the East coast and it only took him six days and he thought that was pretty good.
Paul - Well, we could have decked him.
Crier - Did you get any publicity?
Tom - We check in and the first thing we got to do is take a shower.
Paul - We got to degrease.
Tom - I take a shower. Then I lay down on the bed and just pass out.
Paul - I made a bona-fide effort to get Tom up. No way. So I go down to the desk and find the coffee shop. I sit there and have a cup of coffee.
Tom - I'm asleep there and all of a sudden the phone rings. It's Leyland calling from Leona and they say that they heard we just drove coast to coast. I think its Paul trying to wake me up when this guy is talking to me and I'm putting him on. He says, "What route did you take?" I said, "Well, we just avoided the tunnels" and he says, "What?" I said, "Yeah, we just avoided the tunnels, you know, and kept our potassium level up."
Paul - Then he also said, "Don't take a shower, don't change your clothes, don't wash your car. When I get out tomorrow, I'll take some pictures. He didn't show up, but they sent another guy. Then local channel 39, or something, which is NBC out there, picked up on it and we had a good five minutes on television.
Crier - Would you do it differently if you did it again?
Paul - If we were ever to do it again, we'd leave New York in the morning, rather than the evening. That should time it so we would be in the desert at night and in the mountains in the day time. The way we ran it this time, we were in the mountains in the night and didn't see anything that was scenic and we passed the desert at high noon and like to froze to death in the mountains. The Monday after the meet we went up to Santa Barbara and spent a night with Alexander. The next day we did Moss Motors. We couldn't buy gas in Santa Barbara because they have a new antipollution funnel over the nozzles and it won't fit the T cars. We went from there to Vegas and got in Vegas around two in the morning and just plain died. We spent all day Wednesday and Wednesday night, Thursday night we got up and drove clear through to Kansas City with a side trip up Pikes Peak. In Kansas City we spent Friday night and Saturday night with Krekovich, Sunday morning we got up and drove back to Cleveland.