Friday, February 1, 2013

How I miss that car.

I was eighteen, bagging fiberglass at a local plant when I talked my old man into co-signing a loan. I wanted a sports car. It was a matter of watching the ads and waiting for the right opportunity. One fine summer day I called a guy and arranged to go see one.

We came around the corner and there she was, nicely arranged on an angle on the front lawn, with blue sky, sun and clouds overhead, a 1971 MGB Roadster. It was a soft, faded, sunshiny yellow colour.

I had to have it, as you may well imagine. At $1500 the payments were $75 a month for two years. With the benefit of hindsight, it was quite a bargain. I loved that car, and still miss it today. I’ve gone looking for MG’s once or twice when I had a little money, and backed out at the last minute. The world has changed, when you consider the size of vehicles people drive nowadays, and the speeds that some people go. Nothing’s worse than being tailgated at night in an itty-bitty little car; with some guy in a pickup with high beams on, right in the rearview mirror. Or maybe I changed…

To be young, with your whole life ahead of you, that first really good-paying job, to begin to know what manhood is, to realize you’re an adult and all that sort of stuff, I don’t know. There was just a kind of feeling about it. A time of innocence. In the 1970’s people still complained about young people and the music, the negative images.

Looking back, it all seems pretty tame.

To pull out the choke and fire up the boiler on an autumn morning, and listen to the burbling of Hooker headers and a free-flow exhaust system, was sheer heaven to a young guy. I modified my car, ported and polished the head myself, milled her down a few thousands of an inch. It had an aluminum hood from a 1968. I got rid of the two six-volt batteries and put in one twelve-volt, installed in the trunk for better balance. I cut the fittings where the oil cooler hooked up and put new hoses on with double clamps so I could take the engine in and out more easily. I had a fiberglass spoiler, and took as much unnecessary equipment out of it that I could—back then I would rather listen to the engine than the radio. I removed the air pump, and even the bumpers. I got so I could take that car apart and put it back together again on a long weekend.

It could beat any other MG in town, that’s for sure. We scared the TR-6 guys so they wouldn’t race us anymore. Too aggressive, they felt, but then they were mostly candy-bums, more interested in image than real street racing. You remember them guys, the ones with the briar pipes and leather patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets...

It’s funny, but I reckon I spent $10,000 on that thing over the seven years I owned it.

You may laugh, but I doubt if I ever would have gotten a girlfriend if I hadn’t bought that car! But that little car drew the eye. Back then sports car guys acknowledged each other on the road with a wave or a honk. We’d get together in an informal little club, turning up en masse at a local park, then cruise out Lakeshore Road. Hopefully we weren’t too dangerous, but there may have been a little friendly dicing in the tighter turns.

One time my buddy John and I just started chasing these three girls in an Austin Mini, and while they lost us by hiding in a British car lot—just like in the original version of the film The Italian Job, we eventually caught up with ‘em.

It’s really something to be eighteen years old, driving at a relatively high speed, on some darkened road, high beams illuminating the fences and the trees, grass and signs speeding past, and suddenly realize that you are a hundred miles from home and finally free.

To hear the rumble and roar of the exhaust, the beat of the wind on the back of your neck, to feel the hair lift at eighty miles an hour, touch the brakes and downshift, slide through a turn, the pale yellow glow of the tachometer reminding you she’s an old car…real seat of the pants driving back then. I suppose I thought I was Fangio or Tazio Nuvolari or something. I had a lot of hair back then, too.

I have such great memories of that car. In about 1980, the 402 highway was being built. When the road was paved, but not open yet, we’d drive around the barricades and drive on nice smooth blacktop—no signs, no lines, no cops. I remember going ninety miles an hour, with the top down. My girlfriend popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, it flew up into the sky and was sucked away. We got a little drunk, not so much the wine as just being young and high on life itself. She was a good girl, but some things are just not meant to be.

But God. I miss that car.

Yes, she was sitting right there beside me when I raced the Corvette. In the mirror, I saw the guy do a burnout at a stoplight, and then he came up beside us at the next stoplight. I looked over and revved my engine. The light turned green, and he dumped the clutch, and drove off at a high rate of speed and we just laughed. The light at the next intersection was red again, and we pulled up alongside of him. I revved her up again, but when the light changed, I hit her just perfectly. An MGB will do about thirty-one miles an hour in first gear. I did a twenty-foot burnout, and then a nice little squawk when I snapped it into second gear. I could see him still at the intersection, sitting there in a cloud of blue tire smoke, and I could hear the roar of his engine over the sound of mine. I got a little chirp out of the tires when I shifted into third gear, and just about then he passed us going like eighty or ninety miles an hour.

We were laughing like crazy as I backed off and slowed her down to something less than ludicrous speed. Right about then a cop car zoomed out of a side-street and started chasing the Corvette. Victory is sweet!


A general rule of thumb with MGB’s is that they will go about 106 miles per hour, and then you throw a rod, and then you have to walk home.

I hope to own another 1971 MGB Roadster, but I’m not sure if it’s the car that I’m after, or maybe it’s just an attempt to recapture a sort of feeling.

You know what’s fun? Take the top down on a snowy winter’s day, bundle up with hoods, parkas, snowmobile gloves, and go for a little toot through the park. Everyone thinks you’re crazy, but they smile and wave just the same.

All those old British cars had a certain smell inside, a smell of oil, and burnt antifreeze, and wet rugs and gasoline. The heaters and electrical systems were bad, sometimes the roof didn’t fit too well. Most of them leaked, although mine was pretty dry inside. Some were designed around tractor engines and transmissions. A multi-coloured stain on the driveway was a registered trademark.

But they inspired a kind of love that is missing in modern cars.


Photo: Wiki Commons, released into Public Domain by the original author. This car is Harvest Gold, mine was a kind of sunshine colour.

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