Last night, I saw a commercial hawking Jaguar automobiles. The spectacular hood ornament of an attacking jaguar was missing, and I was sad.
It suddenly occurred to me that this must mark the end of a venerable tradition. Many years ago, I happened upon a mechanic who was installing a new clutch in a jaguar roadster. In order to do that, he found it necessary to remove the entire engine and part of the frame. He was very frustrated. He said British autos, especially Jaguars, were temperamental, prone to mechanical problems, difficult to work on, and in general all “pieces of shit.” But, oh the character in those “pieces of shit.” To settle into that bucket seat mere inches off the ground, look down that long hood and to hear and feel that power is something that must be experienced to be understood.
Now, it is virtually impossible to distinguish one car from another. It was not only the hood ornament which identified it, but each car was the product of a designer who wasn’t limited to producing a car which had a profile like every other make. I suspect those charged with the responsibility of marketing today’s cookie cutter cars are aware of this, for I notice that most ads on TV focus on close ups or interior views.
Of course, I understand that current model shapes have evolved in order to produce more aerodynamic and efficient vehicles, and I appreciate the current models for their comfort, reliability, and conveniences. However, I still yearn for the day when a 10 year old kid could identify the make and model year of a car from a quarter mile away, and loyalty to a particular brand could result in heated discussions as to their respective virtues. This was a time when the advent of a new model year was a big event, and the changes from the previous year were a carefully guarded secret. When the big day came, the new version would be unveiled with all the fanfare of a newly discovered Rembrandt.
LOVE: BLESSING OR CURSE?
You may have suspected by now that I was a car guy in my younger days. I worked on cars and learned to overhaul engines and such, but my fascination with sports cars, especially British ones, was born when one day Dr. McCormick pulled in to my father’s service station and asked me to fill up his brand new bright red MG. It was love at first sight.
After all these years, I am still not certain how much this had to do with my deciding I wanted to be a doctor. I am certain that all the usual altruistic motivations were involved in that decision; however, I vividly recall thinking that if that is what doctors get to drive, I want to be a doctor.
What I did not understand at the time was that doctors are not always capable of indulging in frivolous purchases. This is especially true when additions to the family are occurring in rapid succession, and one finds it difficult to fit six people into a two seated sports car. But finally, in the early seventies, against all odds, I was able to buy a Sunbeam Alpine which, although not an MG, was a reasonable facsimile. I did love that car, even though it did not have much zip, but one of my daughters finished it off by smashing the front end against another car, which she insisted was parked in the wrong place. Following an appropriate period of mourning, I was able to move on and convince myself that a family man needed to have a more conventional vehicle. Despite my resolve to continue on the straight and narrow, that lust was reactivated whenever I saw a person go by in a vintage British roadster. At such times I felt a longing for that feeling of the wind in my hair, an open sky above and feeling as one with my steed.
FORGIVE ME MY WEAKNESS
It has been said that addicts may be subject to relapse at any time and must be constantly alert to triggers that may overcome their resolve. Although my charming, always supportive wife was an enabler, I bear total responsibility for spending my children’s inheritance in an impulsive, irresponsible, episode of poor judgement. It all began innocently enough when Barb and I stopped to look at a battered MG-A parked in a field with a “For Sale” sign on the windshield.
Unfortunately, I mentioned this to my friend Tim, who is a very serious car guy with a penchant for hot rods and corvettes, and he responded by taking me to see Andy of Andy’s Auto Service. I was overwhelmed upon walking into Andy’s shop to find six MGs in one room of his shop, four more in another garage, and several more in varying stages of disrepair in the surrounding yard. Andy obviously shared my love for MGs, so we bonded immediately. A major part of his business is in restoring old MGs to their original glory, and I was impressed with the quality of his work. He estimates he has had nearly fifty MGs during his lifetime.
After inspecting one of his most recently restored cars, I was hopelessly hooked and devoid of reason. He just happened to have a car ready to be restored, and he told me he could have it ready in time for me to drive it before the snow flies. If Grandma was correct when she said “once a man twice a boy,” I decided to do my best to enjoy my second childhood, and we closed the deal. Andy had installed a V8 engine in the car he showed me, but I opted to keep the original four banger in mine. I had retained sufficient sanity to recognize that it might be dangerous for an old man to attempt handling a car with that many horses under the hood
The car that would be restored for me was said to be of low mileage, and indeed the odometer in the dashboard, which had been removed and was lying on the floor, showed 24,000 miles. This might not seem like many miles for a 36 year old automobile, but I comforted myself with the thought that sometimes a car may really be driven by a little old lady, who only used it to drive to church on Sunday.
One of my naysayer friends suggested I might not be able to get in and out of a small car like that, making obvious reference to my elongated body and age related debility. I convinced myself this would not be a problem, as I had no problem with ingress and egress when the top was down and rationalized that since this was a priceless work of art, I would never want to expose it to the elements; consequently, I would have no need to ever have the top up. This is what my new baby will look like (I hope). If you see me on the road, wave.