I think the strongest memory of cars for me is the MG TD that my father drove. I was four years old when I first sat in the passenger seat. The smell of an old English car still brings back those memories. The seats were leather bucket seats. To sit in them you could see where the term bucket seat came from. It was if someone had taken a wooden bucket and cut off 80% of the sides and then upholstered it in leather. It was red leather and smelled like it. The car was also red and I could barely see over the dashboard. There was a glove box in front of me with miles of leg room. I was four, after all. There were no seat belts. Ralph Nader was a decade away from scaring the public into such thoughts of safety.
“Doesn’t it sound like a fire engine?” asked my father, as he revved the four cylinder motor. I had no idea since I had never heard what a fire truck’s engine sounded like. I heard a “Bra-apt – Bra-apt” sound that was wonderful to listen to.
My father had to push a button to start the car which was so different from my mother’s big black Pontiac sedan. This car could be driven around without a roof and the Pontiac had no choice but to keep the passengers covered.
Dad put the car in gear and slipped the clutch as he gave it some gas and the two-seater bolted ahead and swung around and out of the driveway. The gears of the transmission made a wonderful accompaniment to the motor sounds. The car was very light weight and it skittered about on its narrow tires.
We rode down the country lanes that passed for roads on Cape Cod back then. Even though it was late spring if felt chilly with all the wind whipping around the windscreen across my face and out the back of the car rolling down the “boot”. Without a roof and windows this automobile was able to integrate itself with the outdoors and as a passenger you felt as if you were in a wonderful movie with screens all around you. It was a great adventure even if you were going now where special.
The Lucas heater fan was next to useless, but as the engine warmed up the firewall radiated warmth and it flowed back to me. The wonderful noises and smells covered me and I squinted as the late afternoon sun exposed itself as we rounded corner after corner.
Soon the ride was over and we came back to the driveway. There was the multiple clicks of the parking brake and the reluctant transition from rumble to silence as my father turned off the ignition key.
My father kept the MG until about 1957 when he sold it and got a Karman Ghia. It was a tough car to drive in the winter. The Lucas electrics were a continual problem and the defrosters never seemed to clear the windshield until he was at his destination. The side curtains were made of Plexiglass which scratched easily from the blowing Cape Cod sands and soon became difficult to see out of, especially in the low winter sun.
Years later I would have a friend that collected many MG Midgets and Austin Healy Sprites (known as Spridgets) and I got to be behind the driver’s seat and remember those rides when I was four.