Car Memories

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.

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9 Responses to Car Memories

  1. Lee K says:

    So many guys of our generation have a fondness for traditional British sports cars of the 1950s and 60s. All of them remember the horrendous reliability, but don’t really care, as the driving experience was so pure. The question is, shouldn’t we all be driving Miatas? All the fun without the Lucas headache?

  2. jimsgarage says:

    No argument as regards the fun factor of a Miata. I have done a lot of work on many of them and when they are set up properly they are an absolute blast to drive on a sunny day with the top down. Randy Pobst drove one for quite a while as his first track car to get him into professional driving. On track they are not a horsepower car, they are a momentum car. Their grip in corners is fantastic.
    Let me know when you want to get yours!


  3. Lee K says:

    Well, don’t think for a moment I haven’t been tempted. One major hitch: I don’t fit in the damn things. Being 6’3″ with relatively short legs and a long torso puts my field of vision smack dab in the center of the top bar on the windscreen. I’ve been told the current generation is slightly larger, so I should probably go give one a careful look. I’ve also been told that the Mazdaspeed versions from 2003 to 2005 can be unleashed from their rated numbers with some simple bolt-ons and a tune.

    There is an old adage that driving a fast car fast is not nearly as much fun as driving a slow car fast. While the Miata isn’t exactly slow, its driving dynamics are so pure (so I am told) that even in today’s ultrahigh horsepower world, that hard to define fun factor is still a delight in the Miata.

    Lee K

  4. jimsgarage says:

    Lee –

    You might want to check the Miata forums as you are not the only vertically challenged person out there that has a yen for the two-seater. Some of the solutions might just be the ticket.


    • Apryl Lamb says:

      Hi Jim! Happy New Year! I heard from Kevin Ellen that you have this blog site – great stuff! I have just started a blog on wordpress also and wondered if you might be able to give me some advice on formatting and also how you got soooo many hits? My e-mail address is a******** Thank you!

  5. Noel says:

    My first car, in 1968, was a 1963 MG Midget. True bucket seats, sliding plexiglas side windows that could be removed. Go kart handling. Learned how to four-wheel drift in that car on the roads of Cape Cod in the summer of ’68. You have something like that as your first car and it forever changes what you look for in a car.

    A friend is a world-renown expert on MGs, especially the pre-WW II cars. Has two MG TCs and 1933 L2, which is an amazing car. 1500 lbs, 160 horsepower via a Rootes supercharger on an inline 6 cylinder engine. He runs it a few times a year in vintage races and drives it regularly. It’s a really fun car, and astonishingly primitive. My old Midget was luxurious by comparison. The gearbox is exposed in the cockpit, so shoes are a requirement for driver & passenger. You hear everything; the engine, the gearbox, the final drive, the exhaust. And smell a lot of it, too. Only 90 were made and about 9 are still in existence. It’s tiny inside, and you are really outdoors when you ride in it. It’s a treat to have him call me on a nice Sunday and say, “Want to go for a ride?”

    And yeah, the Miata. That, I think, is my next target. I want a sports car again and with the appropriate tweaks I can fit in it and even use it on a few track days. They are low on power, but cornering is far more fun than straight line speed. I’m 6’2″ and a tight fit, but there are several seat mods that will get me lower in the car. It’s not in the budget for another year or so, but it’s coming. A used one from 2000-2005 will be just fine.

  6. jimsgarage says:

    After a couple of years go by and you get tired of the power deficit you can check out Flyin’ Miata’s V8 LS engine conversions.

  7. Noel says:

    Yeah, I saw that. Pretty intriguing! Now there’s an interesting project for Jim’s Garage! 8^)

    Being of a 4-cylinder persuasion (unless I was able to do a Factory Five Daytona Coupe) I’d probably add a turbo instead. I figure 250-300 turbocharged horses would make a Miata just about right.

  8. Kevin says:

    Loved this write up Jim. Very warm memories, even on a cold ride. My fathers first car was a 1965 FIAT 850. He drove it every where flat out and no seat belts of course. As a family of four we grew to love that car. I remember at one point when my youngest brother came along in 1972, a journey where he was on the parcel shelf behind the rear seats. It was becoming a family of five that forced a sale of that car and a purchase of a deep sky blue Hillman Hunter. My own first car was a 1965 Singer Chamois Mk2. Good times and lots of work keeping it running.

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