Thursday, June 24, 2010

British Sports Cars Again

The first one was a '62(?) Austin-Healey Sprite Mk II. The first or second year after the demise of the bug-eye. In my opinion they kind of went to hell after that, becoming more "modern". Mine had the optional knock-off wire wheels, an particularly onerous selection for Minnesota in winter. In frigid temperatures everything gets stiff and heaven help you if you have a flat tire. Ain't no hammer big enough to spin those knock-off hubs off at 10 below. Heaters? We don't need no stinking heaters. At least not one that works anyway. Yep, I drove that sucker year round. Probably only through one winter though.

Dashboard. Pull out choke EXACTLY the correct amount for the weather conditions. Insert and turn key. Push starter button. Vroom! Only if the chokeset was perfect and it didn't flood. Slowly push in choke as engine reaches operating temperature. Blip the pedal and couple of times and you are ready to roll.

Toggle switches. One to turn on headlamps and tail lights. Another to dim headlamps. A side-mount toggle switch to signal your intention to turn. After turning, return switch to neutral position. And another row of toggles that apparently didn't do anything. For heaters, defrosters and such. I believe it had a radio too, but I may be wrong. If it did, it didn't work well.

Rain? Top down? If it rained I had to pull over, run around to the trunk and get out a canvas bag of erector set parts and built a frame to support the top. Fetch the rolled up fabric top, hook it onto the windscreen and attach it at the back with a row of turn buttons. Oh! Then run back and get another canvas bag containing the framed sliding side windows and bolt them onto the door. Then dig though your pockets for some matchbooks (everyone smoked) and insert them between the windows to keep them from rattling so you could hear conversation - slow talking to Mary on rainy backroad rides on gravel crunch roads. 

In a small town it was a bitch to find someone who would work on it. Few mechanics had metric tools  (incorrect - not metric) and anything not from Detroit was considered oddball junk. Find a mechanic? Buy him lunch, liquor, whatever it took. And parts? I don't even want to think about it. (When I had the Alfa, parts often had to come from Italy, and they seemed to be on a perennial labor strike.)

But it was great fun. Hunkered down, ass dragging 4" above the road, steering so quick you just had to think about turning, and a vague hope it'd get you back home this time. It was a time of narrow twisting two-lane roads, even the major highways. There were so few real sportscars that if you met another on the road there were excited greetings of flashing headlamps, waves and thumbs up. Unless it was a Jag or something. They might greet their equals, but would rarely even acknowledge Sprites, Midgets, and Spitfires. Stuck up bastards in their damned cute driving caps.


Anonymous said...

Morning Gunnar,

You’re doing me a lot of good with these post-North Shore images and words. From the looks of things, there’s very apparently still nothing for high end energy like a change of scenery and great company.

I love reading over and over the car post; the details. In order, beginning around ’68, I had an MGB, Austin Healey sedan, Austin Healey Bugeye, and a ’67 Porsche 911. … the 911 for the last twenty years - gone now. When I think about them, first to mind is always two stories about the MGB: 1) Driving home from UofM one below-zero night in January – after an hour and a half, as I drove under the street lights in Geneva, I noticed the heater switch was set to off; and 2) Driving home from northwestern Montana in mid-December – I always waited until the last minute to leave, 24 hours before registration ended at UofM – sometime after midnight on MT200 near Glendive, I passed a truck on a curve and seeing an oncoming car, jumped on the gas to get around him. The accelerator cable broke, I slid back in behind the truck just in time, cut a piece of wire out the fence along the road as cable, and drove the rest of the way to Mpls with the wire fished under the hood through the driver’s side window.

I traded away the MGB straight up for a very used Pentax camera. The bugeye was all around the most fun to drive. It went away at a profit shortly after the girls came along. The 911, air-cooled and mechanical heater (no fan), was always warm inside before we got to the end of the driveway.


Gunnar Berg said...

Morning Butch,
At this point in your life it's time to buy another Sprite isn't it? I know you're trying to simplify, but really.

Anonymous said...

Ii'd buy one today. .. but mine's the only one I've ever seen here. MjP