Sports car fever. Guys, you know what I'm talking about, right?
That irrepressible urge to own a sports car. It can hit at any time, but really kicks into gear once you acquire a valid driver's license.
My own bout came during my senior year of high school. I was working at the local supermarket after school, saving for college, when an older co-worker, Frank, took me to the parking lot to show off his latest acquisition: An MGA sports car.
Whoa. Talk about sleek. A two-seat roadster, produced in Britain (the "MG" stood for "Morris Garage"), it had long lines and great styling. Could I sit in it? Sure. Wait -- where are the door handles? No door handles. You opened the doors by pulling on a cord inside the door panels. The side windows were plastic; you bolted them on and off. Heck, all that just added to the mystique. While small, it was amazingly roomy. Plenty of legroom for my almost six-foot-two frame.
We went for a ride and that sealed the deal. I was hooked, and immediately started plotting to get my own British sports car.
Over the course of the next year, I started learning all I could about imported sports cars, becoming a walking encyclopedia on models like the MGA and MGB, the MG Midget, the MG TD (a real classic, but no legroom whatsoever), Sprite, Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Triumph, Aston Martin, Alpine and Lotus. I discovered area clubs of owners and enthusiasts devoted to the various models, and something called The Terlingua Racing Team, which hailed from a ghost town and ranch in far West Texas (more about them later).
By the time college rolled around, I was ready to take the plunge. I had found a one-owner, used white MGB for sale (the MGB was much improved over its predecessor MGA -- it had door handles and other creature comforts, like roll-up windows). After some cajoling, good old Dad was willing to co-sign the loan. Insurance premiums on sports cars for male drivers under 25 was kind of shock, but I bit that bullet, too.
The white MGB convertible was mine (and the bank's) at last. But that didn't end the fever. Oh no, it just fed it. There were accessories to buy, clubs to join, friends to impress. And the first thing to do -- put the top down, of course!
Now understand, putting the top down on a 1963 MGB is nothing like the convertibles of today, where you press a button and the top retracts. The MGB top itself was cloth, with a plastic back window, and the whole process was very manual. It snapped in place at the front windshield and along a metal frame that recessed behind the seats. This will give you some idea of what it was like:
can just imagine how much fun it was to get caught in a sudden Texas rainstorm. But who cares? Tooling around town in a British sports car with the top down was what it was all about.
The MGB also produced a very distinctive sound from its four-cylinder engine as you progressed through the four forward gears from a stick shift between the seats. Not exactly a roar, but more a deep-throated "Vrooom" as you tached up from first to fourth. One of the first things I bought was a wooden gearshift knob bearing the "MG" emblem.
Something else I did was join up with the Terlingua Racing Team. Created by the legendary Carroll Shelby and his buddies, it was more honorary than anything. For some small payment, I got a certificate in the mail, plus a way-cool sticker to put on the side of the car. Read more about the fascinating history of the racing team here, plus the world famous Terlingua Chili Cookoff.
While owning the MG was Beach Boys' "fun, fun fun until Daddy took the T-Bird away," it wasn't without its not-so-fun aspects, either. Let's just say British auto engineering has its challenges.
For starters, the dual carburetors were subject to clogging and had to be cleaned on a regular basis. I once attempted to do it myself, with disastrous results. I'm not what they call, mechanically inclined.
The battery arrangement was just weird. It was a 12-volt system from two, six-volt batteries located behind the seats.
One time while out driving with Pam, the engine started cutting out. Never a good thing to lose power on a freeway. I had been having trouble with the battery connections, and was advised placing a copper penny on the terminal would restore the juice. Quickly, I instructed Pam to grab a penny and hold it to the battery post behind the seat while I looked for the next exit. No time for questions ... I'll explain later!
A big problem was the back plastic window. The merciless Texas sun would turn clear to cloudy yellow, making it impossible to see through. Little bit of a safety issue there. It had to be replaced on a regular basis.
The sun also cracked the leather on the seats. While they were being re-upholstered, I had to sit on a wooden Coke case.
Here's a memory. On one of my first dates with my future wife, we got broad-sided on the West Freeway in Fort Worth going to a movie. Luckily, it only damaged the driver's side door. As a memento of that auspicious occasion, I took the damaged door from the body shop and gave it to Pam, which she kept for many years. We even considered having it framed to use as wall art. On the side of that crumpled metal was my Terlingua Racing Team sticker. Oh well, I still had the membership certificate.
Sadly, the '63 MGB came to a bad end while we were living in Austin and I was attending the University of Texas. Someone ran a stop sign and that was it ... totaled. But not to fret. Soon we got back in the sports car business when we purchased a 1970 MGB.
Sports car fever. It never goes away.
To be continued ....