Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Driving lessons

I'm a car nut. Sorry, I know it's become socially unacceptable, but that's the way it is.

The rumble of a flathead Ford V-8 and the high-pitched scream of a racing engine are both music to my ears. I appreciate the voluptuous curves of the classic Jags and Alpha Romeos and the functional minimalism of the Porsche 356 and the Lotus 7.

As a kid, I sketched futuristic designs for the automobiles I wished the automakers would build, instead of the uninspired boxes that were rolling off their assembly lines.

An uncle who shared my addiction passed along copies of his British sports car magazines so, by the age of 10, I was immersed in the details of Morgans, MGs, Allards, and Triumphs. I followed the results of the historic Mille Miglia race and the 24-hours of LeMans.

I remember a story in one of those magazines about a young lad who found a beat up old MG in a barn and brought it back to life. How I wished that would happen to me.

By the age of 12, I was driving the family car on the back roads, unsupervised, as most farm kids did back then, and presented myself to the driving examiner for The Test immediately upon turning 16.

I've had 16 automobiles, and have sampled the offerings of the Detroit "big 3," as well as the German "big 3" and a few British and Japanese brands, too.

Each of those rides taught me something.

They say you never forget your first, and my first was a used, sky blue, 1958 Volkswagen Beetle. That was one tough little car. It cost $700.

For all practical purposes, the car had no heater or defrosters. It also had no snow tires. I actually kept an ice scraper handy for the inside of the windshield. To get started in snow, the effective technique was to get the rear wheels turning in first gear, jump out and push while running along beside, then jump back in behind the wheel when you got some traction.

My buddy Huck and I would travel home from university on weekends in it, once with his three new beagle pups in the trunk. I also remember a trip back to school at the end of a weekend when I had run down the gas to just the reserve supply. We knew we had insufficient fuel to make it, and in those years gas stations were closed on Sunday nights so, coasting down all the hills, we stopped at every one of those stations and drained what was left in the pump hoses. Approaching one of them, the engine died and we we actually coasted in.

We made it.

Sometimes there were enough guys in that car to make a baseball team and it would squat down on its little wheels, but it would get us to wherever we were going, usually the pub or the pizzeria.

Finally, at the end, the wheel bearings were seized, the clutch was slipping, the interior smelled like a hockey bag, and there were plenty of squeaks and leaks. I still got $200 for it as a trade-in on an actual sports car.

I've had fancier cars, sexier cars, faster cars, quieter cars, more comfortable cars, but never one that was part of the team for so many adventures.


  1. I wouldn't worry, Doug. I don't think it will ever be socially unacceptable for boys to love cars. Really enjoyed reading this.