I finally own the car I should have had when I was eighteen. Back in those heady days of raging hormones and a crystal clear vision of how the world should be, at least how an ignorant teenager thought it should be, I drove an MGB GT. Not that there is anything wrong with the GT, nothing that a Sawz-All couldn’t fix. Its just that certain vehicles fit our personalities at a given age, and others don’t.
That GT hung around for a long time too. I could have had something else...if I paid the insurance. Being 18 and wanting to sew the seeds of destruction among an innocent population, the insurance companies saw to it that a year’s worth of insurance would cost about two thirds of my annual gross income. Fuel would consume another quarter, and parts and labor an additional half. Even I had the smarts to realize this all added up to more than 100%, so I soldiered on, sweating my way through California summers and dreaming of the day when I would own a true convertible.
Who knows what a teenager really wants at any given moment? I wanted a white MGB roadster, I wanted a red TR6, I did not want a Metropolitan convertible. Once again, wrong car for the wrong age. What I should have had was a Sprite or Midget. If ever there was an ideal teenager’s sports car it was the Spridget. Too slow to get speeding tickets, too small to dent other vehicles, and room for five high school students with a sixth rolling off the back in front of a cop.
Yes, the thoroughly modern Spridget was the car in which you could pull off a screaming four wheel drift at 35 miles per hour. I recently purchased a 1964 MG Midget. The car has been completely restored, not for car shows but for fun. This baby has a breathed-upon 1275 engine and flames on the hood. Yeah. flaaaammes!
There are those among the general population who would look at a man in my position and speculate, "Gosh Robert, shouldn't a man in your position drive a more responsible vehicle — one more in keeping with your age and conservative demeanor?"
Image then is the key, beyond a simple go/no-go criteria such as whether or not I can enter and exit the vehicle with style and grace. This car does not fit the image of a corporate ladder climbing mucky-muck. Its functionality may also be suspect. Those Spridget door openings have shrunk a little from what I remember, and the car lacks amenities such as climate control, a CD player and a streamlined, retractable Big Gulp holder.
While a teenager may weave along the avenue contentedly slurping away, our corporate climber needs a secure place for his copious consumable while screaming into a cell phone, "What? I can’t hear you over all this noise. Wait a minute. I think the car is on fire! Oh no, never mind, it’s just the flames on the hood."
Actually, the flames on
my car are more extended child-hood than rebel youth.
As an early teen, I used to dream of owning a Chevy with
bright candy apple red flames. The
Midget’s flames are a conservative metallic silver. They’re subtle in a "Hey, old lady look at me! After all these years I’m still an automotive terror!" sort of way. Just the ticket for a 33 year old perpetual child with long hair and cheap mirrored sunglasses.
At my age, I should be married and driving a yellow TR6. Theoretically, my wife (we’ll call her Bonnie) has long since reformed my eating habits. I’m no longer a strict beefaterian like I used to be. Vegetables are allowed, but only if raw and served on a special set of plates which may never touch the beef. She hasn’t yet tried the "fish is good for you" gambit, but she does force me to eat reduced-fat, taste-free cookies instead of the good ones...so I eat twice as many.
By the time I reach 50, the theoretical, better, married Robert will have named the TR6 "Buttercup" and completed the restoration of a Healey 3000. My teenage daughter will be dreaming of yellow Miatas with bright pink flames. By the time I reach 70, I should prefer the quiet stately elegance of a classic Bentley. People do match their vehicles. It’s the man and dog scenario. "The dog is the one on the left."
Actually, I do know a Bonnie. She drives a convertible with a trailer named Pack Rat. Manny, the stuffed manatee, lives on the dash and a pair of bears ride shotgun. They’re not bears in the Gary Larson "Bears from Hell" tradition, but rather soft and cuddly — like Bonnie. She has forced me to eat reduced fat cookies, go for walks and even be civil before noon, but she has yet to enjoy the aging adolescent experience in my flying flamed Midget. I’ll save that one for when she gets to know me better.
There are always vehicles appropriate to one’s age and station in life, but being the exception requires planning and a series of irrational decisions. If all the cars in your stable are impractical two-seat convertibles, buy another one. But this time make sure it has no top or windshield wipers, and big giant flames on the hood. Being 18-years-old again, it’s the perfect choice.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2002 issue of British Motoring.