The Older I Get…
“The older I get, the better I was.” Those of you who were in high school before Neil Armstrong baby-stepped for mankind know what I’m talking about. Time has a remarkable way of enhancing our memories of days gone by. More specifically, we tend to idolize automobiles whose once questionable joys have been filtered and sanitized by the mists of time. Occasionally we need a good old whack from the reality stick to jar the truth loose from the cobwebs of our cloudy minds. I got mine today.
Eons ago, I owned an MG-B. I purchased the English roadster for a song from an airman who had to get rid of it in a hurry. That car was a great toy. I enjoyed the wind-in-your-face sensation of fresh air motoring. The tonneau cover could unzip just on the driver’s side, allowing me to drive the rorty ragtop al fresco during the north Texas winter, without freezing to death. I used the electric overdrive switch on the top of the shifter (in conjunction with 3rd and 4th gears) to create a poor man’s six-speed. I tinkered with the engine on weekends, nurturing plans to rebuild the car from the ground up when time and money allowed. Needless to say, circumstance eventually forced me to trade my dreams for cash– and all the wonderful memories of good times spent with my MG-B.
Today, I stumbled upon an MG-B roadster, the first one I’ve seen in years. It was parked along the street, wearing the same colors as my old ride (brownish-orange with brown seats and door panels). Whoever owned the classic Brit obviously loved it; she was in decent condition, without apparent rust or decay. I smiled as I looked it over, thinking about how much I enjoyed my MG, and regretted selling it.
Then I noticed was how tiny it was. Mine wasn’t that small was it? How did I ever manage to fold up my six-foot-three-inch frame and wedge my fat ass into that puny driver’s seat? And how did I get my size 14 feet to operate those miniscule pedals one at a time? Why in the world did I ever want to get out on the highway in something that small, open to all the elements, looking semis and SUV’s and mondo-sized 4×4 pickups squarely in the hubcaps as they whizzed past at 70 miles per hour?
I stepped back and took another look at the MG-B. It sported the same ugly black rubber bumpers as mine. It looked like it was standing on tiptoes. [MG’s answer to US bumper standards: replace their beautiful trademark grille and chrome bumper with that hideous rubber thing, and then jack-up the suspension an inch or so.] How in the world did I ever get the car around corners at any rate of speed without rolling it? And those awful stamped steel wheels. Mine had the beautiful wire wheels that most people associate with classic MG’s, didn’t it? No… wait… it had the same wheels as this one. But mine were rusting.
And that color! How could I ever be seen in public driving something that hideous? They called it “Bracken.” “Brackish” would have been more like it. It was the same murky color as a mud puddle full of Georgia clay. I couldn’t believe anyone with a modicum of taste would cover a car with such a putrid shade.
The memories came flooding back. I drove it with the top down because the canvas cover was so fiendishly complicated I didn’t want to try putting it up. The few times I made the effort, I could hardly duck my head low enough to get in. Once there, I couldn’t see anything through a tiny slit of a windshield that was nearasdammit at ground level. I used the overdrive as often as I did because the MG-B got atrocious gas mileage. And it was slow. A contemporary Cobalt or Corolla would easily outrun and out corner this high-performance English thoroughbred. It was noisy. It leaked copious amounts of oil (the main reason I tinkered with the engine on weekends). Of course, back then, I couldn’t have cared less. I was young and the MG-B was a genuine sports car. That was all that really mattered.
The owner came out: a college kid. As he drove off, I wondered why anyone with an education would willingly sacrifice safety, comfort, speed, handling and reliability for Anglophile street cred. No doubt he loves his MG-B, though, and the attention it attracts. And I’m sure some 20 or so years from now he’ll think back fondly on his MG and regret getting rid of it– regardless of the trouble it gives him now. Live and learn.
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Styling is intensely personal preference. Since I was a kid in the early 70's I'd have rather taken a bullet than a '55 Chevy with Cragars on it. The older I get, the more I'd rather die than drive anything done by Boyd... "Hi, I'd like some automotive vanilla pablum for $150K, whaddya have?" Blecch. Sure, it might be kinda fun to have a Hemi 'Cuda, but hardly something that makes me excited. There's 20 more at the local auto show, just like yours. Snoresville. A Pantera, GT40, Muira - having driven them all, POSs to be sure. But at least they don't look like some white-trash-cheese-dog Harley Earl insipid, err, inspired design. Oh yeah, and they performed much better too. One of the cars I bought when a teen was an X1/9. Got me way more play cruisin' Main Street than the wahoos in their chrome-wheeled Montes. The bonus was I got to watch a few of them stuff it hard trying to keep up with my "little furrin' POS" on winding country roads. Loads of fun. The only person in town who could beat me on the road was this girl with a 914-6. If only I had had the funds for a turbo... The new crop is light-years better than the old. Sure, we all wax nostalgic, but who in their right mind wants a car with points, leaf springs, and a carb?
My first car, bought as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy at the age of 22, was a 1952 MG-TD. It was a fun little car to drive, when it was up to running. But I'd bought it with trust, from a Lt. Commander at the air base where I was stationed; and he'd sold it to me with a blown head-gasket. (He did offer to buy it back, when a retired Machinist's Mate Chief Petty Officer, who also raced MGs in the 1950s, told me of the head gasket. The officer acted shocked, telling me "There's nothing wrong with that car," shaming me into keeping it. Hey, I was gullible as most young car buffs are.) I had it for a year and it almost broke me, financially. I do remember it had an amazing ability to corner well. I liked it because it reminded me, looking at its exterior, of some of the better American roadsters - think the model "A" or "B" - of the 1930s. But in retrospect, it really was a shitbox. How Ken Miles got those same chassis to do the things he did with the old "Flying Shingle" amazes me, when I read about that special and others he built, based on MG-T series cars.