Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Life in a Drive

I can't help but feel a little bit intrusive today.  I was given the privilege of doing something highly personal with another man's dearest.  It's not what you think.  Or, if you hang around here much, it's exactly what you think.

I was granted the high honor of taking a friend's father's classic 1966 MGB Roadster on a Sunday drive.  I have to confess that I all but invited myself to this party, made it seem like it was her idea, but, as I like to coyly admit, "I am not completely without artifice."  Sure she needed help burning off the better part of half a tank of gas before shipping it off to the mainland, but was I just a bit too eager to help?  Did I take advantage of someone who doesn't know how to drive stick?  Again?

Mindful of the intrusion, I made sure I was respectful of its owner, my friend's father.  Bill bought this little British Racing Green roadster, brand new in 1966.  It rolled off the lot in Ann Arbor, Michigan, if there even was a dealer back then.  I doubt it.  It could very well have just been an importer or broker.  Even in its heyday, MG hardly enjoyed much of a market share in the U.S.

This little convertible remained with Bill for the rest of his life, right up until January 2015.  Besides Michigan, Bill and the MGB were on the East Coast, probably Maryland, DC, and Florida.  Eventually, Bill's skill set with the technical aspects of Navy nuclear submarines brought him to Honolulu, HI (and probably explains their time in Virginia Beach and Cape Kennedy as well), and of course, the MGB accompanied him.

As I drove the little roadster today, I made sure to keep Bill respectfully on my mind.  He took great care of this little sports car, and, on my watch, I would too.  I'd never driven such an old foreign car before, and I was ever watchful of the various problems for which these vehicles were known.  Overheating.  Leaking.  Rattling apart.  I made sure on a couple occasions to park the roadster to let it cool in the hot sunday afternoon.  Under the shade of a huge banyan in Waimanalo, we popped the hood and took in the gorgeous little convertible.  But not because we had to.

No gremlins ever appeared, as Bill seems to have left this car in fine fettle.  And his daughter has cared for it lovingly in this difficult time, until she hands it off to Bill's friend in Ohio, who already cares for two other MGs.  While we drove, she shared a few memories of her dad with me.  They were bittersweet, of course, but I hope she enjoyed the drive as much as I did.  She did joke that she was her father's "other child," this car being her more beloved sibling.  No, you weren't, and it wasn't.

I realize I learned very little about Bill, and yet in driving his little MG, I feel I know a lot because I know that, for some people, a car is more than a car.  The clutch was tight and firm, the H-pattern shifter felt like I would guess it was meant to feel.  Perhaps the dash was blemished and shopworn, but the gauges were clear and all appeared to work properly.  The seats, while well used, were firm and supportive and uncharacteristically tear-free.  I felt like I was steering with a hula hoop, but lock to lock, it was solid.  Before ignition, I made sure to inspect things under the hood, and I observed no leaks, and fresh rubber connecting all the oily and sparky bits.  The rear vinyl backlight, despite it's age, was clear.  The engine ran - forgive me for the overused simile - like a sewing machine.  It wasn't very confidence inspiring when I wanted to overtake other traffic, but that wasn't Bill's fault.

It's paint job wasn't perfect by any stretch, but it was most certainly British Racing Green, and it was satisfying to be seen in it.  I caught people on the road admiring us as they passed (rarely did we do the passing).  This was no car show queen.  Appearance was important, but not that important.  This was an engineer's car.  This was a car lover's car.  This was a driver's car.  This was a father's car, a father like me.  This was the car of a man who knew how to enjoy himself.  Bill kept this car to enjoy the drive, and I hope he doesn't mind that I got to enjoy it for myself.

I tried to be, first and foremost, respectful.


M.Lane said...

What a great post. I would have loved to have met this fellow. My first car fetish [even before the 1977 Trans Am] was the Triumph Spitfire. Maybe it is time to go out and look for one.

Or not. Maybe it is no coincidence that an engineer owned this MGB. Perhaps as with many things the dream is just better.

Good to see you writing.


Ben said...

Yes your love for the Spitfire is well documented. You should drive one, like I did here, before even considering buying, though. I am now a proponent of the Shameless Finagle.