British sports cars

In the 50’s, when all my friends were running around in black primed Fords and Chevys from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, I had my eye sat on those classic British sports cars. A friend of mine from Chillicothe had a red TR-3 roadster and I thought it was just about the coolest thing on the highway.

69 mg midget
My 1969 MG Midget

I spent a couple of summers back then in Columbia, SC and probably because of the warmer weather sport cars were more common than here in Ohio and every time I saw one I’d be forced to stop and pay attention. One of my high school friends bought a 50s era Morgan after graduations and I enjoyed getting to ride in it a few times and Tom Blackstone’s brother, Sam, owned a classic early 50s Jaguar roadster at one time and we took it out for a spin on occasion. As close as I got to owning one before 1969 was a 59 VW Beetle with a cloth sun room. While it was a cool car and fun to drive, it definitely wasn’t “sporty” and didn’t have that cool purr of a TR-3’s exhaust system. Sometime in the mid-1960s my friend and college roommate, Frank Stanley, bought a Triumph TR-4 and I spent lots of time driving and riding in it. It’s kind of difficult to say which chunk of British iron was my favorite but at the top of the list would have to be the Austin-Healey 3000, Triumph TR-3 and 4, and the early 1950 MGs. In mid 1969 I graduated from college and went for a haircut one Saturday morning. Next to my barber shop was Downey California’s own MG, Healey, and Triumph dealer and as the summer sun shined down on my new flat top I decided a new college grad deserved a new sports car. So, I drove the 59 bug over to the dealer and drove away in a brand new British Racing Green 1969 MG Midget with genuine chrome plated wire wheels. Total price with dealer prep, delivery, and taxes was $2649.00. My first wife and I had lots of fun in that car and it served us, later her, well and even after she sold it was mostly a trouble-free vehicle. Right up to the day the day the then owner drove it into the blade of a snow plow. British sports cars were not trouble-free and I once read that the main rule about owning one was to make sure your best friend was a mechanic. The singular common problem I had with my Midget was keeping the dual single-barrel carburetors synchronized. It was such a common issue I eventually ordered a synchronizing kit from J.C. Whitney and learned to do it myself. A teaching colleague of mine bought a MGB back in the 80s and drove it for several years. When he decided to sell it I posted the car on eBay and a fellow in Chicago agreed to buy it. He was going to fly into Columbus, pick up the car and drive back to the Windy City. At the last-minute he asked my friend if the car would get him back to Chicago and my friend, not being sure wasn’t able to make that guarantee so the deal fell through. I remember telling my friend it was an unfair request anyway since nobody could ever guarantee a British sports car would make it to Leesburg, let alone Chicago. These reflections back come as a result of seeing three wonderfully restored MGBs pull up to the stop light in the center of Bainbridge on a recent Sunday afternoon. It reminded me of my Midget and the others vehicles I’ve mentioned as well as deciding that when I retired from teaching I was going to buy myself a sports car. So, when the day came and I went looking I didn’t get any further than the first MGB before discovering that two things had happened since that sunny day in 1969 when I bought my Midget. First, I could no longer bend down low enough to slither into the driver’s seat, and secondly, that little seat was now much smaller than my buttocks. A few months later I spent an evening at the annual car show in Columbus and decided some Detroit iron was more for my new physical reality and I sat in both a Mustang and a Camaro. I also tried on a C4 Corvette but its design made it almost impossible for me to get in and out of. Some weeks later I ended up at Gustweiler’s in WCH placing my order for a 1997, 30th Anniversary edition, forest green (closest to British racing green), leather power seats, six speed automatic, T-tops with roll bar, alloy wheels and low-profile tires. Immediately I had a Borla Cat-Back exhaust system installed and voilà, the cat purred. I loved that car but once the midlife crisis was over, several years later, I traded it in for a similar green Chrysler mini-van. But, about two years ago I was at an auction and behold, they were offering a Camaro for sale that was identical to mine except a year older and cloth seats. I just couldn’t help bidding and hanging in until it was mine. I don’t think I’m in any kind of age crisis these days and will probably keep this car until I can no longer get out without having to crawl.

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