Posts Tagged ‘classic cars’

When looking back on my life, I tend to see it as a series of chapters. Sometimes the chapter ends in a cliffhanger, and at others, it’s a smooth segue to the next part of my tale. The cliffhangers are rarely fun as they generally involve uncertainty, but the smooth segues are just as likely to be bittersweet as they are to be happy endings. This week is one of the latter, a quick flurry of activity that wraps up a major facet of my life, a transition for which I am ready but which still is tinged with sadness.

It was my father who infected me with a love of old cars. He was a fan of the MG-TD, a British car manufactured in the early ’50s, and he had one throughout my early years. For most of those years, it spent its time in the garage, unused, gathering dust, waiting for the funds that would bring it back to life. But while it never left its bay beneath the dark rafters, it took me around the world. Often I’d climb in, breathe air heady with the pungent smell of wax and gear oil, lean back into the creaking seat leather, run my hands across the smoothness of the polished walnut, grip the knurled ring of the gigantic steering wheel. I’d press buttons, move the stick shift around, sitting tall so I could see over the dash and out the windscreen into the darkness, and drive off into my imagination. I drove past pyramids and leaning towers, through canyons and forests, across countries and continents, all from the shadows of our garage.

There came a day, though, that my father had to face the facts; every year that the old car sat in the garage only added to the cost to make it roadworthy, and with a growing family, it was an expense he could no longer even plan to justify. And so there came a Sunday when a burly man with a tow truck showed up on our suburban street. I stood in the door from the kitchen to the garage, watching. Through the open garage door I could see my father and the man, standing in the harsh sunshine, talking in low tones. My dad nodded, the two men shook hands, and then the tow truck was backed up into our driveway. I went out into the blinding sun and stood by my dad; he stood there, arms crossed, brow creased, jaw set. Chains and straps and bars and hooks were attached and wrapped around our old friend, and with the sound of winches and whining motors, the back end was lifted, suspended over the smooth concrete slab of the garage floor. The driver said something to my father—I don’t recall the words but the tone was one of thanks—and then he climbed into the cab of the tow truck and started the engine.

What happened next remains a visceral memory, for that old MG had been one of the few constants in my life. In the few years prior to that day, we had moved from the only home I’d ever known, my mother had died, my father went through a period of grief, had eventually remarried, and then my twin brothers arrived. Nothing I knew was dependable, nothing was permanent, nothing except that car. So when I realized it was going away, not for repairs, but forever, the twisted rope of my emotions tightened toward breaking. And when the driver began to drag it out of the garage, the car’s front wheels locked, as if it didn’t want to go, as if it wanted only to stay, wanted me to drive it around the world, again and again. The tires squealed as it was dragged out of the garage onto the driveway, and screamed when they hit the asphalt. The car screamed as it was towed away, down the street, around the corner, and out of our lives. I looked up at my father—a man who never cried—and saw one great tear fall from his eye. Without a word, he turned, went into the garage, and closed the door on the empty bay.

I stayed there, standing in the driveway, sun hot on my head, the echoes of the car’s defiance still ringing in the air, until it faded from my ears. From my ears, but never from my heart.

I think of this day now because I am doing something similar. Pepper, our 1962 Triumph TR3-B roadster, who has been our joy for a decade, has been sold. Soon, a truck will arrive at my driveway, and a driver will, with chains and straps and bars and hooks, winch Pepper onto a flatbed truck for her journey to Beverly Hills where she is sure to find a new home. I, too, am likely to shed a tear (or two) as she is taken away, but unlike my father, I’m ready. She was tons of fun, and with her we explored the backroads of Seattle and Puget Sound, enjoying the 360° panoramic view from her open air cockpit, but now, with retirement looming, the costs and discomforts of keeping and driving a car that has no windows, no heater, and minimal shock absorbancy, well, let’s just say it’s time to turn the page.

So long, old girl. May the road rise up to meet you.


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1962 TR3B

There have been times in my life–and I bet in yours, too–when I’ve found myself in a While-You’re-Up death spiral.

You know…you rise from the sofa during a commercial break and before you’ve had a chance to lock your knees your Significant Other says, “While you’re up, would you mind…?” That dot-dot-dot is always a small thing, like getting a can of soda, something you can’t legitimately refuse, not in polite society, and so you agree, except when you get to the kitchen, you find that there isn’t any soda in the fridge. You go to the pantry and find another pack of soda, only it’s warm. A quick peek in the freezer shows that you’re also out of ice. So you go down to the garage and get a bag of ice from the deep-freeze. Then, back upstairs, you bring back a can of soda and a glass of ice, only to be met with a smile and a “And maybe some chips? While you’re up?”

These are the moments that test marriages.

An example: one Thanksgiving, not too long ago, I got While-You’re-Upped from simply attending the feast to acting as sous chef to doing most of the cooking to actually setting the entire menu and creating the shopping list. While-You’re-Up-ism is a combination of slippery slopes and thin-edged wedges, often difficult to identify until you’re already hip-deep in trouble.

Such has been our experience with Pepper, the classic 1962 Triumph TR3-B we purchased a little over a year ago.


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1962 TR3B

I miss Erector Sets. I blame my car.

Pepper (or Peppah-Girl as my Hawaiian friends call her) came home last week and since then I’ve been somewhat…preoccupied. She was in the shop for a loooong, long time, but it was necessary. I let the pros fix all the critical issues (like steering and brakes and such) and left the small, non-crucial items for myself.

There are many things I like about this car, but one thing that pleases me most is her simplicity. Pepper is a decidedly low-tech vehicle. She has a tractor’s engine (seriously…the engine Triumph used was designed for tractors) and simple hydraulics for brake and clutch. The steering is unpowered, requiring a good deal of brute force to turn the wheels (especially when stopped). One part of the engine is actually made of glass, and parts of the body are supported by pieces of wood.

All this pleases me greatly.

It’s been a long time since I worked on a car. I never really got into the serious gear-head stuff like pistons and differentials and transmissions, but the things I was doing this weekend were well within my capabilities. I fixed some wiring, replaced dashboard knobs, installed a grab bar and lap belts, swapped the old locks for new ones I have keys for, and trouble-shot a tail light problem. These were all–even drilling holes for the lap belt anchors–pretty straightforward tasks and while I was working on these fixes, I felt like a kid again.

Growing up, one of my favorite toys was my Erector Set. The set I had wasn’t anything like today’s versions. Almost everything in it was made of metal, not plastic. It had actual nuts and bolts, not thumbscrews and snap-together pieces. The metal beams and angle brackets were somewhat sharp at the edges, the set had no specialized parts, and the instructions were basically just pictures of what you might want to build instead of step by step Ikea-esque pictograms. The biggest difference, though, was that you could build anything, not just the one or two things for which the set was designed.

And build anything, I did.

I built the cranes and helicopters pictured in the booklet. I built skyscraper superstructures with playing card walls. I built things that weren’t anything at all, but that pleased my eye or used every piece in the set (or both). The Erector Set of my youth taught me about load strength, cross- and angle-bracing, lock-nuts, pulleys, and a hundred other practical attributes of construction. Mostly, though, the set taught me not to be afraid of working with my hands. Later, with this grounding in the basics, I taught myself household repair, woodworking, cabinetry, watch repair, and yes, car maintenance.

So, this afternoon, as I disassemble Pepper’s door panels to gain access to the door locks, it will be like I’m back in the old house on Briarwood Drive, sitting cross-legged on the linoleum, playing.


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Sergeant Pepper, our 1962 TR3BIt’s been an interesting ten days…and while this isn’t strictly “writing-related,” give me a minute and I’ll try to wrap it back around to the topic.

During the past week or so, while I was working on “Antelope Hunting with Sir John,” I was also going around looking at cars.

Cars? you say.

Yes. Cars. Remember back when my wife asked me that “unexpected question?” Like that, cars. (more…)

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