The other day I saw a vintage MG Midget tooling down the highway, and it brought back memories – OK, nightmares – of the one I owned many years ago.
There was one slight difference: The MG I saw was running. Mine seldom was. Most of the odometer mileage on my MG was compiled as it was being pulled behind a tow-truck.
I professed to buy the sleek little British convertible because it got excellent gas mileage, but the truth is, I bought it because I thought driving a sleek car would be cool.
And it was.
The first winter that I owned the rag-top it was so cool that I almost froze to death.
The cloth top was apparently made of surplus World War II parachute silk that disintegrated with the morning dew. I can still hear the winter wind whistling through the flapping tatters of the roof. The MG’s instrument panel registered speed, rpms, engine temperature and wild-chill factor.
A convertible, of course, is not designed for the dreary doldrums of winter. It’s a sporty summer car, meant to be driven when the sky is bright and blue and the sun is smiling down, as you take Carmen Electra for a spin through the verdant countryside with wind in your hair and hope in your heart.
But, my MG was allergic to summer.
Warm weather made its fickle motor overheat. If the temperature got over 78 degrees the check engine light would start glowing and Carmen would have to hop out and pour some cold water into the radiator from a plastic milk jug I kept filled in the back seat for that purpose.
Talk about mood killer.
Normally, I didn’t dare drive the MG more than a wrecker-tow from home, but one summer I recklessly decided to take it on a road trip Talladega, Ala., for a NASCAR race. Somewhere around Gadsden, the check engine light came on. I put a strip of black electrician’s tape over it to block the glare and kept going.
She boiled over at Guntersville and the engine seized up. If I’d been smart, I would have left her there beside the trail, like a cowboy’s lame horse in an old Western.
Of course if I had actually been smart, I wouldn’t have bought a foreign rag-top to start with.
I walked to a filling station where two good ole’ boys from came back with me and used bailing wire and tobacco juice to get my car running.
When I got home I took it to the local Imported Motorcar dealership for a proper tune-up.
I knew I was in over my head when classical music wafted from the reception-area sound system and the mechanic came out wearing a white smock. He looked like Dr. Kildare. I wondered if he’d been performing brain surgery back in the bay. But, whatever he did to my MG was much more expensive than brain surgery.
The repair bill was more than $1,000 and – I swear I’m not making this up – the car broke down on my way home.
Thankfully, it had made it only a few blocks before coughing to a stop. So, I hoofed back to the dealership and told Dr. Kildare there were some post-surgery complications.
Diagnosis: vapor lock, said the smock to the schmuck.
I dug out my wallet and bailed out my MG again, but with a warning to the topless gold-digger: This was the last time.
A couple of weeks later in a stroke of luck, I wrecked the car and totaled it. Everybody tried to warn me not to get a convertible.
I was skinned up a tad, which was a small price to pay for finally escaping that mechanical Alcatraz.
But sometimes, when I’m puttering along in the type of boring vehicle that normal people drive, I confess that I miss the wind in my hair and the bugs on my teeth. I miss the contented purr that a fine-tuned British motor makes just before the check engine light flashes on, and it coughs to a stop, before I turn to Carmon in the posh leather bucket seat beside me and say, “Hop out Carmon, and get the water jug.”
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WOODY: Sometimes Sports Car Memories Worth Every Penny
March 18, 2012