First Car

That’s not a Triumph!”  I checked the ad again and it clearly read, “65 Triumph, runs great - $750".  My buddy, Fred, who qualified as a Triumph expert merely by owning one shoots back, “Yeah it is — it’s a TR4".  But I wanted a Spitfire.  The recent memory of riding is his Spitfire on curvy back roads to Ann Arbor for a free MC5 concert had me hooked.  Plus Fred’s Spit was the essence of “cool” — with his “Peace” signs, Che Lives bumper sticker and “Hot Cha” painted in script on the trunk — I could see no better way to proclaim one’s rebellious persona.  I had to have my own.  However this was no Spit and here we were — two lily white, pony tailed, sideburn sportin’, hippy teens in the middle of Motown.  It was 1970.  Three years prior were the devastating Detroit riots, which had started only blocks away. The car was housed at a Standard station.  We pulled in for a better look.  I didn’t know what to make of it and thought we should leave.  Then from the gas station office emerged Leroy yelling for us not to leave.  He wore a green shirt and green pants, which matched the metallic green of the car.  The paint was a custom mix.  It looked good however the neon green indoor-outdoor carpeting was a bit much.  He paid extra for the wire wheels with the neat looking knock-off hubs.  There were 15" tires and the seats were new.  Fred listened to the engine, saw no tailpipe smoke and gave it his thumbs up.  I wasn’t sure.  Fred explained the car was more powerful than his Spitfire.  If he could, he would have gotten a TR4.  The idea of one upping Fred was very appealing plus the engine did look big.  I was impressed with the wood dash and if I replaced the green carpet...  Anyway, I was the chump holding the money.  I unleashed my shred business skills and offered $700 due to my really wanting a Spitfire.  Besides with gas prices in the high .20's — the larger engine was going to cost more to run.  He shot back $725.  I gave him the money.

The biggest decision of my life and it was over in a matter of  minutes. Fred drove it home since I hadn’t a clue how to use a stick.  Mom looked at it, putting on her best spin — “it’s... it’s... cute?”  Dad only understood Caddys.  For the next several days I would entertain groups of friends who would come over to see the “new” car.  I lived in Ford country and most couldn’t understand why a Triumph and not Mustang, Camaro or whatever.  And, besides — “What’s with the carpet??”

I practiced driving around the block however the car didn’t seem very powerful.  My friend Steve thought is sounded a bit rough.  Steve knew a lot about cars.  His was rather unique.  A ‘65 Ford Comet with an automatic on the column, a four on the floor and a clutch pedal connected to nothing.  However he knew engines and began poking with the wires.  Next time ‘round the block the car stated lurching forward.  Steve checked again and noticed the coil wire was loose.  Once secure — we revved the engine.  Instantly, a 1000% better and I mimicked the kid in the Dennis Quaid baseball movie — “OH MA GOD!!”  We were giddy with excitement.  I must have driven around the block 20 times that day. 

It was my coming of age car — long hair, free concerts, Stop the War and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine.  Gotta add my first and only acid trip...  Driving down I 94 — 3K rmps at 60mph.  Couldn’t go faster fearing the hood would lift up — no safety latch.  Two hands gripping the wheel while staring straight ahead – everything seemed fine until I realized I was driving underneath the yellow lines.  Throw in the Amboy Dukes, “Journey to the Center of Your Mind” blasting outta the radio. It was a great time to be alive.

I had the car from ‘70–‘73, all through community college and as a laborer on Zug Island.  Those were years of evolving adolescence and the TR helped define a personality during a period when everyone was searching for answers. I also figured out what the loud bang was every time I went over a bump.  The rear bolts, which secured the body shell to the frame, were way stripped loose.  At every bump, the body would rise several inches then smash on to the frame.  What a difference new bolts made.  Two guys who raced Mini Coopers rebuilt the engine.  Something about blueprint and balancing — which I never fully understood.  The entire rebuild was $600.  They told me how lucky I was to have a four due to it being a tractor engine – very solid. Those guys hated the Six.  Secretly, I thought the Six was the neatest thing out there.  However, I loved my Four.  Went to Toronto for three weeks, which was the furthest from home I’d ever been.  250 miles on half a tank and that was with the two hitchhikers I picked up outside of Windsor.

As I Triumph owner, I was forced to learn the meaning of “tinkering”.  Yet the car never left me stranded.  Top down on a humid summer night was special.  On the other hand, Michigan winters were not easy on English metal.  Rust was a problem.  By fall of ‘73 it was time for real college in Philly and the TR was stored in my parents yard.  That didn’t last long.  Under parental pressure to do something about the rusting “eye sore”, I passed it on to Dale — a good friend who always told me how much he liked the car.  He’d see it in the school parking lot and thought what a neat little car...  It was his now.  A year later I got the bad news.  It was winter.  While driving, Dale was shoving a wad of paper above the transmission tunnel so to jam the heating vent shut.  The vent lever never worked.  The car in front stopped and he careened straight in.  Sold the car to a wreaking yard and as it was being towed down the freeway — they rolled it into a ditch.

Oh well... I still have the shift knob, which is on my current TR6.  Then this year Dale hands me the original key from my Four.  He found it in a box with an old pic of me sitting on the hood.  The picture is framed and the key is in my TR6 hanging on the vent lever knob.  Needless to say, a vent lever that works...



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