Friday, March 5, 2010

Fast Cars and a Straightaway Going Anywhere

My favorite European sports car has long been the Jaguar XK-120. There's something about the bulbous front end with bug-eye head lamps and split wind screen that spells c-l-a-s-s-i-c. It got the designation "120" because its top end speed was 120 mph, according to racing driver Alain de Cavenet's Speed channel series on classic motorcars. In 1954, the last year of production, you could obtain one for about $2000.00 -- today, you'd need to be comfortable handing over 50 times that price.
At one time, my father and I could have gotten hold of a couple for $1200.00 a piece. They were parked at a local service station within walking distance of my house. I was in my early teens and enthralled with sports cars, having seen the film Grand Prix twice and gotten the racing bug. In those days, twelve hundred bucks was a lot of money and since we had none to spare, the cars remained at the garage and I have no idea what became of them.

We owned a 1959 Chevrolet, 1966 Ford pickup truck, and I'd just gotten my driver's license. Since neither one was fitted for anything besides street driving, it was hard to satisfy my rising testosterone levels, especially since both had automatic transmissions while I yearned for a manual clutch and stick shift. Nevertheless, we sometimes have to make do and so that's what I did.

An irrigation canal ran for miles in our part of the country and along its bank was a single lane, rutted dirt road that turned into a quagmire after a rain. When someone had to run an errand to the grocery store, I was eager to volunteer because I could make a detour onto this makeshift track and charge hell-bent-for-leather the half mile home. It wasn't particularly dangerous unless I met a car coming the other direction which only happened once, and I'm sure I scared the other driver as badly as I did myself. There was no contact and I squeezed by him as quickly as I could, averting my face lest he identify me, inform my father, and thus bring a quick and sudden end to my racing career.

I remember telling dad about these forays into fantasy years later. He only smiled the half-smile that was his usual precursor to laughter, shook his head, and said, "It always took you a little longer to get home than you needed. I figured you were doing something." Was I ever.

I haven't outgrown my affection for Grand Prix and the older Formula One cars that were little more than gas tanks on wheels. Nor have I outgrown my affection for back country roads off the police radar. I still don't own a sports car but that's on the horizon. Since I'll probably be paying off medical school debt for the rest of my life, an
investment in a used four cylinder, stick shift, rag-topped British remnant of my youth won't make much difference. It probably won't be an XK-120 -- I'm not completely irresponsible -- but a Triumph TR-IV would be fine. Heck, if I can fit my 6'4" frame into the cockpit, I don't much care what it is, as long as it runs fast and there's a straightaway going anywhere.

(Creative Commons image by Sherlock77 via Flickr)

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