If there is some glorious afterlife where one relives moments of tremendous earthly happiness, then for me, one of those would be me driving a vintage MG convertible, zipping along on a narrow road, Pacific Ocean on one side, dry California hills on the other, music blaring. I am wearing sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
I endowed Roxanne Granville with my passion for those sweet little British sports cars. “The Silver Bullet is a difficult English car, but it has everything I love: speed, style, wire rims, a smooth purr to the engine, and a grace on curves. On PCH I turned north toward Malibu, where I pulled off to the side of the road, and unsnapped the convertible top and pushed it back so I could really feel my freedom. Speeding up PCH, to my left the sea was a dolphin-gray, and blue-gray waves broke in a white, ruffled froth along the pale beaches.”
Other vintage sports cars, like the Triumph and the Porsche are fine and attractive, but the MG gets under your skin. And into your wallet. The electrical systems are iffy. MGs are prone to overheat. They do not always start when you want them too. In truth you can really only drive an MG if you can do your own mechanical work. I could not. My love affair with the MG has cost me plenty, not just money, but anxiety. I was so happy when I lived in Encinitas years ago, to see that a mere two blocks away in my scruffy, comfy neighborhood, a guy named Charlie opened a foreign car repair shop. Charlie himself would sometimes push my MG the two blocks to his garage (which is still there).
In 1953 Roxanne drives an MGT. I have always lusted after one of these cars, but have never even been a passenger in one, much less driven one. The MGT with its classic boxy lines was manufactured from 1936 to 1955. It was discontinued in 1958 when they produced the MGA, very much smoother, more fluid lines, but just as fussy and unreliable.
In my youth I have driven a ‘58 MGA, a ‘59 MGA (the car battery on this one was held in place with a coat hanger for a time). I drove one MGA across country. In winter. The patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher himself vowed to disown me for such stupidity, but I did it. Driving in the desert late at night and very tired and thinking, idly dreaming somehow of marshmallows roasting on a fire, I passed beneath a overhead light. I saw that the little cab was filled with actual smoke, and that the floorboards were on fire. Yes, this MGA had wooden floors. Miles later I found a gas station, closed, but the water was still available and I put out the embers.
I had an Austin-Healy Sprite (which was wrecked, and I had to be pried out of the driver’s seat) and perhaps my favorite of all, a 1970 MGB, yellow which I also drove across country, and in the desert, the headlights failed.
I had to give up driving MGs once I became a mother. You simply cannot put a kid in one of these cars. My mother (whose children were all grown and gone) took over my MG. My sister had no kids, and she drove a red MGA for years until she started riding horses, and she could not afford both the horse, and the MGA. Although I have a picture of my eldest son, Bear, about three years old looking lovingly at the MGA parked in my parents’ yard, neither he nor his brother inherited my love of sports cars. Perhaps it’s not genetic, and certainly it’s just as well.
In my current neighborhood someone nearby owns a sweet little blue MG convertible. This time of year, spring, I am stricken with envy and nostalgia to see him zipping along the city streets, no doubt on his way to some imagined adventure.