Editorial: British Car Shows Breed Better Stories

By Robert Goldman

This editorial was going to be a harangue about the lack of a truly big British car day in Southern California. We have as high a population of British classics here as anywhere in the U.S., yet it’s been years since Southern California could muster 500 cars all on the same day.

However, to preempt the inevitable yawns, allow me to interrupt it with an anecdote.

Several years ago, we had a car show. There were all sorts of happy people having a good time. One of them, hoping to impress her boyfriend, no doubt, wanted to borrow my car. She wore me down, and somewhere later in the evening I acquiesced and gave her the key.

Several minutes passed before it became evident that something was wrong. The car had not moved. Eventually, the boyfriend hopped out and headed our way. I turned to the guys. “I’ll bet they can’t figure out how to start it.” Boyfriend sheepishly approached and in an aside asked how to start the car.

The car in this case was equipped with a Weber carburetor. Webers have no need for a choke, and even if it had one, it would not be automatic. Our young couple simply turned the key and waited for the computer to start the engine as if it were a modern car. I explained about pumping the gas and using the accelerator pump to keep it running. A few seconds later we heard the engine fire.

After sitting a while with the engine running but no motion, boyfriend hops out and heads our way again. “Five bucks says they can’t find the headlights.” As if on cue, boyfriend asks, “Where is the headlight switch?” I explained the push-pull switch on the dash, but neglected to mention the unlabeled blue light in the tach, or the dimmer switch on the floor.

By this time a small audience had gathered. I’m not known for handing my keys to twenty-somethings, so folks were curious. We watched the headlights come to life, and as the car pulled out, it was evident that the high beams were on. “I bet they a) don’t know the high beams are on, and b) don’t know how to dim them.”

Several minutes later the car returned unharmed. The kids were delighted. They waxed euphoric about the positive response on the road. Apparently, people flashed their lights and waved as our intrepid motorists passed. I’ll bet they did—that car has a set of 7” halogen headlights with deluxe paint-melting bulbs. After the happy couple explained their newfound popularity, the peanut gallery just about died laughing.

That story lasted for years. I used it to tease the poor kid, holding it over her head. “Be nice or I’ll write about what happened.” When I look back at the best times I’ve had in a British car, there’s always an element of people with disparate lives gathered together for a brief but memorable time.

The moral to all this is simple. Today there are plenty of smaller shows in our area, and many more to choose from around the country. If you neglect to attend a show this summer, remember, the best British car stories often happen at British car shows. It only takes one to make the event worthwhile. Get in your car and go to a show.

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