Old British cars seek me out. Honest. The more needy they are, the more likely they are to end up on my doorstep. Old British cars find me. In the Midwest, back in my misspent youth, it seemed there was always a family who took in strays of all varieties. It was usually a family where there wasn’t much material wealth, but a wealth of understanding and tolerance and always room for one more.
I think we have become such a family for old cars. After a life of neglect and abuse, after bingeing on sodium chloride and water, they come to me seeking solace. Lord knows, we certainly don’t have the means to take care of one more, but nevertheless, we find room to shelter them and begin to mend their broken bodies and try to overcome the neglect of their youth. Some hang around longer than others, but we enjoy getting to know them all while they are here. They all seem to have a past, an unknown life that we can only guess at.
This past fall, an old Jaguar showed up in my driveway. It began late in the spring. I had been minding my own business, keeping an eye out for something simple like a nice little Mustang to provide a four-seater companion to our MGA. Moss Motoring classifieds arrived one day, and I saw an ad for the old Jag. I let it slide by, still intent on lassoing a Mustang. A week later, the Jag was still on my mind, so I called the owner. He was asking more than I wanted to spend. I really just wanted a Mustang. I let it pass.
Spring becomes summer, and I found a nice little Mustang and brought it home to the barn. I still think about the old Jaguar and assume it has found a home with someone else, but I have thoughts about what might have been. My wife hints that she liked the old Jag. School starts, the phone rings, the old Jaguar is still homeless, the price is a little better, am I still interested? The next thing I know, there is a truck in my driveway with a very dilapidated old Jaguar for me. I didn’t go looking for it. It just found me. My wife thinks I’m like a little boy who is always finding stray dogs that just followed me home. There is some justification to that analogy; however, I prefer to think of us as that family taking in anything needing a home.
They don’t always go home with me. Sometimes I just get to visit with them and their owners. Our last vacation was in the Rockies. In Jackson Hole, a Bugeye Sprite behind our cabin was peeking out from under its tarp at me. Its owner ran the cottages, as I later found out. 25 years ago I spent a summer in Estes Park, Colorado, driving an MGA, so we enjoyed swapping stories about the special rewards and challenges of owning a small British sports car in the mountains. The real surprise came when I found that the folks in the cabin next door were friends with the person whose Mustang I had been looking at back in Illinois! Small world? I think not. It’s the old cars conspiring to help each other find homes.
One of my friends has noticed the same thing. While we were traveling through Arkansas together, we were alternately approached by a homeless Austin-Healey, a couple of ’65 T-Birds and an MG TD—all on our way to rescue a Mustang! None of them ended up coming home with us that time, but at various times my friend has provided a home for a TR6 and a couple of Porsches.
I know, some of you are thinking I’m the one who needs to go to a home—for the feeble-minded. Fortunately, I already have a home where my eccentricities are tolerated. In fact, my wife was secretly encouraging the old Jaguar’s purchase. She won’t admit to that, but she definitely liked it, approved its purchase, and bought the first set of new parts for it.
Her interest is enhanced by being able to drive them on fine spring days and attending club events. While she doesn’t hear them call to her in the same way, she tolerates bringing home the rusty hulks in anticipation of someday driving the beautiful sleek car that turns heads. I look forward to that part, too, but I also enjoy the process. Bringing them back to health holds a certain fascination for me and I wonder how they came to be where they are.
If only they could talk, I’d love to hear all about their lives. What were the people like who built them? Where were they first sold? What was their original owner like? What are all the places they have traveled to? How did these once valued possessions come to be abandoned in a barn? Most of the time, their previous lives remain a mystery to us. We get to enjoy their presence for a while, and watch them shine once again. I give them time and money and attention. They give me an excuse to spend time outdoors, with fellow club members and with interested strangers. Not a bad exchange, I’d say.