My First Sportscar

*This essay was written way back in 1984. All the cars mentioned are now just memories, except the 1968 Mercedes, which is still my favorite car and still bears the cut in the rubber bumper guard. The Alfa Romeo is now owned by the girl’s brother and is sitting in a barn waiting restoration, but he doesn’t want to sell it. I now have a 1972 MG Midget that I restored 2 years ago.

My first experience with a sports car was in High School when a girl friend of mine let me drive her Datsun 1600 one night on the way home. After a quick trip through City Park listening to the engine straining and feeling the wind in my face, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I would drive a sports car. Her father owned an Alfa Romeo and I always hoped that someday I would get to drive that also. As it turned out I never did. It was some years later that another friend of mine in Cheyenne, Wyoming bought an old MG Midget, She too would let me drive her car, and in return I would do minor repairs to her car.

At that time I was not unfamiliar with cars. My christening into the world of automobiles had been many years earlier. My best friend and I decided to rebuild the engine in his ’56 Mercury. We knew next to nothing about engines, but that didn’t stop our enthusiasm as we sat on top of the fenders and started taking parts off the engine on that hot summer night. By midnight we had managed to disassemble most of the engine and in the process covered our arms, face, chest, and legs with black oil. It took a very long hot shower and lots of scrubbing with Lava to remove the black oil from me. But some of it must have soaked into my blood, because cars and I would never be the same.

I was living in Wyoming and I owned a ’48 Plymouth Club Coupe, a ’36 Ford Sedan, and my pride and joy being a 68 Mercedes. As is often is the case with cars, the Ford had never run since the day I bought it, the Plymouth had all of its paint removed, and my Mercedes had decided to let its front suspension fly apart while driving down the road. In need of some transportation I looked through the want ads and found a notice for a ’67 MGBGT. As soon as I could I ran over to the listed address and test-drove the car. It had lots of rust, low oil pressure, almost bald tires, and was filled with dirt and dust. I of course overlooked those few minor defects and arranged for payment.

That night after some initial tinkering and examination I went out for my first drive in my new car. After a spin of a few miles I was almost back home when I started to smell the strong odor of gasoline. Quickly heading home to find the cause, I had the misfortune of coming to a red stop light about four blocks from home. Slowing down for the light decreased the flow of air under he hood and allowed the gasoline leaking on the hot exhaust manifold to ignite. Thinking long enough to remember that the car ad an electric fuel pump, I turned the ignition switch off and leaped from the car. It’s quite a feeling to be looking at your car burning in the middle of the street and no help in sight. Running to the nearest house I began beating on the door to try and get some help. The older woman clutching her night robe and peering out the window at me must of thought that I was going to attack her and the burning car was only a ploy to get her, since she wouldn’t even open the door. I screamed at her to call the fire department or something and went back to my car.

By this time someone had stopped and found a garden hose at the house on the other side of the street and we began spraying the car. We managed to get the flames out just about the time that the fire truck arrived. After looking over the car one of the firemen made my day by remarking that he thought the car was totaled. With the help of helpful bystander we pushed my hulk home.

The next day with the sun shining and a bucket of soapy water to scrub the smoke off the windows, I began to see it wasn‘t as bad as it looked, after all in order to restore the car I would have had to replace many of the things that were now burnt. Thanks to some used parts I found at the only foreign repair garage in Cheyenne, that car was back on the road for 35 dollars in parts. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, as the day I was replacing the lower control arm a blizzard blew in and I completed the job outside in 20 degree weather with the snow blowing around me. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I was planning to leave Cheyenne.

A used wire harness, a can of black wrinkle spray paint for the dash, and a couple of new rubber hoses and my sports car was back on the road! By pure luck there was a 1967 MG in the local wrecking yard and I helped myself to every part I could get off it. My car was now in good enough shape to drive regularly. Now that I had my very own sports car I thrilled in driving it everywhere. But fate was not ready to let me continue. I packed my bags and set out for a new frontier and job in Seattle, leaving behind my beloved MG to my brother to drive until I could come back for it.

One night my brother called me to sheepishly report that something was wrong with the engine of my MG, as it was burning copious amount of oil. I must have relieved him when I burst out laughing and exclaimed that I was surprised that it had lasted this long. I made plans to come back at Christmas time and rebuild the engine. I must have been mad to think that it was possible to rebuild an engine and get the required machining done in the days between Christmas and

New Years day. Somehow with driving to Greeley, Denver, and Boulder I managed to find shops with time available and all the parts I needed. The morning that I was to leave I got up early and managed to get the engine running. After a few trips around the block I left instructions for it’s completion and caught my plane for Seattle.

The next Spring I flew back to Colorado and drove the MG to Washington. It was a wonderful trip, especially from Salt Lake to Seattle the last day (850 miles). The further I drove the more comfortable I was in the car. Just outside of Yakima, Washington the exhaust pipe broke loose under the car. Fortunately I was able

to contact a friend who lived there and with his help I welded the pipe back together. There was no way I was going to drive the last 100 miles with all that noise. Up to that point I stopped only for gas and ate while driving, averaging a healthy 60 miles per hour. I finally pulled in front of my apartment some 17 hours after leaving Salt Lake.

Now I was ready to get down to the serious business of restoration. The engine and interior were just about in final shape so the only thing left was the body. I had put it off as long as I could and there was no way of avoiding it now. There were lots of dents and rust to deal with. The main reason I was so hesitant to begin was the lack of proper equipment. I had decided I would take the paint off down to bare metal, which was about six coat of paint below the surface, so the first item was buying a disc sander. Now that there was no paint on the front fenders I had to purchase a used air compressor and a new spray gun. Of course followed the sand blaster and the air sander. This paint job was going to cost me a fortune before I ever got started. I managed to reclaim some of the expenses by painting a few cars for some unsuspecting friends and neighbors. Learning to paint on your own car is one thing, but when someone is paying you it’s quite another. I managed to do a good enough job as to not offend anyone and came away to the better. My own car suffered a few runs and sags that had to be done over

Some things are destined to never be as simple as they seem. I had just stripped all the paint off the driver’s door in preparation to painting it, and quitting for the day started to back the car into the garage. The rule I learned is to never back-up a car that doesn’t have any door latches in it. As soon as I pulled along side my Mercedes, which was parked in the driveway, the door of the MG flew open and caught on the back bumper of the Mercedes. This caused the door to bend back past its normal position and pushed into the front fender. Now I had two large dents to fix instead of a simple paint job. Fortunately the Mercedes escaped with only a small scratch.

With perseverance and a final bit of determination I completed the paint job. Now after so many months of driving a multicolored vehicle I had a near perfect sports car. The car gleamed from my years of hard work. Somehow 4 1/2 years had passed since I started. Even though the car was done there was something wrong, and I realized that I enjoyed working on the car more than having it completed. The car is now for sale and I am looking for my next car to work on. Maybe I’ll finally get around to the Ford, it still doesn’t run and I’ve owned it for 8 years. What ever my next project is I’m sure it won’t be my last. After all I now have a garage full of equipment to use.

By Robert Unfug
Northern Colorado British Motoring Club

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