Steering Wheel: A Special Romance

By Alan Paradise

Without them, there would be no passion. There would be no need for winding country roads. No reason for driving caps and water-resistant parkas. No longing for early spring drives. They are our beloved British sports cars.

From the fundamentally basic early MGs to the much-maligned yet innovative Triumph TR7, every British two-seater delivers a special emotion, an elusive quality automakers from around the world have yet to capture or recreate. For all their faults, all the quirks, creaks, and tendencies for unreliability, there is a heart and soul housed within all the alloy, leather, rubber, and wood that captures and holds us in check.

With all this going for us, why is it we expend more energy recounting the downside of our automotive selection, rather than singing their praises? Perhaps it is because we have such an affinity for these marques, that we are the only enthusiasts that can relish in their shortcomings. We can exclaim with glee about the transmission that went south in the middle of nowhere. The electrical system that ignited the instrument panel. A broken radiator hose that escalated into a warped head…and so on.

At the time any of these things happen, we have been ready to swear off British cars, once and for all. However, by the time the repair was hardly underway, our conviction has, once again, changed. So strong is the affection for British sports cars that automakers from America to Japan have been working the formula in an attempt to bring back the magic.

The only manufacturer to come close to reaching the same level of heart and soul has been Mazda with its MX-5 Miata. Although we must, we are reluctant to acknowledge the accomplishment of an Asian automaker.

Recently, I came across the sales contract and a photo of my first British sportscar. My personal addiction started in 1978 with a Triumph TR7. That’s right, “the shape of things to come.” I recall driving past the British Leyland dealer every day on my way home from work. I had always wanted a MGB, but the timing never seemed to be right. I stopped at the dealership about a dozen times over a six-month period. I liked the MG models, as well as the TR7.

There were only two problems: the price and the power. Being in California, smog laws required TR7s to come with a single carburetor. TR7s in some other states were available with dual Stromberg carburetors.

It was an ideal spring evening when the sales manager called to inform me that he had just received a 1977 TR7 in trade. The car came from West Virginia and was not required to have the California smog equipment. I quickly dashed the six blocks from my residence to the dealership. There, waiting for me, was a bright Java Green wedge. I jumped in the car and screamed off for a test drive. I whipped the TR7 around from left to right, slammed on the brakes, did a few jack rabbit starts, and promptly fell in love.

I wanted the car, but still needed to get the dealer to hack off on the $5,100 price. As fate would have it, the dealership was willing to deal and sold a TR7 that evening.

Over the next year, my Teezar required several electrical repairs, new dampers, and suffered a warped head due to a blown head gasket and overheating.

Today, despite my better judgment, I still love the TR7. It was the model that made me put aside my affinity for Corvettes, and turned me onto small, intimate sports cars, all of which has allowed me to become the new editor of British Motoring.

Like most of you, I do not look with disfavor on the mechanical failure of my British-made car. I wear the repairs like a badge of honor. We have all proven that our love for the heart and soul of British cars far outweighs any inconvenience they have caused.

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