By Bob Bicknell
Think back to your early teen years—for some of us, that’s looking a long, long way back. Think back to those awful years before you could legally drive. Yes, I know some of you snuck around and drove on occasion anyway, but hopefully you weren’t like me and backed into your Dad’s prized pecan tree.
Back then I was a voracious reader, still am, and my neighborhood library had a good collection of teen car books. I read them all, several times, books like Henry Gregor Felsen’s “Hot Rod” and “Street Rod,” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” One day, I picked up a copy of Don Stanford’s “The Red Car,” and in one of those glorious twists of fate, my life has been affected ever since.
Because my Dad worked downtown in the large city where we lived, in cold or wet weather he would drive me to school, several miles out of the way. However, when mild weather rolled in, we could leave home a little later, and he would drop me off at the school bus stop a couple blocks from home.
As April of 1954 began its pleasant days, we resumed our bus stop routine, and I would grab a book to read; on this particular day it was “The Red Car.” A couple of stops along, as the bus made its way further down the route, my eyes nearly popped out of my head, for there in the middle of the boulevard where a few residents parked was the very car in my book. A red MG, all squared off and boxy, simply glorious!
I doubt I learned much at school that day, counting down the seconds until the school bus would take me back to where I had seen The Red Car. Much to my great dismay, it was gone.
The next morning, when I hopped out of the family car at my bus stop, I immediately started walking—okay, so I was running—to the bus stop where I had seen the red car the day before. Wonder of wonders, it was back. Probably the owner drives it to work and had a schedule that didn’t require leaving early, before my bus passed by.
Right up until the last second before I heard my bus coming, I looked that MG over from every angle. This was the very car in my book!
Again the MG was gone when I headed home, but for the rest of the school year, every day the weather allowed, I was back at the MG on the way to school, getting a little braver each day, until I was sitting in the driver’s seat, and in my mind, I was living the story of The Red Car.
I was Hap, learning how to accelerate through a turn. I was listening to Frenchy explain how to time gear shifts by that big tachometer to best use the engine’s power curve and torque. I was picking up the finesse of effective braking to gain distance on competitors’ cars. Once I could hear the bus coming, I would jump out of the MG and race to my school bus stop.
I never saw the owner of the MG. I have often wondered if perhaps the owner had ever spotted me, and was just a kind soul, letting me live my fantasy.
When school ended at the end of May, that also ended my visits to the red MG. Those days, however, had hooked me for life. I was determined to one day own a sports car like that.
Eleven years down the road, my wife and I had one car and growing needs for a second; so I located one: a red, boxy MGTD. Prior to taking her to see the car, my wife visited with her doctor, who told us that a baby was on the way. Nine months later I jokingly referred to our daughter as our “Little Red MG.”
Fast forward again, to 1973. My professor owned a 1960 Triumph TR3A, and despite repeated attempts by the British Leyland shop to make the turn signals work, the car failed its vehicle inspection. In frustration, my professor gave up, and I offered to buy it from him, knowing we would soon be moving to a state without an inspection process. Imagine my surprise when I looked in a book I had bought in Japan while performing on a USO tour on how to fix any part of any car, and there was a wiring diagram for a TR3! This treasure allowed me to straighten out the mis-wired mess and get the turn signals operable again. Finally, we owned a little British sports car.
In the years that followed there have been other sports cars: our daughter’s first car was an MGB, our son’s first car was a Datsun 1600 Fair Lady (how’d a Japanese car slip in here?). Did I ever achieve my dream of a boxy, red MG? No, but my 1951 black MGTD got pretty close.
Our current sports car is a pristine 1979 yellow MGB with 37,000 miles that our son restored. Conversations now are underway with him about him getting the MGB back, and us taking his TR6; another restoration he took from the ground up. He is currently wrapping up a restoration of a Mini, as he waits for a right-hand drive Land Rover Defender to make it “across the pond.”
Yes, a lot has taken place through the inspiration of Don Stanford’s “The Red Car,” and that encounter at the bus stop. Thank goodness there are others who share similar experiences, and that there is a company like Moss Motors to enable Red Car stories to live on! MM