Bitten by the Sports Car Bug

None of us would be poring over this publication if somewhere along the way we hadn’t been bitten by the “sports car” bug. But how did it bite, and how serious the infection, and more importantly, how it progresses, is my story of this incurable affliction. My story may or may not be typical, but it has been interesting. It started in 1962, when I went on my first rally in a Karmann Ghia belonging to a friend’s father. I thought that the neatest thing in the whole world was that small sporty convertible zooming around corners while all my counterparts were salivating over big, snorting V8s, catching rubber in all three gears. Never one to follow any particular fad or fancy, I marched to my own twisting road drummer and promptly fell in love with a very laded BN1 Healey that I located in the far reaches of a small used car lot. Whining and cajoling as only a 16-year old can, I finally convinced my parents to let me buy the little “foreign car”. Thank God, I have always been mechanically minded! But it never left me stranded, (soaking wet-yes, but stranded, never!). After many wonderful miles, I simply couldn’t put up with the side curtains any longer, so my beloved Healey was replaced with several different trade-ups, until I managed to swap a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible for a very low mileage 1964 MKIIIBJ8. I was in heaven, and most of my friends thought that I was absolutely nuts. The car was still running strong with over 100,000 miles, when I made a youthful mistake and traded my beloved Healey for the

American family boat. No family followed and as the years passed I longingly eyed the occasional Healey I happened to cross paths with. I extolled their virtues to my wonderfully understanding wife who simply said, “they look really cute. If you want one, why don’t you get one?”. Easier said than done, for we were running private yachts at the time and never in one place for very long. But fate prevailed, or at least came very, very close.

We were living in Sturgeon Bay, WI—dairy cow and yacht building country, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of that distinctly beautiful rear fender, peeking out of a snow bank. I promptly skidded to a stop at the small summer cottage, only to realize that it was closed for the season and that some callous soul had left this wonderful car outside in the notorious Wisconsin winter. After much investigating, (give me an A!), I managed to track down the owner through his Texas tag and the Wisconsin tax office, only to learn that a sudden fall storm had caught the car, which had refused all attempts to crank in the below -0- conditions. So, the owner had simply left it at his cottage. Wasn’t meant to be, but Valerie still said it was a cute car, and not to worry, we’d find one.

When we finally returned to our Florida home, I still had memories of a third gear that went on forever and the morning click, click, click, of the electric fuel pump, and had actually started checking out the ads in Moss Motoring and Hemmings. One morning, as I was driving to work, a red BJ8 suddenly appeared out of nowhere and zoomed off around a traffic circle. I took after it, but my little rice-burning truck was no match for those six big cylinders and that wonderful third gear. A few days later, in the same area, I couldn’t believe my eyes: there sat the car alongside the causeway with a “for sale” sign propped up on the windscreen. I promptly swung over and began to examine the car, only alter I had carefully copied down the owner’s name and phone number. Maybe I had been running yachts too long, for my manners would not allow me to board any unoccupied vessel without an invitation, so I simply drooled all over the BJ8’s exterior and peered through the windows, wondering what shape it really was in. Now, imagine my surprise and disgust when a very loud and obnoxious lady pulled up, waddled over, opened the door and flopped in (a transgression I could never make). While dropping cigarette ashes all over the interior, she loudly proclaimed to her equally pleasant boyfriend that this was what she was going to do with her old man’s divorce settlement. I quietly and quickly slipped away to call the owner, making arrangements to meet him as soon as he returned home with the car.

My meeting was with a nice old fellow who really had no idea what he owned, but was “rather fond of it”. An initial inspection revealed an untouched diamond in the rough that would barely run and couldn’t idle long enough to let me get out of the car and under the hood. Since I had brought along enough tools to completely check out the car, I offered to do a quickie tune-up so that I could give the car a fair sea trial.

Enthusiastically the owner agreed, and watched while I set the timing and roughed in the big S.U.s. After a few quick adjustments, the car was now ticking over at a steady 650 RPM and ready for a fair trial. The owner declined to come along, and my wife and I took off along the river road, with me anxious to demonstrate that wonderful third gear. The trial went smoothly until it came time for Valerie to take the helm. I never did figure out what caused our trip across the park, something about “little bitty pedals” or “all that hood out front”. I even saw some panicky motions that looked like the desire to open the door and drag a foot to slow down. Fortunately, the large trees were agile enough to avoid the loose car and the grass and Valerie’s composure was the only casualty of the ride.

Just as the owner and I were well into negotiations, who should pull up but that woman, dropping ashes over her belly. She promptly barged up and offered the man fifteen hundred dollars over my best offer without even glancing at the car. Much to my pleasant surprise, after a few moments of tense silence, the owner announced, “nope, it’s already sold”. Yes! There must be a god that looks over aging sports cars. After she had left in a trail of smoke and ashes, the owner explained he just couldn’t see her taking care of the car the way I would. At this point I offered him a deposit, which he declined, saying that I could pay him in full when I picked up the car in two days. It seems that he wanted to drive it one more day, “now that it ran so well”.

The following evening when I returned from work, Valerie said that she had some bad news for me. The owner had called and decided to sell the car to that lady. It seems the reality of the fifteen hundred dollars had finally sunk in. I was livid, even though it was 2 a.m. I wanted to call and give him a piece of my mind; why, we had shaken on it! After a sleepless night of chastising myself for not meeting the woman’s offer, I could only think of the poor car’s fate, sitting out in some apartment parking lot. Its wonderful smells camouflaged by cigarette smoke. I resigned myself to finding its new home and watching for the inevitable breakdown, when I would then try and buy it back from her.

I’ll never forget my Valentine’s Day surprise when I pulled into the dock and saw the big Healey sitting at the head of the pier, all wrapped up in white bows and hearts, with my wonderful wife beaming alongside of it. A big cheer went up from passengers and crew alike as they realized that their Captain was a very happy and lucky man.

Could such a story end there, of course not! I had back-to-back cruises that day, so Valerie was left to pilot the prize home. Seems that on the way home the slave cylinder picked our town’s busiest intersection to die in the middle of. The only person Valerie could think of to call was the former owner, who oddly enough was trying to get hold of her too, something about a bad check! In her excitement to surprise me, she had used the wrong checking account. I promptly repaid the owner and started my happy association with Moss Motors by purchasing a new slave cylinder.

About the car — Valerie tells me it’s running great! She really likes third gear, too! If you see a fire engine red BJ8 zooming around armond Beach. Fl. being driven by an attractive blond, don’t be too impressed. It’s not really her car, she just thinks it is.

 

Joseph Schnaufer

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