When I was growing up, we shared a back alley with a gentleman named Tom. He and his wife lived in a lovely late-Victorian home with several purebred dogs, a yard full of wisteria, and a number of wonderful antique clocks. You see, Tom is one of the dying breeds of tradesmen who knows how to repair clocks. This attention to detail made him the perfect owner for the two vintage British roadsters he kept in the back yard.
On a particular Saturday every April, you'd hear a thunderously-tinny sound coming from his back yard. White smoke would envelop the neighborhood, birds would fly en masse to roost a block away, and the smell of crankcase oil and starter fluid would fill the air. Hearing the cars start up meant that Spring had arrived to the neighborhood!
Tom spent most of his summers driving a red 1963 Triumph TR4 around town, though his blue 1961 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite made a rare appearance every few years. He loved the Triumph, as the patina on the car revealed, and when it wasn't being driven, it was secured only by a black tonneau cover.
I always liked that car, but never got the nerve to ask him for a ride. But one day when I was 14, I heard the phone ring, and my father was soon excited and laughing. When he hung up, he came into the room.
"Get your shoes on. Tom wants to show you something," he said with a big smile.
Shoes on, I waited outside on the porch. A moment later, I heard the small displacement Triumph turn the corner, and it stopped in front of our house. It was April, and the car hadn't been out much, so the top was still on. I watched as Tom's lanky 6'2" frame unfolded from inside the car. He looked over, and yelled, "Let's go for some ice cream."
I was ecstatic! I ran off the porch down to the little red car. I was a bit disappointed that the top was up, but I wasn't complaining. My true feelings must have shown on my young face, though. "Let's put the top down," he said. "It gets better gas mileage that way, anyhow."
Once we'd disassembled the top, and took a seat in the car, I started scanning the interior environment. Its horsehair-stuffed leather seats smelled lovely. And because it was a driver, some parts of the dash had some wear to them, but it was all great patina. I latched the 3" wide aircraft-style lap belt, and cinched it tight.
A turn of the key brought the 2138cc engine to a puttery start. It didn't have a lovely idle, but once in gear and moving, that wonderful British roadster noise (which can only come from a carbureted four cylinder) blasted from the tailpipe and into my psyche. Tom was great about winding out the gears, and the car responded with a melodious array of exhaust pops and vibrato. I'd look out over the hood, and stare down the lovely teardrop of a hood bulge that covered the carburetors, imagining that I could see the throttle plates open up wide. And I'd occasionally glance down at the array of gauges in the dash to make sure all was well. It felt and sounded like I was riding co-pilot in a biplane, and we were ready for some barnstorming!
Through the backroads we ran - 10, maybe 20 miles. Just two car lovers enjoying a fun, little roadster.
Years later, I would buy my own roadster, a 1991 Mazda Miata, also red with black interior. It was a great car, but it lacked the raw personality and purity of the Triumph. When I drove that Miata, a part of me always felt like it was Tom's TR4.
I never got another ride in the Triumph, and when I ran into Tom a few years ago, he mentioned he hadn't run the car in several more. Admittedly, I was crushed. But I gave him my contact information, with the promise to let me know if he ever wanted to sell the red Triumph. It would mean not only a cool car in my garage, but a chance to relive those memories from my childhood.
I'm still anxiously waiting for his call.