The bright spot of what, otherwise, would have been a very mediocre adolescence, was my friendship with Dave Newhouse. I could go on for quite a while about the positive effect having Dave as a friend had on my life, and I may well do that at a later date. But, when I was 16 years old, all the guidance, advice, friendship, and camaraderie dimmed in the light of fame and glory cast over us by Dave's M.G..
Dave and I had a lot in common when we first met, neither of us had been the center of the social set in school, we weren't athletes, we weren't bad looking, but no one swooned when we walked in a room. And we had the same feelings about girls, an intense interest dampened by an equally intense shyness. As a result, the first woman in both our lives was Dave's M.G.
This was not just any old M.G. mind you, this was a 1959, mint condition, fire-engine red, wire-wheeled, leather-seated, convertible top, M.G.A. To this day I haven't figured out what led Dave's Dad to allow us almost unlimited access to that M.G., I mean, he knew that we were teenagers, he knew that we had the common sense of a pair of toads, he knew that we had watched every 'James Bond' movie made, but he let us use it anyway.
Only those of you who have had a serious love relationship with an English sports car will appreciate the analogy between Dave's M.G. and a woman. Those of you who were infatuated with an American car have only had a taste of the true meaning of 'Love'. Those who became intimate with one of those Italian models are in another class altogether, your situation more closely resembles a torrid affair, and really doesn't compare well.
Dave and I paid more attention to that car than we ever paid to the local population of girls, for a lot of good reasons: The M.G. never went out with other guys, we didn't have to spend a lot of money on it (Dave's Dad spent a lot of money on it, but that didn't impact on our meager incomes), and that car had more curves than most of the girls our age. Nearly every weekend at least 2 or 3 hours were reserved for polishing the car, and never have I enjoyed polishing a car as much as I did that one.
To begin with, it was small, to produce the shine on todays family cruiser that we produced on that little English car would take you about two weeks of elbow work. And, as I mentioned, it was curved, running a polish soaked rag over that car was about the closest we would ever get to putting suntan lotion on some bronzed beauty at the beach. In all reality, however, the best part of polishing that car was the conversation. Through those years of high school and college, Dave and I planned our days, weeks, and lives, while we rubbed wax on that car.
Shoot, that car was so great that we didn't even have to drive it to enjoy it. We had about as much fun sitting in it in the driveway as we did going down the road. I know I liked it when we sat, Dave would let me do my share of driving, but he would let me do all the 'sitting' behind the wheel that I wanted!
Have I mentioned the "Abarth" exhaust system? I haven't?! Remember the thump of the old Norton 440cc motorcycles, remember the scream of a '56 Chevy with headers and lake-pipes, remember the powerful purr of a 12 cylinder Jag XKE ? Well, if you can't remember those, you have no idea of the aesthetic quality of an good exhaust system. We could close our eyes and picture ourselves in the cockpit of an English 'Spitfire' with a Rolls Royce engine.
Dave's M.G. is the only car I never rode in without wearing my seat belt. It wasn't so much a factor of the car as it was a factor of the way Dave drove it. A couple of examples might explain. Dave had a conviction that those signs they put just before you enter a curve, you know, those yellow "Slow Curve-35mph" signs, he felt that they only applied to American cars. Dave was convinced that, if you only had the right type of magic glasses (made in England), you could read the rest of the sign, which said "English sports cars-65mph"!
Dave also liked to capitalize on his riders terror at every opportunity. I'll never forget the first time Dave pulled the old "missed the curve" trick on me. Just outside of Jackson, South Jackson Road goes past the back end of Brown's Lake. And, as you are coming towards town, looking down the road you see a rather sharp left hand, banked curve. Knowing Dave's philosophy on curves, I tended to hang on whenever one approached. As we sped past the "Slow Curve-35mph" sign braced myself for our usual 3-G, screeching, 65mph, 90degree turn, I was prepared for this curve. What I wasn't prepared for was Dave's scream as we continued straight while the road curved left. Over the bank of the curve, wheels in the air, blacktop behind and to the left, none in front.
My heart stopped, my stomach reduced it's self to 2 square inches, I closed my eyes and attempted to remember the last time I had gone to church. And then he started laughing. It seems that in a low-slung car approaching a high-banked curve I had been unable to see the dirt road that continued straight when the blacktop curved left. Dave knew it was there, he also knew I didn't know it was there, it took me weeks to forgive him for that one.
Our best adventures somehow involved that red M.G., road-trips, "dragging the Ave", impressing girls (or not impressing girls), and, Dave still has the car. Both Dave and the car are in California now, I guess that convertible is better suited for white sand beaches and sunshine than it was for Michigan's snow, and salt, and cold. But, every once in a while, I sort of long for one more trip down Michigan Ave., a loop through the parking lot at the 'Dome' Drive-In, then over to the old 'A & W' on West Ave. The wind in our hair, the exhaust purring, talking about our tomorrows.....
©Robert Coller, 1996
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