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Anglophilia Incorporated

Robert Emslie October 12, 2010 Meet Your Hoons 9 Comments

Adding lightness.

Jinkies, it’s been a year since we started all these hoonanigans, and here we all are none the wiser and all the hoonier for it. Many of my fellow Hoonitarians have provided lengthy discourse on the origins of their automotive perversities. My history’s a lot less interesting, but does contain one notable factoid, one for which I will forever be beholden and for which I have and will continue to suffer: I dig British cars.

It wasn’t always like that. When I was a kid I thought furrin cars were what prissy men who wore slim slacks and drank mixed drinks drove. My family had a series of big-ass American Iron while I was growing up – mostly FoMoCo product, although my mom’s ’60 Caddy Sedan Deville made a pretty big impression on me, in fact, almost literally so. When I made the transition from coaster brake Schwinn to hand brake ten-speed my brain seemingly didn’t come along for the ride.

There I was, on my first outing after getting the bike, racing down my residential street, legs pumping furiously, fashionably moppy hair whipping my eyes, when I suddenly realized that I was quickly approaching the intersection of the 4-lane thoroughfare at the end of the block. Panicking, I started back-peddling, in an attempt to slow the bike, like I had done for years when a banana saddle had been my mount. In this instance, all I managed to do was un-cog the chain and smear grease on my bell-bottom Levi’s®. It’s at moments like this that you learn what kind of fight or flight mechanism you have, and in my case it’s the kind that pretty much just throws up its arms and gives up.

Instead of grabbing the brake levers and easing to a stop, I found it more expedient to head towards the curb, where I could bounce along, scrubbing off speed as I went. That would have been fine, if not completely lame, had not mom’s Caddy, all 5,000 pounds and chest-puncturing fins, been parked a few car lengths ahead. Careening through the muck in the gutter, occasionally slamming a wheel into the curb, I didn’t think I’d have enough room to slow sufficiently to avoid becoming a kid-kabob on the rocket-age rear of the big white beast, and pictured myself impaled and bug-eyed, my new bike a crumpled mass under the gleaming chrome bumper.

Instead, I managed to bang the curb a few more times, while still staying vertical and avoiding the equally undesirable and inevitable road rash of hitting the asphalt at 30 miles per hour, and brought the bike to a stop mere inches from the deadly spire topping the  ruby-like blade of the tail light. After that,  I realized that a little practice might make sense, but I’ve never quite gotten over coaster brakes since.

Despite that close call with death, I still turned up my nose at cars that lacked a UAW pedigree, and my first car, bought at age 14, was a 1961 Chevy Corvair 700 turtletop. My brother had to drive it home for me, and the car was so wounded it didn’t make it the 6 miles there in one trip, requiring some roadside fiddling at the half way point.

That Corvair was my introduction to car repair, and it was due to the kindness of another car nut – a grizzled old Corvair mechanic named Mickey Funch who took it upon himself to mentor me in the ways of repair. He would stop by on Saturday in his Lakewood wagon, and we would do a little work, and he would do a lot of teaching. It turned out that the pancake six had a number of broken valve springs, and after cleaning years of grime off and out of it – including a good inch of solidified oil in the bottom of the pan, he showed me how to hold the valve closed with a screwdriver, while pushing the new spring on from the side. That car, along with my little Honda scooter, got me back and forth to high school for two years, and provided plenty of opportunities to hone my mechanical skills along the way.

A ’66 Mustang coupe with a 289 2BBL and a C4 followed the Corvair, and this was a car that I bought simply because a friend had one and I liked the way the seats looked. It offered yet another opportunity for practicing my wrenching when I stupidly put it over a curb and into a woman’s planter, demolishing the front suspension and bottom end of the eight.

Another Mustang followed that, and then something happened. I met a girl, and she drove a 1967 Triumph Spitfire. It was red, and she was cute, and I became smitten first with the girl, and then with the car. It had wood on the dash, a top that, after a fashion, went up and down, and an exhaust note like a string quartet. That was all it took for me and I traded in the ‘Stang for a ‘Spit of my own. It was the first convertible I had ever owned, and I can still remember driving it home and putting the top down along the way. Pulling it into the garage, it exuded a tweedy exoticness and I couldn’t have been happier with the purchase.

Of course, being British, the relationship was a rocky one. That Triumph was a joy to drive, its small wheel feeling directly attached to the road, and the cut-down doors making you feel almost like you were riding a bike, elevating every sense as you drove. That was when it ran, of course. It had a nasty habit, due to its Lucas craptronic ignition, to cut out with no warning. Sitting at a light with a squad of Hells Angels behind you? Brrrrrap. One the freeway, clocking 80 in the fast lane? Brrrrrap. It was sort of its thing to do. There were other problems, and eventually I couldn’t afford either the constant trips to Bap-Geon for parts or the down time so I sold it.

I then entered my German phase. This entailed buying a baby-poop orange Audi Fox two-door. That car was slightly more reliable than the Spitfire, preferring starters to ignition modules, and eventually requiring a rebuild of the engine’s top end. Still, it served me well through multiple trips to the Bay Area to visit that same girl who had the Triumph that started all this, as she was at the time attending Berkeley.

The German phase didn’t last, and neither did my desire to effect roadside repairs on a regular basis.  Giving in to defeat, I bought my first Japanese car – a Chevy Sprint in two-tone blue and silver. It was dirt cheap to buy, and at nearly 50-mpg on the highway, cheap to own. My time was no longer occupied with making sure I could get to college the next morning over actually doing the work that would make being there worthwhile. It also freed up money for buying more cars.

Having a dull but reliable daily driver has been my MO for years now, and makes those part runs all the easier for the cars that you want to drive. And in my case, they were all British, Pip, Pip, Cheerio!

My first acquisition was a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite that I bought disassembled, and put back together. After that it was series of MGs Morris’ MGBs, Metropolitans and Jensens that filled my garage and driveway, and I still have that Healey to this day, as well as a Jensen.

And that girl? Well, as you can imagine, you don’t let a girl who drives a sports car get away, and she and I have been married now for ages. Her dad is also a rabid car nut – we were examining the new plywood floorboards in his ’55 Morgan just last night. Thanks to him, I’ve had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of everything from Berkleys to Miuras, and has proven a great resource for all questions mechanical. In return, I keep their computer from Spitfiring.

I clean up nice.

Well, that’s a little bit – a lot actually, WAKE UP – about me. These days, I split my weekends working on the various project cars, and judging at car show events. When time allows, I sometimes write goofball stuff here on the Hoon, as well as over at Jalopnik. One of the greatest things about having an addiction like cars is that it’s a really inclusive hobby, and I’ve managed to make friends with some of the coolest cats around, a few of whom you’ve already read about here this week, and some of whom are you all on the other side of the screen.

Who knows what the next year holds, hopefully many more hold my beer moments so that we can share them with you. Hopefully you’ll keep wanting to come here and visit us at our automotive amateur hour, because if you didn’t we probably would stop doing it after a while. Oh, and if a cute girl in a sports car offers you a ride, always take her up on it, even if you’re going in the other direction.

  • tonyola

    I would dig British cars more if they worked. Sometimes wonderful to look at and wonderful to drive. Always awful to own.

  • I look forward to a time where I own a small, British roadster and need to call you at all hours of the night with questions so I can get it running…again.

    Also, my wife drove a Focus when we met. That should have told me something, but I was too smitten to realize it 😉 Of course, we'll be celebrating 3 years of marital torment bliss next week, so I guess you can't always judge a woman by her car.

    • dwegmull

      Thanks for your comment, I was getting worried: my girlfriend drives a nine year old Corolla…

    • OA5599

      My wife owned a Cavalier when we met and she questioned why anyone would need more than basic transportation out of a vehicle. I've changed that mind-set to something more in tune with the readers of this site.

      Our son's first sentence of more than one word was "Ride Mommy('s) car!" so I think I'm heading the next generation in the right direction, too.

    • SSurfer321

      My wife drove topless…
      I mean with the top down on her '97 Geo Tracker

  • That is a well rounded love of cars. Very cool.

  • Alff

    One question – what is your most crackpipe automotive purchase?

  • coupeZ600

    I was writing a comment about how my Wife's pick-up indirectly led me to Jalopnik and from there to here when I realized I was writing a freaking novella. Another time perhaps, possibly for my own "Meet Your Hoon" if I ever get off my ass and send you all something deemed worthy of posting.

    Which is what the gist of that story was about:

    I missed the glory days of that other place (Davey, Spinelli, Leiberman et.al.), but your "Graverobber Tirades" in response to Ms. Murilee's brilliant PCH posts made me want to write again, something I hadn't even thought about since a misguided attempt at college nearly 25 years ago. Since then I hadn't written any thing longer than a grocery list or a birthday card. While I'm still not very good at it, each day I like to think I get a little better, a little faster, a little more coherent. Thank You.

    • BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ

      Graverobber and POLAЯ got me at that place too and encouraged me to write comments in English. I have to write down my "meet your hoon" too, starting with the 50 cc 2-stroke mopeds and first cars in the Netherlands all the way thru to my current bike, truck and vintage car I own now in Brazil.

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