A sports car is a term used to describe a class of automobile, typically of two seats and two doors, with precise handling, brisk acceleration, sharp braking, and attractive aesthetics. A sports car makes trade-offs in practical considerations such as passenger space, comfort, and cargo capacity in favor of those traits which enhance the joy of driving it.
Those of us in the “Sports Car Group” considered American cars to be ugly, big, heavy, ill handling, and generally “not cool”. I know we were elitist, but we didn't believe in creature comforts and most of my cars, British cars in particular, made you earn their respect. If you didn't know how to change a fan belt or jury rig a “Lucas” generator, you were in trouble. Do you know why the British like warm beer? Because, their refrigerators are made by Lucas.
Here is a list of the "furrin" cars I have owned and a little info about each one. I also now realize why it's mainly older men (and some women) who collect these cars. Maybe when you get older you forget all the trials and tribulations of owning these cars:
“You ever have any trouble with it before, Ken?” Asked a somewhat sane friend. “Well, I have to take it in two or three times a week, which is somewhat inconvenient, but the car is well worth it.” “Two or three times a week? And how often do you drive it?” Says the somewhat sane friend. “Two or three times a week. I have to take it in every time I drive it. Then it usually needs a tune-up every few weeks, so I actually don't get to drive it very much.”
The year is 1962, just out of high school, been driving the family car (Plymouth), not too exciting. For some reason, maybe pining for the Crosley of our youth, both myself and my younger brother, Warren, had gotten interested in sports cars. So we conspired, between the two of us, to try to buy a car — a sports car.
We were torn between the new Triumph Spitfire or the Sprite. The Sprite won out because of price — We convinced our father to co-sign for us, and we bought a brand-new Sprite for $1400.00. Try to do that today! We figured that we could afford the $57 a month payments.
We drove this car everywhere, camping, school, work, dates (parents thought it was OK because there was no room in the car, i.e. the seats didn't fold back, into a bed, like the old Rambler). Learning how to drive in this car was very beneficial, because, you had to learn to drive defensively or get run over by a truck. We drove in rain, snow, wind, tornado's and whatever came up.
Some interesting features of the car which caused us to be creative to keep going:
I'm sure that it would be difficult for someone today to understand the fascination with a car that required that you carry a full supply of spare parts and several cans of oil whenever you went on a trip of more than 20 miles, but as they say “you had to be there”..
This is the first car I bought when I was in the Air Force. It's a Triumph TR3, not a TR3A. This car was not as civilized as a TR3A. It didn't have door handles and had a non-snycro first gear (you had to learn to double clutch). You can tell the difference at first glance by the small mouth grill. The TR2 also had a small mouth grill opening, but the grill was set way back in the opening. My car in this picture looks like a TR2 because I took the grill off — it was bent when I bought it.
Now how is this for cool:
After years of cars with side curtains and rain and bugs in my teeth, I finally got a car that was somewhat civilized — this car had door locks and roll-up windows. It also had more horsepower and you could actually drive this car for long distances without having to recuperate afterwards.
This is still an English car, however, and was still prone to the typical problems of British sports cars. The first problem, that reared its ugly head, was a tendency to just stop without a moments notice. This happened on top of a mountain and in the city. Whenever it felt like. If you let it sit (as if you had a choice) for about an hour, it would start and then run fine until it decided to stop again. Turns out the problem was dirt in the gas tank and was solved with a new tank.
Now how is this for cool:
I bought this car when I got mad at the TR3. The distributor fell apart in the middle of a snow storm, so I went looking for a new car and the Triumph dealer (I was good friends with them since I bought so many parts) had a good deal on a brand new TR4A IRS, and so I jumped at it.
This was the most expensive car that I had ever purchased, up to that time, $2700.00. Luckily, since I was in the Air Force, I could get a loan from the base credit union. They knew where you got your pay and could grab it if necessary.
I fixed up the TR3 and sold it for $650. A good one now would be about $30 to $40 Thousand. Oh! Well.
I had this car when I was discharged from the Air Force in January 1969. I drove it all the way back to Minneapolis, following a snow plow, non-stop, all the way. The Temp was about -30 degrees. The only problem, I had, was the carburetors kept freezing! Not sure that English cars were meant for the frigid north.
After leaving the Air Force and working at Control Data Institute for a while, I decided that I needed a faster car. I also thought I should aspire to own one of every neat sports car.
I did some research and concluded that my next car should be a Porsche or a Lotus. So I checked out a Lotus Elan and thought "Wow, that's neat, but the pedals are small and close together". Then I heard that Porsche was about to come out with a new, reasonably priced model, the 914-6. I really liked a mid-engine Porsche, so I placed an order for a 914-6.
Now the plot thickens — wait, no car — wait, no car — wait, no car. Anyway this went on for a couple of months. Finally, after a few months, the dealer called and said they had just received a 911L on a trade-in, and they would let me have it for the same price as the 914-6. I thought this was a good deal, so I jumped at it.
When I showed my parents my new car, the first thing they asked was, how much did it cost? I said $6000 they almost had a heart attack. Not sure you can get a good Porsche for $6000 anymore.
Now here are the neat parts of this car:/p>
But there was a down side:
The 911L was an interim model while Porsche worked out how to meet the new U.S. emission standards. It used an air pump to inject air into the hot exhaust gases to burn the excess emissions. Didn't work very well and hurt performance.
The emission stuff caused the spark plugs to foul, all the time, unless you always went on highway trips or used 6,000 RPM for a shift point. I couldn't go on long trips all the time, so I was always going about 30 MPH in first gear.
Here is an idea of how much fun this car was. I was going to Chicago to visit one of my Air Force buddies. It was late afternoon and I was just cruising along at about 70 MPH. The police in Wisconsin could be a real pain, so I wasn't pushing it. Some guy in a crappy old Chevy passes me going about 80 MPH. I thought, OK, have a good time. So instead of just going on, he pulls in front of me and slows down. So I pulled over and passed him. He then speeds up and passes me again and gets in front and slows down again. This goes on for a little while and I decided that I'd had enough. I slowed down to about 60 MPH and waited until he got out of sight. Then I passed him going about 135 MPH. He never bothered me again. I guess he didn't know that a Porsche was not a VW.
I was fond of this car and a lot of times I wish I still had it, but the U.S. economy took a dive in 1970 and It was looking like my job at CDC was not too secure. In addition, the 911 needed a valve job and even though it wasn't really too expensive, I really didn't think I could afford it, with unemployment looming. Now this car is very collectible and worth much more than I paid for it. Oh Well, what can you do?
When I discovered that the Porsche was going to need a valve job, I started looking around for a new car, and for some reason I thought it would be good if I had a car with a little more room. But I still wanted something that was good handling, quick and distinctive.
Enter BMW. Since BMW's are so common today, it's hard to believe that back in 1970 they were virtually unknown with the general population. I liked that, so a brand new 2002 it was.
Shortly after I bought this car, I drove it out to Colorado, to break it in. I stopped for gas in a little town in southern Colorado. This was back in the day when gas stations actually had attendants. The guy came out to fill the tank, walked around the car a couple of times, looked for some kind of logo or name (BMW at that time only had one badge on the hood and the words 2002 on the rear). He looked at the logo on the hood and said "BMW, what is that, some kind of Toyota?". I said, "no, some kind of BMW".
Shortly after I bought the BMW, the economy tanked and CDC ended up with a bunch of supercomputers that they couldn't sell and in order to save money they laid a bunch of us off. Myself included. After a few weeks, I found a job add for a company I had never heard of, Wang Labs. I applied and off to Boston I went. Initially I was going to Chicago, but they changed their minds and I went to St. Louis. I was going to be the engineer to cover the area of a lot of states in the center of the U.S.
I drove the 2002 for the next 2.5 years, 67,000 miles and only had to replace one part, that cost $12.00 (It was a GM part, part of the emission system. The reason it cost so much is it had to be shipped to Germany and then back to the U.S.)
Now here is the neat parts of this car:
But there was a downside:
Even though it was a classic "sports sedan", it still wasn't a sports car and I still had this silly idea about having sports cars.
It had a back seat and a trunk, which you may think is a good thing, but it meant that I didn't have an excuse when people wanted me to help them move or the boss wanted me to pick up some customers broken computer.
Once again, this car has become somewhat of a classic as it is considered (along with the BMW 1600) the beginning of the modern BMW's and one of the first true sports sedans.
After Wang Labs transferred me to Chicago, I found an apartment in a northern suburb and settled in to find my way around in the big city. Shortly I became friends with the tenant in the apartment below mine, Rich Adams.
Rich was as big a sports car nut as I was, so we got along great. Anyway to make a long story less boring, I told Rich that I knew a guy who wanted to sell a race prepared "Bugeye" and he would be willing to trade for a dirt bike and some cash (just so happened that the guy was my younger brother Warren). Rich had a motocross bike, so we made a deal and went off to pick up the car. The BMW couldn't pull a trailer but luckily Rich had a Ford Ranchero pickup.
Shortly after we got the car, Rich got married which ended his racing aspirations. I bought his half of the car and proceeded to have some fun.
As you can see from the picture, I did win some events (yes, that is me and yes, that is a checkered flag). This was at Blackhawk Farms in northern Illinois. That was one of my favorite tracks, great fun to drive.
But there was also a few difficult times:
Once again, another car I wish I had kept (I don't have a big enough garage for all these cars).
After a couple of years driving the BMW, I started to get the urge to get back in a sports car.
Datsun had come out with the 240Z in 1970 and was very popular. So popular that you couldn't get one, because, Datsun couldn't make them fast enough. The demand was so great that there was a waiting list and the dealers were charging extra just to get on the list. I wasn't about to get stuck with that, so I waited until 1972. I wasn't really unhappy with the BMW anyway.
So I waited until about March 1972 and went to the Datsun dealer in Libertyville, Ill. I found that there was now only a 6-month wait, which I thought was reasonable, so I plunked down a deposit and waited.
After the long wait, I traded my 2002 and was the proud owner of an orange 1972 240Z (orange was the only color to have).
Now here is the neat parts of this car:
But there was a downside:
The Japanese didn't have a clue on how to rust proof a car and the Chicago winters ate this car up. The fenders started to rust out in a little over 3 years.
That just gave me a good excuse to replace the front fenders with fiberglass and put fiberglass fender flairs on the rear. This meant I could put on wider tires and wheels which helped the handling quite a bit.
I had been driving the 240Z for over 6 years and even though it was still running good, the rust was getting to be a pain.
I was reading an Autoweek magazine, when I saw an article about a rumored new sports car from Mazda. No pictures, but an artist rendering. Hummm, I thought, this would be a good replacement for the Z car. Since the Z was paid for I could convert that to a race car and drive the Mazda.
I promptly ran down to the local Mazda dealer to see what I could do. I told the salesman I wanted an RX-7, he said "what's that". After a little discussion, he said that they didn't know the price, when it was going to be available or anything. I said that I didn't really care about that I just wanted one. I told him I would give him a $200 deposit and agree to pay 200 dollars over MSRP when one came in. Believe it or not, they agreed. I'm sure that they regretted that later.
In May 1978 I got a call from Mazda "We have a car coming in, do you Want it?" Dumb question, I was there in 30 minutes, told them to put in air conditioning and wrote a check (only car I ever paid cash for).
Then it got to be real interesting.
People starting following me home or wherever I went. Police pulled me over, Porsches chased me. They all wanted to know what I was driving and where they could get one. This was, after all, the first RX-7 in Chicago and no one had ever seen one before.
I took the car to Road America and got to drive it around the course. I then went over to look at the Lotus, and they asked me to move the car because everyone was leaving the Lotus tent to go look at the Mazda. Great Fun. The dealers proceeded to add $2000 to the list price, because the car was so popular. I paid $200 over list price. Sometimes the early bird does get the worm.
Neat things about this car:
P.S. I still have this car and hope to get it restored some day
P.P.S. One of my friends has submitted my RX7 to the TV show "Garage Squad", for some help getting this back on the road. I hope that this will happen because of the significance of this car. It is a very low serial number and according to Jim Downing, a world renown expert on RX7's and Wankel engines, this is an engineering special. This means it was actually put together by the engineers to test different setups. For instance the 4 barrel carb on this car is different from production cars.
I now had a brand new RX7, so I commenced to making the 240Z into a race car.
Just add fiberglass fenders, fiberglass front spoiler, lowered competition springs, Koni shocks, wide wheels, Firestone racing tires, roll bar and adjustable suspension stuff and there you go.
Oh don't forget the racing seat, and new racing gages.
Then of course there was the trailer, we had to buy, and a van to tow it with. Oops, how about the spare engine.
I think I forgot to mention the 3 double barrel Weber carburetors. Oh, Oh, I think I just spent more money than the RX7 cost. Oh well, I think someone told me "speed costs money, how fast do you want to go". Very true!
I called my race team, BRT, which stood for Biodegradable Racing Team. We had T shirts made and everything.
I wanted to run this as a business so I had to make some money. And I did. I finished 6 place in an event in St. Louis and actually won some money. Just about enough to pay for one night in the motel.
Unfortunately, this was getting a bit expensive and life was getting in the way, so after a couple years my racing career came to an end and I sold the car. It was fun while it lasted.