I was around 3 or 4 when I remember my dad making reel-to-reel tapes of his voice. He was sending messages to his brother, who was living in England. I, of course, had no idea what that meant. But from this start I had a life long exposure to English culture, and specifically, mechanics.
With the next mail, I got a present. It was a small, metal tank. unlike a lot of american toys, this was heavy, with working treads, and a spring loaded barrel. it was probably supposed to come with some small plastic bullets or something, but those were missing, so we broke bits of spaghetti into short bits, and they shot out of the barrel quite nicely when we flipped the little lever.
This was my first Corgi toy. Corgi made amazing toys, most famously the James Bond cars, with shooting rockets and ejector seats and such, and my uncle sent them along with his tapes. Not too much later, something much larger arrived.
A flatbed truck with two very, very small cars arrived. Bigger than my tank, but smaller than any American car that I had seen.
These were Minis.
Between the two, I found out that one had a good body, and the other had a great engine. Both were rolled into our garage, and I watched as they were torn into bits. These bits were then reassembled into one working car. Ten the thing of the working car began. I watched as this little blue car, smaller than the hood of my grandfather’s Oldsmoblie, was upgraded and tuned, in our own garage.
Racing seats and five-point seat belts were added. Front rally lights were bolted on, and the whole car got “works” tuned. This was during the 70’s gas crisis, and this tuned sports car got over 30 MPG, and was our daily driver.
Then the Lotus arrived.
The Lotus Super Seven was a british kit car, not in the American sense that you would take a cheap car, like a VW Bug, and slap a body onto it to make a kit, but in the sense that you would get an open wheel race car in several boxes, and assemble it in your garage. This one was driven by my uncle in London, and now we had it. it had frozen badly in shipment, and was torn down to the frame by my father for rebuild.
We had a tubular frame in our garage for quite a while, I remember being able to pick it up and carry it around before getting yelled at for running off with the car. Bits would get riveted and bolted on each week, and it became more and more of a car. It was mostly back together when the Aston Martin arrived.
I kew the Aston right away, as I had the Corgi James Bond toy on my shelf. This was a DB6, not a DB5 as in the movies, and was in surprisingly good shape.
This was just my start with British cars.
My entire childhood was spent around little bins of parts saved for reassembly, marked and kept, as replacements were hard to find. We watched Monty Python and The Prisoner on channel 9 at night. I recognized the Lotus 7 in the credits, naturally. I also wondered why the other kids did not. and wondered why they looked at me funny when I mentioned watching The Prisoner.
Much of this explains why, earlier this year, I had no choice but to buy a Triumph Spitfire from my friend Henry. He made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse.
When he dropped it off, I could see that he was nervous. He was afraid that I might be upset by the condition of the car. The body was dented, the passenger floor had major holes from rust, as did the battery case. No lights worked. The brakes were built from hopes and wishes.
But I knew, that for a British car, this ranked as “average”. Henry had already dropped in a new engine and rebuilt the front suspension. These were the money jobs. The rest I could do.
And so far I have. Older cars are very easy to work on compared to modern cars. The systems are simple, parts are pretty cheap, so long as it isn’t a true classic. Tearing into this car and rebuilding some worn out system doesn’t feel like work.
It feels like home.