I know it’s not a great picture but it’s the only one I have. I wish that I had a better picture of both because they were beautiful…at least to me. My first car and my first girl…literally…in the same photo. I loved both. But maybe the car just a little bit more than the girl.
MG Midgets weren’t exactly ubiquitous in Florence, South Carolina. If less than a dozen Mercedes prowled the mean streets of Florence, one can figure that the body count for British Midgets would be low. There might have been one other MG…maybe an MGB or an MGB-GT in town and there was nobody and I mean nobody who could work on these things. I learned out of necessity to work on mine. Amazing what images one can find via Google. The car above is almost identical to my mine.
There was a parts company in Charlotte, N.C. that handled British car stuff…Viking Imports. I just checked and they are still there—at the same address. Of course this was pre-internet so the process was by today’s standards, onerous. I would call them and tell them what I needed. They’d locate it and I’d send them a check. Most times what I needed wasn’t too esoteric so after my check (or my mama’s if I was a bit short on cash in the bank) cleared, they’d forward the goods. But even in the best scenario it usually took a week and a half. So if the needed part sidelined the car, and in my case it usually did, I either bummed rides or cajoled my sister into lending me her much less esoteric but slightly more reliable Pinto. The part shown above is an MG Midget Slave Cylinder…for the clutch. Yep, a hydraulic clutch…just one of the many examples of British motorcar persnicketalia. It seemed that I blew out the clutch slave cylinder every other month and surely one of the reasons had to be that I wasn’t rebuilding it properly. The guy at Viking, after selling me the rebuild kit a couple of times, suggested that I order “more than one if I was gonna go through ‘em so quickly.” Smartass.
South Carolina allowed you a restricted drivers license at fifteen so you could drive without a guardian in the car but only during daylight hours. I’d been fifteen for a few months when my dad pulled up one day in what was to be my little MG. But I thought it was his toy. He let it sit in the driveway for a week before he told me it was mine. Three years old with about thirty thousand miles on it which today is nothing on a well maintained car. But these British babies were a bit dodgy from the get-go regardless of the mileage and mine, aesthetically pristine, soon became shall I say, a mechanical character builder.
The Smiths gauges and the always interesting Lucas electronics were like the weather in England—a bit unpredictable and more often than not...cloudy. I learned to tolerate the electronic shenanigans out of love for the car. Who am I kidding? I learned to tolerate intermittently operable temp and fuel gauges because I had no choice. Shut up.
What I couldn't repair or maintain was an issue with the tires. MG Midgets came with either wire wheels or ugly, utilitarian looking rims seen below. Mine was blessed with classic wire wheels replete with the single lug/spinner knockoffs. But the front rims weren't true. So I went through a pair of front tires every 3 months…crazy I know. Recaps…remember recaps? Fifteen bucks a throw.
What a great first car though—even with all of its typical British car idiosyncrasies. But then they ultimately ruined the lines on MGs when they were forced to put those ugly black rubber bumpers on them—the beginning of the end. I can remember driving down Cherokee road with First Girl beside me. Top down, quarter tank of gas and ten bucks in my pocket. Everything at that moment, if the clutch didn’t blow, seemed right. I can even remember what song was playing on the radio…Rock the Boat by the Hues Corporation. Damn.
So what happened to the car? My dad offered to swap me a Triumph GT-6 for the MG Midget if I’d give him my summer job savings to boot. My MG Midget, at least through my eyes, went from sugar to shitake in a nanosecond. The GT-6 was sleek to my Midget’s sudden boxiness. The GT-6 had problems too but it would run—fast. So fast that my dad took it from me within three months.
The Girl…my first real girlfriend. I’d never really kissed a girl…leastways not a real kiss kinda thing. I think I nervously gave S.B. a tentative peck on the lips during a sixth grade pool party and it took me a week to work up the nerve for that particularly bold move. But First Girl…she was worldly and learned by Florence South Carolina standards. She’d had an older boyfriend before me…a wise and skillful old sage of sixteen years. And she’d made it known to me that she’d already learned how to kiss. And I did not make it known how scared I was and how out-of-my-league I felt.
I remember pulling up for the first time in front of her house. I was so nervous I think I drove around the block ten times before turning on to her street. I had to meet her parents and her dad was the kind of dad I want to be the first time a guy calls on LFG. He was nice but he had that piercing look in his eyes…the kind of look that says “I’m being nice to you but don’t get comfortable with me son. I could kill you just as soon as look at you.” This would be me around that time. Boast or Fred Perry tennis shirt on and a pair of Bata Bullet tennis-court shoes. I shoulda stuck with this look.
I’ve already admitted somewhere in a previous story that the mid 1970’s was in my opinion, an absurd sartorial epoch. And I was impressionable. Impressionable at about a hundred pounds soaking ass wet. Impressionable with barely enough meat on my bones to skulk into the Men’s Department and hope that they had something small enough to fit me. I might have been driving a traditional British motorcar but that’s where any semblance of tradition ended. This was a synthetic moment and Nik-Nik shirts ruled the day.
God only knows the mélange of petroleum distillates that went into the creation of one of these babies. Five gets ten that the carbon footprint from one Nik-Nik shirt equals a month’s output from that gay little spaceship known as the Toyota Prius. Carbon footprint or not…I had to have a Nik-Nik.
And can you imagine what this slinky shirt looked like on a bony, bird chested boy who weighed a buck-ten? I’m glad there’s no photo evidence of it because surely, my spindly frame avec Nik-Nik probably made that pencil necked bird-esque Ira Magaziner throated Anthony Weiner look like the Incredible Mutha Futha Hulk. These are the Allman Brothers. I wanted to be an Allman Brother. The Allman Brothers wore Nik-Nik kinda shirts. Any questions?
And please, let’s not forget my shoes. I had Earth Shoes and Famolores. Ok, let’s just stop the story train for a minute. At least I’m confessing my sins. So if you’re sitting there howling at me, I’m good with it. But what was your worst sartorial moment? I didn’t ask to be born at a time that would assure my transition to the Men’s Department would find me amongst such absurdly synthetic swathing options. Thankfully my foray into things Nik-Nik and Famolore would be brief. I tried to be a hippie. I really, really tried but I was never a good one. But then again who was a really, really good hippie...in Florence South Carolina?
So picture this. I’m all showered up. I've blown all the the curl out of my hair and its height has me standing, as opposed to my usual at that time, five feet maybe five inches…at about six feet tall. Cheap bell bottom jeans from Mangum’s Army-Navy Store on Dargan Street and my brown Earth Shoes. I’m wearing a size small Nik-Nik that’s still two sizes too big for me so it hangs on me like some deflated County Fair balloon. Half of the graphics are tucked down into my jeans. But in retrospect it was probably a good thing. The graphic stuff should remain in your britches.
I’m not making this up. By the time I pulled up at First Girl’s house, my back was soaking wet. The Nik-Nik against my black-vinyl bucket seat manifested a synthetic slow-burn. Kinda like the smouldering epicenter of a sawdust pile. The fellowship of these two vinyl comrades-in-arms is gonna make you sweat—regardless of the season. And it gets worse. I've never met her parents and I’m nervous. I'd never had a girlfriend...at least one where you drive to her house and meet mama and daddy and stuff. I’d go on to develop a rather facile approach to charming parents and quite frankly, most people. But on this day I possessed no such facility. I had no game. All I wanted to do is not puke.
Half way up the lawn I step in a big pile of dog dookie. Not a little job left by a toy poodle but a huge pile…fresh and tenacious. And it ain’t gonna come off without some effort. I can feel my face flush with heat while the back of my Nik-Nik shirt feels kinda cool as the vinyl-vinyl fellowship moisture evaporates. I can only imagine what I looked like trying to get the dookie off of my Earth Shoe by dragging it on the grass. “What’s the skinny new boy doing walking in circles in the yard honey?” I remember leaving my shoes outside at the front door and proceeding with the meet-and-greet sans shodding. Surely it went ok but to this day, I get a hitch in my gut when I recall the dookie event.
I’d go over there as often as possible during the next year. The routine was always the same. We could sit in the living room but the door had to be open. And we’d kiss our faces off till I had to go home. I’d stay until I absolutely had to haul it home to make the curfew.
I declared to my mother that I’d found the girl who was going to have my kids…that I loved her and that we were going to have three babies and live in the mountains…you know, kinda John Denver Rocky Mountain High-style. My mother laughed at the notion and I became livid...really pissed at her. How could she doubt my undying unquenchable
love lust for the first girl I’d ever kissed? Geez...stupid parents. Statistical likelihoods be damned. But mama was right….just like the MG Midget in the shadow of the Triumph GT-6…First Girl faded rapidly when I met Second Girl at the tennis courts the next summer.
First Girl, mother of two grown gals has been married to the same guy for years. I saw her on Facebook one time. She seems to have remained in a hippie-granola holding pattern and that’s ok I suppose. I’m not sure the status of Girls Two through Twenty Seven. Wonder where my British cars are?
Onward. Home from Anaheim. Thankfully in all cotton.