Kate and I will be getting married in two weeks, in a Quaker ceremony at Downingtown Friends Meeting. She’ll be making a stylish entrance in the car pictured on the right, a 1962 Austin-Healy 3000 Mark II. (more pictures of a similar car.) Her dad found it languishing in a customer’s garage, bought it, and restored it. It’s not a pampered Ferris Bueller showpiece, though — it’s a driveable cross between a roller coaster and a rocket sled. Well, kind of drieveable, anyhow. This weekend, in anticipation of our nuptual getaway, Bob “Snuffy” Smith took me out and taught me to drive it.
Which was, of course, kind of stressful. The stiff-upper-lip ethos may have been just the thing for extending the Britannic Empire to the four corners of the earth, but it makes for some pretty gruesome ergonomics behind the wheel. Whether or not you view that as a drawback, of course, is a matter of taste. Any schmuck can smile at the pretty girls while rolling around in a Porsche Boxter. If, however, you can maintain your sang-froid while simultaneously maintaining pressure on the handbrake, gunning the engine to synchronize the gearbox, eyeing the tach, and keeping the shifter in first with a propped knee, then you’ve become a better man.
Which I’m not, yet — a better man, that is. There’s a special kind of anguish that comes when you’re stopped at a shady intersection between two sidewalk cafes, people are smiling and standing up to get a better look at your hip ride, and you miss the synch on first gear and your little red race car lets out a loud, ratchety squeal of pain. Then stalls. With your future father-in-law in the passenger seat.
Later, after I got a little better at managing the transmission, the car put a huge smile on my face. Or a grimace — taking a page from the toe-toasting Rugby traditions in Tom Brown’s School Days, maybe, the Healey engineers had routed a blast of savagely hot engine air on my right foot. Grimacing painfully, eyeballing the tach needle, carefully shifting the gears, I felt hella cool. Like, Fellini-Italian-Count cool. Damn, what a great car.
Skraaaaaaaaawk!! Groooooan!! (Nuts!)