February 2011

The Rattling Road to Reno

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My first car was a 1959 Bug Eye Sprite that I bought in 1966, on the day I turned 16 and got my license. The Bug Eye was just seven years old at the time. Today, we think nothing of buying a seven-year-old car—doesn’t 2004 sound like new?

But back then, a seven-year-old sports car was very likely to be on the last of its original legs. My little Sprite had dents on every quarter, a piece of the lower front left fender was just missing—as if a Rottweiler had chomped on it—and it made horrible sounds in first and reverse gears due to a chipped tooth in the cluster gear. As an aside, driving a 948-cc, no-first-gear car in San Francisco was an immediate introduction to clutch-slipping.

Because of all these flaws, the Bug Eye was just $30—yet it was my ticket to enter the sports-car fraternity I had been reading about in Road & Track for the previous decade. Yes, I was the lowest-of-the-low, but I was in the club.