Keith’s Blog: MGA or Boxster for Bradley

In just over two years, Bradley will be turning 15. In Oregon, that’s the when you can get a learner permit. You can drive a car, but you have to have a licensed adult with you.

I’ve been through this rite of passage five times now — four times with now-grown stepsons. It was 13 years ago that I took Alexandra to the local DMV to get her permit.

I enjoy teaching kids to drive. It requires an inner zen and relaxed approach to motoring. You want the introduction to piloting an automobile to be as positive as possible.

One member of my family then aged 16, was practicing driving my grandmother’s prized 1965 Mustang (it was new). They were in the field of a 10-acre ranch. Another family member was coaching him and started shouting that he was “going too fast” and not being careful.

The youngster reacted by freezing up and plowing head-on into a tree — the only tree in the field. That was the style of coaching I would not recommend.

Kids should learn to drive an automatic-transmission car first — and then graduate to manual shifts. There is just so much happening when a kid is first in control of a car. Adding shifting and a clutch to starting, stopping, signaling and looking for cross-traffic guarantees sensory overload.

I have long waited for Bradley to achieve this milestone — Driver’s Permit milestone. I had a memory I wanted to relive.

When I was 17, a friend and I tried to drive my 1958 MGA from San Francisco to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention. That was in 1968. I had bought the MGA from a junkyard for $250 (once again I overpaid). I rebuilt the engine using a Chilton manual as my guide. I recall that there were just a few nuts and bolts left over when I was finished.

The trip didn’t turn out so well. The trail we left behind included a perforated engine block, an exploded generator and a disintegrated water pump. The latter launched the fan through the radiator.

While I’m sure Hack Mechanic Rob Siegel could have overcome all of these issues without breaking a sweat, they were challenging for a couple of 17-year-old hippies whose tool kit consisted of peace symbols to give to chicks we met.

For a decade, I have thought about buying another MGA and repeating parts of that trip with Bradley. I looked at a few. My check-list included an 1,800-cc MGB engine and a 5-speed gearbox. For under $20,000 there were choices.

But recently I’ve been reflecting on kind of modern sports car I could get for half that amount. Miatas and Boxsters are out there — with high miles but properly maintained — for $10,000.

Would my trip be any less engaging if Bradley and I were in a Boxster, with a power top, airbags, heated seats, a/c and, most important, assumed reliability? Would we have more fun driving or did we want to be waiting by the side of the road for a tow truck if the 1958 MGA decided to puke some of its internals?

I’m going to abandon the MGA concept, and when the time comes, look for a modern, safer sports car.  We can enjoy the fun of the trip and leave behind the drama.

I asked Bradley his opinion about which car we should drive, Boxster or Miata. He replied, “Dad, did you forget we have a Lotus Elise in the garage already….”

Problem solved.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market, now in its 33rd year. Keith has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and had his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity. He has received many honors, including the Lee Iacocca Award, the Edward Herrman Award, was inducted into the Concorso Italiano Hall of Fame and more. He is on the boards of directors of The LeMay Museum and Oregon Ballet Theater, and was formerly the chair of the board of the Meguiar's Award.

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14 comments

  1. Keith i can relate…i still have my MGA Twin Cam purchased when in high school in 1966 (paid $187.23 with a bad clutch) drove twice Va to Ca ( no issues) would i drive it again in reality NO but in a Boxster S 6 speed with my 17 year old daughter absolutely…the fun memories would be with Her the car would be secondary…

  2. A large part of what Bradley will miss is entering at entry level. While an older car is going to be less reliable than a new econo-box, a Boxster today is hardly the equivalent of your MGA when you were a teenager. Please consider the reality check of a Miata, which has reliability as its chief fault, as well as its primary virtue. You don’t get the adventure of waiting by the roadside with a Miata, but Bradley doesn’t start out with the kind of car most normal people have to wait until their 20s or later to drive. He can borrow your fancy cars, if you dare to let him. For his own use, why not something that he can step up from later?

  3. I beg to differ. One should learn to drive properly in a stick shift, fairly slow car. You learn how to become one with the car, not just aim it. The Miata with a stick is the proper choice. The Elise is too much car. What did I learn in? A Fiat 500C ! 13.5 Hp and a top of 59 MPH. No synchro on 1 St or 2 Nd. I wish I had it back.

  4. Keith,

    Take the Elise and when he is old enough let him buy it from you! I have a MGA and it is great with lots of memories from college days and today. Your “fist car” is the one you remember. My dad got me a nice safe 1967 Eldorado to drive around in. I think a long term plan for the Elise is the best plan!

    Good luck with drivers ed and times together with your son.

  5. As a Boxster owner, I think you can guess what my first choice would be. I wouldn’t mind a Twin-cam MGA some day , but my garage is now full.

  6. regarding your planned 2000(!) mile road trip in a Lotus Elise….sure wouldn’t be MY first choice! I have a Boxster (much more comfortable), and even that wouldn’t be my first choice. Good luck!

  7. Smart boy! FYI in case you change (or lose) your mind, I have a ‘57 MGA, same iris blue/black interior as in the photo but not nearly as nice; a driver. The kicker: 20R Toyota/5 speed, dual Webers, header through stock sounding muffler, going on the block this spring.

  8. The fun of driving an old car is not knowing if you will arrive. Gotta learn on an old stick shift car without synchromesh, or preferably a full crash box, double-declutching up and down. Automatics, power steering and power brakes are for pussies!

  9. Well…sounds like my FB comment to you resonates here as well! You just can’t beat a Miata for price, reliability, safety, and fun. I taught my kids to drive them on the autocross track! Now the Miatas (yes, all 3 boys have one) are race prepped and we track them along with my Elise as a family.

  10. Keith, Get him an 80’s Mercedes 240D- A whole new slow world , none of his friends will have one and you’ll sleep well.

  11. Both? The MGA is a lovely car, but is it really modern road, daily driver safe?

    The Boxter sure is… and has much more performance for that level of evasive safety.

    I don’t understand why parents want to give their kids some ill handling pig that goes slow and stops badly? I suspect they figure if the car is slow, the kid can’t get hurt, but the rest of it is just asking for trouble.

    My first car was a joke… an AMC Pacer. Mom bought it because it was a “better Rambler”. It was unreliable, road like a buckboard, handled like a porker, stopped sorta ok, and got crap gas mileage. I would have been happier with a better ride, more 0-60 to go with that crap gas mileage! And being the kinda husky kid in a Pacer was a sure fire way to make sure I never had a girlfriend in HS! It was a bittersweet Christmas present… and being a car geek, getting car is cool… very cool… but getting a Pacer? No so much.

    WIth all of this said… I don’t know what auto insurance will do to you, but if I was buying a car for a kid today, I would look closely at the last generation Honda Prelude, with a 5spd manual. I don’t dislike the Boxter, it might have certain backlash and maintenance will be pricey…

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