New-driver Bradley has nearly 1,000 miles under his belt now. The last 250 came behind the wheel of his mother’s manual Boxster S. He prefers the manual but appreciates the time he has had just “driving” with automatics.

He has spent a little time driving friend Chris Bright’s 1300-cc Alfa Super. Driving the manual SCM Alfas is moving up the list. We hope to get the 1750-cc Junior Z back from the shop soon, and that would be a good next step.

On the SCM 1000, my son spent time driving the V12 Jag E-type and the Mercedes 250C, which are both automatics. He remarked that while our Mercedes SL55 AMG was a far superior car technologically than the 250C, it wasn’t nearly as much fun to drive. Consequently, after 9,000 miles it’s time for it to move on. We’ll be putting the SL55 up for sale in an online auction soon, so watch here for details.

Last week we took the automatic 1991 Alfa Spider out for a quick 50-mile run. Bradley noted that while it didn’t have near the power of the Boxster, it seemed light and nimble — and above all was a handsome car. Despite its ancient underpinnings, it still has a striking appearance.

Twice he had trouble starting the car, and both times I was reminded of how much we experienced drivers take for granted. And how we old-car drivers often anticipate the worst when we encounter an issue.

The first time the Alfa wouldn’t start was in the garage. Bradley inserted the key, and it simply wouldn’t turn. The ignition switch was frozen. Visions of a mobile locksmith danced through my brain.

I suggested he try rocking the steering wheel back and forth a little, and, sure enough, the key freed up and we were off. Tell me where it mentions that in an owner’s manual?

The second time, he had pulled into a parking spot at a fast-food place. When we were leaving, he let the car roll backwards a little. Then it wouldn’t start. Assuming the worst (and often for good reason), I wondered if the alternator had not been charging and the battery had died. We had been running with the A/C on and that can put the Alfa alternator in a challenging situation.  Were there jumper cables on board?

But there was a simpler solution. A quick look down and we realized the car was in Drive and not Park. With flick of the shift lever and his foot on the brake pedal, it fired up.

Each time something like this happens and Bradley figures out why the car won’t behave properly, it gives him one more point for his mental database to have a solution ready to address a problem.

It’s a great process to watch. And I’m glad both times the issues were simple ones.



  1. I wasn’t much older than Bradley when I had to help my parents negotiate the steering column lock for the first time- on an econo-box Subaru, iirc. Since our family had long dealt with quirky plumbing, it seemed appropriate to describe the back-and-forth motion of the steering wheel needed to free the ignition as jiggling. Unfamiliar technology is not always an instant friend.

  2. You’re fortunate that the Alfa didn’t roll away when it was left in Drive. THAT would have been a memorable entry in his mental database!