A Trip I’d Like to Take Again by D. Randy Riggs from Vintage Motorsport issue 08.5-Sept/Oct 2008.
My first car was a well broken-in ’55 MG TF, and in November 1963, I disobeyed my father’s orders when I headed off to Maine in it from our home in New Jersey for the Thanksgiving holiday. Although the trip had been planned and okayed, the weather report portended a winter storm to the north, and like any caring Dad, mine was concerned about letting his 17-year-old travel away in questionable weather on a first cross-country trip.
So, his words to me in effect were, “Unpack your suitcase—you’re not going!”
Headstrong, like any other teenager who think they know everything there is to know, I was no different and had dreamed about the trip for a month, studying maps and planning the route. I figured about 12-14 hours of driving time without any glitches along the way. Going through the car very methodically to make sure it ran perfectly, about the only thing I ignored was the Smiths temperature gauge that had a habit of pegging itself for no good reason, and a good solid “thunk” of a finger usually snapped it back to reading the coolant temp correctly.
The Pine Tree State’s connection to me was that my mom lived there and I had local friends to visit over the long weekend. Plus, the little coastal town of Searsport had a drive-up burger joint dishing out the sweetest onion rings in all the world and lobster rolls to die for.
So, there was no way I was not going to Maine and just for insurance, I drove to a local gas station to have the anti-freeze changed, since doing that at home was too much of a mess and might give my dad a hint of my intentions. And once that was done, I parked the MG on a slight incline, went in for dinner, then pretended I was heading to my room in the downstairs part of the house. The note I left on my bed was, “Don’t worry, I’ll call you from Maine and I’ll park it if it snows.” I coasted the TF down the incline and fired it up out of earshot. I was on my way.
Of course, I knew I had to face the music when I returned home, but my mind was made up. I was heading the TF north and nothing was going to stop me.
Rain had begun falling before I was out of town, and by midnight some 80 miles north on the Garden State Parkway, it was coming down in buckets, the tiny wipers, drafty side curtains and dim headlights little help. And then came an engine misfire, and a few more, when I noticed the temperature gauge was pegged.
I gave it a “thunk” with my finger, but it didn’t move, and the engine stumbled heavily until it quit. Great. Pouring rain, 1 a.m. on a lonely stretch of the Parkway. What had happened to my normally reliable MG? And for sure now, my father was going to kill me. What a spot!
Suddenly, a passing car’s brake lights lit up. It pulled over, then backed toward me. It was a Pontiac Bonneville, and a very portly man climbed out with a rain slicker over his head and hurried back to the MG.
I explained my trouble, he mentioned a friend in a nearby town who ran a sports car repair shop and told me he’d return with a chain to tow me to his house where I could spend the night. Would you say “yes” to an offer like that in 2008?
Next morning, the good samaritan cooked me breakfast and the repair shop made quick work of the MG’s blown head gasket and soldered the radiator petcock that the ham-handed gas station guy had cracked when he changed the anti-freeze. That’s why it overheated. My mom wired me $50 so I could pay my bill and be on my way.
The rest of the trip was uneventful but certainly the grand adventure I had imagined. The snow didn’t fall until a day later in Maine, but I was sitting by a warm fire by then. Of course, once I returned home my dad grounded me for a month. But if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.
And that’s just it. I’d love to do that trip one more time—in an MG TF—only I don’t own one. In fact, I have never driven another since the day I sold mine 44 years ago. With all my car connections, how is that possible?
Trenton, N.J. to Searsport, Maine. The back roads will be more fun. Perhaps someone in an MG club will offer me suggestions. I’m all ears.
Editor’s note: In late 2015, I finally got my chance to drive an MG TF after more than 50 years since owning my high school MG, thanks to owner Bill Angeloni, who I met at a local Cars and Coffee. The story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue, (VM 16.1, still available in the VM store).
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