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YESTERDAY IN PART 1, tidbits were gleaned from R&T’s road test of the all-new 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite. Today in Part 2 comments are shared by a pal who managed to buy the same Sprite Mk I twice—and it’s still his.
High praise indeed for him? For the car? For both? You decide.
Kim Reynolds is an 18-year alumnus of R&T, 1.5 turbulent ones at Driving.com, 16 at Motor Trend, and has finally settled down at Moblr.com. He is also a gentleman and a wit. What follows are Kim’s comments:
“About 5 years ago, the email appeared on my screen: ‘I’ve tracked you down,’ began David Silberkleit, whose business—the Bugeyeguy in Connecticut—buys, sells, restores and generally celebrates these open-eyed contraptions. ‘And I’ve got your old Bugeye,’ he announced.”
“I’d originally bought it in 1984, only to dumbly sell it in 1990 to Richard Baron, R&T’s Art Director and hobbyist car-restorer. Richard disassembled it and then realized he already had too many disassembled old cars, so its autopsied organs moved to Peter Egan’s nearby airplane hangar before finally disappearing to the east coast.”
“ ‘It’s been restored,’ David’s email continued, adding ‘Do you want to buy it?’ Followed by the genius checkmate comment that he was about to advertise it with the nickname ‘the R&T Bugeye.’ A Magnus Carlsen move. I was cornered.”
“When I’d first bought it—in a rough part of Long Beach from the spectacularly eccentric Jim Proffit (think Santa Claus in pin-striped train-engineer overalls)—it wore faded-yellow paint, some patches of primer covering Bondo wounds, and two black bumblebee stripes that ran sideways across its hood. Now, it was a uniform pale blue (‘Iris blue,’ an original color), and appeared to be restored until you got closer than 15-ft.”
“Even in 1984, its 68 hp (the original 48-hp, 948-cc engine had already been swapped for a later 1275 version, a common practice) meant the car was slow, despite weighing 1475 lb. (I’ve weighed it).”
“However, the pace of traffic then (a year before, R&T tested a Ferrari 308 that did 0-60 in 6.8 seconds) meant you were mostly tolerated with a patient wave. Now, in streets teaming with phone-tapping Tik Tokkers in towering crossovers that can do 60 in Ferrari 308 times, driving the Bugeye is akin to riding a trotting horse around town. I’ve been thinking of repainting it bright orange. Not as a nod to 1960’s McLaren racing cars, but to be perceived as a large, slow-moving traffic cone.”
“To be unromantic about it (I’m now donning my worn, road tester’s hat), the car is about as quick as the modern electric-bike that kids ride, with brakes that stop like the first-regen setting of a modern EV, gears that have to be changed in slow-motion, and steering that makes me shake my head that my predecessors could have ever described this as ‘go-kart-like.’ ”
“So I prefer to drive it at night. Like, late at night when the hurrying hubbub of the day is snoring in their melatonin dreams. That’s when the Bugeye can time-travel back to a world in which it makes sense, where driving isn’t about speed but the contemplation of motion, vibration, and smells. Shorn of non-essential stuff like outside door handles, side windows, a trunk opening, and a radio (and in this case, a top), the Bugeye is all you have left to still accomplish combustion-engine motion.”
“Most of my time these days is taken by testing complicated things like automatic lane-centering and adaptive cruise control; i.e., technology for non-driving driving. The Bugeye, though, is always wide-eyed awake and waiting in the driveway after midnight as a reset button back to the essentials. And secretly, I guess I’m hoping its rap-rapping exhaust on downshifts might sometimes wake a few of those people up too. A thought that makes both the Bugeye—and me—smile.” kr
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023
Guy’s got a way with words. What a romantic, poetic celebration (and eulogy) for what once was. Modern tech is wonderful and provides so many conveniences that make our lives better.
Unfortunately it is also largely incompatible with antediluvian relics of the past.
I too keep my MG Midget well away from urban environs and traffic for reasons of self preservation!
Nice to hear it wasn’t repainted Resale Red like so many .
I still drive my tiny vintage Motos and 36HP VW’s anywhere in Los Angeles at any time, being behind the wheel of a car like this *instantly* takes me back to 1972 , a good thing IMO .
Tell Jim Nate says hi ~ I hope his marriage went well .
He always had some weird cars .
Kim’s comments made me smile as well, and reminded me of driving my Morgan.
This is be lovely prose, but tho’ nocturnal runs occasional muse through our 20s, night’s now better served by reading, reflection, sleep, the reasons Sprite purveyor David Silberkleit gives now render moonlit meandering stark, empty. It is the thought-free rabble David artfully laments during the day who should skulk about at night, leaving a soft, quiet day murmur to us, who’ve long since earned it, in the automotive sense at least.
The night flight romantic in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s reminiscences and our hopeful, dreaming youth, only remind how we’ve fallen to the soulless jar of myriad nightlights and too many clones, procreating not creating because more and more contesting less and less leave them with naught fresh.
Whether baby Healey or Riley, was there better name for a wee sporting car than Sprite?