The Sports Car Life : Memories of Previous Marques
Yes, to my embarrassment, this was once my daily dirver - an '86 Jeep CJ-7
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to New Hampshire [Courtesy of New England Triumphs]
In 1987, I moved from my beloved Vermont, and my equally beloved University of Vermont position to start a new career with New Hampshire Public Television. After seven years and 75,000 miles, I had worn out a ’72 MG Midget, my last daily driver. It was time for another car. I would do this every few years – get disgusted with daily driving in a British car and move onto something more “reliable” and “part store friendly.” Over the years, my quest for these qualities had led me to a ’64 Corvair Monza convertible, a ’68 VW bay window Bus, a ’72 Fiat Spider, a ’74 VW Bug Convertible, and the two Jeeps. For some reason, a succession of MG’s and Triumphs filled in the holes.
The experience with the Fiat put me into Jeeps, as I bought the Fiat at a Vermont Jeep dealer. I had been driving a ’63 MGB that a skidding Oldsmobile took out at a stoplight. The insurance settlement from the driver was miserly but I went looking for a replacement sports car. Sitting in the front lot of the Jeep dealers was a ’72 Fiat Spider, one with the removable hardtop. It had three shades of orange paint, an opaque rear window on the soft top and a lot of miles on the engine. A salesman latched onto me tightly when he saw my interest, so this turkey had sat there for a long time.
The windshield had a crack in it and I insisted on a replacement as part of the final cost. When the local glass shop said it couldn’t easily find a windshield for a “72 Fiat Coupe,” I called the salesman. It’s not a coupe, I said, it’s a 124 Spider. “Oh – look, you seem to know more about the car than I do. Why don’t you order the glass for me and charge it to us?” I did, drove the car for 2 years with only a brake caliper failure and a stripped spark plug hole as problems – well, except for the fuel intake pipe constantly separating from the carb and pouring raw fuel on the hot engine.
Still, I felt I owed the dealer something so in the mid ‘80’s, I looked into Jeep CJ’s when my Midget retired from daily use. After all, why not own a car still in production? Won’t that make life easier for a change? So I bought a 1986 Jeep CJ-7. At $6,000, it was the most staggeringly expensive car I had ever owned.
The Jeep wasn’t a lemon, but it had every bad CJ trait. Once, when a steering knuckle deteriorated, the service manager told me to “drive it with care until we can find you another one.” Find me a steering part of a car less than 2 years old? Is this why I left British cars?
By 1988, the Jeep had rusted faster than the Fiat. The windshield frame, for goodness sakes, required welding so the wiper blade would not fall off onto the highway. It needed a valve job at 60,000 [that wonderful AMC 6-cylinder] and the entire car leaked like a sieve. The catalytic converter plugged up and required replacement. Did I mention that the canvas top leaked?
When I went looking for a replacement car, I was despondent. Nothing stirred my fancy. I had rented a Mazda Miata once and found it to have a sedan feel and no cachet whatsoever. A cursory trip to Crepeau Motors, the Jeep dealer in southern Mane, though, proved providential.
There, sitting in the showroom, was a ’78 Spitfire 1500 with a factory hardtop. It had a sign on it reading “$4,500.” That sum for a 10 year old Spitfire redefined the concept of “asking price.” I told the dealer I had my old Jeep and some cash, and that the sum of the two – including license and registration – could not exceed $2,500. And if I bought the car, it needed to pass Maine’s safety inspection.
First, he wanted more and I said goodbye. I called a few days later and took home a '78 Spitfire 1500. Driving a Spitfire again (I had owned a ’63 Spitfire Mk I for 2 years) was a delight. I couldn’t wait for the back road drives from Maine to New Hampshire that comprised my commute each day. The car had been poorly repainted, but was complete and most everything worked. I found a frame and a soft top for summer driving and would drive the car daily for the next 10 years.
I’ll never forget when I first brought it to the television station where I worked in New Hampshire. My young computer network engineer thought the car looked great, but admitted he had never heard of a “Crepeau.” I asked what he was talking about, and he pointed to the dealer’s tag on the rear of the car. It came off the next day and the Triumph decals went onto the hood.
Copyright 2009, Jeffrey Aronson
My beloved '72 MG Midget, used as a daily driver in Vermont
It's a '78 Triumph Spitfire 1500, not a "Crepeau"!
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."