Deep down at heart I’m an “American Muscle Car Guy,” but there is one car that I’ve always felt is the most perfect car ever conceived. It has been called “The most beautiful car ever made” by Enzo Ferrari, and when one was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1996, Chief Curator Terence Riley stated, "We developed a wish-list of ten to twelve cars, with this name at the top."
Back in 1975, the year I graduated high school, a class mate was given one of these cars as a graduation gift. His family expected that he would be excited about driving it to Florida where he would be attending college. Turns out that they were wrong. He preferred the convenience of flying and having the car delivered to his front door.
By a fortuitous series of events, I was given the opportunity to be the one to deliver the car to him. I called a friend, another enthusiast, and asked if he would be interested in driving this car from Long Island to Florida? His only question was “What time do we leave?” My answer: “ I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at 4:00AM.” I wanted to avoid the bumper to bumper rush hour traffic that plagued Long Islands westbound cars even back then.
When my alarm clock went off at 3:00 the next morning, against my better judgment I decided to call my friends house just to make sure he was awake. The phone rang, someone picked it up, dropped it on the floor, and there it remained. There was nothing I could do except continue with the plan and hope he would be ready when I pulled into his driveway at 4:00am. He was not. The house was dark. I banged on the door frantically knowing that every minute we were late translated into ten minutes as traffic accumulated on the highways. The dog started barking and lights came on all over the house. He yelled “one minute” from his bedroom window and a few minutes later he came flying out the front door and down the stairs.
He threw his bag into the tiny trunk, hopped into the car, and off we sped into the darkness, shifting through the gears and listening to the exhaust sound echo off the houses on both sides of the quiet street. This was not a good way to start a 1200 mile non-stop trip. As it turns out, it would be the least of the problems we would have.
We were to learn many lessons, at the rate of about one every three hundred miles. The first was that the convertible top on these cars are more of a decoration than anything else. Driving through torrential rains which lasted the entire trip, had the effect of filling the sunken floor pans with about four inches of water. We became adept at accelerating, braking, and stepping on the clutch pedal with our feet almost entirely submerged.
Lesson number two was that the engines in these cars were famous for burning oil at the rate of about one quart every hundred miles. With that many stops to add oil it was just a matter of time before we would eventually forget to replace the oil filler cap, which led to lesson number three.
If you forget to replace the oil filler cap, oil will come out of the engine at a rapid rate, exit the engine compartment through the vents on the hood, spray all over the windshield, mix with the pouring rain, and immediately reduce visibility to zero just as you reach 60 miles per hour. This gives you an opportunity to do your best fighter pilot impression as you stick your head out of the side window into the rain/oil mix so that you can see where you’re going as you pull over to the side of the road.
Lesson number four. Never forget to make sure that the hood is latched closed, because if you forget it will pop open as soon as you’ve reached a high rate of speed. In this case, the hood was the entire front of the car, and when it opened the only direction I could see was backward. As I looked in the rear view mirror, I was treated to the sight of the front license plate, which had been ripped off the front of the car, as its mangled shape exited behind the car and bounced down the highway.
Twenty-four hours later we arrived at our destination tired, soaked, and covered in oil. We spent a week recovering and enjoying ourselves, and flew back at the owners expense. Life didn’t get much better when you were 18 years old, and all these years later I still remember it as one of my favorite trips.
About a month later, I heard that my classmate had sold his 1967 Jaguar XK-E Series I Roadster and bought a Camaro that had air-conditioning.