I was eight years old in the mid-1980s when my mom, dad, two brothers and I traveled to western Europe on a brief tour, including a stop in London. Paris had been our first stop, and then Bonn, (then-West) Germany. I was immediately fascinated with pretty much everything about both of those first, two cities: the surroundings, architecture, language, manners of dress, and especially the cars. I remember standing in the lobby of our very first hotel stop in Paris, looking out of the lobby onto the street, seeing a Ford Capri out there, and exclaiming something like, “Hey! We have those in America!” (Of course, I probably said “America” versus “United States” back then, as I was just a kid.) Regardless, I realized even at that young age that the world travel experience my parents had provided for my two brothers and me was not typical for many kids my age in our factory and college / university town of Flint, Michigan.
By the time we got to London as our third stop, though, I breathed a sigh of relief, as I could actually understand and speak the language, albeit in my Midwestern, U.S. accent. In my third grade year before this trip, our class had been learning some key phrases in German as taught by the Germany-born, expatriate mother of one of my classmates. While at a playground in Bonn, my attempt at introducing myself to another kid (“Ich heisse Josef…“) got my sandbox volcano destroyed, but that other kid had a genuinely friendly smile on his face as he made banter with (read: to) me that I didn’t understand, so I honestly didn’t think he was being mean. Also, both of our mothers were present. (A little knowledge can be dangerous.)
My point is that by the time my family got to London, I could understand pretty much everything that was being said, and the words, terms and expressions that were unfamiliar to me (i.e. “watercloset”) were easy enough to pick up using context clues. Like in Paris and Bonn, there were familiar Ford Capris and Fiestas, along with a few other cars and variants I had recognized from the States. There was McDonald’s, but there was this also-everywhere chain called Wimpy’s that I later came to understand had its roots in the United States! There was also mineral water (blech!) versus just regular, non-carbonated water, and my parents never allowed us kids pop / soda, so that type of water took some getting used to. (Mineral water is okay with me, nowadays.) Candy was another story.
Many of us had our favorite childhood candies. I can remember riding my bike up to the convenience store on our block in the East Village neighborhood of Flint and spending my weekly dollar on a pack of Bubble Yum (usually orange or fruit punch flavored), a snickers bar, a few packs of Now & Later taffy chews, and/or a bag of M&M’s. While a mouthful of tooth-colored fillings have since put the kibosh on my affinity for gum that’s not sugar-free, I still love an occasional chocolate bar or a bag of M&Ms. When I was eight, M&M’s ranked probably in my top-three of favorite candies. While on this European trip, my normally frugal parents would sometimes, in rare bursts of uncharacteristic fun, treat us kids to a little something. (As if the thousands of dollars they spent on this trip wasn’t generous, but you get the idea.)
Finding some actual M&M’s, for some reason, proved impossible in one particular instance, so I had to settle for these things called “Smarties”. These are not to be confused with the tart, chalky (and delicious) little wafers many of us remember getting in tiny rolls as Halloween handouts. These other Smarties are candy-shell covered chocolates much like M&M’s. You know how sometimes, when you know exactly how something tastes and you want to taste exactly that one thing, but one or more ingredients is just different or “off” enough to provide an experience that’s less than satisfying? I’m sure these U.K. Smarties tasted just fine and exactly how they were supposed to, but I suppose I was just salty enough that I couldn’t have actual M&M’s that I deliberately chose not to enjoy my chocolate Smarties as much as I probably wanted to. I was a brat sometimes.
I had photographed this final-generation Triumph Spitfire 1500 a couple of months ago on a main thoroughfare in my neighborhood here in Chicago. I was able to narrow down the model year to between 1974 and ’78, after which, for the final two model years, the Spitfire sported some giant, rubber bumpers that were even less artfully sculpted than those of the concurrent MGB. These little, English roadsters were really lightweight, weighing less than 1,800 pounds. The U.S. version of its 1493-c.c. engine had just 57 horsepower. With a standard four-speed manual, it could take up to almost sixteen seconds for one of these latter-day Spitfires to get to 60 mph. However, and as the adage goes, it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow(ly). There were about 96,000 of these final-generation Spitfire 1500s produced between 1974 and 1980, though I couldn’t find a reliable source to cite in terms of how many of those had originally made it to the United States as new cars.
As for all my talk of chocolate, this is what the color of this car’s finish reminded me of: one of the better milk chocolate candy bars at the local Aldi discount supermarket. In fact, Aldi might have been where I was headed to buy a few things when this car happened by. As far as brown as a car color goes, this is good brown. I certainly hope the gentleman behind the wheel has been able to enjoy many summer days of top-down motoring without too much trouble, once the warm weather had finally arrived in Chicago at the beginning of this July. (No one’s complaining.) I have written often of starting my own, personal “Curbside Classic” fund for my own collectible car, but after reminiscing about my childhood travels in Europe, and also my trip to Italy from almost two years ago, I think I might just prefer travel, if I could realistically afford either. (Please don’t revoke my CC Card.)
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, May 24, 2019.