Growing up in the 1970s, I was a fan of British sports cars. The idea of a small, two-seat convertible made sense to me, particularly for tearing up New England’s abundant back roads. My first time behind the wheel of such a roadster came courtesy of a trusting soul who caught me staring at the Jensen-Healey parked in his driveway, next to a FOR SALE sign.
“Take it for a spin!” he called out to the skinny 17-year-old lingering at the corner. Perhaps the man was just a highly motivated seller, but his offer persuaded me to back into his driveway and give the little white gem a closer look.
“You know what it is?” he asked.
“A Jensen-Healey,” I replied.
“So, you know a lot about cars?”
“Well, I know what cars I like, and most of them are British sports cars. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Jensen-Healey up close.”
The pattern was printed on the shift knob. “So first is below reverse, and two through five form an H?”
“You got it,” he said, dangling the keys in front of me.
“Sir, I don’t have the money to buy this car.”
“So don’t buy it,” he said. “But go drive it. I see the student parking sticker on your car, you live in town, you’re not going anywhere. I heard you backing in, you can drive a stick. Take it over the mountain and see how you like it. Go on.”
That fateful drive in a white Jensen-Healey confirmed my love of British sports cars at the very time they were fading as a category, at least the lower-cost models that weren’t unrealistic possibilities for a hard-working, car-loving teenager.
But college soon demanded a reliable driving appliance, not a roadster. First came a Toyota Corolla SR5, and then a VW Golf GTI, which I eventually sold to pay for graduate study in England. While in school there, I saw an alumnus emerge from the college chapel with his bride, and then drive off with her in a white Austin-Healey 100.
Not surprisingly, I was smitten with Mazda MX-5 Miatas when they arrived in 1989. Here was a new take on the classic roadster formula, but with modern Japanese engineering. In the years when I was building a business and growing a family, owning such a car was not practical, even though Mazda had made their roadster highly reliable, unlike the cars that inspired it.
Years later my friend Martha got a Miata Sport. On a sunny spring day when she was stuck at work, she asked me to do her a favor. “It’s too nice a day for that car to sit in a parking lot. Someone should enjoy it. Go pick up Summer (my daughter, then nine years old) after school and take her for a ride. Please, it’ll make me happy!” I promised to return her ride before quitting time.
Top down, I drove to Summer’s school to arrange a surprise dismissal before the school buses rolled. The gleaming black roadster was the only vehicle parked out front. Summer gasped when she saw it. “It is OURS?”
“It’s Martha’s,” I explained, “but she said it’s ours for the afternoon. You want ice cream?” That’s a question only answered YES, so off we went. We took the steep road up to the mountain ridge and down the S-curve on the other side. My dad called this stretch “the roller coaster” and my daughter knew why. We carved the same back roads I drove years ago in that Jensen-Healey. What a ride!
When Summer was in high school, and thinking about her driver’s license and a car of her own, she asked me what car I would get if I could have any kind. Without hesitation I said, “A Miata.”
“Really, you wouldn’t want a Ferrari or a Lamborghini?”
“No, I like Miatas. That’s what I’d get.” This was the era when the fourth generation Miata, the ND, came out, re-igniting my desire for the latest modern take on the classic British sports car. That desire piqued on a warm spring day, sitting on the front porch with my wife, as several Miatas rounded the curve. Every driver and passenger looked happy. I thought aloud: “Maybe for our 25th anniversary we should get a Miata.” It’s not every day a husband says exactly the right words, but Sheila was instantly on board.
I’ve always had a thing for sports cars in white, perhaps owing to the drive in that Jensen-Healey, and a white Miata GT with a six-speed popped up for sale. Just two years and 3,400 miles young, it was literally driven by an old lady (a term I use with great respect) from Cape Cod. Over the past 30 years, she had owned one example of each Miata generation. They all had a stick, but shifting for herself had become more effort than she wanted. She went for an automatic with paddle shifters and traded in her 6-speed GT. I arranged a test drive that morning. When I laid eyes on the Snowflake White Pearl roadster with the Dark Cherry soft top, it was a shot through the heart.
Summer joined me for the first test ride. “Dad, you can’t not have fun in a Miata!” Sheila came along for a second test ride. “Oh my god, where do I sign?” By delightful coincidence, the car was finally registered and ready to come home on our anniversary – 25 years to the day! So began our love affair with Pearl, our name for this sleek white roadster.
In this car, every drive is a road trip where the driving matters and the destination doesn’t. When the road trips begin after dinner, we include a related activity: Chasing the Sunset. The goal is to drive and arrive somewhere just in time to witness a spectacular sunset. A good vantage point impacts the quality of a sunset, as does Mother Nature’s cooperation, but carving fun roads along the way, in the warm evening air with the top down, makes it a chase.
Not long ago when our chase was coming up short, we bought some time by gaining elevation. Turning west, we drove up the mountain road and crossed the ridge to find a glorious sunset unfolding behind low clouds on the horizon. Sunset chased – and caught! For us, that’s the perfect road trip.
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