A red roadster has been an object of desire for me since 1970. Ever since seeing the movie “Love Story,” I have wanted one with all my heart.
In retrospect, only a 12-year-old boy could watch a movie called “Love Story” and fall in love with a car. But that’s what I did. My Dad, who loved cars and knew enough about them to race the cars he built with his Dad, told me it was an MG. He didn’t care much for it, but he knew what it was. His taste ran more to Chevys, and definitely to hardtops.
There’s where we differed. I have never met a convertible I didn’t love, but this was a special breed of convertible. It only had two seats, and was low to the ground. I remember Ryan O’Neal jumping into the driver’s seat without opening the door, which struck me as the coolest, most self-assured gesture I’d ever seen. Who knows? Maybe the door didn’t work, but I really wanted to do that. I still do, but my left knee tells me it’s probably time to let that dream die.
Recently, I realized the car wasn’t even red. I saw a photo, and it had a red seat and a red radiator, but the car itself was black. At some point in the past 48 years, I painted it in my mind. And I’m not the only one. I caught a recent photo of a creaky Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw recreating a scene from the film, and the car is red. Now I’m not even sure O’Neal jumped over the door. Maybe that was a different actor in a different film. Memory is a funny thing.
There is no doubt that I loved that car so much because it was so fancy, or so it seemed to 12-year-old me. Now that I’m older, I realize the car’s purpose was to help establish Ryan O’Neal’s character as a spoiled rich boy. Which seemed like a good job if you could get it.
But what I didn’t understand was that MG roadsters were not that expensive, compared to other fancy-looking cars. And they weren’t all that old. They look like they’ve been around since Henry Ford invented the production line, but in fact, the TC Midget model in the film would have been about 20 years old when the movie was made. The roads are filled with 20-year-old cars nowadays, and they don’t look appreciably different from new ones.
In high school, I worked with a fellow at my first job who had one of the TD models, built in 1955. I was so jealous of him, and kind of amazed a bartender could afford such a spiffy car. I know now that if I’d saved my money and applied myself, I could have had one too. But I never did, always thinking it was totally out of reach.
Freddy didn’t deserve his MG. He didn’t even care much for it, and constantly whined that if the temperature outside dropped below a comfortable room temperature, the car needed to be warmed up for an inordinately long time before being driven. I thought a 30-minute warm-up period for a 10-minute drive wasn’t so bad as all that and didn’t understand why he was whining about it. But even with an MG TD roadster in his possession, he wasn’t all that cool. He kept the top up in the winter, and I never saw him jump in without opening the door. Not even once. It was a waste really. But I’ve always been told money doesn’t care who has it. And apparently, cars don’t either.
And then, earlier this week, Elon Musk turns the idea of red retro roadster on its head by launching one into space. Driven by an pseudo-astronaut, no less.
This time it’s a Tesla, and it really is expensive, and not just to 12-year-old boys on an allowance. $250,000 was the estimate I heard. A cool quarter mil is more than I’ll ever be able to pay for a car, so it doesn’t look like a red roadster is ever going to be within my reach.
But it’s good to know the dream is still cool. Cooler than ever. If tooling around Boston with the top down in the winter was badass cool in 1970 (and it was), tooling around the solar system with the top down in 2018 is off the charts of cool. I don’t even care that Starman (the car’s driver who is in actuality, an empty space suit) isn’t a real person. It doesn’t matter in the least.
The idea of Captain Kirk’s “final frontier” being explored in a retro roadster speaks to me. One can look forward to the future without giving up the occasional nod to the past is the message I’m hearing. Images of Starman blasting past the earth, past Mars, wide open toward the asteroid belt, without fear that radiation will destroy his beautiful roadster in a year as some scientists predict, is an image of confidence and hope that I need right about now.
Other scientists are saying Starman could be making his lonely, elliptical orbit for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and that’s even better. Of course, ultraviolet light will sooner, rather than later, fade his Tesla’s beautiful cherry-red paint job to a drab remnant of its former glory.
But even that’s okay. The aging process gets us all, sooner or later. The question is, will it get you holed up in your house, kvetching about the world going to hell in a handbasket and wishing for the good old days to return, or will it get you orbiting the solar system with the top down?
I know which one I want.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.