Alan Coren recalls his first sports car.
The first car I ever owned was an MG PA Midget, five years my senior; which no doubt entitled it to the mastery over me it always showed. Its sturdy little doors were bound to its sturdy little body with piano wire (since what it conspicuously lacked were sturdy little hinges) and when you hit the brakes, the speedometer fell in your lap. In wet weather, it was fitted with a passenger, this being the only method of holding the roof on, and the combined roar of engine, exhaust, tappets, rearaxle whine and wind was a feature that has left me with a permanent shout: even today, gliding along on the silken purr of some modern seven-bearing crankshaft, I have difficulty in talking below a shriek.
Now, some of you may feel that, as far as sales pitches go, they have come across more seductive examples. You are, with respect, wrong: when I bought the above item in 1959, it was twenty-five years old, had passed through almost as many hands, had been caned across some two hundred thousand miles of rough road, yet it remained not only an object of joy and love, but would also have gone up the North Face of the Eiger in third, if one had managed to get a decent run at it.
It cost twelve quid; and even granted that inflation has accelerated at a rate that would leave any sports car at the post, that was still not exactly a king’s ransom in 1959. And yet, in terms of the mystique it conferred and the delight it afforded, its true value was incalculable.
Even stationary, the Midget did all I ever asked of it, viz, snatch girls’ eyes from less worthy occupations and draw their attention to an object which might otherwise have passed as unnoticed as any other pimply duffle. After which, it was then up to me to capitalise upon it; and it is fair to say that to MG must go the credit for much of my characterdevelopment, required as I was to live up to the image of a dashing adventurer, a heroic hedonist, a bit of a dog, yet a mature and capable man withal, a bloke with the enviable gift of twitching something volatile out of the wet on a dodgy corner.
That is one of the great strengths of the sports car; it can be all things to all men, conferring maturity on youth, and youth on middle-age — I now recognise that there is no better rejuvenator for both the ego and the image than something low, snorty and mutli-carburetted. It is far less painful than having your follicles transplanted, and far less ridiculous than forcing your welling gut into a pair of flared hipsters.
All of this ego-boosting may well apply to women, too: I am constantly being told that girls are unconcerned with the panache bestowed by this motor car or that, but having seen a number of them hacking a roaring piece of pastelpainted metal away from the lights, giant sunglasses shoved with careful abandon into their coiffes and the dainty left hand twinkling over the gearstick for all the world like something attached to a busty Fittipaldi, I beg leave to entertain my doubts.
I thought long about the wisdom of saying what I finally decided to say next ; I have spent large chunks of my writing life in attacking advertisements Of one kind or another, usually on the basis of their nonsensical claims or the preposterous life-style they promote, and nothing sets my molars grinding more than a palpable lie tarted up to pass for truth. I naturally worried, therefore, whether I ought to bring this chat about sports cars in general down to the specific object of this advertisement by saying that the name MG is virtually synonymous with the words sports car.
What persuaded me to say that it was is the fact that it is true, and there is no denying it is true, and it is as good a way. as any of moving from the general to the particular, since everything I have said about sports cars applies emphatically to the MG. It is an evocative and a haunting name, girt with romance and nostalgia, calling up another era. In a modern MG, one not only slips into the role of present hero, one picks up the accumulated heroics of all the blokes who ever sat behind that thrilling wheelboss and its poetic enamelling.
In short, it is nice to think that there are still MGs around to drive.
Cars in books, August 1973
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