But, back to the famed and more commercially acceptable red convertible. I think I didn’t care for it because it seemed so clichéd (though I didn’t know what the word clichéd meant at the time), but I couldn’t explain that one, so I kept quiet about my reservations. The idea of the drop-top red coupe never appealed to me (surprising perhaps for someone who loves cars).
I was still a boy, and one Saturday morning my Dad attended a meeting with a pastor at church – now this church is very old, still standing today, and every generation of family had attended it at some point – Calvary Santuary. My Dad practically grew up in it, dragged along by my grandmother; my parents first met each other in it… so it’s pretty old. For some reason I tagged along with my Dad that morning.
Whilst the meeting ensued, I took a stroll around the old grounds, which included the auxiliary hall (which used to be the original church hall until the renovations, the adjoining caretakers house, and the separated out buildings for the church offices, shed and garage. I hoped to maybe find a tree worth climbing (these were after all tall oak trees). But as I wondered, strolling over the loose gravel and dead leaves, my eye caught something just around the next corner, something red. Parked in the church’s car port stood two old cars; one a beat up, but probably still running, old beige VW van – the types fancied by the flower power generation (it even matched the color of the wall behind it), and then there was this other thing.
It was small. The tyres were all flat and it was half covered by an old tarp that had seen better days. I pulled back the cover and took a look inside. The soft top roof was missing, affording me an unobstructed view of the tan colored interior. I glanced around over my shoulder to make sure the coast was clear, and then I turned the ‘T’ shaped door handle and pulled. Surprisingly the door hinges didn’t creak. I hesitated before climbing inside, just staring at the dirty leather seat. After dusting off a twig and some dead leaves as well as, well, dust, I slowly lowered myself into the driver’s seat. It was comfortable without being comfortable. I placed my hands on the wooden steering wheel and took a breath, instinctively looking at the ignition. I then started a half-hearted search for a key, any key, but found only more wind swept dead leaves under the seats. And so I sat there, soaking in the moment, allowing my imagination to run, and indulging in a quick fanciful daydream. Before long I was out the car again, inspecting her, running my hands over the smooth but dusty lines. I found myself at the rear and pulled back the tarp all the way. I opened the boot lid and located the missing roof. The tan colored roof – matching the interior - was jumbled up, probably broken, so I left it there, after a brief debate with myself about the difficulties of wrestling with a retractable roof without assistance or any prior practical knowledge of the mechanism. After closing the boot, careful not to attract attention, I stared at the name in raised letters just over where the license plate was meant to be. Two of the silver letters were broken, the first and the last, but I could still make out the name… “T-R-I-U-M-P-H”.
But, there was one secret I still wanted to discover, but for this secret, I need to take you back a few years.
When I was about seven, my father bestowed upon me a very serious duty. Every morning before school, my job was to warm up the car. I’d unlock and roll up the garage door, pop the bonnet and check the oil and water levels, and start the ignition, holding the accelerator down and keeping the engine humming at 2000 rpm for about 30 seconds. This, as the rising sun stared at me in the rear-view mirror through the gaping garage door. This little procedure would be a sort of calling card for the family, the sign that it was time to get going in the mornings. I may have taken it for granted after a while, but when cruel fate took the car from us; the whole family missed the power and purr of the 2.8 litre straight 6 cylinder engine (The flagship Cressida: my Dad’s dream car since the early 80’s).
And so, a part of me instinctively wanted to hear what this little Triumph had to say… but since I was minus a key, all I could do was perhaps take a look at her heart. I walked over to the front and loosened the right side latch. It must be said that the Triumph is a sports car, so the bonnet/hood doesn’t open like normal cars. The simple design meant the whole front end was connected – engine cover and wheel arches – and it opened forward, so the hinges were ahead of the front wheels and not below the windscreen wipers (which were also missing). Before I lifted the bonnet though, I hesitated, for two reasons. 1: was that I was looking around, minding the time, hoping to not get caught whilst thinking of the story I’d conjure to try and explain why I was snooping around someone else’s car. And 2: (most importantly) I was afraid of what I’d find, or not find. I stood motionless, just considering things...
Before I could answer some of my questions, I put the latches down and pulled the tarp back over half the car, stealing one last glance at her red loveliness before saying a brief goodbye.
In hindsight, considering the relatively decent condition of the bodywork, the engine was probably still there… but I didn’t want to face the possible alternative – that she’d been abandoned and gutted by some heartless man. But like I said, the engine was probably fine, though not running, since Triumph’s are/were not renowned for their stellar reliability. So I left it, with my daydreams untarnished, my encounter still filled with beauty, and mystery.
A paltry 1.3 litre engine producing enough power to muster speeds in excess of 130 kph/81 mph, just about. In fact the advertising posters, back in 1979 when the car was released, highlighted the power unit as, “lively”… its trademark being its namesake, the ‘Spitfire’ exhaust.
The thing of it is though, is that none of that really matters. The car made an impression. She’s not the fastest, the prettiest or, to put it bluntly, the best, far from it… but what she is (as most 70’s sports cars go), is beautiful.
It took this experience for me to understand the red convertible fascination on a primal level. The fact that this Triumph MK III was red, was of course just fortuitous, but so it was.
I may not be a fan of most red convertibles, but I am, forever now, a fan of this car; which by many standards is an average vehicle, but I had a personal encounter, and this car just happened to be red, and it happened to be a convertible. Either way though, I do now, in my own way, understand why the phenomenon can be so captivating, and its growing in me still.
It’s more dream than reality, the idea of it… but also its in the little things, quite simply because, it’s not a normal car; it wasn’t built to be mere transportation, it was built with passion and an artful eye, to symbolize fun, vibrancy and freedom. Perhaps revered more for what they aspired to be as appose to what they actually delivered. How’s that for a sales pitch? The weird part though, is that the very first automobiles just after, and all based upon, the horse drawn carriage, were of course… open-top vehicles.
- So, the abandoned or neglected car; its even inspired a cable TV show. This car though, the one that found me just as much as I found her, will forever be a treasure, a lonely discovery, made all the more sweeter, because it felt slightly illegal… a mysterious and beautiful red affair.
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