I have a love affair with roadsters in general, British roadsters in particular. So, what is a roadster? Beyond being pure motoring enjoyment, I define a roadster as a smallish, fairly lightweight, maneuverable, open-air, two-seat automobile. You’ll notice that my definition of roadster does not address power, as that is not what truly defines the roadster driving experience, which I’ll get to in the next installment of this two-part series.
I acquired my first roadster when I was stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England back in the 1970s. That car was a custom-ordered 1977 MG MGB clad in Brooklands Green. The interior was trimmed in Autumn Leaf-colored, Naugahyde-style seats and side cockpit panels with black dash/instrument panel and center console. Naugahyde, for the uninitiated, is the exquisitely expensive, meticulously prepared, beautifully handcrafted hide of the elusive and rare Nauga Beast—otherwise known as vinyl-clad fabric to which your sweaty skin would stick like glue in hot weather. Climbing out of the car after a drive in shorts required the use of cooking spray beforehand and a spatula afterward. Included in the custom order was the Laycock overdrive option, which effectively gave the manual transmission six speeds instead of the four indicated, as overdrive was available in both 3rd and 4th gear.
This car cost me about $4,500. I drove it for nearly ten years and sold it for $3,500. Not bad. But in the meantime, it was a maintenance nightmare. I cannot recount how many times I rebuilt that power-sapping Zenith CD5T carburetor, and I had to work on that little beast every other weekend to keep it reliably running. And don’t even get me started on the Lucas electricals. There’s a reason why enthusiasts of British roadsters of that era refer to Lucas as, “The Prince of Darkness.” It’s because frequently when you reached for the headlight switch, darkness was all you got.
Yes, it was a true love-hate relationship with that car, and I missed it almost immediately after selling it to finance the acquisition of a 1986 Pontiac Fiero SE with a V-6 engine mated to (shudder) an automatic transmission. There is just something about sports cars and roadsters that cries out for a clutch pedal and a stick shift, but I digress. Be that is it may, that great ol’ MGB was not my first choice. I actually lusted after the 1976 Triumph TR6, but being an enlisted man in the USAF precluded that expenditure, and by the time I was ready to purchase my first new car the TR6 was being phased out in favor of the TR7—a car that was introduced in 1975 and the car upon which I blame for the eventual demise of both Triumph and MG. The TR7/8 is the poster child for what was wrong with British Leyland and BL management at that time.
Oddly enough, I found a fairly nice example of the TR6 some three decades later, a 1972 that Ursula got for me back around 2006. Nearly identical coloration to the Brooklands Green exterior and Autumn Leaf interior of my beloved MGB. Fun to drive. Much more power than the 63 horsepower 1977 MGB (a whopping 104 horsepower). Certainly turned heads wherever we drove it. Alas, it lacked the ergonomics and comfort of the MGB, and really fell short in comparison to modern roadsters. I sold it a year later, after acquiring the Teutonic equivalent of a modern MGB, a 2001 BMW Z3 with a 3.0-liter engine that makes driving just that much more enjoyable.
I’ll need to dig through my 35mm photo archives to see if I can find pictures of that old MGB, but in the meantime here’s that TR6: