Remember When: Driving is fun, right?

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fran’s Dad, the late Bob Wilson, who lived most of his life in the great state of Texas, commented during one visit here, “Is two-lane, hilly, curvy roads all you have around here?” Yes, Bob, only the rare bits of flat bottomland allow the level, straight stretches of road you were used to in Texas.

I grew up here and got my first driver’s license from a highway patrolman who gave me my road test from a small lot below what is now the St. Luke’s Plaza. I was driving my Grandfather’s ’35 Buick coupe with a big shift lever in the middle of the floor. First task was to stop at the top of the hill and then get into traffic on Trade Street, which was and is also US 176.

Like the copy machines that require three hands, the move into traffic required three feet to work all the pedals. I got that done OK with only two, accomplished the parallel parking, plus giving all the required hand signals to be awarded a license on first try at age 15!

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Since the men I knew who might be considered successful drove Buicks, my first car was a Buick. It served me well on the long drives from Texas and California to the Old North State. Three others followed, as did a non-driving wife and two children, with most driving in traffic in cities. So the later Buicks all had Dynaflow transmissions . . . a smooth but very inefficient way to get a vehicle moving. The saying was that a Buick could pass everything on the road except a gas station!

Then my brother-in-law Terry asked whether I’d like to have his MGB-GT. Having driven them and other sports cars belonging to friends, I sent for the little car. It put the fun back into driving! Stick shift in the floor, overdrive for the highway, quick, tight steering (a flick of the wrist could change lanes) . . . and even a hard top to avoid mussing my coiffure! And it would take any curve at road speed—NEVER touch the brakes!

Since I owned both cars at the same time, I generally drove the Buick to church and to get groceries. I drove the MG to work and most local trips. Our kids were small enough to ride in the little seat behind our buckets, and they were under only ONE seat belt. I took all curves at speed, and Thomas would cram younger Sharon into her side of the car. She would try to do the same to him on the curves the other way, but could not move him. In spite of this inequality, they both seemed to really enjoy the car, since they sat high enough to see out.

I bought Sharon an MG from Steve West, which Thomas took over after I got another ’67 to bring to Tryon when I retired in 1988. I was really looking forward to driving it on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the many “two-lane, hilly, curvy roads” that surround us here in Western Carolina. Problem is, there were not enough opportunities to enjoy the MG’s excellent handling and roadability. I would inevitably find myself on the back bumper of a Detroit-built station wagon, brake lights coming on at every curve. It would always run up to the speed limit when an opportunity to pass presented itself, and the little 4-banger MG did not have the power required to pass those monsters with their big V-8s. I fervently wished they would go into an overlook on the parkway so I could enjoy my car, but they never did!

So I sold my MG. I still enjoy the mechanics of driving a car; our Saturn VUE has a little 4-banger engine and floor-mounted stick shift. Since many cars being built today have a firmer ride and responsive steering, I get to enjoy driving our local roads. I seldom overtake anyone nowadays!