There was a place called Tink’s Auto Mart on South Sheridan when I first moved to Tulsa. I was a lot younger then, and having sold the Chevy van I’d acquired to haul our music equipment around, I was pedaling to and from work on a ten-speed.
THAT’s enough to put the fear of the automobile in you, let me tell ya’. It was NASCAR-style driving in Tulsa even back then, but at least the streets (with exceptions) have been widened since then.
I worked in the shopping center across from Tink’s, and looking out of the plate glass windows of the store’s showroom, I could ogle the British sports cars set out on display. Nearest the street was a tiny little car, which looked like a toy from my vantage point. Sleek looking, but little.
Also facing sideways (to show it in profile from the street) and parked just behind was another sporty model – a little boxier, but quite a bit larger. It was displayed on some sort of raised ramp, so it could be seen over the smaller car.
Behind the other two, also in profile, was long, torpedo-looking car – parked on a step-up concrete pad. It was gun-grey and about the sleekest looking thing I had ever seen. And believe me, I looked it over.
Rode my ten-speed across the street several times a week, after leaving work, just to look at those British sports cars. Particularly that grey-coloured (British spelling) work of art. It had twelve cylinders, which to me added up to – FAAST. It had a convertible top. Shifter. Wire wheels, sort of James Bond style, without the razor-tipped knock off caps.
I was working away at my day job, saving up some cash toward another vehicle and really imagining myself in that Great Grey.
Oddly enough, I didn’t even look at the price stickers until I had saved up enough that I thought it might cover a down payment. When I had stashed that amount back, I rode my bike over and looked at the cars, and the prices.
The Jag? The XKE grey beauty? Six-thousand dollars. Six thousand dollars, and I wondered who could possibly afford to spend that much money on a car. It was a wonderful machine, but clearly not for me.
The Triumph TR6 was also a good looking ride, I thought. Not so sleek as the Jag. Kinda boxy if truth be told. Six cylinders instead of the Jag’s twelve. Still, a nice top end on that wood-dash-mounted speedometer. Three-thousand dollars and change. And change, because the big number was the three, followed by the word ‘thousand.’ Still out of my league.
And so, I found myself peering into the cockpit of a Spitfire, the little brother Triumph sports car with the four cylinders and a top speed of eighty with a tailwind. It also had a nice wood dashboard, though. Shifter. Convertible.
And a price tag that started with a ‘one.’
I was still looking into it when the salesman sidled up and looked me over, gave a loud guffaw (pretty sure it was a guffaw…) and laughingly asked if I was going to use ‘that bicycle’ as my trade in. He might have meant it as a joke, but if he had intended it to be a snide and cutting remark, he could not have delivered it with more aplomb.
After mentally responding, I mounted ‘that bicycle’ and rode nearly seven miles through the NASCAR traffic to the other Triumph car dealer at 11th and Delaware. I was out of breath when I pulled up in their lot and was still gathering myself when the salesman approached me and said, “I think I have a Spitfire exactly the color of your bicycle.”
I think you just sold it, I replied.
I had a wad of cash in my pocket, and it turned out to be enough to get a set of keys placed in my palm.
If I had placed that car in storage instead of driving it for the next few years, it might be worth six thousand dollars today – maybe a little more to an excited collector. Remember, six-thousand? The price of the new Jaguar back then.
The XKE in the picture is a 1974, a used car, meticulously restored, and – excepting the color – pretty much the car I had ogled all those months from across the street. Asking price for this red beauty listed on Craigslist this afternoon?
Plus fees. Man.
Although I’m considerably older now and have met some folks who could – I’m still wondering – who would spend that much money on a car? (Then again, just think of my profit margin if I had scraped up the money back in 1973!)
I can always imagine myself running through the Jag’s gears with the wind in my thinning hair, even while I’m actually behind the wheel of that thirty-year-old van…