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Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

Posted May 20, 2019 12:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: classic auto Discussion driving

There’s a certain romantic ideal that comes with owning a convertible sports car. Being part of the environment while enjoying the song of a multi-cam engine combine to create a magical atmosphere, one that makes the suffering of a long winter easily forgotten. That’s what drew me to small convertible sports cars in the first place, and it’s what has always brought me back to them.

For me, twisty-road trips on a temperate spring day were once the stuff dreams (and stress relief) were made of. Not long ago, the keys to happiness on such drives were simple: Leave early, before traffic builds, and stick to roads less traveled. Now, those pointers are no longer valid.

On a recent Saturday, my wife and I jumped into the Miata to take the long way — the really long way — to meet friends at a restaurant roughly equidistant between us. We wound our way south, into Massachusetts, then west, into New York, headed for the small-ish hamlet of New Paltz. We weren’t 20 minutes from home before we ran into the first road clot.

Back-road wandering and day trips seems harder, and less enjoyable, than it used to be.

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#1

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/20/2019 2:31 PM

Car ownership seems to have peaked in 2007 at 844 cars per thousand people, and has since begun to taper off a bit...In 1965 we hit 500 per thousand people, and in 1940 it was around 250 cars per thousand...There are approximately 2.7 million miles of paved roads in the US....

2.7 million miles of road, 270 million cars...do the math

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_in_the_United_States

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#2

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/20/2019 6:37 PM

I feel your pain. I've driven sports cars since the late 60's (4 Triumphs, now on my 3rd Miata.) Unfortunately, you can't go any faster than the zombie in front of you. I think the only remedy is to move to a part of the country that isn't overpopulated...

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#5
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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/21/2019 1:52 AM

Or find that special road and don't tell anyone about it. Just keep it to yourself and enjoy!

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#6
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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/21/2019 2:09 AM

Soooo, having owned Triumphs and Miatas, what's your take on both cars? I haven't owned either one and I'm curious. I love the style of the old TRs - the chrome bumper cars look so good. The Miata made roadsters finally reliable and easy to maintain. I think they're very nice too and they last forever. They say the Miata is the car that killed the British roadster business.

Those Japanese roadsters are something else. Reliable, easy to maintain, run forever, starts on the first turn of the key. Idles smoothly. I have an MR-2 Spider and it's extremely reliable, but I don't get the same enjoyment as I do with my Alfas. I've driven S2000s (both the first gen 2.0L high revving motor and the 11/2 gen 2.2L). They need to run in VTEC mode to get power out of the motor. 350Zs are a different breed, since they're V-6 not twin cam 4s. The Eclipse convertible is also not the same as the roadsters.

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#7
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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/21/2019 9:44 AM

When I was growing up, my dad had a TR-3 that he drove to work. I knew at that time that I had to drive a sports car. I had a number of Spitfires and for a while a TR-6. The Triumphs were fun but required a lot of tinkering. I spent hours underneath the Spitfires replacing those annoying U-Joints on the half-axles. There was a long drought where no new sports cars were being made, so all that were available were high mileage used cars.

Mazda recognized the pent up market demand and came out with the Miata in '89, and couldn't make them fast enough. I had to wait a couple months for my first one. Miatas are just a much fun as the old Triumphs, and as a bonus, very reliable.

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#10
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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/22/2019 4:29 AM

I remember when Mazda first made the Miata. I was working at the Seabee base in Pt Hueneme, CA. Mazda used Pt Hueneme as the port of entry for Miata's. I'd see rows and rows of those awesome little Miata's. All soft tops with maybe 2-3 hard tops.

I never owned a Miata, though I've delivered quite a few. I really like the older ones - smaller and lighter weight. The previous gen was quite large and heavy. The current gen is lighter, though still much heavier than the first gen.

I know what you mean about all the time tinkering with those old cars. Though you did get to learn about the car and if you ever got stuck on the side of the road, with a few hand tools you could find a way to patch it just enough to get her home.

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#3

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/20/2019 8:04 PM

I just wish drivers in Maryland would understand what this means:

Or . . . how to use one of these:

The only joy on back roads are on the weekdays.

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#4

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/21/2019 1:51 AM

Almost every Saturday, I take a drive in one of my little roadsters. Logically, it makes no sense to like one of these little cars.

Poor ergonomics - things are in the wrong place and the reach is too far.

Unhealthy - the crankcase blowby gasses can't be healthy to breathe.

Unsafe - no air bags or shoulder belts, just a lap belt. Also my 2,000 lb roadster won't stand a chance in an accident against a 7,500lb 3/4 ton pick ups or 5,500 lb SUV.

Mucho maintenance - oil change every 3K miles (or less), radiator with real metal core = clogged passages, mechanical fuel injector adjustments and oil filter, 10-20K mile spark plugs, plug wires, distributor cap, rotor, vacuum lines everywhere, seals and gaskets leaking ...

Good luck finding parts - where do you get an OEM part for a 36 to 48 year old car? And if it was made that long ago, what's the chance that it'll work today?

Noisy - definitely can't have a phone conversation in the car! Though this may be a good thing...

Shakes, rattles, creaks and other noises - reminding me that it's an old car and most likely wasn't designed to be on the road this many years after it was built.

Old technology. Inefficient. Unreliable. Lacking modern conveniences.

HOWEVER, for me, there's so much to like.

Turn the key and unlock the door. Pull the chrome handle and the door swings open. I sit inside and flip the two levers to release the roof and then in one motion, push it up, back and then let it fall behind me. I smile! Okay, cross my fingers and turn the key - the twin cam jumps to life ... then dies. Another start - brup, brup, brup and dead. Another start and a few more brups. Another start and a little pumping of the throttle and she's almost there, but dies when she idles. Another start, a little throttle work and she's running AND idling! Release the parking brake, push the clutch in and move the shift lever to first gear! MOTION! Fight the steering wheel (no power steering) to get her on the street from the driveway. Push the clutch in and shift to second - no grinding!! Clutch in again and shift to third! The sun shining down on me as I drive down the street. Down the block, I hit a red light - I don't know why, but every Saturday the light is red when I get there. In goes the clutch as I roll to the light. Light turns green and a block later, I'm on the freeway and on my way to where my heart tells me. Most Saturdays, it's to the credit union to do some banking. But on the way home, it's up to me - where to go??? This is what I love! Open air driving, where I smell the orange blossoms in spring. Or the dew in the air as I drive through the mountains. The mechanical whirling of the twin cam four - she's singing to me. Moving the shifter in and out of gears - the teeth grabbing! No power steering, so I know exactly what the front tires are doing and where they're at. Grip - yup, I can feel it. I take in a deep breath and I feel ALIVE! There's something very special about driving an older roadster.

I'm not sure why certain cars do this to me. I enjoy driving my MR-2 Spider and my Boxster. Great cars that are not only fun to drive, but put me in a good mood. But, there's something about those Italian cars. Years ago, I was told to be careful about owning an Alfa Romeo. I was told that it becomes and obsession. You buy the first one and you love it. Then you hear how much better the SPICA cars are vs the Bosch, so you buy a SPICA car and you feel the soul of the car. Then you hear that the dual Weber is the car to have, so you buy one of them - and yes, the carbs bring the engine to life. Then you're told to buy a low mileage car, because you're getting closer to what was originally intended, so you buy one and notice the differences. The wind wing windows have locks (they fall off on higher mileage cars). And the clutch feels soooo good! The motor has really good compression and it feels so much stronger. The tranny shifts like it's suppose to. The steering is tighter. The suspension more controlled and precise. The seat bottom foam doesn't have flat spots. When you put the key in the door, the spring in the lock pushes it back to center - doesn't do this on the other cars! Add the other hundred or so places you see very little sign of wear and now you know that this is what the engineers intended! BUT, you really like the tight bumpers, lack of body side molding and those silly rubber blocks on the bumpers. So, you NEED ... okay, you WANT a '71 with low miles - yessss, it comes with the freer revving 1750 too! And after you get the '71? Then you'll want a boat tail! It never ends!!!

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#9
In reply to #4

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/21/2019 9:56 PM

Ha ha,, man you got it bad....it's funny, some people never get it...that feeling that everything is right with the world, as long as you have this machine to drive, the feeling of freedom and the open road belong to you....gentlemen start your engines

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#11
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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/22/2019 4:48 AM

Oh yeah, I have it really, really bad. As I write this, I have three Alfa Spiders sitting in my driveway ... and I'm ready to buy a 4th - a 1971 with the dual Webers, high revving 1750, two stage red paint, no rust and 74K miles. I don't have room for it, so the '80 will be have to be sold.

Here's a funny story. A couple months ago, my sister came to visit from Chicago. I let her drive my 1980 Spider (this is the easier one to drive - the other two are a more raw) - she drives a 1994 Acura Integra with a 5 speed, so she knows how to drive a stick. On our drive, I watched her fight the steering wheel, hit the headlight switch by mistake as she tried to use the turn signals, short shift (the exhaust noise threw her off) and overall, battle with a 39 year old car. Instead of savoring the experience, in a nice way, she told me she didn't like the car. I know she was wondering why we didn't take the other roadsters. I could tell that she has no idea why I'm obsessed with my little Alfa's.

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#13
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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/25/2019 4:53 AM

"Wherever we want to go, we go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That's what a ship needs. But what a ship is... what the Black Pearl really is... is freedom." - Captain Jack Sparrow

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#8

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/21/2019 11:20 AM

Where have all the old "Berma Shave" roadside signs gone? Or, the yellow & red "The THING" signs?

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Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

05/22/2019 8:33 PM

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#14

Re: Open Diff: Has Driving Become Joyless?

06/03/2019 1:17 AM

I started my '74 Alfa Spider today, but didn't go for a drive. The coolant overflow tank has a crack and the radiator cap was leaking. I pulled the cap from my '71, so I could've gone for a drive, but I had to meet a client.

It was exciting/invigorating to sit behind the wheel, while the twin cam 4 rumbled and growled.

I'm going to order a new overflow tank, radiator cap and then I need to install new rubber brake hoses on all four corners, bleed the brakes and she'll be ready for a nice run through the canyon. I can't wait!!!

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