John F

Bug-eye to Miata, what a trip

My first car was one that I would love for the rest of my life --- a 1959 red Bug-Eye Sprite that my Dad and I pulled home on the end of a rope. We spent the summer working on this little wonder, neither of us having done anything car-wise before, and when the school season opened in the Fall I was driving the Bug-Eye to high school.

I drove it, worked on it, got speed equipment for it, raced it in parking lot gymkhanas and finally took it off to university. I would drive the 60 miles back and forth from the school to home on weekends. My brother and I would pull the engine on Friday afternoon, put in a Huffeker (sp?) cam, change the rear-end to a lower gear, take off the muffler and the windshield and then compete in a gymkahana on Saturday...win or lose, we would put everything back to stock on Sunday and I would drive back to college Sunday evening.

I eventually sold this jewel to my college roommate with the understanding that I would drive it home with him (home was 1,700 miles away in northeast PA.

We made the trip non-stop. I had purchased a parts-car (a Morris Minor ragtop) that had big wheels, but they had the same bolt pattern as the Sprite. So with the 14" (may have been 15") wheels and tyres on the back and a very tall gear in the rear end we headed East.

It would take us 10 to 15 minutes to get up to 60 mph, but once we were there we could cruise with the tach at 1,000 rpm...we didn't have to stop for gas much, but we did have to pull into gas stations every 2 or 3 hours to pump up the rotten tyres from the Morris. We knew it was time for a air break when the rear end started wandering. Amazingly we made it to his house in PA. and then a few days latter, drove the Bug-Eye through downtown New York City.

As the years went by and my hair got greyer, I thought about that Bug-Eye often, then 15 years ago I had a chance to relive my youth. I found a Bug-Eye that had been parked in a storage unit in northern California. The guy who owned it was retired USAF and had only driven it on base in Texas. When he retired to California, his wife said he could not drive it on the roads since she was sure he would be smashed by a logging truck. So he parked it in her brother's storage unit, turned off the key and walked away. It sat there for 6 years until I came along.

Long story, short. I finally bought it for a song since the wife wanted it out of her brother's storage unit. Got it running and back to my house. Spent a year getting it in shape (body was straight, interior good, top unused, aluminum side curtains) and had a great little Bug-Eye with less than 6 grand invested.

Then came the move to Oklahoma. I had to have the little car on a transport inside, which cost me as much as the original purchase, but worth it.

So I am in Oklahoma with my groovy Bug-Eye, which the grandkids christened "Granpa's Zoom Zoom Car" and all is good until the clutch goes south. Not having the bucks to pay for the repair, I scrouged, borrowed an engine hoist and with buddies got it fixes after about three months. After that, whenever I drove the little jewel it was with held breath, waiting for the next big thing to go with a car that had passed the half-century mark.

So I decided it was time to take the next step, get the Bug-Eye to a new home where someone could take care of it without worrying about repair costs. I knew I still wanted to experience the thrill of driving an open 2-seater. And I lucked out.

I found a used car dealer who had a client looking for a Bug-Eye (the prospective buyer had had a sports car garage, then joined the Postal Service and had just retired) and the dealer had a marvelous 1999 MX-5 Mazda Miata 10th Anniversary Edition. We got together and when the wheeling and dealing was over the dealer had the Sprite and I had the beautiful blue Miata and a very healthy check.

What happened next was unbelievable. I called the dealer a couple of weeks later to see how things had gone with his buyer for the Bug-Eye. He said that the guy loved the car, paid cash, drove off the lot revving the engine and within a mile had thrown a rod. Fortunately, the buyer said that he would go through with the purchase if the dealer would pay for the parts.

Now I have this very nice Miata with the chrome wheels, 6-speed, Bose stereo, cruise control, a/c and a top that I can put up in 30 seconds.

Is it my Bug-Eye that everyone waved at and all the kids laughed when I drove by? Nope, but when I can drive down the interstate with the top down, the stereo on, the a/c blasting and the wind not taking off my sporty-car cap, I smile. But sometimes it is a little sad smile, since I still miss that little red Bug-Eye beauty.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Roger G Fingerlakes, NY July 18, 2014 at 12:11
    Pulled the engine to change the cam 2x per weekend? Really? I change the rear diff/ gears for my race bugeye as needed - that's not bad. Pulling the engine 2x - wow, young and energetic!

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