Before my old man got rid of his Biscayne during his mid-life crisis, I got something I had longed for from the time I first drove his Buick…my driverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s license! It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a simple task for me to get that special piece of paper. When I went for the 90-day learnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s permit, which was what they gave you as a minimum in those days, I had to take an eye exam. They found one eye lacking. They found I had very little vision in my right eye. Over the years I had never had even one tiny speck of dust that would have forced me to use my right eye only. I just thought everything was normal. It explained a lot of things in my sporting life. I was continuously being blind-sided on my right when I played hockey. I was poor at slalom in skiing. Catching a football was also a problem even though I was a starting wing back on our high school team. Depth perception didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exist for me. I believe it also impacted my professional life when I grew up. I saw mono and not in stereo vision as normal people do. I would see exactly what the camera did and what was going to be put down on film. Back to getting the driverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s license. I decided to take the test in a small town south of North Bay where I expected it would be easier. It was. When they asked me to cover my eye for the eye test, I looked through my fingers when my bad eye was needed. The examiner didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even look at me. He looked at the chart! It was all manual then and easy to get through the exam with a little cheating. I then did the driving portion of the exam. It was even easier. No stop signs, no traffic lights, no pedestrians. If I could keep it on the road, I had the green light to drive on my own! Needless to say I drove home with my Mother in the passenger seat beaming.
As I said, my Father at the time was going through a mid-life crisis of some kind and just came home one day with a brand new MGB! It was red with a black hard top. It was a beauty! Unbelievable as it may seem, he let me have it once in a while to cruise the main drag of town on some trumped up errand. He knew that I too loved that car. I seldom got it when it counted like a Friday or Saturday night so I was stuck with my MotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Anglia. Her car had our storeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s name plastered on both sides so getting away with anything was out of the question. My Mother was always getting calls from busy-body telling her that Ã¢â‚¬ËœAllan is doing this, or Allan is doing thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Small towns looked after itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s youth by telephone. Your parents took the word of their neighbours as well so getting away with anything was unlikely. Getting your arse kicked and losing the right to use the car was the usual result of any screw-up’s.
During my final two years of high school I had found a new interest. One day I visited my Father at the local television station where he was now the news director. He gave me a tour and I met the station art director who right away realized this Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmoonie-eyedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ kid was smitten by her looks. She was a tall English woman named Terri Lewis. She was the female version of the famous or infamous Grey Owl. She had dyed her hair jet black. It hung with long thick braids that hung down each side of her head. She often wore buckskins that were beautifully decorated with colourful beads. She was dazzling! I kept appearing over the next few weeks and asking questions so I could just hang around. She soon realized I had a some artistic talent and started to show me what the art department was all about. I was also interested in the photography department as the chief photographer, a curious character by the name of Bill Schorse. He had an off-beat sense of humour, but more importantly he had a very special car…a 1955 Jaguar XK140! It was white with red leather interior. He would drive into the parking lot of the station with his head held high and back. His cap was often pulled down to the goggles he wore when he put the windshield down. The sound of the car was romance in itself. He looked so…so…so English! The carÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s note could be heard for miles as he drove up the hill to the tv station. It was out of a dream.
School was not going so well. I was under suspicion of involvement in a plot to splice ten seconds of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœblue filmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ into a geography movie that was stored in the audio visual section of the projectionist booth in the school auditorium. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get back to that later. The movie editing and a few other incidents had me on the carpet in the Vice-principalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office and soon out the door for the rest of the year. A deal was made to allow me to come back and write my grade eleven final exams which I did with some success, but that was the end of my formal education. Less than two weeks after I was out in the spring sunshine I was offered a job by the television station management. It was in the photography department…right under the Jag man! The last thing I wanted to be was a photographer! My Father was a photographer. My half-brother Jim was a photographer. His Father was a photographer. I firmly believe my Mother was into chemicals! I took the job and Bill Schorse began to answer the questions I had about the camera and proper film exposure. I started work, but right away there was a problem. I had no car. I used my MotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s car for the first while, but that caused a lot of tension at home. Much to my surprise my Father suggested we head to Toronto in the Ã¢â‚¬ËœBÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and see what was around on Danforth Avenue. We visited my Grandmother in Port Credit the first night after a long day cruising the lots. She suggested we look at a lot in the town of Clarkson just down the road. The next morning we drove onto the Sports Cars Unlimited lot and got out of the car. My Dad and I started to look around and were fast approached by a young man in a neat shirt and tie. I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t interested in even talking. I had spied my first real love. It was long and low. It had wire wheels with white narrow side walls. It had the most beautifully swept-back windshield. The white paint gleamed in the sun. I could not take my eyes off it. The 1959 Austin Healey 100-6 took my breath away. My Father was also struck by the carÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s beauty. The three of us stood there saying little. The salesman didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need to. He knew we were awestruck by the car. The car was selling itself. The top was down. It had a black tonneau cover over the passenger compartment. He asked if weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to take it for a test drive and I just stood there. My Father asked what the price was and was satisfied with the $999.00 price tag. We had settled on a $500.00 limit, but this was no ordinary car and he wanted it almost as much as I did. When the salesman turned the key there was a loud ticking coming from the trunk. When I inquired I was assured all was well as it was just the fuel pump. The salesman drove the Healey off the lot with me sideways in the little jump seat and Dad neatly tucked in the passenger seat. The salesman drove smoothly through a residential area while the engine warmed up. He then put a lot more ginger into his right foot. Damn it this car could go! The salesman soon pulled the car over and we switched places. I was having the same reaction as I would when I saw a beautiful woman! I needed to settle down. He kept control by telling me to keep the revs down to 2,500. I could melt with the sound and not getting arrested. I remember little about the rest of that day while my Father and the salesman did the paperwork. I wandered around the showroom which held several cars. There was also a Mini in the showroom. It had no interior and had the number Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ850′ on the side. The salesman said it was his race car. There were action pictures of it on the wall of his office. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realize it then, but we had just bought a car off a future legend of Canadian motor sport! The drive home was uneventful other than one of the rocker panels fell off completely and the other just hung there by one screw. A little Ã¢â‚¬ËœbondoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ job had been the carÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s makeup to get the young buyer into the mood. It mattered little to me. The car soon made a trip to the body shop to make it sound again. The sound! The sound was better than the XK 140! I loved to go through the gears in any tunnel to get the full effect of the exhaust. My first real love had four tires rather than two legs! She introduced me to a whole new group of friends who like me were mostly misfits. We loved our cars as much as our present and future girlfriends.
Previously: My own wheels
Ed note: For those of you who are too young, or aren’t up on your Canadian motorsports history that salesman was none other than Bill Brack who went on to become one of Canada’s few Grand Prix drivers. Today, Brack operates an advanced driving school in the Toronto area.
Next: The gang – good and bad times