Confessions of a Car Nut
A few years ago I had 6 cars, now only one. I think I'm in a temporary remission. I'm not a car dealer, although my father was a very good one. And while that in itself does not prove that I am suffering from a genetic disorder, I invite you to read on...
There is a basic principle that governs the "Car Nut" (as we are known to the medical profession):
"The number of cars owned will expand to fill the space and budget available". This is McCafferty's First Law.
A perfect example is junk yards.
My kind of Car Nut disorder is particularly pernicious. I lust after exotics. I am relentlessly driven to own and/or drive the most extraordinary of automobiles.
Pictured above are the cars of the Mikie's Fun House #2 era. In the foreground is the 1959 Scaglietti Corvette (V8), then the white 1992 Mitsubishi 3000 GT-VR4 Twin Turbo (V6) (my daily driver 1992-1996, a fantastic road car!), followed by the blue and white striped '96 Viper GTS (V10), and last in line is the 1967 Ferrari 275GTB/4 (V12).
The Early Years
Yeah, I would have to blame it on my father. He would take me to places like the Indy 500, or Watkins Glen to watch the races, and tell me stories of legends like Barney Oldfield, Nuvolari, and so many more.
I would love it the best when the Ford Racing team did their pre-race preparation in the secret service bays of my father's dealership, just before taking the finished cars over to the race track next door (the Langhorne Speedway, now gone). There I could meet and shake hands with greats like Fireball Roberts, and Tiny Lund while wandering around in a maze of high performance tires and engines. Christmas couldn't have been better!
It wasn't just limited to race cars and Fords, because Dad brought neat stuff home all the time, one of the advantages of having a car dealership. He had some totally awesome rides that I remember: a drop dead gorgeous black Jaguar XK-150s roadster (Click here to read that great story!), a Pantera, MG-TF, and even one day he brought home a 1/4 midget dirt track car.
Mostly, he would bring home a Ford, either a neighbor-customer's car in for service, or a demo unit, or maybe an interesting used car. It was always something to look forward to, especially in autumn when the new models came out.
My first car was a 1950 Ford 4-door, mostly rusted out, only 150 bucks. Although it was my first car, I never really had much of a love affair with it. It was just plain butt ugly. Late one night I had driven it off road to go ice skating at a nearby lake. When I went to start it up later, it was totally dead. I walked to a phone and called my father and asked if he had any suggestions. He said "Do you have a match?" When I said yes, his short answer left no room for misunderstanding: "Burn it!" I should have done it, of course, just to have fun with him, but I needed the transportation, so I figured out how to get it started on my own, which was probably what he was telling me, in a roundabout Dad kind of way.
I drove it for maybe a year, until my license was suspended for a couple of months. So I took the engine apart to see how it worked. Never got it back together, figured it was better to buy another car for a hundred bucks than to put the first one in running condition. I owned only one other 4-door car.
The next one was "Blue Cloud", a light blue '50 Chevy coupe with Powerglide (automatic) transmission. It had a great back seat, a very desirable feature for cars of my early years.
One of my favorites was a 1948 Ford coupe. It looked like it was painted with a broom, in a dust storm, by a drunk on a motorcycle. Work with me, I'm trying to draw a picture here. Anyway, it was a lot of fun to drive, partly because it made a lot of noise with it's flathead V-8 and blown out muffler.
One of my more unforgettable cars wasn't even mine. I was just borrowing it for the day from my father, who was getting some work done on it for his mother. But this was no ordinary grandmotherly car. This one was a 1956 Ford, all white and with a black racing stripe running across the hood, over the roof and down the trunk. You don't see too many grandmothers driving cars with racing stripes, especially in those days. She complained to him that she was always having trouble finding her car in shopping center parking lots, because a white 56 Ford was rather common. So he took her car and had it striped. And she liked it! I love that story.
Anyway, here I am driving this racy looking 56 Ford, I'm right out in front of High School, everybody is hanging out front, catching a smoke before class starts, and I'm cruising down the street, trying to find the ashtray in this unfamiliar car, and when I look up there is a car stopped dead in front of me and I have no place to go. I can still see the hood of my grandmother's car crumpling up in slow motion, and remember my face being slammed into the wheel. And the sound of the crash: as the guy I hit was pushed into the guy in front of him, and that guy was pushed into the next one, etc. There were five wrecked cars right in front of high school, and that McCafferty kid, that constant troublemaker, was at the root of it. Injuries were slight, I got the worst of it, and it wasn't that bad. Those were the days before frivolous lawsuits, or else I would still be paying for whiplash claims.
"GoldenRod" came next, a '54 Mercury hardtop, yellow with black roof, rolled and pleated yellow and black imitation leather interior, and continental kit for the spare. Mellow glass pack dual exhausts. Automatic. That car would cruise forever. Drove it 22 hours non-stop (except for refueling) from the Mason Dixon line to Ft. Lauderdale Florida for Spring Break, with 5 other guys along for the ride to help pay for gas.
Another college car was the "Green Giant", a 1957 Ford Fairlane with a police interceptor engine, stick shift, and looking very mild in green and white paint. It made many high speed runs between the local girls-only colleges and my guys-only college hidden out in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in the panhandle of Maryland.
To celebrate the miracle of my graduation from college, my father presented me with a poppy red '64 Mustang, a 3 speed, six cylinder coupe. I drove it for about a year and traded it in on one with a lot more power: a 1965 Mustang GT Hi-Performance convertible. I drove that car for two years, all over the states of Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, doing my duty as an IBM salesrep selling computers in Appalachia (and I actually sold a bunch of 'em!). Many weekends, I raced the car in SCCA rallies and autocrosses.
|I liked the Jag so much I got another one a couple of years later, a mellow beige 1969 XK-E Roadster. Everyone says how much trouble the early Jags were, but for some reason I never had a bit of trouble with the first one. However, one rainy night the second Jag lived up to its reputation and shorted out the electrical system, leaving me looking for more reliability, and more power. (You just can't have enough horsepower!)|
I first saw the painfully beautiful lines of the 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB Short Nose, at a Jaguar dealership in Wilmette, Illinois. I was looking for something "different" to drive, and nothing was turning me on until the salesman took me back to the service department to show me what they had just taken in trade on a new Jag. It was definitely in rough shape, but it was beautiful to me! Only $8,500! (in 1989-90 these cars would sell for more than a million. If I had only known then!) I took the car home and drove it very little because of the poor weather and road conditions in the Chicago area. Sold it two years later for exactly what I paid for it.
Before moving to San Diego, I fell in love with a dark blue '51 Mercury 4-door, with the "suicide doors" in the rear. The wife and kids drove it all the way from Chicago to San Diego, I drove a U-Haul truck with all our stuff in it.
Finally sold it when I just couldn't afford it any more, but not after I had done everything humanly possible to hold on to it. I remember selling my camera so I could buy tires for the car. But I had a big monthly payment on it ($385/mo was a lot of money to me then), and it needed paint and repairs, so there was no alternative but to sell it. And after two years of beating this poor Ferrari with daily driving, sitting outside in the sun and salt air, I got exactly what I had paid for it. Couldn't argue with that!
Next, I went practical, with a 1980 Camaro, chocolate brown with tan interior. When the
bankruptcy finally came, I lost the car and found myself walking for the
first time in a long, long time. I had to borrow cars from friends so I could make sales calls
so I could sell some computer services so I could eat. One of the cars I would borrow regularly
was Steve Hopkins' Lincoln Continental. You could put twenty bucks worth of premium in that
hog and it would barely move the needle off empty. Really discouraging, because it would burn
the gas almost as fast as you could put it in. But it was great incentive to sell something
when I got to my destination!
Then there was a '72 Chevy Vega, a car so flimsy that it must have been designed to be disposable. Bought it for $400, wholesale, and I finally gave it away to good friend Katie Baxley. It was so much trouble I couldn't bear to ask money for it because I knew she would need it for repairs.Soon after there was a little red Sunbeam Alpine roadster, cute as a bug in a rug, but it was always coming loose in the head bolts and blowing head gaskets, overheating, and finally it just seized up. Didn't mind seeing that bucket of trouble going down the road that last time.
Coming out of bankruptcy, I borrowed $1500 from good friend Susie O'Brien so I could get a
1965 Mustang coupe, red, real nice shape. It was my only car for a long time.
I really liked that car,
but after several years exposed to the oceanfront weather, it was rusted through and
falling apart around me. Business was getting good, so I could afford something
a little better.
New BMW M6
I got my first new car in a long time, a BMW M6, dark blue with blue/gray interior. It was a decent looking ride, but eventually I needed more power, and something more sporty. This BMW was my first German road car and when I sold it I thought it would be my last.
There is an old saying among Ferrari owners: The difference between a German car and a Ferrari is like the difference between artificial insemination and mad, passionate lovemaking. Once you go Ferrari, all other automobiles are boring.
My 4th Ferrari
The Ultimate Road Machine
When I went bankrupt in 1983, I had to give up my prized Ferrari 275GTB (mentioned above). For the next 9 years my goal was to recapture this prize, and I worked long hours in front of my computer screen, on top of which was a model of this great car. It was to remind me of my bankruptcy, and that toys should not be bought on credit, and to keep me focused on my goals.
In 1993, after the sale of my software company, I could finally fulfill this fantasy, but even better than I imagined.
This is the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4. Only 330 were made. It is a 4-cam, V-12 engine of 3.3 liters and 300 hp, has 6 dual throat Weber carbs, and has a top speed over 159 MPH at a redline of 7600 RPM.
The numbers alone cannot possibly describe the most extraordinary sounds it produces when flat out, uphill along a twisting mountain road. And of course the picture alone could never do justice to the lovely lines of this Italian sculpture in steel, each of which was made entirely by hand by a genius with a hammer and a torch.
This one had only 2,900 miles when I bought it in 1993. It had been sitting, apart, in a garage in Augusta Georgia for 20 years waiting for me to come along and fulfill its destiny on the road. I had it outfitted with "Historic" California license plates, and drove it only on the nicest of days, to special events, such as the Ferrari Owners Club drives out in the mountains and deserts around San Diego.
This Ferrari produces some of the most magnificent sounds ever heard by man. To hear what it sounds like (and looks like) to run a Ferrari 275 GTB through the gears, while racing through the streets of Paris at dawn, click here.
In fact, check out all these
I sold this car in late 1999, after putting less than 5,000 miles on it in more than 6 years.
Although it is one fantastic machine, it's just not suitable as a "daily driver".
The 1959 Scaglietti Corvette
Way back in 1959 Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, and Gary Laughlin decided to build a special car that would challenge the world domination of Ferrari in the racing game. As any car nut knows, Shelby finally did it in 1963 with his Ford powered Cobra. However, his first attempt was with the Chevrolet Corvette based prototype shown here.
The body was hand built by Sergio Scaglietti, the same builder of many of Ferrari's most beautiful shapes, including the 275GTBs mentioned herein. There were only three of these cars made, all are still in existence. It has been featured in several magazines, books and car shows. I exhibited this rare and important automobile at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines in '98 and the Rodeo Drive Concours in '99. I bought it in '93, as an investment, and also thinking I would campaign it as a vintage racer, but the car handled like a truck so I never really drove it except once on the Pebble Beach Tour in 1998. I sold it at the Barrett Jackson auction in January 2000 to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. As an investment, it wasn't that great. Cars generally are not good investments.
For more information about this car, including complete history and more photos, click here and read the article "Cobra Concept" that was published in Vette Magazine in 1997.
The 1996 Viper GTS was the most powerful (450hp, v-10, 188mph) American automobile available when I became mesmerized by its awesome good looks and bucket loads of torque. This blue and white Batmobile was my daily driver for about 5 years. Just smash down on the gas and it goes FAST, and NOW. I really like the visceral feeling you get with that car. Lots of G-forces. Great for driving the mountain roads between Del Mar and the desert. Painfully bad seats, but what fun!
The Viper is so painful to drive, and has such a low ground clearance in front, that I figured I needed something a little more mellow for getting around town. Everywhere you go in this car people are pointing and gawking at you and giving you the thumbs-up or mahalo signs. There is just no way you can be anonymous in this car. It's amazing that a hermit like me could stay with such a car for so long.
In the days of conspicuous consumption, when I owned the Ferrari, the Scaglietti Corvette,
Viper GTS, Mustang, Mitsubishi Twin Turbo, and the Jag all at the same time, I had
an airplane hangar that I converted into a home
(Mikie's Fun House #2), so I had plenty of space to put all these
toys. I kept the Ferrari 275GTB/4 and the Scaglietti in my bedroom, along with the biplane.
That was actually the Genesis of the madness,
the biplane. Somehow I got it into my head
that I wanted to have my biplane in my bedroom, and so I made it happen. This was not one of
my better investments! Here's a photo:
(click to enlarge)
Nostalgia got the best of me so I got a '65 Mustang convertible just like I owned and raced a long time ago. Same color, same options, identical in every way. Stunningly good looking car. It was intended to be a keeper, but I kept it for only about 4 years. The Mustang, no matter how it may take me back to my youth, is just not a great general purpose vehicle. It lacks so many comfort and safety features. Click on the title, or the photo to read more about this great car.
In October 2000 I took delivery of the first 2001 Jag XK8 convertible to be sold in San Diego. It has a Pacific blue exterior, ivory interior, GPS navigation display system and heated seats. A very civilized boulevard cruiser, and my first automatic transmission in about 30 years. The Jag was my daily driver for 5 and a half years, and I only put 33,000 miles on it in all that time. Hermits don't get out much!
First & Only Brand-New Ferrari
The Maranello arrived in November 2000, a couple of weeks early. I ordered it in "Tour de France" medium blue, with Bordeaux leather, the same color as the cockpit in the biplane, so I would feel right at home. Other options ordered include red calipers and the modular wheels. It came standard with a 6 CD changer mounted in the trunk. It has no spare tire, only an air bottle for emergency use. I figured I would do some racing with it as well, but then that never really happened... unless you count that run in the desert with the Ferrari Owners' Club, (see Driving Impressions story below). I picked up a few paint chips in the nose on that trick, but it was well worth the memories. Sure gets the heart rate up! There was only one other time that I went faster on the ground, and that was in the Concorde, which takes off only after getting up to 250mph on the runway. Yikes!!!
When you order a new Ferrari, the dealer takes your substantial (but refundable) deposit, and just puts your name on a list, and you wait on that list until the Ferrari factory calls the dealer and allows them to order a car.
That call came on June 12, 2000, and I was faxed the form, in Italian and English, where I indicate how I want the dedication plate to read. This was the first official Ferrari document and it now appears as if I am on the official record books of the Ferrari factory. Totally historic! (I have owned 4 different Ferraris over the years, but this was the first time I ordered one new from the factory.)
The Maranello is truly an outstanding automobile. The suspension is pure magic. The driver feels everything he needs to feel, but it is never too much.
The Maranello is a rock. It is unbelievably strong in its construction, and very powerful, but you don't notice the power like you do in a Viper GTS. The Maranello is almost boring to drive at speed. There are no surprises. The Modena by comparison is a bucket of bolts with lots more wiggly things happening in the suspension. I think one must stay awake when driving a Modena. The Maranello is a dart. There are no emotions when driving a Maranello. I remember driving it on a run through the desert, with the San Diego Ferrari Owners Club... It was barely a two lane road, with a not insignificant crown on it, and it was covered with light sand and pebbles in spots, and I passed them while going at least 160, and it was certainly a very risky thing to do, with the road being so narrow, and I had never travelled that road before, and I was passing several fast Ferraris in a long line... but I felt somehow strangely confident when I should have been wetting my pants in fear. The Maranello made it all seem so ordinary...
The best times in such a supercar are solitary moments, as it is no favor to subject a passenger to the dangers of pushing up against the limits of the Law of Physics.
I kept a pilot's log book documenting every drive in this awesome car. It had only 2000 miles on it when it went away forever. It's a long story about why it happened, so I'll save it for when we meet, but the bottom line is that, once again, I became a man who has sold his Ferrari, and a man who is looking forward to his next Ferrari.
Read the story and see the photos!
After 5 and a half years of boulevard cruising in my Jag XK8 convertible, and with only 32,500 miles on it, I just couldn't take it anymore, and had an itch I couldn't scratch without more horsepower and more toys. One fine Sunday I did the deed and ordered my new car with these specifics:
2 seat convertible, Engine: aluminum block V8, 6 liter, 400 Horsepower, 400 lb./torque @ 4400 RPM, 6500 RPM redline 0-60 in 4.2 seconds (yikes!!)
6-speed paddle shift w/ automatic modes
Candy-apple red metallic paint with black interior and top
Top: power-folding, includes power tonneau cover, and glass rear window with integral defogger
Seats: leather trim, heated, 6-way power adjustable.
Steering column tilt & power telescoping.
Universal home remote transmitter 3-channel programmable integrated garage door opener
Mirrors: outside power remote control, heated, w/driver side auto-dim. Mirror: inside manual day/night w/ compass.
Headlamps: xenon, high intensity discharge, with automatic exterior lamp control. Fog lamps: dual halogen. Under hood light. Daytime running lamps
Memory package: presets for mirrors, steering, driver's seat. Voice activated navigation system. Keyless entry & ignition. Head-Up Display: includes readouts for street mode, track mode with g-meter, vehicle speed, engine rpm and readings from key gauges including coolant temperature and oil pressure
AM/FM/CD & satellite radio with Bose premium 7-speaker system and MP3 playback
Performance package includes: stiffer springs, stabilizer bar, shocks, big brakes with cross-drilled rotors
Wipers: intermittent Antenna: hidden, integral
Air bags: driver/passenger, dual-stage, frontal and side impact
Air conditioning: dual-zone, electronic, with air filtration including pollen filter
Run-flat tires. Tire pressure monitoring system. Wheels: Five-spoke Painted Aluminum, 18" x 8.5" front and 19" x 10.0" rear
Power Rack and pinion steering, speed sensitive Suspension: 4-wheel independent Traction control Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
Weight 3199 lbs.
Actually I got it because it has an integral antenna.
The Jag has a retractable stick-out-of-the-fender antenna
Oh, OK, maybe also because of the paddle shifter.
And the 400hp, of course.
And the nav system on the Jag was
suffering with a database that's 5+ years old,
So it can't find some of the newer streets, exits, etc.
The Airstream Adventure
But that's long range planning. I'm not moving out of my condo anytime soon, I expect, but the concept of a portable home at the beach finally pushed me over the edge. With an Airstream trailer I would need something un-exotic, a big SUV or pickup truck. The Airstream salesman suggested I get a Toyota FJ Cruiser, which I did, but it had major disadvantages as a tow vehicle, so I gave it to my daughter to replace her 200,000 mile 12 year old Toyota.
I never owned a truck, so I figured it was about time, and I got a Toyota Tundra pickup, brand new 2010. Four wheel drive, of course, with a big V8. I added a SnugTop camper shell, and a BedSlide for full access to everything. It easily pulled the Airstream travel trailer (2009 Sport 17).
After 50 years of driving neat cars, fast, and then driving a pickup truck and towing a trailer, well, it was a new experience, to say the least. I learned a lot, and enjoyed it immensely. I kept a blog of my experiences at The Adventures of Airstream Mikie.
There are several cars missing from this list. I can't remember where in the
chronology I should mention the 1929 Ford roadster basket case I had in high school. It always
remained a basket case. And the two 1937 Ford roadsters, neither of which was running, and came
as a set. Never did anything with them, although they sport one of the finer-looking grilles ever
put on an automobile.
And somewhere in the high school years there was an old English Austin convertible. I remember throwing the left rear wheel, in the rain, at night, going fast, downhill, around a sharp right turn. What kept us from rolling over were my two big crew team friends, Tom Reynolds and Barry Dunleavy, their sheer mass holding it down on the inside of the turn. We were having a philosophical discussion just seconds before the incident. I was asking my friends what they thought about God, and the next life, and whether they would really mind if they died right at that moment. Then all of a sudden the wheel comes off and we are bounced around pretty good, and of course nobody had any idea what was happening. Scared the livin' bejeezus out of us. Incidents like that get you thinking that God has a sense of humor!
Cars! Gotta love 'em...
At a current price of over $16 million, this one's currently out of my reach, but if I should
ever win the lottery, you'd see me smiling ear to ear in this little red critter, for sure!
This is the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa with the v-12 engine. Less than 2 dozen
were built. I remember
a friend bought one of these, as a basket case, a long time ago, and paid $7,500 for it. We
all thought he was loony-tunes. Kinda lost track of him over the years, but I sure hope he
The Ferrari "Enzo" is much more affordable, but still out of my league.
It sure is visually stunning, and the 217mph top speed and 0-62 time of 3.65 seconds would be even more stunning
The 1937 Talbot Lago, with body by Figoni and Falaschi, is my favorite closed design. The lines are, to me, extraordinarily beautiful. And to think I almost bought one of these cars for $40,000 a long time ago, but didn't because it was just too expensive. Today the car is worth millions! However, a gorgeous replica "Talbo" can be built to your specs for a lot less.
This is the Jaguar XK-180, a one-off "concept" car not officially intended for production. If they do produce them in quantity, I'll be one of the first in line!