Being an inveterate storyteller, some “set-up” is involved before getting to the point of the story of the pointless race between the Morris Minor (driven by me while “hauling papers”) and the Volvo.
Let’s say the race is reminiscent of an old Laurel and Hardy movie.
If you don’t know whom Laurel and Hardy are, ask your kids. They’ve probably seen the old black and white comedy one-reelers of the slender Englishmen Stan Laurel and the pudgy, mustachioed American Oliver Hardy on Saturday mornings. If that doesn’t do it, think one word: slapstick.
Naturally, we need appropriate music for this old-fashioned, short flick. So, maestro, tune up the orchestra and be sure your pianist is the best rinky-tink ivory tickler available.
Start off slowly, with a soft high-note boogie woogie sound and we’ll build from there.
As a University of Houston college senior in the summer of 1959, I shifted to a night class schedule so I could take a full time job as general manager of The Galena Park Reporter, circulated in that suburb along the Houston Ship Channel. The Reporter was owned by Rigby Owen, Sr., publisher of The Conroe Courier, and Billy I. Ross, a professor in the UH journalism department.
Since my old rusted-out 1952 Chevy 2-door was on its last leg, I went to a Galena Park dealership and bought a brand new skipper blue 1960 Morris Minor 2-door sedan, a British Motor Corporation (pip-pip, cheerio, etc.) product. The little 4-cylinder Morris Minor was, I believe, meant to compete with the German Volkswagen “beetle,” which began taking America by storm about that time. It carried with it a note with 36 “easy” installments.
MY MORRIS was equipped with a pair of bucket seats in front, a bench seat in the back and, considering it was a small car, a sizable trunk. I figured I could fill the entire car except the driver’s seat and the motor with the tabloid Reporter and easily make the haul back to Galena Park.
I’d made several of those round trip hauls and had the car broken in pretty well when one Wednesday I was driving the printed product back to Galena Park along IH-45. I’m in the right lane and, honestly, going a bit above the posted speed limit.
Okay, maestro, now’s the time for some ominous music (a blustery deep bass note combination) instead of that soft rinky-tink piano in the background.
A furrin-looking car (I forgot I was driving a British import) zipped by me on the left. The driver stuck one hand up and signaled to me he thought I was one year old. Well, that did it. I took off after him, floor-boarding the little Morris, not realizing I was chasing a durn Swedish Volvo.
But, I caught up with him. He’s in the right lane now and I move up even with him on his left. And grin.
He gains about a quarter car (Volvo size) lead and I push harder on my gas pedal, pulling even again
We zoom along, front wheel to front wheel, for a minute, then my almost-new Morris Minor begins missing and the Volvo pulls away with the driver again signaling me that he thinks I’m a baby.
BY NOW, my car’s sputtering so that I think, “Omigawd, I’ve got 32 payments left. I can’t afford to blow the engine.”
With that, I pulled onto the shoulder, cautiously left the engine running. I got out, went to the front of the car and raised the hood. The oil cap, which has a wire welded to the top and is then attached to the engine block, had popped off. However, the wire kept the cap from falling off the block and under the vehicle. So, the cap was bouncing back and forth, alternately hitting the tops of two spark plugs, which created a miss in the engine.
I thanked my lucky stars, replaced the cap and continued my appointed rounds, glad that it had not been a costly incident.
From that point on, I resisted all challenges, even from VWs.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.