Friday, October 1, 2021

Here's how it started

 My Dad - Burton Edelson - was not a sports car type. Yet he drove a very cool little British Sports car. Burt Edelson's Triumph.  And now I’m driving one.

 Here's how it happened.

As a US Naval Officer in London in the mid 60s, he learned a hack. The US military staff who lived in Europe could in their last 90 days before returning to the USA, buy a British car without paying the VAT (sort of like sales tax). Then they can ship it free of charge with the household goods back to the US which also avoided any import duties. So, these military types could bring back exotic British cars to the US at a fraction of their commercial price in the US and they could do it just for fun or for profit.

Burt Edelson's Triumph

When we left London in Dec 1967, he brought his newly purchased 1968 Triumph Vitesse MK2 6 cylinder red convertible back to the USA. In the early 1970s, I made it into high school, got a learners permit, and learned to drive it.  Here I am behind the wheel back in high school in the early 1970s.

I had a pretty happy high school experience. Was it because of my charm? The car? Who is to say?

Fast forward to Florida where I now live in 2019. I'm riding my bike one day and I have this vision of my old car driving down the road. I pedal like crazy and follow it until he pulls over. I go up to the driver and we talk about the car. No, it's not exactly the same year and model but it’s close. This one is a 1963 1.6 ML Sports Version.  It makes me feel things, a bit like nostalgia but also a bit like almost being able to taste a delicious dessert. I want it!

Later that year, I see it again driving around town. And again. Pretty soon I know who owns it and where he works. He has a local store and usually parks it out in front of the store. I visit him a few times and ask him about if maybe someday he might sell it.  No, I've had these all my life since the 1970s in Manchester. No, I'd never sell it.

But on one visit, I ask a different question. What's the price at which you would say "yes" to selling the car?

Ah. Good Question. And he cites a number.

Thanks, let me think about it, I answer.  The problem at this point isn't the purchase price. It's the morning after. How could a normal guy with no garage or mechanical skills like me take care of a vintage car of such rarity and age?  I can't imagine. I don't really like handling the maintenance on my modern cars, never mind all the maintenance stuff that goes with home ownership.  (Fortunately, my wife loves that stuff). But, I do have an ace in the hole: my brother.

My younger brother spent a decade fiddling with Italian Vespas. He bought and rebuilt a number of classic versions. Then, sometime around 2015, he switched to early 1960s Fiats. I think the 400 or 500 series or something. The ones with an engine in the rear. But they're small and Italian from the 1960s.  Or maybe they're from the 50s.  

In any case, whenever I visit him in Colorado, he has a garage full of stripped apart Fiats, an engine lift, and all sorts of impressive tools and parts. So I start talking to him about how this should work. 

Should I buy the car, ship it to Colorado, have him care for it, and then I'll come out and drive it? There are several problems with this plan and all the other plans that we come up with. This discussions goes around and around for some months, each plan making less sense than the previous one.

Then, in early 2021, he calls me up (did I mention that he's my younger brother) and tells me that I'm not getting any younger (I'm 63 at that point), life doesn't last that long, opportunity doesn't knock that often, and I should get off my indecisive lazy duff and go buy the effing car. 

Do you have relatives who don't understand boundaries? I do.  So I tell him to mind his own business and where he can stick it. And I hang up on him. 

Then I drive over to see the guy with the Triumph. His name is Paul.

But in front of Paul's place, there is NO red Triumph. Instead there's some weird green stag thing. Yuck. I go in and ask him if he remembers me? Yes he does. 

Does he remember our last conversation about the Vitesse? Yes I do.

Me:  I don't see the red Vitesse out in front. 

Right, he says. Out front it's a stag.

Me: Do you still own the Red Vitesse?

Yes I do.

Me: Well, I'm here with the money. It's here in my pocket. Do we have a deal?

And now there is a silence. A long silence. A very long several minute silence.

Eventually: Yes. I think the timing is right. That's when he explains that he now has three classic old Triumphs which is really a lot to take care of. Plus, he really only has parking for two. And I've now been haunting him and chasing him around town for several years. Maybe he could let me take it home.

And that's how it started.

John Edelson - Triumph Vitesse
John Edelson with his Triumph Vitesse

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