The telephone rang. The little blonde-haired boy ran to answer it. “Hello?” “Hello, this is long distance.” “Do you accept the charges?”
“Hold on” the boy said, as he dropped the receiver and ran to the kitchen. “Ma!” he shouted. “It’s long distance!”
The woman walked calmly to the phone, and picked up the receiver. “Hello,” she said. “Hello, Ma-am, I have a long-distance call from California.” “Do you accept the charges?” “Yes”, said the woman. “Hello, Mom?” “Hi, Michael, how are you?” “I’m fine, Ma”. “I got in from Thailand this morning, and I bought a car. I’ll be driving home. I should be there in about three days.”
At this point, the little blonde-haired boy climbed up on the phone table, in an attempt to hear both sides of the conversation. “That’s great to hear, Mike. What kind of car did you get?” “You’ll see”. He said. It was August of 1967, and another young man was coming home on leave during the Vietnamese war. “Do you want to say hello to your brother”? “Yes, Mom, put him on”. She handed the phone to the 9 year-old boy. “Here, Hank. Mike wants to talk to you”. Hank excitedly spoke into the receiver. “Mike, is that you?” “Yes, Hank.” “How’s my little buddy?” “I’m great, Mike! I can’t wait to see you!” “I know”. Michael said. “I’ll see you in a couple of days”. “I can’t wait!” Hank said.
Hank went to bed that night, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t sleep. His mind was racing with the thought that his oldest brother would be coming home for a real furlough, not like last year when he had to rush home for their grandmother’s funeral, and go back to the war. And in Hank’s mind, he tried to picture just exactly what kind of car that his brother would be bringing home.
Wasn’t it Michael who had taught him how to tell one car from another? Wasn’t it Michael who, though he was eleven years Hank’s senior, the one who would take him along to his friend’s houses to look at their cars?
In a couple of days, morning came, and Hank could hear the sound of a car that he hadn’t ever heard before pulling into the driveway. He ran downstairs, about as fast as he could, and ran out the front door. “Mike!” Hank shouted. Slowly, Michael lurched himself out of the white sports convertible. “Hi, Hank.” Mike said, as he hugged his little brother. Hank turned to look at the car. “Wow, that’s fancy. What is it?” ‘That’s a Jaguar XK-140 roadster.” Michael said.
Mike purchased this 1955 Jaguar XK-140 roadster from a dealer in California for eight-hundred dollars. Not a bad price at the time for a car in the condition that this Jag was in. It was white, with a red leather interior, and a black convertible top. This Jaguar was made in late 1954, and sold as a 1955 model. This open two-seater was the successor to the XK-120. It had a standard 3.4 litre, Jaguar XK double overhead camshaft inline 6 engine, which produced 190 BHP (142Kw) gross at 5500 rpm. Jaguar’s optional motor had the ‘C” type cylinder head, brought over from the XK-120, which produced 210 BHP (157Kw) gross at 5750 rpm.
The white paint was a little faded, but there wasn’t a scratch on the car, certainly nothing that a good buff job couldn’t fix. “Hey, Hank!” If you help me wash it, I’ll teach you how to drive it!”
Hank just stood there, and looked into the car. Even though he was tall for his age, he paused, and looked back at his brother. “It’s got a stick.” “Don’t worry, kid.” ‘You’ll learn it.” The next day, Hank helped his brother wash the roadster. He scrubbed the white paint with anticipation, and went to work on the wheels. Soon, he was losing patience, as he was getting frustrated with trying to get the dirt out of the spokes. “What’s the matter?” Mike said. “You have to be patient when you’re cleaning those.” “It’s hard, Mike!” The blonde-haired boy was clearly getting flustered. “Go wash the front of the car, and I’ll take care of those tires.” Mike could see the frustration in his brother’s eyes.
Hank stared at the grill of the Jaguar as he moved the sponge in a circular motion. He saw the chrome start to gleam with each swipe. He saw the logo at the top of the grill. ‘Boy, this is sure one stylish car!” Hank said. As the car dried, Michael directed Hank to get the can of rubbing compound. ‘We’ll have this baby shining in no time.” Within an hour or two, they had finished the outside of the car. “Let’s go to the car wash so we can vacuum this car out.” Mike said. They hopped into the roadster, and Mike fired it up with the push of a button. The car growled like a pure Jaguar. “Aw, Mike, this sounds so sweet!” Hank said. Soon, Mike cruised onto the freeway, and had his car cranking at about 70 miles per hour. Hank could feel the road as the Jag sleeked down the highway.
This particular ’55 had a top speed of 120-125 mile per hour, and could go from 0 to 60 mph at 8.4 seconds. Only 3,276 open two-seat roadsters were produced by British Motor Corp from 1954 to 1957.
When they were done, Mike took his brother to a shopping center parking lot. He put the car in neutral, and pulled on the emergency brake. “Get over.” He urged his brother on. Hank could feel his heart pounding as he climbed over the center shift, and into the driver’s seat. “Pull up the seat.” Hank pulled the seat up as far as it would go. ‘How’s your sightline?” He said. “I can see over the hood.” Hank said. “O.K., take the brake out, and put the clutch in with your left foot. Take hold of the shift. Push it forward as left as you can feel it, and slowly let the clutch out.”
Hank could feel the sweat from the August heat on his brow as he carefully let the clutch out. Suddenly, the car lurched forward, and clunk came to a halt as the engine stalled. “You gotta give it the gas at the same time that you’re letting the clutch out, you dope!” Michael said, egging his brother on. Hank remembered how his brother had done it, as he was watching his feet and his hand when they went to the car wash. Certainly, he could do THIS! Hank put the clutch in, and hit the ‘start” button. The roadster roared to life. Hank proceeded to shift into first gear, and slowly let the clutch out. He could feel the car about to stall, and right at the last minute, gave it just enough gas for the car to go. “Yeahhh!” Hank exclaimed. “Shift down!” Mike said. Hank clutched, pulled the shift down, gave it a little gas as the car whined and went into second gear. “Good job, Hank. Shift up and to the right!” Hank pushed the shifter forward, and felt the stick fall into place at third gear. “Let the clutch out!” Mike shouted. ‘Good”
Hank was feeling confident and excited when he shifted into fourth gear. “O.K., Hank, time to slow it down. When you feel the motor idling down, put the clutch in, and downshift, like I told you.” Hank could feel the car start to buck as he pushed his foot on the clutch, and he pulled the stick back. As he let the clutch out, the car clunked to a stop.
“Good enough for now!” Mike said. There’ll be more time for this later on.’ Hank was feeling the adrenaline, as only a boy could, for he had his first taste of what it felt like to drive a real, honest to goodness sports car. As he spent the rest of the month with his brother, they would go to the record store, and to Michael’s friend’s homes, and to the Connecticut dragway to watch men like Frank Federici racing on the quarter-mile track.
The little blonde-haired boy would never forget this summer of ’67, his favorite summer to this day.
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