NEW ENGLAND’S LEYLAND DEVOTEE
OWNED BY Jeffrey Aronson
FROM Vinalhaven, Maine, USA
FIRST CLASSIC Morris Minor
DREAM CLASSIC A Lotus Seven of any description!
BEST TRIP Destination anywhere, east or west, I don’t care…
I’m the progeny of an Englishmum who scorned small British cars and an American father who considered a full ashtray a sign to search for his next Buick. I, meanwhile, bought into the marketing of the British sports-car companies, especially Triumph and MG. Their advertisements assured me of a near-James Bond lifestyle, but, with no Casino Royale close by, their new-car prices stubbornly sat above my pay grade. Good fortune smiled on meas their ‘budget’ sports cars, the Spridgets and Spitfires, became affordable once used and abused by lead-footed American owners.
Working in automotive journalism and education in rural settings, my classics had to perform to help me earn an income. A succession of low-rent used sports cars – Fiat 124 Spider, MG Midget RWA, rubber-bumper MGB, a brace of Spitfires and Corvair Monzas – came and dissolved into the heavily salted roads of wintry New England. By 2001, my affordable choices had been reduced to the unloved products of late British Leyland: my current 1980 Triumph Spitfire 1500 with its gargantuan ‘rubber’ bumpers and utterly emasculated engine; and my ’77 TR7 fixed-head coupé, whose startling styling still divides the US classic-car community. Naturally, both broke down on their first trips home.
While the later examples of the Spitfire sold well in the USA in period, they didn’t capture the hearts of the flat-capped enthusiast. So I wasn’t surprised to discover a disco-era electric-blue Spitfire, replete with hounds tooth-check upholstery and chest-hair medallion shift knob, available for sale in 2014. This final-year example had been purchased by a student in Boston, who then gave it to his father. When he became too old to climb into it, he squirrelled it away in a barn in Maine A friend drove me the 80 miles to the car and then followed me to within a few miles of my ferry trip home. Just as I pulled in to board the ferry, the clutch pedal seized in place. Stranded, I had to call for a tow truck. A broken slave-cylinder bracket proved to be the issue, and a used one was sourced from a speciality garage. I’ve since relied on the car for 200-mile work trips and 500-mile jaunts throughout northern New England.
The TR7 came into my life in September 2018, and I again appear to be the second or third owner. Its Java Green paint and interior panels of eye-searing green plaid closed the sale long before the end of my test drive. About 60 miles from my ferry terminal destination, 160 miles into my trip, I passed an exit with an auto parts store in view. The TR7 promptly began to stumble and then die on a bridge spanning a wide river. I rolled backwards against the traffic, managed to start the car and limped into the parking lot. Cleaning out the fuel filter enabled me to complete the trip. It’s behaved flawlessly since, entertaining bystanders who’ve never experienced its colour scheme or its ‘Shape of things to come’.
In period I detested the styling of the TR7 fhc and felt dismayed by the soaring list price and safety-car bumpers adorning the Spitfire. Now I cherish and defend them to the hilt. While the actors who portrayed James Bond have either passed away or aged out of the role, my British Leyland sports cars enable me to maintain the same veneer of ‘Jet-set Man’ they provided me with decades ago.
Rubber-bumpered TR7 (left) turns locals green and regularly catches the eye. Spitfire (above) and TR7 are both well-versed in long trips across the States, whatever the weather – after tricky starts under Aronson’s enthusiastic ownership.
Among Maine’s other sports-car imports The rugged side of the Aronson collection.
‘My affordable choices had been reduced to the unloved products of late British Leyland. Both broke down’