Chromosomes and Old MGs by D. Randy Riggs from Vintage Motorsport issue 2003.2 – March/April 2003
Did my father give it to me? Was it someone on my mother’s side of the family? Is it passed down through generations like freckles? Did my Mom have “one for the road” during her pregnancy? Just what is it that makes some of us develop a lust for automobiles? Unscientific studies recently bandied about, point to a possible aberrant gene which creates a chromosomal defect that early on manifests itself in the subject as tilting head syndrome—where the head tilts in the direction of fuel vapors or the sound of open headers.
For me, the syndrome began when I was just a toddler, standing tall in the front seat of our ’49 Cadillac fastback (back when America was America, we didn’t need no stinking child seats), telling my Mom what make of car we were following. She says that I knew names of cars and trucks before I knew names of people.
In elementary school, I was always in trouble for drawing cars instead of practicing my penmanship. And in 4th grade I was dinged again for bringing Dinky Toys to class and zooming them around inside my desk when Mr. Hughes was teaching us about the Lenne Lenape Indians. For punishment, he kept me after class for a forced read of his prized collection of National Geographic magazines but discovered at the end of my “sentence” that I had torn all the car advertisements out of every issue to take home. He never kept me after class again.
There were other ominous signs as I grew older. Attending races at the Trenton and Langhorne Speedways near where I grew up, the aroma of hot Castor Oil on race days was a high I had never experienced. So, to get the same high at home, I bought Castor oil at the drug store and poured some in the fuel tank of our riding mover. Presto! Same wonderful aroma, but unfortunately minus the deep growl of an Offy at full song. Dad never had to tell me to mow the lawn again.
It got worse. My first top-down drive with Pop in his new ’56 Corvette on a warm summer evening put me right over the edge. At that moment in time, you could’ve shoved a dipstick down my throat and come up with oil on its tip.
But of course, like heroin, I needed more. In time, I talked an older Vette-owning cousin into using me as his navigator in local sports car rallies, then began “borrowing” the family car at age 12 for short cruises while my parents were away. The rural area where we lived had but one cop on duty, so the likelihood of our version of Barney Fife spotting me was extremely low risk.
The signs should have been clear to anyone paying attention. I mean, there I was entering my teenage years sporting a record of illegal nighttime road trips, and it was public that I brewed up mixtures of hi-test and castor oil in our garage every time the lawn needed a trim.
If I’d known where to buy it, Nitromethane would’ve been next. There were also accumulated stacks of incriminating evidence in the form of Road & Track and Sports Cars Illustrated magazines that were piled high in my closet. Let’s not even mention the tubes of glue in my desk and various model kits strewn about my bedroom. At 13, when other kids were buying records, I was buying torque wrenches and sockets.
The ripple effect of all this was that I was headed down that narrow, twisty, oil-spotted road to buying a British sports car.
Thank goodness, no one headed me off down the straight and narrow by seeing to it that I bought something far more sensible, like a run-of-the-mill sedan. Oh, what I would’ve missed.
Instead came my first car, the 1955 MG-TF shown here, which led to a lifetime of sports car adventures, relationships, and interesting and fun people, and in a very round-about way, a career in automotive publishing.
And as for that aberrant gene that caused my permanent chromosomal defect, I am eternally grateful to whomever passed it on.