The Tale of the Ford F-150, the 911 Turbo Cab, and MG Midget
Three vehicles that did much for my motor vehicle mood over 1,400 miles
People often tell me I have a wonderful job. And I'm not being modest, falsely or otherwise, when I reply, "Well, yes, if you like cars, you'd like my job. But if you don't, or you don't like writing—or better yet, if you don't like writing inside on a beautiful day while a turbocharged 488 Spider from Maranello marinates in your driveway, going nowhere—then it wouldn't be the job for you."
Of course my interlocutors assume I like cars, which is a fair assumption, since I own so many. And that's ignoring the parade of quality test cars that arrives at my doorstep over the course of the year. Some days, I am less immersed in cars than I am submerged in them. So completely I can't get out.
But you won't hear me complaining. Last week brought a Ford F-150 Limited Edition quad cab and a Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, and I drove them a lot. Which is to say a lot a lot. With a 1965 MG Midget recently back from a summer freshening regimen at Dominick's European Car Repair of White Plains, New York, it made for a near perfect week of motoring, with accents on utility and fun. That motor vehicles—one old, two new—could do so much for my mood made me feel shallow and simple, like it really doesn't take that much to please me. And any one of these could have pleased me. But as a fleet, the improbable composition of this trio was, for the 1,400 miles I spent rolling down the road last week, ideal.
Pickup trucks are my first choice for towing cars. So even though I'm not down on the farm, off the beaten path or down at the home improvement center buying materials, (I'm even less handy around the house than I am around the garage,) I've really gotten to know a bunch of pickups this summer, towing a variety of cars hither and yonder for television shows filming in and around New York. My full report on American pickup-dom will have to wait, but once you get over the height and heft of these things, one clear takeaway is this: they're plenty easy to drive. And once you're confident in your trailering skills—an ongoing process, competence growing with experience—they can even be downright pleasant. Maybe you knew that a long time ago. But maybe you're not a New Yorker who's spent decades driving small wagons and hot hatches.
So hats off from this newbie to the F-150—it's at or near the top of its class in all areas and, if you remain in its comfort zone—that is, unmistakably wide, open spaces—it's not hard to see why it's the best-selling vehicle in America. Though I must now pause to commend the Chevrolet Silverado I drove earlier this summer, and the Toyota Tundra, too. And I've heard only good things about the new Ram I'll drive later in the month. The good news is, they're pretty excellent, each and every one. As they ought to be, with stickers not far off $75,000.
With all the room and comfort a bod could need, the F-150 Limited Edition certainly won the approval of my ten-year-old (and improbably tall) son, a lad who views backseat accommodations with the critical eye of one who's seen hundreds. As the captain of this ship, I was impressed by its lined bed, potent air conditioning facility, reversing cameras which made hooking up a trailer easier and the 17-mile-per-gallon fuel economy served up by an Eco-Boost V-6 while towing a 1955 T-Bird, a number that went just over 20 mpg when driving trailer-less. Which isn't all one could hope for, but still a good sight more than we're used to seeing in trucks.
Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet
The aforementioned ten-year-old, who follows baseball with religious fervor, had never been to Boston's Fenway Park, one of the nation's oldest and finest cathedrals of baseball. So one afternoon early in the fall, I pulled him out of fifth grade, collecting him in a Turbo S cab and leaving New York by the FDR Drive for a sprightly run up to Boston, followed by a Red Sox-Blue Jays game—the Sox win everything, so they won—and an even sprightlier run home in the wee hours.
If you've driven a late model 911 Turbo you know it's light years removed from its earliest turbocharged predecessors, which were like death-defying rail dragsters compared to the even faster yet infinitely more accommodating and agreeable all-wheel-drive models of today. The 911 Turbo has grown bigger and perceptibly less sharp of steering over the years but its capabilities have never stopped growing, either. Together with substantial improvements in occupant safety and the world of on-board telematics, the new package's massive competence overshadows modernity's few sensual demerits.
I, for one, will never forget the feel of utter capability and on-demand power as I took advantage of reduced middle-of-the-night traffic—and a sleeping child—to explore the Turbo's uncanny ability for making time stop. It seemed like only a matter of minutes before we were back in New York, though the clock said 238 miles in 3 hours, 5 minutes. If I were a regular intercity traveller with an ability to travel at night, and the required funds ($207,000, please,) one of these would be on my short list.
1965 MG Midget
Twin carburetors or not, it's hard to imagine that 1,098ccs could be this much fun. But then you probably haven't driven a 1,620-lb car lately, much less one with a rigid unibody, a microscopic turning circle and hyper-direct steering like this Midget. Driving flat out, you'll be keeping up with traffic while enjoying maximum giggles and recording 35 miles per gallon and more, rarely exceeding the speed limit. That is a recipe for safe, entertaining, and rewarding driving.
A Midget is a sweet and potent reminder of why the post-war generation fell in love with sports cars in the first place. It's like nothing you've ever driven, unless you've sat behind the wheel of a Lotus 7 or one of its Caterham descendants. Those cycle-fendered archetypes are even more elemental and perhaps that last bit more direct, but come minus some key creature comforts, like this Midget Mark II's roll up windows, locking doors, and superior (though hardly perfect) weather perfection.
A Midget is not your first choice for distance travel, though it could be done. While it might grow a little wearing, the BMC A-Series OHV four will spin all day long, even if it's turning 4000 rpm at 65 mph. Winter driving isn't recommended either.
But in the right setting the Midget is a joyous paean to the pre-computer automotive era, designed sixty years ago by humans with big slide rules and bigger hammers to deliver maximum fun from humble parts, and it remains just the ticket for an enthusiast getting around town, or better yet, headed five towns down the road. In the company of a 911 Turbo for intergalactic highway travel and a Ford F-150 for heavy hauling, it made for an essential counterpoint in my motoring week, as well as helping to make the point that, with automobiles, as with most things, diversity makes the world a better place.