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I Rode a Ferry

Jim Simpson runs a business on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. Access to this second largest island in the continental USA (after Manhattan) is by ferry from the south, by bridge from north.

His website documents his history with exotic cars and the Mazda Miata. When I arrived at his door a few miles north of the ferry, he was just completing his new shop and hadn’t yet moved in. His garage held two rare Nardi’s and he owned a collection of unusual vehicles somewhere on the island. His daily driver was a TVR.

The car that interested me was parked in his driveway, also designated a “Daily Driver” and I’d come to photograph it.

Throughout the fifties and sixties the British supplied the American market with tiny sports cars. The ending of the second World War primed the interest after soldiers and servicemen returned home with them.

I don’t know all the particulars, but a combination of US regulation and European socialism dealt blows to the industry that killed the viability of Englands little gems in our market. Rules certainly added costs that low production companies could not absorb. My first British Sports Car was a beauty of which only 16000 were made in all it’s variants.

Government actions and union mahem degraded the quality of some of the components, giving reason for the many complaints about reliability. It must not have been restricted to the British. There were many explanations for the Acronym for the Italian car company FIAT such as “Fix it again tomorrow”.  That didn’t stop me from buying an 850 Sport Spyder, which gave me fond memories till it stopped working a few months later.

The English roadsters leaked oil, had electrical woes, and put the children of many mechanics through college. My experiences were good. So good that I became positively addicted.

Nevertheless, the demands of family redirected any resources that might have gone to the feeding and oiling of a sports car until I was nearly an empty nester.

Quite happily, I restarted the affection with the car that took up where the Brits left off and was so well engineered that none of the old problems came with it.

Mazda Miata was a drivers car. Very civilized, and yet intoxicatingly pleasant to the sensitivites of an enthusiast. “An Elan without the headaches”. Indeed, the Lotus Elan was an inspiration in the design. But whereas Chapman created spartan little gems of automotive  perfection which could be described as fragile and needy, the Miata was solid, agile, just as beautiful, and quite safe.

I bought one from a man whose wife had driven it to work and back for ten years. Before that, it was the new purchase of an old fellow who fitted it with Dayton wire wheels.

All in all  it was an excellent buy and after considerable attention on my part, it was sorted and set right. New top, roll bar, tow hitch, tower strut brace, etc. were all added by me.

Then I discovered the body kit that Jim Simpson had created which he called “Italia”. It looked balanced. Installing one could cost four times the cost of the donor car. I had to see it in person.

After contacting Mr. Simpson, it was agreed that I could come up and photograph his creation. Some years prior, a Mazda executive had wrecked his Italia and Jim resurrected it.

I showed up near the end of daylight and did two photo sets of the car. It really was a beauty in person. When I got home I used them to officially launch my new “2100” project. His Miata  Italia became the first painting the set. Two more followed. Later I sold the Miata, only to save it from ruin a few years later via repurchase and a lot of work on the drive train. In a few weeks, it will turn 200,000 on the odometer and is still one of the best bang-for-the-buck car purchases I ever made.

I gave the second painting to Jim Simpson in recognition for pulling off something nearly impossible: he improved the Miata.

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