Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Alright, this blog spot has had a Moth Boat overload for the past few postings.  My "about me" thingy says something about Moth Boats, LBCs (little British cars) and bikes both motor and pedal.  With that in mind I guess it's time to introduce Xenopus, my Frog Eye Sprite.  Actually over here we more usually call these little cars "Bug Eyes" but I think the Brits got it right because an early sprite looks just like a comic book happy frog.  I call my car Xenopus after the well known (at least to developmental biologists) South African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis.  X. laevis is a model for many facets of gene expression.  Besides, I just like saying the word:  Xenopus! Xenopus! Xenopus!  Kinda like Zippy the Pinhead.  Now if I wasn't so cheap I'd get a vanity tag that reads that name...

Xenopus: a 1959 Austin Healey Frog Eye Sprite. Handsome devil ain't he?

Xenopus entered my life by a circuitous route.  I was at the lab minding my own business when the phone rang.  It was diarist-woman ringing me from her work.  She said "the woman whose desk is next to mine has a boy friend with a bug eye sprite.  It's sitting unregistered on the street and the City of Rockville, MD has given him three days to move it or loose it.  Are you interested?"  Do I have a great wife or what?  I went and looked at that sprite and it was a rusty, rotten roach.  The City of Rockville had discovered this sprite after one of the city's dump trucks, parked directly uphill, had slipped out of gear, drifted downhill at an ever increasing rate of knots and came to rest after T-boning the poor old dear.  Needless to say that encounter didn't improve the sprite.  The owner wanted a quick hundred bucks if I agreed to "get it the hell outta here today".  I figured that sprite was a gonner but still had enough useful parts to justify the cost of renting a tow dolly and dragging it home.  I further figured that I could break it for parts and make some easy beer money. The deal was done and home we went.

My mistake was made when I started scanning the fine print ads in the classified section of the Washington Post looking to see if there were any "wanted ads" looking for  a sprite gearbox or engine, etc.  Instead, what I found was a sprite for sale which was the exact opposite of the one I'd just bought:  a beautiful, rust-free body that had been taken apart as a father and son project, which unsurprisingly, like most F & S projects, had stalled.  The sirens were singing sweetly.  Diarist-woman should have chained me to the mast because being me, I just had to look.

The F & S duo had taken a fairly clean sprite COMPLETELY (and I do mean completely) apart to the last nut and bolt.  They next took the body tub and bonnet to a metal laundry and had the two main pieces dipped and stripped.  A cheap Macco paint job (refrigerator white, of course) was woofed on, any questionable metal work was cut out and redone with new metal and then reassembly commenced.  They had gotten to the point where the sprite's suspension and steering gear were back in place so that the car was a push-mobile.  That was the point where the father realized that he was doing all the wrench twirling and the son was off with his buddies cruising around in a Camaro convertible.  Meanwhile the wife/mother of this clan was questioning loudly why her Toyota Camry was parked in a snow drift while this space gobbler was hogging her side of the garage.  They had boxes and boxes of parts they'd scavenged from junk yard spridgets (spridget is a commonly used contraction between Austin Healey SPRITE and the similar "badge engineered" MG MIDGET within the LBC fraternity).  However, they still didn't have all the required parts.  Missing was an uncracked windscreen, for example.  They wanted $4000.  This was over twenty-five years ago when you could buy a running sprite for that kind of money.  I offered them a grand figuring they release the hounds on me.  To my surprise, after a brief family huddle-up they countered with $1200 for the sprite plus all the boxes of stuff.  After renting another tow dolly I found myself the owner of two sprites, neither of which ran.  That and a pick-up truck load of semi-valuable sprite junque.

Xenopus and your diarist the day we departed the shop under our own power.

Fortunately for me, prior to the service, I'd worked at a shop which catered to whatever drove in, including LBCs.  We worked on literally everything from farm tractors to the occasional Rolls Royce.  This shop was a few miles away from our farm in southeasten Pennsylvania.  Vic and his son Tim took me and my collection of Sprites under their wing and allowed Xenopus a small place in the back of the shop.  Slowly reassembly took place as time and money permitted.  Kids and a mortgage got in the way.  Xenopus's rebirth took 23 years!  But finally the day came when man and sprite departed--no doubt to the relief of my former employer!  Since then I've been enjoying my frog eye on fine summer days.  He truly is a cheeky devil and I always have a smile on my face during a drive.  The day I visited Grant and Amelia to look at their Ventnor Moth was a pleasant sunny day with temps in the upper 70s and just enough breeze to cool the fevered brow, so I drove the Sprite.  After leaving them I decided to stop briefly at the World War II Memorial which is just opposite from Annapolis, across the Severn River.

This small park is shady, green and cool.  It offers a great overlook back at Annapolis.

I parked Xenopus just as a tour bus pulled in.  I went to the overlook to snap a few pix and when I came back a middle-aged woman was striking a seductive pose along side the car for her male running mate to capture with his cell phone camera.  I tried to tell them about Xenopus but they mumbled something in a language I didn't understand.  Who knows where that picture of my little car and that woman will wind up?  This happens all the time to Xenopus--he's an absolute chick magnet.  Look closely and you'll discover that Xenopus is a "right hooker" (Right Hand Drive).
Looking back across the Severn at Annapolis.  Double click to enlarge the photo.  The nearest buildings are part of the Naval Academy.  The green dome in the center is the NA chapel.  The dome to the right is the Maryland State House.  The spire just to the right of the American flag's pole is St. Anne's Church.  During Commissioning Week (Naval Academy speak for graduation) people line the bridge in the foreground to watch the Navy Blue Angels perform low altitude aerobatic displays over the river.

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