Arlo Mudgett: Driving topless in Vermont

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Woodstock, Vermont played a role in my love of open cars. My Dad took me and my buddy Roger, both of us 4 years old, for a quick ride up to Woodstock in his state-issued gray Ford. As a motor vehicle inspector, he had some business with a small foreign car dealership on Route 4 just west of town. I imagine Roger and I slept most of the way to Woodstock. He has absolutely no recollection of the trip. After some adult talking and paperwork, a salesman asked my Dad if he wanted to take us for a ride in a little red Triumph TR-3. He asked us if we wanted to go and I said yes, Roger did not look so sure but went along anyway.

We both sat in the passenger's seat and held on to a grab handle for dear life. The cutaway doors made it look like we could reach out and touch the road as it flew by in a blur. The exhaust note was raspy and hurt our ears, and it was like nothing we had ever experienced before. My father ran it up through the gears, the wind picked up in the topless Triumph, I looked over and Roger's hat had blown off and landed behind us on Route 4. I was laughing and Roger's eyes were like huge saucers. It was loud, raucous, windy and seemingly out of control and I was loving it! To this day Roger has no memory of that ride.

My next sports car ride in Woodstock was in another Triumph 14 years later at a car dealership on Route 4 on the east side of town. It was a navy blue Spitfire with wire wheels and a raucous Stebro exhaust pipe. My father didn't realize what he had started those many years ago on the other side of town and he was not thrilled about my choice for my first car. However, it was my name on the car loan and it was his way to allow me to learn life's lessons the hard way.

I worked at the Woodstock Inn when I first had the Spitfire. On my lunch break, I would drive to the country store in South Woodstock and time myself to see how fast I could make it. Why I never got tossed into the pokey for one of those wild runs is a miracle. One of my favorite rides was from Woodstock to South Woodstock, up over Reading Mountain and down into Reading. The downhill curves were exhilarating at speed, especially with the top down.

We've had very few beautiful convertible days this spring, but today was one of the very best. I got in touch with my Aunt Sue who lives in Woodstock to let her know I was on the way up to take her to lunch. While I do have a British sports car in a garage, it is in an unfinished state and I need to get to work on it and get it back on the road. However, my little Mercedes 560sl roadster was a perfect choice.

I picked up Aunt Sue and we went to the White Cottage, a Woodstock summer dining institution. The White Cottage just happens to be adjacent to where that foreign car dealership was back in 1957. After a delightful visit, I dropped her off back at her place and decided to see if I remembered a shortcut up over the hill from West Woodstock to South Woodstock. Sure enough, it worked. There were a bunch of beautiful homes that weren't there the last time I drove that road, and for a dirt road, it was in fantastic shape ... like all surpack the entire length of it!

The finest dirt road I've ever driven dropped me off at the Kedron Valley Inn and it was back on the tar, up and over Reading Mountain, with the thrill of caroming off the curves on the downhill side in the nimble little Mercedes. I had forgotten how much fun a sweeping topless pass could be on that section of 106. It reminded me so much of the Spitfire, only smoother, quieter, safer, and a heck of a lot more reliable!

I've gone long periods of time without a convertible in my ever-changing fleet. At last count, I've had a grand total of eight soft tops. Admittedly they are not the most practical cars to own. I've only had one that I kept long enough to have the need to replace the top, and it was expensive! If you're going to have one you'd better have a garage to keep it in because just a couple of years outside is all it takes to destroy a perfectly good convertible top. However, properly cared for and judiciously used, there's nothing more rewarding than a topless drive on a glorious Vermont day!

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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