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Best of 2012: Humdrum is in the eye of the beholder

Un-sexy Chevy Impala and imported Austin A35 caught Bill’s eye.

Published December 25, 2012

Sometimes it’s the humdrum things that really stick in your mind.

I have pleasant memories of thrashing a John Cooper Works Mini Countryman around the Rhineland in September; great fun to drive.

But my fondest automotive recollection of the year takes me back to June and two of the most mundane cars known to man.

The first was the Chevy Impala my wife and I rented in Denver for a road-trip through the southwest. I mean no disrespect in calling it mundane. It was a fine car. But sexy, exciting, inspiring? Not so much.

The second, I normally would disparage: a 1958 British Austin A35, similar to the first car I ever owned. My Austin was a “drift car” decades before the concept was invented, and finding reverse was a matter of fool luck.

So I was surprised to spot, among all the gleaming rods, customs and choppers at the weekly Friday night cruise in downtown Escondido, Calif., the only A35 I’ve seen on this side of the Atlantic.

And, boy, was it getting a lot of attention. People were jaywalking across four busy lanes of traffic for a closer look.

The owner was a Brit who moved to the States in the ’60s. His dad had been a mechanic who looked after the Austin for its original owner and wound up buying it from him.

The car had been up on blocks for years when the transplanted Californian went back for a visit in 2011. He shipped it over and got it running.

When you’re used to seeing radical rods and customs every Friday, I guess it takes something really … mundane to catch your eye.

I shot a picture of someone riding shotgun in a fenderless Model T roadster gaping and pointing at the A35. I could read his lips: “What the heck is that?” At least I think it was “heck…”

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