Back in ’84 I bought a new BMW R65LS, at a bit over 200 kilos weight it had an easily managable mass. Expecting similar lightness and low center of gravity, I bought a new R100GS in ’91… What a mistake! BMW said the seat was maybe 50 millimeters higher and the weight only around 10 kilos more, but it felt much worse. Sufface to say, the GS gave those “crash bars” a workout. Turns out the GS was really about 25 kilos heavier, and most of that evil weight was higher up in places like that heavy GS fairing and it’s exoskeleton. This didn’t matter that much at speed, but for low speed dirt road or no road manuevering like a GS was supposed to excel at, it didn’t. Even after I lowered the GS 50 cm. so I could flat foot it the added weight up high was still all too noticeable.

Back to yesterday’s bypassed Spridget… Spridget history began with the “frog eye” Mk.1 Sprite back in ’58, a bare-bones sports car with not even a trunk lid, hard top, or even side windows. That’s what a sports car is supposed to be- the bare necessities beyond a drivetrain, wheels and suspension, steering wheel and seat for the driver, and a minimal body to barely cover the above. The original Sprite weighed but 600 kilos, a good thing given that it’s anemic little BMC “A” series engine didn’t have much power, especially in this early 950 cc. version. Through the 60s and early 70s the Sprite gained glass side windows, disc brakes, and the other quarter of it’s rear leaf springs, etc.. Most of that was useful stuff that almost justified a weight increase to just over 700 kilos. Then the U.S. DOT in it’s infernal wisdom decreed that beginning in ’74 all cars would have bumpers between 400 and 500 milimeters high and be able to survive an 8 KPH crash without damage. That was an engineering challenge, demanding that the already narrow Spridget be jacked up a couple inches to get the bumper height in compliance and a pair of heavy and bulbous bumpers be added at both ends. Then, to handle the increased weight of the bumpers and compensate for the loss of power due to tightening smog regulations, the Spridget’s by then 1275 cc. “A” series engine was replace by a heavier 1500 cc. Triumph engine. When they were done and U.S. DOT and EPA were satisfied the once svelte Spridget had gained damn near another hundred pounds, and in the worst places- remember the theory of “polar motion of inertia”? Weight at the extreme ends of a vehicle tends to upset handling far more than the same weight near the middle of the vehicle. That’s why mid engine placement is the optimum layout for sports cars and Erik Buell took such pains to move the masses of his motorcycles as near to their middle as possible.

It get’s worse… A few years later the U.S. DOT demanded that cars “pass” crash tests to insure that drivers too dumb to wear a seat belt might survive whatever crashes their dumbness gets them into. Where’s Darwin when we need him? Then a new generation of drivers came along who pick a car based on it’s compatability with their iPhone rather than performance on the road. They demand air conditioning and heavy sound deadening too, and by the time all that’s been added the car is heavier still and power steering and brakes are added so these wimps can park and panic stop their poor overloaded car. Thus at the dawn of the 21st century we see near two ton “sports cars” driven slowly down arrow straight highways between shopping malls at legal speeds or less, usually by a senior citizen.

Truth is, if you want a real sports car you’ll probably have to restomod one from the golden age before the government decreed that we drive barely mobile battering rams. That essentually means ’74 and earlier, or you can do an end run around the regulations with a kit car. Is it no surprise that in many a gearhead’s garage “new” V8 MGB’s and Lotus 7 lookalikes are being built?

They’ll have to pry my cold, dead body out of my ’66 Austin Mini Cooper S.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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