Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Urban Archaeology


The inspiration for the Manta Mirage.

I never cared for yellow cars until today. Why the sudden change? To understand it you need a window to my youth; or, perhaps, an archaeological dig into the strata of my childhood home.

The Manta Brochure

At the bottom of a closet in a poorly lit bedroom, with dark blue walls and dusty aircraft models strung from the ceiling, lies an original brochure for this yellow car. If you really wanted to find the cardstock sales pitch intended to market dreams to dreamers, at some point you’d have to stop to allow your eyes to adjust. Having dug your way past the black leather jacket, a t-shirt that says, “Disco Sucks,” a giant papier-mache spark plug from art class, old posters of airliners, and several 22 long rifle shells lost to the floor, human physiology would reveal the next era. Exotic shapes appearing from the shadows, thanks to enlarged pupils, would indicate you’re almost there. Cautiously peeling back the stack of “Hustler(s),” scanning every page of every month, would lead you to the prize. Hours later underneath Miss October, fittingly pressed against a hard wood floor, you’d find a package labeled "Manta."

The placement was strategic. Being the youngest child in family heavily swayed by aviation, I was intent they never discover I was a car guy. Being a testosterone-fueled competitor in the championship of mating was far preferable to that. In retrospect, that’s probably why I once knew Miss April but never owned a Manta. Unfortunately, today I’m also quite sure the Manta Mirage would have given me more lasting pleasure. That’s what led me to this sexy yellow beast.

A scene from the original "Gone in 60 Seconds."

When I saw this car online I immediately recognized it was different. Most Manta kit cars ended up rolling junk. However, Gregg Umek bought this one decades ago and used all his skills to make it right. After a career of racing his own cars, working as an engineer for Dan Gurney, helping build a steam engine Indy car for Bill Lear, and many more automotive stops along the way, he set up his own shop for retirement and began having fun with kit cars. In turn, he created one of the nicest Manta Mirages on the planet.

Having never seen one in person, let alone sit in one, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found made me smile. It was exactly what I expected; maybe more. Gregg’s attention to detail is evident in ever part of this rare machine and I’d love to have it. However, there was snow on the ground, it had not been off the lift this year, and a drive was out of the question when I arrived late. But, I got the next best thing – to sit in the cockpit and hear it roar to life.

I had to laugh when Gregg began explaining how I could make it quieter. “You’re advertising this to the wrong people,” I said. “I’d want it louder.” From that point on we were great friends.

Who knows what will happen. It has no heat and no AC. That means I’d probably always be alone in the car. That said, it might work in my favor. Although it is a two seater, it’s tight. How tight?

As I explained to a friend, I’ve been in many cars, some of which you put on and wore like a glove. However, this was the first one that inserted me like a tampon.

The chase is almost as fun as the buy.

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