MOUNT VERNON — When on a road trip from Connecticut to Skagit County earlier this month, Mount Vernon’s T.J. and Karen Larrick were the center of attention — or at least their car was.
After all, the couple was traveling in a cute, unusual little car that drew smiles, waves and curious questions as they made their way through 14 states and across 4,000 miles.
Their 1958 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite is a low-slung convertible with British origins and a poppy yellow hue that T.J. Larrick, a classic-car enthusiast, had sought for years to own.
“When I was little, a family friend had one and let me ride in it. It was fun,” Larrick said.
Larrick figures he’s owned more than 30 cars. His current ones include a 1968 Saab and a 1978 Citroen.
But he had his eye on the website of a Connecticut restorer/dealer known as Bugeye Guy, and when the right car in Larrick’s desired price range appeared, he jumped.
Larrick, who’s fond of tinkering on and driving his cars rather than keeping them in a garage, had an unusual proposition for the Connecticut dealer: He wanted to drive the vehicle back to the West Coast rather than have it shipped.
With that in mind, a few modifications were made in anticipation of the trip, such as the addition of disc brakes and an aluminum radiator.
Soon the Larricks had picked up the car and embarked on a trip that included stops in such states as New York, New Jersey, Nebraska and Wyoming, and at sites including Mount Rushmore.
There were a few challenges, such as frequent stops for gas — the Sprite has a seven-gallon tank — and to repair a seal that for a time let rainwater in on Karen Larrick’s lap.
T.J. Larrick, used to older British cars and their eccentricities, was prepared. He fixed the broken seal with a length of a tube for a bicycle tire he’d brought along for that purpose.
Any challenges were more than outweighed by the response the Larricks received on the trip, T.J. Larrick said.
There were waves and smiles from children, questions from strangers at gas stations, and a growing fan base on Facebook, where Karen Larrick posted frequent updates.
They received friendly online messages from strangers, including recommendations of a good burger place in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a stellar barbecue joint in Kansas City. An Austin-Healey club in the Midwest invited the Larricks to dinner, which they accepted, and another fan offered a place to stay in Idaho.
“That was really nice, to hear from strangers like that,” said T.J. Larrick, who said the interactions were especially nice after a time of social isolation because of COVID-19. “I bet every one of them was a car guy.”
A car guy himself, T.J. Larrick expects to drive his new car as much as he can. He said when he told his insurance company how much he intended to drive his Sprite, the staffer didn’t believe him at first.
“I like cars, but I drive my cars,” he said. “I’m having a blast.”