1959 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite at NY International Auto Show

My 59 Bugeye “Gumby” was invited to the “petite concours,” an exhibit of about 30 micro and mini cars at the 2011 NY international auto show in Manhattan. I drove Gumby 90 miles down Interstate 95 into NYC on a drizzly day and right into the Javits center for the display. Gumby is parked next to a Citroen 2CV and that’s a green Crosley and red Goggomobile behind.

One of my favorite images from the whole event was something I saw just as I pulled up on 39th street outside the Javits center… one of the micro cars for my particular display (a BMW 600) was towed from Greenwich, CT by a Porsche Cayenne. If you can’t drive your small car on the NY metro highways, this is one cool way to go!

Below is a video that may be the slowest drive I’ll ever take you on in a Bugeye, but it was really fun to drive Gumby right into this giant building, and to be part of a show that has meant a lot to me since I was a kid. This was shot the day before press day at the show, while the booths were still being constructed and new cars from the major automakers were all being unpacked.

In the late 60s, my dad would take me to this show so we could drool on the cars together, and were he alive, I know he would be really excited to come see his son’s car in that very same show.

While the whole event was really exciting, I was actually sad to see how bland the industry has become. There was no booth with a Peugeot 404, or debut of the Maserati Ghilbli Spider, as I remember in about 1969, and there were very few concept cars. In fact, everything looked somewhat the same, regardless of the brand name.

I was delighted to tour the show with my high school best friend David Cuneo… we built our friendship in the 70s playing with and talking about cars that were anything but bland. We rebuilt a 1966 MGB in my family’s garage, crashed my dad’s lime green 1969 911S targa and joked incessantly about his family’s Alpha Romeo Alfetta… stunning, but always broken. I wonder what kind of friendship we might have built with only the modern canvas of automobiles as a backdrop. Would we have been obsessed with whose Honda was hotter?

At the 2011 NY Auto show, even Porsche seemed confused, their CEO in a press presentation oddly pushing both a new 550 HP turbo S Panamera and simultaneously a new hybrid version of the same vehicle. The Zero-60 time of the first configuration was quoted at an impressive 3.3 seconds. The hybrid will reach 60 in 6 seconds, via a six cylinder 330 horsepower V6. But under the car’s electric motor, the car has a top speed of just 55 mph and a range of one mile.


I sat in a new Fiat 500, which was a notable new introduction, but even that car looked and felt like a Toyota Yaris, except the one big difference with the Fiat was an inevitable question about reliability. I found it interesting that the new 500 show display featured an information card about the engine’s “lost foam cylinder head” which cryptically refers to the type of casting used in manufacturing, but made it seem like Fiat is already hinting that their new cars are cute but could foam-up at any time!

There was a lot of incredible technology evident that goes into the new cars, I just wish that personality among vehicles was more apparent. My favorite intro that had some soul– the new VW microbus, apparently just a concept car but I hope they build it!

I also liked seeing a smart car covered with mirrored tiles and the Audi R8gt, in an interesting flat white finish with Ultrasuede interior. My vote for best supercar. And it was wonderful to marvel at the current F1 championship race car.

In general though, the cars that were most special to see were the oldest ones. There was a 61 E-type in the Jag booth (and an impressive line-up of E-types outside) and some wonderful mini and micros on display with Gumby. I loved seeing three different Crosleys including a mini firetruck and my favorite car of all was the Citroen AMI 6, with a giant thumb print on the hood and radically overhanging rear roof with reverse raked rear window! Most unusual!

We want cars to speak to us, and we long for an interactive experience with our vehicles that transcends DVD players and night-vision cameras. We started naming the Bugeyes we sell to help us differentiate the multiple 1960 Bugeyes in our workshop with repaired and soon to be repaired rear axle seals. And we were surprised to learn how popular the names of our Bugeyes have become. Unanimously, people love the names that come with their new classic Sprite, perhaps because it’s easier to form a relationship and ultimately fall in love with a car with a name (and eyes). ┬áMaybe Pixar could consult with major automakers… Mater and Lightning McQueen are talking, if only the automakers were listening!

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