If you're interested in riding with me all the way to California, visit this site often!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Morris Makes It Home

Having completed the Rallye to Reno leaving my companion in Dodge City, I flew back to Detroit on Friday, June 16th.  With neither the TD here to diagnose nor the disassembled MG Midget race car motor available to work on, "retirement" became a challenge within a few hours. Sensing an opportunity, Carol and I decided to trailer a load of beds and furniture to our son, Lukas and spend a week with him and his partner, Cara, on their organic farm in the upper Hudson River valley.  This solved the "retirement problem" as farm work begins about 5:30 AM and does not end until about 8:00 PM, Monday through Sunday-- makes no never-mind. Chain sawing tree limbs and trying to diagnose a couple of problems on their big green John Deere 2750 was the "rest break." The rest of the time was spent on all fours out in the field either hand weeding, thinning vegetables, or transplanting seedlings for the late season crops of squash, beets, tomatoes. Then the phone rang. Saved by the bell!
With Cara at Quincy Farm, Easton, NY

Jenny from Sancrest Specialized Transportation  was informing me that on Monday the 27th I could expect delivery of my "parcel." My back and knees thanked her and we hurried home, arriving late Sunday night after a 14-hour haul. The next day, a friendly young fellow from Milan, MI pulled his Dodge diesel and trailer into the Chelsea High School parking lot and we unloaded Morris and the little CombiCamper trailer I had been pulling. The car started right up, ran perfectly...except for that loud metallic valve train sound. And bugs.

2,800 miles worth of dead bugs!

So, the MG Drive for CURE is completed. What started as a singular adventure became an exercise in the unexpected, a chance to meet a lot of kind and generous people, and a unique opportunity to experience better luck than I could ever have imagined having.

I set out to drive a 59-year old British car  across the country, had to replace a few parts that succumbed to 106-degree Kansas heat-- and actually had those parts packed as spares, was confronted with a problematic engine sound in the far reaches of western Kansas, and chose to leave the car behind rather than risk a catastrophic failure crossing the Rockies or the Nevada desert.

Luck??  You bet!

Between Louisville, Kentucky and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado I am acquainted with exactly one person-- a man I have only known from a car-related internet community called "Spridgets at Team.net."  Jim Johnson, a retired meteorologist, long-distance motorcyclist, and MG car guy, lives exactly six blocks from the hotel parking lot where I decided part ways with Morris. He not only gave me the keys to his truck so I wouldn't be stranded, he managed to get Morris stored in a Dodge City Civil Defense tornado shelter for as long as I needed. "Safest place in Dodge City," he quipped, "Two-foot thick concrete all the way around."  One rally participant from New Jersey is in the limousine business and provided me the name of a transport company he uses out of Missouri. Another, Steve Rybicki, informed me he owns a trucking company in Springport, MI, about 50 miles from my home, and could try to help out.  I call that a pretty fortunate day in Dodge City!

It's good when you can notice apparently good karma unfolding. And that day in Dodge City was my opportunity.

Then Dick Lunney from Charlotte, SC, editor of Classic MG Magazine, offered me his passenger seat to Grand Junction where his wife was flying in. Then PJ Lenihan from Winston-Salem, NC gave me his keys to have fun until his wife showed up by plane in Reno. Then George Kress and his red MGA from Pittsburgh took me in and later Jerry Morris from Owego, NY and Vincent Louie from California. None of these people knew me from Adam. But all extended a friendly hand.

Finally, the MG Drive for CURE was envisioned as a way to inspire the generosity of others for a cause I feel strongly about.  It far exceeded my expectations in that regard and I am forever grateful to the friends, relatives, corporate sponsors and total strangers who chose to make charitable contributions to  the CURE Childhood Cancer organization by way of the FirstGiving site www.tinyurl.com/mgdrive.

Over $5,000 has been donated and I'm thrilled to have been a catalyst for this cause. Thank you so very much!  

Now, I understand old US Rte 6 is mostly 2-lane from Massachusetts to California. Where did I leave the keys to my '63 VW Beetle?

John Deikis

Back in Chelsea...at last!

Car haulers were not designed for Little British Cars

They gave their lives so others might party

Morris will ride again!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Splendor in the Grass

Thursday, June 16th, on a beautiful grassy hillside park near the University of Nevada, each of the MG Registers displayed examples of their cars-- over 600 in all. The earliest MG cars being shown were several 1929 M-type MG Midgets, diminutive cloth-bodied runabouts with hopped-up Morris engines. Through the early 1930's, MG produced sophisticated 4 and 6-cylinder overhead cam-engined cars, some with shaft-driven superchargers. Specialized race cars were produced as well as roadsters, coupes,  touring cars and  sedans for the general market. Although "traditional" MG cars ceased production in 1980,  Rover-manufactured MG cars were sold around the world beginning in the 1990's and these were represented in Reno with the V8-powered MG-R and a mid-engined Canadian MG-F of more recent vintage.

1993 MG RV8 based on the MGB and produced in the UK by Rover Group

Mid-engined MGF powered by Rover
I'm not all that interested in car shows, especially when they represent only one marque often looking quite the same save for color, but I enjoy seeing unusual examples of MG history and style. For instance, retired art professor Michael Jacobsen displayed his 1934 N-type "special" Magnette 6-cylinder race car which was built by his father from a rare German-export example and from two wrecked N-types donors. The late Mr. Jacobsen Sr. raced this car in the early post-war period at many historic venues in southern California. Michael now campaigns this car in vintage race events and his son plans to do the same. They've even talked of a grandson taking over eventual custody of this historic family heirloom.
Prof. Jacobsen with his family's N-type racer destined for the 4th generation
Horn, headlamps, full road-equipped
1930's aircraft-type suspension: crude but effective

Tachometer, fire extinguisher, lunch box-- ready to race!

Unlike today's corporately mass-produced multinational automobiles, MG reflects an era when workers from one small town walked or rode their bicycles to "the works" that may have employed their fathers, uncles, and brothers, and assembled cars on conveyor lines pushed by hand over bricked and cobbled floors dating from the turn of the century. Arguably, this contributed to the ultimate demise of the British auto industry, but it is the well-spring of passion and commitment that owners feel today. When there are so many cars of the same heritage, it is easy to lose sight of how special each of these MG cars are to their custodians. Sometimes the registration tags serve as a reminder. 

Certainly the time and craft devoted to the early cars from the 1930's is evident, but even the newer cars are often subject to "frame-up" restorations at costs far exceeding the market value of the simple cars themselves. Even in its heyday, MG was a car for the enthusiast rather than aristocrat. Yet it always added an artful, sculptural aesthetic that far exceeded its modest pretensions. It is this quality of industrial design that makes a display of MGs on a lawn a singular pleasure to enjoy.

Supercharged MG J2 roadster in front of a stately MG WA 4-door

British-mandated sound diffuser from the 1930's

Instrument panel: 1953 Arnolt-MG with Bertone bodywork

Factory-built MGA racer, late 1950's

MG slogan from a 1950's promotional film

MG slogan from a 1970's promotional pamphlet

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Like Shriners, software marketers, volunteer fireman, and bowling fans, "motorheads" have their gatherings and conventions. MG International is organized every five years by the North American Council of MG Registers and is aimed at bringing together the very different people who are attracted to various corners and edges of the MG hobby.

MG N-type 4-seater
The Triple M Register (for Midget, Magna and Magnette) caters to the serious restorers and collectors of the crown jewels of the MG world: the diminutive and highly sophisticated overhead camshaft sports racers of the early 1930's known as giant killers on the tracks of the European continent in the years between the World Wars. Also included are the large and elegant sedans-- or saloons to the English-- which reflected a very different thrust in MG's marketing effort.
Bonnet detail-- MG SA

Nigel Johnsfolly seeking attention

The New England MG T Register and its affiliated regional groups and chapters reflects the interests of owners of the "World War 2-era" MG cars which suffered corporate "rationalization" following the formation of the Nuffield Organization by Sir William Morris and, in the post-war years, the British Motor Corporation (BMC).  These are the T-series MG sports cars from TA through TF ("the sports car America loved first") and the four-seater family variants, the YT touring car and YA/YB 4-doors.
1952 MG YB Saloon

MGA EX186 Factory racer
The North American MGA Register (NAMGAR) is the home for the first "envelope body" MG. This is the car the MG wanted to introduce in 1953 but were blocked by corporate veto in favor of the just-introduced Austin-powered Austin-Healey 100. Several post-war race cars based on the MG TD chassis are recognizable as the MGA shape and at it's release in 1955 the "A" became the sensation of the low-priced sports car world. Sedan variants, the ZA and ZB, are also prized by collectors today.
1957 MG ZB Magnette "Varitone" Saloon

1973 MGB GT V8-- Buick/Rover-powered
The MGB was introduced in 1962 and was the first MG with roll-up windows, reasonable heat, and a space for dealer-installation of a radio. Except for questionably compromised efforts to meet U.S. emissions and crash standards, the MGB was sold virtually unchanged until 1980 and included a 6-cylinder variant, the MGC, and a V8 GT car which was never sold in the American market. The North American MGB Register and the MGC Register represent owners of these cars as well as the "modern Midget," the entry-level sportster now known as the "Spridget," and the practical MG 1100/1300 variant of the Issigonis-designed Mini.

Nigel Johnsfolly racing his "works tribute" MG Midget...and apparently in the lead!
Like most conventions, MG gatherings have meetings, educational sessions, vendor displays, banquets, cookouts, and socializing. They also frequently include a gymkhana or slow speed obstacle course event, a local challenge rally that covers a specified course on back roads and demands exacting adherence to time, speed, observations, or gimmick questions, and a "track event" where drivers can spend an afternoon learning the high speed handling characteristics of their cars.

 I had the opportunity to participate in a gymkhana using Segway mobility devices-- a first for me. I also entered the local road rally through the historic mining town of Virginia City where I was invited to drive San Franciscan Vincent Louie's 1952 MG while he graciously navigated.

With antiquated drum brakes, getting down is often more interesting than the drive up.