Friday, July 07, 2006

The Era of the MG

The Era of the MG
The third car I ever had (They did not last forever back then!) was a 1957 MGA. Made in England by Morris Garage, the "A" Model was a sleek modern design breaking away from the TA, TC, TD, and TF Models with the bigger rounder fenders and wood frames. They made the Roadster convertible, and the Hardtop Coupe, both two-seater models. It sat low in spite of the 15" wire wheels, and when seated in the driver's seat, you were looking through the steering wheel rather than over it, to give an idea of the feel of it. I found mine used (of course) in a garage in a run-down inner city neighborhood in Rochester, NY. The whole convertible top, frame and all was gone, and of course, it wouldn't start! The guy let my friend Lonnie and I hook a rope to it and tow it up and down his neighborhood to try to jump-start it, but nothin. I don't honestly remember what I paid for it, but negociated "something-something" with the tow rope still tied in place. In those days, there were no expressways, which is most assuredly just as well, knowing my young mentality-one speed only-Full! Anyways, we headed for home, about 25 miles east of Rochester, with myself towing the MG and my buddy, Lonnie steering and braking from the lifeless sports car. unbenounced to me, Lonnie put the MG in third or fourth gear and the ignition turned on. About halfway home in the four corners of Webster, the ground shook from a resounding backfire, and as I glanced in my rearview mirror, Lonnie and the MG disappeared in a cloud of dense black smoke! Even before the smoke cleared, I heard the distinctive clatter of an engine running in spite of missfireing, and stinky old gas. The smoke cleared reviling Lonnie grinning from ear to ear, gently feathering the gas to keep it going. Wow, the engine was running, but only on three cylinders out of the four. Now, he kept the car in neutral, letting the engine idle, and we towed it the rest of the way home. It turned out to have a cracked head. The local junk yard in Ontario had a used head, and I was up on four cylinders. With the two carbs fine- tuned, it was the snappiest thing I had ever driven. I realized the starter did not turn, the first time I shut it off. I parked it on hills to roll down and jump start it after that. One day, I noticed a crank hole beneath the grillwork. I found a blacksmith to fabricate a crank handle. You can imagine the double-takes I got from observers when I got out there with my crank! It didn't matter that water splashed in from holes in the floorpans, or that the gas tank weeped a bit, I was driving something other than all the other Fords, Chevys, and Plymouths. The Lucas electrical system was a corroded nightmare, and the suspension was probably struggling beyond its life expectancy, judging by the vigor my girlfriend bounced off the seat when we encountered bumps! And yes, I got caught out in the rain many a time with the top down, because as I forementioned, the top was missing to begin with. It did have a tonoue cover, which covered the seats, and snapped up to the dashboard. Then there was assimilating the proper lingo that came with the British autos. The hood did not cover the engine, but was really the top! The generator was the dynamo, and you could probably guess what the windscreen was. Wrenches were spanners, and on and on! To fight the winter cold, I would bring the bottom cushion of the seat in the house and warm it over a heat vent. By removing the defroster hoses, I had extra heat blowing at my lap. The doors only had an inside handle, and the windows, or "side curtains" slid into the door top on two posts, and were made out of thin plastic of some kind. The years had diss-colored the transperincey of the material, making it hard to see out of to say the least, but with no top on the car, I hardly ever used the side curtains. The electrical system was 12 volts, however, it utilized two 6 volt batteries linked in series, and straddling the propeller shaft under the vehicle. Eventually, I located a working starter, and the crank got retired to the "boot" (trunk) Under the "bonnet" was a snappy four cylinder OHV engine capable of 1500 CC, two SU down-draft carbs, and a compression ratio wanting for high octane gas.
I wasn't the only one getting into foreign sports cars, many of my buddies from high school got equally, worn out, rusty, but indescribable fun. There was another 57 MGA, like mine, a 61 MGA MKII with overhead cam, a 57 Triumph TR3, a 56 Jaguar XK-140, a beautiful 56 Porsche, and lets not forget my buddy Mark's Alfa Romaro!
Ahh, the life of open roads, and cheap gas!!!

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