My so called MG Life
By Forrest Johnson
1 Just a little bit of history
It was a dark and stormy night on July 27, 1955 when I was dispatched from the factory (my Mother), and earlier that same day the first MGA 10101 was dispatched from the MG factory at Abingdon, England. I am glad that we were not both dispatched with the same colour as the MGA was in Tyrolite green and I did not want to spend my life as a frog. I did not know it at the time but it seems that I was always destined to own an MGA.
My first British car however was not an MGA or even an MG but instead was a Bugeye Sprite. My youngest daughter Becky had seen one in town and wanted me to get her one of those little cars that looked like they were smiling at you. I had no idea what she was talking about and told her to find out what kind of car it was. About a week later she reported back that it was an Austin Healey Sprite and she still wanted one, even though she would not be able to drive for several years. Several weeks passed and my lovely bride and I were out for dinner with our best friends Dale and Mary Reenders (now MGA owners but that is another story). Having had some wine and fine Italian food and then some more wine, I found myself in need of the little boy’s room. It was down the hall and around the corner. When I arrived at the bathroom there staring back at me from one of those Johny ads was a smiling car for sale. It was indeed a 1958 Bugeye Sprite so I put the phone number in my cell phone and called the owner when I left the restroom. There was no answer so I left a message. The owner called me back that evening and I made arrangements to see the car the next day. I called my buddy Dale and got him to borrow his father’s car trailer and truck and we were off on another adventure. The car was located about 12 miles south of Dale’s dad’s house so it was not a long adventure. Arriving at the owner’s house I found that his surname just happened to be the same as my first, Forrest. I had known only one other person to have that last name so when his daughter Casey ran out and gave me a big hug it was no surprise to me but shocked the heck out of him. I had coached her Y basketball team and she was one of my favorites, but not a great player. We settled on a price and loaded the car in the trailer. I did not over think this purchase, did I. The car did not have brakes but did run. I had the car on the road in a week, and it was just like fixing my old Ford 8N tractor, perfect for a farm boy like me.
I did not stay with the Healey marque very long. I joined the national Healey club and talked to a few members but when they found out that I just had a Sprite it seemed like that I was being shunned, and I don’t think that I was wrong. “Dang nab” big Healey guys anyway.
I bought my first two MGA’s from a guy that I knew from high school while sitting in the local pub. Seemed right at the time. The next morning my buddy Johnny B. and I went to fetch up my prize MGA’s, but they sounded a lot better in the pub after a few brews than they looked the next morning. One ran “kind of” but it was a bondo beauty the body and frame were both bad. The other was a 1959 1600 Iris blue all original car that had not been on the road since 1973, it was also adorned with a Vandenplas factory hardtop. This car had potential, it needed rockers and dog legs but I was thinking rolling restoration. Thinking gets you in trouble sometimes! It turns out that they had tried to start the car without getting oil pressure first, broken a lifter, sheared the cam key and wrecked the cam. So this car went off to the total restoration holding pen. I did get the bondo beauty up and running, but the bad tyres and rotten frame scared the “doo doo” out of me. It was however a blast to drive and I knew that I needed an MGA that I could drive “safety fast”.
Next up was a 1958 red 1500 MGA that I bought to go to my first GT in Cromwell, Conn. My lovely bride and I had a wonderful time at the GT and I could see that this could become a way of life. The 58 became what I called my science experiment, three different engines (not because they were needed just because I wanted to), suspension, body work, brakes, you name it I did it. I found that I liked working on the cars as much as driving them, which is a very good thing in MG ownership. I have put over 50,000 miles on this car and it has been a true joy to drive.
I did however discover that it was very difficult to take friends touring with you. Problem solved! I bought another car, this one was a white 1957 1500 with an 1800 engine under the bonnet. So with a small amount of work I had two cars for the GT at Mackinaw City, MI. My guests were Dale and Mary Reenders, you will remember that they were at the beginning of this MG adventure. My buddy Dale and his parents have taken me on a number of Gas and Brass tours with their cars, so I owed them a few tours. Mary now has her own MGA 1622 which I found for them a few years later.
My life has not been all MGs I have strayed into the realm of other British. Singers and Healeys and Jags and Hillmans, OH MY. The Singers were once again with my buddy Dale, I think that I am starting to see a pattern here. The Singer was on the “My Classic Car” show with Dennis Gage for about 3 seconds of fame, and on the cover of the Singer newsletter. I have however never found a car that I like better than the MGA.
My current project is a 1955 MGA 1500 the 96th MGA produced. I was lucky enough to have the car on display at the 2015 GT at Frankenmuth MI for the MGA’s 60th birthday. This car I found through a good friend Bill Hirsch (MGA owner and cow farmer) and it had been sitting in a garage for 30 years only 40 miles from my house. Another car I seemed to be destined to own!
As I mentioned before I seemed to have a knack and love for working on these LBCs (little British cars), so on the day that my lovely bride retired I went to work at University Motors Ltd. with Mr. John Twist and his crew (and saved my marriage). I am going on my 5th year at UML and I get to get up every morning and go play with LBCs. The cars teach me something new every day even if it is to remind me of just how much more there is to know.
So this is a little bit about my MG life. Not bad so far. I will let you know of some of my other adventures when they happen. Some people ask me just how many cars that I have accumulated but I usually give the guy answer 2, just like when you come home from the pub and your lovely bride asks you how many pints you have had, the answer is always 2. If you say you had one or none it will sound like a lie, even if it is the truth. If you tell the truth (the three to twelve you really did have) you are a dead man. So 2 is always the correct answer!!!