A Fair Lady, Finally!

By Anthony Ardolino

The realization hit me as I was walking out of Pep Boys. In one hand I had a digital circuit tester and in the other I had an Auto Trend drip pan. Yup, I was finally going to own a British sports car.

And it was about time, too. I had wanted a particular British sports car, an MG TF1500, ever since I first saw one 38 years ago. I was a shy, unfocused 10-year-old in 1955, and one day while playing with my dog in the front yard, a neighbor drove slowly past in a brand new, red TF. He had the windshield laid flat across the cowl, and he wore a tweed cap and, as I recall, string-back driving gloves. But the sight and sound of that MG, at once old and quaint and toy-like, and yet rakish, raucous and red, simply galvanized me. It was the most beautiful object my young eyes had ever seen.

I ran down the street after it, and was delighted to see it pull into the driveway just four houses down from mine. I looked for it every day after school and on Saturdays, and if I saw it out on the driveway, I would run down and just stare at it, wide-eyed and gape-mouthed. I burned into my mind every facet and detail of that MG, from the 12 vertical bars in the grille to the perfect sweep of the fenders—still the most lovely fender line to grace any automobile. I was awestruck the day I realized that the instruments were octagonal, just like the MG badge. What incredible design!

Soon after, I began to buy copies of Road & Track and Mechanics Illustrated magazines with my allowance. My love of cars, and in a way, my whole life, had begun.

38 years later I look back on a long career in the automobile industry, a succession of street rods, sports and exotic cars, decades worth of back issues of car magazines growing yellow in the garage and a long-suffering wife who never complains about celebrating our anniversary every year at the Indy car season finale at Laguna Seca. But no MG.

Then, this past December, while not looking for one at all, one found me. It was a beautiful restoration of a one-owner car done by John Autry of Laguna Hills. It was black with biscuit interior and it only had 900 miles on the restoration. I walked up to it in John’s driveway, stuck my head far into the interior and breathed deeply. That smell, so unique to English sports cars (dampness in the carpets?) carried me back to 1955 in an instant. 38-year-old memories washed over me like they happened yesterday. Later, when John started it and explained that he installed an original British exhaust system to retain that special sound, I found myself twitching violently, trying not to grab for the checkbook in my back pocket.

But it was no use. Once I drove the little dear, you could just stick a fork in me —I was done. She was mine.

It was almost a 50-mile drive home, and along the way the exhaust manifold gasket blew. Not the greatest beginning to our relationship, perhaps, but I did take pride in the fact that the little engine could make an explosion strong enough to blow a gasket.

Thanks to tools, parts, advice and encouragement from Moss Motors, I effected repairs with only a single barked knuckle. And discovered a forgotten truth along the way: There is no greater peace and satisfaction than successfully tinkering with a beloved car in a quiet garage on a warm afternoon.

The tinkering has since led to chromed dashpot covers and Hellings air filters, a polished aluminum valve cover (a street rodding heritage dictates brightwork under the hood, with apologies to John and all the other purists), a set of wind wings, a spare tire cover and a license plate that reads “A 55 MG.”

I have named the car Eliza, in honor of the late Audrey Hepburn, who brought Eliza Doolittle so beautifully to life on the screen, and just because after 38 years, this MG is indeed my fair lady.

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