A tale of fathers, sons, and their MGs

By Mark Cutone

I believe the year was 1984. I was 15 and my license to drive was still a little way off. My dad’s best friend, Billy had restored a 1953 MGTD – a beautiful crème color with a fawn leather interior that we admired every time he came by the house. With that, we got the bug! Hoping one day we too would have an MG of our own. Later, Billy bought a 1957 MGA from a kid in college. However, the car was in pieces. Eventually, he offered the project to my dad.

He had a heated two bay garage and said we were welcome to use it.  And so, the project began, countless Saturdays and occasional school nights. Knowing my mom would disapprove, it was our secret for the first few months. I still recall our first day in the garage, staring at one box after another and a frame leaning against the wall. I looked at my dad quizzingly. He handed me the shop manual and said, “Let’s get started”. Daunted, I had faith in my dad and thought that this could be fun. We began with organizing the boxes and sorting parts by systems. What I had underestimated was the education I was about to gain. 

MGA 1984

Learning about suspension systems, brake lines, carbs … every day in the garage was another lesson. Slowly the car began to take shape as we tackled something each weekend. It was not always just my dad and myself. Billy’s dad, Bill Sr, would join us on the occasional Saturday. We even managed to get my grandfather to join us for a day – three generations in the garage! More parts migrated from the boxes to the frame – it was taking shape.

It was looking like a car again. Our excitement and momentum were building. At some point, we let my mom in on the secret. As expected, she did not share our enthusiasm, but eventually she came around.

Red MGA 1987
MGA 1987

It was this great father-son effort. The parts seemed to be never ending, they would show up at our doorstep from Moss during the week. I would crack open the boxes and examine whatever it was we were missing from the week prior. I’d be excited that Saturday to complete a task and check yet another box. I remember the day the engine roared back to life – easily the high point of our restoration exercise. We had pulled that starter knob and she’d fired up. Right away? Definitely not, it took some tinkering. But I remember how proud we were that day. Pretty sure it ended with my dad handing me my first beer as we proudly sat admiring our accomplishment.

Eventually we fit the body and had her painted. We had a book with a beautiful red MGA on the cover. It was our inspiration from day one. She was going to have beautiful bright red paint complimented by the all-black interior. We were inching closer.

Wiring was interesting. Dad is colorblind. So, it was my job to identify the right wires and make the connections. Soon we had lights, working wipers, and even a horn! She was done.

Red MGA 1989
MGA 1989

We had managed to take it from boxes to back on the road. This started a whole new chapter of car shows, rallies, overnights throughout New Hampshire, and countless trips for ice cream. Once I earned my license, my dad let me take it out on my own. I felt great knowing that he trusted me with it even though I was just 16 or 17. I took it on dates. Though the dad seemed more impressed by the car than my girlfriend at the time, it was still a thrill. Eventually I would court my future wife in that car. The car often played a role in my life’s milestones in those years. 

Red MGA with Couple
MGA 1986

After years of enjoyment, the car developed an issue with the slave cylinder. Dad confidently pulled the engine and transmission. But being a father to four boys and having a job that only got more demanding with time took precedence over the car. The A sat in the garage for a while, a long while, nearly 20 years in fact! It sat longer than it had been back on the road. The boys all got married and dad finally retired. He had time and the drive again. 

MGA 2013
fathers and sons working on red classic car MGA
MGA 2013

So once again three generations in a garage, but this time I was joined by my son Ian. We rolled her out of the garage on the July 4th weekend of 2013, and so it began again. It was time to bring her back to life once more. Even Billy returned one weekend to assist my dad. Thirty years later and they still had their head under the bonnet. Just a couple of years later Dad not only brought it back to life but it looked even better than before. Fresh paint and new trim – she was gleaming once again. 

Grandfather and grandson working on classic car
Dad and Ian working together
MGA 2015

When my son was around 11, and always wanting an MG of my own, I found a 1964 MGB in Maine.  Not telling my wife right away, you can see this runs in the family… I started creating memories with my own son. We have since taken countless rides, and even a few walks home when the B would act like a typical British sportscar. It’s been great fun. It was a real treat when we finally took both the A and the B out to their first show together. Three generations and too many memories to count…

Red MGA and MGB
The MGA and MGB
For Christmas, Mark presented his father with a framed collage that expressed his experience with the MGA restoration.


'A tale of fathers, sons, and their MGs' have 4 comments

  1. July 9, 2021 @ 6:32 am Jim Cutone

    I own the 1957 MGA pictured in the above article. I’m experiencing mechanical problems attempting to turn over the engine. Double 6 volt batteries are charged. Head lights are fully operational. Starter switch is getting power. Pulling the starter switch causes slight movement in the fan. I’m thinking coil or starter. Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you.

    Reply

    • September 14, 2021 @ 7:59 am Duane Matson

      Without knowing more details and seeing things first hand, it sound like you may have a starter issue. I would pull the starter and bench test it or have it tested to see if it is operating properly. If the starter operates well off the car, there could be battery/connection issues or there could be some sort of mechanical issue with the engine preventing it to rotate well with the starter. If the starter dosen’t operate, then you may have found the issue – fix or replace the starter. If the starter will not turn the engine, then there may be something internal with the engine that needs to be followed up on next. Troubleshooting is a step by step process, it can take time, can be frustrating and can be rewarding once you isolate and resolve the problem.
      Good luck!

      Reply

    • September 14, 2021 @ 12:39 pm John Nichols

      Make certain the engine ground strap is still in place, then feel the cable coming off the starter switch and going to the starter it will be hot if the connection is bad. You could also make sure the battery cables are tight and clean and make sure the battery leads aren’t grounded somewhere.

      Reply

  2. July 21, 2021 @ 8:01 pm John Barbagello

    I laughed out loud when I read the part about his dad being color blind. In 1974 my dad, also color blind, found two MGAs a college kid had taken apart with no clue how to get them back together. We bought them for$200.00. I drove one as my first car for seven years, after we got it all together, then parked it with the other when I moved away. I have both of them again and it’s time to get them back on the road. It was like he was telling my story.

    Reply


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