At Full Chat: Winter 1994

Those were the days, my friends!

By Harry Newton

I recently came across the invoice from Perry Fina for that wonderful cast aluminum, three branch cut out exhaust system he sold me for my first MG TD, the green RHD car that got me hooked on this addiction that dictated the course of my life. Among other activities, Fina’s mid-Manhattan garage served as the East Coast Allard distributorship.

It was in that shop that Fina and his two sons installed brand-new Cadillac engines into K2 and J2 Allards and generally finished the cars’ assembly. I could have bought a new K2 for about $3,200 at the time instead of the MG that set me back $1,850. See what memories are triggered by finding one single invoice!

Let’s see where this will take us. I was, at the time, the youngest of 32 salesmen working for the venerable Glidden Buick company at Broadway and 55th Street. Our allocation was 1% of Buick’s then 400,000-car annual production, and it was an honor to work for this or any other long established city center dealer. A couple of decades later many former metropolitan franchises had to post armed guards as replacements for the uniformed doormen who formerly had greeted arriving customers.

As soon as I turned 21, I had purchased a new Buick Special Deluxe sedanette, and was as thrilled as any other young buck to have my first new car. Then, Perry Fina let me drive a TD around the block, and the two-month-old Buick was put up for sale, quick as you could say “Jack Robinson.” I wonder where that saying came from…and where it went.

In an earlier column, I extolled the virtues of my no frills Bugeye Sprite, a lowest common denominator sports car. Now, as I face my Toshiba laptop, I can visualize a list of the optional extras that were fined to that first MG TD, items without which the car would have been undriveable.

Of course, there was the tonneau cover, divided down the middle by a zipper so the passenger seat was covered when not occupied. Next was a pair of Lucas fender mirrors (convex glass, of course). A badge bar at the front was balanced off visually by an AMCO luggage rack cantilevered off the rear, sort of a space frame for the gas tank and spare tire.

In the cockpit area were the inevitable Smiths HMV radio, cleverly concealed in the glove compartment, a map light on a flex cable extender and a pair of dash-mounted Heuer stopwatches that could be demounted quicker than…but I’ve already used that phrase. Another item, most necessary, was the beanbag ashtray that sat on the transmission tunnel. This, in turn, mandated a pair of wind wings to deflect the airflow and give you a fighting chance to smoke a cigarette, or better still a pipe, without burning holes in sweater and sports coat. At best, this was a delaying action, not prevention. I don’t recall how I got along without the wood rim Derrington steering wheel with matching shift knob, or the Brooklands half-moon windscreens or the liberally louvered bonnet, but we can just chalk it up to my innate conservatism. I do regret having done without the leather bonnet strap, though.

Under the unlouvered bonnet were found a finned cast aluminum valve cover, Fiam air horns and a set of spare spark plugs, screwed into a polished aluminum holder that was mounted to the firewall. One never knew when he might be called on to take part in a race, in which case the high rpm would call for colder plugs. Isn’t rationalizing wonderful?!

We still are not finished… one could never leave home without certain other equipment. A tweed cap, perforated driving gloves, special driving shoes and a pair of Ray Bans were “de rigueur” for a trip to the local grog shop or a courting expedition. And it would have been unthinkable to leave home without a chamois and tire gauge on board. A whiskbroom was an acceptable substitute for the preferred battery-powered vacuum cleaner, and if a really short trip was planned it was okay to leave the Lexol, saddle soap and spare quart of Castrol at home.

Neither the green TD nor the blue one that replaced it a few months later (a sad story that) were fitted with aftermarket heaters. Neither was the TF that came along in ’54. But they all sported that wonderful Perry Fina cutout exhaust system, the Lucas mirrors and most of the other accoutrements that had proven indispensable on the first MG.

One early mistake was not repeated…General Squeegie Dual 8 whitewalls appeared only on that first MG, the green one; and they played a significant part in that car’s early demise. Those ores were too heavy, and thus had a negative effect on the ride. Worse yet, they absolutely could not be induced to drift, with the result that an attempt to negotiate a right angle bend near Watch Hill, Rhode Island, one Sunday morning produced an off-road tour through some boulder-strewn farmland that resulted in a write-off. By the way, I was not at the wheel and blown TC owner Geof Moore, who was driving, did the right thing in helping to replace the car.

(In case you were wondering, in 1950, that Perry Fina exhaust system cost $75 installed, including an entire length of exhaust pipe!)


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