By Wiley Davis
It is an odd form of adventure that takes place when the British car bug first bites you. It can begin innocently with some spare time for a new project, or a nostalgic longing for a shiny roadster you once saw at a stoplight when you were just learning how to drive. British cars, however, have tenacious personalities that will burrow themselves into the fabric of your life, ultimately becoming the milestones between which all other events are placed. Dan Zeraldo had no idea of the importance that British cars, particularly MGs, would play in his family when he and his eldest son Dan Jr. towed a broken-down 1961 MGA 40 miles to their home behind a pickup truck without a windshield on a snowy Canadian afternoon.
The year was 1967 and what Dan Jr. really wanted was an MGB. Unfortunately, his uncle had located an MGA, which, perhaps due to impatience, became the Zeraldo family’s first British experiment. It should be pointed out that, initially, the MGA’s aesthetics were not appreciated in the Zeraldo household. One family member described the car as “dated and unappealing. Almost ugly from some angles.” Two years spent in close proximity with the car, however, would be enough to transform the MGA’s ugly duckling lines into “a thing of beauty, easy to restore, simple to work on mechanically, and sheer pleasure to drive.” Not incredibly, the little car had become a part of the family, something even a mother could love.
With the original MGA now zipping around town, the garage seemed bare, and Dan Sr. decided to take in another orphan. Dan Jr. didn’t know what he was in for. It was readily accepted that the younger Dan would, because of his earlier experience, be most qualified to steer and operate the brake in the new MGA project as it was being towed home. His father would again drive the pickup truck. With the tow strap solidly connected to the freshly purchased 1958 MGA, the Zeraldos set out on yet another cross-town towing extravaganza. This time things didn’t go as smoothly. Halfway home, the truck began to lurch with an unexpected burden. Turning around, Dan Sr. looked through the rear window and locked eyes with his son, whose face was horror-stricken and whose knuckles were ghostly white. The younger Dan had been tooling along comfortably, applying the brake to keep the line taut and steering to follow the pickup ahead, when the tail end of the car began to pitch about wildly. Not knowing exactly what was happening, he performed the death grip maneuver on the steering wheel and did his best to maintain a straight course while wondering why on earth his Dad wasn’t stopping. Back inside the pickup, Dan Sr. was rapidly coming to the realization that the MGA was missing a rear wheel, while simultaneously trying to bring the circus slowly to a stop alongside the road. Once stopped, they discovered that the friendly gentleman who sold them the car had neglected to put more than one lug nut on the left rear tire. The stud broke, the tire went spinning down the road sans car, and a harrowing time was had by all. In the end, no damage was done, and they reinstalled the wheel using lug nuts borrowed from the other wheels.
As the years toiled along, British cars were there to mark them. MGs were given away as graduation presents, Austin-Healeys were purchased, and Triumphs were crashed. Spitfires were sold to buy wedding dresses and Jaguar E-Types were relinquished to buy houses. Grandchildren were born and roadsters were carefully restored, waiting for the day when another generation would begin to have dreams about tuning carburetors and dealing with questionable electrics.
The moral of this story is that caution should be exercised before allowing a British sports car into your home. In short order, they will become part of the family and you will never be able to get rid of them.
Then again, why would you want to?