The First 50 Years

By 1978, Moss Motors was supplying parts for British cars to customers all over the world. It was a big business that had become more work than fun for Al Moss. When Howard Goldman offered to buy the business, Al took him up on the offer, and went into semiretirement. Al nowadays spends much of his time restoring (and racing) his collection of vintage British sports cars.

The space situation at the Dawson Avenue facility had become critical, and soon after Howard took over, Moss moved to its long-standing location at 7200 Hollister Avenue in Goleta. The machine shop moved from Dawson Avenue into a much larger facility close by. Moss continued to revise and update its catalogs, and the inventory continued to expand as more products were either manufactured in-house, sourced to the original manufacturer, or reproduced.

At the same time, there was growing concern that the tremendous historical assets of the British automotive industry would be lost unless action was taken to preserve them. The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT) was formed as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of material relating to all types of British motor vehicles. The organization now maintains the Heritage Museum at Gaydon and houses archives that include historical documents and over 2 million technical drawings and blueprints. British Motor Heritage works closely with Rover Cars PLC (formerly British Leyland) to continue the supply of factory original parts.

Frequently, original tooling is transferred to small firms that will continue to make the parts in smaller production runs. These parts are then distributed through a small group of firms, each appointed as a British Motor Heritage Approved Supplier and Manufacture. Moss Motors was a charter member of this organization, and the first in the United Stales.

By 1980, it became clear that there was a need for restoration-quality upholstery kits. Moss opened a complete upholstery manufacturing facility north of Goleta. There, original cars were carefully stripped of their upholstery, which was then taken apart a seam at a time. From these original examples, permanent patterns were made, and the shop went into production making seats, panels, tonneau covers, and carpet sets.

In late 1982, Moss opened its first facility on the east coast in New Jersey. This combined warehouse and showroom provided Moss with the ability to ship products more quickly to customers in the east. In 1983, Moss acquired a company called Start Your Engines of Beltsville, Maryland. They were known for pioneering Triumph parts and restoration specialists, and the acquisition allowed Moss to expand its Triumph range. More importantly, a number of the staff stayed on, bringing their expertise with them.

By 1988, Moss was one of the largest suppliers of vintage British sports car spares. The sales stuff had grown from one to 18(!) and 12,000 square feet had been added to the main warehouse in Goleta. We had moved our New Jersey warehouse twice, finally settling in a modern industrial park in Dover, New Jersey. That same year, Rover Cars PLC (formerly known as British Leyland) decided to cease distributing factory parts through their facilities in New Jersey and California. They offered to sell off their entire multi-million dollar inventory of “obsolete” spares, and Moss bought the lot. It took months to process the transfer of inventory, which was shipped in eight 40-foot containers, each one packed to the roof. In 1992, Moss Motors became the Rover Parts Distributor for Canada.

In 1995, space had again become a major problem for the company, and relocation was undertaken to downtown Goleta and the current Moss premises at Rutherford Street. The upholstery division was also brought in, and today the corporate headquarters, sales division, warehouse, and machine shop are virtually under the same roof.

Moss Today

With over 150 dedicated employees at four locations in the U.S., Moss Motors has grown tremendously since 1948. Considering for a moment that Moss deals mainly with parts for a limited range of old British sports cars, it seems improbable that there would be enough business to keep it going. Surprisingly, current estimates indicate that there are 500,000 MGs, Triumphs, and Healeys either on the road or in somebody’s garage. About half of these are in North America. Out of the 49,264 MG TCs, TDs, and TFs produced, it is estimated that 30,000 are still around. That’s phenomenal—we’re talking about cars that are 50 years old—like the company! The reason the business exists is that people, for lots of different reasons, like old British sports cars.

The operations at Moss are dependent upon a steady supply of parts, many of them long since discontinued by the original manufacturer. One key to the success and survival of the company has been the aggressive efforts of the Product Development Team in the United Stales and England. Although nobody has kept an accurate count, Moss manufactures between 2,000 and 3,000 parts. The list includes everything from the crankshaft for the T-Series mentioned earlier, to pistons for MGs and Healeys, the first gear assembly for the TR2-3, steering wheels for the MG TD, TF, ‘A, ‘B, Austin-Henley, and TR2-3, turn signal switches, headlamp assemblies, driving lamps, and body panels. In addition to outright manufacturing, Moss has sourced between 1,500 and 2,000 items to the original manufacturers. By negotiating for limited production runs, Moss has brought these discontinued items back to life. Moss also has provided extensive support to British Motor Heritage with the Body Shell Programs, and by doing so, Moss has indirectly contributed to the production of hundreds of other items.

Moss Operations

It’s not enough to have the ability to produce parts. As a business, Moss is dependent on the smooth cooperation of many people in many departments. It is impossible to separate the departments from the people that do the work, for it is in its staff that Moss has its real strength. Product Development relies on the combined talents of many people. Purchasing at Moss is another behind-the-scenes operation. Together, our team of experienced individuals in Purchasing monitors the status of the 26,000 parts Moss stocks, and the status of every foreign order. They’re also responsible for keeping the shelves stocked in a timely manner.

Customers call Moss on the toll-free line (or use fax or e-mail) to place their orders. Seven days a week, the Sales/Customer Service staff take orders and technical inquiries. The orders are then transmitted to the warehouse. There are three main operations going on in the warehouse: receiving goods, order processing, and shipping. The Moss crew unpack and inspect all incoming shipments. Every shipment is compared against the original purchase order, and the goods are labeled, then put up on the shelf. We receive shipments every day, including a stack of boxes from UPS, several truck shipments, and also a weekly 40-foot container from England.

Orders are processed as quickly as possible. They are printed out in the warehouse, usually within minutes after the customer places the order. The warehouse staff pulls the parts for each order, then passes it on to Quality Control, where the parts are compared against the original order. The parts are then packed, weighed, and shipped. None of this would be possible without a computer system (Moss’ fourth!) that allows orders to be processed quickly. We guarantee orders received by 3:00 p.m. PST will be shipped the same day, but we usually ship all orders received by 5:00 p.m. the same day. Since many orders for customers on the east coast are processed through our New Jersey warehouse, the customer in New York may find the box on his doorstep 24 hours alter the order was placed, without having to pay for air shipping. Where speed is essential, orders can be shipped overnight by UPS or FedEx.

Behind the scenes are the Marketing/Technical Support, Catalog Research, and Art Deportments. Technical Support is tasked with answering any and all technical questions that may come from customers or the staff. It is the Art Department, with its battery of computers, laser printers, and digital equipment that produces the famous Moss catalogs, and the quarterly color magazine, Moss Motoring, that goes to customers all over the world. When you step back and look at Moss and the people that make up the staff, you get the impression that it is the enthusiasm for the cars that is the driving force, rather than the traditional quest for market share and gross profit.

The Future

The market is unique, and although it’s changed over the years, the worldwide love for British sports cars seems undiminished. They have appreciated in value, most costing far more now than they did when new. Nonetheless, there are fewer of them each year as they are lost to accidents or simple deterioration to the point where a restoration is not feasible. Even the exportation of British cars from the United States affects our market. The biggest problem is rust; a badly fitted body/frame can usually be repaired, but the cost may be more than the value of the car. British Motor Heritage has provided a solution unique in the history of the automobile.

BMIHT has produced new bodyshells for the MGB (both roadster and GT), the Austin-Healey Sprite, and the Triumph TR6. With a new bodyshell clad in state-of-the-art rust proofing, many more of these cars can be saved.

As to why there is such a demand for these cars, it’s difficult to say. Most are bought for the sheer fun of it and the pleasure of being with like-minded enthusiasts. Some are bought as investments, some are bought “because it’s the first car I ever owned.” For the tinkerer, it’s a car without miles of wires, hoses, and sophisticated electronics. There isn’t much that you can’t fix with a simple toolbox. However, everybody has their own reason, but perhaps our Chairman, Howard Goldman, said it best: “The beauty of the British car is that it needs you!”

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