By Doug Ruth and Vahid Schwart
In over 60 years of working on cars I have amassed a number of tools: old ones, new ones, shiny ones, worn ones, useless ones, broken ones, and borrowed ones. But by far my most valuable tool is the person working with me, a willing friend who believes that what we are working on has, or will have some value. In all my years of sports car racing I always had a crew of some sort, guys who wanted to share in the fun and glory. Having a good friend to work with on a project, any project, makes it much easier and enjoyable.
In 1963, as a college sophomore I bought a 1951 MGTD off a used car lot for $850. I didn’t know any better so I drove it everywhere in western New York, rural Pennsylvania, and finally, while in graduate school, around southern Ohio. I only had one breakdown—a snapped axle on an icy road one Thanksgiving. By 1972 the TD was showing too much age and suffering from a broken rocker arm, so the time came to restore it, which meant I totally disassembled it and put it in boxes. Lots of boxes. Unfortunately those boxes became its permanent home for nearly 40 years while I spent my time, and way too much money, to go racing.
Fast forward to 2007, when the next friendly “tool” came along just at the time I decided to turn those dusty, crumbling boxes back into a car. Enter Vahid Michael Rajabian-Schwart, an energetic, fresh out of high school, stock boy at the local Kroger’s.
“Doug struck up a conversation with me at work one day. He said he had just completed a 24-hour race. I was pretty impressed and I reassured him that he sure looked like it. We found a common connection when I told him how I wanted to study to become an engineer. When Doug invited me to join him working on several cool projects including a Ford Model T, a Triumph Trident motorcycle, and an MG TD, I had no idea of what I would be getting myself into.” —Vahid
In spring of 2008 Vahid stopped by the house to see for himself the pile of rusted sheet metal and the dusty corroded car parts littering the floor of my barn. I convinced him we could turn this forlorn British pile into a running car, and when we did, I told him I would give it to him when it was finished.
Vahid knew nothing about cars. He was a computer hacker, skateboarder, video game kind of guy—a clean slate for me to start with. The frame and suspension had already been done in the back in the 80s during a short release of pent-up guilt, so he and I started with the wood frame, most of which I had thrown out. The first of many orders were called into Moss.
Now these were the times that really tried our patience and friendship. Those of you who have ever assembled a TD wood frame from scratch will understand. There was one piece we spent weeks trying to get correct, but through this, Vahid had his first experience working on cars, namely woodworking!
Next came the sheetmetal. Most of it was unworkable rust, so I held up a large 4×4 piece of galvanized paint-grip sheetmetal and told him all we have to do is remove the non-MG part. We did. Here lessons in metal working, welding and bondo-applying were given and learned. This took many weekends and thousands of calories. A teen boy has to be fed every two hours or you risk serious grumpiness and lethargy. I like to cook so it was easy. We shared countless fine meals together (and still do) and in trade he taught me to play video games. Old people cannot learn to do this, trust me, but I gave it my all. He once commented on the age of my TV, being older than him, so I bought a huge flat screen so we could play Wii tennis when Call of Duty got boring.
Wood frame on, sheet metal all attached, it was time for… the doors. We spent an ungodly number of hours working the hinges, the latches, hinges, and then the latches, and did I say the hinges? I ended up completely re-engineering the latches to finally get that satisfying Rolls Royce “thunk” on door closing.
Next was final body assembly and painting. Vahid once again learned valuable skills in: bondo, sanding, more bondo, sanding, and finally painting. BRG was his color of choice, so it was to be. The BRG we used was actually 1987 Jaguar green. For a first time effort he did an outstanding job. Concours? GOF Finalist? No, but we never intended it to be that, just a fun car to drive. The final touch was installing all of the freshly re-chromed pieces, which had to be farmed out at great expense, I might add.
“We started working and kept at it through cold winters, final exams, girlfriend breakups, internships, and everything else in between. As I reflect on this project, I can humbly say that perhaps my most valuable contribution to our project was inspiration. Doug’s superb engineering expertise and persistence in making progress, often requiring him to tread forward without his faithful assistant, ultimately ensured we completed this project. For in the end that pile of parts did indeed come together, just as Doug had reassured me countless times. We went for our first ride on the country roads of rural Ohio in 2017 on a beautiful spring day, and a year later, Doug made me the proud and responsible owner of the MG. He passed on the passion for working on MGs to a younger generation in his act of generosity, and hopefully one day I can do the same. Throughout long work sessions and tinkering with Whitworth tools, it was not only our enjoyment for working on cars that kept us going, but more than that, it was our friendship that developed from it. What started as a fun project for a car tinkerer and a young apprentice developed into a true friendship that continues to this day. Doug cooked and fed me delicious meals, helped me move countless times in college, helped me with tedious home renovation work, and the list goes on and on. To all of those things, I say thank you Doug. You are truly my best friend!” —Vahid
And lastly, engine assembly. All the engine parts went to a machine shop and so did Vahid one day to get a tour of an old shop full of unclaimed engine blocks, cylinder heads, grease, dirt, machine tools and a very talented engine guru who does the fantastic work needed to make motor parts like new again. Some patience is required. Eventually we had all the parts ready to be put together, time for him to learn the difference between a camshaft and a fan blade.
By this time Vahid had graduated college with a degree in computer science and was working in a research lab eight hours away. But there were enough visits to have him do most of the assembly. I did the actual engine installation, and it was a cold and lonely endeavor. However, eventually I fired it up for the first time in almost 40 years, and I made sure Vahid was on the phone to hear it.
In the fall of 2018 the young man was given the car, the title and all the future excitement only an ancient British car can bring. To this day and forevermore we are best friends. I could never have done this restoration without Vahid’s youthful enthusiasm and friendship. MM