In this installment of HERO, we profile a man who truly embodies the spirit of this feature. If you have attended a Moss Motors sponsored British car show in the last two decades you have met this man and his ever-supportive wife Barby.
In any British car club there is always that one fellow who seems to have achieved it all; from the most daunting repair to a full restoration, this guy has been there and done that. He’s usually a gregarious fellow who will buy you a pint and is always ready to loan you tools or the book you desperately need for this weekends’ project. Beyond just being gracious this person wears their enthusiasm for the cars, club and Mother England on his sleeve—literally. And of course, the lilt in his accent tells you that he really talks the talk.
Well, in this case I am lucky enough to work with this guy every week and I am constantly surprised by his knowledge, quick wit and unstoppable enthusiasm for the subject matter that unites all of us—British cars. His favorite flavor is MG.
Ken Smith is the Dali Lama of MG. With a veritable supercomputer of MG related facts, figures and experiences in his noggin he is a walking MG Jeopardy board. Ask him a tough Morris Garage fact in the form of an answer and I’ll bet a few quid that he knows the question.
Sharing his experiences in three great books about the marque Ken has been back and forth between the Continents to gather information, interview key MG personnel, speak at national and international events and most importantly, drive the cars that we all love.
One of the primary ways that Ken achieves Hero status is via his deep connection to the MG brand. Like most of us, his love affair with MGs started at a very early age. As Ken related, “My earliest memories of MGs were as a schoolboy in my hometown of Sheffield, England. On my way home from school I had to change trams and walk a few hundred yards to catch the next one; walking past a car dealer called Charlie Wathen. There I saw all kinds of MGs like J2s, P-Types, SA saloons, VAs and the big magnificent WAs. For me they kindled a fire that has remained bright ever since.”
A 1965 tartan red MGB was Ken’s first foray into the MG brand. Upon joining the local MG Car Club and visiting the Abingdon factory regularly, Kens’ innate ability to make friends with anyone interested in MGs earned him the trust and respect of many of the people building his favorite cars. Ken was befriended by key MG personnel like John Thorley, Syd Enever, Don Hayter and Syd Beer opening a whole new world of access and insight. Ken was so inspired by the cars and the people who produced them that he went on to chronicle their operation in his 1996 book, Aspects of Abingdon.
Another way that Ken has earned the Hero moniker is through his support of British car clubs and events. It’s a rare event where at least one person doesn’t stop by the Moss display at a local show and inquire about the Moss Mobile. While the Moss Mobiles have been off the road for some time they have attained “rock star” status. Ken and Barby piloted the Moss Mobiles (there were two different RVs) over 250,000 miles and drove in and around every state in the US with the exception of Alaska supporting hundreds of British car shows and events.
At this point we must also recognize the Heroine beside the Hero, Barby Smith or as Ken lovingly calls her, “his Navigator.” Yes, they really are Ken and Barby, and there isn’t one pink MG in sight! Ken told me that Barby has nurtured his love of MGs and through their years together has become quite passionate about the cars herself. Barby always aspired to an MG TD and in 1988 Ken located a nicely restored car for her.
Every road warrior collects great stories from their travels and Ken is no exception. He tells my favorite anecdote this way; “We left Kansas City in our MGB one morning at 5:00 am enroute to a car show in Dallas. Traveling down I35, dawn broke, and to our left was the rising sun and on our right was a full harvest moon. You can only get this kind of experience with the top down in a British sports car! The fact that our MGB was stolen two days later in San Antonio was yet another reminder that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone!”
Most importantly, Ken pulls the trifecta for Hero status when you learn his credo about MGs, which applies to all British cars, “MGs were meant to be driven, and there’s no greater pleasure than traveling top-down on some back road where the car can really be enjoyed. So my advice is don’t just show it—drive it—time is too short to have your MG standing in some car park even though a lot of people admire it.”
By Rob Mullner