Morris Garage

by Michael Mascelli

My story starts in about 1965 when I was 13 and saw my first funny little English car in a local gas station lot in Latham, New York. All of my friends were the younger brothers of hard-core American Muscle motorheads, and yet somehow I was captivated by what I later learned was a 1938 MG TA.

A few years later that same British Racing Green TA was back on that same lot, but this time with a “FOR SALE” sign on it. I was bold enough to inquire, but there was no way I could have afforded it. On the bright side, though, my interest led me to a local MG enthusiast who said he knew of a T-series car that was all apart and might be for sale for at a much cheaper price. The catch was that it was about an hour away in the sleepy little hamlet of Maryland, NY. I made the trip through the beautiful Cherry Valley, and it really did change my life.

Gordon Morris was to all appearances a simple country farmer with an old barn converted to a garage repair shop. I was most impressed with the big field full of old iron-wheel tractors as there were only a few old sedans on the front gravel lot. He was not a very tall man, and there was no way I could have ever imagined that he was a true giant in the world of British cars in post-war New England. In the quiet shop I met Hugh Francis, the only mechanic, working on a nice Morris Traveller, next to it a big, huge Rolls Royce, and winding through the various piles of parts and tools Gordon steered me to a side shed and within it, a mostly disassembled MG TD. He said it was for sale “as is” and that all the parts were there in boxes and bins. I was hooked. Having little cash, I asked if I could pay the car off in installments, and perhaps add some of my own labor to help offset the cost. He agreed, and a wonderful relationship began.

Using my recently acquired sewing machine, and very limited skills, I did some basic sewing jobs for various cars. Each time I brought something back, I got to see a little more of the world of Gordon. One day he took me to “the bunker” where I saw what I now know were absolutely priceless cars including a Henley Rolls (one of four), an MGA still with the shipping stickers from the dock in New Jersey where Gordon picked it up from JS Inskip, and a stunning MG K3 in full race preparation. Gordon was one of the pioneers who brought the magic of MG from the big metro areas to the rural countryside and who, through his own racing and touring, inspired a whole generation of devotees, including me.

After nearly a year, the long-awaited day arrived. My friend borrowed his father’s big car with a trailer hitch so we could tow my basketcase TD home on a home-made tow bar, and with the fenders tied down with ropes. The remaining parts were in old wooden milk boxes, and I could not have been more excited.

It took me most of a year to get the car sorted out, and a bunch of time sweeping the floor at a body shop to work off the cost of a paint job—and some more time polishing old silver plates to work off the cost of chrome plating my TD parts—but I did finally get the car together only to find out that I had a badly damaged steering wheel. I took a trip out to Gordon’s, and he calmly pulled a slightly dusty box from a very dusty shelf, and in it was a brand-new mottled TD wheel in the original box. That was the last time I ever saw Gordon, because I did not know that all the while he was dying of cancer and the TD project was one he knew he could not finish. I am sure he really wanted it to go to some enthusiastic kid who would treasure it forever, and that is exactly what I have done. It is 47 summers later, I am still driving the car, with a now faded lacquer paint job, the hood hinges still on backwards, the mottled steering wheel, and by far the most important part, a genuine “Morris Garage” sticker on the back bumper.

Sadly, Gordon never saw the car finished, but I have had the most wonderful relationship with Hugh Francis, one of the true “MG Men” of the world, who has more knowledge of these cars than can be measured and who has had more MGs in his small two-bay garage than could ever be counted. My TD was in every sense a coming-of-age project, one that would not have been possible without the help of the folks at Moss who I often called literally from the garage with a wrench in my hand trying to solve a problem. And, thanks to that experience, I went on to do some upholstery and trim work on many other MGs, including some award-winning ones owned by local collector Carl Meyer. I am now the proud grandfather of two small boys, and I hope that it will be possible for them to one day enjoy some of the excitement of these magical little cars. In the meantime, I plan to drive mine on as many sunny days as possible. MM


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