Moss Motors, Al Moss, and Me

by John Ossenfort

In 1954 when I was 13, an Air Force pilot boyfriend of our next-door neighbor crammed my brother and I into the luggage area of his MGTD and off we went. What a ride! But when I started to drive, it was in a variety of American products. When the last of these died while I was in college, I briefly had the loan of my sister’s Hillman Minx. Then a friend of my father’s decided he was getting too old for his 1954 MGTD and I acquired it.

My introduction to the vagaries of British sports cars began immediately. On the way home from buying the car, the engine sputtered and died. Luckily, I had read a lot about these cars. A quick tap on the side of the fuel pump with a roadside rock and I was on my way, at least until the float chamber again ran dry. I must be a quick learner; I had kept the rock.

My first order from Moss Motors occurred not much later. Whenever the local British Auto Parts store didn’t have the needed item, an order went out to Goleta, California. My first attempt at an SU carburetor overhaul took some time. After having spent ten years with Rochesters and Carters, I had to study the SU for a number of hours to figure out how it worked.

A few months later, I packed as much as would fit into the MG and drove from St. Louis to Texas for a new job. I happily drove the car around Houston and the state of Texas for four years, with significant help from Moss Motors. My most ambitious project was pulling and overhauling the gearbox. I discovered the advantage of experience during this episode. It took something like eight hours to remove the gearbox and strip it down. Damaged and worn pieces went on the Moss Motors order form, and the new pieces arrived quite soon—except for one seal which was on backorder. Not knowing how long it would be before that part arrived, I rebuilt the gearbox with the new parts and reinstalled it back into the car. Of course, the backordered part arrived just a few days later. With the advantage of a little experience, I again pulled the gearbox, stripped it and rebuilt it in about half the time.

In 1970 I fell off the British auto wagon, but four years later I was transferred to England—a fascinating experience for a car nut. At that time it was not unusual to see British cars that are only names today: Aston Martin DB2, Jowett Jupiter, Triumph 2000, Bristol 401, Humber Super Snipe, Jensen Interceptor, Triumph Mayflower, Lea-Francis 2-1/2-Liter, Wolseley 6. Older Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Armstrong-Siddelys, and Jaguars were common sights.

I could also get my sports car fix by attending the annual Brooklands Reunion, as the racetrack was only three miles from our house. AC Cars was about the same distance in the other direction. My local gas station was the building originally occupied by HWM, who achieved some success with modified Jaguars and Aston Martin sports cars in the ’50s.

Al Moss on track at Laguna Seca, 2008. Enjoying a lap with friends at his Second Annual Farewell Tour.

We returned to the US in 1982. But a British sports car didn’t return to my garage until 1997. We acquired a Jaguar XK120 OTS from my father-in-law, a true Jaguar fanatic, who had purchased it new in 1953. We were back contacting Moss Motors again.

A few years later, I retired and moved, along with the XK120, to northern Arizona. There my favorite connection with Moss Motors began. I joined a car club in nearby Sedona and at their first car show I met a rather short but friendly individual who was showing his Morgan 3-Wheeler. His name was Al Moss.

Al was an enthusiastic car nut. In addition to the Morgan, he also drove an early Austin (a Ruby, as I recall) and his beloved TC. He was always the first to volunteer to set up a rally for the club—often with quite tricky directions—or even a multi-day drive. One of his best events took us north into Utah, then east into Colorado, and back south again. Unfortunately, as we approached Cortez, Colorado, it began to snow. Soon a full-scale blizzard was blowing, and Al had used the space normally meant for the side curtains on his TC as additional luggage space. At our gas stop in Cortez we found some gloves for sale which we immediately purchased and presented to Al—his hands were almost frozen to the steering wheel.

We were also lucky enough to attend the Al Moss Second Annual Farewell Tour at Laguna Seca on Monterey weekend 2008. Al drove his TC from Arizona to California and then motored slowly around the track. His competitive spirit might have deserted him a bit but he loved the occasion. I believe there might even have been a Third Annual the next year.

The Copperstate 1000 rally of sports cars went through Sedona in 2011. Al and a couple of friends set up lawn chairs along the route and “graded” the cars as they passed. Al is “clocking” their speed – with a hairdryer.

When we formed a Jaguar Club in northern Arizona, Al was made an honorary member. At the time he was driving a Mazda Miata, but he installed a Jaguar leaper on the hood and referred to his car as a “Miaguar.” Unfortunately, we lost Al to brain cancer in 2012. He is still missed. His enthusiasm for life, his wonderful sense of humor, his obvious enjoyment and knowledge of everything automotive, and his friendship will not be forgotten by anyone who knew him.

My British car life continues today. As XK120 owners know, there is very little room for relaxation (or any movement at all) in the cockpit. I reached the point where I would be temporarily crippled upon getting out of the car after a three-hour drive. We still have the XK120, but for longer jaunts I acquired first a 1983 XJ6, followed by a 1987 model. And just recently I contacted Moss Motors in search of an XJ6 speedometer sensor. MM

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