Whatever happened to that British Racing Green MG TC in the academy-award winning film, The Way We Were? 39 years later, I can tell you that it’s happily parked in my garage.
About 9 years later, circa 1966, I started searching for a sports car. I was considering a Triumph TR-3 and found one at a car dealer called, “The Man In Red” on Ventura Blvd., in Encino, CA. While looking at the TR-3, I was directed to a rather shabby 1947 MG TC, which renewed the old memory of the Black and Red one. That got me started. My search for a better TC brought me to Mike Goodman’s repair shop, at that time located on Pico Blvd, in West Los Angeles. On his bulletin board, I saw an add for a 1949, British Racing Green, MG TC. It was gorgeous, and only $600 more than the shabby one I saw in Encino. My brother and I pooled our savings, and acquired the car for $1,800.
An interesting phone call
Seven years later, in 1973, I was a pre-law student, when I got a call from the Transportation Department at the Warner Brothers Studios. It seems that the black MG TC, which they had formerly used in the T. V. Movie “Love Story”, with Ryan O’Neal, was unavailable for a new movie that they were filming. A high-school friend of mine, who worked as a grip for Warner Brothers, told them that I had a TC. They asked if I would consider renting it to them for a week or so.
I thought it would be cool to have my car in a movie, and they would pay me outrageous money, for that time ($350 per week), to use my MG. I, of course, jumped at the chance.
Sound studio 22 by means of New York City
They wanted the see the car first, which turned out to be a real kick-in-the pants for my brother and me. We drove about 12 miles, to the Warner Brothers Studios, in Burbank, CA. We were then directed, by the gate guard, to the proper sound studio. But before going there, we “mistakenly” made an incorrect turn (accidents can happen), and ended up cruising throughout the studio grounds.
I could almost hear the honky-tonk piano playing, as we drove down the dirt road of “Western Town.” We found ourselves in the middle of a remarkably authentic old-west town, which included a general store, barber shop, saloon, dress shop, Marshall’s office, and, of course, an “Undertake.” We stopped in front of the “Longbranch Saloon,” shut off the motor and tried to imagine how many stars had walked down the wooden walkways and through those swinging doors.
Yes, they had all been here, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Doris Day, Cary Grant, “Bogey” (Treasure of Sierra Madre), Elizabeth Taylor (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”), Paul Newman (“Hud”), Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway (“Bonnie and Clyde”), Clint Eastwood (“Dirty Harry”) and yes, a likeable young actor with big political ambitions named Ronald Reagan. They had all worked on the Warner Brothers lot, and walked these streets. We could feel their presence. There we sat in our 1949 MG TC, just soaking it all in. What a unique and unforgettable experience. Looking back, I would have paid Warner Brothers the $350 for that 30 minute excursion.
We then traveled down a New York tenement set. The two-story brownstone apartments, that lined the street, had us believing we were in Manhattan. Years earlier, on this very street, a young Marlon Brando had strutted his talents in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Further on, we drove through a typical mid-1950s neighborhood. We stopped and viewed the house where a young troubled kid had lived with his parents, in one of my favorite movies. We were on the same street where James Dean had cruised, in his black ’50 Merc, Natalie Wood in tow, while filming “Rebel Without a Cause.”
When we finally arrived at the proper sound stage. The Head of Warner Brother’s Transportation Department, Jack Belou, met us and brought out film director Sydney Pollack. Mr. Pollack walked out of the sound stage, and saw the British Racing Green TC, with Oxblood seats. He walked around the car while nodding with approval. He told Mr. Belou, “I like the colors”, and added, “I think Bob (Robert Redford) can drive this.” He thanked us for bringing the car, shook our hands and he was off.
Mr. Belou told us to return the car on Monday morning, and we said good-bye. As we pulled away from the sound stage, we “unwittingly” made another wrong-turn, and found our way to the studio exit gate by means of New York City, Casablanca, and Tombstone, Arizona … What a blast!
A “new” single exhaust
Ten days later, I was informed that they were finished with the car, and that I could pick it up.
What was anticipated as another very pleasant experience, turned a bit sour when I saw the car. The TC was filthy, which didn’t concern me that much, but there was also a rather large dent in the front splash pan. I showed the dent to Mr. Belou, who acted very surprised and assured me that he would honor any repair estimate. This lifted my spirits a bit and I enjoyed another jaunt through the studio streets, before going home.
When I got home, however, my brother noticed that our really cool twin pipes, had somehow become a single exhaust.
Back in the 60s it was common to put an Austin-Healey muffler on British sports cars to turn a single exhaust into duals. I had done this, to the TC, and run the two pipes out the back of the car, on the drivers side, about two inches apart. It looked and sounded great. But when we lifted the car to see what had happened to the other pipe, we found that it had been removed, with an axe! Seriously, we could see where some ax strokes had missed their mark and left a slice in the piping.
I immediately called Mr. Belou, who, again, acted very surprised and assured me that he would honor any estimate for repairs.
Looking back, I imagine that the dual pipes didn’t look “period correct”, for what Mr. Pollack had in mind. I also imagine that he had 30 or 40 studio workers on the clock, at the time, and used the fastest means possible to correct the problem. I took the MG to Mike Goodman’s garage, for the repairs, and Mr. Belou was true to his word.
A tear in the seat is explained
About two weeks after picking up the car, from the studios, I noticed that one of the seams, on the drivers-side cushion, was split. I wasn’t sure if this was from the rental session, or just normal wear and tear. It would be eight months later, in Grauman’s Chineese Theater, before I discovered its origin.
In one of the shots, Redford and Streisand pull up to a country club to play tennis. Redford exits, in a normal manner, but Ms. Streisand stands up in the car, steps on the drivers seat and hops over the door. I almost stood up in the theater, pointed and yelled “A-ha!” I didn’t, but it certainly explained that mysterious tear in the seat cushion.
In another scene, there’s a great shot of the TC being driven by Redford up a country road. I didn’t realize it in the theater, but when I got home, I had another “Aha” moment. The only way they could have gotten such a close-up shot, of a moving car, was to physically mount a movie camera (in those days, quite heavy), to the front of my car. That explained the dent in my front splash pan. I never realized that movies could be such a learning experience.
Worth it, not worth it…
About twenty years ago, I completely restored the TC. I left the original leather Oxblood seats (Streisand’s tear having been repaired), and changed the British Racing Green to Black.
Over the years, when I’d mentioned my TC and people would ask to see it, it’s been fun to tell them, “You already have.” When they look at me puzzled, I ask if they ever saw the movie, “The Way We Were”. I always get an answer like, “Oh sure, I saw that movie, with Redford and Streisand”. I then tell them that, “In that case, you’ve already seen my TC.”
I don’t know that I’ll ever rent another vehicle to the studios. Back in the early 1970’s, that check from Screen Gems, for $350.00, went a long way, for a struggling student. But today, if they wanted the car for “The Way We Were, Part 2”, they’d have to seriously up the ante, and agree to let me be present, during the filming, before I’d even consider it. One “on the spot” exhaust alteration is quite enough for one lifetime.
By Ron Fiore