by Rob Corn
I decided to call my brother-in-law who is a Master Mechanic and an owner of several vehicles from across the pond. In minutes, we found a break in the condenser wire. Unfortunately for me, none of the boxes on the front porch held a new condenser—another call to Moss Motors.
At this point, I was on a first name basis with the young sales lady at Moss. My wife began giving me the evil eye every time I would call her by name or laugh at some British car humor. I would either have to restrain my natural, God-given charm or find a new parts supplier. I would like to add that it is hard to find a good parts supplier for a fifty-year-old car, so I did the reasonable thing—I restrained my “charm.”
When the condenser arrived, I called my brother-in-law, confident that with his help I could fix the car in no time at all. After some hemming and hawing, he informed me that he was going to be pretty busy for the next several years or longer (if necessary), and I was basically on my own. As a side note: I know him well enough to know that this spring he is going to want to help with the headers and exhaust system.
To call myself a man of many talents—a renaissance man, if you will—would not be truthful, but I do like typing it and seeing it in print. Therefore, grabbing my screwdriver, I marched down to the driveway with the confidence I needed, and surgically replaced the condenser.
The tension was palpable. I turned the key… Nothing. Maybe it was time to throw in the towel.
I have now owned the car for approximately three months. I drove it home on the day I took possession of it from my friend, and then to the tire store the next day. Since that time the car had only traveled courtesy of AAA. The good news being that my tires were still new, brand new.
With the car sitting at its now all too familiar place in the driveway, the neighbors were starting to place wagers as to whether it would ever run again, or if we would just plant bushes in it. I started to question the wisdom of this purchase. I then remembered it was in my first MG that I took my wife-to-be on our first date. (She also had an MGA coupe we when met.) We even naively picked a Bugeye Sprite for our first car as newlyweds. Needless to say, this was not the first time I was unable to get my British car to start.
I took to the internet to find anyone in the state of North Carolina that expressed any knowledge of British cars. If the mechanic liked the Beatles, that was reason enough to add them to the list of potential garages. One call led to the next, and then to the next, and then the next.
And then I found him, a fellow who lived near Asheville and worked on MGs in his garage. He offered to take a look, but I would have to find a way to transport Rita to his place as AAA had lost interest in moving my car any further.
As we were talking about the wonders of British engineering and the strides that Lucas Electronics had made since Ben Franklin first came to grips with the concept of electricity, he made a suggestion.
“I tell you what… before you go to all the trouble of hauling your car down here, do me a favor. Check if the condenser is hooked up wrong.”
“Wrong? There is only one wire. How can you hook up one wire wrong?” I asked.
“Well,” he said in a slow Carolina drawl, “you have to be sure that the wire is on the correct side of the insulator. Otherwise, you still won’t have any power to the distributor.”
“Insulator? What insulator?!”
I ran out to the car. I moved the condenser wire to the “hot” side of the nearly invisible insulator. Sweat was pouring off my face and palms as I put the key in the ignition. Slowly turning the key, the engine roared to life as if it had just come off the assembly line. Somewhere in the distance fireworks exploded in the sky. Corks flew effortlessly from Champagne bottles. Children danced in the street, and I am sure that I saw a lion lay next to a lamb. Could it have been this simple all along?
Marcee thought that I was having a seizure, but no, I once again owned an MGB that ran. I hurried back to the phone to tell my new best friend in Asheville that he was a genius. I would be in his debt for the rest of our natural lives.
Now, here is where things got surprising. He said that he had been talking with his wife while I was fixing the condenser wire. They were planning a trip to Banner Elk to see the changing of the leaves. If they came, he would be happy to run by the house and reset the points and timing if I would like for him to. The next thing I remember is waking up on the driveway with Marcee wiping my face with a cold damp towel.
Only in places like the high country of North Carolina can you find a mechanic who can diagnosis your car over the phone and then volunteer to make a house call.
The Proud Owner
I spent the following week in anticipation of my tune-up. We took short drives to enjoy the autumn colors of “leaf season.” Every day, one more small project was completed and a new item was added to the list of working lights, gauges, and switches.
Saturday morning my new best friend showed up at our house with tool kit in tow. He immediately started to operate on my recovering MG. Within 30 minutes, he had taken off the distributor, reset the points, set the timing, and fixed the headlight switch. (Over the last week some smoke had escaped from my headlight wiring). I was elated to say the least. Even after paying him for the work and an $80 house-call fee, I felt as if I had won the lottery. The car didn’t just run, it purred. I grabbed my wife and with my “traveling mix” of music we hit the road for a short drive.
With the top down, we were transported back to the seventies and were on our first date once again. There are few better feelings than driving a slow car fast along the mountain roads leaving a wake of colored leaves in our path.
The next few weeks were spent buying parts, fixing wiring issues that were brought about by driving a 50-year-old car for the first time in many years. Even a little smoke and the occasional smell of burning wiring could not dampen our renewed excitement of owning another MG.
With winter was just around the corner, there were just a few other jobs that needed to be done before putting Rita away. I talked our local foundry into welding a spare tire mount in the trunk. The original had mysteriously been removed at some point in the car’s life. Just inches away from the gas tank, I watched from an increasing distance as the torch was lit and the bracket welded into place.
I found a gas station that sold gas without ethanol, and with a little fuel additive squirted into the mix, the car would be ready for a winter nap.
As the weather changed, we knew it was time to put Rita in the basement. I built two homemade ramps to help navigate the car under the house but held off till the last minute. One morning, just before a rainstorm, my wife and I ran outside, grabbed the ramps, and pulled Rita inside. With an inch to spare on each side of the car, it slipped into our basement. As the rain began in earnest, Marcee and I vacuumed and polished Rita before we put the cover on and turned off the basement lights. MM