Earlier this year I bought myself a 1975 MGB for my 65th birthday. I have pleasant memories of owning a well-worn 1962 MG Midget and then a rusty 1954 Austin Healy 100 while I was in college. But why buy a 39 year old British sports car now? I had trouble articulating my reasons. I figured that before long the authorities would be revoking my license for hitting the accelerator instead of the brake and driving through a storefront window. So I might as well drive something that I like while I still could. When friends asked about my new acquisition, I casually replied that it was a pathetic attempt to recapture my youth. Despite the impossibility of achieving that goal, the MGB has already proven to be well worth its relatively modest cost.
Years ago I enjoyed maintaining my British vehicles despite having less than a strong mechanical aptitude. In 1968 I bought my first car, the Midget, for $425. It came with a broken windshield. My father, a neighbor who had tools, and I managed to install a new windshield despite none of us knowing how to do it. We shared a feeling of glorious victory when it was finished. It was the first of many repairs that I fumbled my way through. Each time I managed to fix something it produced a glowing sense of accomplishment. Today I have rediscovered the enjoyment of tinkering with a car. Although a modern car is a million times more reliable that any old MG, the complex collection of plastic covers and computer modules under the hood is an absolute mystery to me. The MGB on the other hand is elegantly simple. I have been studying the Moss catalog and shop manuals to learn which parts do what. I replaced a leaky gasket. With the advice from my new online friends on the MG Experience forum, I removed some non-functioning smog equipment to unclutter the engine bay. I changed my own oil for the first time in more than forty years just because I could. The greasy work has been a refreshing new challenge; and unlike my younger days, I now have enough money to pay a real mechanic if I mess things up badly enough.
Back in the late 1960’s nothing beat a carefree, top down drive on a warm summer day. The coolness factor also contributed to my self-esteem. Back at college, girls to whom I had previously been just a face in the crowd, wanted to pile into the Midget to go to a football game. It was red and shiny and we all wanted to be seen in it. Today, with my MGB it’s still great sport to wind up the engine and go up and down through the gears. I am always looking for an excuse to cruise around with the top down. My journeys now are more likely to be something like a quick trip to the dry cleaner rather than trying to impress young women. Although it’s now gray hair blowing around on my head, I still feel pretty cool.
Friends and strangers, who are roughly in my age category, see my MGB and often recount their own youthful memories of British sports cars. Although they are rare now, in the 60’s and 70’s they were very popular, especially the MG, because it was the common man’s sports car. I hear great stories about road trips, adventures and misadventures decades ago, which are fondly recalled by my fellow baby boomers. Those cars were small and finicky back then, but our youthful outlooks allowed us to value their intangible benefits over practicality. So it is now for me as I set aside serious considerations to have some fun with a very old MGB. Maybe, I actually have recaptured a bit of my youth.
By Robert S. Mangiaratti