Reviving a Storybook Hero

By Jeremiah Lancaster

I’m having a hard time remembering details of that dark period of time when our MG family did not have an MG. But I remember clearly how it ended. I remember commenting how Whidbey Island, Washington, would be the perfect place to own an MGB. Nice roads, good weather, and you were never too far away that you couldn’t push the thing home if you had to. My father and I both had MGBs at young ages, as well as the stories of having the lack of funds to keep them up to spec. It wasn’t long after my comment that a little B without an engine appeared in the garage, and my father started building the MGB he always wanted. As the current caretaker of that car, years later, I can honestly say he built something special. But that’s a story for another time. Today we’re talking about The Red Car.

There are two types of car enthusiast, according to Peter Egan of Road & Track magazine: those who have never heard of “The Red Car,” and those who read it at a young age and had their lives ruined by it.

My father’s TC, HTF-933, started out as a black police car in Lancashire, England. It was delivered after rolling off the line in 1947. They’ve confirmed it in their roster. However, detailed records of its exploits were lost to the ages.

An old photo of the TX in the early 70's when it was painted white.

An old photo of the TX in the early 70’s when it was painted white.

It was retired by the police in the mid fifties, to a private owner who drove it sporadically into the sixties. At some point it was painted red. The police accessories were removed and separated from the car. A tow hitch was added. Around this time the TC jumped continents, wound up in New Jersey, and was painted white. In the early ’70s the car was dismantled for restoration. As it has happened so many times, the rebuild never occurred, and the car was packed into crates. The car in dismantled form changed hands multiple times over the next 40 years. Amazingly enough, it stayed fairly complete. It eventually wound up in New York, where my father discovered it advertised for sale in 2011.

My dad has had MGs his whole life, and hooked both of his sons on them in the process. He’s never shown his cars or talked about them, so when he expressed interest in me writing up the TC’s story and submitting it, I had to give it a shot. He had by now completed several MGBs and MGAs. He had restored a TD of his own years before, and started looking for another, or better yet, a TC. HTF-933, while rough, dismantled, and across the country, was too interesting to pass on.

He negotiated the deal from Washington State, and sent me from Pennsylvania, to pick up the car. I confirmed the motor turned over by hand, as advertised, then loaded it into the back of my Jeep Cherokee. Interior panels, crates of hardware, and precious items went in around the motor. The frame went on the roof, and the body tub, wheels, wings, and axles went into a small rented trailer. It was quite the sight, to be sure. For me that was a fun winter, having a full size TC model kit to mock up in my garage and basement. It was agony for my father, however, having to wait for my daily update of pictures. I photographed and cataloged every bit that came with the car, so he could assess what he had and what he was missing. He started hoarding parts back in Washington. When the mountain passes cleared we met in Yellowstone for a camping trip and to transfer the bits of car into his pickup.

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Over the next six months of evenings and weekends the TC was reborn.7-measuring

He began with the body tub. The original frame was dry-rotted, however in the boxes was a nearly complete Ash wood frame kit. Using West System epoxy and marine hardware the frame was assembled and the original bodywork reinstalled, after being taken to bare metal and refinished. The original dash was usable only as a template, however he sourced a beautiful piece of Koa to replace it. Most of the original gauges and switches were present, and restorable.

The front wings and rear fenders were stripped, from white paint, to red, to the original black underneath. All four were in poor shape, the rears reduced to a lattice of rust when the paint was removed. Replacements were holding up the project, so the originals were restored with epoxy and cloth. Not a long-term solution, but a step closer to getting the car on the road where it belonged. Once the momentum on a project of this scope is broken, it can be hard or impossible to regain. Since the restoration, better condition original rear fenders have been sourced and are waiting in the rafters for paint and install. The rest of the body was amazingly complete, considering the car’s history. All of the steel panels were taken to bare metal, rust proofed and coated with epoxy primer before painting. When it came time to pick a color, he was very tempted to return the car to black as when it was new. That may still happen. For the time being it is proper “Red Car” red.

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When the bodywork reached a good stopping point, the chassis was prepared. The frame was already bare for the most part, but it was sanded down, rust-treated, then coated copiously with black chassis paint. The rear axle was complete, but when it was opened the pinion and ring gear were missing teeth, and the axle shafts were stripped. Several donor axles were purchased and torn down, however all were in the same or worse condition. Eventually a new old stock pinion was located and installed. Axles were eventually sourced and fitted. A new wiring harness was installed, along with new hydraulics, using a lot of the original fittings. Coker tires were fitted to the original wire wheels after cleaning and truing.

The biggest surprise of the restoration occurred when the engine was opened up to rebuild. No wonder it turned over so freely, the pistons and connecting rods were gone! And the biggest hurdle: the crankshaft was now a two-piece unit! A complete spare motor was located, and a single motor came together out of the two. Amazingly, five months after the car arrived in his garage, Dad fired up the motor for the first time.

7-TCAfterThe pile of parts came with most of the original red leather interior, however the years of storage had not been kind to any of it. The original top was far beyond use, but the frame was restorable. The seat and door panels all served as good patterns for replacements. Some comedian in the car’s past had installed an ejection seat warning plaque on the dash. That was cleaned up and added to the Koa dash.

As parts began coming back from the chrome shop to be installed, the rolling chassis very quickly became an assembled car. I flew out to visit not long after, and took my turn driving the TC around the yard. It took a couple more months of fine-tuning before seeing regular road use, but it became a regular driver as soon as possible. I have to say with pride and amazement that this work was completed in my dad’s spare time. He had a full-time 8-5 job working at a boat yard, but would come home every night to the little TC. It’s astonishing to think about how much was achieved in such a short time period.

In the five years that have passed since the restoration, Dad and the TC have relocated to Arizona. They get out a least once a week for a morning drive. Never intended as a show car, nevertheless it never fails to turn heads. No visit to see dad is complete without a ride in the TC. As time allows around his other car projects, he hopes to improve the bodywork with better panels, and potentially returning the car to black. And, I happen to know that somewhere in his workshop he has a supercharger tucked away for it. MM

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