Driving an MG-TC to the Gathering of the Faithful
by Norman Tuck
Sunday I was up at 6:30am, filled with exuberance. I’m usually on artist’s time: late to bed, up by 10. But this day was special. Allan and Terry and I were going to the GOF West. My pack looked so-o neat bungeed to the spare tire. Too cool for school. We were starring in our own “Route 66,” the geriatric version.
10:00am, waiting for Terry at Mickey D’s in Morgan Hill. So excited, I stood by the side of the road waiting for the first glimpse of his Black Beauty. It was like waiting for the Sears-Roebuck truck bringing my first two-wheeler.
As Terry chewed his cholesterol biscuit, Allan and I adjusted his clutch in the parking lot, set too tight. Readying the Black Beauty for its first long haul since its long restoration.
Next stop, Monterey. Using the Garmin in the TC was like texting with a typewriter, but it found my friend’s house. His mother owned a Healey 3000 and an E Type Coupe that he wanted us to look over. How much were they worth? Mike O’Connor joined us to give his two cents. We pretended to be doing something useful, as we rummaged through the vehicles.
35 years ago my friend’s mother had parked the cars where they are now, not knowing that this, this, this would be that last time that she would cut the ignition, remove the keys and leave them on the front table. The cars and their owner had become victims of time. Rust in the floorboards, rust in the brain.
Lunch at Rio Something-or-Other. The waiter’s father was an old car guy. Allan didn’t know him but Terry did. Terry reminisced about the time he and the father did this and that. The father doesn’t get around much anymore, but we do.
Highway 1, Terry in the lead. Terry was feeling his oats. Never again will I complain about Terry holding up the pack. Sometimes he’s just not motivated, this time he is.
This is what its all about. Fog lights on, upshifting, downshifting, and scaring the buhjeezuz out of Allan, as I cross the centerline while catching my airborne hat. In their 60+ years, how many times had these California cars traveled this familiar path?
We 6’d it in San Simeon. Some people don’t like viewing themselves as the type that stays in a Motel 6. We didn’t mind. Allan took a walk down the strip of service road in front of the Motel. He found nothing of interest. We had dinner at the adjoining restaurant. I don’t remember what I ate, but it was okay.
Up and out for the final stage to Buellton. We landed at the Marriott, going First Class. This place was modeled after the place in San Simeon where we didn’t stay.
Allan introduced me to everyone. I don’t remember their names, but they had grey hair, and not much of it. The Gathering of the Old Farts. They all were as nice as could be. I felt as if I’d known them forever and will miss them when they’re gone.
I made a visit to the regalia shop and came across a beautiful, little, golden TC mounted onto a pin. There was only one like it, and I bought it instantly. With a smile, I attached it to my hat for safekeeping.
We unloaded, and I looked over the car. It was whining now. The tach drive had been spewing thick black grease since before San Simeon. I removed the tach drive from the back of the generator, and the whining grew louder. Fortunately, I was in the land of the High Priests of the MG. Someone said, “Go see Jerry, he’s the one over there with the grey hair wearing an MG cap.” I grabbed the closest one who fit that description.
Jerry put a screwdriver to his ear and held it against various parts of the idling engine. “It’s the rear bushing on the generator. Nothing to worry about. You can go on like this for a long time. You set the fan belt too tight.” Allan had told me to loosen the fan belt four years ago, but I knew better.
We had dinner at the Hitching Post where we ate with Allan’s friend Barry. He had restored more cars than he could remember. He told stories about Packards, and Rolls Royces, and Bentley Continentals. Stories about accidents, and car events, and overturned trailers, and customers that couldn’t pay their bills. He spoke of drop-head coupes and convertible-sedans. He even mentioned a Hispano-Suiza. Talk couldn’t get any better than that.
That night my paranoia hit a high spot, and at 1:00am I went to the parking lot and removed the fan belt. Like the dog that did not bark, the quiet told the tale. The whining stopped. Jerry was right. Allan was right. It was the rear bushing on the generator. I had set the belt too tight.
The day of the car show. I searched the room, and I searched the car, but I couldn’t find my hat with its beautiful pin. “Oh well,” I thought, “it will probably show up later.”
At the car show I was number 35. Surely the red stripe taped on my passenger door would make mine the “Best TC,” maybe “Best in Show.”
I don’t like the judging of cars. To me, each car represents its owner’s personality, and you wouldn’t vote for “Best Person.” The audacity of people taking it unto themselves to judge my car. Who are they to judge?
I voted for Terry’s car because he is the Best Person. I also voted for a TD that once may have been yellow. It had a big, black cruise-control box like the one that had been on my ’84 Oldsmobile. There were fluid leaks from places that didn’t contain fluids. I don’t think it won “Best in Show” or “Best TD,” but I knew it was the best.
Allan and Terry were my passports into a world of wonderful people. Once again I marveled at how a collection of machinery could bring so many people together into close personal relationships that would last lifetimes.
This was the best day. I had researched my generator problem. Moss had bushings for about ten bucks and new generators for $220. They were only 35 miles away. Moss Motors was a place where I had been sending money since 1961. A Mecca for the MG, second only to Abingdon. The source. I imagined myself working on my TC in front of Moss Motors, and my head swam with delight at the possibility.
Jerry said that the Moss generators were made in India but were good, with iron end-plates instead of pot metal. The thought of an Indian generator sounded vaguely exotic to me, and I wanted one. I would go for it.
Allan and I would start off by taking the GOF rally route, and then leave the route to go on to Moss. Terry and fellow Rough Rider, Eric, wanted to go, too. So they followed us to 440 Rutherford St., Goleta.
The ride started out hot but got freezing cold as we worked our way across the long pass, through the fog, down toward the coast. My tach was disconnected and I missed watching the long, skinny needle doing its chronometric tap dance.
Then we were there. Moss was smaller than I had expected, but I was not disappointed.
When two parts guys came into the showroom I was surprised by how young they were. They were almost boys. I had always imagined that the voices on the phone were of old guys that had been driving TCs since childhood. When they brought out the generator, it looked good, and the installation commenced.
While I worked, Allan, Terry and Eric took pictures and kibitzed with some of the Moss guys that had come out to take a look. One of the Moss guys offered us tools, and I borrowed a metric socket that I needed to attach the Indian nut onto the Indian shaft on the Indian generator. It turned out that the socket guy was the owner of Moss Motors. No crown, no throne, just a regular guy.
I was hard at work, with everyone watching me. But I had done it all many times before, and things went well. It was a magical event, hanging out in front of Moss with good friends, fixing my own little TC in the California parking lot. I had reached the high point of my automotive career.
That night Allan, Eric, Terry and I ate at the nearby Firestone Inn. We talked about cars and had the usual “organ recital,” where old men compared notes on various cures for various ailments. Then we went back to the Motel for talk of air-races, and Lycoming Engines, and of the “Dancing Daughters” who ran PAs at Le Mans in 1935.
I got Allan to reluctantly navigate for me at the Funkhana. We didn’t do very well, although Allan danced a beautiful rendition of “I heard it through the grape vine” while stomping plastic grapes in a little, wooden barrel. During the “blindfolded driver” event Allan told me to turn right but neglected to tell me to straighten out, until we reached a curb far outside of the intended course.
That afternoon began the long process of packing up to leave. I hung out in the parking lot and noticed Eric and another P Series owner comparing cars. I hinted around long enough that Eric offered to take me for a ride in his PB. I had never been driven in a pre-war car before, and it was a thrill. I liked the non-synchro gearbox. I envisioned the straight cut gears meshing with one another like the train of an old clock. I hadn’t realized that even the most ordinary driver in the “old days” possessed a mechanical sensitivity that has now been largely lost. For a brief period I wanted one of these old beasts for myself, particularly a J2. Then I realized that I didn’t have the personality to restore and preserve one of these works of art in the manner in which it deserved.
That night at the awards dinner Allan and I didn’t win any awards. But, anyway, we were tired and ready to go home the next day.
The ride home was anticlimactic. Eight hours of cold on the 101 with a “senior special” meat loaf lunch in Salinas. Our cars ran well and we had nothing much to complain about.
I slept, on and off, for the next 20 hours. Three days later I was surprised to find a little package in the mail. It was, of course, my hat and pin, souvenirs of the fun I had had and the good people that I met on my vacation. MM