My father was a wonderful man, devoted and nurturing to his four children. This was especially true of his two sons, who he taught character, self-reliance, and ability to self instruct. I suspect the last was foremost in his mind in 1964 when he “loaned” me, a college junior dweeb, the magnificant sum of $1,000 to buy an MG TD.
This was large money back then, and though he never said it, I’m sure he thought I would trash the car in six months. Almost fifty years later, I am still driving it, caring for it, and thinking of him every time I drive it.
Soon after I took possession I learned that a True Believer in Goleta, California was claiming to offer everything in the way of parts for T-series cars. I placed an order and became a regular customer. (That Executive Wing at Moss Motors was funded by me over the years.)
The TD (made 1951, number 8883) was not in quite the “Superior Condition” as advertised, but it was serviceable and I drove it for the remainder of my college years. This involved traveling back and forth between Pittsburgh and my home in Syracuse, including Christmas trips when the New York State Thruway was closed by snow storms. My mother was terrified, but my father nodded sagely.
The car was not quite the chick magnet I had hoped (my fraternity brothers had Corvettes) but I had a ball driving it. I drove it to Coral Gables, FL nonstop with a frat brother, and to Detroit to visit my brother, occasioning a broken crankshaft in Fremont, OH.
Heartbroken, I towed it to Syracuse, stored it in my parents’ garage, and tried to sell it busted motor and all—with no takers.
After I became a graduate student (definition: someone who doesn’t have enough sense to leave when the party’s over), I had enough time and enough bucks to get TD8883 running again. I found a local mechanic who could source a used crankshaft (junkyards still had them back then), and we got it running again.
This is where my Graduate Education In British Mechanics began—I learned that freeze plugs weren’t simply glued in, and plugs fired when points opened, not closed. Also that gearboxes had countless synchro balls that ejected at even the thought of disassembly. And that over-tightening screws on pot metal SU carb bodies was a really bad idea.
Eventually I left Gradual School, took my first real job teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, and marvelled at how rich I was (by the prevailing formula: monthly salary / six-pack of beer).
Before long I was married to a local girl who proved adept at catching synchro balls in mid air, and we set up housekeeping with the TD as the family car. One of our prized possessions is a pen and ink illustration done at that time by a talented friend of ours. It whimsically depicts us in TD8883 in a “Cow Jumped Over The Moon” tribute.
I quickly learned the No. 1 Rule of Britsh Sports Cars: They Are Terrific As Long As You Don’t Confuse Them With Transportation. This led us to own a series of other fun “family” cars, including a Corvair Spyder turbo, Ford Cortina Series II, and a BMW 2002 (actually, two of them).
Along the way I decided to restore the coachwork on the TD, with the help of local wizard Fenton Bagley who supplied rough-cut ash timbers. His instructions stated clearly “after each step check door fit.” I followed his instructions scrupulously, and when I was finished: Lo! the doors didn’t fit. Oh well.
After seven years (academics will understand the timing) I felt a push out of Pitt and a pull west to the University of Utah. We embarked on the trip west in the 2002 towing the TD and discovered on the first hill that (a) the load was too much for the Beemer, and (b) it was running on only three cylinders. After depositing the TD at the moving company to add to the household van load, we arrived safely in Zion.
The TD languished for a few years as we got our feet anchored, but eventually I got it back on the road. Rattling around the engineering building I ran into Bill Van Moorhem, TD and MGA owner and cofounder of the British Motor Club of Utah (motto: “If you love your car, we love your car!”). This connected me with many other terrific British car lovers in the area, too many to mention here—except Mike Bailey. Mike runs a British car sanctuary and rehabilitation center in Salt Lake, and is a Moss rep. Mike did a terrific job rebuilding my TD engine, and this, plus the MGA rear end conversion Bill Van Moorhem talked me through, made my TD a Certified Real Runner.
Which brings me to the current status of my MG TD. Good news: it’s still not a show car but a great runner—most recently I drove it with the BMCU contingent to MG 2011 in Reno across central Nevada on US 50 “The Loneliest Road in America.” Let me tell you, our cars made no impression whatsoever in those dust forsaken Nevada towns, ’cuz the clock is dialed back 50 years there. I’m still wiping the smile off my face from that drive.
Other than the MGA rear end there have been only three customizations to my TD: a teak dash, an Old English Sheepdog radiator mascot (try watching the rear end of that for 1000 miles), and a chrome dryer ductwork air conditioning system (look it up: that’s what the Brits called ventilation in the 50’s).
TD8883 hasn’t won any awards, except I’ve lost count how many GoF-West 1000-mile awards. These mean more to me than any darn tarnishable cups.
Owning British sports cars of the 50’s is truly a slippery slope. In 1995 my wife and I took in the Telluride Bluegrass festival and found a TR3A for sale in the Four Corners’ Big Nickel. I bit on it, and sad(?) to say it has taken over the long range touring honors from the TD.
But slip, slip: in 2001 I bought a Jaguar XK120 Open Two Seater from fellow BMCU member Pete Gerity, and shortly thereafter bought an XK140 Drop Head Coupe spotted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (my wife needed a Jag too, right?). Both of those have been successfully restored.
Why did I sell the XK120? To make room in my garage and my wallet for the latest family member: a 1958 Aston Martin DB Mark III. Slippery, indeed.
So the TD doesn’t get out much any more in comparison to its stable-mates, but it continues to occupy a place of honor at the rear of my shop, basking in its glorious history. Call it semi-retired—how much better can it get over almost 50 years of ownership? From time to time I stroke it and tell it I’m looking to put it out to stud and let it sire a brood of Miatas.
Or maybe I should pass it on to some young buck(ette) who will enjoy it for what it is—as long as s/he promises not to put a Volvo mill in it.
Instead I’ll probably just keep it tucked away until I pass. In fact, I think I’ll add a codacil to my will directing that I be buried in it—like that lady in Texas did with her Cadillac?
Just double me up and put my face in the A/C duct.
By Gary Lindstrom, with apologies to Paul Simon