by Calvin Sikstrom
My MGB Time Machine looked great next to an Austin Mini at the Show-and-Shine. Main Street was closed, and a volunteer helped me back into a spot. More than a hundred cars lined both sides of the street for several blocks. The sky was clear.
The sun was hot. Cold Lake’s Main Street baked.
“You should get that thing fixed,” he said.
My exhaust had separated from the muffler when it caught on my garage pad that morning.
This was the second event that I had ever attended and I was already sick of losing the ‘import’ class to a Mini.
I was better prepared this year. My bonnet was up and my new Blue Book was open on the wing. Within, was my entire Time Machine history. I had added a full-page photo of my wife Giggles on the cover to get more attention. She was posed sitting on that same wing, during our first date, forty-three years earlier.
I was as excited and as well prepared for this as for winning my high school science fair project. I stood beside Time Machine politely greeting people and encouraging questions. There were so many that I had no time for lunch. My feet ached. I noticed that the Mini owner was sipping white wine under a pub patio umbrella. Ha ha! She wasn’t even at her car, but I envied her a beer.
After lunch I noticed a long-haired middle-aged man slowly approaching with his hands stuffed deep in a cable knitted cardigan. He was wearing a tweed flat cap. His hair puffed out the sides over his ears. He was bug-eyed, like a Healey Sprite. He barely glanced at the Mini next to me. I supposed that the cover of my Blue Book drew him in. He flipped through it like a magazine reader in an adult store—as if his eyes weren’t big enough already. I attentively stood ready to offer explanations of the wonderful features of Time Machine. Finally, he spoke.
“Is she original?”
“As original as can be,” I crowed.
I showed him the British Motor Industry Heritage certificate at the front of my Book. Heavy beige paper and a gold seal guaranteed authenticity.
“We’ll see about that…” He took a pencil and small pad from his pocket. “That only proves its existence.” He made a note. “What’s happened since? You’re only allowed three changes you know.”
I grew defensive. “I bought the cars in ’75 and ’76. Here’re the bills of sale.”ii I rapidly flipped forward to those pages.
“Bills? Cars? Really?”
“Yes. See…here…I bought two with successive serial numbers. They’re twins.” His eyebrows raised and his mouth opened. He leaned over to look. I showed him a photo of both cars in a backyard.
“Which one is this?” He tapped the photo with his pencil.
I recited the number without hesitation. I know them as well as I know my Social Insurance Number. “…49G,” I said.
“And the front one is …48G.”
I showed him the letter from British Leyland giving information on their manufacture: 30- 31 January 1969. iv
“They were despatched from Abingdon 26 February 1969! Separate dealers retailed them in Calgary and Edmonton. There’s even the same worker’s swirl signature in the paint behind both passenger seats.”
“That’s irrelevant without the other car? Where is it?”
“I parted it to make Time Machine.”
“Well… that’s an interesting story but worthless unless all the numbers match.”
He moved to the driver’s side and looked through the windshield at my Abingdon pillow dashboard. “Yes, well at least the chassis number’s correct.”
He made another note in his pad. Then he went to the front of the car. I vainly thought that he might be impressed by my rebuilt SU carburetors. The air cleaners had original Cooper’s decals on them. The aluminum dash pots shone in the sun. Their black caps glowed.
“Hmmm.” he looked instead at the red and silver tab rivetted to the hood latch panel.
“Your commission number matches too.” He seemed disappointed.
I tried to cheer him up. “There’s a ’69 body number too.” I showed him the small blue tab on the inside of the left fender next to the radiator, and in front of the carburetors.
“That doesn’t matter.” He had finally seen my impressive carburetors. After a mere glance he declared, “They’re wrong!”
I was shocked: Impossible. I was at a loss for words.
“Your float chamber tags…” His pencil waved in their general direction.
I stared uncomprehendingly. “The front is AUD 326R and the other AUD 326F.” He licked the pencil to make another note.
“Aren’t the AUD 326es only 1969?” “They are but “F’s” for front and “R’s” for rear. You’ve got them backwards.” He tapped his pencil on the offending tabs. He shook his head. I imagined that his head under that cap was an anvil.
He moved to the other side of the engine and removed his sunglasses to see past the dipstick. “Hmmm. You have a problem… This is not the number on your Certificate?”
I had a ready explanation. “I took the 48G engine and put it into this car.” “Not original then.” He looked at me scornfully. Another note for his pad.
I found words for defense. “It’s a replacement part… When you give a man a new heart it doesn’t make him less original does it?” Flat Top mulled my words.
“From the twin you said?”
“Yup. A same day engine for sure… As original as you can be.
Just the last digit difference… Everything else is the same.”
“But you’ve had a paint job.”
“Yes,” I confessed, “but it’s matched to the original. See…” I opened the boot lid and pointed.
I was tempted to push him in, but our attention was distracted by the Mini owner who, by this time had downed a full bottle of wine. She was returning to her robin’s egg blue car: tight yellow shorts, bare midriff, and shirttails tied in a knot below her—how should I say this—her bumpers.
He turned to me and said, “Not the original blue.” Clearly Miss Mini had affected his senses.
“It’s mineral blue as close to original as possible.”
He ignored my protest. “And how about those keys?” He was not finished with me yet.
“Well I don’t know…” I hadn’t thought of that. My small keys were polished bronze by decades of use. I handed them to him.
“There’s a notch on this one… Why?”
“That’s the ignition. The other’s for the doors and boot.” “What numbers?”
I rubbed them with my thumb and strained to see the marks. A faint FS 9-something on one and FS-something-or-other on the other. The numbers were no longer legible. My “original” hopes were fading.
“Close enough,” he said. “FSes were only for ’69s.” What a relief. “I didn’t know that…” I brightened.
“You don’t know much about your machine, do you?”
“It’s still pretty original though—”
“Look, what about your muffler? I heard you drive in. I’ll bet that’s not original, is it?”
I was stunned—surely, you’re allowed to replace a muffler! How many changes had he noted? A memory clicked: my 1985 Midas replacement guarantee was in my Book! It is a bright yellow folder with flimsies inside. I handed them to him.
“You know your car’s worthless unless the numbers match.” He gave me a ‘this-might-be-the-last-straw’ look.
“See, the muffler box is ticked just the way it should be: Replacement muffler.” I showed him the “Total Satisfaction Promise.”
“That depends on why you replaced the muffler? What’s the story?”’
I composed myself and began:
There once was a beautiful girl on a warm summer evening. It took me weeks to get up enough courage to phone. I asked her to go to a wiener roast. The evening was delicious. Mountain air, animals in the fields… the MG purring… the top down… her long dark hair swirling in the wind. She wore a scarf to control it. “Mind you don’t let too much out… It could get caught in the wheel.” I said. I was pleased that she chuckled. A delicious trickle of freshness filled the air. The road became a trail, which became a track, and then a mud hole. We ploughed through but halfway across the muffler pulled off.
Flat Top looked up at me from the yellow papers. He chewed on my story for a few moments. He scanned the Midas guarantee. Finally, he said, “It says a Bosal 115-069 ALU NR-21 93.” Is that correct?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You don’t know much…”
He took a pen light from his pocket and handed me his cap. His bald head was domed like a turnip, not the flat anvil I imagined earlier. He crawled under the rear bumper near the left wheel. He wiggled far under.
“What are those numbers again…”
I read them out. He grunted and groaned as he pulled himself out, got to his knees and stood up. I handed his cap back.
“Yup. The numbers match,” he said.
“But what about that girl?”
“We had to leave the car. Caught a drunken ride back with another couple. She told me it was her worst date ever.”
“It seems you weren’t a good match then.” He handed the Midas folder back to me. “Who’s on the cover of your Book?”
“My wife Giggles,” I said. “Is she original?” he asked. “She sure is,” I said.
“Congratulations. You have to be well matched to maintain an MG, and a marriage, this long.”
He recorded a final mark in his pad and left to meet Miss Mini. MM