Vintage Racer

By Alan Paradise

As we all have come to know, British sports cars defined an entire automotive marketplace. In the not-so-distant past, British sport cars dominated the two-seater market. Models from Triumph, MG, Jaguar, Lotus, Morgan, and Austin Healey could be seen on the streets of America and throughout Europe on an everyday basis. Over the decades, the numbers slowly decreased as production problems and increasing competition from Japanese, German and American automakers all but forced the closure of British motorcar dealerships.

As uncommon as a British sports car is today, in its heyday, nothing could stir the soul like a drive in a good old English open-air two-seater. During the most popular years, from the late 1950s to the end of the ’60s, the sound of the tuned exhaust, the stiff clutch, rigid steering and unforgiving ride were all part of the mystique.

Of all the special cars that came across the Atlantic during the 1950s and ’60s, the MGA remains one of the more legendary, not to mention desirable. With close to 100,000 produced from 1955-1962, the sensual bodylines and novel front grille made the car a symbol of a sporty, free-spirited lifestyle. The MGA never claimed to be quick; in fact, it was dreadfully slow in comparison to Corvettes and Thunderbirds of the day. It did, however, possess a certain style and grace which made it a popular touring vehicle. It had romance, creating a love affair bond with the driver.

Throughout the model run, a handful of MGAs were built to fill the performance void created by upstarts from America, Germany and Italy. These were designated as MGA Twin Cams sports cars. Equipped with a l,588cc engine and dual carburetors, the Twin Cam was a race-bred vehicle in street clothes. Numbers were extremely low, as MG built only 2,111 Twin Cams from 1958 through 1960. This compares with 32,000 Corvettes built over the same time.

While much of the Twin Cam engine was based on the original MGA, by the time production began, it had become a specialized car. In fact, the final product had little engineering resemblance to the standard MGA B-series engines.

As time progressed, and MG introduced the Midget in 1961 and MGB in 1962, the MGA became expendable. Many models found refuge in the inventory of visionary collectors. But by 1965, American buyers were being bombarded by sporty cars from General Motors, Ford, Porsche and Fiat. Even as a used sports car, prices were soft and the car was considered antiquated.

By the time the gas shortage came around in 1973, MGAs were all but forgotten pieces of automotive history. The influx of Japanese sports cars, namely the Datsun 2000 and 240Z and Mazda RX7, all but put an end to the entire British sports car reign.

During these dark ages for British sports cars, many of the 2,111 Twin Cams were lost to uneducated consumers and disinterested car buffs. Youthful owners altered some MGA Twin Cams, unaware of the future historic value these cars would someday have, while others were parted out due to earlier neglect.

A few racing seasons back, I caught up with one MGA Twin Cam that survived. It belongs to Daryl and Paula Verkerk of Stockton, California. The central California couple acquired the car in 1978 from a relative who purchased the car during the height of the MGB and Midget marketing invasion. The previous owner had never pampered the car. After a number years as a daily driver, the Twin Cam MG was used less and less, leading up to a period of time where it was haphazardly put into storage.

This is where the Verkerks come into the picture. Upon receiving clear title, Daryl researched the history of the car. He discovered it was constructed by MG between May 22 and May 25, 1959. The only factory option installed was a heater.

During restoration, Daryl was delighted to find that most of the original equipment was still on the car. Of particular interest was the engine. Wondering if it had been rebuilt, he decided to have it disassembled and rebuilt using factory components. Much to his amazement, the factory 9.9:1 pistons were still in place. In fact, the entire engine was original and unchanged.

Daryl sought the advice of noted vintage car experts Butch Gilbert of Westley, California, and Jim Alcorn of La Jolla, California. They both verified each step of reconstruction. Precise attention to original detail was important because Daryl was going to enter the car in vintage and historic racing events. Under the rules of most historic racing commissions, to qualify, every aspect of the car must be as it was when it last took to the track as a contemporary racecar. Every component on the car is 100% original with the exception of the paint (factory color) and upholstery (factory pattern).

Daryl and Paula have entered their restored Twin Cam in a number of prestigious events, including the Monterey Historic Races. The car has also received many awards at MG and British concours events. When not on the track or in shows, Daryl and Paula use the car for weekend drives and an occasional trip around town. They are doing more than their part to preserve a rare piece of automotive history.

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