My niece was getting married in July in northern Minnesota. There was no doubt that my wife and I were attending; the only question was mode of transportation. Should we fly or drive? The rest of our family was flying because of limited time off—but since I was between jobs, driving was an option for us.
We decided to take the MGA, even though the trip was over 3300 miles. We had had such a good time on the Rally to Reno that we weren’t worried about too much togetherness. We’ve learned that we can actually spend hours together without problem—we actually talk! The trip was uneventful—for a trip with an MGA—with only one electrical problem to deal with. First, a little background. I purchased by MGA originally in the summer of 1969 (for $150) while at I was at the U. S. Naval Academy. After driving it my junior year, I sold it to my two brothers in the fall of 1970 (for $150), and they owned it until 2007 when I bought it back from them (NOT for $150!). The car was around the family in Bemidji, Minnesota while my niece was growing up, so it seemed appropriate, if somewhat foolhardy, to drive it “home” for her wedding. On June 30, 2013, Jean (my wife, navigator, tool and flashlight holder) and I began our adventure to Bemidji, about 1600 miles away. Our first stop was British and Classic Car Doctors for a valve adjustment—yes, on Sunday morning so they could make sure we were really ready for what was ahead.
Everything started off just great. The weather was pleasant, with forecasts generally good along the route, though there was a hint of trouble to come with the warning of thunderstorms. The car was running great! We were also busy collecting pictures for the Moss Motoring Challenge, where the first letter we marked off was U for Upperville, VA, where we had the valves adjusted. About an hour from Marysville, Ohio, our first night’s stop, we got a little rain. Now we really weren’t ready for rain since our side curtains were still a work in progress. All the pieces were in the car, but not assembled. Ever the incurable optimist! As it turned out, the side curtains weren’t a problem; we were dry enough with the light rain and reasonable speed. In anticipation of the heavy rains that were due that night, we covered the car with an old tent rain fly. We were pretty happy when we got up the next morning and discovered it hadn’t rained much, and were folding the fly for storage when it started to rain. It wasn’t terribly serious rain, so we just continued like the troopers we are, and set out on our way! About an hour from Marysville, the rain started getting pretty serious. Since we hadn’t conquered the leaks between the top and the windshield, Jean pulled out the towels and began to impersonate an inside-the-car windshield wiper. She would mop up the drips until the towel was soaked, wring out the towels, and start the mopping process all over again. Lake Carl formed on the driver’s side of the car, and Lake Jean formed up on the passenger’s side, but we weren’t worried! We’d be through the rain in just a little while, or so we thought! Then the windshield wipers stopped working. We also noticed that the fuel gauge needle had slammed to empty. We had known all wasn’t perfect with the electrical system when we left because the turn signals weren’t working, but now we knew that the fuse had blown, so there was more to the problem. But the headlights and the taillights were working, so we just powered on our way, forgetting that if we had no wipers or gas gauge, we also had no brake lights! After a couple of hours of driving rain, we took a stop so Jean could get a break from bailing out the car. We found someone who had some Rain-X to partially compensate for the lack of wipers and “sealed” the top to the windshield with liberal amounts of duct tape. Though we still had the lakes at our feet and things that hadn’t been working still weren’t (and we were still oblivious to our lack of brake lights!), we could were considerably more comfortable with no rain coming in from the top. Our next stop was Joliet, IL, where the sun was now shining, wind was blowing, and we had space to hang the carpets to dry and time to drain the lakes at our feet! Then the troubleshooting started. Yep, the fuse was blown. Replaced the fuse, and it blew again. Finally, things were working again—wipers, gas gauge, heater blower, and brake lights. We found a place where we could get some extra fuses (less the optimist?) and even joined a car show, where we were welcomed even though all the other cars were General Motors products. The others were impressed with the distance from home and the looks of the car, but not the engine size! The next morning, carpets were put in place, everything that had come out of the car was stowed safely back in its place, and we headed out for day three of the trip. We weren’t in a hurry, so we meandered across Illinois, stopping occasionally to take pictures for the Moss Motoring Challenge. We saw more tiger lilies than we had ever seen since the deer in Virginia eat the ones in our yard! Don’t Illinois deer eat tiger lilies? In Iowa, we drove off our route to get into the middle of a wind farm to listen to the huge blades of the windmills. We ate lunch in Guttenberg, Iowa at a restaurant on the banks of the clearly very high, nearly flooded Mississippi River. We watched a barge tow pass through the locks below the restaurant, and were told the tow was smaller than usual due to the water level and speed. As we approached our car to leave, we got to talk about our adventures in the MGA with a few guys who were standing to admire it. Of course we enjoyed one of the obvious benefits of traveling in an MGA—lots of attention from people everywhere we stopped. People who knew MGs reminisced about the one they had or the one a cousin or uncle had “back in the day,” while those who didn’t tried to guess was kind of car it was (Ferrari?) When we pulled into a gas station in Indiana we had a mix of both, but none of them could believe that we were headed for northern Minnesota. Where do you put your clothes? No radio? But it’s so pretty, you can’t just drive it every day! We continued without any more rain, very moderate temperatures, and a great-running car for the rest of our trip to Bemidji. Of course, we had to fight the GPS every inch of the way, since it was very insistent that we wanted to be on major roads. In Bemidji, we met up with our sons and daughter-in-law who’d flown from Washington, DC, and brothers and their families, who still live in Bemidji, and myriad other family members. One niece hadn’t been told we were driving the MGA up, and when she saw it, she was gobsmacked! She couldn’t get over seeing it again, since it was in her father’s garage up there for most of her life, and it certainly hadn’t looked like it does now. We found out exactly how small the MGA was as we were trying to help transport things from house to reception site. It turned out that Jean couldn’t go with me, because her seat had to be occupied by a cooler! Things were stashed in every available inch of space, and did I mention that the reception site was at the end of a dirt road, so everything was coated with dust by the time we could unload! But we got it done! After the wedding, we continued to work to get the electrical things squared away for the longer haul, having a frustratingly low amount of success. UNTIL my nephew, who is a mechanic in Alaska, asked if he could take a look at it. He shimmied under the car and started tracing wires until he found the short, made a repair, and got everything (except those darned turn signals) working again. It’s hard to say who was happier about that exercise: Jean, me, or my nephew. No more electrical problems the entire trip. We left Bemidji early on July 8, with temperatures in the mid 50s, sun shining brightly, and before we left town we took one last picture of our car at the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox. We cooperated more with the GPS on our way home, as we always decide we want to go home as quickly as possible from any trip we make (in any car!). We still had some letters to cover on the Moss Motoring Challenge, so we diverted from our route for places such as Xenia and Quaker City, Ohio. Quaker City is in Amish country and I think our car was older than many of the buggies we drove by! By the time we got home, we’d found cities and counties/townships for almost every letter in the alphabet! We’re looking forward to our next adventure in our MGA, hopefully the Cruise to the Capital for GT-39! We’re always game for a new adventure, the opportunity to see new places, and to make new friends! By Carl Josefson