“Service Manager” …The sign on the door looked official enough. Silver metal letters and a silver border raised above a rough textured black background. It just wasn’t what I expected to see. Then again, nothing about this place was anything like what I expected. Below the sign was a thin brass card holder with a paper insert that wasn’t quite straight. “Peter, St” was typed on the card.
I turned and looked at the receptionist to see if there had been a mistake, but she nodded. I knocked on the door.
“Just a minute.” The voice from within the room sounded friendly enough. I heard the familiar metallic tinkling of tools being put into the drawer of a metal tool box and the swish of the drawer being closed. A moment later the door opened. Peter was a medium sized man, with a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard and eyes that twinkled behind bifocals. He was wearing dark blue pants and a medium blue shirt. The MG octagon was embroidered over one shirt pocket. Above the other pocket there was a white oval patch with a red border and his name embroidered in red letters. Peter wiped his hands on a shop rag. He took a quick glance at his right hand to make certain it was clean and then extended it. “Come in, come in,” he said cheerily. “We’ve been expecting you.” He motioned for me to take a seat as he sat down behind his desk.
Peter rummaged through some files in the desk. Apparently he didn’t find what he wanted, so he tried a filing cabinet against the wall. I looked around the room. It was a small, cluttered office with a small couch piled high with MG and BMC parts boxes. Black and white photographs of MG race cars from the 1930s and ’40s hung on the wall, and a shelf held dozens of dusty trophies. A bright red Snap-On tool chest was wedged against the file cabinets. A pair of SU carburetors with ram air horns sat on top next to a Mallory dual-point distributor. A metal pan filled with what looked like the internals of a Shorrock supercharger occupied most of the desktop.
He carried a thick manila folder back to the desk, sat down, and began to flip through papers. “Let’s see,” Peter muttered, almost to himself, “no major offenses of any sort…a good husband…good father…generous with several local charities…a tendency to sleep late on Sunday mornings and then work in the garage…a golfer? Oh my! The language when you shanked the ball. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Let’s skip to the automotive section.” He flipped to the pages he wanted. “Lusted over a Mustang in high school…that’s pretty harmless…Hmmm. Seems you didn’t change the oil very often in that Mercury you had in college.” He peered at me over the top of his bifocals, and then turned back to the folder. “Bought a TC when you were in your early 40s…good work on the engine rebuild…drove it regularly…that’s good…not a trailer queen…what’s this? A VW steering box conversion???” Peter quickly flipped through several more pages and then looked thoughtful. “Normally that’s good for a few centuries in purgatory,” he said, directing his words toward me. “But, I see you frequently helped out other car collectors, and you influenced several younger people to begin collecting. I think we can overlook the steering box transgression.” He closed the folder and looked directly at the TC owner. “So,” he said in a businesslike way. “What kind of a car would you like?”
I was startled. “I, I don’t know,” I said. “I really wasn’t expecting that question.” I thought about it for a moment. Then my eyes lit up. “How about a K3 Magnette?”
Peter smiled. “Always a K3,” he said. “Or sometimes a Tickford Coupe. Eternity is a long time. You’ll have plenty of time to play with any kind of an exotic car you’d like. But let’s start you off with something a little simpler. How about a TC?” He pulled a small ledger out of his desk and flipped through the pages. “I see number 5311 is available. It’s basically stock, although the previous owner really screwed up the wiring. He performed a few other modifications you might not approve of, but all bolt-on stuff. It runs well, although the synchros are pretty weak and the differential is about to blow. Yes, I think 5311 will do nicely.”
“I thought everything in heaven was perfect,” I said.
“Oh, it is. Most assuredly,” Peter replied.
Think back on all the times you drove your TC on earth. What was the most satisfying time? What was the drive that gave you the most pleasure?”
I thought about it. “It was probably the drive after I rebuilt the differential. I had already rebuilt the engine and the steering, but I had never really been able to relax and enjoy driving because the differential kept making noises. One day it ate a bearing and locked up solid. After I rebuilt it, the car ran perfectly. It was a chilly spring day, but the sun was shining and I was bundled up. I put on my goggles, dropped the windscreen, and took a three-hour drive through the foothills. The air was crisp and fresh. The trees were just beginning to leaf out, and there were wildflowers along the side of the road. There were no other cars. Just me, my TC, and the switchbacks. I loved listening to the exhaust when I double-clutched the downshifts.”
“And what was the most frustrating time you ever spent with your TC?” Peter asked.
I didn’t hesitate a second. “Rebuilding that differential. I’d never done a diff before and I was nervous the whole time thinking I was screwing something up. I put Prussian blue on the gears when I was trying to adjust the pinion shims, but I couldn’t see the wear pattern. It looked so simple in the instructions, but their photos didn’t look anything at all like the vague scratches I was seeing. And trying to set the preload on the bearings! I read those instructions over and over again, but every time I read them they seemed to say something different. A friend took a look at it and noticed I had one of the bearings in backwards. Boy was I embarrassed! I had to take the whole thing apart and do it over.”
“And do you see a relationship between the best and the worst times you spent with your TC?” he asked.
“The best time came after I made it through the worst time?” I replied tentatively.
“Exactly,” Peter responded. “You enjoy surmounting a challenge. You find satisfaction in driving a car that you fixed, a car that wouldn’t even be on the road if it wasn’t for your skills. What would life be like with a TC that never broke, that never needed work?”
“I dunno. Kind of boring?” I guessed.
“Absolutely. And that’s why TC 5311, with all its faults, is perfect for you.”
“I never thought of it like that. Does everyone get a TC when they get to heaven?”
“Oh no.” Peter quickly replied. “TCs aren’t for everyone. We also have an MGA heaven, an MGB heaven, Triumph heavens, Healey heavens . . . there’s even a heaven for Toyota Corollas, although just between you and me it’s pretty boring. And of course Heaven isn’t just about cars. There are heavens for every kind of pleasant experience you could possibly imagine. You can travel freely from one to another. And the wonderful thing about eternity is that you can spend as much time as you like in every one. You can work on your TC to your heart’s content and still spend an eternity with your family. And you’ll have plenty of time left over to spend with your friends.”
“Whoa!” I blinked in amazement. “And I thought heaven was all about singing hymns of praise with a heavenly host.”
“Oh we have a heaven for that, too” said Peter. “It’s actually one of our most popular venues. And after the group sings they have coffee and cookies in the Fellowship Hall. The coffee is a little weak for my tastes, but they like it.”
I sat in stunned silence. I was so overwhelmed with this concept I didn’t know what to say.
“Let me show you around the place,” Peter offered. “I’ll introduce you to a few of the other TC owners and show you the shops. I think you’re going to especially like our nail salon.”
“A nail salon?” I said suspiciously, glancing at my hands. A few fingernails had black grease underneath them, but that was normal. I certainly didn’t think I needed to go to a salon.
“That’s just what the owner calls it,” Peter laughed. “You know the British sense of humor. It’s really more of a fastener shop. He has a few kegs of nails, but mostly he has nuts, bolts, screws, those special knurled nuts that hold in the instruments—you know. All the hard to find stuff. He specializes in the metric threaded bolts with Whitworth heads that MG liked to use. He’s a virtual fountain of information if you ever need advice, and he loans out tools, too. If you ever need a Whitworth tap or die, that’s the place to go.”
I smiled and followed Peter out the back door. I knew I was going to like this place.
By Steve Tom