Write Seat: Fall 2006

Forces not fully understood

By Robert Goldman

To borrow part of a cartoon caption from the great Gary Larsen, “Suddenly, through forces not yet fully understood,” a field in the middle of seemingly nowhere became the locus of 1,100 MG cars. Standing there in the middle of the show, I felt as though I was up to my eyeballs in a sea of MGs.

Whereas many car shows take place in neatly organized parking lots, with neatly organized rows of cars, MG2006 was more like a bag of Halloween candy. Scrabbling around in the bag produces one treat after another. On the verge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, it’s not easy finding a venue able to handle so many cars. Trees, creeks, and general vegetation forced groups of vehicles to be scattered about. After viewing “all the MGBs,” one would look off through the trees and spot another large group on the other side of a stream. It was MG heaven on earth.

Events of this magnitude don’t happen in a vacuum. The North American Council of MG Registers organized the third MG International event, which is to say a handful of dedicated enthusiasts worked their tails off for months in exchange for a complimentary hotel room they likely had little opportunity to enjoy. Having been to the original MG 1996 event in Indianapolis, and having heard about the 2001 event in St. Paul, MN, it seems as though attendance kicked up a notch in ’06.

In fact, interest in British cars in general seems to be at an all time high. Whatever the magic of these machines, the spell is growing. Want a recent sign of the apocalypse? How about the $97,500 a TR4 recently fetched at a Barrett Jackson auction? (TR4 owners line up here to condemn me for undervaluing TR4s.)

Another symptom is our catalog supply. Calculating the number of catalogs to print is a black art. The marketing department must gaze into their crystal ball and confidently say, “We will use X many each of these nine different catalogs over the next six months.” They must then present the budget for approval and sign it in blood. It’s an unlovable no-win scenario. If they’re wrong, we either run out of catalogs, angering customers, or have way too many, angering the accounting department. In a perfect world, we put a couple dozen books in the recycling bin at the end of every catalog cycle.

As I write this (in July), we have been out of MGT catalogs for weeks, and won’t have additional supplies until the next printing. Catalog requests have been booming of late, and although we incorporate historical usage data in our print run calculations, sometimes life chooses to ignore art. I would like to think that with availability of replacement parts and upgrade products like our 5-speed gearbox conversions, people are starting to realize they don’t have to keep their classics on blocks but can enjoy them on the road.

We all want the classic cars we own to appreciate in value, but there are limits. I believe skyrocketing values have pushed a lot of muscle cars off the roads. With a few notable exceptions, classic British cars land in a sweet spot where their values steadily rise, but not to an extent people feel they can no longer hop in and go for a cruise. Heck, I’ll drive my Midget to the store for groceries any time. If it were worth a quarter of a million dollars, it would never leave the garage. Imagine the crashing jaws of all those who used to own one if that happened.

I believe part of the success of MG2006 was, in addition to all us “old time” enthusiasts and club members, a lot of new people entering the hobby because they see a vehicle that is both unique and obtainable. The cars are also easy to work on and restore. Or would be, if we had any catalogs.

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