TC10178 (and how one thing leads to another!)

6 May

TC10178 broke a half shaft in 1967 and was retired and put up on bricks in a lock up garage in Sheffield. By the time you read this it will be in France.

Just as I was starting to put together this issue of TTT 2 I was contacted by Norman Verona in France. He told me that he had just bought a TC and having found the TTT 2 website he uploaded the car’s details to the T-Database.

Norman moved to France about 10 years ago and owns a 9 acre farm known as La Foie. It is situated on the border of Pays de Loire and Brittany, just north-west of Angers, north-east of Nantes and south-east of Rennes.

There are old houses (the oldest is over 270 years) and barns on La Foie and also two gites, the Lotus Suite and the MG suite. (More about these later – Ed.)

To explain how “one thing led to another”, Norman had a booking for one of his gites from a member of the Midget & Sprite Club who lived in Sheffield. When confirming the booking Norman mentioned that he came from Sheffield, whereupon he was told about an old MG in a garage in the city which the owner wanted to sell. Communications started. It was an MG TC, made in 1949 and it had broke a half shaft in 1967 and had been in the lock up since then, on bricks.

Now, if you go to Norman’s website www.frenchblat.com and click on MG TC you can read how he always wanted a TC and was going to get one for £100 at the age of 17 when he passed his driving test, but his uncle talked him into getting a bank loan and buying a new Mini.

You can also view several pictures of the TC as it is in its current state and read how Norman, with help from his wife Lynne, has cleared a space in the workshop to accommodate the car when it arrives on 28th April.

Norman is going to record progress with the rebuild of TC10178 on his website and has offered to provide a monthly summary of his blog for publication in TTT 2. I have gratefully accepted his offer.

Again, on the theme of “one thing leads to another” Norman mentioned that he served his apprenticeship with University Motors, starting there in 1961 as a lad of 15. As an editor always on the look out for a story, I could hardly let this pass so I remarked that this was potentially an article in its own right. Norman duly obliged with a lengthy article, part of which is reproduced below, to be followed by further extracts in future editions of TTT 2.

We tend to associate University Motors with the Stratton House address in Picadilly, LONDON W1 (as in mid 1930s advert below) …………

but when Norman was serving his apprenticeship in the early 1960s there were several premises. Apart from the workshop in Carrington Street and Stratton House showrooms there were dealerships in Epsom and Kingston as well as a huge multi acre site in Boston Manor Road, Hanwell, London W7. When the leases on the workshop and showroom ran out in 1965 and a huge increase was demanded for lease renewal the Carrington Street workshop was moved out to Hanwell.

Over now to Norman for his reminiscences of the first couple of days of his employment with UM……..

“I started work on January 1st 1961. In those days it was not a public holiday.

I turned up at 7 am for the 8 o’clock start. I rode my bike in, parked it next to the engine rack (they had a huge rack with 60 “Gold Seal” exchange engines on display opposite the reception) and waited. At about quarter to eight, people started arriving. I meekly made my presence known and was taken to the foreman’s office in the first floor workshop.

Mac, the foreman was a short chap, in a white coat. He had 2 habits. Firstly he would constantly be giving himself a dry face wash, vigorously rubbing his face up and down with his hand. No harm but curious, maybe he had some skin irritation. No one ever mentioned it so I never asked why.

The second habit wasn’t so harmless. He would sidle up to you when you had a bonnet up and the engine running. Then he would put one hand on a spark plug lead whilst holding a finger on the other hand close to your nose. Let me tell you that 30,000 volts arcing from Mac’s finger to your nose was very unpleasant. Once caught you knew to be aware, but it was amazing how good he was in seeming to have genuine reason to look at what you were doing.

He also did this with the Champion Spark Plug cleaner and tester. The machine had a plug lead which would produce 30,000 volts for testing plugs. He had this trick where he would connect the lead to another and attach that to the metal work bench. As you went to the bench he would switch on and it was funny watching the victim leaping back from the bench.

Shocking behaviour! 

Mac handed me over to Jimmy White who was to become my teacher, mentor and friend.

A word here about the core of men at University Motors in the Shepherds Market workshop; some of them had all worked there before the war (which ended only16 years earlier). They had all joined up in the tank corps together and went through the war together and returned to their jobs after. They didn’t speak of their experiences other than answering a direct question. “What did you do in the war mister” was a common refrain in those days. I’ll try and describe these characters as we go.

I was taken to the small workshop consumables store and Alf (the storeman) handed me a set of overalls and 20 cleaning cloths. The cloths were exchanged for clean ones along with clean overalls once a week. Kitted out in a pair of overalls which were about 4 sizes too big for me so the legs and arms were rolled up and the arse was about level with my knees, I must have looked like a real waif and stray. I can’t remember what we worked on that day but I just loved it. Heaven!

The next day we started work on time and Jimmy sent me down to the stores (nowadays called the parts department) for something or other. When I returned he was standing there with his usual little smile holding a job card. “Mac has sent me out to tow this car in. You better find something to do as I’ll be out all day”. No way, I was going with him and said so.

The company had an old Dodge SWB breakdown truck with a large crane on the back. However on this day, one of the worst weather wise that winter, it was so cold it wouldn’t start. In the basement was its brand new Land Rover series IIA which had been prepared at the bodyshop as a replacement for the ageing Dodge. It was light blue (I think they were all that colour) and was a long wheel base model, if memory serves me right they were described as “short” – 88″, and “long – 110”. The crane was on the back as you would expect and on the front firmly bolted to the steel girder known as a bumper (more like a battering ram) was a steel bar clamped on.

We got the ‘Landie’ up and set off down Piccadilly to our destination at a Service Station by the entrance to Brands Hatch in Kent. Weather? It was freezing and Kent had been cut off for two days with snow ploughs clearing single lanes on the main roads. The service station was on the A20 so we would get through. Exciting for a 15 year old! As we drove along Piccadilly both of us were literally shivering with cold. The Land Rover had no heater! So I disappear under the dash and remove the dozens of rubber bungs in the dash. It did get a bit warmer from the heat generated by the engine, but not much. At least the icicles on my nose melted!

Our journey there was uneventful until we got to the A20. The snow ploughs had cleared the road and a single lane had two huge walls of snow each side. Really, they were far higher than the cab of the Land Rover. I can remember looking up at the top, I had to duck down to see it! We arrived at the service station and pulled onto the forecourt.

The car we had come to collect was a Princess 4 litre R, the R denoting it had a Rolls Royce engine, not the one in the Shadow but an ali straight 6. It was parked at the side with the front stoved in. The outer service station parapet wall was lying flat on the forecourt side, almost in one piece where the car had driven into it on an icy road just before the snow came a week before.

We pulled the Land Rover in front and got the chains out, No point in protecting the front skirt or bumper, they weren’t repairable. “OK, Norm, get the chains on and wind her up”. With freezing fingers it wasn’t easy doing the U clamps up. I then climbed on the back of the Land Rover and started winding away. It required a massive amount of strength to lift this two ton car, but, weak and feeble as I was, it was slowly coming up as the cable wound around its drum and the ratchet clicked away.

Now then, I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced a fifth sense of something occurring that you’re not actually aware of but feel it rather than hear or see it. I had that moment and stopped winding to turn round and look at Jimmy who was standing at the side, in the middle of the forecourt watching this poor little waif sweating in below zero temperatures, Except that he was no longer standing. He was writhing on the floor – in laughter, tears were rolling down his cheeks. I’m not exaggerating he really was helpless from laughter and rolling on the cold floor. He motioned with one arm for me to get down. I did and walked towards him. Turning round I observed a 2 ton Princess 4 Litre R with front wheels firmly on the ground and a Land Rover with both front wheels in clear air off the deck.  Now we knew what the big steel bar on the front was for. Being a long wheel base and with a fairly long overhang of the crane was not the best configuration for a breakdown truck. 

Being smart and having all that experience from the tank corps, Jimmy, when he had stopped laughing, asked the garage owner if we could “borrow” a bit of his broken wall; yes, of course, so we borrowed a big hammer and a chisel and broke the wall into smaller sections and loaded them onto the iron bar. Tied on with a bit of string the front wheels of the Land Rover were just touching the ground, but only just.

The journey back wasn’t too bad, slow but OK. That is until we got to the hill at Balham High Street. We were driving up the hill and the front wheels came off the road completely, Jimmy thought it great fun to be driving along whilst spinning the steering wheel from one lock to the other without any change in direction. Luckily the road there is straight and we levelled off without incident and carried on. We got back to the workshop at about 7 pm. Got changed and went home.”

Ed’s note: I hope you enjoyed this first instalment – I certainly did!

Reference was made earlier to the gîtes which Norman owns on La Foie. You can obtain details from his website.

However, by way of a ‘commercial’ I’m going to publish some details here as follows:

Perhaps the first point to make is that these gîtes (the Lotus Suite and the MG Suite) are not run on a commercial basis. Norman and Lynne are only looking to recover their costs. At the special rate offered to TTT 2 subscribers of £120 per week, when prices for other gîtes in the area in high summer can be as high as £600 per week, you can see that this is quite an exceptional offer.


The kitchen/dining area in the Lotus Suite (the MG Suite is similar)

To make a booking email norman@frenchblat.com quoting the date you wish to arrive. Bookings are normally accepted on a Saturday to Saturday basis. You will get a response with confirmation of the booking, bank details for payment and a list of goods you may require Norman and Lynne to get for you (like wine, cheese, ham, soft drinks etc). A written route can be supplied from any of the ports. The use of SatNav’s is not recommended as they can take you the wrong way. This is especially true of the route between Rennes and La Foie as a lot of the road is new and the SatNav will take you the long way round.

Contact details are as follows:

Norman & Lynne Verona
La Foie, 49520, Noellet, France
Tel. Home 0033 (0)2 41 92 73 44
Tel. Mob France 0033 (0)7 70 70 23 79
Web: www.frenchblat.com

Ethanol E10 – a Warning Notice

This was sent to the editor by John Murray. Read about the petrol lawn mower destroyed by E10 in the ‘Bits & Pieces’ section.


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2 Responses to “TC10178 (and how one thing leads to another!)”

  1. James Neel 22. May, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    Absolutely delicious story, mad me chuckle a lot. I am going to file the Gite (new word to this Yank) information for future use.

  2. Norman Verona 25. May, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    I would just like to say a very public thank you to John for publishing my story and the free advert for the gites.

    The gites aren’t run on a commercial basis, gites in the Loire Valley are £600 per week, we try and cover cost at £120 a week for our friends in the car clubs.

    In fact if anyone want to come here with a T type then you can have it at £99 the week.

    If you are following the blog on the TC (www.frenchblat.com MG TC and after the home page look at the relevant month(s) you’ll see it progressing nicely. Just painting the chassis and axles and I can start the rebuild.

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