42 Years of MGs

Inspired by the Editor’s recent “everything comes to he who waits” comment, Doug Wallace has penned this article from Indonesia.

It must have been 1966, my pal Dave Taylor at Strathallan School, Scotland, announced that he had persuaded his father to buy him an old MG. Dave had already turned 17 and I am guessing he had passed his driving test. His method of persuasion was to ask the seller of this old vehicle to bring it to Dave’s home, whereupon Dave poured a glass of his father’s favourite red wine and placed the full glass on top of the filler cap of the radiator, before inviting his dad outside.

This gamble must have worked very well as 90 GBP changed hands and Dave was the proud owner of a rather rickety MG TC. He drove the car to school on the exeat* day and took me for a drive down the old Perth – Dundee road. I remember looking through a hole in the wooden floorboard and seeing the road speed past. The MG had definitely seen better days. But something else stayed with me that day. * leave day from school.

University years passed with the delight of owning 2 Minis and then an Austin A30 bought from a girl student for 35 GBP with a spare gearbox. Driving in mid winter from London to Dundee with no heater was like sitting in an ice-box for 16 hours! The purchase of a Haynes Instruction manual revealed that the dear little A30 did indeed have a heater, one just needed to turn on the water tap under the bonnet; the return journey to London was oh so comfortable!

The A30 was painted red, white and blue and was lots of fun, but eventually I had to pay Dorking Council to tow the poor thing off to the graveyard. A move back to live in London where, everybody parks their cars on the street, I could not help noticing a few MGs still regularly being used in the Kensington and Chelsea area. There was a fairly decent looking green TC on my road and near Barons Court tube station there was a very scruffy older machine which I learned later was a MG P-type.

With no transport and a girlfriend to impress, the upcoming Easter holiday 1972 beckoned; a drive to Devon and Cornwall was in my mind. Passing the Chequered Flag showroom in West London one day I literally jumped off the bus to stare at a bright red MG TC. My Barclays manager had become used to me and I thought a small overdraft was feasible. But there was a problem: I was informed the steering was defective, something called a drop-arm was missing. 3 more visits to the Chequered Flag, no drop-arm in sight. Help was at hand – Motor Sport magazine, an advertisement for a red MG TD somewhere in Surrey. Not being sure of the differences between a TC and a TD, off I went to take a look, and after some haggling with Mr W F de Havas, became the owner of a shiny red 1952 MG TD, car TD/12495.

TD12495 purchased in 1972 but it wasn’t in this condition when Doug bought it!

The Easter holiday by then had passed and I became more ambitious in my summer travel plans – a European trip, to the Cote d’Azur, Switzerland and the Alps, Belgium; all this within a few weeks of buying the MG. A wonderful camping trip was enjoyed with the only hiccup being a sudden and complete loss of brakes at 5pm on a Friday in Belgium. Brake fluid spurting from a rear brake line! A local garage made up a new line and we were on our way within a couple of hours.

MXA 399 was my road car for 3 years with several London to Scotland trips made with no difficulties. But that scruffy P-type in London was on my mind. It had disappeared, sadly.

Attending an MG gathering somewhere in Kent about the time, 1972-3, I noticed a beautiful red MG J4 and had the great pleasure of meeting the late Geoff Coles. His J4 was one of 2 he owned and was truly immaculate. There was also a J2 on display at Syon Park and this seriously caught my imagination. Mike Allison’s and Wilson McComb’s books became staple reading. I decided to look for a pre-war MG.

A ‘Wanted’ advertisement in ‘Exchange & Mart’ elicited 2 replies, a schoolteacher selling a PA and Mr JJ Hall from St. Albans who owned 2 J2s and a PB. He preferred to sell the PB which I agreed to buy unseen, and Mr JJ Hall kindly offered to trailer the PB to the magnificent old Sussex barn outside Midhurst which I had recently rented from a farmer for 10 GBP per month.

The PB was running and there followed wonderful drives around the small Sussex lanes and to the Greyhound pub, with long weekends camping on the heath.

But a number of brushes with the law and minor traffic infringements resulted in a 6 months loss of my driving licence and the TD was taken to the Midhurst barn with the goal of doing some minor dismantling and repairs during my 6 months downtime. That was 1975 and the fact was that I would not drive this, my first MG, for the next 35 years!

A visit to Queens Gate Place Mews in London to order a new hood at Robert Betteridge the trimmer was exciting as the Mews was full of garages with all sorts of splendid vintage motors. Betteridge had a red MG J2 in for a rebuild and I was told the owner was Michael Crawford, the actor and singer. As my dream was to have the PB in as new condition it was decided on a chassis up rebuild and to entrust this work to Betteridge.

The 6 months driving ban passed faster than expected and my plan to have the TD ready fell far short of the mark. Driving licence valid again but no car to drive! Back to Motor Sport and an advert caught my eye: a 1958 MGA 1500 in Old English White. As it turned out the MGA was garaged less than 200 metres from my flat in the Old Brompton Road! Mrs Grace Trembath, the first and only owner, had finally decided she was ‘getting long in the tooth’ in her words, and sadly decided to sell her beloved MGA, 768 PMK.

I fell for this MG and managed to agree a small price reduction which sealed the deal. That was 1975 and there followed 15 years of intermittent wonderful motoring, numerous drives to Scotland, camping and climbing on Skye, Devon and Cornwall, the south of France, and Germany where I lived for several years.

Doug with his MGA (768 PMK) – photo taken in 1977.

About 10 years after buying the MGA, the “White Lady”, I was driving through the Boltons, South Kensington one day when I saw this lady waving wildly at me as I passed. Lo and behold, Mrs Grace Trembath had noticed her old MGA! I stopped and we chatted: she declared that she was so very happy that I still owned “her” car. She remembered very well the day we agreed the deal – the day before that another potential buyer had inspected the car and had metaphorically ‘torn it to pieces’ with a view to drastically reducing the price. That did not go down well with Mrs Trembath. Then she told me, “you were the nice young man who quite obviously fell in love with my car and I was delighted to sell it to you, and I am even more delighted that you still have it”. Well, well, that made my day!

After almost a year at Betteridge, progress on the PB was way below my expectation in all respects, and I made the decision to take the car away, in all its many pieces. Attending an MG Car Club event somewhere about that time I had noticed a very beautiful black TD which won a concours award. The story on the windscreen showed that the TD had been rebuilt completely by Monza Classic Cars in Essex. A phone call to Len Bull and a long discussion resulted in him bringing his trailer to central London to collect all the scattered remains of the PB. And so started a 25 year long rebuild [I hasten to add that the time element was directly related to my own finances. And thank you to Len for his long-suffering patience].

Doug with the PB he purchased from J, J. Hall – photo taken at Midhurst, Sussex in 1973.

41 years later (July 2014), Doug in the same car at Norwich after restoration by Len Bull.

Working now in Oman in the late ‘80s my MGs were somewhat neglected, but not forgotten. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Sultan of Oman, was my employer at his Royal Flight. One night the new DC8 captain told me he was going to build his own aircraft, a Boeing Stearman, WWII trainer. Where was he going to do that I asked? Captain Ross Brightman would build a 40 foot ‘hanger’ beside his house in the Royal Flight compound. I told him of my MGs and the TD languishing in England. Bring it to Muscat! he declared, help me build my hanger and you can have space to build your MG… So we teamed up and spent hours and days in the 40 degree Oman heat building his ‘hanger’. A benefit of being a Royal Flight employee was free personal travel on His Majesty’s DC8 and Boeing 747 SP [Special Purpose, ex-Braniff aircraft] as well as free transport of personal effects. A memo to the Commander, Oman Royal Flight, requesting some MG spare parts to be shipped on the Royal aircraft, was duly signed.

Doug and Captain Ross Brightman with the Boeing Stearman built in a specially constructed ‘hanger’ at the Royal Flight compound in Oman.

A lightning trip to England was needed to completely dismantle the TD. This revealed the chassis frame was bent, which accounted for the slight dip on the right hand side. Ron Gammons to the rescue, chassis straightened, powder-coated, then all the parts of the car packed up and shipped to Muscat in the cargo hold of the Sultan’s 747 SP, all free of charge.

Leaving Oman to take a new assignment in Thailand required moving the now rolling chassis again courtesy of the Sultan’s 747 SP back to England. But I was stuck for storage. Finding an out-of-London storage facility was of course less expensive.

After a couple of years in Thailand I was back on leave in England keen to check on the TD. But the owner of the storage had disappeared, all calls were unanswered. The irrepressible Captain Ross suggested I call a private investigator he knew. Within 48 hours we learned that our storage guy had been declared bankrupt! A fast drive in Ross’s Morgan and we found the storage premises, with garages and out-houses open to the elements.

My tea chests had been broken into and all my tools stolen; the MG TD chassis was all covered in dust, looking rather unattractive, thank God, and all parts appeared intact. I was surprised the new wire wheels had not been stolen! At that point an officious lady appeared on the scene and read us the riot act – all property on these premises was under the managing agent’s control, and nothing could be removed.

We moved aside and decided not to argue. Driving to the nearest town we rented a van, returned to the ‘scene of the crime’ and loaded everything up, our ‘friendly’ lady had disappeared. An urgent call was made to Ross-on-Wye where our ex-Oman friend Nigel, Royal Yacht Squadron, had an empty wood shed, where the TD would be safe for the next 12 months.

I am one hundred percent sure that if I had not been in England at that exact time, the TD would have disappeared for ever, so I decided I owed it to the TD to get her finished, and called Len Bull to ask him to take over all the remaining rebuild. Len’s only condition: “Not longer than 5 years please Doug!”

In the meantime I had not forgotten that red TC in the Chequered Flag. In 1983 I saw advertised a red TC in Devon. Somewhat disappointed when I inspected the car as the seats were scruffy, the leather was torn, and the body was far from perfect. However, the seller told me that his car was mechanically very sound and pronounced “You could drive this car to Scotland tomorrow!” I replied that that was exactly what I intended to do! That first drive to Scotland was perfect, except for a loss of power around the borders. No. 1 plug was oiled up with no spark. A new plug fitted and off we went. The TC took me to Germany and back several times and never failed to start even in the extreme winter in Germany in 1985, 20 degrees below zero.

Doug’s TC purchased in Devon in 1983; Where are you now TME 489?

A crazy idea to buy a small holiday cottage in Spain forced me to raise funds with the sale of the TC. The holiday cottage was flooded, the renting agent ripped us off, and money was lost on the eventual sale. I know that the TC would never have caused such grief… The TC was registered TME 489 and I should be very interested to learn if anyone knows its present whereabouts?

At the time of writing, the PB and TD are both complete and running and looking superb. John James’ comment regarding his MG J2 in TTT2 Issue 25 that “Everything comes to him who waits” has a loud ring of truth. After a hiatus of 38 years, claiming back the TD registration number MXA 399 from the DVLA was problematic: a copy of my original Barclays Bank cheque for the purchase of the car in 1972, with receipt showing all details of the car, a number of old photos and garage receipts showing both my own name and the car registration number left the officials at the DVLA unmoved. Roy Miller from the MG Car Club helped enormously. Eventually I found an original Test Certificate from 27 July 1972, not from the Ministry of Transport, but from the then Department of the Environment. A scanned copy did not convince our friends at the DVLA and the original Test Certificate had to be posted to Swansea. This finally “wrapped it up” in Roy Miller’s words. MXA 399 was once more! The chassis number is TD12495 and the car Build Date was 18 December 1951.

The PB chassis number is PB0599, engine number 1022APB, issued 30 December 1935, sold to Mr E A Snow, the Locks, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex delivered on 24 February 1936 from the Works, body colour black and upholstery colour blue.

This year, 2014, MGA guru Bob West in Pontefract fitted a Peter Gamble [Hi-Gear Engineering] 5-speed Ford Sierra gearbox to the TD for me, something which 20 odd years ago I would never have countenanced. Peter himself drove over to Bob’s workshop to personally check the work, telling me that this was the latest version of the kit, as the engine stays exactly in situ. In my own opinion this gearbox improves the TD immensely, making the car a delight to drive.

The MGA, we called “The White Lady” back in the ‘80s, has been resting in a lock-up in Dundee since 1990, although I polish her on every possible occasion. At last, 2015 will be her year: Bob West has agreed to start an extensive list of work in January 2015, including an engine rebuild, fitting a 5-speed Hi-Gear gearbox, converting to wire wheels and a complete interior makeover. The bodywork and paint are still in good condition.

“Everything comes to him who waits!”

Roll on summer 2015!

Doug Wallace