John Twist – University Motors Ltd

John will be in the UK in October to present one day seminars on the 14th and 15th at the MGOC Workshop, Swavesey and on the 20th, 21st and 22nd at Wroxall Abbey, near Coventry.

The event of particular interest to us a ‘T-Typers’ is being held on Sunday 22nd.

John is a ‘larger than life’ character and if you’ve watched any of his videos you’ll probably identify with this description.

I promised in the last issue to write some notes about him, so here goes……

He first became ‘hooked’ on ‘square rigger’ MGs in 1965 when he saw a TD tucked away in the back of a repair shop. He resolved to buy the car, but didn’t have the money.

A few years later and with financial assistance from his father, who was persuaded to loan the purchase price of a TD which John had described in glowing terms, he bought the car and drove it home. On seeing the car his father said “this isn’t the car you wrote me about” – John’s reply was “Dad, it’s a diamond in the rough”.

Following the completion of a tour of duty in Vietnam, John came home with $800 in his pocket and spent it at Moss Motors on parts he felt he needed to restore the TD. He then completely dismantled the car and it didn’t go back together for the best part of four years.

In the meantime, and with his car still in pieces, he took on the job of restoring another man’s TD with the help of a friend. With little experience, but much enthusiasm and armed with the workshop manual and a set of tools they did the job. This was John’s first paid assignment (he thinks the final bill came to $265) and he considers it as his entry into the profession.

John’s ambition was to open his own MG dealership with excellent customer service as the unique selling proposition. After being turned down for a job at the MG dealership in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where he might have hoped to get a grounding in sales, parts and service) he vowed to set himself apart by moving to England and gain experience with University Motors of London, the largest MG dealership in the world.

John worked for UML for a year and on returning to the US he was employed by the dealer in Grand Rapids until he got fired! Then he worked for an independent who went bust and then for a VW dealer in parts. But the magnet was energised and he was drawn back to MGs, which led to the purchase of a 3,500 sq.ft. building in Grand Rapids.

The business, which he named after the English dealership, began in earnest in 1975 and during the next three decades grew from a one-man operation to 16 with his wife, Caroline, handling the accounts. In 1993 the business moved to a larger facility in Ada, Michigan.

Always keen to share his passion, John wrote a number of technical articles for various magazines. His first was for MG Magazine in 1979. He also wrote for Sport & GT Market and Abingdon Classics. He has hosted group tech seminars for the best part of 40 years, both on his own premises and at various venues in the US and more recently, in the UK. He’s even held a telephone tech hour between 1.00 and 2.00pm Eastern.

Yet it is for his You-Tube videos that he is probably best known, with around 300 being produced with 6 million viewings over the years. The most popular of these is easily the MGB Gearbox video.

By the latter half of the year 2000 decade the Michigan economy took a downturn, due in no small part to the shedding of jobs in the automotive industry. John’s sales were drying up and additionally he was living in the knowledge that his wife had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He came to the conclusion that given the circumstances, he could not carry on as previously and therefore decided to run the business down in an orderly fashion. Cards were sent to customers that the business had reached the end of the road and a closing date of July 2009 was set.

John paid all of his employees severance pay and an auction of equipment and memorabilia was held in the November with most of it snapped up. “Being a sucker for reunions” as John put it, he organized one for all of his former employees and 50 of them came along.

Following the death of his wife, John needed to finalize winding the business down. There were still outstanding jobs to be completed and he was being assisted by one of his old employees who had not found a job elsewhere. Another ex-employee came along and asked to come back and before he knew it, John was up and running again and moving to a building in Kentwood. In his words “I’m ready to embark on University Motors 3.0.”

The business carried on successfully until the final closure was announced on 7th November 2016 with the final farewell party on Saturday 21st January 2017. After the best part of 42 years in business at three different locations with University Motors John quipped “I am not so much ‘re-tiring’ as re-treading.”

He has retained the name of University Motors, but no longer operates as a ‘bricks and mortar’ automotive repair facility. He is continuing to write technical articles, offering technical seminars and workshops, with the production of videos and has entered the lecture circuit.

Ed’s note:

I’ve adapted this from the Internet and run it past John to check that he is happy with it, which he is.

John tells me that he will be accompanied by his friend, Mary James, who is a language arts teacher. Mary kindly proof read my text and pointed out an incorrect apostrophe.

You can book for any of these seminars on the MG Owners Club website: or phone (01954) 231125 for further information.

I’ll be attending the Wroxall Abbey event on Sunday 22nd October with Brian Rainbow.

We hope that some of you can make it.