In France in the early 60s one never saw an old car on the streets, but my frequent stays in England made me fall for all those black (unknown to a foreigner) cars lining up. It had also convinced me that I should go for an old MG as they were beautiful, plentiful and cheap.
In July 1963, whilst staying with a family, they took me to Richardsons at Pease Pottage in Sussex and I still remember seeing the front of a very old dark racing MG in a barn. I felt instantly for her, but it did not go any further. Why? – because I phoned my father and he reminded me of the “rule”; no car before leaving school for university. He knew he could find nothing better to motivate me.
By the way, I never knew what MG model that car was and it will always remain a mystery.
My first MG
A year later, aged 20, it was done! As my father had always said the stamp collection was mine, I sold it discreetly. However, he was most unhappy when he heard about it, especially the sale price!
With my new-found ‘wealth’ I went to a hotel in Earl’s Court and having bought the 18th June 1964 edition of Exchange & Mart as soon as it appeared on the shelves and armed with a pocket full of coins, I started calling the sellers from the hotel public telephone. I still have the page that starts with a very original K-type for £85 o.n.o. or you could prefer a v.g.c. J3 plus many spares for £50. It makes you dream now! T-Types, being more recent, tended to be more expensive, around £150 for a TC and over £200 for a TD.
For my first rendez-vous, a girl handed me a car key, saying the car belonged to her boy-friend who had emigrated to Australia and had asked her to sell the car. She told me where the car was parked and would I go for a test-drive? It was a Tickford d.h.c., a good opportunity to drive my first T-Type alone.
In 1964 I bought GLJ 54 a 1946 TC for £165, probably because it was the cleanest MG I saw and I loved her black paintwork with green leather interior. The radiator slats had been painted red, so they remained and I later also painted red under the wings and the brake drums. You did not know what was original or was to be avoided in those days. The only book on old MGs I knew was Maintaining the Breed, hardly a book about restoration.
A few days later, I had a puncture and stopped at the kerbside. As I was attempting to change the wheel a City gentleman stopped by and, obviously aware that I wasn’t very sure of the procedure, he gave me some advice. It turned out that he owned a TB which had been badly damaged by some falling scaffolding. His insurance company had offered him next to nothing, so he took them to Court and after a lengthy battle he won the case. Bravo!
Following his advice, I had the wheels trued up by the Pentonville Wheel Company in North London.
Two years later (September 1965), I went to the annual MGCC meeting at Beaulieu. As usual I had no money (because of the car) and before visiting Beaulieu I stopped at Knott Brothers, the garage in Bournemouth that sold the car new in 1946 (according to the dash plaque). The garage was still there, but now was all modern.
Jean’s TC (TC1371) parked outside Knott Brothers’ showroom with a MK IV Magnette inside. Knott Bros. had been M.G. Main Agents since the 1930s and supplied M.G.s including MGAs and MGBs into the 1960s.
I took a photo as a souvenir and before proceeding onwards I asked a policeman for directions to Beaulieu. He did not understand my “Bowliu”. I explained the name means nice place in French, a very old Norman name, but he did not understand. Only when I mentioned it was a car museum he said “Oh! Biulee” and that was it.
Arriving there, the marshals waved me on and I found myself in the centre of a field amongst the cars for the Concours d’Elegance. Mine had come straight from the Pyrenees without a wash and quite non-original at that. The judges did not spend much time with her!
A month later (17/10/1965), we won the first French MG Club Rally. The entrants voted and I feel we had the prize for having driven all day with the windscreen flat.
Maximilienne, as I called her, never let me down (well, almost). One day, about 50 kms from home, the fuel pump stopped pumping and it was the beginning of a very long afternoon; stop by the roadside, unscrew the windscreen bolts and lift it up, undo the two bonnet belts, open the bonnet, unscrew the SU fuel pump cover and ‘help’ with a finger the Y-shaped contact to pump. The carbs were full when it stopped pumping. Then screw back the pump cover, close the bonnet, strap the belts, fold the windscreen flat, start the engine, speed up steadily so that, when the engine stops fuel-less, you can free-wheel and are about 1.5km closer to home.
Jean Vignau with windscreen flat competing in a School of Commerce Rally in Fraance.
Two ‘shots’ of TC1371 parked outside in the snow in the late 1960s.
On the road in France with its French registration plates and pre-war Fiat rear lights.
My second MG
In 1967, I decided I wanted a Triple-M car to restore and I bought unseen for £5 a 1929 M-type. The poor thing had a big hole in the crankcase, the rear cheaply built a la J2, no weather equipment, no nothing, a true barn find before the term was used. I had a call from the Dieppe harbour where she had landed. I paid the Customs the equivalent of £35 for the boat travel/landing and the Customs officer asked me to show him the chassis number. We could not find it so he sent me to the Dieppe Peugeot garage, told me to give the man 10 francs and come back with a hammer and 3 hand-punches to the 3 digits of the number (it was 423, according to the paperwork). Three knocks at the front nearside dumb iron later, and the numbers were not really legible, but he was happy. I always thought that he often did this trick and, on the evening, drank the francs with the garage man.
Dieppe-Paris is 200 kms and no longer could you do what we did; a rope around the M front axle, my best friend at the wheel and off we went. The M had no engine, no brakes you could speak of, so, when I left my foot, she came along the TC’s side! There is a God for the innocents and the rope never went around the wheel of the M.
My friend kept shouting and I finally stopped. He was furious and told me to go driving the M to see how dangerous it was. To his credit, he stopped soon after, went back to the M and I drove more slowly. Believe it or not, we are still friends!
Living in Paris, I had nowhere to park the M so it languished here and there until Alain Moitrier, now a cartoonist and sculptor of vintage cars, bought it from me a year later during my Military Service.
Ed’s note: The M-type is listed in my out-of-date copy of The Triple-M Register as 2M 0423 with UK registration mark OF 3247. Jean still knows the current owner. The car has remained in France and still in a dismantled state for over 50 years! Now, back to Jean……………..
I started work and sold the TC in 1969. That was the end of my MG days…………until I retired in 2005 and tried very hard to find her without success. At last, I found my buyer, who said he had used her for a short time, then the engine had frozen and seized and she remained so for a few years. One day, a man saw her remains, came in and bought them on the spot, but he had no memories of who he was or where he lived.
That’s the second end of my MG story.
My third MG
I bought on eBay a LHD TD MKII. I loved her louvred bonnet and wings ‘cut’, making her look like a Frazer-Nash. Road holding, comfort and braking were far superior to that of a TC and you really felt the extra BHP offered by the TD/C engine. However, I soon sold her as it was so difficult to get the right spares you needed, many original parts having been replaced by American Bosch or others and I was fed up with sending parts back to the UK.
Jean’s TD MKII – TD/C19732EXLNA built on 11th September 1952, fitted with engine number XPAG/TD3/20018 and exported to North America as the EXLNA designation indicates.
John James knew that I wanted to buy a TB, he also knew that Jim and Betty Manning were looking to sell theirs. So, it was a case of matching the seller and the buyer and quite recently I became the proud owner of TB0592 with XPAG 843, built 13/10/39.
So, that’s my fourth MG and I have plans to supercharge the XPAG.
Ed’s note: Amongst the photographs which Jean handed to me at Stoneleigh was this one of TC3207 taken at Beaulieu on 11/09/66. This car is on the DVLA website as “Tax due 01/01/85”.