Category Archives: MG

MGee whiz

B that way

B that way

We happened upon this very presentable MG-B the other day in our supermarket parking lot.  It’s a ’73, one of the last that had chrome bumpers; later ones had to wear federally-mandated energy-absorbing ugly rubber snouts.  It made us nostalgic for our first car, a ’68 MG-B, the model year was the first in which the B, introduced in 1962, came equipped with shoulder belts.  Ours was blue and had wire wheels and was pretty snazzy when we bombed around Europe that summer when revolution was in the air.

What a breeze to drive!

What a breeze to drive!

Yes, the appeal of an open sports car piloted by a craven youth, pumped up on Gauloise cigarettes and the camaraderie of  student uprisings was an intoxicating mix.  It was a dream come true for a kid barely out of his teens — actually still in his teens at the beginning of that summer — but something of an illusion because, truth be told, the car was not very good.

Sweet, sweet '67

Sweet, sweet ’67

We should have realized something was up when we went over to the London facility where left hand drive, US safety standards-compliant (shoulder belts, etc.), MGs were delivered to Americans who had pre-purchased them.  It was both exciting and frightening to contemplate finding one’s way around London in a brand new sports car that we’d be driving on the “wrong” side of the road.  But gratification was delayed for reasons never explained.  We arrived at the appointed time for delivery and waited. And waited. And waited.  After three hours, our new “B” was presented and off we went to who-knows-where in those wild and wooly pre-GPS times.

Nice rack! (sorry)

Nice rack! (sorry)

We were loathe to drive it much around London since it was impossible to park even back then.  The matter of driving on the “wrong” side with a left-hand drive car made things especially daunting but, soon, we made our way across the channel — pre-chunnel, this was via ferry — and got to open up the car on the Autoroute.  No speed limit back then so, hot damn!, driving 110 mph with the top down proved to be both an exhilarating and enlightening experience.  Our wind whipped ‘Jewfro’ stood up on end as we charged through central France on our way to the promised land, La Côte d’Azur.  On the way, at breakneck speed, we learned an important lesson: the faster one goes the more fuel (premium) is consumed.  The ‘B’ was fitted with two SU carburetors, the pre-diluvian BMC B-series 1,800 cc motor that dated from the mid-1950s. It  churned out 95 hp and mileage was supposed to be around 25 mpg. The problem is that at full throttle, fuel intake rises precipitously and the tank held under 12 gallons so we had to endure costly fill ups every 120 miles or so.

C'est "C" bon!

MT-B GT: it’s a hardtop with a sort of back seat. Photo by Feral Cars Field Scout Amy Treco

That was our fault, not the car’s.  Deeper into our trip through the continent, a red light came on the dash; the owner’s manual led us to believe this indicated unequal pressure in the brake lines.  Losing one’s stopping ability in the middle of the Apennines seemed a tad reckless even for those of us for whom speed limits seemed pointless. Off we went to a local Innocenti (BMC’s proxy in Italy) service facility where the mechanics appeared amused about our talk of la pressione non è uguale tra i freni anteriori e posteriori. Because UK and European market MGs didn’t actually have a brake pressure inequality warning light, this was alien territory to our Innocenti innocents whose company we enjoyed in beautiful Orvieto.

As close to a biplane as you can get while staying on the ground

As close to a biplane as you can get while staying on the ground

Ultimately, we gave up on ever having a brake pressure warning light to which any heed was paid and, indeed, life was the better for it.  After Italy it was on to (then) Yugoslavia/today’s Croatia.  Less than 100Km north of Dubrovnik we chugged to an involuntary stop on an incline as we attempted to wend our way to Czechoslovakia.  This was the first notable instance of electrical failure, a trait that would become a hallmark of this otherwise very nice blue MG-B.

Roadster with removable top

Roadster with removable top – best of both worlds

A truck driver, attracted, one tends to assume, to the allure of an on board glamorous companion, stopped to see how he could help.  He whiped out a pocket knife and did a whole wire stripping number on the spark plug wires and scraped the breaker points in the car’s ignition system.  The car roared to life and we were back on our way to adventures in the land of Dubček and socialists gone gooey, pre-Soviet invasion. Our MG-B with UK plates made everyone assume we were British — they were oblivious to the left hand drive and our Yank origins.  “Hey, English, want change money?” was a recurring inquiry.  It was embarrassing to explain that we weren’t English and that we didn’t want to change money because there’s not all that much to buy with it.  On a dark, moonless night in Prague we drove up a street looking to connect with groovy Czechs at some bar or club and soon realized that the street ceased to exist but the tram tracks continued.  Our MG-B was high and dry, hung up on the above ground  tracks while, of course, there was an active street car, with bell clanging insistently, stuck directly behind us.  Before long, a small crowd had gathered and were kind enough to pick the MG up, six or seven on a side, and carry it off the tracks onto a surface that connected to a passable street.  Again, not the car’s fault but certainly something notable from a geopolitical point of view.

Best of both worlds

Nice rack! (even sorrier )

About three days before Soviet forces deposed Dubček and installed a puppet government, we found ourselves in West Germany when the MG-B came to an all too familiar halt on the side of  a four lane highway.  It was a re-run of our Croatian experience on a certain level but the cause was an accelerator pedal cable that had snapped, the pedal flush to floor.  Soon, a US Army vehicle pulled up and a grinning kid jumped out.  Wouldn’t you know it?  He was a helicopter mechanic from a nearby base.  He fixed the collapsed accelerator pedal with some — yes! — bailing wire and we were back on our way.

Falling in love again..

Falling in love again..

The car survived the streets of Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Amsterdam and back to Paris from which it was dispatched to the New World and a rendezvous with its ever hopeful  owner. Back in New York, things were going well with the car except for the time when it was started and flames shot out from under the motor.  Luckily, the firemen were busy doing something more worthwhile than saving a flaming MG.  The conflagration diminished in short order and the car continued to charm and vex.

Rubber noses aren't funny

Rubber noses aren’t funny (Amy Treco photo)

We drove it out to California — Berkeley, natch — and made a side visit to Madison to pick up a new set of points, condenser, ignition coil and rotor though we admit that we didn’t go there in the MG.  It was stuck on the side of the road in the Wisconsin Dells, 50 or so miles away.  Our trip to Mad City was in the chase car we were fortunate to have accompany us out west.  It was a VW bus, slow as molasses but, taking into account MG breakdowns, it registered a higher coast to coast average speed that the car whose corporate motto was “Safety Fast.”  Glad we didn’t have to test the former and, as noted, the latter only pertained intermittently.

Survivor!

Survivor!

Later, after another cross country trek, It broke down in a snowstorm in the middle of the wilds of New Jersey, necessitating a knock — how cliché! — on the door of a farm house since cell phones were decades away.  We’re honest when we tell you that absolutely no shotguns were involved in that episode. Ultimately, an exhaust system that detached in the middle of New York’s Columbus Avenue and some touch and go overheating adventures manifested during bumper-to-bumper jaunts to Jones Beach actually began to help it sink in that this wasn’t really such a good car.

It seemed like a consummate act of disloyalty to abandon and/or sell the car that had failed you on numerous occasions over the course of its short history.  In the end, reason, of a sort, prevailed and the blue MG was traded in on for a blue 1970 BMW 2002.  While the ink was till drying on the 2002 purchase agreement the MG showed up back in the new vehicle area at the BMW dealer.  Seems the used car manager realized the car had its — how shall we say? — shortcomings.  Our salesman was instructed to raise the purchase price of the BMW to compensate for precipitous and instantaneous depreciation of the MG that we had traded.  I took this as a sign that it really was right to get that glorious MG out of our lives.  I held my ground and threatened to walk since the contract had been unilaterally broken by the dealer and I was certainly in the legal right. It was not my concern that they had bought a pig, albeit a good looking one, in a poke (which must be some kind of dark garage).  A deal is a deal and so it was; the MG-B was, kicking and screaming, out of our lives.

Not so hot mess

Not-so hot mess

That’s the story of a first car, an MG, that provided, as they now say, some wonderful “teaching moments.”  These include to not go 110 miles per hour down a French Autoroute and expect to maintain your hairdo or win the Mobilgas Economy Run.  It’s also not a great idea to try to translate the English language owner’s manual (U.S. edition) into Italian while your car is on a lift and the staff is having a lunch with wine break. We also advise against driving at a high rate of speed in an East Bloc country on a road that turns into a trolley line.  We also recommend having both an on board fire extinguisher and several spare sets of critical ignition parts for inevitable need.

They tried, then they just kind of gave up

They tried, then they just kind of gave up

We also learned that when an MG-B, when it works, can be the source of great fun and excitement and lots of stories on which you’ll look back and wonder what the heck you were thinking.  OK, we remember: you were thinking “I must have a British sports car as soon as possible!”  That dream did come true and we survived it. We’re somewhat the wiser for the experience but probably not all that much.

We’re wildly nostalgic to see this ’67 MG-B that’s for sale in nearby Vero Beach, FL. You can get one for less than half the $12,900 asking price but it probably won’t be anywhere close to as nice.  If you’ve got a spare 18 minutes you might want to watch this mini-documentary about the rise and fall of the MG-B.  Get out the Kleenex.

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Che bella macchina!

Multo sportivo

Molto sportivo

It’s just a matter of time before  Fiat is going to start selling a new sports car here and they’ll badge it 124 Spider.  Like the Fiat 500 before it, the 124 Spider takes its name from one of the big successes in Fiat history and its greatest, ahem, triumph in the U.S. market.  Fiat’s original 124 Spider was built from 1966 to – 1979 and essentially the same car was sold as 2000 Spider from 1979 to 1982.  Thereafter, through the 1985 model year it was re-branded Pininfarina Spider Azzura though it was Fiat in every other way.

Bosco means "woods" in Italian

Bosco means “woods” in Italian

The forthcoming 124 Spider will be the first car to be sold by Fiat in the U.S. since the marque’s relaunch through Chrysler that is not a “500.” The latter day expanded Cinquecento  line now includes the 500L, 500e, 500X, 500 Abarth, 500 Cabrio and and we’re not even going to reference that oh-so-tasteful Gucci edition.

Tom Traajera for Pininfarina

Tom Traarda for Pininfarina

The new 124 Spider will be built in Hiroshima by Mazda, not in Turin by Pininfarina as was the case earlier for its earlier namesake.  The fact is that the next generation Mazda MX5, which we’ll always going to call “Miata” no matter what they tell us, is a car that will share quite a bit with the new 124 Spider.  The Mazda alliance was initially going to yield a clone Miata to be sold as an Alfa Romeo but Fiat Chrysler has moved Alfa into a more rarefied segment so the new roadster becomes a Fiat and will, in truth use a Fiat motor, not a Mazda mill.

Who bit the canole?

Who bit the canole?

The original 124 Spider had Pininfarina’s haunchy, hiked-up-in-the-hind-quarters, look that was also an element of the earlier Alfa Romeo Giulietta  as well numerous Farina designs for Ferrari. Modern day examples are not all that difficult to find as there are numerous survivors in regular service around the country. “Fix it again Tony” jokes notwithstanding,  these were very popular over here:  of the 200,000 original Spiders produced over car’s production run 150,00 were sold in the U.S.  That was a big slice of the sports car market pizza for Fiat when MG, Triumph, Sunbeam and Datsun were all vying for some extra cheese with their respective offerings.

Big bumpered beauty

Big bumpered beauty

We especially like the wonderful yellow one that’s gone topless in Palm Springs.  It’s an early, pre-federal bumper mandate example that has a proper, almost British sports car like, wood veneer dash.

Venetian Spider

Venetian Spider

The black one with the gash in the trunk lid was spotted in Memphis by Feral Cars Field Scout Emma Less.  Even with the oversize bumpers, it has a certain rough appeal like Anthony Quinn in La Strada.

Nice rack!

Nice rack!

The beige one was parked on the mean streets of Venice.  No aftermarket flotation device was necessary as we’re talking about Venice, California not that other Venice that’s been trying to copy it since who knows when.  Farina’s badge reflects not only the firm’s design,  credited to Tom Traarda, the American who was also responsible for DeTomaso’s Pantera, but also that Pininfarina was the actual manufacturer, building Spiders on behalf of client Fiat and, later, on its own.

Farina is good for you

Farina is good for you — unless you’re gluten intolerant

"Solo benzina senza piombo"

“Solo benzina senza piombo”

In its time, Fiat’s 124 Spider was something of a value proposition.  You got a serious fun, high revving, twin cam-powered roadster from the land of exotic cars, designed and coach built by a revered carrozzeria, a five-speed transmission for a very competitive price. MSRP was under $4000 for the first seven years of the model run.  Fiat would do well to offer the new 124 Spider at a fair price to build the kind of momentum enjoyed by its earlier namesake which, need we remind, was actually built in Italy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.06.45 PM

 

We found a very nice ’81 Spider with only 71,000 miles in nearby Sherwood, WI for under $9,000. The car’s equipped with a roll bar so you’ll be completely safe. What’sa matta you not buyin’ this?

We like this great 124 Spider commercial from the car’s inception that emphasizes such features as the horn and lighter.   Hey, no disrespect!

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Will of the Triumph

TRiffic!

TRiffic!

Americans post-war love affair with British sports cars opened the door to the idea of imported cars in general and nothing’s been the same since.  The very first name that springs to mind in this regard is MG but Triumph was also a very significant player in this small field.  Its TR3 was a direct competitor to the MG-A and the later TR4 was the firm’s answer to the MG-B.

We encountered a much later TR, this one a TR6, on the mean streets of Palo Alto, CA a few months ago.  Owner Mike Cobb revealed that the car was purchased new in 1974 and he’s been driving it ever since. He’s put 80,000 miles on its odometer that is nestled in a very traditional wood-clad dashboard.

Wood is good

Wood is good

Production of TR6s ceased just two years later as the British auto industry continued its downward spiral towards near-extinction.  As with predecessor TRs, the car’s primary export market was the US.  Did we say “primary export?” Make that just “primary.” Period. We were shocked to read that, of the total of almost 95,000 TR6s produced, more than 86,000 were exported, most to these shores. A paltry 8,400 were sold in the UK.

Union jacks comes standard

Union Jack: ON!

Style-wise, the TR6 was something of an update of the TR4 that had been designed by Giovanni Michelotti who had penned all manner cars for Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia and — though the gang in Munich is loath to admit it — the iconic BMW 1600/2002.  The transformation to TR6  was undertaken by Karmann, as in Karmann-Ghia. That’s right, the look of an iconic British sports car that actually wears a Union Jack on its rear flanks is, in no small measure, the product of Italian and German minds.

"We shall fight them on the beaches.."

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds.. and in the streets…”

Speaking of the Axis Powers, let’s not forget the Battle of Britain, won in the skies by the RAF’s heroic Spitfires in mortal combat with the Luftwaffe’s Messerchmitts.  That valiant fighter plane lent its name to Triumph’s smaller sport cars, a competitor to MG’s Midget and Austin-Healey’s Sprite. We encountered a ’65 Spitfire Mk 2 in our local supermarket parking lot the other evening and we were impressed by the car’s “as is” condition.  Clearly, this very original roadster has never been restored. In fact, that babied Palo Alto TR6’s little brother seems to have been trashed to some extent.

Bonnet popper

Bonnet popper

Our supermarket Spitfire was sporting a newish soft top, but the rest of the car seemed to not have been messed with all that much over the past 50 years and that’s really not a criticism.  We think it’s a vehicular manifestation of that stiff upper lip ethos which we most heartily applaud.

Black plate special

Black plate special

We dug deep into the massive Feral Cars image bank and found another TR6 which —  taking a wild guess here — seems to have been painted a non-factory stock color.

Purple passion

Purple passion

Lastly, we found this “missing link” between the TR4 and TR6, logically called TR5. It was captured in Philadelphia a while back and happened to be parked just outside a conclave of the Society of Automotive Historians, giving those scholars lots to consider and discuss.  These were sold in the US as TR250 but this example, despite the decorative UK number plate and badged TR5, seems to be a US market car (left hand drive, side markers in compliance with federal regulations) and is equipped with a “Surrey Top,” Triumph’s answer to Porche’s Targa.

Can you surrey?

Can you Surrey?

We found this very presentable and very, very red ’74 TR6 in nearby Beverly, MA for a mere $9300.  In terms of today’s rate of exchange that’s only £6070!  See those rubber bumper extensions on Mike Cobb’s lovely blue TR6 at the top of this post? They were Federally mandated from mid-’74 forward and this US-market TV commercial made tongue-in-cheek reference to them.

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British idles

Humans are actual size

Humans are actual size

We offer an original Mini Cooper here, bookended by Amy and Scott who, we freely admit, are tall individuals but do provide some human scale as testimony as to just how tiny these are.  They were built in mass numbers from 1959 until 2001 by British Motor Corporation, formed by a merger between Austin and Morris.  The original Mini was just voted Britain’s Best Car of All Time by the readers of Autocar. So take that, Aston-Martin, Armstrong-Siddeley and other hyphenates (Rolls-Royce?) too numerous to mention! Today’s version is built by BMW, which insists that the brand be formatted as MINI.  Isn’t the use of all upper case letters tantamount to shouting? Pipe down!  It’s huge by comparison.  The original weighs in at something like 1400 pounds and the new, ALL CAPS, edition weighs more than twice that amount.

All ears

All ears

FeralCars Field Scout Heather Crist captured this Mini variant, a 1969 Riley Elf, just the other day.  It’s a more deluxe version with an extended trunk and luxury interior and never, officially, imported (note: steering wheel on the “wrong” side).  We don’t think the Union Jack painted on the roof came standard but, hey, who are we to suggest not letting one’s freak flag fly?

We encountered a stunning ’65 3.8 litre Jaguar Mk 2, the other day and were, frankly, enthralled.  The interior replicates the leather and wood look of a mens club and the curvy body lives up to its feline moniker.

Jagadelic

Jagadelic

Mark of the beast/Nice kitty!

Nice kitty but we’ll NEVER pronounce it “Jag-You-Wahr”

Today the British motor industry is essentially, foreign owned.  Of course there’s Ford and GM’s Vauxhall, which are American controlled and Jaguar and Land Rover which are, most improbably, part of Tata of India. Stifle those titters, will you please?  MINI is under BMW control; Rolls Royce, too,  is a vassal of BMW while Bentley is Volkswagen’s English trophy marque.  Lotus is owned by a Malaysian conglomerate and Aston Martin is funded by a consortium of Italian, American and Kuwaiti investors and headed by Stuttgart-educated CEO Ulrich Bez who just made a deal with Mercedes’ AMG division to provide engines for these “British” supercars.  It’s kind of sad that the only British-owned car makers today are niche players Bristol, Morgan, Caterham and McLaren.

 

B all you can be

B all you can be

MG was once had significant presence in the US market and is now, for better or worse,  a Chinese brand. There are still lots of MG B roadsters in various states of repair to be found as these recent shots attest.

Sometimes it B like that

Sometimes it B like that

Triumph was MG’s big competitor in the US sports car market.  Not sure if they actually offered them in fuchsia as seen on this “tasteful” TR-6

Union jack on

Union jack: on

In the 1950s and ’60s, and into the ’70s British cars were a real presence in the American market but faded out, almost completely when such brands such as Hillman (that’s one below) Humber, Austin, Morris, MG, bit the dust. To be sure, there’s a resurgence going on with current sales successes enjoyed by MINI, Rolls, Bentley, Land Rover, Jaguar but, again, all of those brands are foreign owned.  Dare we say it? The sun may very well have set on the British automotive empire.

Over the hill, man

Over the hill, man

We found a film clip shot at the 1961 Earls Court car, ahem, motor show and there’s actually a Riley Elf featured!  You simply must check it out!

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.