|The MGA With An Attitude
Reincarnation - Attitude MK2
So there I was with a fresh insurance check in one hand and the classifieds in the other hand. It was bound to be a lot easier this time, just to finish the process of being "made whole". With no reason to mess with success I was just looking to replace the MGA. Not seeing any listed in the paper that day, I decided to call the insurance agent who cut the check and had assured me that I could find another MGA at that price. He was actually helpful (surprise in retrospect). I suppose he made one call to the MG dealer, figuring book price should be good enough to make the deal.
What turned up (at the MG dealer) was a bit of a mechanic's special, but at an attractive discount. There was a 58 MGA in generally sound condition that had recently been repainted Medium Metallic Blue (ala 69 Dodge Charger). It also (supposedly) had a new engine (which did run like a champ) and new interior with blue vinyl seat seats and a center arm rest, fresh carpeting, good tire rubber and wire wheels like the first one, and it even had seat belts. What was missing was one rear fender, a boot lid, and the rear bumper, but I knew exactly where to find those parts. There would be a small problem of color mismatch on the fender and boot lid, but at $100 discount it was a deal waiting to be made. And it was. For $300 the same day I had another MGA, and it only took a couple days of tinkering to get it all together.
First I had to bail the old MG out of storage and get it towed to the back alley of the old apartment building (without asking). That didn't go over well with the building manager, but it wasn't going to be there very long. Since I was paying the standard rate (must have been $4/day) for two months of storage (from the insurance settlement), the towing and storage outfit forgave the first towing bill and dropped the car off for no additional charge. In short order I transferred the boot lid, left rear fender with tail light, and rear bumper from the silver car to the blue car. Then in what I thought was a momentary stroke of genius (under the circumstances), the silver car was sold for parts to the MG dealer for $50, and the tow away was included. This was going okay, $250 net after the swap, and I had an MGA wrapped around me again, and a two-tone to boot (sort of).
Of course there was a mid December mild weather late evening run in the country. On the way back into town the little red "Ignition" light came on, and the headlights dimmed a bit. Service stations were closed except for a few still pumping gas after 9:00 PM. The late night pump jockey kid (about my age) looked a bit confused and said, "I don't think we know anything about these foreign cars. Ya gotta take it to the Dealer". Ha! Little did he know. I wasn't quite wise enough in those younger years to know that a pair of carbon brushes might fix the thing for less than a dollar, but I did know where there was a good used generator, because the dealer hadn't picked up the silver car yet. It was only three bolts and two wires on each car by flashlight, and the deed was done before the tow truck showed up early next morning.
That MGA with the funny two tone paint combo ran well right through the winter. When temperatures went below zero Fahrenheit it sometimes didn't want to fire up in the morning, probably for lack of an accelerator pump in those SU carbs so you couldn't pedal and prime it. For a few odd nights that winter I would watch the weather forecast, set the alarm for 2:00 am, and call the time temperature line at the bank. If it was zero or above I could go back to sleep. If it was minus one or colder I would get out and start the car, let it run 20 minutes to warm up, and then go back to sleep. No problem. This car seemed to have a little more zip than the first one, but the brakes didn't seem to work quite as well. It was to be a long time before I would figure out either of those little items, but in the meantime I had plenty of fun burning off other 1500's on the street, and who needs perfect brakes anyway? Just get used to a little longer stopping distance.
One day in the Spring I made a quick left turn onto a well known brick street, took a little skid on some wet leaves and bumped the curb with the right front wheel. No damage to the wire wheel, but the steering wanted to pull a little to one side after that, so there was an appointment with Bear Automotive for a front end alignment. Seems like the kingpin may have been bent slightly, and the only available adjustment was the toe in at the tie rod ends. Fortunately the alignment technician understood both the problem and my budget, so with a few magic shims under the lower a-arm pivot mount it was tracking (almost) like new again, and my wallet was only $12 lighter. Wheew! Take it a little easier on wet brick streets after that one.
Warm weather came early that year, and a few drive in movies displaced a few roller skating dates. I don't think I ever saw a whole movie in one visit, but the MG could sure stay warm with two friendly people and the top up. I don't suppose it was all that private, being low down between some larger cars, but then the people next door seemed to be equally preoccupied, so what the heck. We were both satisfied that her mother thought we were still roller skating, and good times were had by all, if you know what I mean.
Just before school let out for the summer in 69 my broom pushing job was "repossessed" by another bloke when the little plating company was "downsizing" a bit in troubled times. That was fortunate actually, when a trip to the school guidance office turned up a real full time job as a "Junior" Manufacturing Technician (Quality Assurance Inspector) at the new Bendix Aerospace Division (just across the river in Davenport, Iowa). I would be working on a project to develop large life support fuel cells for "Spacelab" (the one that never flew, not the "Skylab" that ultimately fell in the ocean). I was a few credits away from possessing an Associate degree, but that only meant I was paid $550/mo base salary instead of $600, starting the day after school was out. Woohoo, jackpot! And there was some overtime pay to boot. I must have turned 20 on the same day I got the second pay check, and life was good. Within a month I had arrangements with a body shop to repaint the car. It would be nice to have it all one color, and the Medium Metalic Blue seemed fine to me, so after the $200 quote it was on the schedule for a couple weeks later.
One Saturday I went out to the farm to give Dad a hand with the spring plowing. He knew I was coming and had left a note on the kitchen table. "Come take over about noon, and bring me a vehicle to get home". He didn't say what vehicle, so this should be good. I took the MGA a couple miles down the road, parked it at the edge of the field with the keys in it, and walked out to meet the tractor as it pulled close. Dad said. "You be okay out here until dinner time?", then quickly turned and walked off toward the car. Of course he had seen the MG before, but I don't think he ever got near it in the past. As I cranked up the tractor and hauled the plow on down the furrow I could watch to see how he was doing. I was half expecting him to step in over the door, but it looked like he did find the pull cable inside to open it. Of course the key is only for the ignition, not the starter, but it didn't take a good farmer long to figure out what the "S" knob was for. On the tractor you pull the "S" knob for "Stop", but he knew the MG didn't have a diesel engine. I'm sure he would have hot wired the thing if he had to. He did run the front wheels into the plowed field once or twice before finding reverse gear, so oddly on the left of the shift pattern, but then in a minute or so he was casually off down the road toward home. Mom told me later that she was sitting in the front porch swing laughing like a hyena when he pulled into the yard. I don't think that went over too well, and in the evening he came back with the truck to pick me up.
Summer weekends were otherwise reserved for play time. Trips to the lake for swimming and sunning were particularly memorable, even on the occasions when we might take along a friend (either hers or mine). The friend would inevitably be stashed in the center sitting on the tunnel and ducking the gale force above the windscreen as we tried to see if the MG could make the yellow line on the tach carrying an extra passenger. It usually could, and no one seemed to mind much, although we were probably more than lucky not to run across any cops at an odd time. Some of the fun depended on who the extra passenger was. Fortunately everyone involved was gender concious, and the passenger would generally duck in the appropriate direction.
About that time, one day there appeared a mysterious new slit about a foot long in the MG's convertible top. There was some suspicion about some new boyfriend of an old girlfriend (which way around doesn't really matter), but young guys may have such problems occasionally. Hard to say if it wasn't worth it regardless, but at any rate it wasn't the end of the world, so no big deal. For $39.95 and a small delivery fee, Warshawsky and Company out of Chicago mailed out a brand new heavy duty vinyl rag top complete with installation instructions. After pulling tacks to disconnect the front of the original top. I found the wooden front bow to be badly rotted and broken on one end. No problem, sez me, but a trip to the MG dealer sez different. The wood bow was no longer available? What the hey! The car was 11 years old, and the model only out of production for 7 years, but that was apparently long enough for supply of some of the more unique parts to be drying up. But hey, I don't give up that easy, and I did have the original part for a pattern.
Quick trip to the lumber yard for a four foot length of 2x6 board. Also a trip to Turn Style (ala Venture store to you modern blokes) to buy a coping saw, a cheap 1/4 inch electric drill, a 5 inch sanding wheel on an arbor, a packet of coarse sanding disks, a couple twist drills, and the eat-in kitchen of my apartment became a temporary wood working shop. Using the original wood bow for the pattern I traced out the shape on the new board and proceeded to cut it out with the coping saw, being as careful as possible to cut aproximately the correct angle on the two curved edges. Then there was an extended stint of grinding away with the power drill and coarse sanding disks to finish profiling the piece (all four sides at an odd angle), and a couple holes to be drilled in each end to accomodate the hold down hardware. In about two hours time there was a nice new wood bow for the convertible top. What am I, Michael Angelo or something? Time to sweep up a few pounds of saw and sanding dust off the floor. Short on time, so set the new piece aside for later installation, which as it turned out was never going to happen.
Just three days before the MGA was due to be painted it got smashed while legally parked at the curb on the street. Some old lady in a new full size Mercury apparently went to sleep driving in the dark, rolled into the parking lane, smacked the MG in the tail and pushed it down the street about 50 feet. Bummer, but I suppose it could have been worse. I could have spent the money on the paint job first. So I tacked the old rag top back down on the original busted wood bow and saved the new stick and the unused new rag top for future reference.
At first the MG looked a mess, twisted rear bumper with a couple of big bolt holes poked through it, smashed tail lights, rear fenders and body pushed in a few inches, and the muffler mashed up. But it looked sort of drivable, and the boot lid still operated properly, and I wasn't in the mood for walking, so I got right to work on the problem. One trip to the nearest auto parts store to pick up a pair of big round truck tail lights with bottom mounting studs, about $6 total. I drilled holes in the top of what was left of the rear bumper to mount the things and jury rigged the wiring. A second trip to Turn Style netted a $7 Thrush muffler (intended for a Jeep CJ I suppose) and a muffler clamp and hanger. Before the day was out my wonderful little MGA was back on the road again, just a little the worse for wear.
This time the other party's insurance company was more cooperative, seeing as they didn't have leg to stand on. Within a few days I met with the insurance agent, and agreement was made for $400 to settle for the totaled out MG, based on a police photo from the accident scene, and a report that the frame may be bent a bit. Further agreement was made for me to buy back the wreck for the $25 salvage value, and I quickly snatched up the $375 check and ran before he noticed I was driving the car.
Since the "totaled" car was driveable, I could take some time to decide just what I wanted to do with it. Being in okay financial condition I was in the mood to do something nice. I looked at a new MGB, but $3000 seemed a bit much, and I didn't feel like taking on time payments. Somewhere along the line I had seen a magazine ad for a fiberglass body designed to fit the MGA frame (and a few other chassis types). This was the Fiberfab Jamaican body, a hardtop coupe with roll up windows, and really sharp too. Think of a smoothed out version of the Datsun 240Z car, but lighter (and with no bumpers), complete with all lights, doors and windows mounted, for all of $2100. It was supposed to drop right on in place of the MGA body, re-do the dash wiring, and lay in new carpeting. Maybe it wasn't going to be quite that easy, but it was almost awe inspiring. I made a quick trip to the body shop to have the frame checked, and maybe straightened a bit if necessary. I suppose the body man did me a big favor by telling me the frame was cracked and beyond any reasonable economic repair. So forget the sleek fiberglass body, and I would drive it bit longer while looking for another car.
Near the end of summer break, after just two months on the new job, there were some federal budget cutbacks to go with a failing economy. The nice day job went away, and I later ended up working third shift as a gas pump jockey for a dime over minimum wages. Well at least it was full time and paid the bills, and it allowed me to do school part time days to finish up the Associate degree. The slightly tattered two tone MGA would do for a little while longer, at least until I could find another good deal to match the (once again) tight budget.