I was 22 and at work on my first job after college. From the window I saw a car – the car – but I didn’t know what it was. It was an MG1100, a sedan that MG had just started producing that year, 1962. My dad, who really wanted me to buy a Chevy Nova, took me shopping. The MG color choices were white, gray, black, and red. I ordered red Natasha, and took delivery of her on August 15, 1963.
By 1971, I had a husband and kids, and Natasha took part in our adventures. We used her to tow our not-running Mustang to the shop, causing a teen-age boy on the corner to nearly fall over as he yelled, “You’re pulling that with that?” Another time she lost all of her forward gears. Reverse was the only way she would move, and so I drove her home, pointing backwards, but on the proper side of the street.
One sad day, on the way home from the grocery store, she had an engine disaster. I got her parked and turned off. The kids and I walked home and got the little red wagon for the groceries. Later when we went to tow her home she had put a big pool of oil onto the street. We couldn’t afford to fix her, but I still loved her. We kept her in the garage, towing her with us when we moved.
Although MG1100s were clearly “my thing,” my husband was always supportive. Before the Internet, parts were impossible to find. When a broken-down MG1100 would show up in a field or somebody’s yard, he would tell me about it and encourage me to buy it and bring it home. At one time we had four parts cars in our yard.
Finally, in 1996 we gave Natasha a ground-up restoration. The interior except for carpet and headliner is still original, and just fine.
British Motor Cars sold their 1100 mainly under six different marques—Morris, MG, Riley, Wolseley, Vanden Plas, and the Austin America. The bodies and engines were all the same. Each had a unique grille and other trim, but they all had the same door handles. Instead of shock absorbers, they had a liquid “Hydrolastic” suspension system with tubing running front to back between reservoir “bags” that held a water/alcohol mixture under pressure. The system offered a beautiful ride, but was sometimes tricky to maintain. The 1100, which closely followed the Mini, had many innovations for the time including disc brakes, curved side windows, and a crosswise engine with front wheel drive.
In her first life, Natasha got loudly laughed at another time for wearing snow chains on her front wheels. She plowed through it very well and was a good little snow car. Now, I don’t even drive her in the rain.
About ten years ago I did restore one of my parts cars. I wanted to paint a car myself. A body shop got Denise my 1965 4-door MG1100 all ready and primed. Then I spent six weeks in our garage painting her sky blue with sign paint and a little brush.
Denise got a rebuilt 4-synchro engine, indoor/outdoor green grass carpet, and leather upholstery made on the pattern of her original vinyl. I made the door panels out of oak doorskin and eliminated the back seat because I like the space back there.
Meanwhile, I had found a right hand drive Vanden Plas Princess 1100 on the Internet and brought her from England to live with us. In 2004 the three of them had a Christmas party.
Every August 15 I drive Natasha her age in miles. This year we went 50—two extra, but she could handle it.
Last Labor Day Saturday I drove her the 230-mile round trip to the Portland, Oregon All British Field Meet. A lot of people came by, gazed back into their memories, and told me once they had one just like that.
Since the first 1100s were sold in 1962, 2012 will be the year of their 50th anniversary. It doesn’t seem like that long. As the original owner of Natasha I don’t feel special—I just feel normal, and I still love her. But wait — is it normal to write a poem to your car? A few years ago I did just that.
The ride is fantastic
When it’s Hydrolastic,
And fifty-five horses are surely enough.
It’s an eleven hundred
In case you have wondered.
Come on, and I’ll show you her stuff.
We’ll take on a curve -
This baby won’t swerve.
She’ll hold strong and true all the while.
Other cars will say “Toot”
‘Cause she is so cute,
And the rest of the day you will smile.
By Herberta Gray, 2011