I stood on the wooden floor of the barn and stared at the carcass. It was a tub, a driveline, frame rails, and suspension. The engine was painted, carburetors rebuilt, water pump and cooling lines replaced. If you looked closely you could see the shiny new brake lines that were tucked along the frame to eventually direct the new fluid from the new master cylinder to the new wheel cylinders. There was no wiring, no dash, no interior, no fenders or doors. The fuel tank and instrument panel were stored twenty feet away. The windshield was leaning against a wall. I thought about the time that was left and how many other things that I needed to do that had absolutely nothing to do with the car. I realized it was time to move in a different direction.
My wife Linda took the news much better than I expected. The car would not be ready for our daughter’s July 4th wedding.
The 1952 MGTD first came into my life in high school. My father, Ron Sr., owned a garage and decided to buy a car to restore. I recall riding in the tow truck to pick out of a backyard the very rusty black sports car that possessed such beautiful lines. It was slow going as the car was taken down to the tub and chassis. I chipped away at it as time allowed and, as a graduation gift, my parents surprised me by giving me the registration. It was still years until it was drivable, and virtually everyone that I know from that time period has a memory of working on the car in some capacity. Eventually the MG became my primary transportation. It always started and never broke down with a problem that required more than a tap on the fuel pump.
I met my future wife while working at my father’s garage, and I am certain the MG was a major asset for me in getting the attention of the prettiest girl in town. On our wedding day her father drove her to the church in the MG decorated with flowers. After the wedding reception, as we drove home on a twisty country road, an approaching truck veered into our lane as we came around a tight turn. I cranked the wheel right and then left and the car held its line from asphalt to dirt and back to asphalt. It had been a close call and when we put the car to sleep in the barn that night I still recall giving it a pat on the steering wheel before turning off the ignition and headlights.
We drove the car a great deal, and when our daughter Jessica was born we put a wool blanket across the driveshaft tunnel and made it a three seater. Three years later our son Derek got the middle seat and Jess moved to the space behind the seat. We were reduced to short rides on the back roads near home. Eventually the car saw less use and sat in the barn.
The brakes were the first to go. The master cylinder that had been rebuilt multiple times began to leak. The wheel cylinders froze up. Rust showed through the lacquer in countless places. The car needed another complete restoration.
I never forgot about the car. I stockpiled parts for the future. One year it was a stainless exhaust. The next I bought wheel cylinders and a new master cylinder. I would ask for gift certificates to Moss knowing that one day there would be time.
No Time to Spare
Rather than slow down, life accelerated dramatically. My daughter’s boyfriend Pat proposed to her and a wedding was planned. My wife decided early in the process that I was going to be driving Jess to her wedding in the MG. I had nearly a year to get the car ready, so I did not anticipate any real problems. The car was taken apart down to the tub, frame, suspension and driveline. All of the old wiring was taken out, the interior was removed and stored, and I began to install new parts as it sat on wooden blocks in the barn.
Two things went wrong that I had not considered. First, the winter was especially cold and long, making mechanical progress difficult. The second issue was even more unpredictable: the wedding photographer saw our old Dutch Barn as a perfect backdrop. For some reason this changed my wife’s perspective on the condition of the property. Everything had to be fixed and everything had to be painted. “But the people who are coming have been to the house many times and seem to like it the way it is.” I debated and lost. It wasn’t even close.
Siding, sills, trim, scraping and painting. It all got done, but the clock had been running the entire time. I would not get the car finished for the wedding.
Going Full Throttle
On Saturday, the 14th of June, less than three weeks before the wedding, everything changed. Linda was having a conversation with my father’s wife Loretta about the wedding plans and mentioned how the MG wasn’t going be finished in time. That same morning my father drove to see my brother, Tom. Then my brother unexpectedly called me to ask what was happening with the car. I told him the body was a disaster and the car was in a million pieces all over the barn. “I’m coming over to take a look,” he said. Apparently, by the expression on his face, “a million pieces” and “disaster” looks much worse than it sounds over the phone. On Tuesday we hauled everything out of the barn and brought it to the garage. After a waterblasting on Wednesday, on Thursday the 19th, the restoration officially began.
Tom’s perspective was inspiring. “Let’s go full throttle and see how far we can get,” he said. Tom sealed, primed, and sanded during the day, shouldering most of the work on his own. I was limited to what I could contribute at this point because he had told me to “keep my grubby, greasy hands away from his bodywork.” Tom wasn’t sure at this point if the car could be finished in time. I, on the other hand, was certain. I knew that once he and my father were involved in the project, failure was simply not an option.
Soon, the once rusty panels were smooth and the color of grey primer. Wimbledon White paint first made its appearance on Friday the 20th. Once the firewall was painted, things began to accelerate. While Tom massaged the body and fenders back to new condition, I started on the wiring and mechanicals. On Saturday the wiring harness went in, the instrument panel was replaced, and the components that mounted to the firewall were installed. On Monday we ran the engine. As we progressed, the need for parts consistently came to the surface. At this point, when I was speaking to the Moss representatives, I would ask if the parts were in Virginia, which meant short shipping times, or California. As luck would have it, all of the essentials in my late parts orders were in Virginia. As the week continued, Tom went on with the bodywork, finishing painting panels on Thursday the 26th. We began reassembling the body on the next day, exactly one week before the wedding.
Sunday afternoon capped off the weekend when my father and his wife stopped in to check on the progress and helped lift the hood in place. The next day I gave the car a shake-down. The brakes were a little spongy and the carburetors needed more attention but it drove well and shifted just as I remembered. On Tuesday, July 1st, the car left the shop for the trip to my house and its place in the freshly painted barn. It was the longest trip that the car had taken in over two decades. As I was driving, the skies began to leak rain. I pulled the car inside just as it picked up intensity. The rain was to continue for the rest of the week.
Because of the rain, it was the last time that the car would be out of the barn until the morning of the wedding. I had a number of concerns but countered them with the overriding belief that the MG had never failed me and certainly would not do so on the day of my daughter’s wedding.
July 4th was overcast with a threat of rain and there was no time for additional adjustments or testing. Wearing my tuxedo I brought the car out of the barn for the first time since it had come home. It fired immediately and had never looked better. I had hedged my bets on good Karma by putting a box of tools and a test light behind the seat where no one could see. The photographers snapped away as the car seemed to glow, joyfully back in the middle of a family activity again.
Jess looked beautiful as she posed for photos from the passenger seat. It was time for us to drive the eight miles to the reception. As we pulled out of the driveway and drove up the road I listened and felt for any potential problem. My daughter laughed and joked with me the entire time.
Jess and Pat were to wed in an outdoor, lakeside ceremony. The plan was for me to drive Jess up to a small walking bridge and escort her across and up the aisle. The two of us sat in the car, away from everyone else in the world and waited for the signal. As we sat there talking, it flashed through my mind that I had not fully tightened the bolt that retains the steering column in a collar under the dash. I reached back to the box of tools, grabbed two adjustable wrenches, and tightened the collar while we both laughed. At last, the signal was given, and I drove my daughter to the start of the rest of her life.
The evening flew by and fireworks signaled the end of the celebration. It was time for my wife and I to drive home from a wedding in the MG as we had so many years before. The engine fired to life as I reached for controls that were familiar even in the darkness of the unlit parking lot. I pushed the car a little more, revving higher between shifts the way I did years ago. It responded flawlessly. The ride home was over much too soon. I pulled the car into the same barn that I had thirty-three years earlier. Linda smiled at me as I patted the steering wheel, turned off the ignition and headlights, and climbed out.
By Ron Mulson
Wedding photos by Casey Connell Photography