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Best Buddies

David and son Colin arrive in their 1964 MGB.

One of our customer service reps here at Moss Motors recently told me about two local guys—buddies George Heesen and David Ristig—who were in a friendly competition to see who could finish his restoration project first. Since the two cars they were working on would be featured in this issue of British Motoring, I thought it would make a great story and be of interest to possible restorers reading our magazine. George and David agreed, and recently I went to meet them. It turns out there’s a lot more to their story than two guys, an MGB and a Bugeye.

George and son Rohun are a happy pair with a lot of pride. They begin to tell me about their 1959 Bugeye, and Rohun quickly dominates the conversation with all of the technical details of the work. George watches his son quietly and with a smile, and after a few moments, he speaks up to tell me how proud he is of Rohun.

David and son Colin arrive in their 1964 MGB, and suddenly the pride and friendship has quadrupled. The boys are good friends, as are the dads. Colin relays a funny tale of Rohun accidentally igniting his own sweatshirt while welding, and we all have a laugh.

George and son Rohun are a happy pair with a lot of pride.

I’m amazed that these two families, who live in the same neighborhood, not only have sons who are friends, but also fathers who are friends, plus a common interest in restoring British classic cars. The chances of this happening seem as unlikely as being hit by lightning, but I haven’t heard the whole story yet. George and David begin to explain while the boys hover over the MGB and discuss what’s unfinished.

George and David first met more than 20 years ago while living with their wives in Carpinteria, a small town just south of Santa Barbara. They shared a “common wall” as next-door neighbors in an apartment building. George bought the Bugeye and began restoration, but the project was put on hold in favor of something a little more important—he and his wife were about to have a child. While George’s Bugeye engine sat on David’s engine stand, Rohun was born. The previous day, Colin beat Rohun into the world. That engine sat for 15 years while the boys grew up, and during those years George moved his family to Goleta. David’s family soon followed.

A few years ago, an MGB was given to David in disrepair, and Colin saw the opportunity for a possible first car. He bugged his dad to let him start the restoration, and when Rohun learned of this, he in turn bugged George to finish the Bugeye.

None of the four had much experience seriously rebuilding a car; George works as an administrator with the YMCA and David is a “recovering banker.” They are all very bright, and Colin explained how so much of the theory he was learning in AP Physics was made more understandable as he worked on the car. Both boys taught themselves to weld. In fact, Rohun did such a great job on the Bugeye’s rocker panels that he earned the praise of the professional auto body guy who painted the car—he didn’t realize a rookie had done the job.

Most of the work was actually done by the boys, who now are so protective of their work that when they have licenses, they will absolutely not drive the cars to school; they’re wary of the damage that might occur in the student parking lot. Both dads note that they were greatly helped by the Moss parts counter; it’s located nearby. Rohun and Colin chime in with “Three trips on Saturdays,” which apparently was pretty common.

Both cars have been upgraded to five-speed transmissions, alternators and electronic ignitions. The Sprite has a Weber, disc brakes and a hard top they have yet to clean up. Rohun did a lot of the de-seaming and says it was a hard job that was beyond the cheap Dremel tips he bought on eBay; each failed after only a few minutes of use. George and Rohun agree that the most challenging job on the Sprite was doing the interior upholstery.

The MGB still has a three-main bearing engine, but the displacement has been slightly enlarged; it also has a header, hotter cam and a head reworked for unleaded gas. David and Colin first fired the engine only a few weeks before our meeting.  David is quick to note that he thought the worst job was replacing the windshield.

The MGB has the driver’s seat installed, but it also has lots of loose wiring and internal panels that need to be addressed. The Sprite looks gorgeous and is 99 percent finished.

But what turns my head as both cars drive away is the happiness radiating from each pair. Rohun actually has his arm draped over the back of his dad’s driver’s seat, and he and George look like the best of buddies. David cautiously gets the MGB underway with just a little jerkiness in first gear, causing Colin to really hang on as he perches on the passenger side floorboard—one hand on the dash and the other on the back to steady himself.

Both faces are plastered with huge grins as they realize they are both riding in their hard work, even if it’s not completely roadworthy for a passenger just yet. George has pulled over to make sure the MGB doesn’t need any help, and as David drives by George yells out with a laugh, “Sure you don’t need a push?” All four drive off back to David’s garage and our interview is over.

By Christine Knight

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