My Uncle Jake Darsey was one of the most influential men in my life. Next to my dad, I’m sure he had more impact on my life as a boy than any other adult male. Not until I was in late elementary school or early jr. high did I discover to my great shock that he was not perfect. He played that special role in my life that is in the job description of uncles. He had a dad-like authority, and yet the willingness to let his nephews get away with just a little bit more than dads would.
As a young man he was a big “kid” at 6 feet and 200 pounds. Part way through high school Jake got a job working at a gas station and thought he was making pretty good money, so he decided that high school was a waste of his time. When he announced to his 4′ 11″ Irish mom (my maternal grandmother) that he was going to quit school, she made it clear that he was going to graduate from high school even if she had to take him by the hand and walk him to school each day. He finished school with no more discussion.
Because of a knee injury, incurred when his leg got caught between the bumper of two cars, Jake was declared 4-F and was unable to join the military during World War II. He was devastated.
When Jake and my Aunt Jeanne were married in San Diego, Jake drove his car to the Los Angeles Airport the week before the wedding. He knew that if his honeymoon car was within a hundred miles of the wedding his friends would find it and do who-knows-what to it. I never asked what he had done to his friends that would make him so suspicious.
Jake was such a great mechanic and practical fix-anything kind of person, and so good-hearted and willing to do things for others that when he died the priest at his church said at his funeral that Jake was one of the few numbers he had on speed dial on the parish phone.
Jake was one of those guys who was born with a wrench in his hand. There were always cars around his house, including a 3.8 liter Jaguar sedan, a Morgan on which he did a full ground-up restoration…and a BRG 1969 MGB.
His neighbor up the street had a blue MGB GT in his driveway, and I would occasionally ask Jake, “When are you going to get that GT and restore it for me?” One of those occasions was during a visit at my parents’ house. When I asked if he’d gotten that B-GT yet he replied, “No, but you can have this one…” as he handed me a picture of his BRG 69 B. Of course I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.
My brother and I bought plane tickets to fly to San Diego so we could drive the car back to Oregon, which worried my mother (Jake’s sister) to no end. But then the water pump went out, so we had to abort the trip.
Eventually my father in law and a friend of his drove to San Diego and trailered the B to Oregon. When they arrived at my house with the trailered car, for some reason they decided not to wait for me to get home to help unload the car. So picture two 75 year old men, rain, and my wife in the car to steer. The brakes weren’t working, so my father in law told my wife, “Just steer, and I’ll control the car with the rope.” Well, that went well…until the rope broke and my poor wife had to steer the run-away car backwards off of the trailer toward our garage. It just kind of glanced off the garage door frame and bounced a little off the back wall.
For a few months the car didn’t run, and our cat adopted it as her bed, so the B became known in the neighborhood as the cat bed. After some time a friend helped me get it running and I drove it in kind of a beat-up condition for several years. (A dozen years later, the neighbors still call it the cat bed.)
When I licensed the car in Oregon I got the plate “Jakes B” in honor of my uncle. I sent a picture of the car to Jake, who was in the hospital at the time, and my aunt said that picture put a smile on his face and was the best medicine he got.
When I was teaching my daughter to drive I thought it was important for her to drive a stick, and of course an MG; so we had a couple of lessons in the B (pre-restoration). As we rounded one corner the driver’s door flew open, she panicked, and we kind of ended up on a curb. Poor girl hasn’t driven it since.
Oregon is, of course, the land of rain. One day (pre-restoration) driving along with my wife in the car one of the windshield wiper blades (she claims two of them) flew off the car. (All parts falling off this car are of the finest English workmanship.) She almost wet her pants laughing. On one grocery store trip with to top off, it started to rain. For the trip home she held our take-and-bake pizza over her head. A different definition of “bonnet.”
In late 2007 or early 2008 I casually said to my mom, “One of these days I’m going to restore the MG.” Without missing a beat she said, “I’ll pay for it.” I gave her a hint about how many thousands of dollars we were looking at and she simply said, “Okay.”
About that time I met my friend Jim Pott; genius mechanic, great guy, and MG owner. For a year we spent basically every Saturday in my garage, took the car down to bare metal, and built it back up. During that year Moss Motors’ phone sales rep Carlos Gonzalez was my constant contact and helpful friend. I looked forward to making phone orders; not just because I got more parts, but because Carlos was just fun to talk to.
After much sweat and many ups and downs, we had the car finished and on the road about two weeks before my mom died, and she was able to see the finished beauty. (As of Memorial day 2012 My Precious will have been on the road for three years.)
Soon after completion of the restoration my son wanted to take his girlfriend for a ride in the B. As he was backing the MG out of the garage, I said to him, “Son, remember I love you more than this car…but not much.”
A friend thought that was a terrible thing to say, but I replied, “No, he understands.” Such is the life of someone whose father loves MGs and has a sarcastic sense of humor.
Jake was truly a favorite out of many aunts and uncles. He was a big teddy-bear of a man; always up-beat, loving and authentically engaged with the people around him. I love MG’s, but because of who Jake was, I have a passion for this car.
By Marc Andresen