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John Twist: “MG Is My Destiny”

John Twist insists he is not a car guy—he’s a MG guy. He doesn’t care about any other makes or models, not even other British cars. It’s all about MG, and has been for over 40 years. MG owners around the world have benefited from this exclusive affair.

John Twist

Twist was just 16 years old when he first spied a gold MGTD in the back corner of a mechanic’s workshop, an event that would set his life trajectory. “It was love at first sight,” says Twist, who resolved to own one then and there. He says that when he opened the owner’s manual on the TD he bought in 1968, “I was just taken by the language and the illustrations.”

The Marshall, Michigan, native spent his tour of duty in Vietnam pouring through a Moss catalog planning the TD’s restoration. Upon discharge, Twist went directly to Moss headquarters, purchased needed parts, and then disassembled the car in three days flat.

“I did everything wrong,” Twist says, admitting it took forever to put back together. But he learned a lot in the process and soon was working on MGs for clients to earn money while in college.

The ’70s were a time of great passion, and Twist was pondering what career he would be passionate about when inspiration struck: Why not open a MG dealership? “A light went off like a Lutheran minister getting the calling,” says Twist.

MG As A Calling
With a new sense of purpose, Twist set about getting the training he needed in service, parts and sales. He contacted British Leyland, only to find out there was no training program. He tried to land a job at the Grand Rapids MG dealership, but they told him he didn’t have enough experience. So he went to the source—England—and landed a mechanic job at University Motors in London, the largest MG dealership in the world.

When Twist returned to Michigan, he got a job at the MG dealership that previously turned him down, then worked at two other auto companies before going into business for himself. He got a chance to buy an old brick garage in Ada for $3,500, and it became the base for University Motors Ltd. in 1975.

Twist met his wife, Caroline, a year later and she became his business partner, handling the books while he handled the mechanical side. “We complemented each other,” says Twist. As their reputation for service and restoration grew, University Motors became one of Moss’ biggest customers.

Popular Events
To share his passion with customers and enthusiasts, Twist launched an annual summer party that grew in popularity over the years (there were 26 parties), peaking with 550 MGs on the field. He chaired the first joint-register meet, MG International Indy 1996, which attracted 1,300 MGs. His favorite 1962 MGA 1600 Mark II Deluxe, purchased in 1976 and restored in 1980, ferried he and Caroline to events, although they owned plenty of other MGs, too.

Twist also got involved in the industry. He launched the North American MGB Register from the shop, and was co-founder of the British Motor Trade Association.
One of Twist’s trademarks is his willingness to share his expertise. “My goal is to make MG ownership as effortless as possible,” he says. “There’s great pleasure in being able to work on your own car.”

Sharing Expertise

When John Twist explains technical issues at his popular seminars, he uses blown up graphics, photos and hands-on demonstrations so owners see the techniques in action on the actual car engine or chassis.

University Motors presented a technical seminar every February for 26 years on topics from tune-ups to gearbox rebuilds. “One year we had 12 gearboxes apart in the shop at one time,” Twist says. At MG 2008 in Valley Forge, Penn., he did a rolling tech seminar, diagnosing problems for over 50 car owners.

To spread the MG gospel, Twist started writing technical articles for MG Magazine, and then for the American MGB Association magazine, which still sells a bound reprint of the articles. Twist sells his own publication, “University Motors Technical Book” off his website, a 300-page volume of advice, technical detail and humor on all MG models, with an emphasis on MGBs. His website, universitymotorsltd.com, features over 1,100 questions and answers on every technical question imagined, and he has a few hundred more to post.

Videos on the most common questions followed next, and now there are about 100 posted on his website and linked to You Tube, and more to come. They’re a maximum of eight minutes long, ranging from how to fold a convertible top to how a four-synchro gearbox works on a late-model MGB. Some topics, like Stromberg carburetors, are covered in a series. The more in-depth or technical subjects, like “Talking Tour of the Mark IV MGB,” are available for sale on DVD. “There are so many techniques,” says Twist, “seeing is believing.”

An hour a day is set aside to answer owner questions via phone, from 1-2 p.m., free of charge. “It’s hard to stump me,” says Twist. “I’m a walking font of knowledge.” This is a man who is happiest talking about MGs and helping owners sort out issues, as so many people can testify.

A New Era
In 2008, a double whammy struck: The Michigan economy collapsed at the same time as his wife’s health. Caroline was diagnosed with lung cancer. They closed the business in 2009, had a big auction, went to Hawaii, got swept up in their daughter’s wedding and met with doctors. Caroline passed away in January.

What’s the new plan for Twist and University Motors? “I can’t retire,” says Twist, now 61 years old. “MG is my destiny.” His 22-year old son, Brooks, is his new business partner, and they’re currently doing mechanical benchwork on gearboxes, carburetors, wiper motors and TD differentials.

They’re also producing more technical info for the website and more videos. There are many two-day seminars on a variety of topics scheduled around the country this year sponsored by clubs and shops; check the website for details.

Of course, many people in the hobby are hoping Twist will go back to servicing cars. University Motors had clients from around the country, and some customers actually sold their MGs when he shut down the business. Twist admits that service was always the engine driving the business, but so far he’s been saying “maybe…probably…” He’s hired back two of his longtime mechanics, so the emphasis is on probably.

It’s hard to deny destiny.

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