The following would not have taken place without belonging to a car club, and being involved in the British car community. Specifically, had we not been supported by the members of the San Diego MG Club, this would never have happened.
MG Magnettes of the previous century were built as two major models: ZA, from 1953 to 1955, and then the ZB, from 1956 to 1958. To be Anglo-authentic, one would say the model is a “Zed A.”
About two years ago, I happened to be at the home of fellow MG Magnateers and “Real MGs Have 4 Doors” aficionados Wayne and Dee Johnson. The two of them were excited about a phone call they received from a Mrs. Thompson, a widow of an old racing crony. Wayne and Dee of course are very excitable whenever the word Magnette is mentioned. Mrs. Thompson told them she had decided it was time to sell her Magnette, which she had owned since new. I remember saying something like, “Wow, that sounds cool. Let me know what happens.” I already had three and a third Magnettes, including a 1955 ZA that the Johnsons had previously fixed me up with, because it was 5,000 times better than the ZB I had previously planned to restore.
The following day at the San Diego MG Club meeting, my wife Diane and I happened to sit next to the Johnsons. Wayne had pictures. The car was crammed into a garage, details were hard to see, and the car was dusty. During “Show and Tell,” Wayne proceeded to tell everyone about the car, and that it was “rust free.” I said to myself, “No Magnette is rust free.” Diane’s eyes glazed over.
Nonetheless, I told Wayne and Dee I’d like to look at it…what could be the harm? A date was arranged, and Wayne was nice enough to go with me. They had removed the car cover and cleared all the stuff from around it. I had brought a pick, strong flashlight and magnet (to check a Magnette).
I could scarcely comprehend my first impressions. This was an absolutely complete and unmolested car. Little “Magnette” details like the clock were still there, the very special rear view mirror, the beautiful MG-octagoned intake manifold, all the wood trim was intact.
But, I was there to look for rust. So I looked, and I looked. Just like the B’s and A’s most of us are familiar with, there are places where you know there is going to be rust on a Magnette—sills, bottom of doors, bottom of the spare tire well, boot floor, wheel wells, “dog leg” areas by all fenders (sorry…wings!), lower sections of fenders, etc. I checked them all. Totally rust free. I couldn’t believe it. The bottom of the car is clean—not really even surface rust.
Little things you rarely see…a California “black plate” car (meaning the car has had the same license plates since the 50s), service stickers on the door-jambs, the registration mounting on the steering column in a plastic holder. Back “in the day,” it was required that your car’s registration be readily visible from the outside of the car. The chrome trim around the windows was perfect. As nice as the other ZA was that I had planned to restore, this one was far superior.
We then entered “negotiations.” Let’s just say 88-years-young Mrs. Millicent Rose Thompson knew what she had! But, in the end, we agreed. I promised to take good care of it, and that I would make it my goal to give her a ride in it before she left us. She said she was definitely planning on being here for her 90th birthday, but wouldn’t make any guarantees after that.
So, the pressure is on! She was both sad to see it go, but I believe genuinely pleased to see an enthusiast have it. In fact, she said she would not knowingly sell it to a hot-rodder!
I believe she and I have struck up a great friendship, which I hope to cherish and nourish. I had talked to my wife that it would be neat to at least temporarily call the car “Millicent” in her honor. It seems that many in the Magnette community have named their cars. Since the car was designed by Gerald Palmer, there are many variations of that name…Geraldine, etc. “Driving Miss Daisy” was a name my wife was fond of, for the planned restoration of the first ZA. After all, it is thanks to Mrs. Thompson’s vision and passion that she chose to always store this car inside, and keep it covered. She never allowed it to be molested. The car has been up on jacks for many years. I told her I would like to call the car “Millicent” in her honor. I got a big smile. Then, I made a mistake. I said something like, “Maybe Millie for short?” The change on her face was immediate. “NO! I have loved my name for 88 years. It is a beautiful name, If you are going to call the car “Millie,” I’d rather have you NOT call it anything at all. NO!” Oops. Then I said, “I noticed on the DMV registration tags, that your middle name is Rose. That is really a beautiful name. Millicent Rose.” An even bigger smile than the first filled her face. That’s it: Millicent Rose! It not only sounds better, it rolls off the tongue so much nicer, and just has a natural rhythm to it! And, it’s no longer a “temporary name.”
As we planned the second trip back to get the engine (which was NOT in the car) and some other bits, Millicent was concerned as to what time we would be back. She wanted to know because her boyfriend was coming over later, and she wanted to get her nap first! The next night she was going to a party, and then she was seeing her boyfriend again the following night! This lady is a hoot!
Recently, it occurred to us that we were not making the progress on the restoration of “Millicent Rose” that we had hoped. Isn’t this always the case? Therefore, we asked our “Magnettic friends,” Wayne & Dee Johnson, if we could all get together, using their restored ZB, and take Mrs. Thompson out to lunch. It wouldn’t be her car, but better than nothing. After all, it was our Club members and friends, the Johnsons who led me to meet Mrs. Thompson and purchase the car.
On the appointed day, we picked Mrs. Thompson up. She had been to the beauty saloon to get her hair done, and she was all dressed in her finest for the big day. Pretty impressive just for a ride in a car! So, Wayne drove the car, I sat in the back seat, and Millicent rode in the front passenger seat, with the energy of a little kid. She probably hadn’t been in a running Magnette since (my calculation) 1965. She ran her hands and eyes all over the place, with great comments like “Ohhhhh, I remember this!” It was so wonderful; she was literally fondling the car. Then, she looked down at the E-Brake, and told us, “After work each day, I would go over to the liquor store, next to where I worked. I would get my bottle of red wine. It fit right here (pointing to the space between the driver’s seat and the brake handle) just perfectly. By the time I got home, the bottle was empty, and I was in a much better mood.”
Ahhhhhh, the Days of Yore!
By Steve and Diane Kirby
San Diego MG Club