the way we were 2

Movie Magic with an MG TC

Whatever happened to that British Racing Green MG TC in the academy-award winning film, The Way We Were? 39 years later, I can tell you that it’s happily parked in my garage.

Acquiring my MG TC
At age 10 I saw a photograph of a 1947 MG TC. It was black, with chrome wire wheels, and red wheel wells. I was in love.

About 9 years later, circa 1966, I started searching for a sports car. I was considering a Triumph TR-3 and found one at a car dealer called, “The Man In Red” on Ventura Blvd., in Encino, CA. While looking at the TR-3, I was directed to a rather shabby 1947 MG TC, which renewed the old memory of the Black and Red one. That got me started. My search for a better TC brought me to Mike Goodman’s repair shop, at that time located on Pico Blvd, in West Los Angeles. On his bulletin board, I saw an add for a 1949, British Racing Green, MG TC. It was gorgeous, and only $600 more than the shabby one I saw in Encino. My brother and I pooled our savings, and acquired the car for $1,800.

An interesting phone call
Seven years later, in 1973, I was a pre-law student, when I got a call from the Transportation Department at the Warner Brothers Studios. It seems that the black MG TC, which they had formerly used in the T. V. Movie “Love Story”, with Ryan O’Neal, was unavailable for a new movie that they were filming. A high-school friend of mine, who worked as a grip for Warner Brothers, told them that I had a TC. They asked if I would consider renting it to them for a week or so.

I thought it would be cool to have my car in a movie, and they would pay me outrageous money, for that time ($350 per week), to use my MG. I, of course, jumped at the chance.

Sound studio 22 by means of New York City
They wanted the see the car first, which turned out to be a real kick-in-the pants for my brother and me. We drove about 12 miles, to the Warner Brothers Studios, in Burbank, CA. We were then directed, by the gate guard, to the proper sound studio. But before going there, we “mistakenly” made an incorrect turn (accidents can happen), and ended up cruising throughout the studio grounds.

I could almost hear the honky-tonk piano playing, as we drove down the dirt road of “Western Town.” We found ourselves in the middle of a remarkably authentic old-west town, which included a general store, barber shop, saloon, dress shop, Marshall’s office, and, of course, an “Undertake.” We stopped in front of the “Longbranch Saloon,” shut off the motor and tried to imagine how many stars had walked down the wooden walkways and through those swinging doors.

Yes, they had all been here, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Doris Day, Cary Grant, “Bogey” (Treasure of Sierra Madre), Elizabeth Taylor (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”), Paul Newman (“Hud”), Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway (“Bonnie and Clyde”), Clint Eastwood (“Dirty Harry”) and yes, a likeable young actor with big political ambitions named Ronald Reagan. They had all worked on the Warner Brothers lot, and walked these streets. We could feel their presence. There we sat in our 1949 MG TC, just soaking it all in. What a unique and unforgettable experience. Looking back, I would have paid Warner Brothers the $350 for that 30 minute excursion.

We then traveled down a New York tenement set. The two-story brownstone apartments, that lined the street, had us believing we were in Manhattan. Years earlier, on this very street, a young Marlon Brando had strutted his talents in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Further on, we drove through a typical mid-1950s neighborhood. We stopped and viewed the house where a young troubled kid had lived with his parents, in one of my favorite movies. We were on the same street where James Dean had cruised, in his black ’50 Merc, Natalie Wood in tow, while filming “Rebel Without a Cause.”

When we finally arrived at the proper sound stage. The Head of Warner Brother’s Transportation Department, Jack Belou, met us and brought out film director Sydney Pollack. Mr. Pollack walked out of the sound stage, and saw the British Racing Green TC, with Oxblood seats. He walked around the car while nodding with approval. He told Mr. Belou, “I like the colors”, and added, “I think Bob (Robert Redford) can drive this.” He thanked us for bringing the car, shook our hands and he was off.

Mr. Belou told us to return the car on Monday morning, and we said good-bye. As we pulled away from the sound stage, we “unwittingly” made another wrong-turn, and found our way to the studio exit gate by means of New York City, Casablanca, and Tombstone, Arizona … What a blast!

A “new” single exhaust
Ten days later, I was informed that they were finished with the car, and that I could pick it up.

What was anticipated as another very pleasant experience, turned a bit sour when I saw the car. The TC was filthy, which didn’t concern me that much, but there was also a rather large dent in the front splash pan. I showed the dent to Mr. Belou, who acted very surprised and assured me that he would honor any repair estimate. This lifted my spirits a bit and I enjoyed another jaunt through the studio streets, before going home.

When I got home, however, my brother noticed that our really cool twin pipes, had somehow become a single exhaust.

Back in the 60s it was common to put an Austin-Healey muffler on British sports cars to turn a single exhaust into duals. I had done this, to the TC, and run the two pipes out the back of the car, on the drivers side, about two inches apart. It looked and sounded great. But when we lifted the car to see what had happened to the other pipe, we found that it had been removed, with an axe! Seriously, we could see where some ax strokes had missed their mark and left a slice in the piping.

I immediately called Mr. Belou, who, again, acted very surprised and assured me that he would honor any estimate for repairs.

Looking back, I imagine that the dual pipes didn’t look “period correct”, for what Mr. Pollack had in mind. I also imagine that he had 30 or 40 studio workers on the clock, at the time, and used the fastest means possible to correct the problem. I took the MG to Mike Goodman’s garage, for the repairs, and Mr. Belou was true to his word.

A tear in the seat is explained
About two weeks after picking up the car, from the studios, I noticed that one of the seams, on the drivers-side cushion, was split. I wasn’t sure if this was from the rental session, or just normal wear and tear. It would be eight months later, in Grauman’s Chineese Theater, before I discovered its origin.

In one of the shots, Redford and Streisand pull up to a country club to play tennis. Redford exits, in a normal manner, but Ms. Streisand stands up in the car, steps on the drivers seat and hops over the door. I almost stood up in the theater, pointed and yelled “A-ha!” I didn’t, but it certainly explained that mysterious tear in the seat cushion.

Another Revelation
In another scene, there’s a great shot of the TC being driven by Redford up a country road. I didn’t realize it in the theater, but when I got home, I had another “Aha” moment. The only way they could have gotten such a close-up shot, of a moving car, was to physically mount a movie camera (in those days, quite heavy), to the front of my car. That explained the dent in my front splash pan. I never realized that movies could be such a learning experience.

Worth it, not worth it…
About twenty years ago, I completely restored the TC. I left the original leather Oxblood seats (Streisand’s tear having been repaired), and changed the British Racing Green to Black.

Over the years, when I’d mentioned my TC and people would ask to see it, it’s been fun to tell them, “You already have.” When they look at me puzzled, I ask if they ever saw the movie, “The Way We Were”. I always get an answer like, “Oh sure, I saw that movie, with Redford and Streisand”. I then tell them that, “In that case, you’ve already seen my TC.”

I don’t know that I’ll ever rent another vehicle to the studios. Back in the early 1970’s, that check from Screen Gems, for $350.00, went a long way, for a struggling student. But today, if they wanted the car for “The Way We Were, Part 2”, they’d have to seriously up the ante, and agree to let me be present, during the filming, before I’d even consider it. One “on the spot” exhaust alteration is quite enough for one lifetime.

By Ron Fiore

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'Movie Magic with an MG TC' have 13 comments

  1. September 29, 2012 @ 4:51 pm Jerry C. Hubbard

    Wonderful Story. I’ve always wanted a TD and this might be the impetus I need to purchase one
    Jerry

    Reply

  2. October 1, 2012 @ 12:48 pm Ron Fiore

    I’m glad you liked the story Jerry. It really was a magical experience……….Good luck with your TD.

    Reply

  3. October 5, 2012 @ 2:19 pm Ed Leviker

    Ron,

    I live in Golden, Colorado and am currently in the final throes of restoring a ’48 MGTC EXU. I really enjoyed your article.

    Are you still in the LA area? My car was originally in Shires Green, but I am changing the color to Sequoia Cream, which is a creamy yellow with a lot of green in it. I am putting in a green interior with tan canvas top and tan carpets.

    Thanks again for the article. Now I am going to re-visit the movie. Ed Leviker

    Reply

  4. October 10, 2012 @ 8:59 am Ron Fiore

    Thanks for the kind words, Ed. Yes, I’m still in the Los Angeles area.

    Your TC’s color choice brings us back to the entertainment industry.

    For many years, Mike Love, of the Beach Boys, had a creamy yellow TC, with green leather interior and a tan top (he may still have it). I would some times see him tooling around Santa Monica in it.

    It makes for a very impressive car.

    I hope I get a chance to see yours one day.

    Reply

  5. October 30, 2012 @ 4:24 am phil

    In the early 80’s Vancouver was hollywood north. I did several “extra” bits. I had a 1965 mercedes 230 sl (euro version) that they wanted for a scene . It was the opening shot of a house party with all the high end cars parked in the drive. The weird thing is, someone else drove my car into frame and I drove in a newer 350 sl to the driveway. I couldn’t find the headlight switch so to this day if I see the movie on TV I point out the parked car with the headlights on.

    Reply

  6. November 1, 2012 @ 12:35 am Ron Fiore

    Hi Phil:

    Sounds like “Hollywood North” is a lot more careful with their rentals than “Hollywood South”.

    I’m glad that your 230 came out of it unharmed and with its exhaust system intact.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  7. April 6, 2014 @ 5:06 pm K S

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing. I first saw a green ’53 MGTD when I was 10 and fell in love. About 20 years later I bought one. Luckily my husband fell in love with it, too, and has done all the work over the past 30 years to get it to the shop and keep it running. Any MGTD lovers who haven’t seen Two for the Road should check it out on Netflix.

    Reply

  8. August 16, 2014 @ 7:45 pm Ron Fiore

    I’m glad you liked my story, K S……….Looks like we both fell in love with MG’s at an early age.

    I agree, “Two For the Road” was a great movie which has, hopefully, inspired other MG lovers.

    Keep enjoying your TD.

    rf

    Reply

  9. December 8, 2014 @ 7:27 pm Jim Gianatsis

    The Original Love Story MG TC!
    My first car in 1965 as a boy of 16 was a used 1952 MG TD which I kept though high school, but had to sell when my family moved across country.
    Later I dreamed of a prettier MG TC because of the tall 19in wire wheels, and because Ryan O’Neil and Ali McGraw had one in the movie Love Story.

    Some 40 year later I would finally learn of and buy a nicely restored British Racing Green first year -post war 1946 MG TC from a gentleman in Idaho who had taken in on a partial trade for an airplane. I had it shipped to my home in Woodland Hills, and drove it to the AAA office in nearby Canoga Park to have it titled. When I came back out into the AAA parking after registering it, I met a guy who was standing there admiring mine. We got to talking and he told me he owned a similar MG TC, in fact “… the one used in the movie Love Story”. You can imagine how excited I was to hear this.

    And of course I asked him if he still had the car. He replied yes, but that the car had been crashed during the filming of the movie and still sat in storage, in a garage back in Boston where the movie was made. I asked him what had happened and he said, he had warned Ryan O’Neil to not park the car on a hill with just the parking break to hold it, as it would not hold. But Ryan had forgotten his warning, set just the handbrake to park it on a steep Boston street hill (without the wheels turned into the curb) and the parking brake slipped, the car coast down the street and crashed at the bottom. It was towed to a garage somewhere where it still sits to this day.

    I’m sorry now that I never never thought to get the gentleman’s name and contact information. That was such a historic car, and with the low cost to restore a simple car like the TC with readily available parts, it would certainly be cost effective to repair and restore the car today. With legendary TCs like Carol Shelby’s race car commanding in the hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.

    Reply

    • January 9, 2016 @ 7:46 am Brakeservo

      So Ryan O’Neal crashed the TC? About 20 years ago he was filming some sort of private eye movie in Portland and drove a new Bentley in the story. As I watched from my 8th story office window he backed the big car into a pick up truck – obviously not something intended by the script. The Bentley suffered rear and tail light damage so filming stopped for the day.

      So a few years ago when “The Librarians” was filmed in Portland I insisted on doing the driving when they hired my classic Bentley for the show.

      Reply

  10. April 10, 2015 @ 8:06 pm fioreesq1@gmail.com

    fioreesq1@gmail.com

    RON FIORE

    Great Story Jim………..I”ve often wondered what happened to that black TC, in Love Story

    Leave it to that knuckle head Ryan O’Neill to ruin that sweet car. Although, maybe I should thank him. If he hadn’t mangled that car, I may have never been call to put my car in, “The Way We Were” !

    I live in Shadow Hills, Jim., not too far from Woodland Hills. If you ever go to the “Super Sunday” car meet, on Sundays, maybe we could hook-up………..I’d love to see your ’46, if you still have it.

    Thanks for sharing, Jim. Hopefully we’ll be seeing each other.

    RON FIORE

    fioreesq1@gmail.com

    Reply

  11. July 29, 2019 @ 8:23 am Jay

    I saw the movie “The Way We Were” on the airplane coming back from England in about 1964. I noticed your car has a louvered bonnet as does mine. Mine is a little different pattern but it seems this was done on several TCs over the years.

    Reply

    • October 11, 2019 @ 11:22 pm RON FIORE

      That’s true Jay…………..When I first inquired about the car, from Mike Goodman, I recall that he stated, “You know, it has a louvered hood”…………When he said that. though, I thought he had said, “You know, it has an “aluminum” hood”………….I had just assumed that they all had louvered hoods……………I found out later, that to “true MG aficionados”, a louvered hood is a “no-no”. But I love it, and wouldn’t change it…………..Hopefully we’ll cross paths some day and we can compare our “aluminum” :o) hoods……………..Take care amigo.

      RON FIORE

      Reply


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