By John Russell
The 1930 Ford Model A pickup truck sat in the woods, surrounded by trees, its canvas roof hanging like Spanish moss.
I had put a lot of time into my brother’s 1928 Model A pickup—he could drive and I had no license, being too young. But I wanted my own.
“Would $50 be too much?” the owner asked me.
I was 14 years old, that amount of cash seemed like a fortune. I had worked in a cherry plant all summer in 1962 to raise the money. It sure disappeared easily.
I purchased the truck and my brother and I towed it home with my father’s Pontiac—with a Michigan State Police car trailing behind us. The trooper was himself a Model A owner and didn’t ticket me, instead he became a good friend and source to repair the ‘A.’
The truck had no box, and it didn’t run. The tires barely held air and the six-volt Wonch battery was leaking. It was a two-year project, and it became the first car I drove legally after getting my license.
How does this all fit into owning a British car? The story continues with more Model As and a 1923 Ford Model TT truck found beside a barn in rural Northport, Michigan. I was told it was the first wrecker in Leelanau County. No hook, not running, but cute and restorable, its half-moon cab solid. We towed it to the farm where my girlfriend lived and commenced to take it apart.
I had joined the Antique Automobile Club at 16 years of age, and met a man from Elk Rapids, Michigan who collected and restored classic autos. Ed Grace was a machinist and had a barn with some old cars, some of which he wanted to sell to fund the building of a Hupmobile. One car that he wished to sell was an old English car. At 76 years old, Ed had too much difficulty getting in and out of it. I told him I wasn’t interested. The car probably leaked oil. But the draw of wandering through his car barn was too tempting. I drove my Model A north to the village with my Bassett Hound for company and peered through the dusty barn windows. “Oh, no,” I thought, “he didn’t say the car was a classic MG,” which I identified even with a cover on it. He came out and uncovered a beautiful autumn red 1953 MG-TD roadster. All original.
He wanted $1200. This was 1968, a whole lot of money for a 19-year old. I told him about my schooling at Michigan State University and that the price was a tough one for me. He responded by telling me to counter-offer.
“$950,” I said.
He considered for a moment.
“$900,” he said.
“You’re going the wrong way,” I told him. He responded that he wanted me to have the car, he knew it would get a good home and be kept in running condition. Where do I get that kind of cash, I wondered. Sell a car? Yup. The Model TT was sold to the first caller, and I drove the MG home on April 28, 1968, in a snowstorm. I was wet and cold, having no idea how to put up the side curtains. Nor could I figure out the wiper motor. But the car drove beautifully. It even leaked a little oil.
By the fall, I had figured out the car’s operation, and discovered over the summer what a chick magnet it was. It had to go to college with me.
Working my way through school with two jobs, the car was handy on campus. I could fold the windscreen down, drive under the teacher’s parking lot barrier at the Journalism Building, and go to classes. I figured the campus security would never think a student would drive a car like my TD, and I drove it through graduation, never getting caught.
Stored in the winter months, it was fun returning to campus each spring with my little British car. A broken axle shaft and a spun bearing in the engine were quickly repaired with little else to fix for years to come.
Upon graduation, I returned to Traverse City where I was hired on as a photojournalist at the local newspaper. The car was my lifeboat, taking me away from garages where my Oldsmobile was being serviced, repairing my moods when girls came and went from my life, and opening whole avenues to driving fun.
I drove the car in rallies with the Twin Bay Sports Car Club, drove in a local hill climb (‘Y’ Class, as in, “Why is he running?”), drove on color tours in the fall, and faithfully put her into storage for the northern Michigan winters.
I added a wife and family to my life. She drove Triumphs in her youth so she knew what she was getting into.
I’m not sure if some vehicles are better built than others or if quality is a byproduct of the joy of upkeep and usage, but the little red sports car has become part of the community and a huge part of our lives. There have been a lot of trophies, lots of Moss Motors parts and even a stint in the showroom at Hagerty’s world headquarters in Traverse City. The car is still used each summer traveling life’s highways, enjoying club events and activities. I just celebrated 50 years of ownership with a party at our farm. A young woman asked me how I felt when driving the car every year for so many years. “I’m 19 again,” I told her. No matter how many years pass, I’ll remain 19 years old until I can no longer drive. MM