By Chris Seely
I’ve always had an eye for cool old things—mainly tools, toys, pocket knives, etc. This was fostered by my mother who took my sister and I to yard sales nearly every weekend. For several summers growing up, we would get into the back of her Subaru station wagon and navigate her to the best sounding yard sales listed in the local paper. It was always an event. We would go to one or two, stop for breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, then get back in the car to hit the rest of the list. Some weekends we would return home with tools, books, games, and other treasures, and others we’d be empty handed.
I’m 21 years old, just graduated college, and the thrill of the hunt is still in me. The only difference is my searching is now fueled by two words: period correct. This search is a constant one, and helps to keep my passion for classic cars alive. There are always certain items I’m on the lookout for on Craigslist, eBay, and car forums that I’ll scoop up if the price is reasonable.
For me, being period correct is all about the authenticity. My MGB in particular is the car that feeds my habit. The best part of the game is trying to get as much out of the engine and suspension using only what would have been available in the 60s. There is no question that the MG would be way faster with a Ford Zetec or some V8, but that feels like cheating. I don’t own the car because it’s fast, I own it because it’s a motorized time capsule and a sensory overload to drive. Filling my car with period correct pieces adds to both of these attributes.
When my eyes are scanning for pieces to add, or modifications to make, I never get bored. Even over the winter months when the cars are fast asleep, looking for pieces keeps me involved and inspired about what to do next. Holding a piece of metal formed in the ’60s or ’70s is palpable to the senses. Feeling that history, and imagining everything it has been through in the past 50 years is infinitely more rewarding than buying a brand new, mass manufactured part that is functional but has no story to tell. As it sits, my car is full of stories, and will continue to collect more as it evolves. My MGB one of a kind. The steering wheel is a 1960s Nardi Personal that was accidentally unmarked from the factory; this I bought from a fellow steering wheel enthusiast in Florida. It needed a lot of restoration but came out beautifully. The wheels are 15 inch wire spokes off of a TR250 that I drove two hours into Vermont to pick up. The radio blanking plate (still to be installed) is not a reproduction, but an actual BMC option from the ’60s. This came from a huge MG enthusiast in Michigan. In the rear, my car sports the original European style tail lights, amber on the top, red on the bottom, which was in a box of parts that originally came with my car.
There are other treasures that have not yet made it into one of my car but are incredible to own nonetheless. On the wall of my college dorm room hung the original Road and Track with the first review of the MGB. Above it, a sports car magazine from 1963 details how to get 140 horses out of the MGB. The two magazines I found way up north on the Pacific coast of Washington this past summer. As for the hard goods, On my desk sat the original 1967 MGB workshop manual released by BMC, as well as a Jaeger electronique dash mounted tachometer and a Carello driving light in the original box, all from owners across the US. My centerpiece is my most prized collectors item, an original, never used, HRG Derrington crossflow head that has been ported and polished. Along with it I have a set of new old stock Dellorto DHLA 40’s, used intake manifolds, and HRG valve cover.
The carburetors and head came from an old racer in Florida. Over the summer, I saw an ad for some race car bits and immediately called. I had been on the hunt for a HRG Derrington for four years at this point. When I asked if he had the rare head (only about 400 were made) I was shocked to hear him say that although he didn’t have one, he knew someone down the road who did and was even the original owner. A handful of phone calls and emails later, the gorgeous aluminum head was sitting on my doorstep.
So here I have a beautiful, never used HRG head which is unusable without the manifolds and improper without the right valve cover. Six months later I am in the car with two friends part way through a 20-hour drive coming back from a wedding. Knowing that I had to finish the last seven hours of the trip solo, I checked craigslist pages along my route and found an MG gold mine in Syracuse. “Miscellaneous MGB parts for sale” the title read, and in the middle of the first picture sat an HRG valve cover. The post had only been listed for 12 hours, but giddy with excitement, I typed an email as fast as I could. We met at 8am the next day. All of the parts were laid out for me to see. We agreed on a price for the valve cover, but only on the condition that I took the rest of the parts with me. I was happy to oblige.
The manifolds would come a couple of months later. I had put a wanted ad out on the MG forum, and after reposting and reposting, I finally had a hit. This owner somehow had two of the rare manifolds, and was happy to let one go to a fellow enthusiast.
Not all of the treasures I find stay with me—there was the SCCA spec cylinder head that I passed along, as well as the 1968 Haan steering wheel I found at a car show—in large part because I can recognize when something will not be used in my own car, and I would rather it be enjoyed by a fellow enthusiast, but also because most of the fun is in the hunt. The feeling you get when you find that rare piece you have been after for years is incredibly rewarding. Like finding that Babe Ruth in a shoebox of old baseball cards. But no matter what I have at any point in time, or what I choose to keep or sell, the hunt will continue. As for the HRG, that piece I will keep. And when money isn’t my limiting factor, I plan on building a hot engine around it for my ’67 MGB.