By Scott Shnurman
I’ve never written to a magazine before, but this exercise has been helpful. It’s been exactly four weeks since my best friend died. He just happened to be my Dad.
Devastation is too weak a word to describe my feelings. I’m fortunate to have a car story to help pull me through this sadness. I’ll try and tell it.
Maybe not so fast. When I think about it, I need to back up to the time leading up to the car.
In 2013, Dad was having a problem with his physical endurance. Walking for long periods of time was a chore, and climbing stairs left him winded. He had a physical and his Doc decided he might need a stent (or two) put into his heart. He had signs of arterial blockage. What was to be an outpatient procedure turned into a six-hour, quintuple bypass, open-heart surgery. That was the first time I fully understood my Dad was mortal. It was a reality check showing me how we all really don’t have long on this planet.
Dad recovered magnificently, but the scare kick-started checking things off his bucket list.
First item on the list: find a 1959 MGA roadster just like the one he owned when he proposed to my mother.
Dad talked about this car my whole life. Not knowing anything about British cars, he borrowed $400 from his brother and bought a black convertible imported sports car in 1967 thinking it would draw the eyes of the ladies. He drove it to college, killed cones in parking lot autocrosses, and did his very best to keep a very used British car on the road.
I was 38 years old before I saw an MGA in person, so I didn’t really get it. I am, and have been a “car guy” for decades, but knew nothing of MGs. I assumed it was a poor man’s Jaguar. Knowing my dad was passionate about it, I started the search to find him a duplicate of his favorite car. At the time I had been living in Phoenix. How hard could it be to find a rust-free, odd little British car?
Ugh. How quickly I learned that not only are MGAs few and far between, they are also highly coveted by the people who own them and polish them with only the best baby diapers. An MGA owner and his car are not easily parted! So my quest began. Actually finding one wasn’t too difficult, a quick eBay search usually yielded a dozen examples of everything from a rusted shell to beautiful, and I do mean beautiful, examples that were beyond our budget.
Despite the difficulty of the search, or perhaps because of it, I now wholly believe MGs find us, we don’t find them.
Low and Behold
Dad’s original was a 1959, black with red interior, on whitewalls with black steel wheels. On consignment in Indiana, five hours from my parent’s house, I found a very well maintained 1960 roadster black exterior, tan interior on original painted wire rims—and owned by another doctor! I would rate the car a six out of ten, which fit perfectly in our budget and, being a bit of a mechanic, I knew I could tackle any gremlins the car might have. Obviously I had never heard of Lucas electronics.
First, a five-hour flight from Phoenix to my folks in Illinois, then a five-hour drive to Indiana, followed by a five-minute test drive (it took less time than that for me to fall in love), and I counted out the cash and loaded the car onto a trailer. My Dad had to work that day and wasn’t able to inspect the car with me. I kind of kept him in the dark about its condition and other details. He knew it was black, and a year off from his ’59, but that was about it.
I arrived back in Illinois at about 10pm and it was dark outside. I parked the trailer a few blocks away and unloaded the car, wanting to drive up to the house and let my Dad see the car in all its rolling glory.
As I pulled into the driveway and opened the garage door, it rose to reveal my Dad sitting on steps inside the garage expecting to see his SUV pulling a trailer. I wish I had a video of his reaction when I pulled in with the 1960 MGA. Instant tears. He was beside himself. I think he, my Mom and I only saw the car through blurry tears for the first ten minutes. What other car can have that effect on people?
For the next five years my Mom and Dad enjoyed their MGA as often as possible, taking long road trips and traveling the back roads of the Midwest. Every summer when I flew in from Phoenix I had a laundry list of things Dad wanted done to his car, from touching up minor paint chips to the inevitable replacement of anything Lucas related. He bought Dayton wire spokes and Coker whitewalls. We had the upholstery refurbished, keeping the original tan hides but replacing the foam cushions. He told me almost daily that he was amazed at my knowledge of cars and how proud he was of me. I’m crying now as I type this.
I fell in love with this car and wanted to learn everything about it. 25 years ago it was restored, and the lacquer paint has held up beautifully. I don’t need to tell MGA owners how gorgeous the interior is. The dash is a work of art. There are subtle, hypnotic details in the wings, bonnet and boot. Dad had me add a luggage rack (from Moss of course), Mom contributed a vintage suitcase and picnic blanket. I replaced the exhaust and some chrome trim, and rebuilt the top end, using more parts ordered from our dog-eared Moss catalog.
My Dad stood by my side while I made his car run like a well oiled sewing machine again—and that baby will cruise at 80 mph all day long. Everything original to the car is still in storage in Phoenix. I hung the original banjo steering wheel on my wall (Dad required something slightly smaller in diameter to enter and exit the car, if you catch my meaning), and the original grill, while in great shape had enough pitting of the chrome that the car deserved a new bright replacement.
Our Best-Laid Plans
Dad and I talked about taking the car to Arizona in the winters so we could go to shows together (I own a 1959 Chevy Apache truck), we wanted to cruise the southwest and participate in some road rallies. Everything was planned to ship the car to my house last December.
But in October our world was shattered with a stage IV cancer diagnosis, and just four weeks ago my Dad left this earth for the most incredible journey of all.
The forecast called for rain, but Dad pulled some strings. I was able to get his car out, detailed and parked in front of the church for his funeral services. I probably spent two hours talking to dozens of people about his car that day.
His car is mine now, and my only regret is that the last time we took it out for a drive, neither of us knew it would be the last time. There is a silver lining though. Living in Silvis, Illinois, we’re practically neighbors with Antique Archeology (creators of the “American Pickers” show) and Dad and I took the MGA for a cruise to look at a vintage motorcycle I was interested in. I don’t believe in coincidence so I think it was divine intervention when we met two other local MG enthusiasts. As my Dad was standing there, weak from chemo, literally dying and probably feeling miserable, he was actually enjoying the conversation of a couple guys who knew a lot about MGs and admired his car. For an hour he forgot all about the cancer. It was a great day and a fitting last cruise.
I drive the car daily, weather permitting. Dad wouldn’t want it any other way. I keep his cap and a pair of his signature snakeskin cowboy boots on the passenger seat, and I’m joined by my four-footed copilot, Kodi, whenever possible. I know the days will get easier, and my Dad will always be a part of this particular MGA’s history as long as it survives, which I hope is longer than me, my children and their children. I hope this MGA outlives countless owners and brings joy to people for another 60 years.
Enjoy the ride. Cherish every day.