With one car up for sale in the U.S.—an MG—I was scanning the ads in Hong Kong to find a replacement. A 1950 MG TD in running condition was advertised, with holes in fenders, rusted running boards, ripped top and a transmission that acted as if it were a machine gun in the not so far away Vietnam War. Perfect. Just what I had wanted. Mr.Wong, the longtime company driver, giggled when he laid eyes on my selection but that was all to change, as we all well know, once he got behind the wheel. It was his job to find and employ a garage to restore the car to an acceptable state while keeping costs down. And so he did. It was one of the sharpest looking vehicles in the colony. It was photo graphed, copied and even used as a slide by native children… horrors!
Now twenty years later via deck cargo to Australia, and again to Boston, MA, the TD sits awaiting the finishing touches before a springtime inspection. There are still lingering, haunting thoughts like, “will I ever remember how to put it back together?”, “how much longer will it take?”, and, “whatever possessed me in the first place to get into this?”.
It all started when my children were old enough to realize that something neat was under that white packing cloth in the back of the garage. The three of us maneuvered it out after a ten year rest, and wow. what a prize! The kids washed it in spite of all the peeling paint, but unfortunately, that was not enough to get it on the road. My finances were such, as a single parent just completing my M.B.A.. that I didn’t have the resources to employ the services of a shop to get It back into running condition, let alone restore the crumbling exterior.
I visited various shops and asked lots of questions in hopes of figuring out a way to get the car back on the road. Most reactions and responses were very discouraging, except two. Those two people became my mentors for the ensuing three years. Mark, a former MGA owner, rolled up his shirt sleeves and proceeded to troubleshoot the problems every Sunday after church.
We started with the starter, then the carburetors, along with the fuel pump. Great! All was freed up. cleaned and in running order except the clutch. That had frozen over the years, and was impossible to shift from one gear to another. I didn’t want to get into major repairs, so again I visited my friends at their shops and discovered a possible way to remedy the situation—drive it and break it loose by slamming on the brakes.
Swell, I had no brakes. For the next few weeks, Mark and I took cylinders apart, cleaned and replaced the rubber parts, added new brake fluid and bled the system. Now we were ready for the clutch. I put it in first and drove the TD around the house, gunning it as I approached the driveway where I slammed on the brakes. Three times around and nothing happened. Mark went home and I tried one last time. Yeow! I did it. The MG was drivable. Kids and sheepdog jumped in and off we went for a spin around…the house! It was great—a loud muffler, top down, a lot of laughing, giggling and barking. What a sight for our old Main Line neighborhood.
Now here’s where the second mentor, Pat Ryan of Madden & Ryan Body Works comes in. The only person who said I could do the restoration in the first place, he shared his knowledge, techniques and tools. As he suggested, I bought the Dupont book on refinishing cars, then stocked up on sandpaper, stripper, prep, reducer, thinner, body fillers, primer and a 1-horsepower air compressor with spray gun.
It wasn’t long before I had the car in pieces. Pat kept me on target by saying, “just do one piece at a time”, and in the next breath, “think of it as a hobby.” I wanted it done yesterday and all my yesterday deadlines had long passed. I kept plugging away, or father sanding away; it seemed endless.
Now the cold weather is setting in again, and there are brake lights and wipers to connect. I still have to sand off some of the thirteen coats to bring up a shine. Then I’ll wait for spring to buy tires and an exhaust system.
It has been quite an experience. I’ve made a lot of friends along the way. It’s neat to walk into Carson Paints and be greeted with a “Hi, Louise.” Visits to Pat’s shop kept my interest peaked; there were cars in all stages of restoration. Every step was being done carefully and precisely according to original specs. Mine is not done quite like those, but it looks good. It’s also interesting to count the number of people who said I could not possibly do the work, or that I was a “fool”, or politely said nothing. They, like most around, have not seen the final product and will not until I start driving it. I can wait, for the joy is the personal accomplishment…all right!
By Louise Story