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Trip to the Holy Lands

My son Evan (22) and I went to Jerusalem, where we had a wonderful visit to the Holy Land. Then we were on to a New Jerusalem, the Holy Land for MG owners—Abingdon, England. Zachary (19), my second son, met us at Heathrow. Both of my sons are students in Santa Barbara, near Moss’ HQ in Goleta, California. We traded hummus and pita for fish and chips. What a great motoring father and sons bonding vacation. We picked up our rental car and took off.

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Kenneth and his son Zachary Vogel

Our first visit was to Windsor Castle. It was Mother’s Day in England. One of the Queen’s children drove up in a black Range Rover to visit mum. That night we lodged in a 15th Century country inn in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. The village is best known as the final home and burial place of children’s book author Roald Dahl.

The next day, it was on to the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham. Wow was it worth a trip! It’s very big, with hundreds of motorcycles from Britain’s legendary history on two wheels. The museum has everything from early bicycles with mini-engines to jet powered speed record winning two wheelers. Among my favorites were an all brass early motorcycle, a motorized wicker taxi; racing motorcycles with side cars (the passenger hangs over the side, hovering just above the track) and a World War 1 military motorcycle, replete with mounted automatic rifle.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast at Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a great location to visit that part of England. We saw Shakespeare’s birthplace, grave site and Anne Hathaway’s house. We took in a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. (“A car, a car, my kingdom for a MG!” to paraphrase Richard III.) And everywhere we went we visited local pubs for cider and real hand pumped beer, generally India Pale Ales or the “bitter” variety.

Stratford-upon-Avon is near Warwick Castle. Warwick is 1,100 years old. It is everything you’d expect a castle to be. Towers, dungeons, archers and catapults. Great halls with suits of shining armor and concealed doors leading to hidden passages behind the walls. Stratford is also a good base for side trips to Abingdon, Oxford, the magnificent Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, and the National Heritage Motor Museum in Warwickshire. The National Heritage Motor Museum now has a new permanent exhibition on Jaguar motor cars. That will be our next trip to England.

Abingdon was a terrific place to visit. Our first stop was to Frontline Development. Frontline makes a line of MG specialty replacement parts for suspensions and drive trains. Some of them can be bought directly from Moss Motors and can be found on our 1978 MG Midget. We even met the man who rebuilt the differential on our Midget!

Zachary, Ed Braylic and Sam.

Zachary, Ed Braclic and Evan

Ed Braclik gave us a great tour of Frontline. He was very generous with him time and the visit was fantastic. Frontline makes the MG LE50. It’s an all-new rendition of a MGB GT. Frontline is also starting to build an all new version of the MGB roadster. The cars are hand-built and limited production vehicles. The attention to detail is impressive. What a car! This is my first purchase when I receive my inheritance from Nigeria.

The body is made on the original dyes, so for all appearances it’s a factory chrome-bumpered MGB or MGB GT. Ed pointed out how they treat the body to avoid the rust pitfalls from original models. The mechanics are all new. Frontline now uses a Mazda 4 cylinder engine and a Mazda 6 speed manual transmission. The front and rear suspension parts are engineered and made by Frontline itself. Even the outside rear view mirrors are custom made to get just the right look. Because they are a custom car builder, they are open minded about changes that customers can make. The standard low back front seats are made to fit the driver’s dimensions: length of upper and lower legs, girth and the like. High back buckets are also available.

The interior is leather everywhere. Ed showed up the grades of Connolly Hides (England), Napa Hides (Italy) and German Hides that can be used. Each country’s leather has it’s own characteristics of grain and texture. Marks on the leather vary depending on whether the cow was fenced in by barbed wire or an electric fence. Pick the color from a large palette, or the leather can be dyed to order. The hides are spread out on a big work table, defects marked and then cut so that the seating surfaces are blemish free.

DSC_2652 DSC_2658 DSC_2643In general the LE 50 looks like a classic MG on the interior. The modern radio can be hidden in the dash and the charm of the original stays. The dash is leather covered. Carpeting is wool. The headliner is just gorgeous. They even have cup holders! Online reviewers compare it in size and cost to a Porsche Cayman, so it keeps good company.

Frontline was also restoring and modernizing a MG GT that a young man inherited from his grandfather, who bought the car new.

Our second stop was the Abingdon County Museum. The museum is located in the old Court House in the center of town. Abingdon-on-Thames claims to be the oldest continuously occupied city in Britain based on archeological excavations from 2,000 years ago. This is old for Britain. It’s almost new compared to the ancient buildings we saw in Israel. The museum building was built in 1682 as a courthouse. That is during the reign of King Charles II. It is now hosting a MG 90 exhibit, celebrating 90 years since the establishment of the MG marque. The MG exhibit includes a 1980 MGB.

Abingdon, by the way, is known for “bun throwing.” Bun throwing began in 1761 for the coronation of King George III, the king who lost America. During royal events, the mayor and city officials go on the roof of the museum and throw baked buns down to the crowds below.

Next stop was Kimber House. Kimber House is the home of the MG Car Club. It is named after Cecil Kimber, founder of the MG Car Company. It is located just outside the former location of the MG Car factory. The factory building is now a residential apartment building, but Kimber House keeps the flame alive. Several MG s were outside from the previous attempt to resurrect the company.

The club receptionist was very nice. He showed us their collectible pictures, club magazine and assorted memorabilia. We then paid a visit to the gift shop, and didn’t leave empty handed! Zachary gifted his MG Car Club Washington DC Centre cloisonne pin as a gift for their collection. Kimber House display cases has badges from MG Clubs all over the world. Zac’s pin sits next to a Washington Centre bumper badge left a few years ago by another club member. Our guide is consulting with the Chinese company that bought the MG marque. It plans on producing MG passenger vehicles soon. The company is leveraging its ties to British Heritage to tie into the still fond memories that MG owners hold for their cars.

That night we spent at another B&B, this time near Heathrow. At the nearby pub, more fish and chips, steak and kidney pie and British cellar temperature ale. For dessert, spotted dick. Then back home, me to Maryland and the boys to Santa Barbara.

By Kenneth Vogel
Author’s note: This article is dedicated to the memory of my father, Leonard Vogel, who shared with me his love of British cars.

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