I tend to be more into history than nostalgia, but the long nights have been a good time for reflection.
When I first started dating my wife in 1987, I picked her up in my first MGB. And it wasn’t even a particularly good example of one, either. Rather tatty, actually—a calico combination of orange and varied primer splotches over bondo. It was a fixer-upper that I never did get around to fixing up. Instead, I drove it. Day in, day out. Through sun and rain, heat and snow.
Through one of the coldest winters I recall living through, every morning, I’d scrape the frost off, pull the choke, crank it over, and vroom—off to work and/or school. And then I’d stop by and pick up Kate. Sometimes the car was even warm by the time I got to her apartment. And she never complained. Dinner, a movie, or heading out to see a band in some dive bar, she’d sidle right into the MG, coat and scarf buttoned and wrapped, our combined breath often overtaking the defroster.
She learned to drive stick in that car—a summer weekend of largess on my part for which my third gear synchro never forgave me. She now claims to have forgotten how to drive a car with a manual transmission, although I’ve offered to reeducate her. “I don’t want to break your car again,” is what she claims, to which I’ve tried to reassure her, “Don’t worry about it. It was just your turn for it to break on you.”
Eventually, I joined her on the East Side of Milwaukee. My apartment lease in Waukesha, a city about 20 miles west of Milwaukee, had allotted me two parking places. One I used for my van, which was primarily used to transport my musical gear to gigs, and the other became the spot for the MG, which was small enough to also afford me space for a very cool Yamaha RD 400. My move to Milwaukee forced a decision I wasn’t entirely comfortable with—paring down.
The bike was the first to go, and it left of its own volition. One last road trip—a failed attempt at a trip to Iowa to visit my parents—took me as far as Madison, Wisconsin when I holed a piston. I milked it back about 10 miles west of home when it finally threw a rod, having left a blue trail of smoke for 60 miles in its wake. Good bye, ol’ paint.
That left the van and the MGB. The van, a former Bell Telephone service vehicle, had been hand painted charcoal black by the previous owner with a roller. It looked like a Charmglow barbecue grill with tires. It was ugly, but it got the gear to the gig. Nevertheless, it was difficult to park, and if you put more than eight gallons of gas in it, it would leak fuel. This vehicle I simply needed to be rid of, so in a moment of inspired charity, I gave it to “Bouncer Billy”, a friend of my former roommate’s, who was wholly without transportation of any form.
I haven’t seen him or the van since.
And that left me with the MGB. I soldiered on with that car, begging rides to gigs with other band members for me and my gear and fighting for highly prized and expensive parking spots on the East Side of Milwaukee for about nine months. I was making this deal work.
But then an opportunity came our way. The managers of the apartment building we were living in had saved up some money and bought a house. This left the position of building supervisors open—someone handy with tools and a mop, and a partner with good organizational skills to maintain rental information and show apartments. Kate and I took the position, but what became clear is that I was going to need a truck again.
Trips to the hardware store, trips to the lumber yard, trips to the light bulb supply company. Okay, fold the passenger seat down, unzip the rear window, and a couple of door jams could be transported from the cash way. If you opened up the package of fiberglass ceiling tiles, you could get them back to the apartment in the boot and on the passenger floor. I tried to make it work for about a month, but losing a kitchen cabinet strapped to the luggage rack on the deck of the MGB was the last straw.
I sold my first MGB to a good friend, Tim Curtis. It was his sister, Jackie, who had introduced me to Kate. Tim let the car go feral in the back yard of his parents’ house, and he eventually sold it as a parts car to assuage his mother’s concern about the patio area looking like a junk yard. A sad end to a car that, despite its rust, had proven quite reliable and dependable to me for many years.
I bought a clean used Dodge Rampage—the little front wheel drive pickup version of the Dodge Omni. And I attempted to fool myself that it wasn’t that different than the MGB. Two seats, a four speed transmission, a sunroof that let rain drip in. No chrome, mind you, but not a bad little deal for managing an apartment building and finishing up school in a part of town where parking places are scarce and small.
That job—managing an apartment building—let us do the same thing the previous managers did—we saved up a down payment for a house. A house with a garage. A THREE STALL GARAGE.
It took ten years from the time we bought the house until we were in a position to put a sports car in that garage. When I broached the idea with Kate, I was gratified to receive a wholehearted endorsement. Seems she had missed the old B as much as I had.
In 2003, I picked up a very clean, low mileage 1972 MGB roadster out of California. Since then, we’ve gone everywhere in that car. A trip around Lake Huron—which we referred to as our circumnavigation vacation—Minneapolis, Chicago, Des Moines, Door County, countless weekend getaways. I even transported a 970 Mini Cooper S block this last summer in the trunk of the B to a friend of mine in St. Louis, reclaiming the MGB’s status as a multipurpose vehicle.
And while it’s resting under the car cover tonight, on blocks, away from the ravages of road salt and ice filled chuck holes, I’m really missing its dog-eared brother. My first B. The one I rode hard and put away wet. The one I drove through snow and ice, and parked on city streets in dodgy neighborhoods. The one I dug out from under snow drifts, and fearlessly drove on gravel roads. The one that safely took me and Kate to plays and movies, to parties, and back home again.
To my first MGB – cheers.
By Chris Conrad