Saturday, January 23, 2010

1959 MGA 1500 Roadster

1959 MGA 1500 Roadster

Vintage MGA advertisement

Lucas pin from Moss Motors

Reading through Walker Lemond's excellent blog 1001 Rules for My Unborn Son got me thinking about the vintage cars that I've owned.

Rule No.166 Drive a vintage car before you are 30

The key concept here is "before you are 30." After that, you will find that you've accumulated enough responsibility that a vintage car ceases to be transportation, and becomes a toy.

My early 20s found me living in Southern California for a spell, and I set out to find a classic British roadster- my first car purchase. After test-driving a number of Austin Healey 100's, and a nice early E-type Jaguar, I settled on a 1959 MGA 1500 roadster. The above photo shows a nicely restored example. Mine was BRG with a black interior- clean and well-preserved, but far short of concourse material.
Hella fun to drive with the top down on a sunny day, the MGA boasted a number of vexing idiosyncrasies:
  • Twin SU carburetors that required frequent tuning
  • Cooling system way under-engineered for California driving
  • Mechanical oil-dampened shock absorbers
  • Lucas electrical system
Lucas electrics- the butt of jokes among vintage British car owners- have a nasty habit of short circuiting and wafting the acrid smoke of an electrical fire from behind the dash or under the bonnet.

Rule No.372 If you drive a vintage car, be able to wrench it yourself

On an ill-fated jaunt into Northern Baja, the engine overheated and threw a push rod. I managed to limp the car back to San Diego, where it sat DOA until I moved back to Northern California.
I got a crash course in auto mechanics restoring the car. I bought a Chilton's manual and a set of tools, and set about rebuilding the engine, electrical system, and hydraulic system.
Restoring this car from the ground up was an immensely satisfying experience; not one I've sought out since, but knowing that I had the skills was worth the skinned knuckles, spitting and cussing, and the seemingly endless search for rare parts.

Eventually, I sold "the stagecoach" to a collector in Marin County to make way for another vintage car, and was not too sad to see it go.

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