How about fitted luggage, a child seat that mounted over the center
armrest, and leopard-skin seat covers?
"Comes equipped with clock, luggage rack, driving lights, detachable hard top, AM/FM radio, and air conditioning."
That's pretty typical equipment for any new sports car today, and in the 1960s, high-end Jaguars and Aston Martins offered similar options, but did you know that you could have bought all that equipment for your MG B, Triumph, or Austin-Healey in 1967?
When you looked at a new car at the dealer-few customers special-ordered their cars-you were likely to find a standard set of upgrades already in place.
To keep down the advertised price (on which British taxes were based), most British cars were advertised as Plain Janes, with disc wheels, no radio, no heater, and no overdrive. So how come so many cars on British registries these days have wire wheels, heater, and overdrive?
The answer is dealer-supplied (and sometimes dealer-installed) accessories. If you wanted custom touches, like fashionable outside fender mirrors that most of us believed were the sign of a true sports car (based on pictures of Jaguar XK 120s and 140s), your dealer had a full showcase of BMC and aftermarket accessories at a nice mark-up.
For example, a list of accessories available at Donald Healey's retail dealership makes interesting reading. Not only could you order for your Healey the typical luggage rack, mirrors, and woodrim steering wheel, he even offered fitted luggage, a (pre-safety worries) child seat that mounted over the center arm rest, and leopard-skin seat covers for the cosmetically challenged.
And they were cheap by comparison
Prices back then were about one-tenth of what the same accessories would cost now-if you can find them at all.
Your $29.95 custom car cover is now $219.95, and that trunk-mounted luggage rack is now about $350-up from $39.95 in 1968.
Your dealer could install Lucas or Raydyot fender mirrors ($5.95) while you waited and in whatever location you thought would work-or more likely, where they would look best. Raydyot mirrors cost $64.95 now, and though "Lucas-style" units are still cheap at $12.95-$24.95, they don't last long.
You might have been convinced that a wooden Les Leston, Moto-Lita, or Derrington woodrim steering wheel ($39.95) and a matching wood shiftknob ($3.95) would be just the thing for your car. Moss now gets $220 for a replica Tourist Trophy wood wheel, while a Derrington repop is $400.
Of course, a pair of stringback or Jim Clark leather driving gloves ($7.95) would improve your times on the Sunday autocrosses at the shopping center parking lots. How about a nice leather cover to lace over the steering wheel for just $6.95?
Lucas driving lights would have set you back about $20 (now it's $141.95), while a grille guard or badge bar could be found for $17.95-try $79.95 today.
Tune into The Wolfman when you were parked
And how could you possibly take your date out on Saturday without a $49.95 AM/FM radio? Even if you couldn't hear it when the car was in motion, you could tune in the Wolfman when you parked with your steady.
If you didn't find what you were looking for in the dealer's showcase, there were aftermarket catalogs from Amco and MG Mitten, plus the imported car section of the JC Whitney catalog.
We were all ready to put up with a little discomfort in our new sports cars, but there were some answers for those problems as well, though the options were more costly.
Fiberglass hard tops were available, since the BMC and Triumph factory works teams had them for racing and rallies, which meant they had to be in the dealer accessory catalog. A factory hard top added about $250 to a $2,195 MG A or a $1,795 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite.
There were also several aftermarket hard top companies advertising in the back of magazines like Sports Car Illustrated. Though now very rare, tops were even available for models like the original Healey 100s.
Triumph tried to go one better in 1961 when it offered a Michelotti-designed "Surrey Top" as a factory option on the TR4. The solid rear window and frame over the tonneau area were joined to the windshield by a metal or vinyl panel, both of which were best suited to desert climates.
Of course, you could always buy a hard top MG B-GT or Triumph GT6 and have a fabric sunroof fitted. The standard in the field then was Webasto, which sold its kits to the manufacturers and also supplied them to dealers for fitting (about $79.95). Researching this article, I talked to Norman Nock, who managed one of the Qvale BMC dealerships in period, located in the same Stockton, California, spot where his son and daughter now run British Car Specialists. Norman says the tops leaked and can recall installing only one.
The ultimate American-style accessory
For the ultimate American accessory, in 1966, BMC/Hambro introduced "Air Conditioning for BMC Cars" in a BMC Parts Sales Bulletin to its U.S. dealers. The kit was manufactured by Coolaire in Miami, Florida, and had a small control unit and vents under the dash, linked to a compressor and condenser under the bonnet.
The air conditioning kits could be fitted to the MG B, MG 1100, and Austin-Healey 3000. Hambro thought these units would be "potentially a most desirable accessory," and "in view of the national demand for air conditioners," urged its dealers to place their orders as soon as possible.
There was one big hitch. The suggested retail price was $335 to $385-about 10% of the full retail price of the car. Today, that would be like offering air conditioning as an option for a BMW Z4 at $5,000. Nock remembers fitting only one or two in MG B-GTs.
Are they worth it today?
Is it worth looking for original versions of these options today? And if you do find a car from the 1960s that is fitted with period accessories, how should you factor them into your offer? Some factory options, like wire wheels and overdrive, almost always increase the value of the car and are so common that most price guides show a deduction in value if they aren't present.
Fitted accessories like driving lights, fender mirrors, and luggage racks are nice to have and as such are still duplicated and sold today. But check lights and mirrors to see if they're truly period, or modern just repops. The differences in condition and quality of materials will be obvious.
I've only seen one B-GT with a period air conditioner, and while it's an interesting artifact, it didn't work very well; mostly it generated noise. On the other hand, I owned a Jaguar Mk II sedan fitted with a modern Selden a/c (a brand commonly fitted to hot rods), and it was both a pleasure to have and bumped the price when I sold the car. I know several Southern U.S. Healey owners who have fitted modern air conditioning and factory hard tops, and they are delighted.
Factory hard tops always increase the value of the car, and since they can be removed easily, there's a thriving separate market for them. Their value is generally listed at $2,000 to $3,000 in good condition, and they can be found with a little effort. I have one for my Healey BN7, and I like it for long highway trips, but frankly, it sits above the garage most of the time.
Today, just as in the 1960s, you can personalize your British sports car with all the gadgets and accessories you can imagine. Just be thoughtful before drilling holes in your otherwise pristine boot lid to install a luggage rack, or doing the same to put mirrors on your fenders. Frankly, I'd hang some fuzzy dice from my rearview mirror first. And I guarantee those won't reduce the value of your car, even if they might invite a visit from the collector car taste police.