Old cars are admission tickets to old car events. You can’t go on the Mille Miglia unless you have a pre-1958 car similar to one that was raced in the event. Pre-1968 Alfa convertibles are the preferred ride for the local Alfa Club’s annual “Old Spider Tour.” Think horses for courses.
So when the National MG Register announced that its annual convention would be in Reno, 600 miles away, and a local MG group decided they would caravan down with an overnight stop at Crater Lake Lodge in Crater Lake National Park, SCM was in!
The only problem was we didn’t have an MG to drive. So we defined the quarry and set out on our chrome-bumper safari. Our goal grew to not one but three 1971–74 MGBs (still with petite bumpers and sans the puffy Abingdon dash of the 1968–1970 models).
After surveying eBay and Craigslist, I set a goal of $5,000 per car, and I expected to find straight, strong-running examples that needed little for that amount. I was right and wrong about that.
The team I assembled for the drive, writers Miles Collier, John Draneas, Donald Osborne and Thor Thorson, plus my wife Wendie, were experienced drivers in cars ranging from McLaren F1s to Porsche 356s to Fiat Cinquecentos. My goal was that the MGBs that they—with more than a little trepidation—had agreed to pilot would be straight, clean, comfortable and reliable.
Notice I didn’t say concours-prepped or fitted with new engines, gearboxes or rear ends. Renewed or refurbished as necessary were the watchwords.
Most of the work was done in Portland, OR, at Harold’s Auto Service, with ace mechanic Wayne Atkinson doing the work and manager Chris Lichens coordinating it all. Parts manager Bob McNabb did the yeoman’s work of getting all the little (and big) bits needed. Additional fettling was performed by Ed Grayson of Consolidated Autoworks.
Labor rates were fair, and parts for MGs are not expensive. But even $32 bumper guards add up when you’re buying eight of them—and $30 seat cushions become a $750 repair bill when all three cars have seats that need to be restuffed and rebuilt.
Pay to Play
With entry fees alone at major events ranging upwards of $10,000, my goal was to spend $20,000 in total for three cars including necessary repairs, enjoy our self-made tour then sell them for about $6,500 each (they would be worth more after all the work was done to them, wouldn’t they?), meaning we could have our “B Team” adventure for a net cost of $500. Free, in other words. It didn’t exactly work out that way.
The first car, a 1974 burgundy roadster, came from Durango, CO. Initial price was $4,500, but between a shipping cost of $600 (lesson number one—never buy a cheap car you have to ship) and a slew of deferred-maintenance issues with the suspension and brakes, we had another $4,431 “invested” in the car—for a total of $8,931—before it was ready to go.
The white roadster was next. Also a 1974, we bought it locally for $4,100 from Craigslist and no shipping costs.
It was straight enough, and drove well, but had incorrect cloth-and-vinyl burgundy seats which were comfy, but wrong. Worse, it had a horrid burgundy dash cap—which we had SCM’s interior guru, Guy Rekordon, of Portland-based Guy’s Interior Restoration, replace.
Repairs to this car were significantly less, just $3,134. The bill read like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the burgundy roadster’s invoices—brake lines, bushings, rear springs, dash lights, and so on.
The final car, the 1974 MGB GT, was everyone’s favorite. I found it on Craigslist outside of Seattle, about 180 miles from Portland. The owner had records for the car going back to the ‘70s, and the owner of the shop that had serviced it spoke highly of the owner and his car. Selling price was $4,400, plus another $200 to have it delivered.
It had an upgraded leather interior and a period wooden steering wheel. Repairs to this car were $2,176, the big-ticket item being four new tires, as we couldn’t get the ones on it to balance properly. And I wasn’t about to inflict a car with steering-wheel shimmy on the team.
When all the Whitworth wrenches had stopped turning, the repair bill for all three cars came to $9,741, for a total “investment” of $22,741.
Going Home Again
The drive was glorious, as is reflected in the stories that emerged (see p. 54). The cars acquitted themselves well, with all the blinkers blinking, the wipers wiping, the heaters heating and the lights lighting. They used little oil, didn’t smoke and cruised easily at 65 mph (these were all non-overdrive cars).
At some points, when the three diminutive MGBs were the only cars visible on the two-lane roads for dozens of miles, I felt like I could have stepped back in time 40 years, and was on a weekend romp to nowhere in particular with my best buddies.
These old cars deserve to be exercised on the roads they were built for, which are the gently curving, two-lane highways of the ‘50s and ‘60s, not the Esplanade-crowded superhighways of today.
Every hour we would stop to stretch our legs and marvel at just what a good time we were having, in these most-affordable and fully-sorted cars.
The MGs are leaving the SCM garage now. The white roadster sold on eBay for $5,000, so I expect the other two to bring about the same. It appears that a good-looking 1971–74 B is a $5,000 car, no matter how good or bad it is under the skin. I expect our total loss will be around $7,500.
Could I have taken all six of us on another type of three-day adventure for the same amount? If we’d done this with Big Healeys, our initial investment would have been at least $100,000 for cars in similar condition. With Alfa Giuliettas, the same. And I would expect that the cost of the fettling would have been substantially more as well. So as a price-point project, the MGBs were clearly winners.
How about treating everyone to a couple of days at a first-class resort instead? We might have done that for less, but that really wasn’t the point. As gearheads, we crave the opportunity to be with our buddies, and to drive new-to-us cars on new-to-us roads. The Road to Reno was a chance to escape from reality for a few days—and to wake up knowing that the only thing that mattered was getting behind the wheel and heading south.
In the end, I would call this adventure Well Bought.
P.S. Do you think three TR6s could make it from Portland, OR to Anchorage, AK? ?