I was about 30 miles south of Twin Falls, ID, when a connecting rod broke and exploded through the side of the engine block. I coasted silently to the side of the road in the late-afternoon sun. I was on State Highway 93 — right in the middle of nowhere. Although this happened 50 years ago, my memory is as clear as if it occurred this morning. I opened the hood of my 1958 MGA roadster and saw a hole the size of my fist in the block. It was 1968. I was 17 years old, and a high-school friend and I had decided that we would drive my MG from San Francisco to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to join our rebellious cohorts. We had long hair, were wearing peace symbols and had brought strings of love beads for the chicks we were sure to meet along the way. We were hippies from the City of Love.

Should I buy another?

For the past two decades, I’ve been kicking around the idea of buying another MGA and driving the same route. My first car was a 1960 Bugeye Sprite. The day I turned 16, I got my driver’s license at 8 a.m. At 8:30, I bought the Bugeye for $30. It was overpriced. My second car was an MGA. I found it in a wrecking yard near Hunter’s Point in San Francisco. For $250 it was mine, and I drove it home. It was silver and had been painted with a house-painter’s brush. The grille was missing, and you could measure the thickness of the Bondo flaking off the grille opening with a yardstick. But it was mine. With its 1,500-cc engine, it should have been faster than the Bugeye, but the rod knock under acceleration was so loud that I couldn’t really tell. Before I rebuilt the engine, I was putting pure 90-weight gear oil into the crankcase to quiet it down. After rebuilding the engine, I decided the next step was a road trip to Chicago.


We soon realized that with a hole in the side of the engine, we weren’t going any farther under our own power. This was the era before cellphones. We flagged down a passing car, and the driver agreed to stop at a gas station and arrange for a tow truck to pick us up and take us to Twin Falls. We found a used engine in Salt Lake City for $250, and we arranged to have it shipped to us. Three days later, we were on the road again. Once under way, we discovered that the engine had a bad rear main seal. It was losing a quart of oil every 50 miles. I learned to watch the oil pressure gauge; when it started to swing wildly from side to side due to cavitation in the sump, it was time to add three quarts. We decided to abandon Chicago as a destination and head south. In Roosevelt, UT, the water pump failed and the wobbling fan started to nick the radiator. We replaced the pump and decided to turn towards home. We got as far as Kremmling, CO, when the pulley on the generator shattered. A local repair shop modified a pulley from a T-series Ford, and we were back on the road. There were a few glorious moments. I recall hitting 80 mph across the desert, top down and sun shining. We had brought along a battery-powered 33-rpm record player, and sang “People Are Strange” along with Jim Morrison as we motored along. The fact that the needle skipped every time we hit a bump didn’t bother us. As we passed through Reno, I notice a pink-and-black 1958 Rambler station wagon ahead of us on Interstate 80. It was my high-school girlfriend Penny Hanks and her family, returning from a family vacation. Calculate the odds of that happening. We happily tucked in behind them, like a dinghy following the Queen Mary. As we neared Sacramento, just 87 miles from home, the generator puked its guts. It turned out that the fabricated pulley was not in perfect alignment with the crank or the water pump. We parked the car at a filling station, hopped into the Rambler and rode home in comfort. Three days later, with a replacement generator in hand, I returned to the gas station, installed the part and we finished the journey.

Duckling imprint

I have a hankering to own another MGA. I could have my own “My History With Sports Cars” diorama in the garage. I figure $20,000 should be enough for a decent one. But then I ask myself, to what end? If I wanted to drive a convertible, the MGA would be competing with our Lotus Elise, Alfa Duetto, Giulia Spider Veloce and the Bugeye. Given those options, how often would you choose the MG? Owning a car I don’t drive doesn’t appeal to me. But then I think about setting out on the trip to Chicago half a century ago. Heading across the Nevada desert, embarking on my own odyssey with a handful of love beads and a can of STP. Creating memories that are still vibrant today. I’m conflicted. And I’m ready to hear your thoughts. Or maybe buy your MGA. Write me at [email protected]. ♦

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