At the onset of this venture I set out to prove that our classic cars can compete with a modern vehicles to be reliable, useful, and enjoyable through all road and travel conditions. To prove that classic cars can compete I will be taking an MGB GT that has been "dead" for 30 years, purchasing and repairing it for less than $2,000 and then driving it every day, for every possible reason, for an entire year. I live in West Michigan so replacing my All Wheel Drive Subaru Outback with a Rear Wheel Drive classic British car will be a tall order during the winter, and a lack of A/C will make driving far warmer and stickier during the summer. I hope to make minor modifications to both my BGT as well as my driving habits to make driving a classic car more enjoyable. This endeavor will be a learning experience, as well as an opportunity to develop products for MGs, but also serve to encourage those out there just starting dive into the vintage car world. I hope that the lessons learned here will promote younger car enthusiasts to take the plunge and save the old and tired cars from the jaws of the scrap yard.
Don't worry little buddy, I'll make sure you get to ride in it!
The vehicle to be saved is this 1974 1/2 MGB GT. The previous owner, Aaron Cope, had it stored in his two stall garage for nearly a year. Prior to this Aaron found the GT "stored" under a tarp next to a shed. It sat there from 1988 until 2017 after being abandoned by the original owner.
When we find the limitations of our environment, we find the extent of our resolve. Ease and leisure fleet without memory. When was the last time you remembered a commute to work that made you feel like you truly accomplished something? When did you grocery shop and know people were looking at your car? For most of us the answer is probably never.
I feel as though we have been lead astray with all of the safety standards and vehicle spec sheets at the dealership. Our cars should be an expression of the life we want to live, not the life of "standard options" that the dealer wants to sell us. There is more to driving than arriving at the destination. Each moment is an expression of ourselves. To be honest, I own a Subaru Outback and it is comfortable, gets 30 MPG, has all-wheel drive for the Michign winters, and in the past two years has only needed an oil change and a headlamp bulb. But, I have never climbed into my Outback and paused to appreciate the small decisions that the engineers labored over. It is comfortable but forgettable, and yet I searched for a year to find the Subaru that I now own.
Every time I sit down into my BGT, I stop and look at the dash, feel the gear leaver and appreciate the smell. There is something quintessentially British about the interior; Utility and style seem to blend together to create a balanced attractive environment. I need to be connected with my car. I treat my cars as an extension of my family, and for that I need to know what parts of them need attention, and at times mending.
We are the vehicle for our journey through life, and our cars are an extension of ourselves on that journey. What you choose is up to you, and I choose something with heart and personality.
Air conditioning, power steering, traction control, cruise control; All the things we never knew we wanted.
The standard features offered today are incredible. We have become so accustomed to comfort that some of us may forget the reasons we motor in old cars. Most of us are convinced, there is something all-too special about simplicity. Modern cars may have hundreds of features and options but they also play tug-of-war on our attention. Backup cameras, stow-and-go, Eco-Boost®, air bags; options that all make traveling easier and safer right? But, how many times have you connected with your '08 Outback's cruise control, or the soft supportive seat in your '98 Camry? All of the extra features make the travel more comfortable- Sure! But what about the journey?
To begin this year long adventure I first have to address the issues with the GT I bought. I sifted the web daily for weeks to track down this great little project car. I wanted something that was imperfect, damaged even, and that required a real effort to save it. Sure, I could have paid more for a runner, or one that was rust free, but what would that prove? At best that would only show that you can enjoy a classic car that already works. I wanted to start at the bottom, under a rock, and have to dig my way out. After searching hundreds of adverts from Tampa to Rhode Island, Minneapolis to Savannah, I found the perfect one. It was a diamond in the "rust," forgotten and abandoned, and best of all it was local and it fit the budget.
I should preface this story with a few questions that I have been asking myself lately.
1. What is a reasonable price range, to buy an "entry level" British car, for a young person who wants to start in classic cars?
2. If this person has YouTube and some mechanical ability, what problems are too big to handle?
3. On a strict budget, could they buy and repair an MG to be a daily driver? (50 Miles per day)
4. Can one, realistically, drive a 30+ year old car year round?
(Rain, Sleet, Snow, and Michigan Roads)
So, what stopped this little Brit thirty years ago? At first inspection it was the engine and perhaps some of the electrics that forced the original owner to give up and throw a tarp over it for another day. When I started trouble shooting I found it only had 90psi of compression, on the high end, and 30 psi on cylinder three. I was expecting the worst, but I decided to go ahead and buy it anyway. I have rebuilt many engines over the years and I figured that this one would have rust on the cylinder walls and a damaged head. I knew it had to be something expensive enough that the first owner couldn't rationalize the cost of repairs. After three decades of sitting under a tarp next to an old shed body was rusty, but only along the bottom edges and one small hole below the drivers side footwell. A few spots of surface rust had formed where the hood had bent from a rather minor front end collision and at the base of the A-pillars. Aaron Cope was the second owner, and the one I purchased it from, he was asking $1,800 for it and was trying to regain as much of the $2,000+ that he had into it. After talking with him he liked my story enough and we settled at $1,400, and we were both happy with the price. I knew that if everything went down hill on this project I would be able to pull parts and use them in the shop, but that would be the last resort. Of all involved Aarons little boy took the sale the hardest. His "daddy's orange car" was going away and he wanted say farewell. He sat in it one last time, gave it a hug, and said goodbye.
We have all been faced with the decision to continue on and save a poor wounded car or pull the plug and shuffle it out of sight. Some of us may be too stubborn, and at times too foolish, to see both sides clearly. We could keep marching on until we are defeated, or we could save ourselves with pain and costs and stop before we go on too long. What's the best case in the end anyhow and where do we draw the line?
Sure, with some special tools and lots of research you might be able to keep your dear little car on the road, but for only a few thousand dollars more you could have a great runner.
I have found myself in this spot many times in my youth, during high school and college. At the time I was too broke to fix my car correctly and surely too broke to to buy another vehicle. Over the years I have had to Band-Aid® faults and nurse my car along until I had enough money to move on to something nicer. and to be honest, I always made sure the next owner would make things right. After owning dozens of cars and after many years of being in the business I have realized that all of our cars are worth saving. The question is really, "When and how much will it cost." That question has lead me to this next venture.
My goal is to answer a few basic questions about what makes a vintage car reliable enough to drive daily and who is capable of caring for such a car. When I mention "vintage" I am referring to vehicles 25 years and older. As an MG and British car enthusiast I know the sort of attention that these cars tend to need just to keep up with both modern traffic, and the type of motoring we do today. The fast pace, start-stop, hustle of most of our lives surely will bring any gremlins hiding beneath this GT's skin into view. I want to transition from my modern cars to vintage cars.
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