Friday, June 24, 2011

My MG-TD History or Why I Like a Paper Mate Pen

In 1953 I was a freshman from Weston, CT attending SMU in Dallas, TX. Ball point pens were not that common, having really only been selling since 1949. To encourage the purchase of ball point pens, Skillern's Drug Store chain in Dallas and Ft. Worth, TX, sponsored a contest with The Frawley Pen Company, manufacturers of Paper Mate pens. The first prize was a new 1953 Red MG and the second prize was a one year college scholarship.

My mother lived 15 miles from the campus. One day I took my dirty clothes out to her house to use her washing machine. I left the only ballpoint pen I owned at the time at her house. That evening I knew that my step-father was going to be attending a meeting near the campus and delivering my laundry to my dorm, so I called and asked him to drop my pen off with my laundry.

He couldn't find my pen and on his way to his meeting he stopped at a Skillern Drug Store and bought me a new pen. He saw the entry forms for the contest and wished to win the second prize since my mother was paying for my freshman year at SMU he was in essence paying my bill. He entered the contest in my name, his name, my brother’s name, my mother's name, the dog's name and any other names he could think of.

During the second week of October I was in an afternoon Engineering Drawing lab when the dean’s secretary called me out of class to tell me that I needed to call a certain telephone immediately. When I called the number it turned out to be an executive at the drug store. I thought it was a prank and when he asked if I would like to come down to the Skillern warehouse and pick up my new MG. My instructor let me out of class and I had a fraternity brother drive me to the warehouse. When I arrived I told the executive that I hadn't entered the contest but he showed me the entry with my name on it. I recognized my step-father's handwriting but I didn't get a copy of the entry. Basically the entry stated that "I liked my Paper Mate pen because I can use it to take notes in class, do my homework, take tests and write letters to home" in exactly 25 words. After accepting the car I told my step father that he should have the car but he was 6' 2" and weighed 250 lbs. and did not find it comfortable to drive.

One year later I met the son of the drug store owner and he told me the contest was rigged. They only evaluated SMU and TCU college students for the first prize thinking it would get maximum publicity among the students that would potentially buy a ball point pen. For the second prize they only evaluated Seniors in High School in the city opposite to the winner of the first prize, therefore the second prize winner was a high school senior in Ft. Worth.

I had a radio installed in the glove box, an Arnolt heater and fastened a box in front of the heater with a radio speaker and two headphone jacks. I used the old stethoscope style head phones to listen to the radio with the top down. My first long drive in the car was in Thanksgiving when I drove from Dallas to Houston, and that was followed at Christmas when I drove from Dallas to Weston, CT and back. In shop class I built a heavy duty luggage rack to hold a trunk. During that first year I installed a “Coffin” valve cover (losing the valve setting plate that is fastened to the factory installed valve cover) Hellings Air Filters and replaced the radiator grille slats with chrome wire mesh.

The car was manufactured in July 1953, one of the last 900 manufactured and imported by Clarence Tally Motors through New Orleans with the last shipment of MG-TDs. The next shipment was MG-TFs. The last TDs were configured with a mix of parts and my car had a TF head requiring different value settings than the TDs. Without the valve setting plate on the valve cover I used the TD setting from the manual supplied with the car and kept burning out valves on my drives from Texas to Connecticut and back.

My love of classic cars came from a neighbor in Weston, CT, Jim Hoe, the foremost Dusenberg restorer on the East Coast and from Ken Purdy the automotive journalist and the founders of the Sports Car Club of America in Westport, CT. Cad-Allards, Cords, Bugattis, MG-TCs, Morgans and other sports cars were common sights on the roads of Weston, Wilton and Westport as I grew up. My first car was a 1937 Ford Station wagon that I drove from Irving, TX to Weston, CT at the age of 16.

My drives back and forth from Texas to Connecticut were essentially non-stop in 24 to 36 hours causing great wear on the engine. I performed my first valve job on the TD’s engine in the summer of 1954. During my engine work I installed an exhaust cut-out which gave the impression of dual exhausts. In 1954 Carroll Shelby purchased the Tally dealership in Dallas and I was leaving his shop after a tune up in November 1954 when I was” rear ended” at a stop light by a drunk coming from a Thanksgiving office party. Shelby’s mechanics told the insurance estimator that my exhaust manifold was cracked and that I was configured with dual exhaust. (It turned out they had a split manifold for a TD that they couldn’t sell so it was installed on my car).

To combat the Texas heat I built a “Rube Goldberg” air conditioner by installing a picnic cooler behind the front seat with a coil of tubing and an electric fan. I would fill the cooler with ice and the fan would blow cool air into the cockpit – mostly on my neck. Years later I rigged a clothes dryer vent pipe on the side of the car to catch air and cool the lower compartment area.

The engine required another valve job in the summer of 1955 and again in 1956. That summer I worked in an auto body shop and I painted the car a GM Blue since the original red was fading and from the 1954 wreck the fenders were a different shade of red from the main body.

My summer of 1956 overhaul caused an oil leak that weakened the main bearings and on my drive back to SMU from Weston I collapsed the engine bearings on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as I tried to reach 85 mph downhill. Fortunately it was near the Mack Truck Assembly Plant and I was able to ship the car back to Weston where it spent the winter in the woods covered by a tarp. In the summer of 1957 I had the engine rebuilt by Briggs Cunningham’s mechanics as I entered the USAF. In December 1958 I was assigned to Dow AFB in Bangor, ME and had to drive up there in a snow storm (using a Dial Shampoo bottle filled with alcohol to de-ice my windshield). I knew that it was not going to be a reliable winter car so I attempted to trade it in on a Mercury station wagon. The dealer would only give me $100 because there was no market for a sports car in the winter and he didn't want to carry the inventory until the summer when he might be able to sell it. I elected to keep it as a second car. When I was transferred to Bermuda in 1962 I had to sell the station wagon and stored the MG in New York City so I could use it when I had state side leave. While in Bermuda I was able purchase a number of TD parts from the local MG dealer for 1953 prices including a radiator shell for $19.

Leaving Bermuda in 1963 I married, Judy a USAF school teacher in Newfoundland, Canada and my next duty station was Reno, NV. Judy had a VW and neither car could pull the other so we "honeymooned" by driving across the US in two cars. With its streamlined nose the VW would pass me going down hills and the MG had more power and would pass her going up hills. Both cars had the same range on a tank of gas. We made the trip without incident but I had to rebuild the engine again in 1963, 1965, 1969 and 1973. In 1967 I replaced the upholstery with a green kit from Moss and painted the car black.

It was my primary commute car during assignments in California, New Hampshire, Nebraska, California again, Nebraska again and finally the Pentagon in Washington, DC. When I was transferred to New Hampshire I purchased a fiberglass hard top in El Monte, CA which served me well in my travels back and forth across the United States. I drove the car in all 48 states and parts of Canada and Mexico until 1977 when the wiring gave out (the cooper wires were just green dust when you pealed back the insulation). Moss Motors wiring harnesses were back ordered and there were strikes in England that prevented me from getting a new wiring harness for over a year.

In 1979 I retired from the USAF in Washington, DC and I loaded the car in pieces into a trailer and towed it to California. In 1981 I took it to Mike O’Conner at O’Conner Classics for a frame-up restoration back to as original configuration as possible. The car was completed in 1984. It is the only TD I know of in original configuration down to Dunlop 5.50 x 15 tires and a tar top battery. Most owners add or modify their cars to be able to drive with some degree of comfort on Interstate Highways.

Since then, it has been judged 1st in its class in over 12 Concours d’Elegance, voted the best TD by MG owners at several Gathering of the Faithful (GoF) meetings and first in its class in 8 car shows. Due to work commitments it was not shown between 1993 and 2001.

The car was written up in the March 16, 1989 issue of Old Cars Weekly.

1 comment:

Albert Saur said...

Wonderful story, Ed. Where do you keep it? I'd like to see it.

Al Saur