Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Beck's Brewery MG TD, Part 1

Well, now I've done it. I went and bought a car even older than I am! It's a 1952 MG TD, converted to racing spec some decades ago. Part of that work was to install an engine and transmission from a period Volvo - a very common modification in the 60's and 70's that doubled the horsepower. Here's a photo sent by Mark, the prior owner, when it was all together:

As the story goes, the car was either commissioned or sponsored by Beck's Brewery. That explains the Beck's logos all over the car. For example, on each side of the top of the bonnet (what we call the hood over on this side of the Atlantic):

All this got started because of the work I did on Kate's MG, which culminated in 11 posts on this blog. If you missed that saga, click here to get started. One of the things I did while working on her car was to join the Lancaster County MG Club in order to look for some expert advice. I did get some advice, and I also started getting the club communications. That lit a fire...

The MG Club was getting together at the Rotary Wings and Wheels Show at the Lancaster Airport, and I decided to join in to get to know some of the members. They kindly let me show Ebony, my 2007 BMW Z4 Coupe, since I didn't have an MG to show. I greatly enjoyed the day, and met several members and learned about their cars.

Two of those members, Charlie and Cor, were there in their Volvo-powered MG TDs, and they were very neat cars. They told me all about them, and I expressed interest in having one of my own. Well, it turns out that Charlie administers a Yahoo Group for Volvo powered MGs! He told me he would put out a call for projects, and he did exactly that. Almost immediately, a reply came from Mark, who had bought the Beck MG back in 2012, and started down an ambitious process of renovation and modification.

Mark bought lots of new parts, got the rear suspension done, and then... the project stalled. It happens a lot - we all have lives to live, and years can pass with a disassembled car in the garage. Mark was ready to move the car on, and sent me this picture of its current state.

Car guys will immediately recognize that as stalled projects go, this one ain't bad! The front suspension and brakes were totally disassembled, and the cooling system and part of the bodywork were off the car. Mark made me a offer I couldn't refuse, and I accepted right away and started making plans. The car was in Burke, VA, around 140 miles away.

Those plans started with a call to my friend Troy Nace, who has a nice, new four-door pickup that he uses to pull a 29-foot camping trailer. He has the vehicle and the skills, and I was pleased when he immediately signed up for the trip. Then I needed a trailer, and John Zimmerman pointed out that his son Bob had access via his employer to a really nice, heavy duty tilting trailer with hoist. Bob arranged for me to rent the trailer, and I scheduled a date with Mark.

I had been keeping Charlie apprised of the negotiations, and he brought Cor into the loop. I was surprised and delighted when both of them offered to come along! They wanted to see this period conversion for themselves, and to help out where they could. Since they had worked on an MG TD and I hadn't, I was all for that!

Early yesterday morning, Troy and John and I drove to Adamstown to meet Bob and pick up the trailer. It is one nice trailer. They use it to haul heavy equipment - it wouldn't even notice a little MG sitting on top.

Cor drove his BMW over an hour to get to John's house, and we picked him up there (leaving John, since he had duties elsewhere) and then drove to York to pick up Charlie. We got a tour of Charlie's shop, and I was so astonished by what we found that I forgot to take pictures. Imagine a shop crammed with British cars, with every possible surface covered with tools and car parts, and you'll have the right idea. The story of the bullet hole in the door is Charlie's to tell, but if you ever meet him, be sure to ask!

Then, a long but uneventful drive to Virginia. After arriving and having a delicious, nutritious lunch at McDonald's, we went to Mark's and started figuring out what I had gotten myself into.

First things first - I showed Mark the color of my money, and we signed all the paperwork. That's Mark counting cash in the background.

The goal wasn't to get the car reassembled, exactly. It was just to get enough of the suspension together that we could push the MG onto the trailer. Cor and Charlie dove in to determine what went where, and I managed this artistic under-the-fender shot.

Soon it was back on the wheels, and we got it on the trailer, and laid out the very extensive spares and body panels.

I had brought a big stack of blankets, and we carefully wrapped up everything and put it in the enclosed bed of Troy's truck. But then there was another surprise. See, British cars use some special wrenches called British Standard Whitworth wrenches. I didn't have any of those, but Mark had an extensive set, and handed me this tool bag full of them. He said, "I guarantee you I will never use a Whitworth wrench again - take these!" 

Once all was loaded, the team stood still long enough for a group photo. From left to right, Cor, Mark, Troy and Charlie.

The drive home went well, including an ice cream stop in Frederick, MD. We dropped Charlie off in York, and finally got back to the Grant St. Garage. Anyone who has visited already knows the next problem - getting the trailer down that narrow alley! Troy was up to the task. He backed down the alley and managed a very tight turn at the end to put the trailer right in the garage:

John Z. came back over to help too. We got the car off and unloaded everything, and then I realized... I had never even sat in this car! I did so, and John took a victory photo:

I spent the entire day feeling intensely grateful. Grateful to Mark that I could be the next caretaker of this historic vehicle, grateful to Troy and John and Bob and Charlie and Cor for their generous help, grateful for beautiful weather and safe travel, and grateful for a wonderful adventure! I'll spend the next week or two just taking stock of what parts I have (Mark had bought a LOT of new parts), what I may still need to order, and the best course to get the car back on the road.

When I first saw the pictures, I thought I would remove all the racing logos since I'm returning the car to the street. But once I saw it, I realized that was part of the car's story and should remain in place. I haven't been able to track down any history on the car, but I will definitely try. I'm going to call it "Beck."

However, it turns out, it's my problem now! Mark had removed the serial number plate for safekeeping, and it's engraved right on it: "Guarantee ceases on removal of this plate." I guess after 65 years, I wouldn't have much of a claim anyway...

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