The MG Sports Sedan - Memories

From time to time, people come across these pages and memories of cars they once knew surface.  If that happens to you, as it has to others, jot me a note with those thoughts.  It would be great to capture those memories here so that others can share the experiences, good or bad, of these interesting cars.

Thanks,

Michael - [email protected]


From Ken Penney [April 3, 2001]

I bought my "sky blue" 1966 MG 1100 2 door in 1979 for $800.00. The amazing thing was the fact one of these cars were even in southeast Tennessee at that time! I mainly bought it for a work/winter car so my Midget and Sprite could get a rest. I rebuilt the engine, carbs, brakes, clutch hydraulics etc. to make it more reliable. Even installed a Paddy Hopkirk engine stabilizer. It turned out to be one of the most reliable cars I have ever owned! It would go in foul weather and the heater even worked! One thing that was fun was all of the attention it would draw! Some people even told me at first glance of the grille, they thought it was some new mini-Rolls!?

 I drove it until one day on the way home from work there was a loud crunch under the hood. It seems the crank broke at the clutch end. I probably messed up somewhere when I rebuilt it. I really miss that little beast. I watched some old Monty Python episodes on BBC America this past weekend and saw several in the background. My heart sank. Maybe one day I'll have one again to tool around in. If not an 1100, a mini.

-- Ken Penney

 

From Paul Kile [January 25, 2001]

The Story of the Schlock Brothers.

About 25 years ago, my friends and I were living in Davis, California during our college days. What brought many of us together at that time was our mutual love of British cars, and not just any British car either. Yes, we all had that paragon of automotive excellence, the ADO 16, MG 1100/Austin America!

It should be said at the outset that just owning one of these cars qualifies one to be a master bodger. First of all, in the USA these cars began to self destruct only 3-5 years after they were new (they didn't adapt well to California freeways and temperatures). This made them easily accessible second-hand to those of us with limited funds and poor judgment. After acquiring an 1100 or Austin, the first thing to do was to invest in a Shop Manual from British Leyland (there were still dealerships then). Being one of the first front-wheel drive cars we had seen in the U.S., they seemed really futuristic and complex. Reading the manual confirmed our suspicions. Who ever heard of a Hydrolastic suspension system, or an automatic transmission that shared the same oil supply as the engine? We soon realized that the manufacturer advocated the use of a plethora of special tools to work on these cars. For those of us whose entire tool collection could fit into a tin box under our bed, we were at a distinct disadvantage. We had to get creative.

Three days before Christmas, 1977. My friend John Harrington and I are scheduled to drive down to Los Angeles the next day for the Christmas break, a 400-mile journey. We decided to take John's Austin, since my 1100 was in the middle of an engine rebuild. The problem was that his car needed a new torque converter. John had a new (junkyard fresh) converter, and all I had to do to earn the ride to LA was to help him put it in. Piece of cake.

We had become so adept at removing the engines from these cars that we could get them out in about an hour, using rented hoists and 1/2 x9/16" box wrenches. I arrived at his house that morning to find that he already had the engine/trans out and the converter housing off. He had even managed to get the humongous converter securing bolt off the end of the crankshaft, using a Stillson wrench and a sledge hammer. He was staring dejectedly at the torque converter/flex plate assembly, still attached to the end of the crankshaft.

Unlike normal vehicles, which use sensible bolts to hold the flex plate to the flat end of the crankshaft, the Austin uses a tapered interference fit on the crankshaft. We soon realized that none of our meager implements of destruction were going to dislodge the converter from the crank. The shop manual was no help either, it recommended the use of Leyland Special Tool Number 18G 1086 for this operation, a nasty looking puller that had no equivalent at the local Rent-All store. For a while it seemed that we were doomed to take the bus or hitchhike to Southern Cal.

Then it came to me. What we had was two pieces of metal in intimate contact with each other, not wanting to budge. The solution? The ultimate Forces of Nature, Heat and Cold!! If we could find a way to heat up the flex plate while simultaneously cooling the crankshaft, maybe we could make some progress. We rounded up a propane torch, a bowl of ice cubes, a sledgehammer, and two crowbars. Soon we developed a system of heating the converter (just to the point of seeing the residual oil begin to smoke), deftly applying the ice cube to the end of the crankshaft, and then quickly flailing away with the sledge while prying with all our might on the edge of the converter. After about ten minutes of this activity, we were rewarded with a loud BANG, as the converter popped loose and landed on the floor.

The rest was easy. We made it to LA at the scheduled time, with only one electrical glitch for the trip (a loose coil wire which we diagnosed immediately). This and other incidents prompted us to form an informal club known as the Schlock Brothers. To be a member, you had to have gotten your car running using something creative and definitely not recommended in the manual. We painted an old crowbar with gold paint and presented it annually for the best Schlock job of the year. I even wrote a poem to be recited at the Schlock ceremony:

Crowbar, Golden Crowbar, High and Mighty are thee
Whilst I tear apart an engine, you are a friend to me

You wait in gleaming silence, amid the clamps and nuts
A powerful Force to aid me in ripping out its guts

When I grip your gleaming handle, to attack the heads and block,
You instill in me the confidence of a loyal and reverent Schlock!

Well, I graduated from an MG 1100 to an MGB-GTV8, and I have a few more tools to my credit, but I'm still a Schlock at heart. After all, I just bought another MG 1100 25 years later!

--Paul Kile

 

From Don Rider [August 26, 1999]

I too have a place in my heart for MG 1100s. In 1965 my then girlfriend, now wife bought a brand new 1100 from British Sports Cars in LA, At that time we were living in Culver City Cal. The car was great fun to drive and I was an old MG man for many years, having in the past owned 2 TDs and a Magnette. I have to admit this 1100 was the worst built car I have seen or heard about. At about 2 weeks into its life the right rear side window fell out on to the pavement, breaking. And this while the car was parked.  About a month later the headliner fell down over our heads while driving down the road. A few weeks later the carburetor went west after two miles, every day! About once a month we would knock the universal joint out and have to chase it down the street (repair was cheap if you had the "iron cross", very dear if you had to buy a new one.)  We finally returned the car to the dealer and took a loss of a few thousand dollars.

 

You know, after all this hassle you would think I would hate 1100s and never think about them again, but that was not the case.  In 1977, now living in the Vancouver B.C. area, nostalgia or thick headedness caused me to buy two Morris 1100s (one was a parts car) which we drove around here for some years with no problems at all in all kinds of weather. We later bought a third Morris 1100.  The last one was killed while parked by a hit and run pickup truck about 1982.

 

I am now retired and spending my time and money resurrecting rather than restoring a 1959 AH Bugeye that I have owned since 1969. My thoughts have returned to MG1100s as a next car to work on.  This won't be for a couple of years yet (if my mind and body hold up).  I don't know how it is in SC but in British Columbia, they are as scarce as hens teeth, although, I understand cheap if you do find one. I will keep looking and keep in touch with your website and drool over that little red number in Seattle.

-- Old Ned Himself

 

From Tony Barnhill [July 27, 1999]

In 1983, while still in the Army, I was assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Driving my MGB through the wheat fields one weekend during "top down" weather, I spotted a little 1963 MG1100 2-door sedan sitting on the edge of a sea of wheat. Stopping at the nearest house to inquire got me a curt "not for sale." Within a year, I was transferred to Alaska and thoughts of the little 1100 vanished.

Three years later, I was back in Kansas. My first weekend outing was to check on the 1100..."I told you several years ago it wasn't for sale and it still isn't." But, I decided to persevere. Whenever I took a drive in my "B," I made a point of stopping by to say "hello" and visit for a while, never asking about the 1100.

Then, one day in 1991, the old farmer told me that if I could get the car out of his field that day, it was mine!! Jumping for joy, I scurried off to get my truck and trailer. Returning, the old guy told me the car had been sitting in that spot since 1968 when he got disgusted with it. Seems he had bought it new in 1963, had a record of everything done to the car (to include every 25-cent gallon of gas ever put into it!!) and the dealer in Kansas City couldn't get it to run exactly right so he just parked it.

We hooked a chain to the little car and pulled the rubber tires off the rims and left them glued to the wheat field as we rolled the car to my trailer. Uh-oh, wouldn't go on trailer without tires...hydrolastic suspension was down. Have you ever tried to buy 12" tires in Kansas on a Saturday afternoon?

Sears finally saved me with 4 whitewall 12"-ers. Mounted on the wheels (that took hours to get off the car), we rolled it onto my trailer just as the sun went down over the waves of grain. Then the old guy surprised me with a stash of parts and stuff that made me want to cry!

The first thing that came out was a dealer's fiberglass and plexi-glass hood ("thing was on the car in the showroom and I told Joe Engle I wouldn't buy the car without the damned thing!") in great shape painted to match the body! 

Next came an original orange three-ring binder shop manual! The one the dealers used. Then came 4 original hubcaps (with MG octagon), a couple of extra engines, carburetors, intakes, and last...a complete body tub--rusty floor and all!! ("Never got around to replacing the bent grille or straightening the bumper after my wife hit a tractor. Throw this thing away for me after you get the parts you need.")

The first thing we did was purge and re-pressurize the suspension; and have never done anything to it since!

The next thing we did was pull the head, reset the timing (30-degrees off), build the carburetors (yep, twin babies!!), fire her up and run around the block without brakes...who cared, she ran just like she was new. And, the engine is still the strange light green color as shiny as when new!!

New brakes and exhaust ensured the neighbors wouldn't be too angry having it in my driveway. And, my daughter named it the "Beaver Cleaver car." 

Unfortunately, all those years in the Kansas sun had cooked the interior. So, the little "Beaver Cleaver car" went into storage until 1995when we stripped her and applied a new coat of British Leyland factory original lacquer paint. Then it sat in my garage until last summer (3 years) when we pulled her out, buffed her new paint to a high sheen and reassembled the body.

The speedometer was sent off for a rebuild with strict instructions not to turn the odometer back (car has less than 64,000 original miles!!), the dash sent to be re-laminated with burled walnut, and the interior completely replaced.

During the time the car sat in storage, I was able to come up with every piece of rubber I needed to replace everything except for the rear window and the two quarter window rubber.

Right now (and for the last 4 months), the car has been in the upholstery shop having everything rebuilt to original specifications. When it comes out, I plan to drive it around the block once every month or so and keep it in the garage under a cover....after all, it saw too many Kansas summers sitting in the wheat field watching cereal grow.

 

From Mike Daigle [March 26, 1999]

Last year, I picked up a 1967 MG 1275. I had been looking for this unusual model for quite some years, and had never had any luck in Southern California. When my father ran across the 1275, I considered myself blessed, as the car was a one owner. The 85 year old gentleman that I bought it from had only clocked 69,900 in 30 years.

I was quite baffled by the 1275 though. I had never done any research on the line, but I thought that the only models were the 1100 and the 1300. It turns out that very few cars, from what Iím told, carried the 1275 emblem, as it was an interim bore of the engine that made it into just a handful of cars. (I guess that makes it a find!)

I really wanted a four door, but since it was so hard to find any, Iím really happy with what I have. I will say though, it has been interesting to work on, and I will miss it, having moved to Washington, DC in January.

After I decide if the move was the right move, Iíll bring the stable of cars here. Right now, I have my 1973 MGB GT with me, leaving behind the í67 1275, í73 MGB, and í58 MGA. I miss them.

 

From Jack Bissett [March 18, 1999]

Hi,

One more for your memory book. My first car was a '66 1100, red, re-sprayed, with only 18,000 miles on the "clock." I was in college, it was 1969, and we paid $850 or so for it. I drove it through grad school at Florida State, and when we moved to Warrensburg, Missouri, drove it there, by way of Fort Worth. Long story. It was fun to drive, warm in the winter, always started, if there was no dirt in the bowls, but it never seemed to have much in the way of brakes. Yes, the starter would jam, but the owner's manual helpfully pointed out the spanner fix.

It served happily for several years, eventually having those worthless bumpers removed and the aprons in front and back painted flat black. No work was done that I didn't do because I was too dumb to know that some things are better done by experts. I should have left the bumpers alone! About 1975 it had lost a lot of its oil pressure so I lifted the lump out and took it apart. Then I took a job in Dallas, so I put everything in boxes, fixed some wooden blocks to support the drive shafts, and towed it south behind a Dodge Dart, with a home-made tow-bar. Rebuilt the engine and transmission, with a slightly better cam, painted the car a nice yellow. It ran well, great oil pressure, looked good, but started eating splines in the hubs.

In 1979 we towed it with the same tow-bar to Fredericksburg, VA, where it continued to be used every day, except when something failed. I had a devil of a time getting replacement brake-lines; it used those double flared ends. One more move, to here, Lexington, Virginia. Here, it became obvious that the floor needed work. In the process, I drilled a hole in the suspension pipe. Got it fixed and re-pressurized, but the rubber was gone. Sold it for $75 in 1984 and always wondered what happened to it. Too much money and time to replace those then.

Just recently replaced it, finally, with a Mini, but the 1100 still has a warm place in my heart. Good luck with yours! They deserve to be preserved, but the suspension is a real hurdle today.

Jack Bissett

 

From "Raytheon" [February 3, 1999]

Ours isn't a memory, it's still in daily use. The 1100 (my wife has named her TLC) was purchased new in May of 1963 and is still running as a one owner vehicle. For the first five years she was our only car. In 1969 she became my wife's car and has remained so through today. She's been rebuilt twice but still runs strong. One reason may be that the same mechanic has maintained her for most of her life. He was a mechanic then service manager for the dealer before opening his own shop a number of years ago. One interesting note is that my wife regularly finds notes under the wipers inviting calls if the car is ever for sale - an unlikely event.

 

From Dave [January 23, 1999]

Back in 1968 I purchased an MG 1100 in Stockton, CA. I owned it for about a year. I miss it alot! Should have kept the car and divorced the wife at that time! Instead I lost the car and she left anyway......Do I miss the MG (old joke)

It was BRG and NEVER waxed before I owned it. 15 hours later, after hand rubbing the compound and wax into the paint, I had a nice paint job (buffed it in a stall in a service station under fluorescent lights....works great) I had my choice of the BRG one or a red one with air........only one I've ever seen. Must have been a dealer add-on.

Interior was fabulous. Body was perfect. Engine was a good runner and real clean. Here's the only photo I have....sorry for the quality.

1100's forever!

Dave

Added on January 29....

You're welcome to the photo. Sorry about the quality. I kept it in my wallet for years. Can't say the same for photos of the ex-wife (Actually she's in the front seat). Loved the car it was in prime shape. Wish I'd bought the red one too.

My buddy had a red 1100 at the same time. He filled the side windows and painted it Corvette red (as close as they could come to original MG color <or that was the explanation>) He drove it to New York from California. It was show condition. Had the "window" space done with a gold leaf "Morris Garage" emblem. Unique and a real head turner. He had been in New York City 2 days when it was totaled by a woman from California in an ugly Nova who rear-ended it. "I drove clear across America to get my car totaled by a Californian".

Wish I'd had it for parts! I think I used Johnson outboard motor paint to match the MG engine paint. It was real close. She was my baby. Broke my heart to sell it.

I'll visit the page and keep in touch. Thanks for the memories........

 

From Keith Newsom [December 26, 1998]

Herbi Gray said I should send you my two-bits worth.  You see, she and I worked together for a year at the University of Washington, making a model of the moon's surface for a lunar landing simulator.  If that sounds strange, how about this: of about a dozen people on the project, two of us had identical cars -- red MG 1100s with grey upholstery and whitewalls.

I bought mine new in the spring of 1963 in Eugene, Oregon.  It replaced my first car, a '56 beetle I bought second-hand in '59.  I put a tach on it, Pirelli tires, and -- dumb me -- a second-hand supercharger.  It wasn't too long until the valves burned.  I got that fixed and pretty soon the crankshaft broke.  I got that fixed, too, but by '63 it was time for a change.  I don't remember what caused me to look at the MG, but I do remember a demonstration ride with the salesman.  He drove down the road about 50 mph and whipped onto the gravel shoulder.  Nothing happened.  In the beetle I probably would have rolled!

So I bought a red one (with my Mom's help).  Named her "Mamie" -- short for flaming Mamie red.  Some memories are weird -- like the time I hit a pheasant, which trashed half the aluminum teeth in the grille.  Also, I remember trying to find gears in that twisted H-pattern.  Other memories aren't very fond.  After about two weeks, the horn button popped into my lap when the plastic center of the steering wheel cracked.  The dealer grudgingly ordered a new wheel.  After about two months,  the starter quit engaging most of the time.  So I carried a hammer, and whacked the Bendix prior to twisting the key.  I do remember an 800-mile trip to California.  Toward the end the transmission got awfully hot, because I couldn't get into low gear by Sacramento, nor into second gear by Reedley.

I moved to Seattle in the fall of '63.  The MG had more problems, especially in '64 through '66.  My wife remembers the MG very vividly -- we met in '64 and wed in September '65.  She reminds me frequently what a pig it was.  You see, she cut her teeth on a '59 beetle, and said they were mechanically superior.  How could I argue after (1) the MG leaked chronically, (2) the Hydrolastic suspension failed (talk about a rough ride!), (3) I had to back up a gravel street because it spun going forward, and (4) finally it wouldn't run at all, not even downhill.  You see, the battery was kaput.  Of course, the fact that I had installed the 6-volt tachometer from the '56 beetle couldn't possibly have caused that, could it?  I mean, all I did was centertap the battery to get 6 volts.  Surely it didn't drain constantly.  Duh.

We finally went car shopping in November '66 and came home with a brand new '67 beetle (with her Dad's help).  We got a $300 trade-in on the MG 1100.  It had lasted barely more than three years.  32 years later, we still have the beetle, and it's gone 255,000 miles.  And now we've improved our stable.  We have a real sports car now -- a Miata.  And it's so nice and so reliable.  But the MG was fun while it lasted.

 

From Herberta Gray [September 26, 1998]

Her name is Natasha MG Gray, and I loved her even before we met. From the window at work one day I saw THE totally cute car--"Lookit! What's that!?"--and I finally found out it was an MG. I ordered her from Rowland Motors in Seattle, choosing from black, white, gray, two-tone gray/white and red. I got red, with gray interior, and a heater, white walls, and radio, which were optional. My car was delivered August 15, 1963, and my mom and I went to get her. The first place I drove to was the seat belt store, and then we headed north on the highway from Seattle to a town named Marysville that had a drive-thru tree. Her gas gauge, on that trip, slid down to zero for no reason and then worked its way up again. That was pretty scary--the only time it ever happened. My dad was out of town then, and when he returned I got to show him my car. He was a serious, reserved, quiet man and after he saw Natasha he asked, "Where's the basket?" I said, "What basket?" and he answered, "the basket on the back to catch the parts that fall off." Then I knew he really liked her, too.

When I got my 1100, regular cars were really long with huge trunks. Grocery store bag boys couldn't believe there even was a trunk until I opened it up for them. Click <here> for a picture of Natasha's--I know, it's a "boot"--showing the original floor with its woven covering. The board comes out to access the spare tire, which I did need a few times. (Now I have steel-belted radials.)

The snow tires ad on this website is funny. When I drove my car in the snow, little boys would laugh and point at the chains on the front wheels. Click <here> to see Natasha in the snow, January, 1969.

We got pointed to and laughed at another time by a bigger boy. Our newish '67 Mustang wouldn't run, and we were towing it for repairs tied behind my 1100. The teen-ager did a giant double-take, nearly fell over, and then yelled, "You're pulling THAT with THAT??"

Another sweet memory of my 1100 is losing use of all of the forward gears. I drove it the few miles home in reverse, staying on the legal side of the street but pointing backwards.

The day in 1970 that Natasha stopped working I was tooling home with our two kids and a bunch of groceries. Bang--and I pulled over and turned off the engine. We walked home and got the little red wagon for the groceries. It was a sad day--when we towed her home that evening she left a huge black pool on the street. The engine, although it has been replaced, is being repaired. We thought it threw a rod, but it didn't. A set screw that fastened a connecting rod to its connecting rod cap had failed and a piece of it went flying through the side of the engine oil pan, but didn't hurt the gears. So Natasha became a "roller," and when we moved we took her with us.

Over the years I acquired some more 1100s to use for the parts we knew we'd need: a white '64 that I first saw smoking by the side of the road, a red '65 that came with a pickup load of extra parts, mostly rusty, and, in 1996, an orange '65 4-door that might be restorable, although when we removed its smelly carpet there were holes in the floor big enough for cats to crawl through. We built a little garage for that one, to keep it as healthy as possible. Before Natasha went to Seattle to be restored my husband towed the cars into a row with his lawn tractor, except for the white one, which is a pitiful case. Click <here> for a picture of the MG1100 Museum, 1996. Natasha is in the middle.

In her former life my little car collected so much water on the front passenger floor that we had to take the carpet out and keep a shop lamp lighted inside her whenever she was in the garage. Now her little tyres do not touch wet pavement.

A lot is always said about the MG1100 suspension system. I think it is just great, and also there is something very fine and special about the steering and handling of those cars, even when going slowly. Natasha hadn't run for 26 years, and when I got to sit in her and steer her and the ratty other ones as they were being towed across the grass by the lawn mower, they felt just right--like an 1100 should. I hope their designer Alec Issigonis is up in Heaven scooting around in his golden MG right now, although I expect that his Hydrolastic suspension isn't needed There.

Michael, thank you for letting me write memories for your MG1100 website. You are doing a beautiful and thorough job of keeping these sweet cars from being forgotten.

Sincerely, Herberta Gray

 

From Rich Hocott [September 5, 1998]

I just stumbled across your site, and it sure brought back a lot of memories for me.

I had a '64 1100 2-door back in my college days. It's a shame you never got to drive yours, as they are a blast to drive. I bought mine shortly after testing one of the "new" Austin Americas back before they offered the "delete" option for the automatic. With only two hp less and the manual trans, my MG would blow the doors off the Americas on the straight-aways and out-corner ANYTHING in the curves. I sure chewed up a lot of front end parts though.

You might want to mention in the mechanical section that it would be a good idea to get a spare top radiator hose or have some means of blocking off the heater. You should have seen the look on the faces of the corner auto parts store countermen when I showed them the split "bazaar-o-rama" Y shaped hose and asked if they had a suitable replacement. Fortunately for me there was a BAP-GEON store only about another mile's hike down the road.

I had a lot of "interesting" moments with that car. The same time I owned my MG, an old high school friend of mine had a Austin 850 Estate, but that's another story.

Thanks for the memories,

Rich Hocott

From Rich Hocott [September 7, 1998]

Yes, I'd love to hear about other peoples experiences with the 1100, so I guess they might like to read about mine. It was only my second car and was my introduction to Lucas and positive ground. You'd think I'd learn my lesson, but eventually I became very involved in the British motorcycle counter-culture. Actually, I had very few electrical problems with the MG, the worst being having to replace the cheesy turn signal switch that was conveniently located on the wrong (for us Yanks) side of the steering column. Another time I had something fly past my head and land in the back seat as I was driving along. I turned out that the cracked steering wheel center finally let loose and the horn button was launched by its spring.

The biggest problem I had with the car was that about half the bolts for the timing cover were striped out, so it leaked oil so bad I was tempted to run a hose through the firewall into the valve cover and hang a "transfusion" can of oil from the inside rear mirror. Fixing it looked like I'd have to drop the whole subframe to get enough room to work with a drill for the heli-coils. The massive oil loss and my lack of self control with the throttle in the corners (resulting in a lot of chewed up U-joints and hub splines) finally caused me to sell the car for something more practical for a starving college student.

I even had a strange experience with it after I sold it. While looking at the local boneyard for some missing trim pieces on my new car, I had a strange feeling there was something behind me. When I turned around and looked up, there was my old MG sitting on top of the stack. I'm guessing what finally put it there was the fact that due to the high compression engine that had some carbon hot-spots to boot, the only fuel it wouldn't diesel on was Standard Custom Supreme 100 plus octane. Standard Oil quit selling this fuel about a week after I sold the car.

Thanks for the link page. At the MG 1100 Profile site, there's a nicely restored 4-door in the same paint scheme as my old 2-door. The close-up of the engine compartment even reminded me of the time I pinched the daylights out of my hand on the telescoping hood stay.

Thanks again for the memories, and good luck with the site,

Rich Hocott