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“Dad, what’s that?” our two boys piped in chorus as we drove home from school one day in 2004.
“An old MGB,” I said, slowing to pass the sad relic, with a hand-lettered sign wired to its windscreen: ‘For sale, $500.’
“Can we buy it?”
It was 20 years since I last owned a sports car, but the dormant worm had stirred. I called the number.
On my daily jog I had often glanced at the car, unmoving under a dusty tarp in a south LA backyard just blocks from our house; now I stood puzzling at the B-less street.
When the MG’s owner emerged, his jaw dropped.
He soon determined the city had towed the non-functioning vehicle for being parked on the wrong side on the wrong day, so we reconvened at the impound lot.
He took the $250 cash I offered – then spent most of it to bail out the car.
After the head cracked in late ’99 the owner had thrown up his hands and left the MG sitting with its cylinders and sump full of water.
I took the lump to be rebuilt and it was hot-tanked, overbored and fitted with a new head and internals.
Too bad we didn’t figure on the effects of rust-clogged oilways…
After burning through two cranks, I put in a refreshed short-block and clocked 12 years and 50,000 miles as I occasionally worked on the original.
The car had been repainted gold in 1974 and the seats retrimmed in tan vinyl.
By 2004 it looked, as a colleague noted, like dried baby poo.
I returned it to its original colour, reupholstered the seats in leather and kept the Nardi steering wheel.
My wife christened the car Baby Blue; the Dylan song seemed appropriate for one whose time had come to start anew.
‘Baby’ was my daily driver, through Hollywood into the San Fernando Valley, where I taught art and history.
Over the years the luggage rack held the older son’s violin (he drives a Mazda MX-5 now), then a tuba when our younger boy played in symphony orchestra and a trombone when he moved over to jazz.
Sports bags graced the rack on trips to track-and-field events; at night, the passenger seat and boot were stuffed with art supplies for the classes I taught in Carson.
In 2017 we retired to the San Jacinto Mountains, and I tuned Baby for life at 6000ft.
The 1969 engine finally gave up the ghost and I finished work on the original, balancing the pistons and rods to within a gram of each other; a new head completed the job.
Latterly I replaced the interior panels and other non-critical parts that made do while the boys were in college.
New wire wheels and tyres have joined them.
The road. No stop lights, twisting, climbing, through glades of black oak and yellow pine, running down through wine country, the Warner Ranch and Anza-Borrego desert, reversing Stephen Kearny’s 1846 march to the sea.
Climbing up from Palm Springs I ride through the Garner Valley hearing the Bonanza theme and return to our forested ridge. Baby runs as smooth as silk.
The still-straight monocoque testifies to little serious damage over the past 54 years, and my paintjob still presents well at 10ft.
I lean into the curving mountain roads, exhaust echoing off cliffs and boulders as my street rescue continues to pound the pavement, starting every day anew.
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