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Classic MG cars attract eye of Hoosier collector
By Robert Annis

On a crisp, fall day in 1972, a 17-year-old aspiring musician named Tom Wilson arrived on the campus of Indiana University to audition for the School of Music. Wilson laughs that although he bombed his audition, the day wasn’t a complete loss – he fell in love with a sexy, curvy number he saw outside the music hall. Forty years later, that love is still rolling strong.

“It was a green MG TC,” Wilson said. “When I saw it, my heart went pitter patter. … It’s your classic early British sports car with the flowing fenders, long hood and spindly wire wheels.”

Wilson – who went on to become an accountant – had to wait 20 years before he purchased his first MG, but has since bought several others, which he patiently restores in his home workshop. Evidence of his hobby can be found throughout the beautiful craftsman home belonging to Wilson and his wife. There are replacement metal fenders and assorted parts piled in two of the guest rooms, while a framed copy of the TC’s building plans hangs on a nearby wall.

The MG was an offshoot of the Morris brand of cars sold in England in the early part of the 20th century; the MG stands for Morris Garages, which was Morris’ chain of auto dealers. The first MGs were built around 1924, with the popular T-series of vehicles introduced in 1936. The MG TA was produced from 1936-1939, the TB was built only in 1939 and the TC was introduced in the post-World War II era and ran until 1949.

MGs discontinued the T-series after the TD model. The brand itself was discontinued in 1980 and the factory closed, but the trademark was purchased by a Chinese company that produces new MGs in an overseas factory.

Unlike modern cars, the early MGs were built with a wood frame with sheet metal attached. They had around 54 horsepower, manual 4-speed transmissions and had gas mileage in the mid-20s. They also didn’t have a lot of the creature comforts most modern drivers are used to, such as power steering and brakes.

“It’s a completely different experience,” Wilson said. “You have to actually drive the car rather than have your finger on the steering wheel. It was built more for the journey, not the destination.”

Wilson’s newest TC sits in his garage, stripped down to the chassis. Around Thanksgiving, he’ll begin the arduous process of taking the radiator, head gasket and other parts off the vehicle, cleaning and repairing them. Wilson anticipates spending 2,000 man-hours restoring the vehicle.

Some restorers will use more modern bits and pieces, while others will have parts specially made. Wilson says he’ll use modern rubber seals, while other MG aficionados prefer to have period-correct leather seals specifically made for the cars.

“You need to balance cost, authenticity and your skill level,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to define ’original.’ Once you put air in the tires or change the oil, it’s not original anymore.”

British citizens could have purchased a T-series car for $270 before the war, and $527 afterward. The car became popular with U.S. servicemen during the war, so the TC was exported to America, selling for $2,000. It’s believed only 4,500 or so T-series vehicles remain today.

Wilson is reluctant to say how much he’s personally spent on his vehicles, but did estimate an MG TC in rough condition would cost between $8,000 and $12,000; restoration expenses could easily double that figure. A completely restored TC will come in between $35,000 and $50,000.

“Call it love, call it interest in preserving part of automotive history, call it a hobby, call it a bad financial decision,” Wilson said.

A quick browse on the Hemmings.com collectors-car classified site finds more than a dozen partially or fully restored MG TC ranging from $14,000 to nearly $90,000.

“The car is as at home at a high-end classic car show as at a stop-light surrounded by guys on Harley Davidson motorcycles,” Wilson said. “Everyone wants to stop and talk to you … everyone seems to have an MG story.”

Wilson wants to tell a story as well. His obsession with the car has led him to England several times, where he’s interviewed dozens of former employees and been granted access to the company’s archives. He’s currently at work on a book detailing the brand’s history.

8/27/2012
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