I got hooked on cars and auto mechanics back in the mid 50s while still in high school. When I was 16, I put in a bid on a 49 Mercury (just like the one James Dean had in "Rebel Without a Cause") that was part of a deceased lady's estate. Mine was the high bid and I got the car. Lo and behold, while driving it home (only two blocks away), it developed a "ticking" noise in the engine. Even though I didn't know what it was, I had sense enough to recognize that something was amiss and took it to a mechanic for diagnosis.
He tore off one of the heads (it was, of course, a flat head V-8) and saw the groove mark down the side of one of the cylinder walls - a wrist pin had come out of one of the pistons and scored the wall. He then quoted me some big number for an engine rebuild. I said, "Thanks, but no thanks," paid him for his diagnosis, and had the car pulled home.
Even though I barely knew what a piston was at that point, I immediately made up my mind that I was going to, somehow, fix it myself. I went to a local automotive junk yard and found a relatively new 53 Mercury that had been totaled but the engine was believed to be okay. I talked a buddy into letting me use his garage and I rented a chain hoist. Over a month long period after school and on weekends, I pulled the 49 engine, swapped water pumps, engine mounts, etc. and dropped the 53 engine into the 49 chassis. It fit like a glove and the engine mated up with the transmission bell housing perfectly. And I did it all pretty much by myself - along with the aid of some Chilton's Motor Manuals that I got from the local public Library (it helped that my mom was a part time librarian).
There was a sloping alley behind my buddy's garage and I'll never forget the "moment of truth." I pushed the car out, aimed down the alley, and jumped in. Within about 20 feet, I popped the clutch and that sucker started right up and ran like a clock. You talk about a feeling of satisfaction! Man, there was relief, pride, euphoria - and it was all rolled into one. My self-confidence meter pegged... and I was hooked.
We only lived about 60 miles from Indianapolis and I also "discovered" the Indianapolis 500 at about this time. I was at the track the day that Bill Vukovich got killed in 1955. Several years later (mid 60s), I remember seeing Jim Clark at Indy in his Lotus Ford - one of the first rear engine cars to hit the "Brickyard." There was a mystique about that car - something about the way it sounded - and Clark, himself, was a fascinating guy with a wry smile and a circumspect demeanor. He was from Duns Scotland and I can't help but think in retrospect that that's where the British seed got planted in my brain. It wasn't long after that when I saw my first MGB - and it was love at first sight!
In my senior year of high school, I had taken Auto Mechanics and got an A+. From then until I was about 20, I probably owned a dozen cars - mostly Fords and Mercurys with flathead V-8 engines. My buddies soon learned to be scarce when I came around with that "Hey, I need some help!" look on my face. I got so I could yank an engine, take it apart and put it back together, nearly blind folded.
Later, I met a guy from California who was finishing up at Purdue. He was a Jaguar aficionado and he nearly talked me into becoming a Jaguar technician (I sometimes regret that I didn't pursue that!). He was married and, after graduation, I helped him move to his home in Tarzana, California. He rented a U-haul type of truck and he and I took turns driving non-stop on old Route 66. While there he took me around and introduced me to a lot of hot rodders he knew. One of the guys I met was Tony Nancy who of course would later become a towering figure in car customizing.
The years went by and - as the man said - I got busy being married, helping to raise a family, and pursuing a career. Cars became a way to get from point "A" to point "B." My idea of preventive maintenance became, "If it ain't broke don't fix it!" But in the back of my mind, I always had a hankering for an MGB - the lines of that car just turned me on.
Fast forward to 2002. One Friday in late August, I had the day off and, for reasons I'll never know, I picked up the classified section of our local newspaper - something I almost never do. I looked under "Used Cars" and there was this ad for a 69 MGB. I called the number listed and found out the car was about 15 miles from where we live. My wife and I went to look at it and I instantly realized that this automobile looked to be reasonably priced. I haggled a bit with the guy and we came to terms. I wrote him a check on the spot - and that's how I came to be the proud owner of an MGB.
And now you know the rest of the story!
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