60 years with British cars
by Tom Schmitz
My 60-year fascination with British cars began in the summer of 1955 in Carmel, California.
I was attending the Army Language School in Monterey and dating a girl in Carmel who had a 1953 BRG Jaguar XK120 Roadster that she had received as a high school graduation gift. I enjoyed running through the gears on 17 Mile Drive along the Pacific Coast. One night we drove it so far out onto the beach, we had to wake up a Pebble Beach Golf Course maintenance man to pull it out with his tractor.
My relationship with the girl did not last very long but my love of British cars lived on and spread well beyond that first lovely Jaguar.
For a number of years, the Army and college took me to many and varied places and left me with few opportunities to experience another British car. I came close once while stationed in the Philippines. I was going to Hong Kong on R&R, and found I could buy a new 1956 MGA for $1800 and the Army would ship it to the Philippines and then back to the States. When I asked my father to pull the $1800 out of my savings account at home, he replied that I was saving that money to finish college after the Army and not to spend on some “silly car whim.”
(It would be 50 years later that I got my MGA, which is the Orient Red 1957 MGA Coupe that resides in my garage today. I purchased it from a friend in Atlanta about 10 years ago.)
During graduate school at the University of Kansas School of Journalism, my first opportunity actually to own a British car arrived. I traded in a VW Beetle on a new 1961 Triumph TR3A, red with a white top and interior and 2 1/4” whitewall tires. Man, was I something, tooling around in that beauty — although it did get a bit dicey on the daily 100-mile round trip drive from KC to Lawrence, Kan., particularly in ten inches of snow with chains mounted and making one hell of a racket right under my butt!
Unfortunately, after about two years of the TR being my only transportation, my boss at IBM in Kansas City informed me that I could no longer use the TR for making sales calls. He said I could not “Think Big” (the IBM motto in those days) in such a small car. I countered that I could put the top down and think as big as all outdoors. He didn’t buy it and reminded me that as the IBM sales rep for all the General Motors and Ford accounts in KC, there was no way I could park a foreign car in an American auto company parking lot and expect to sell them anything. Those were the ’60s. Sadly, the TR got traded in on a Pontiac Tempest convertible, which was acceptable to my customers — and the most underpowered car I ever owned.
So much for the next ten years. In 1971 I found myself working for a more liberal computer company in San Jose, Calif. My cousin was also in San Jose and owned a 1955 MG TF 1500 that he drove to work every day. He was transferred to his San Francisco office and could not drive the MG up Hwy. 101 in the crazy commuter traffic. He bought a Porsche 911 and after his wife said he could not own two sports cars, he offered to sell the TF to me.
I gladly bought the car after telling him he should get rid of the wife instead of the car, which he wisely did several years later. He still has first option to buy the MG if I ever decide to sell it. But that seems unlikely, as it is the same Sequoia Cream TF that resides in my garage today.
I drove the car all over California and it intimately learned Coast Highway 1 from San Francisco to LA, sometimes navigating that twisty road in ocean fog so thick the radiator cap disappeared. I drove it from California to Chicago via Route 66 and then in 1990 brought it to Lillian. From 1996 to 1999 the car underwent a frameoff restoration and it has performed well in many driving events and car shows ever since. When asked if I could keep only one, which would it be, I would have to choose the TF.
The TF has been the catalyst for my obsession with all things related to British cars. In 1989 I became a charter member of the South Alabama British Car Club when we formed that organization. In 1990, I met Keith Sanders, and in spite of the fact that my TF was still in storage in Chicago and I was driving a Miata, Keith invited me to join the Panhandle British Car Association. I attended my first PBCA event, which was watching the Indy 500 at Keith’s shop with other early PBCA members such as Jeff Olive, Gus Fell and Bill Silhan. Later I met a group of like-minded enthusiasts in Fairhope, Ala., and joined the Mardi Gras MG Club. Through the British car hobby, my wife Jeanne and I have met an enormous number of likeminded hobbyists and made many, many long-time friends all over the Southeast and beyond. We treasure those friends and the little British cars.
Over the ensuing 26 years, I have acquired (and mostly kept) the following British cars:
1967 Austin Mini Cooper S — Bought from the owner of Morrison Cafeterias (Ruby Tuesdays) after he ran out of garage space for the Mini with his sixth Ferrari purchase, silly man!
1976 Triumph Spitfire — Sold at a Daytona Triumph National Meet to a couple who just “had to have it” so badly that the next week I bought a very nice TR8 with the proceeds, the one Bill Moseley now owns.
1980 MGB Roadster — Bill Snyder’s very first restoration. Bill was a long-time PBCA member and Brit car restorer. I sold it to a very pretty girl in Fairhope whose boyfriend hated the car because he couldn’t fit in it.
1969 Jaguar E-type 2+2 — I am the fourth owner, and it is the most dependable driver of the lot. Jeanne calls it the noisy car, I say it purr-r-rs.
1995 Jaguar XJS Convertible — Richard Cunningham found this one for me, when it was 18 months old and had 14,000 miles.
1999 Jaguar XJ8 — Bought nearly new from “Brits on the Bay” sponsor Gerald Adcox, Adcox Imports, Pensacola.
1957 MGA Coupe — Bought from an Atlanta friend who restored it to such perfection he would not drive it in Atlanta traffic.
1980 Triumph TR8 — Sold to PBCA member Bill Moseley, who has taken it to beyond perfection.
1967 Austin Mini Moke — The Moke Register estimates say there are fewer than 300 in the States. It is not a golf cart!
1967 Jaguar 420 Saloon — For sale, and will be a steal for the right and proper new owner (a Bill Snyder restoration).
1968 MGB — I bought it from a friend in Natchez after having seen and coveted the car at shows for eight years. He parked it on the show field, put a sign on it and I bought it five minutes later — good thing I was fast as there were many buyers for it that day.
1959 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite — Bought two and put them together to make one good one (another Bill Snyder restoration).
1972 MGB GT — Bought for the cold A/C and sold it when I bought my new Mini and no longer needed an MG with A/C.
1968 Morgan 4/4 Series V Competition — Bought from second owner and PBCA member Bill Cornacchione. I was on a cruise when Bill e-mailed me to see if I wanted it. I wanted it so badly that I said yes and forgot to ask how much he wanted for it. He didn’t hurt me too badly.
2011 MINI Cooper S Clubman — My advancing age required reliable A/C.
While my primary automotive interests are in British cars, my collection also includes a 1957 VW Beetle, a 1992 Porsche 968 Cabriolet, a totally original 1960 Pontiac Catalina with 29,900 miles, and a 1985 Vespa 250PE Scooter with 575 miles.
Victims of the British car obsession
by Richard Lewis
There are so many ways to come to one’s affection (obsession) for British cars. Maybe one’s dad or mother owned one, or maybe a really cool uncle drove a red beauty, with which you looked on with envy. Or you just drove by the Triumph or Jaguar dealership and stopped to lust after the gorgeous design sparkling on the showroom floor.
Maybe you finally bought one when the babies no longer required a bed in the back of the old Chevy, or three car seats no longer decorated the old Suburban.
It might have been after you finally retired with all the children out of the house, and you could both afford one and not have to loan it to a teenage daughter with already a full scorecard of fender benders to her credit.
Or something else... maybe it was just a germ you were born with and it waited only a short while before it could bring you down.
That’s the case with the subject of today’s Marque article by a real British car enthusiast, as you can see from Tom Schmitz’s own words.
Here’s some club news:
Recent and Upcoming Events
Some of these events will have occurred by the time you read this, but this is a good way to inform you of all we do.
Next time, we will hear from another veteran British car enthusiast. Till then, oil is like caviar to British cars. Check it almost hourly.