A Forgiving Friend of Four Decades
By: Dennis J Cesa
Forgiveness. That’s not usually associated to anything from Morris Garage. In fact, MGs always had a well earned reputation for being unforgiving; with that Lucas “Prince of Darkness” electric system, “sometimes yes, sometimes no” gauges, two-carburetor fuel system that needs a surgeon finesse to tune, rear leaf and front leftover-airplane-part suspension system, necessity to remove entire drive train just to replace the clutch, and a convertible top system universally-agreed as the most difficult in the automotive world. All powered by an ancient British tractor motor. MGs demanded attention; punished neglect. One mistake, you sit there.
But from the moment I drove my brand-new 1973 B out of the showroom in April, 1974* I knew this was the beginning of a beautiful, and unique, friendship. It’s the only car I ever really wanted. What I did not realize is how forgiving she would repeatedly prove to be. It is now time for me to repay the patience; if she can only wait a little longer…
The forgiving began immediately. My father criticized my purchase – he thought I was throwing away the little money I had. My mother though the car cute, and used to borrow it to go food shopping, returning home with paper bags bulging out higher than the top of the headrest of the passenger seat and from behind both seats. Many of my friends laughed, after all we were still in the muscle car era and here I bring home a 98-hp “touring coach.” But she forgave – just waited for me to open her door, twist my six-foot-four frame into her driver seat, fire her up and hit the open road.
I used her for a couple of years as a commuter car, parked at the railroad station in our suburban community of Ossing, New York as I began my career in NYC. There she was subjected to parking-lot dings, break-ins and extreme weather. But she forgave, because we still has our weekends – top down, blasting down the Westchester and Nassau Counties parkways to the beaches, boats and bars.
She also endured me allowing various young ladies, who would occasionally occupy her passenger seat, to outshine her. But she forgave me, because she knew they would soon be gone and she would have me all to herself again.
In 1977 began her dark period – when I moved to Manhattan and left her behind, not willing to subject her to street parking there and not having the money to garage her in the city. No time for her in my frenetic urban life. She sat in my mom’s driveway, on her tires (not even jacked up) for thirteen years. Oh, occasionally I would get the whim, register her again, take her out and drive her for a month or two, on weekends. But those forays were short and far-between; she always returned to the driveway and me to my Manhattan life. Thirteen years she sat, her frame sagged, her top cracked, her body rusted, her electronics crackled. But she forgave, because she knew I was in the city making money so that I could someday restore her to her glory and us to our normal relationship.
Then in 1990 I went over to I went over to my mom’s one day, started her up and drove her over to Hillsdale, NJ – a nice little blast across the Tappan Zee Bridge which we had done together many times in the past. I had just moved my family there in response to our growing space needs – and there was even a room for her, in a two-car garage. Of course, now she had to endure the humiliation of showing Jersey plates. But she forgave, because we were together again, full-time, and on the road to redemption.
It was, however, false hope I gave. Getting her back to being pretty was at the bottom of a long list of “to-do’s” including mortgage payments, home repairs and remodeling, food and utility costs, car loan payments (oh, the insult!) and insurance, college costs – the bills, the bills that kill. But she forgave. That stiff-upper-lip British heritage taught her long ago that you do what you have to first, then what you enjoy to do next. In this case, the “had-to’s” were just very, very many.
And new girls occupied the passenger seat – my two daughters, who at a younger age could both fit into it, strapped in but able to still reach and play with window cranks, radio knobs, heat vents, and toggle switches. And juice boxes spilled all over the upholstery. Less frequently, my wife occupied the seat – but my wife felt the same way about the car as my dad did. But she forgave, knowing well that a subtle passing-of-the-torch was going on here, one in which she played an important role.
Soon the historic plates went on her, still issued by the garden state but at least adding some level of dignity. Drive time is limited to shows, drive nights and “exhibition purposes.” Still, the embarrassment was high, because even though the plates read “historic” her condition screamed “old.” But she forgave – because people would even come up and admire her, and when collectors and drivers found out the length and depth of our relationship, would vent their anger at me, not her.
We were, however, getting close. Over the years she rose on the “to-do” list. Mortgage paid off; home renovations complete; the girls through college. Through it all, she purred nicely whenever we went out for our jaunts. Then, at the point when she finally reached the top of the list, my job was eliminated and I lost a great deal of disposable income; thank God, to no dire effect of me or my family. But it forced me to postpone, once again, fulfilling the promise to my friend. I broke the news to her in the garage one night. You know what? She forgave me. “Let’s go for a ride,” she said. We did. Job loss forgotten.
My wife told me she is going to have me buried in this car. I have told her that is fine with me. Top down, behind the wheel, big grin on my face, would be preferable. We all have a long way to go before that, we hope. On the tombstone; Forgiver and Forgiven. Forever.
But I do want to make the B more presentable for the wake and the funeral, not to mention our regular drives before that.
Keep’em on the road.
*She was, and still is, the only color a B really should be – British Racing Green, light tan interior. Only one option – electric overdrive. Did not even get her with a radio, since British Leyland did not have FM stereo radios at that time. Year later I installed aftermarket FM stereo to complete the package… and to pay off on my first promise (and her forgiveness).