Glenn's MG Shop

Glenn’s MG Repair is proud to be a founding member of the British Motor Trade Association along with Victoria British, University Motors, Eclectic Motors, Moss Motors, Kip Motor Company and over 40 other industry associates. The BMTA now includes over 100 members all working together to promote the British car hobby through co-operation with parts suppliers, service industries, insurance companies, and media publications.

Nestled behind a canopy of shady red and water oaks in a semi-industrial area of always sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, the 16-foot-wide gates of Glenn’s MG Repair open onto what might first appear as a movie car lot of vintage sports cars.

But if James Bond movie producers were filming in Miami and the Aston Martin or Jag XKR broke down, they definitely wouldn't tow it to a local British sports car repair shop, laughs shop owner and veteran mechanic Glenn Lenhard.  No, those cars are way too insured with insurance restrictions and would go cross-country to the studio’s Hollywood repair shop says Lenhard, 59. 

He’s quite sure the Hollywood glitz factor isn't responsible for a seeming resurgence in the vintage British sports car repair business, especially the MG portion.  Though Lenhard does admit he’s been called upon to evaluate some cars for the same movie supply company that provided cars for the Austin Power flicks.  

 But it seems the mainstay “fish and chips” customers of Lenhard’s SU carburetor orchestra are the MG “T” series of cars, plus MGBs and Midgets; and their everyday owners who crave the recreational experience and passion of owning a British sports car.

“It’s 80 percent of the business, followed by Triumph, and then everything else (British),” says Lenhard, who on any given day appears a most popular in-demand owner of this repair and restoration shop located mid-spine along Florida’s west coast. 

Up front, Lenhard’s wife and business partner Gail is office conductor.  As bays open at 8 a.m. with those familiar doughnut gasket engines roaring onto the lifts, she helps source the parts supplies, manages bookkeeping, gives customers a free ride home after drop-offs, and surprises the handful of mechanics with boxes of doughnuts and thoughtful birthday cookout lunches on the barbie.

It isn't just a 9-to-5 job, folks.  For the longtime married pair, it’s a hobby-turned-job, turned-hobby again.  And their two grown-up daughters, yes, are equally versed in the breed.

It’s all things MG; and MG in all things.

Keychains. Hats.  Wine glasses.  Clocks.  Posters.  T-shirts.  Books.  MG-a-rama on octane.  Is there anything stuffed in their office that doesn't display an MG emblem?  I think not.  But then they’ve had a long time to become such avid collectors and MG experts.

In car repair more than four decades, the tight-knit Lenhard family’s choreographed MG odyssey birthed in what seems a faraway time: the early 70s.  It was Rochester, New York.  High school days.   But a different version of “That 70s Show.”

There, a recent high school graduate and long-haired classical musician named Glenn, attending programs at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, supposed he was going to be a professional trombone player.  But was equally smitten with an MGA while working at a stereo shop.  It was one of those “hair of the dog” stories where musician stumbles out of local German beer hall, falls on an MG parked in the alleyway, looks up and declares “I thought it was pretty.”  Well, throw in a little testosterone-fueled competition from coworkers, and he purchased one, not to be outshined by his stereo store manager’s TR-4. 

He began tinkering.  Tinkering.  Tinkering.  Tinkering.  But with his Star Trek engineer-type-curiosity, he couldn't stop. 

Now 40 years later, his 1962, old-English-white MGA; primrose yellow 1967 MGB GT; and four-door red sedan 1966 MG 1100 don’t have enough room to haul all the boxes stuffed with award show trophies in the boots of the three cars.  He and his cars have won too many awards including a plaque from last year’s classic North American MGA Register show at the Belleview Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.  Nowadays, 80 percent of the trophies, wall hangings, and ribbons are packed away in the attic.  Still, some two dozen awards humbly greet customers in the shop’s waiting room.  And plenty of framed photos and news articles showcase the shop’s restoration projects.

How remarkable is that he saved and framed his first handwritten invoice for an MGA 1600 repair he completed in his back yard in 1974.

That was shortly after he acquired his sidecar partner Gail.  Her simultaneous British invasion took seed about the same time as his after she fell in love with a teacher’s MGBGT.  Combined with an impromptu visit to that Rochester stereo store where Lenhard had parked his MGA in the store lot, she agreed to a date, eager to hand him wrenches during heart-thumping teenage date nights fixing his MGA.  Thump, thump. 

“He had waist-length hair, a beard.  He looked Biblical” giggles Gail.  “Our first date was on Halloween.  I liked the MGA and hung around to see what would happen.”

Soon thereafter, carefree travels in British MGs and the “shag-carpeted (Ford Econoline) hippie van” followed.  (Oh behave, you two!)  All the while Lenhard learned and earned money fixing cars from the ground up in shops in both New York and in Florida.

“Back then, the typical guy (MG owner) was starting out his life and didn’t have money to fix it,” says Lenhard.  “So I specialized in fixing Volvos so I could afford to fix MGs.”

In 1975, Lenhard and his wife headed for Florida. He ended up with a job at the St. Pete Sports Car Center.  “They sold Jaguar and Triumph and this was right at the time that MG was gobbled by British-Leyland…The shop needed an MG mechanic and because I had an MG and a toolbox, I got the job,” Lenhard told a writer for Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine in 2008.  He and the shop were featured in an owner profile; and again a year later in an article on a high-quality Volvo restoration project he completed for a customer.

He told the magazine writers: “I jumped around from British Leyland to Volkswagen to a few independent shops.  I spent a year each working at different new car dealerships.”  He credits the experiences with giving him the knowledge to open his first shop, Bay Imports, in 1979, which catered to import cars in this fast-growing waterfront county.

Years later, various professional level mechanic certifications were earned and are framed for display on the wall, along with an assortment of photos of Lenhard performing as principal trombonist with the Tampa Bay Symphony, a community orchestra in its 27th season. 

The musical love for brass horns never waned and he plays more than a hundred night and weekend gigs per year with diverse bands from classical to Big Band to jazz.   It’s almost hard to imagine him shedding grease-covered work boots for a tuxedo and refined orchestral instrument, say his mechanics.  He’s surprised many a customer, doctors and lawyers seated at the symphony, who spot him and shout out “Hey, isn't that my mechanic?”

His wide knowledge base and the friendly MG enthusiast atmosphere are something the customers crave, say the mechanics.

Ever the businessman, Lenhard points to his plethora of modern equipment, his proper English car mechanic’s calling card: all the current brake, alignment, engine and gas analyzing contraptions galore, welding torches, tire changing machines, heavy duty presses and cranes for lifting engines, sand/bead blasting and paint booths, etc.  About 95 percent of the work is done in-house, with the exception of farming out custom upholstery work or the first initial  media [sand] blasting treatment.   While many customers hail from the southeastern United States, occasionally car owners from California or Chicago might ship an MG here for full restoration, then drive it the one or two thousand miles back home.

In sharp contrast to his front lot, a spooky MG graveyard of chassis shells, doors, windshields, bonnets, and some 40 tons of discarded cars border the back lot.  Rows of upside-down transmissions stand at attention, like massive gray trumpets, awaiting a chance to blow gear tunes into a restored car.  Front and rear axles line the asphalt like some long, winding keyboard.  And curly chrome exhaust pipes hang from wall racks, ever ready to bellow a new hum.  Their ethereal mission: infuse his galleys with parts when some can’t be had from the various MG parts catalogues.

 In addition to a hefty inventory of both new and used parts, his business is accelerating in growth spurt mode and a recent staff beef-up.  He recently hired a suntan-oiled muscle man to break down the scrap cars and harvest parts; a new auto body restorer to replace his retiring body man; a carburetor expert now learning the MG ropes; a summer intern; and a semiretired female soccer player to move all the new parts stock into an added building.   Most of them, of course, fellow vintage sports car aficionados in kind.

Like some apprenticeship guild of yore, Lenhard sought out British car hobbyists over the years as potential employees, and if necessary, trained them into top-notch MG repairmen and repairwomen.  He likes to recall when he owned Bay Imports, one of his sharpest mechanics was a woman named Debbie. 

“No ego on her.  If I taught her how to fix it, she did it, did it right, and remembered how to do it again,” says Lenhard of his former female mechanic.

But the most heartfelt praise from Lenhard goes out to his longtime employee and friend Chuck Helt, the precise, meticulous magician of engine and carburetor rebuilding, and restoration reassemblies.  A former general manager for larger automotive dealerships, Helt was a self-described “talented hobbyist,” but had raced some Formula Fords when he first met Lenhard at an MG car club meeting some 15 years ago.

Now, he’s quite the MG expert, and in almost Zen-like serendipitous form, the 100-hours-of-labor reassemblies are second nature to Helt.

“Every time I get in that car (MG), it puts a smile on my face,” says Helt.

The same for their MG customers.  “They’re a totally different clientele,” says Helt. “They love talking about their cars.  There’s a passion there.  They want to restore.”

“Because I can make a living with my hobby, I’ve used this mid-to-late-in-life career as relaxation,” says Helt, 65.  But he does admit the MGBs are a bit quicker, easier to reassemble due to their unibody construction in comparison to the MGAs.  “They (MGAs) were all initially built when labor was cheap, so they are a lot of hand work,” thus harder to restore, he admits.

For metal fabricator Richard Sancho hammering a signature staccato tune on a fender wing patch he’s just created, restoration can still present challenges despite his 50-plus years of experience in automotive fabrication.

“It takes a little bit of finesse to make them (restorations) work,” says Sancho, 65.  “The newer cars are just bonded together with an adhesive.  With the vintage car restoration, you have to start from the ground up and work your way out.”  

 It’s a continuing education process.

 But Lenhard’s youngest mechanic, Cory Redmond, 36, praises his on-the-job training.

“There’s probably a British repair shop in every state,” says Redmond, now highly skilled due to nine years at the shop.  “But if they understand the cars as Glenn does --- probably not.  They’re not on as large a scale as we are…and it’s been a better learning experience (for me) than any book, or any dealership ‘line mechanic’ job.  Other places don’t give you the versatility to work on an entire car in diagnostics and repair.  It makes you feel more valuable if you can fix an entire car, not just part of it.”

Mechanic, James Morris, 37, agrees.  Though he hails from a rich vintage racing heritage by way of his race car driver father George Morris, he initially drove nearly 100 miles each way to earn and learn at Lenhard’s shop.  When not fixing the Healey’s, the MGBs and the Mini’s, Morris works the Leonard McCue race crew on weekends at places like Sebring.  Now he’s one of the shop’s fastidious British sports car mechanics, says Lenhard.

Why he personally enjoys fixing and driving the British sports cars, explains Morris, “The people that own and run British cars are a nicer breed of people…I’ve still got people from Orlando sending me Christmas cards in gratitude for fixing their cars.”

Well, if the MG octagonal-shaped insignia badge is indeed descended from some eternal eight-sided symbol of renewal, then that symbolic boost must be what’s keeping this aftermarket MG repair business going full bore, hints senior mechanic Helt.

 Along the back edge of Lenhard’s property, a CSX freight train crosses the railroad tracks.  Its horn chimes its signal: the road trip has just begun.

By Debra DiGiacomandrea, a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and longtime MGB owner.