MG Stories: How I Met Tiffany and Brought Her Home
One of the things we’d like to do with our website is share our members’ stories. Your stories are interesting and inspirational and play a very important role in capturing and preserving the character of the club.
We’re very pleased to have received a few such stories recently. The most recent arrives thanks to Phil Clarke, who shares the story of how he came to be the proud owner of a 1954 Classic TF.
How I Met Tiffany and Brought Her Home
Thanks to Phil Clarke
Australia Day weekend, January 1964. Two callow teenagers, brothers, are hitchhiking to the races at the fairly new Catalina circuit in Katoomba. A natty little green T series MG rounds the corner in front of them and the elder one says to his impressionable and more callow brother (yours truly): “That’s a TF. You can tell by the independent front suspension and the faired-in headlights.” Well it certainly did make an impression. It was love at first sight and fifty-four years on I can still visualise that very same car.
For decades after I thought that one day I might get one, but of course with all the financial pressures and obligations that attach to becoming an adult, buying a home, marking out a career, I never really went much further than thinking about it.
And think about it, I did. To me the TF is the elegant perfection of the square riggers. Its beautiful proportions, the gently sloping bonnet and grill and of course those faired-in headlights make it, in my view the best-looking MG of all (my brother thinks so too.)
After retiring a few years ago and realising that most of those heavy obligations and commitments had been attended to I started thinking that I might finally be able to get one. I started doing some dabbling in the literature and looking for images etc. on the internet, as well as building a little nest egg that might come in handy. About nine months ago I decided it was time to move from thinking to doing. I joined the MGCC, placed a wanted ad in Opposite Lock and started looking in earnest.
I was hoping to find a 1500 if possible, preferred colour cream and in good running condition. I wanted to be able to drive it straight away and was not looking for a project to sit in my garage for several years. There were a few interested sellers but none that really had what I was looking for.
One day in Melbourne I received a call from a gentleman in Hobart with a 1250 for sale. Not a 1500, but he told me it was in pretty good condition. A lot of work had been done, much of it by himself. The engine had been reconditioned, paintwork was cream with good trim, albeit in red and not the original green. As a bonus, it had a UK Ford Sierra five-speed gear box fitted. This modification made a huge difference when driving out of town, he said.
The owner sent me some photos and more technical details. It certainly looked impressive. He had bought it from a friend of John Laws who had bought if from that esteemed gentleman’s collection. This helped explain its apparent excellent cosmetic condition.
There were just two problems. It was a 1250 and not a 1500 and Hobart is a long way from Griffith. However, if the car was as good as it seemed and I hoped, then neither was a deal breaker.
After consulting with some wise and helpful MGCC members at the Silverwater Display Day I was given the name of a garage in Hobart that specialises in, among other things, classic cars. The TF owner was happy to have it thoroughly inspected and a report sent to me. After this was done I rang the garage proprietor and went through his report line by line. I then rang the owner and once again went through the report and took his feedback. Nothing is perfect in this world but this car seemed on balance to be pretty good and close to being exactly what I wanted.
I decided to venture south.
Thinking that unless something serious and unexpected was wrong I would buy it, I hired a car trailer, hooked it to my ute and headed off. The ute and trailer were put into long term parking at Tullamarine from whence I flew on down to Hobart. It was freezing when I arrived – rain, wind, sleet. The receptionist at my hotel told me to be grateful: “This is the best it’s been all day!” she smiled.
Next morning I headed further south to Kingston Beach, met the owner and his wife and took the TF for a test drive. The clutch throw was very short and the handbrake was different to what I was used to but overall I was impressed. Everything was tight; it sat nicely on the road and that five-speed gearbox worked really well. The original gearbox, still in good condition, was part of the deal but the owner asked if I would also like the original wheels and lots of other used and new parts. I accepted and he said he would be happy to arrange the shipping which he has since done. Thank you, David! I arranged an express funds transfer, had a cup of tea with him, took the keys and drove back to Hobart in my shiny cream, old but new to me MGTF.
Being concerned about the lack of door locks and a key ignition that was too easy to bypass I had arranged secure overnight parking. I had already embarrassed myself by stalling when attempting hill starts near my hotel so when I went to pick it up to head home I spent some time driving to the top of the carpark practising hill starts to get my coordination of clutch and handbrake just right.
To Launceston. It wasn’t quite as cold as the previous day so with seven layers of clothing (yes, seven layers), gloves, a woollen cap, hood up but without side windows I headed off. I was happy to sit on 85-90 km/h on the 110 limited highway and felt just a little guilty about the traffic building up behind me until I discovered that when slow lanes appeared on the left and I pulled over, many of the cars I thought I was holding up pulled over too, apparently just to sit behind me! How about that!
Overnight in Launceston, a bit nervous about the lack of secure parking but shouldn’t have worried. Nothing happened. Next day I set out to a couple of Tamar Valley wineries to sample and purchase some of the area’s renowned Pinot Noir. I took some trunk roads and secondary roads through the valley rather that the highway just for fun and had intended to do that all the way to Devonport but my phone charge got dangerously low and my back-up battery failed so I had to turn it off and go without the GPS. This meant I had to find my way back to Launceston and take the highway from there to Devonport. I didn’t realise at the time that the owner had thoughtfully put a road map of Tasmania in the passenger’s door pocket. I should have looked. Fortunately, I had plenty of time and had no difficulty making it to the ferry terminal before departure. The crew were helpful in getting me into a safe spot on the ferry and we arrived in Melbourne without further incident the following morning.
I met my younger brother and his son-in-law for breakfast and proudly showed them my new acquisition before heading into the city for a few things. Once again, I was very conscious of my lack of vehicle security especially with several boxes of wine sitting on the front seat, but in Little Collins Street I knew a very small carpark which had an attendant. I drove in and asked the attendant if she could keep an eye on the TF. “Would you like to park it here?” she said as she removed a bollard and let me park right next to her kiosk. I was grateful and brought her back a little pastry from my purchases.
Shopping complete, I headed out to the long-term parking at Tullamarine. As I manoeuvred the TF to line up with the ramps of the car trailer a couple of the workers took an interest in what I was doing. I asked them if they could watch to make sure I had enough clearance between the car and the “hump” where the ramps meet the body of the trailer. “No worries mate. You’ve got heaps of room.” BANG!
Under the body the previous owner had installed a plastic cylinder to catch oil from one of the breather pipes to protect the floor of his garage. This had been knocked off. The “helpers” were apologetic and I suppose they were doing their best. I just wish their best was a bit better. Finally, I was able to secure my precious load on the trailer and set out on the 500km trek back to Griffith. I struck a little rain near the border but apart from that had an incident-free trip.
Once home I thought calling my baby “The TF” was a bit like calling your pet “The Dog” and so even though I’ve never given any of my fifteen or so previous cars a name I decided to call this little beauty “Tiffany”. Next task was to change the rego from Tasmania to NSW, but that’s another story.