Even today it is hard to think of South Boston as a hotbed for sports cars. The three-decker tenements, the grid street layout with no off-street parking and the dense (in more ways than one) Irish population of Old Southie were not auto friendly.
For most of us growing up there in the late ’50s, cars did not inspire visions of wind and winding roads. Aside from the obvious social opportunities that a back seat represented, cars were seen more as the cause of neighborhood parking feuds and an opportunity to make a few bucks during the winter. Armed with shovels we would go door to door after each snow storm: “Dig you out lady?” We pitched it into the street and the next plow returned it creating a cycle of business opportunity for young, energetic entrepreneurs. How I ended up a certified Morgan nut is hard to explain.
I was placed in a central high school and made connections, bus to street car to bus again, on public transportation every day to get to school. Travel from one part of Boston to another may not seem like a big deal today, but urban renewal and homogenization of the neighborhoods was just beginning in 1958. The city was socially fragmented and every neighborhood had a unique, xenophobic identity.
Dad owned a small (but four story high) body shop in Scollay Square, an infamous red-light area that was later revitalized out of existence. School holidays meant that I went to the shop with dad and entertained myself by taking things apart and moving the cars. Aside from the usual collision work, the shop did occasional custom projects. One, a ’50 Ford with rear fenders extended 14″ around a continental kit, started my addiction to Hot Rod and similar car magazines.
One of the shop’s specialties was providing the local wise-guys with secret compartments and gun brackets. I doubt that it paid very well, but it was great stimulation for a fourteen year old imagination. Even so, the shop yielded to eminent domain before I got my driver’s license and Dad left the auto business more or less permanently.
My first sighting of an MG TD was made through the window of a streetcar passing Northeastern University. It caught my eye because the shape was similar to the ’32 Ford roadster that I lusted for and also because the valve covers of an Olds V8 could be seen through the open bonnet sides. That Olds-MG became the focus of my daily ride to school and Road and Track supplemented Hot Rod and Custom Car in the library of classics that I read instead of doing homework.
I majored in daydreaming and doodling while in high school. Since mine was a boy’s school, the daydreaming had little on-site competition. Most mornings were spent looking out dirty windows, past the walled school yard, to Children’s hospital and other institutions surrounding the Ave. Louis Pasteur. I watched cars in the distant parking lots and drew custom versions in my notebooks. A grey MG (but not an MG) showed up one day in the winter of my junior year and became a regular in the hospital parking lot. Curiosity being what it is, and because once in the school building it was impossible for a student to walk out, I did the only thing reasonable and jumped out a second story window to then walk the long way around Emerson College and read “Morgan” on the car’s badge and wonder why there was a strap wrapped over the hood.
A short time later, from my current perspective, I left USC Graduate School and got a real job. Married, with a two year old and eight years of college debt, I searched the LA Times and ended up spending my first paychecks (and a loan) on a gold with black wings 1965 4/4. Gawd, was it beautiful! The asking price was $1800. My desire must have been pretty obvious because when I said I would take it the owner raised the price to $2000.
If only it had been worth $2000. Two years and another job later I realized that I had been taken. The 4/4 was a great paint job over bondo and badly crashed and cobbled together running gear.
I needed another car to commute from Santa Monica to East LA while I “restored” the 4/4. The oil embargo was in place and the freeway speed limit was 55. A 1934 MX4 Super Sport trike? Why not?
Working all weekend to arrive at the office in an oil spattered suit didn’t bother me much but within a few months I crashed the trike and it joined the 4/4 as another project. “The next car”, my wife demanded, “must have four seats”. NO PPOBLEMO! Thus the ’53 4-seater was added to the family, and yes, it wasn’t too long before the project collection expanded yet again.
And so it has continued. Every once in a while I have moments of blissful sobriety, clean fingernails, and a car that doesn’t lose parts, but the rest of the time I have to stand in the company of friends similarly afflicted and give testimony: My name is Ron Garner and I am a Mogaholic”.