MGB GT owner Rachel Smith loves her cars, but it’s not a passion that came naturally. In fact, her love of classic motors it’s a love to which she has only recently returned…
The torch was lit
That first little red MGB was only the start of it… “When I first bought the MG, it was just ‘a car’ to me,” admits Rachel Smith as she casts her mind back. “But it soon fired up something in me for interesting cars.”
Back in the 1980s, Rachel had only bought the MGB “as a car to run around in”, but it lit a fire within her.
“It was still a fairly new car at the time, but somehow it was different to everything else on the road. There was a real sense of occasion when I drove it.
“The fact that the MG was a little off-beat drew me to other cars that were ‘different’,” she says, casting her mind back. “It wasn’t a hobby… yet, but it was the start of a journey.”
Rachel started to notice other interesting cars on the roads and in car parks. She liked models and marques that seemed exciting or unique, obscure or unconventional. Yes, it had to be nippy, but she wanted something outside the usual traffic jam of forgettable rides.
“I didn’t want it to be ‘just a car’, it had to have some personality.”
And she wanted to be able to get under the bonnet.
“The MG is simple. You can take it apart and work on it yourself – you don’t need fancy equipment”
“Modern cars are all computers,” she adds. “The MG is simple though, you can take it apart and work on it yourself – you don’t need fancy equipment. Take the idle: all you need to do is turn a screw. You just can’t do that with a new car.”
People say you always find love when you’re not looking for it, and Rachel certainly wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship with the automobile.
“I just needed something to get me from A to B, maybe a bit of escapism,” says Rachel. “My brother’s friend’s dad worked in a garage where they had a couple of MGB Roadsters. It was there that I fell for the model and its shape. He said that if I bought one, they’d be able to look after it for me – which was handy – and that sort of made the decision for me. I called it Percy and drove it for years.”
Rachel’s current MGB is about the same age as that first car and despite its relative youth, that first MGB was already starting to show signs of premature aging.
“I had it re-sprayed and had panels replaced,” she explains. “But it started to go rusty again, so I made the difficult decision to sell it. I just didn’t want to spend lots of money on a car that was becoming so unreliable.
“It was my only car, too, and that’s a difficult thing. They’re great as a weekend or ‘nice weather’ car, but not as an everyday driver.”
The next chapter
Rachel and the little red MGB parted company, but that fire had been lit, and her relationship with cars would never be the same again.
“I had a lot of Toyotas after that,” she muses. “I had lots of MR-2s, so I certainly went to the other end of the reliability spectrum! Because I live on a farm I’ve had 4x4s too: I’ve had Freelanders and currently have a Mercedes ML which is pretty reliable.
“I also have a Defender which I bought when I turned 50. It’s funny driving it around, because people always say how I’ve gone back into something unreliable. I don’t agree of course, I love my Defender. It’s a bit of an icon, much like the MG.”
Enter the 1976 MGB GT
It happens so often: things that are almost out of sight in the rear-view mirror are suddenly in front of us again. It’s ironic that the power of nostalgia means that the past is always with us in the present.
It had been years since Rachel had owned an MG or anything similar, and while the farm-based 4x4s did their job, there was clearly an itch that needed scratching…
“About four years ago, I saw what is now my MGB GT, on eBay. I don’t even know why I was looking… it was just an idle search really. I didn’t have a plan or anything, but I started looking at MGBs.”
It was clearly a rekindled love and it was meant to be, as the fires of passion spontaneously combusted and Rachel bought the little blue car.
“The price was pretty good and it had an MOT,” she beams. “I think I paid less than £2,000 for it.”
“I thought I’d made a huge mistake, but I wasn’t going to be defeated by an old car”
But the passage of true love is never smooth and Rachel found the MG overheating and backfiring.
“When I got it home I decided to potter about in it, but it was absolutely awful. I thought I’d made a huge mistake, but I wasn’t going to be defeated by an old car.
Rachel took the car to “a chap near me who knows a lot about old cars”. He checked it over, fixed the problems and gave it a fresh MOT.
“I celebrated by joining the MG Owners Club.
“The car had a rubber bumper, but has a chrome bumper on the back now. Up front it has a custom spoiler, like a chin spoiler – no chrome at all. But when I repaint it, it’ll get a Sebring-style front end on it. I want to smarten it up a bit.
“It’s currently Teal Blue, but started life in yellow -– as you can see in the engine bay. I’m going to re-spray it Teal Blue again. All my cars have been blue, maybe that’s what attracts me to them. At one point, I had four blue cars! What can I say? I like blue!”
Fair weather friend
For many owners, classic cars’ ‘shortcomings’ are all part of the enjoyment – that’s why it’s called a labour of love: it’s work, but you love it. Their flaws, frustrations, awkwardness and idiosyncrasies makes up the rich character of classic cars.
“The MG is currently hidden under a cover on the driveway,” explains Rachel as she describes her car care routine. “I probably start it once every two weeks. I should take it out more, but I live at the bottom of a farm track which is now full of mud.
“People can’t believe I can get it up and down the lane, but I can. It’s got quite good ground clearance actually – it doesn’t ground out.
As part of the car’s continuing restoration and renovation, Rachel purchased new Minilite wheels and is keen to avoid damaging them in our predictably inclement British winter.
“With the bad weather and salt on the roads, it’s much wiser to keep her wrapped up for a few months. She’s just waiting for the warm weather again and I look forward to getting her back out on the roads.”
Thankfully, the idea that car enthusiasm is the ring-fenced preserve of the male of the species is thankfully long-gone.
“I do all the driving,” says Rachel. “Even though my husband comes along. With no power steering driving is a proper workout. The brakes are heavy and the clutch can make your knee hurt. That’s when I make him drive.
“It’s funny though, it didn’t seem as hard to drive back in the 1980s. But cars have come on so far, so I suppose the old MGB feels dated by comparison.”
Rachel explains her dislike of motorways, admitting that they’re a necessary evil on the way to where she wants to be:
“I’m not good on motorways, but, strangely, I love to go quickly – I loved my Subaru Impreza because it was so fast at accelerating. I just don’t like motorways. Thankfully, motorways are only an issue in getting to meets and rallies. Once we’re off them it’s all lovely, scenic roads.”
Car clubs serve a number of purposes that differ from person, to car, to club. Some drivers love the camaraderie of niche car drivers – a way of finding kindred spirits like a heat-seeking missile. Others find the knowledge and expertise about obscure models within a club’s membership invaluable – it’s amazing how certain knowledge is still not available on the web.
“The MG Owners Club sends you all kinds of information about events, drives and meetings in your area, so I started going to them.”
“You meet some brilliant people and they all have hints and tips to help being an owner of an old car”
Some clubs focus on sourcing spare parts, others on sports, more still have lively social calendars including everything from barbecues to race meets and foreign factory visits.
“I love the MG Owners Club meets,” says Rachel. “You meet some brilliant people and they all have hints and tips to help being an owner of an old car. They tell you stuff from experience that you might not know. Every run we go on we’ll learn something new.
“The club’s rallies are especially fun. You get to explore in the car because the routes are so off the beaten track. You’d never do that if you were just out in your Ford Focus! It makes the day, doing daft things with them: roads you think it won’t get up. Watching the other cars do it – it’s bonkers, but brilliant fun. It’s what owning a car should be about: getting the most out of it and having fun, life’s too short for anything else.
As we wind up our conversation with Rachel, she sums up: “Other people are happy in a boring car just to get to work, but I couldn’t do that. It’d be so dull. I like to drive and I like to drive something interesting.”
Rachel’s tips for classic car ownership
- Join a club, you’ll get far more out of the ownership experience that way.
- Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Old cars love to be tinkered with.
- Enjoy your time with it, you’re bringing joy to people’s day when they see it.
- Don’t limit yourself to one car, have a few if you can. Live a little.
Classic car owners can rely on Adrian Flux for competitive quotes on their insurance policy. Take a look at our classic car insurance page for more information.
Photography: Ruth Downing at Rural Photograph