Fixing Fletcher

On a spring morning in 2017, Robin Peterson went out for breakfast and brought home an MG. This longtime Corvette enthusiast and restorer was returning from his favorite diner when, in front of an old-timey gas station-turned-repair shop, he spotted a tiny yellow car wearing a for-sale sign.

He wasn’t looking for another ride-so he says, though we wonder-so he drove on. But when he glanced up and saw the forlorn roadster receding in his mirror, something about it made him swing a U-turn.

The closer he got, the needier it looked. “At first I thought it was one of those VW-powered replicas,” he recalls, “but then I saw the single exhaust pipe. The paint was really bad, but underneath the panels looked solid and unmolested. The mechanic at the shop came out and told me that he knew the car well and had worked on it for many years.

He had just parked it out front, so no more than 10 cars could have passed, and I was the first person who stopped. He gave me some history and told me about the husband and wife who were selling it. I decided to give them a call.”

During that call, Robin made yet another speedy U-turn, this one from “I’m not in the market” to “I’ll buy it.” The very next day, the 1951 MG TD was sitting in his garage. This American-car enthusiast— who had never owned a British car and knew zip about them—had leaped into the deep end of the pool.

During the sales transaction, he learned from the owners that the TD had become part of their family more than 45 years ago, after they acquired it as payment of a debt. The wife became attached to the car, named it Fletcher, and occasionally performed her own repairs. “She can’t talk right now. She’s out in the garage under Fletcher,” her husband would tell her callers.

They enjoyed the car for decades, but as the years passed, it spent more and more time sitting, and the disuse made it difficult and costly to maintain. Reluctantly, they decided to sell.

Bringing Fletcher Back

Robin, an engineer who loves to tinker, lives in Michigan and winters in Florida, and he was in need of a project. Despite his lack of experience with Brit machines, he felt up to this challenge.

Plus, after working on Corvettes, the TD’s size was appealing. “It’s about the size of a golf cart and a half,” Robin says, “and it doesn’t take up much room in my garage.” But he has learned that while the TD may be tiny, “It’s a lot more complex than I thought.”

To get up to speed, he prowled the internet, read manuals and made MG friends in Central Florida. “There are a lot of good websites and knowledgeable people who are willing to share out there,” he adds.

Robin’s aim was to get the TD driving and evaluate its condition, which turned out to be a lengthy process. The car was barely running, gasping for gas through a choked fuel system jammed with bits of rust and sealant from the tank, which proved to be beyond repair.

So he fabricated a new tank, flushed the lines, replaced the fuel pump and filter, and rebuilt and adjusted the carbs. He also went through the brake setup, rebuilding the rear wheel cylinders, replacing hoses and flushing the system. He changed the engine oil (twice), along with the transmission and rear end fluid.

After a valve adjustment, the engine-mileage unknown—ran fine. When he flushed the radiator, it turned into a “lawn sprinkler,” so he upgraded the core and replaced the water pump and hoses. Then he installed a new exhaust system. As he dug deeper into the car, he discovered how solid and original it was. And the more he drove it, the better it ran.

What’s Next?

Robin bought this car on a whim, thinking maybe he would fix it and flip it. But now that he’s grown fond of it, he’s facing a dilemma: Restore it or not?

“Nearly everyone who sees this car tells me I ought to leave it alone,” he says. “Very few want to see it restored. I have not heard one negative response to the condition of this car.”

When we first spotted Fletcher at a Gathering of the Faithful MG event near Orlando, he was surrounded by admirers who had passed rows of restored entries to give this TD a closer look. This car engages, perhaps reminding folks that MGs were once daily drivers that hauled people and stuff and spent most of their lives outside with their tops down.

“Robin bought this car on a whim, thinking maybe he would fix it and flip it. But now that he’s grown fond of it, he’s facing a dilemma.”

“It has lots of character, we heard from the crowd. “Shame to restore it.”

So, with plenty of unsolicited advice to mull over, Robin tells us, “I’m still undecided.” Meanwhile he tinkers on, concentrating on unobtrusive repairs. Next on his list? Remove the rear axle assembly, haul it to his well-equipped shop in Michigan, re-arch the springs, replace bearings, and install a taller ratio for more relaxed cruising. He’s thinking about doing some powdercoating, too. After all, these parts are unseen.

Robin may be having too much fun to pull the TD off the road for a lengthy restoration. And if Fletcher could talk, we’re sure he would agree. After all, he’s gained a lot of admirers-battle scars and all.

 

BEHIND THE WHEEL

With about three-fourths of its production coming to the U.S., the TD has been called the MG that introduced sports cars to America. Even today, it’s easy to see why. This example may be approaching 70-years, not mph-but it’s still a jaunty little car that, despite its exterior flaws, has aged well and offers a rewarding drive.

Throughout our photo session and lengthy outing, the MG eagerly sprang to life each time we asked. It was clear that Fletcher, under all his cracked and crusty paint, was thrilled to be back on the road.

And he drives surprisingly well. The clutch is light and linear. The four-speed transmission-non-synchro first-shifts easily. The steering is tight and responsive, and the brakes stop this car when they need to. The engine runs cool and puts out adequate power-as long as you’re not in a hurry. Foregoing speed, you cruise with dignity and class.

Passing motorists enjoyed Fletcher as much as we did, exchanging waves and grins on a perfect Florida afternoon. And every time we stopped, people gathered, comparing MG stories and admiring Fletcher’s well-earned patina.

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Comments
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GLK
GLK New Reader
5/30/19 8:50 p.m.

Great old MG with a delightful story of caring and enthusiastic ownership. Hopefully future generations will continue to carry the torch.

Ratchet
Ratchet New Reader
5/30/19 11:32 p.m.

If Fletcher was restored, I don't think he would be happy. He's happy passing through life as a well loved and cared for old gentleman. Being restored would take away his uniqueness and he would look like ever other TD.

Xceler8x
Xceler8x UberDork
5/31/19 7:54 a.m.

That car is prime for an LS swap. Just kidding. It's a time capsule. Leave it as is and enjoy. Repairs only please. 

 

It's so good to see a car being enjoyed and not stored under hermetic seal. 

Donatello
Donatello New Reader
5/31/19 8:50 a.m.
Xceler8x said:

That car is prime for an LS swap. Just kidding. It's a time capsule. Leave it as is and enjoy. Repairs only please. 

 

It's so good to see a car being enjoyed and not stored under hermetic seal. 

Yes I agree. Enjoying a car is what this hobby is all about, and it's how it all started. Somehow we got all OCD about old cars and anything less than perfect is now considered by many to be somehow wrong. I say BS. Roll back the clock and enjoy!

Don2001l
Don2001l New Reader
5/31/19 4:35 p.m.

Great car and story, it would be shame to let it rust away “maintaining its patina”

If the car was only 15, 20 years old, wouldn’t the conscientious owner be doing what they could to ensure the car would make to it’s 30th or 40th anniversary?

Rather than let it rot away maintaining its originality, then in another 20 years someone will find it in a barn or field and have to rebuild a rusted shell vs. a reasonably maintained car !

Don

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