Job Creator

STORY BY JAMES HEINE, PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM SUDDARD

Many vintage and historic cars come complete with interesting and entertaining backstories. Still, few can match the provenance–or the importance to British motoring–of a bronze-and-cream 1948 MG TC owned for more than 60 years by Al Moss, the founder of Moss Motors and a giant in our field.

Today, the TC is again part of Moss Motors. The company reacquired the car at RM’s Monterey auction in 2012, shortly before Mr. Moss’s death. In 1978, Moss sold his company to the family of its present owners, but he kept the TC for his own enjoyment. During those intervening years, he used it for numerous old car gatherings, long-distance road trips and vintage racing events.

But let’s start at the beginning.

A Boy and His Car

Al Moss acquired the TC from its original (and very short-term) owner in the fall of 1948. Within a year, he had founded Moss Motors, which began as a Los Angeles repair shop dedicated to servicing TCs and helping their owners keep the cars on the road.

But before all that, Moss was a 19-year-old, notreally- employed-yet kid just starting out in life. He was mesmerized by cars and captivated by Grand Prix racing in Europe.

“When the MG TC hit the U.S. shores, like with a lot of kids, he was just absolutely fascinated by it and determined that he had to have one,” says Robert Goldman, chairman of Moss Motors. His family connection with the company goes all the way back to 1949, when his grandparents acquired a TC from Moss and, in the process, forged a lifelong friendship with him.

“TCs were a little bit hard to come by at that point,” Goldman continues. “But as it happened, Philco, the makers of televisions and various appliances in the day, was having a contest in Los Angeles. It was an essay contest–why you wanted a Philco television–and the grand prize was a brand-new MG TC.”

The contest winner was a young mother of two who, as it turned out, apparently valued the practicality of cash in the bank more than the splendor of a TC parked in her driveway. “As Al told the story, she drove it around the block once and promptly put it up for sale,” Goldman recalls.

Moss found an advertisement for the car in a newspaper, saw the asking price, and decamped to her doorstep. And just in time.

“There were apparently already two dealers there, and that, of course, caused a little bit of a bidding session to ensue,” Goldman continues. “And $2050 later, if I remember the exact total, Al bought an MG TC.”

Now in possession of a genuine sports car, Moss determined, among other things, to use it by organizing a rally. “Al had been reading about various car rallies and car clubs on the East Coast and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to organize a rally on the West Coast?’” Goldman explains.

Moss proceeded to do just that, organizing a rally from L.A. to Santa Barbara.

“On that tour, all the TC owners were talking about how there was really nobody around who could maintain the cars and fix them. The dealers just wanted to sell the things, and then they wanted nothing more to do with them,” Goldman says. “So Al, in the aftermath of the rally, thought about all of that and realized there was a potential opportunity.”

And that “potential opportunity” became the Moss Motors we know today.

The Birth of a Business

When Moss bought the TC, he certainly had no plans to create a business from it. Although he’d had some basic alignment training before opening his shop, Goldman says he “pretty much taught himself how to work on the cars over time and started to build a clientele.”

By early 1949, “it just kind of generated itself based on the fact that: A, he needed something to do; and B, there were a bunch of folks grumbling that they couldn’t get their cars fixed.”

As with any endeavor, the road to success was not an easy one for Moss. “He learned some pretty hard lessons going in,” says Goldman. “He was dealing with a number of car dealers who, in many instances, had control over access to factory parts. And, as he started to try to get involved in dealing cars and getting access to parts supplies, he got run around a little bit by a few people. So he learned from the school of hard knocks.”

The TC Lives On

As for Moss’s TC, after spending some two decades with a supercharged TF engine, today it once again features its original XPAG 1250cc OHV engine supplemented by a period-correct Shorrock supercharger.

The car also features an optional rear end. “Stock is 5.125:1, and the factory option of the day was 4.875. I’m assuming it’s a 4.875, unless Al managed to fit something else in there,” Goldman says.

“The odometer is on its second trip around. It’s got about 116,000 on it. It had about 114,000 when Al sold it to us,” Goldman adds. “This summer, I took it on about 1000-mile trip to Watkins Glen–actually, the Collier Brothers Memorial Trophy Race at the Watkins Glen vintage races. Beyond that, we’ve taken it to a few shows here and there. And I’ve been known to occasionally tootle around the valley where I live on the weekends in it. So it’s getting gentle miles still.”

And the original 114,000 miles that Moss put on it?

“Those were well-used miles,” Goldman says. “I mean, that thing was raced; it was rallied; it was used as a tow car. He would tow his three-wheel Morgan from [his retirement home in] Arizona to California to go to the Monterey automobile races. The car was very well used in its day, but of course Al, being a premier mechanic and very accomplished restoration mechanic, always kept it in great mechanical shape.”

Behind the Wheel

As with any old car, you need to put the driving experience into perspective. Sure, this was the machine that started the sports car craze and showed Americans that cars didn’t have to be big, clunky and ill handling. So that means a 1948 MG TC drives like a Miata, right? No, but it sure drives better than a 1948 Ford.

Getting in, the tiny doors open backward. They’re more like trap doors than any real entrances into the car. In 1948, the term ergonomics was still 20 years away from being used in car design.

To make things worse, the owner asks that the door not be slammed because the latches are screwed into a wooden frame with, yes, wood screws. Okay, this is going well so far.

As I squeeze my 250-pound frame into the seat and beneath the aftermarket Moto-Lita aluminum steering wheel, the sensations start to hit me hard. As I look past the ancient Jaeger gauges and down that long hood at those chrome headlights, I’m instantly taken back to a time when sports cars were born.

My next thought: Despite the tiny door openings, a big guy can fit in a T C pretty well. Despite the seat padding being a bit long in the tooth, this thing is actually quite comfortable once you’re in it.

At this point I haven’t even really noticed that the car is righthand drive. Perhaps it just feels right–or maybe with a car this narrow and with such good visibility, it doesn’t really matter.

Even the pedal placement is reasonable for such an old car. You do look for a dead pedal, though, that just isn’t there. From there you can put on the aftermarket lap belts, if you think they will help.

To fire up the engine, turn the key and pull the start lever. The already warm TC rattles quickly to life and the journey begins. The owner warns that the transmission, lacking a synchronized first gear, works well as long as you don’t rush it. As I quickly find out, he is correct on this call.

With a quick blip of the throttle, the TC slides easily into first and we are off. The steering is stiff and strangely direct except where you use it most, near the center. Here the car wanders like it needs a ton more caster. The tall, narrow bias-ply tires makes this sensation worse and not better.

The brakes are more of a suggestion rather than a tool for stopping the car.

As we head out onto the old Watkins Glen road course and slowly–and I mean really slowly– gain speed, a feeling of terror comes on and shakes me to my core. Did guys really race these things as hard as they could on this, what is perhaps the most dangerous road course ever made?

Thanks to a plethora of trees, rock walls, and even a stone bridge and railroad crossing, racing here in this crude machine would have been just plain insane. But this is where sports car racing was born in America and, faults and all, this is the car that created our world.–Tim Suddard

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