Peter Brock: My first car | Column

Photograph Courtesy BRE

Classic design never fades. It may take some time for that truth to sink in, ’specially if you’re a 14-year-old kid searching for his first set of wheels. But scoring your dream and getting it right the first time is something that stays with you forever, because there’s no room for compromise after that. 

My first car was a ’49 MG TC. It set an aesthetic standard that introduced me to a world of fine automobiles, incredibly interesting people, and a design ethic that would affect and influence the rest of my life. My TC didn’t run when I bought it because it had a blown engine that made the price affordable.  Its condition hardly mattered–just that I’d somehow managed to acquire it. 

There was nothing in the world as beautiful or more important than the mechanical freedom that I knew it would someday deliver. I wouldn’t drive it on the street until I was 16, but just having it to study and work on was an incredibly satisfying experience. 

Its mere presence in my life became a silent introduction to a welcoming community with common interests. My new mentors graciously overlooked my age and mechanical naiveté, sharing their knowledge and considerable skills to help me learn and make my car run. 

That static interim also gave me an unexpected gift: the many hours of silent contemplation that allowed me to absorb and mentally replay every line and mechanical detail of my TC by just closing my eyes. Its perfect stance and proportions, even though I had no idea then what those terms meant, imprinted themselves in my mind’s eye and provided a solid foundation for every design I’ve evaluated or created since. 

Even though MG TCs were the only variants of that famed marque when they first became available in America, their classic lines provided an elegant aesthetic anchor from which I judged a whole new world of wheels. (Later, the iconic lines of a beautifully crafted Ford ’32 hotrod served as a similar reference point in that separate, wonderful world of hand-built cars.)

I knew absolutely nothing about cars at the time, but I was lucky enough to have a next-door neighbor who owned and raced an MG. Just seeing and hearing it for the first time was a revelation. Its tall, 19-inch wire wheels and sweeping, full-fendered lines, combined with the ripping cadence of its race-prepped engine when it fired up, were instantly imbedded in my psyche. I’d never seen or heard anything like it, but knew instantly that I wanted more. 

Eventually there were great rides through the twisting, tree-lined back roads of Marin County. There were fast, cross-country caravans with other racers to events that really opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed. I couldn’t get enough then, and still can’t; fine automobiles became a way of life for me that persists to this day. 

I had no idea then that MG had previously built a PA or the handsome, supercharged TA before the war. I also didn’t know that still more beautifully designed and built SS Jags, Rileys and ERAs–and the supremely proportioned Vanden Plas Squire–even existed. There was so much to learn! 

I was so disappointed when I saw my first MG TD. How could they possibly compromise the TC’s handsome lines? 

That’s when a stopwatch gave me a whole new understanding of the importance of improved engineering. My previous standard of exterior beauty was only part of the total package. Better brakes, steering and suspension provided safer speed and extra comfort. 

The TD, with its softer lines, was the transition to the handsome new TF, which somehow comfortably combined the TC’s classic prewar appearance with the future. The realities of cost, production and changing priorities in a constantly changing market all combined to affect design and taste.

That all changed with the MGA, of course, which marked the emergence of a whole new era of English design. Aerodynamics had become an important factor. The T era had passed. The MGA was a better-engineered car in almost every way–except it didn’t have that exceptional, stunning quality of design that the TC etched in my mind. First impressions teach and affect your life forever.

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frenchyd
frenchyd UltraDork
10/10/18 6:33 a.m.

I wish I could write as well as Peter Brock.  His clarity and brevity really sum up my life.  I feel sorry for today’s youth  who won’t be able to enjoy  the simple pleasures of open air motoring like MG T-Series provide.  

Stuffed into the highly protected and electronically numbing cacoons that modern cars are. Absolutely they are more efficient and safer.  A feeling so highly prized children seek out safe, smooth, and efficient rides at amusement parks.  

russellsifers
russellsifers New Reader
3/7/19 9:22 p.m.

I saw my first MG, a TD,  around 1960 at age 12 or so.  It was black with red interior and was setting in our driveway!   No, it was not my dad's but a friend of his.  I thought it was the coolest car - until I saw a TC.  It was love at first sight.  I saved up my National Guard money and bought my TC in 1971.  It had been rode hard and put away wet but it ran.  I drove it for two years and then did an amateaur restoration on the body, wood and paint.  I still have it.  The TC needs another  restoration, a complete one,  but all the mechanicals have been rebuilt and I run it at the Lake Garnett Grand Prix Revival each year.  I drive it year round but sometimes I just stand there at look at my first love and smile.

   

Panamericano
Panamericano New Reader
9/7/22 12:11 p.m.

My first was a hot rod 32 or 33 Ford roadster.  Next a Dinalpin (Mexico City).  Some people start down a path that just does not end, as Peter said.  56 years later I have a Birkin S3.  

mhoumard
mhoumard None
9/7/22 7:52 p.m.

"the handsome TF"  Indeed! 

I bought mine in 1962 for $750 from a graduating Senior at the U of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana when I transferred my Freshman year from my home school in Lafayette, Indiana (Go Purdue).

My circularlua was Industrial (product) Design.  As a Junior in 1963, my protfolio was one of the 7 out of more than 600 selected throughout the US to particapate in the 10 week Orientation Studio Program at the GM "styling" center in Warren, Michigan.

Imagine the looks on the faces of the Security Guards at the Tech Center when a TF with 3 kids piled  into it were allowed into the underground Exec Lot filled with concept Corvets & european exotica.

Mark

DneprDave
DneprDave Reader
9/10/22 12:39 p.m.

My first car is a MG TD, I bought it in 1972 for $700. I still have it. I had to move in the middle of a restoration that I'm not fnished with yet. Maybe Classic Motorsports will feature a restoration of a T series MG one day. That would certainly light a fire under my butt to get mine finished.

lhoboken
lhoboken New Reader
9/10/22 1:05 p.m.

Peter,

 

You once again took us back to the time when we as youth dreamed and sketched and could not wait 

to get the feel of a moving automobile in our hands. Like you many of us had friends, relatives or neighbors 

with these wonderful cars. Mine was a neighbor with a white Jag, can't remember if it was a 120 or a 140, but 

I yearned to drive it in the breeze. Thanks for the memories and another great column.

Larry Hoboken 

Coupe 57

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
9/15/22 9:17 a.m.

I too have been looking for this classic, open air, wind in the face type of motoring. After looking at a bunch of early MGs I stumbled on a 1952 Morgan that I plan on restoring.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/15/22 9:34 a.m.

First car was an '82 Accord.

And can anyone ID where this photo was taken? (Yes, there is a motorsports connection.)

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