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MG car club for open-air fun


If I drive down the street in my convertible, passers-by would - sometimes quietly - remark on my second childhood or mid-life crisis or even an egocentric grey-haired man.

But if I travel that same caustic road with a group of 10 or 40 or, as was recently the case, 60 MGs, the adoration, smiles and waves would bring a hardened man to tears. Beyond the snide remarks of the solo road trip, people tend to bond with people en masse in sports cars.

You wouldn't, for example, find the same cheery disposition from bystanders confronted with 60 4WDs. Convertibles incite the senses, sparking thoughts as diverse as race car competition and romantic evening coastal touring. Throughout our life, the convertible has set the scene for adventure on a range of levels.

Movies are made from the goings-on in convertibles. Girl kisses boy for the first time in a convertible; Elvis Presley drives a convertible racer through the desert to win the prize and the girl; and if Rhett Butler had his way, it would probably be him driving a convertible over the Alabama horizon waving farewell forever to Scarlett. There have been convertibles for the dreamers and the rich, the romantic and the would-be racer.

Most of us wanted, or want, a convertible. But things get in the way. Children, on-street parking, the everyday limitations of two seats and even the security of maintaining a car with a fabric roof. Which is why the people who predominantly drive convertibles are - lets say - free of the encumbrances that would keep the cars out of reach for most people.

Two days as the guest of the MG Car Club of Western Australia for its annual Safety Fast pow-wow, and you see how 120-odd members of suburbia solidify under the umbrella of the ownership of an obsolete car marque. The Safety Fast event is the club's premier social outing, held by the MGCC in conjunction with the TC Owners Club and the MG Owners Club, and is now in its 20th year.

Club member Don Wylie was unable to attend the event, but his pristine 1971 MGB MkII was available. The weather is unkind on the first day of the two-day Safety Fast event. Grey clouds and plenty of rain means the journey is with the roof up and a rag on the windscreen to absorb the leak while an errant drip from elsewhere coldly wets my right knee. Those rumours you heard about early model English convertibles and their propensity to share the weather with the occupants - they're true.

But the car loves the cooler weather, keeping the temperature gauge around 160-degree F rather than the warmer day that can see the needle pinch the 190F numeral. The water temperature gauge and the oil pressure gauge always have your attention. Oily things can become susceptible to driving conditions and the simple truth of becoming weary after 40 years of use.

The MG is, however, a surprise. Under acceleration it's unique exhaust note fills the cabin. The gearbox snicks light and easy and the clutch, while firm, is positive. The steering is heavy - heavy at speed and quite weighty when parking - though this car retains the original, large diameter steering wheel. It can be flung with confidence, helped by this car's original lever-arm dampers being replaced with hydraulic units.

The roof is easy to retract. This is a later model MGB and has the two metal clips and two press studs atop the windscreen frame. Owners of earlier models endure the disassembly of a number of vinyl fabric pieces, metal straps and studs - an awkward manoeuvre made frustrating in times when speed is essential.

Like a sudden onslaught of rain. The route is quiet country roads south-east of Perth, edging the Darling Range then entering the hills in surroundings of tall trees and picturesque dams. There is no rush and only a few of the more daring overtake a fellow member. A few of the MG contingent get lost. One lost his steering wheel after enthusiastically rounding a corner and waited for the roving specialist mechanic.

But that's part of the fun. From the pleasure of owning an MG to the camaraderie in events such as MG Car Club of WA's Safety Fast run, there's just something magnetic about the enormity, the rareness, of a group of old cars with their different noise and smell and flapping fabric.

HISTORY

  • The now 50-year-old MGB was built from 1962 to 1980 with total production reaching 386,789 units. Almost nine of every 10 cars made was exported, mainly to the US.
  • It was the first unitary MG sports car, designed for high integrity without a roof.
  • This toughness and reliability suited it to endurance sports events.
  • Its successes included outright wins in the 1965 Guards 1000 race at Brands Hatch; 1966 Marathon du la Route 84 Hours at Nurburgring; class wins at Sebring in 1966 and 1967; 1966 Targa Florio and 1966 1000km Spa race.
  • It also finished second place in class at each of the 1964 and 1965 Le Mans 24 Hour events.
  • In 1965 the MGB GT was added to the range and by the end of production in 1980, 125,323 of the hardtops had been built.
  • Unlike the convertible version, less than half of the GTs were exported. A total of 512,112 convertibles and GTs made the MGB the world's top-selling sports car of its era, the first to reach a half a million and the top British sports car of all time.The total UK market volumes were 49,810 tourers and 64,907 GTs - perhaps a reflection on British weather. Many MGBs were reimported to Britain from the US over the years as demand for classic versions grew.
  • The term "Safety Fast'' has been the motto of MG since 1929 after it Oxford Bus Company vehicles - whose chassis had been built by Morris Motors - wore a "Safety First'' badge to promote their then novel four-wheel brake system. MG marketing picked up on the slogan, changing it to Safety Fast. It replaced "It Passes - and Surpasses'' and ``Faster than Most''. MG was unhappy that pencil-toting wags added the word ``bicycles'' to these slogans.


CLUB DATA

Rising new car ownership by new generations of motorists and the increasing age of the older cars should mean declining membership of single-marque car clubs. But despite most MGs dating back to the late 1960s, the MG Car Club of WA - in line with trends across Australia - is raising membership each year. It now numbers 250 with an estimated 200 MG cars on the club books.

MG owners get regular outings, newsletters, access to member assistance when rebuilding or repairing, club meetings and ar displays. The cost is only $100 a year for a couple.

THE OWNER AND HIS CAR

Retired motor mechanic Don Wylie (CORR) brought a tired MGB as "something to keep me busy''. It followed other projects by the Perth enthusiast, including a Midget and an MG GT, both rebuilt and subsequently sold. Now the red 1971 MkII is as original as when it left the factory - save for the replacement of the rear lever-arm dampers for hydraulic shock absorbers - and runs like a Swiss watch.

"It'll still do 100mph (160km/h),'' he says. Don and wife Renee have owned the MGB for four years though it's not alone. The garage is shared with a MGF - a car Don says is much maligned as it is "great'' to drive, though because of its mid-engine layout, difficult to repair. But that won't stop the couple taking the F out for a spin in this year's 20th anniversary Safety Fast Run.

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