A native son takes to the road

Ya know, an MG motor car is a lot like Magnolia.

Both are a lot more about mood, spirit and attitude then they are about anything else. In the past I referred to Magnolia as "a mood, an atmosphere" and likewise the spirit of an MG stands out from the rest, as a sports car for the everyday guy.

Among the car's charms are its lovely birthplace of Abingdon, England - it has "the Abingdon Touch" (as charming as my Magnolia birthplace) and the totally Brit motto of "Safety Fast."

They're little, they're boxy and long ago someone dubbed them "the sports car America loved first." Owning an MG "T" has always been a dream of mine... a dream unfulfilled until June 2002, when I bought an MG TD Roadster. Because the car's color was a perfect match with Maggie - my loving Shih Tzu companion named after Magnolia - I gave my new TD the same name, with just a small change in the spelling... "MaGgie."

Soon thereafter the spare tire cover on the car's rear-end was painted "Driving Miss Maggie" in arching letters around the curve of the hidden wheel's chrome-spoked center.

MaGgie was born on Feb. 27, 1952, and on July 12, 2004, Maggie and I will cruise down the Magnolia Bridge in our 52-year-old MG for the first mile of a three-month, 10,000-mile odyssey that will take us through 38 states and a few spots in Canada as well.

We hope to reach as far north as British Columbia, Canada, in the west and Bangor, Maine, back east; as far east as Nova Scotia; and also south down the Blue Ridge Parkway to South Carolina.

Our return route will take us through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, followed by an October "landing" at our El Castillo del Sol in Palm Springs, Calif.

Beginning July 21, you can follow this journey in a bi-weekly column in these very pages, as "Travels with Maggie" reports back with a lifelong Magnolian's perspective on the highways and byways - country roads are best for MG traveling - of America and Canada.

But first, let's see if I can give you some idea of what an MG is and how we'll be seeing the country.

Physically an MG is small - very small. Take two chairs, set them side-by-side and sit two adults in them: that is about as much room as you have in the front seat area. In fact the front seat is the only seat in the car, with the drive shaft tunnel coming about hip-level between driver and passenger.

Folks riding in an MG are treated to "panoramic" views through A windshield that is only 9 inches high and just over three feet wide. For side visibility there are stationary canvas panels with Plexiglas windows - called "side curtains" - that are either in or out; there's no in-between as with standard rolling windows.

When it comes to legroom, the MG is anything but small. For passengers such spaciousness is awesome, almost too much - many folks add a footrest 'cause their feet don't reach the firewall. For the driver, legroom is non-existent due to the brake and clutch pedals coming up through the floor boards - yes, they really are "boards!" The metal car body also is attached (nailed and screwed) over a wood framework.

Under the long, flat and low hood, or "bonnet," is the car's mighty, 4-cylinder, twin SU-carbed power plant. The power from the engine is transferred to the rear wheels by a very loud - you almost can't talk over it - manual, 4-speed transmission with no first gear synchromesh. For our trip, MaGgie has been given a redo of her original 1,250 c.c. engine up to 1,500 c.c., as well as a new, 5-speed, all-synchro gear box to ease her running, eliminate some noise and give the car more power so we can pull the custom matching "TD-BT" bedroom trailer I built for our travels.

Although not originaly stock, our TD now sports chrome spoke wheels, a side-mounted hand-operated spot light, a heater, a little featherless chrome bird sitting atop the radiator cap - I'm gonna tell everyone "She had feather when we left Seattle!" - and, of course, a trailer hitch.

But as was said in the beginning, the MG is all about a sense of spirit - and when you're whizzing along at 50 mph in only about half the width of a traffic lane, with your knuckles almost dragging on the ground, one gets the full spirit of what an MG is and what it first brought to the brave of heart and road back in the late '40s and early '50s.

It's a spirit that led the first MG to be known affectionately as "Old Number One." The same MG spirit that would, over 75 years later, bring MG owners like me to meet many times a year for conventions, or "G.O.F." - "Gathering of the Faithful"!

" Travels with Maggie" will kick off with a report from G.O.F. West-2004, held in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., Canada; followed a little later by the MG Summer Party Reunion in Grand Rapids, Mich.; then a dispatch from G.O.F. MK 77 at the famous old auto race track in Watkins Glenn, N.Y.; , and ending with a visit to the H.C.T. (High Country Tour) in Sedona, Ariz., a tour organized by Al Moss, founder of Moss Motors, one of the earliest and largest MG parts suppliers.

I hope you will join "Travels with Maggie" every two weeks (I'll be on the internet, as well) to share the MG spirit and sense of adventure as I motor across the United States of America and Canada.[[In-content Ad]]