Article by Paul Williams, photos by Paul Williams and Susan McLeod
The morning of June 7, 2013, arrived in Ottawa under bleak skies delivering a steady, cold rain. A brisk wind didn’t help, with the thermometer struggling to get on the good side of 10 degrees. This was an altogether miserable beginning to a long drive to Asheville, North Carolina in our newly restored 1956 MGA.
Vehicles have grown over the years! Click image to enlarge
But, you know… exciting, too!
The occasion for the drive was the North American MGA Register’s (NAMGAR) annual Get Together: the GT-38. Only six cars from Canada would make the journey; the other 180 vehicles mostly hailing from the eastern United States. We would take a scenic route, staying off multi-lane Interstate highways as much as possible. Slow and steady, right?
Our vehicle showed only 100 miles (160 km) on the trip odometer, having been extensively restored over the past two years and powered by a newly rebuilt engine. Yes, it should have already been broken in, but time and circumstances didn’t permit that. I’d try to change gears at around 3,000 rpm, maybe 3,500, max, for the trip down.
The new Robbins convertible top was already in place, as were the aluminum-framed sidescreens (no roll-up windows in this car). The MGA was apparently as watertight as we could make it, but once underway in this heavy rain the inferiority of the top became immediately evident. The problem was that the header rail simply butted against the top of the windshield frame, and while it was clamped down tightly, the rain poured through the weak seal onto our laps. Basically, it was raining inside the car.
The leaky top was solved by – what else? Duct tape. The tag line, “Don’t leave home without it,” definitely applies to duct tape for drivers of old British cars (and most other vintage vehicles, for that matter) when it comes to on-road fixes.
The little seven-inch wipers did a remarkably good job maintaining visibility however, with the old wiper motor whirring dutifully under the hood as it had for decades. “How many sweeps does it have left?” I briefly thought.
First stop was Manotick, Ontario, just south of Ottawa, to meet our three travelling companions. The convoy would include another 1956 MGA, a 1954 MT-TF and a 1970 MGB already driven by plucky senior citizen Jennifer Orum solo from Vancouver, British Columbia. We were meeting Jennifer for the first time.
Entering North Carolina. Click image to enlarge
And so we departed on our estimated 1,760 km (1,100 mile) journey south, full of optimism, madly suspending disbelief.
The rain continued and according to forecasts would for the next three days. The entirety of eastern North America was blanketed by a slow-moving weather system that would dog us throughout our ride. Summer was already a month late, and we were wearing long pants, boots, rain jackets and heavy socks. The extra clothes meant more weight, less room, and with no radio in the car, I kept recalling the old Eurythmics tune: “Here comes the rain again…”
Into New York State, the car was running perfectly, as was the other MGA and the B. But the TF was giving grief from the get-go. The 1,250 cc engine was not running smoothly, especially under load. On flat roads it maintained 90 km/h, but reluctantly. We would soon be driving into hills and then mountains, where the rough-running TF was going to be challenged for sure.