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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

5 things I learned from owning a British car for a year | Hagerty Media

With every DIY project that I tackle or drive that I take in a classic, I try to learn something new. Even doing the same project a second time around can show a more efficient way to use a tool or a smarter way to approach a certain type of problem.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/maintenance-and-tech/5-things-i-learned-from-owning-a-british-car-for-...
50 REPLIES 50
audiocage
Detailer

Takes me back. My first convertible ride was in a '66 Spridget, and it was every bit as addictive. To your point: Driving IS more fun than wrenching, and is, after all, the whole point. And al fresco motoring has a restorative effect on the soul.

An aside: If the top is down, the windows go down. People used to know this, but somehow forgot during the years when convertibles fell out of favor.
Patl
Intermediate Driver

Thank you. Your great article echoes back to me my first British car experience. It taught me the exact 5 lessons, and was “one fun teacher” too. My last British car, taught me to buy a Miata.
Kyle
Moderator

It is going to take a little bit more time for me to come to grips with the fact (and it is a fact) that a Miata would be a better/smarter purchase than the MGA I want. Time will tell if I follow my wallet or my heart.
SteveNL
Intermediate Driver

Kyle:

If working on cars is more fun for you than driving them, then you will want the MGA. It seems clear that once the work is done on your cars, that it's time to move on to another. Miatas rarely break and need a minimum of work other than service. My motto has always been that every sports car collector needs a Miata so that he has something fun to drive when everything else needs repair.
Fordmann55
Pit Crew

Good point on the Miata, although I would choose a Honda S2000
Fordmann55
Pit Crew

Follow your heart and enjoy an MGA!
jaysalserVW
Detailer

Another great article, Kyle! Thanks for pointing out that often "good" IS good! I have friends who NEVER drive their cars because they fret over this and that which isn't perfect. While they fret--the brakes go bad from just sitting, or the fuel system has to be completely cleaned due to resin build.
I try to press them to drive but they just cannot bring themselves to drive. Sad to have a great car that just sits and accumulates mice and rot ! jay
Jnick
Intermediate Driver

I totally agree!
wmmlynch
Pit Crew

I owned a Triumph TR250 (TR4 look with the straight 6) for exactly one year. Things broke faster than I could keep up. The last straw was the broken clutch bearing throw out fork casting. It looked like it had been manufactured in a hut in some third world country. Bought a replacement at a salvage yard. But fun to drive!
Fordmann55
Pit Crew

Yes, the British were still sand casting these parts!
dhomuth
Intermediate Driver

Famous bumper sticker: "The parts that fall off this car are of the finest British manufacture."
dhaugh
Intermediate Driver

Love the bumper sticker, I need a few of them. Another sign I saw years ago at a friend's British car shop read "CARS PARKED IN FRONT OF THIS DOOR WILL BE CHEERFULLY DISASSEMBLED AND SOLD FOR PARTS"
Fordmann55
Pit Crew

LOL
Srmert
Intermediate Driver

The only way I could ever drive a spridget comfortably was with the top down. Tall folks just don’t fit well in MGs. Had to buy a Spitfire back in the day too stay dry in the rain!
johnprather
New Driver

Follow you heart!....:) Took my grandson for a local summer convertible ride the other evening. I have been wrenching and tuning on the '60 Bugeye Sprite "REDBUGI" off and on all Spring, forgetting to pleasure drive once in a while. He was amazed how different the town looked and smelled from a Roadster.....LOL. At 75, I was still amazed too, could smell the BBQ joint from 2 blocks away. Careful what you wish for Kyle, LBC's (Little Brit Cars) can be infectious. A Bakers dozen insured with Hagerty, still enjoy the sound of a well tuned 948 or 1275 "A" Series motor from the cockpit of a Roadster. Once they are named, they become family.....LOL. John P. in Kansas
Mark_AJ2X
Intermediate Driver

My first convertible was a 20+ year old '68 FIAT 124 Spyder with a1600 engine and seriously sketchy front suspension. It was my midlife-crisis-mobile. Most of my automobile work prior to its acquisition had been changing fluids and occasional tuneups. I learned a LOT on the FIAT, and had an absolute ball driving it. So much so that when the rust and the wobbly front end became too much to consider fixing myself, I traded it for a 1970 model with an 1800cc engine. That one was even better! Both of those little cars just wanted to be driven hard, and with the top down. A revelation!
Spookyfixer
New Driver

Kyle
Like walk down memory lane. I bought my 69' Sprite new after returning from Vietnam. Drove to San Bernardino on old Rt. 66 and only broke down once. After a year and half I only had the top up about 3 weeks, even driving in the mountains of SoCal in winter. Sadly returned to NW Ohio after discharge from Air Force and got married so goodbye Sprite. Never owned a car that was more fun or caused more heartache.
SJ
Advanced Driver

Fun to drive and a nightmare to own. Nickel and dimes you until you get the big hit and then back too.....Who would use a carbon throw out bearing?
Spuds
Advanced Driver

I started with a restored 1957 MGA.Only issues were a spring popped off a carb,putting oil in front dampeners....Oh and the wire wheel that came off on a turn on a mtn road.That said car dropped on to brake drum and went around that corner without skipping a beat.
miata93
Intermediate Driver

A colleague at work knew that I was looking for a sports car. She invited me to look at an MGB that had been garaged and not driven for several years. After spending ninety minutes trying to get the engine to turn over and start I gave up. I decided I would rather be driving than spinning wrenches. A week later I bought a Miata.
Spuds
Advanced Driver

Im torn,both very good options.Miata is what British sports cars should have been.You got there honestly IMO.
JohnK3
Pit Crew

My first drop top was an early Spitfire. It was a lot of fun, but did not stand up to the abuse I gave it as a young driver. One evening after watching the drags at Capitol Drag Raceway I attempted a 2nd to 3rd power shift, not lifting off the throttle. I blew out 3rd gear and the engine over revved bending a valve. I now had a 3 cylinder, 3 speed with a large gap between 2nd and 4th gears. The car wasn't as much fun after that.
drhino
Instructor

I thought the five things were going to be:
1. Don’t buy an old British car.
2. Don’t buy an old British car.
3. Don’t buy an old British car.
4. Don’t buy an old British car.
5. Don’t buy an old British car.
Kyle
Moderator

Ha! Some of us are masochists...
spdfreak
Pit Crew

Having had a 67 Sprite, (2) 67 GT6's, a 71 V12 E-Type, (2) 80 TR8's, 71 Europa, 76 MGB and a few others, I agree that British sports cars can be addicting. I currently drive a 2020 Nissan Frontier.
GRP_Photo
Instructor

I hear that about grouping parts for ordering. I have a 1971 Triumph T120 (Bonneville motorcycle to the unwashed), and I have had to set up a spreadsheet with all my parts sources. When I start hunting, I make a list of all the parts I need for this iteration, look up the prices at all the vendors, add in shipping costs, and make my decision that way. Shipping from the UK is about $25. Shipping from New Zealand is about $15. Many US shippers don't charge at all. Makes a difference.
You don't buy a $2 parts from the UK if you can get it for $5 here.
hyperv6
Gearhead

My experience with British cars is with mostly Jag and Sunbeam.

Here is what I learned.

Electric issues. Yes the prince of darkness is true and his name is Lucas.

Rust, rust everywhere.

Sunbeams appear to run with little oil pressure.

I learned why so many Jags have Chevy and we put a 428 Pontiac in one. When valve seats drop in the V12 the bare head casting alone cost more than a good running small block Chevy cost and it is more reliable.

Finally what I learned when running properly they are very enjoyable and just have a special feel.

What I learned on Italian cars “Fiat”

Rust every where.

You can leave it at a Cleveland Browns game unlocked with keys in it and no one will steal it.

When they say change the timing belt at 25k miles they don’t mean 26k. If you wait have a spare engine.

Finally you can really beat the crap out of a small wagon, run them on motorcycle trails, I’d you get stuck pick it up and move it. and learn to shift with out a clutch.

Italian cars can be fragile in some ways but I learned in other they really can take a beating.

lockitt
Pit Crew

My first roadster was an MGA Twin Cam when I was about nineteen years old. I am 73 now.
I drove it as an everyday car and the soft top was in the garage at home the whole time.
Sold it after three and a half years but suffered sellers remorse and bought it back after about another four years in a very dilapidated state.
English cars are a love/hate experience.
They say that 80% of MG Twin Cams are still on the road - the other 20% made it home.
They also say that the English drink warm beer because Lucas make their refrigerators.
I have had a succession of MGB's since then but they have never become as cherished as the Twin Cam.
Lockitt
HELIDR
Pit Crew

My first car was a '62 Twin Cam and was quite an experience! Took it to a drag strip back then and think I ran a 21 second quarter mile. 😞 Had an issue prolly from oil dropping down somewhere, so that as I changed gears...a puff of smoke would come out of the shifter boot!
Sold that one and bought a '56 T-bird, which also had some "issues". Moved from there to a '67 Shelby GT 350. They were all great cars in their own right, but wish I still had the Shelby!
Still have a '67 Triumph Bonneville bought new. Let's not talk about Lucas electrics!!!
Huntwt
Pit Crew

“No top, no problem”. I’ve got a 71 Super Beetle Convertible sans top. I’ve gotten a lot of criticism for leaving the top off. People tell me that it devalues the car, or it looks wrong. To heck with all of them. It’s a sunny day car. It’s fun as heck. It’s a bunch lighter (and anyone with a VW knows that weight is an issue) and it’s got a bit of a sportster vibe going. I’m having a blast with it.
JohnQuilter
New Driver

Not sure about the parts ordering plan. I bought a basket case MGTD 44 years ago for $1400. For the restoration I checked off everything in the Moss catalogue I knew I would need and the first order came to $1400! Forty four years and 26K miles later still a most enjoyable car to own and use. Car just turned 70 years old July 11, 2021.
Kyle
Moderator

I always forget something when I click "check out." every time it only takes five minutes to realize there was something missing from the order. It's a personal problem though.
wdb
Intermediate Driver

I've been lusting after an old British car in which to revisit the many many years I spent with them in the past. I keep looking at Elans and Sevens, maybe the occasional E Type. But every time I see a picture of your little blue Sprite I think, that would do just fine.

Thanks for the stories and for the inspiration.
coop
Intermediate Driver

A fun article and if the rules aren't revolutionary, it's still a valuable service you've provided to remind us, especially if we've inhaled too much Lucas OEM smoke ('59 A-H 3000 BN7). Lots of excelent and fun comments, too.
Fordmann55
Pit Crew

I enjoyed your article. I’ve owned MGBs for 26 years of my adult life. I still regret selling the first one, but now I have another. Lots of tinkering, but also repairs and upgrades, such as a new tan top. This weekend I’m taking off all the trim in preparation for painting the car.
I like your mantra of “just good enough” as these cars came that way from the factory. It is something I will remember.
Too bad you were not able to keep the little guy in storage. For your next project, I suggest a Bug-Eye Sprite.
Enjoy!
BrianMc
New Driver

My first English roadster was a 1962 Austin Healy 3000 MK2. Fun car except on really hot days; it was an oven. We had to sell it as my oldest was starting school and we needed two dependable vehicles. Actually, come to think of it, my first English roadster was a Sunbeam Alpine I owned in college and when we were first married. (I don't know if I would count that one) Many years later I owned a Triumph TR250. It was a little expensive and not all that trustworthy because of transmission and clutch issues. Again, very fun to drive, but I always 'kissed the ground' if we made it home with no issues. I now own a Saturn Sky Redline. It is much more dependable and sophisticated. It is also very fun to drive and handles like a dream comparatively. But, I have to admit that climbing in the Sky for a drive does not generate the anticipation and excitement that climbing in the English roadsters did.
Flashman
Instructor

"Driving can be more fun that working".
Kyle
Moderator

Emphasis "can."
02-orignal-ownr
Detailer

I wanted a Bugeye when they were new; a friend had one while my ride was a Renault 4CV--other than the floor shift, not very sporty! Finally found a buy-able Bugeye in 1977--the 26th I had looked at over a two year period. I repainted it red (no sense in having a sports car painted white!). I found a reupholstery kit that was a perfect match for the worn original--even down to the Hardura "trunk" mat and a script BMC pushbutton AM radio (positive ground, of course). After all that, it's been sitting for way too many years. Your story makes me want to get it out from under its cover and put it on the road again.
Still443
Intermediate Driver

After owning a year old TR7 for one year, I only learned one thing about British cars...Never own another one.
Rider79
Instructor

I can never understand how someone can put a LOT of work into a car, then turn around and sell it almost immediately - especially if the owner finds it enjoyable to drive, and there is no pressing financial need to sell.
Kyle
Moderator

Well, I'm selling before I need to. I never like to put myself in a position where the car must go. The motorcycle racing bug has bit me, and the old saying about making a small fortune in racing is ever present--especially since Ii have no fortune, let alone a big one.
JFC
New Driver

You should consider a TR-3! They are a hoot. My first car was a Red 1959 with red leather seats. Loved it. Just do not get caught in the rain :).
Kyle
Moderator

Someone else told me that this weekend, and I'll admit a TR3 has become a solid consideration.
Gridget
New Driver

Wow! These stories sure make me feel lucky! I bought a 1966 MIdget Mkll in 2018. The body had been rebuilt and though it wasn’t perfect, it is solid and looks decent. I drive it everywhere in Central Ontario Canada although I haven’t done the February tour! Original engine only had 38,000 miles andI have driven it almost 11,000 miles. It’s
reliability is without question. Sure I had to replace a rear axle seal, the rad hoses, the master cylinder and the PCV but these were minor challenges that gave me the satisfaction of overcoming without interrupting the pleasure I get from driving it daily. Top down only. It’s a classy roadster that makes me smile everytime I fire it up.
jimliberty
Pit Crew

My first sports car was a "Bug Eye" Sprite. Just drivable, but loads of fun. I did strip and sand it for paint. Told the paint shop, no more sanding, just shoot it. Came out OK. A blast, and could be parked anywhere. Now, I have Garage Queens. Drivers are lots more fun. .....Jim.
LIBERTY MOTORSPORTS
Spuds
Advanced Driver

A nice little backstory of my British car.Im 15-16 years old and my father died.Big hard hit to family.Im working in a Chinese Restaurant for a family friend,Mr Shree.
Mr S-I have car,a MG,I sell to you.It has new engine,transmission,paint.I do for my son Peter.He no want car,I buy him Firebird.I sell to you.
Me- Mr Shree,i cant afford that car.
Mr S- I sell to you 400 dollars,50 dollars a month.
And thats how I wound up with the coolest 1957 MGA in British Racing Green.It wasnt until years later it dawned on me this car had nothing to do with Peter,He did that for me.Now thats one heck of a really good man Mr Shree was.
PA
New Driver

Great article Kyle. About a year ago we had a choice to either get a Miata or a 1987 Jaguar XJ6. Luckily we opted for the later and our lives are much better because of it. Oh, we had to spend some money getting repairs which would never happen with a boring Miata but its been a lot of fun. And, yes! Gotta drive them. Period. Thanks.
blitzed
Pit Crew

Yes indeed, memories. My first ever car my Dad bought for me in '72 after freshman college year: '59 TR3. I kept a bunch of tools in the boot at all times since it broke down once a week without fail. It was fun while it lasted. Sold to a friend a year later who started a restore, then dumped the idea and sold it as parts. I was livid.

Now I still have my '90 Miata I bought new back in '89. 105K miles and still running smooth. Almost sold it recently but wised up at the last minute.

The roadster life for me will never end.