A Look Back Over the Past Twenty Plus Years
By Geoff Rogers
The Bay State MGA Club was founded in 1980 as a chapter of the North American MGA Register. I thought it would be a good idea to get fellow MGA types together to share the enjoyment and the burdens of owning, restoring, and running what was then 20-year-old cars which were a bit challenging to keep alive. In those days, a lot of parts were not available and one had to be creative to do a good job of keeping the cars nice. Nobody sold leather seat kits, and a lot of stuff like rubber seals and chrome parts were just not available. The reason was, essentially, the cars were not worth restoring, in most people's eyes. If you wanted to restore something in those days, you bought a TD or a Jaguar XK: something that was worth a little more, and you might have a fighting chance of getting the restoration parts you needed to put it back together. But the MGA had not hit the magic 30-year-old stage, the stage where people who dreamed of the cars in their youth, and who can now afford to buy one, do just that and drive up the prices. As a footnote, I wonder if that trend will continue, and those cars made in the very depths of automotive despair, the Seventies (remember British Leyland? The Volare? The Gremlin? Oh, brother), will begin to appreciate. The mind boggles. But I digress (my specialty).
In 1980, I had owned dear old Matilda, my '60 roadster, a year, and she was painted and quite presentable. I had stripped her paint to bare metal and even sprayed the fenders and stuff separately before bolting it all back together with new piping, and I was kind of proud of that, because most people didn't bother in those days, and, well, I wanted to get together with other MGA owners and talk about things like that. So when I met one, Peter Bowden, we agreed to do a meet at Peter's house in Bridgewater, a nice old farm near the highway with a lot of interesting old cars to look at, even if nobody showed up. I signed us up as a NAMGAR chapter, contacted all the New England NAMGAR members, made up a homemade flyer with a crude map to Peter's place, and the rest is, well, history. The meet was kind of low key. Bob Freerksen came with his blue roadster, Derek Durst brought a lovely TC, and a guy showed up with a Cortina wagon! Those were funny times. We had no awards, nothing really to do except talk and leave. We spent a lot of time looking at Peter's cars in the barn, several MGAs, all taken apart. Peter had painted his suspension red and white, I recall (funny times...). His dad and uncle fired up one of those Studebakers with the bullet nose and an old Ford Fairlane from the late 50's, and that was our show. British Car Day, we called it, because nobody dared think enough MGAs would show up to make it an MGA meet.
Next year, British Car Day was at Steve and Alicia Fickel's house in Falmouth, continuing the trend of holding the meet at the house of somebody who has a lot of British cars, so if nobody shows up, you still have a meet. Steve had a lot: MGAs, Healeys, Sprites, even a Volvo 544 (which has British carbs and hydraulics: the bits that go bad). Some years we had to push some of the dead ones out of Steve's barn to make it feel a bit better attended. And poor Chuck Rose always came, and some mechanical calamity always struck when he did. But that's another story. This trend went on for several years, with Steve making up dash plaques each year. The format went like this: We would show up around 10 AM have some dogs and burgers, drink some gin and tonic, and go DRIVE AROUND for a while. Those, too, were funny times, but somehow we managed not to kill anybody. One year, we made a stop at the home of Jeannie Thaxton, who couldn't attend because she and her husband were hosting a big cookout for a local Harley Davidson club. These guys were be-leathered, tattooed, chained, and looked, well, a little intimidating to some of us, gin and tonic notwithstanding. But dear old Ralph Argento, five foot-zero and fully eighty-five years old, strode up to the biggest biker there and said, "HI! MY NAME's RALPH". The fellow took Ralph's extended hand, shook it, and said, "They call me Father." "FATHER!" exclaimed Ralph. "I'M OLD ENOUGH TO BE YOUR FATHER!" Thus was the ice broken, and we had a great time with those guys, talking about mechanical devices and eating Jeannie's chili. It's all the same stuff, really, just camaraderie based on common interest of how these silly things we own work and how to keep them alive.
Somewhere in this early saga, Bob Freerksen offered to help out in any way he could. In the early years, I did the crummy newsletter alone and paid for the postage and copying costs myself. Bob started helping out with costs, and next thing we knew he was the second chairman (presidents hadn't been invented by then) of the Club and we were charging five bucks a year for dues. We went on for several years, doing one or two events and publishing one or two newsletters per year. Then the Horners, who moved to Massachusetts, came to our annual meeting, and Jack nominated Jan (much to her feigned astonishment) as President. Yay!, we all said. New Blood! And Jan served for many years as Prez, bringing tremendous enthusiasm and creativity to the Club. Our membership grew, our annual meet became several meets each year, the horrible little rag became a pretty nice (if I do say so myself!) newsletter, with paid advertising, tech tips, and other articles. In 1994, we hosted our first regional NAMGAR GT (Get-Together) at Lovett's Inn, Franconia, New Hampshire. A dozen or so cars were there, almost all MGA's, and mostly much nicer than mine, I might add! We had a car show, a tour of the gorgeous area through Franconia Notch, along the Kancamangus Highway and back by way of Bretton Woods Hotel, where we sat on the veranda of this 100-year-old massive piece of history, sipping margaritas. So that's how we got to where we are today.
A lot has happened since then: the cars are much more valuable, better restored, but dare I say it? Not used as much as daily drivers. Mine isn't, I know. I drove her about 500 miles last year (although I did drive my old Jag saloon about 5,000). Some of us are older now. The Club is respectable, despite its humble beginnings. But the most gratifying thing about it to me is that the real reason why we belong to this club remains fundamentally unchanged. The cars are wonderful, and we all love them dearly. But the best part of owning an old British car is it provides us with a unique excuse to get together with other people who we can share our enthusiasm, our joys and frustrations, a little piece of our lives. That's what it's all about; The Club! It’s not about the cars, really, and that's a good thing!