Doug Griswold’s 1975 MGB convertible has been in his family since Day 1. His sister Gail drove it first. Then Doug bought it from her and cruised around for several years. And then… it sat. For 20 years. And now, befitting a car that was so much a part of his family, Doug’s family and friends are now helping him with a complete rebuild of the classic English sports car.
In 1975, Doug’s father bought two brand new MGs. The white one was for Gail – a college graduation gift. The second MG, a blue one, was for Doug’s mother. The Griswolds lived in North Carolina, and Doug told me his mom’s “was the only MG in the Harris Teeter parking lot.”
(Side Note: Doug’s mom had quite a penchant for standout automobiles. Gail shared this recollection about her mom’s collection: “After about a decade of large station wagons, Mom wanted something different. Dad ordered a Mustang convertible as a Christmas surprise. After the Mustang came the MG followed by two Jag convertibles. Once when she took the MG in for service, she mentioned that she had had the Mustang. The mechanic said, ‘What did you drive when you were twenty, ma’am, a Harley?’”)
Gail’s job responsibilities soon made the MG impractical for her. A big part of it was the limited space in the car – she had to carry more than the MG could hold – but the reliability of a car Doug described as “historically known as being temperamental” played a part as well. MGs may have rightfully earned that temperamental reputation, but Doug hasn’t had many mechanical problems with the car. He recounted a trip he made from Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“It made the journey fine,” Doug said. “The only negative was the radio went out about 10 miles into the trip. I was going after a girl in Fort Lauderdale, so having a working radio really didn’t seem to matter that much.”
At that time, Doug was finishing college at Georgia Tech (Doug and I were fraternity brothers at Tech) in a hand-me-down 1971 Buick Electra 225. Doug said “It would carry six people at 85 mph with a trunk full of stuff just barely breathing. We called it the land yacht.”
But on one drive, a gasket gave out on the Electra without Doug knowing it, and most of the oil left the engine. “The engine was strong,” he said, “but it preferred to have oil.” So after 215,000 miles, the Electra was put out to pasture. Finding himself without a car, Doug purchased the MG from his sister. He’s had it ever since.
The MG got him through college, and he went off to his first job. About a year later, he got a company car, and the MG became his weekend fun car. While he was single, after he got married, and even after his first son Keith arrived, the MG was still a fun weekend car, and Doug would occasionally take it to work on pretty days. But with the birth of his second son Michael, family responsibilities pushed the MG towards the back of the garage.
As Doug described it, “‘Let’s go for a drive’ turns into ‘You need to take the kids to practice.’ There was a purpose to everything. I drove it into the garage and hung the keys on the key rack. I bought a cover to keep the dust out of it. I didn’t start it again for 20 years.”
With Keith having already graduated from Clemson, and Michael getting settled at Georgia Tech, Doug found himself with more time to enjoy the B, but he knew it needed some work that was beyond his capabilities to complete. Enter another one of our Georgia Tech fraternity brothers, Gordon Green, his sons Sam and Kevin, Doug’s son Michael, and the group of gearheads known as “The Nigels”. They volunteered to rebuild the MG. Completely.
“They came on a rescue mission of mercy,” Doug said. “It was an act of kindness. They’d never worked on an English car before, but they said, ‘Let’s reclaim and restore this car.’”
Some introductions: Faithful GHR readers will remember Gordon and his 1963 Chrysler New Yorker that was featured in September, 2019. His sons Sam and Kevin are hot rodders just as much as Gordon is. Wrenching sessions and race track time are regular Green family outings.
Kevin also graduated from Georgia Tech and participated in Tech’s auto racing club. It was there that he met the Nigels: Dave Horne, John Nelson, Rich Cohen, and Daniel (aka Trips) Dewar. Why they’re called the Nigels is probably best left for another article.
After agreeing to rebuild the car, the MGB was trailered back to Gordon’s home in central Georgia. Since the rebuild team members are from various towns in Georgia, and, in Trip’s case, Charlotte, most of the work on the car is completed during scheduled work weekends, when everyone meets at Gordon’s place.
The first weekend’s work was spent evaluating the B’s condition, and trying to get it started again. Doug recounted how it went. “They got it running in about 30 minutes. A new battery, changed the oil, and it cranked right up, with the 20 year old gasoline that was in the tank. And it ran smoothly!”
Another part of that first weekend was teaching Doug’s son Michael how to drive a stick shift. Kevin Green gave him some basic instruction using his car, and then Michael took the MGB for a drive around the property. Doug said Michael had been planning that for a while. “Michael’s initials are MG. He assumed from about 15 that it would be his car.” It’s not yet – Doug still plans on enjoying it for a while – but it probably will be sometime in the future.
The second weekend of work included removing interior pieces and installing a new convertible top. The seats and carpet were removed. Doug got the job of cleaning and conditioning the leather seats. The carpet was scrapped and will be replaced.
Doug’s father bought the two MGB’s for the two most important women in his life: his wife and daughter. The 1975 models were the first with the 5 mph bumpers, and also came with shoulder belts. But for an extra measure of protection, he had the dealer install roll bars in both Bs. The roll bar in Doug’s car was removed to facilitate the interior work, but will be reinstalled later.
An interesting aspect of removing the interior was what the team found inside. There was an entry bib for a 10k running event, and Doug’s vendor ID badge from a sales show and a few business cards for sales leads he was supposed to follow up on. Doug could not confirm or deny if that follow up ever occurred.
I was visiting during the third weekend of work, and it was impressive. The main order of business was to remove the engine and transmission. It was truly a collaborative effort, with everyone pitching in to make sure nothing was damaged on the way out. The engine and 4-speed were successfully removed, and cleaned as a unit while still on the hoist.
While that cleaning was going on, a few of the Nigels got to work on removing rusted spots on the floor pan. There was a fair amount of surface rust, but fortunately very few, and surprisingly small, spots that had to be cut out. A replacement floor pan had already arrived and would be cut up to provide the replacement metal. With the engine bay empty, the gang also started to give the firewall and inner fenders a thorough cleaning.
There’s no doubt that Doug and I were the weakest mechanics on the scene, but Gordon wouldn’t let us get away without doing some work. We were assigned the task of removing the door panels. They had been damaged a few years back by thieves who ripped out the door mounted speakers while it was waiting overnight for service.
Future weekend builds will concentrate on rebuilding the engine and transmission. Although the plans are to replace the factory ignition with an electronic version, the rest of the engine and drivetrain will remain largely stock.
The B’s body is generally straight and rust free. A small section of the trunk lid (or “the boot”, and Doug likes to refer to it in proper English) was also damaged by the thieves who took the speakers. Gordon has hammered that back into pretty good shape.
The MG will be repainted, and right now, Doug is probably going to keep it white with the black rubber bumpers. “The more classic look is the chrome bumper,” Doug said, “and there are kits to convert to chrome. And I was thinking about painting it British Racing Green, to make it more British. But it is what it is. I want to stay true to the way it was built. It’s always been white so it should probably stay white.”
Other than the new carpet, the interior will remain pretty stock, including the factory in-dash AM/FM 8-track player. “I’m rocking probably the only 8-track tape player in Georgia right now,” Doug said, “and I don’t own any 8-tracks!”
Doug says he’s “pretty attached” to SiriusXM satellite radio (70s on 7, Classic Vinyl, The Bridge, and Soul Town are his favorite channels), so the sound system will get an upgrade, even if the radio stays in the dash for nostalgia’s sake.
The end result will be a vintage English sports car that is fun and reliable to drive. Doug’s not looking to set any records on a road race course. It’s a lesson he learned a few years ago while “borrowing” his mom’s MG.
“I had to buy the second set of tires for that car,” he told me, “because at 12,000 miles we had to replace the tires. My dad knew that my mom wasn’t squealing the tires, but somebody was. I was the prime suspect. That was a good lesson to learn. The first set of tires you have to buy, when you’re 20 years old, tends to break you of aggressive driving. It was a lot of money for me making $3.75 per hour at the time.”
And he loves driving a vintage sports car. “I think they’re classically beautiful cars,” Doug said. “I never bought into the Datsun Z series. Did James Bond ever drive a Z? No. I don’t know that Bond ever drove an MG, but he did drive an Austin Martin. So for me, if it’s going to be a sports car, it’s going to be British.”
Now that he’s bordering on being an empty nester – no baseball games or PTA meetings to go to – Doug knows exactly what he wants from his B.
“I hope that I can drive it through country roads and take a while to enjoy the ride instead of being in a hurry. I get that little glimmer of youth back, and wonderful memories.”
And the fact that Doug’s rebuilding his MGB with his son and lifelong friends is adding to those memories.
Photos courtesy of Gordon Green and Suzanne Boylan (@boylanslm)
Click here to see more photos of Doug’s MGB