1962 MGA 1600 Mark II - Noise, Vibration, Harshness

October 20, 2008
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You come into this world alone. You leave it alone. And although the tried and trusted truism overlooks it, you will spend a lot of time along the way all by your lonesome, too.
No one is more acutely aware of this than the MGA owner who drives his car in 2008. These days, actually driving one of these oldsters puts you in a tiny minority.
I know this firsthand. Just the other day, I drove my MGA to the North American MGA Register's (NAMGAR) annual hullabaloo near Pittsburgh. My itinerary called for an Army-of-One, 750-mile, 30-hour bonsai run whose official purpose was to check out the talent (more than 200 MGAs) and to address the faithful in a speech. But it also was a chance to air out my own MGA, a 1962 1600 Mark 2, the best of several I've owned since I started driving them in the 1970s, before (don't tell the police or my parents or children) I even got my driver's license.
For much of my young life, the MGA represented my automotive ideal. Disc brakes (in front), twin carbs, rack-and-pinion steering, and good looks made it so. What did I know from aluminum heads, overhead cams, more cylinders than four, rear discs, independent rear suspensions, and the tubular dampers of its more sophisticated contemporaries? It was the car of my dreams, and a substantially less than pristine example became my first wheels at age fourteen. After I was born, my parents drove me home from Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in one. Why bother paying the Freud squad to figure out my lifelong penchant for MGAs when you can stop right there?
In the 1980s, I often traveled to Boston and Washington, D.C., in an MGA. Setting out today, I realized how much had changed. Why were people staring like I was wearing a giant rabbit suit? Frequent thumbs- up evened the balance, but this was more alienating than I'd recalled.
Eventually, I found myself hurtling down a mountain at 75 mph through a decreasing-radius bend on a challenging stretch of highway that turned unexpectedly into a construction zone. Here was something else I'd forgotten: the element of sudden terror.
The MG's spindly wire wheels caused the steering wheel to wobble, and its narrow Michelins shimmied in the summer heat on irregularly grooved pavement while the 1.6-liter OHV four blatted the characteristic BMC beat, Stone-Aged yet appealingly fruity, as we valiantly labored to keep up with life in the fast lane.
Then it started to rain. I felt very alone, even if my car and my white knuckles had lots of company, being surrounded on three sides by manic truckers carrying heavy loads. A temporary concrete divider separated our two lanes from oncoming traffic and served as the fourth side of the 75-mph box I'd deposited myself into.
One might experience this kind of nerve-racking scenario behind the wheel of any vehicle. And although the potential bad outcomes one can imagine are all just as gruesome, somehow, in the MGA, it feels more real. You hear from a mile away the furious sounds made by semis weighing forty times more than you, big, roaring noises that scare men, women, and children, with not so much as your Calvins to come between you and the shredded retread that a truck could at any moment launch directly at your head.
That's because you are not hermetically sealed inside an air-conditioned bubble in an MGA. The side curtains are stowed, so there aren't even windows to shelter you from the facts on the ground. The MGA driver stands in awe of mass and acknowledges big trucks' potential as a force for evil, like every motorist should but few do, because the presence of others is filtered out of the modern driving experience. In an MGA, even the sound of a Toyota Yaris commands attention.
Creature comforts are few, passive safety nil, save owner-installed seatbelts. There are no air bags to cushion blows, no stability control to prevent you from putting a foot wrong. You must count on wit, coordination, sobriety, and, above all, your machinery. Which is forty-six years old.
It's funny, I remember when driving an MGA as daily transport was only slightly more kooky than driving any other eighteen-year-old car. But the passage of time has relegated habitual MGA-driving to the netherworld where devout religiosity rubs shoulders with clinical insanity. Which is why I continue to highly recommend this deviant practice. When you arrive somewhere in an MGA, you feel like you've actually accomplished something.
But - as with any deeply spiritual journey - be prepared. It can get kind of lonely.

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