The Collector and the Car: MG? OMG!

How much is that MG in the window? Priceless, if you’re Jerry Niemi and you spent 2,000 hours and 13 years restoring it.

Niemi was one of four northern Michigan MG owners who recently displayed a prized British sports car in Hagerty’s lobby window and took part in Hagerty’s monthly “Collector and the Car” employee-education series in Traverse City, Mich. Three of those vehicles have been painstakingly restored; the fourth remains original. All have a special place in the hearts of their owners.

“When you spend that much time on a car, it kind of becomes a part of you,” Niemi admitted. But when Niemi purchased his 1947 MG TC in 1991, his wife, Shirley, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as he was.

“It was in pieces on a trailer. It didn’t look like much,” Niemi said. “(Shirley’s) first reaction was ‘Oh, my God. This is so over the top.’ ”

But thanks to Shirley’s willingness to share her husband’s affection, Jerry began restoring the MG in 1992. He didn’t finish the project until 2005.

“I rebuilt everything, the wood frame, the engine… I did everything except the paint,” Niemi said.

And how does Shirley feel about the car now? “She loves it,” her husband said.

Jonathan Stein, associate publisher of Hagerty magazine and author of “British Sports Cars in America 1946-1981,” moderated the Collector and the Car presentation. He said the first automobiles produced by Morris Garages (MG) in the mid-1920s were fairly large. In 1928, when the company became MG Car Company Limited, new smaller models were introduced and became the company’s main focus.

Following World War II, Stein said “the only way to get steel was to agree to export vehicles, so 2,000 new MG TCs went to the U.S.” between 1945-49. That migration – along with the British sports cars that were already coming home with U.S. soldiers – helped MG’s popularity grow in America. It also gained popularity as the car’s power and trunk space increased.
Niemi’s vehicle has undergone a complete restoration since it rolled off the line with a $2,238 price tag almost 64 years ago. John Russell’s 1953 MG TD, on the other hand, is practically all original.

Russell bought his MG in 1968, at the age of 19, after owning a Ford Model T and Model A. He was unsure of the British car at first, then he saw its shape underneath a tarp – he called it “gorgeous” – and was immediately hooked. In the 42 years since, Russell said he has spent only $1,000 on the TD’s upkeep – that’s less than $24 a year. If purchased new in ’53, the vehicle cost $2,157.

While Russell plans to restore the car someday, he still is in no rush… obviously.

“Every time I drive it,” Russell said, “I feel 19 again.”

Ted Hammond knows the feeling. He purchased his gorgeous 1961 MGA new ($2,667) and used it as his everyday driver for 20 years.

“Those 100,000 miles are all mine,” Hammond said proudly.

He garaged the car for 20 years throughout the 1980s and ’90s before beginning a three-year restoration that was completed in 2005. Needless to say, the black MGA is like a member of the family to Ted and his wife, Jeanne.

“The earlier models were boxier,” he said, describing the car’s virtues. “This is the first ‘tear drop’ shape in the MG family. It’s just a beautiful car.”

The newest MG owner among the four featured by Hagerty is Dr. Fred Stoye, who also owns a De Tomaso Pantera and was in the market for a British car he and his wife could enjoy together. Three years ago, Stoye came upon a yellow 1980 MGB that had been restored seven years earlier.

He loved the car and the color, so he pulled the trigger – and never regretted it. Stoye’s car is one of the last MGBs made. It retailed for $7,950 when it rolled off the assembly line 30 years ago. MGBs in No. 3 or No. 4 condition generally go for far less than that these days, which makes them very attractive to hobby newcomers.

“It’s a really affordable way to get into a collector car,” Stein said. “MGBs are plentiful and so are the parts. Plus, it’s just a very cool car.”

Stein isn’t alone in that opinion. Hagerty has more than 12,000 MGs on its books.

“There’s just something about British sports cars,” Stein said. “People love them.”

Four northern Michigan MG owners can attest to that.

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