Sometimes, the one that got away comes back
Brion Shimamoto hadn’t seen Edward Herrmann’s portrayal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1976 TV movie Eleanor and Franklin, nor was he familiar with the actor’s other TV fare, like Gilmore Girls or The Good Wife. So when Herrmann approached Shimamoto’s restored 1957 MGA at the “Sunday in the Park” concours event at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park racetrack years ago, Shimamoto was simply pleased that the event’s head judge was presenting his MG with second place in the “Fancy ’n’ Fun Open Cars, 1955–60” category.
Herrmann, who died in 2014, was also a renowned classic car enthusiast who officiated as head judge of the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance and as master of ceremonies for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. His request to sit inside the MG made Shimamoto a bit nervous. “I had just put the top up,” he said, “and getting in requires a specific sequence of body movements.”
The 6-foot-5 Herrmann faithfully followed Shimamoto’s instructions and managed the sequence fluidly, maneuvering himself into the tiny roadster. The actor-turned-concours-judge complimented the MGA and managed to exit as gracefully as he had entered.
Had he not bought the car back after selling it years before. The first time he owned the MGA, 34 years ago, he was living in San Anselmo, California, north of San Francisco, working in the computer industry. The car was just for fun, not for commuting. It wore white paint over its original Glacier Blue. A sports car purist, Shimamoto also owned a 1977 MG Midget at the time and had previously owned a 1965 Triumph TR4A and 1968 Porsche 911.
“The MGA brings everything together for me,” Shimamoto says. “I love the design and the handling—and I’m making a distinction here between handling and cornering power. I’m talking about the way the car feels when you drive it. It just feels right to me.”
Shimamoto had long ago sold both of his MGs to a colleague in San Francisco, who planned to restore the MGA. Instead, the man turned his attention to collecting WWII-vintage army trucks, leaving the MGA to linger. “He offered to sell the car back several times, but I didn’t have the money or the space at the time.”
About 13 years ago, the sports car enthusiast relented after his wife, Donna, insisted he get it back. “She’s not even a car enthusiast, but she knows how attached I can get to a particular car,” Shimamoto says.
By then, the MG needed mechanical and cosmetic restoration. Shimamoto chose Automotive Restorations in Stratford, Connecticut, which specializes in concours-level restorations of high-end vintage road and race cars.
“The frame-off restoration took more than two years, but that was mainly because I wanted [the shop] to go slowly. I didn’t yet have a place to keep the car,” Shimamoto says. In the meantime, he worked with an architect to design the ideal two-car garage for his two roadsters, the MGA and a lightly modified 1990 Mazda Miata.
Choosing British Racing Green for an English sports car might seem cliché, but Shimamoto explains, “There is no definitive ‘British Racing Green.’ Different British carmakers had their own versions. I wanted a dark green. Automotive Restorations painted large samples for me to take home, and Donna and I picked the same one independently.”
Although Shimamoto hadn’t chosen to have his MGA restored to the top level that the owner of, say, a vintage Ferrari might pay, the paint certainly came out looking top-notch. “They told me that the paint started looking so good, they got carried away with it,” he says. The effort paid off with the car winning “Most Outstanding Finish” at the 2009 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance in Connecticut. The MGA has won Best in Show and Best in Class at several other shows since then.
Shimamoto enjoys driving his MGA on the curvy back roads near his home in Greenwich. He’s put 18,000 miles on it since the restoration in 2009. When his daughter requested using the car in her wedding photos, Shimamoto made the six-hour trip to New York State’s Finger Lakes region without any problems.
“It’s been reliable for a British car,” he says. “I haven’t been stranded yet.”