A little over a year ago, a friend forwarded me an advertisment for a 1951 M.G. TD a few miles away in a small country town on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. I drove out and was treated to an amazing "barn find" -- the seller rolled it out of his barn (converted to a workshop) and revealed an amazingly original '51 TD. The paint on the bonnet had been polished so much the primer was showing through... the seats were still the Honey Beige leather applied in Abingdon, with no tears or rips but an amazing network of creases and wrinkles... and amazingly there was no rust when I crawled under the chassis. There were a few period mods which the seller explained were the work of the man who had owned this car twice: once in 1954 when be bought it and sold it a year later, and then again when be bought it back in 1960 and kept it for the next 50 years.
Money changed hands, the title was clear, so my wife followed in the sensible roadster (my '96 Miata) and we enjoyed a gorgeous spring drive home.
Well, not at first. About a mile and a half from the barn, the little XPAG engine started losing power and running ragged. It was the obvious symptom of a lost cylinder, which usually means a spark plug wire had come loose (I'd had this happen on other cars). So I pulled to the side of the road and opened the piano-hinged bonnet on the ignition side of the engine, hoping for an easy fix.
At first I thought I couldn't be luckier: the #1 plug wire was lying on the generator instead of being connected to the spark plug. I took it in my hand, but as the plug wire lifted, my heart sank. Inside the socket on the beautiful, vintage, red-transparent plug wire (which had become quite stiff from age), the ceramic portion of the spark plug was still connected to the wire. The metal portion of the plug was still in the cylinder head.
No problem -- I'd brought my toolkit with me, and it had a set of spare plugs from the Miata, I could install one of those just to get home. I pulled the broken #1 plug from the TD and my heart sank again: the "throw" on the Miata plug (the threaded distance that determines how far the plug goes into the engine) was about three times as long as the TD's plug. Most likely it would hit the piston. I began thinking about removing the crush washers from all the spare Miata plugs in the hopes of spacing them out.
At that moment my wife walked up.
"Will this be any help?" she asked, and handed me an M.G. TD spark plug. "I found it in the box of spares that you put in the trunk of the Miata."
Yes, the seller (as is commonplace) included a box of spare parts when I bought the car. One of them had several used spark plugs -- not the cleanest, but the right size and throw. I installed the old plug, put the wire back on, and started the car. It ran a little rough, but I made it home, where I promptly ordered a full ignition tune-up kit.
The photo seen here was taken about two months later, at the Columbia River MGA Club's annual "Drive Your M.G. Day" tour. I've displayed the TD in the "survivor" class at the Forest Grove Concours and the Columbia River Concours, two of the Portland area's best classic car exhibits. In fact, at Forest Grove in 2013 I met the man who owned my M.G. twice. I spent a very happy hour listening to his adventures with this car (and only afterwards did I wish I'd had a tape recorder!) We're working on a few maintenance tasks to get "Emerald," as the TD is now known, ready for this year's club events. In 30+ years of classic car ownership, I don't think I've ever driven a vehicle that gets more smiles, waves, and positive attention than this little charmer.