News Editor Ruggles loves the MGA for its rugged simplicity as much as its stunning looks, but to truly achieve a dream experience, he sought out a very special example.
Sometimes magic just happens, and that was undoubtedly the case with the sleek MGA. Combining simple, proven underpinnings with a Le Mans-derived aerodynamic body, it’s still widely regarded as the most beautiful car MG has ever produced. As an illustration of Abingdon’s ability to make the desirable achievable, it was just about perfect. But driving one had so far eluded me, so it was an obvious choice when I was asked to choose my dream drive.
Even 64 years after the MGA was launched, the appeal of a relaxed summer’s cruise through the British countryside remains as appealing as it’s ever been. My chosen route would take me around the leafy lanes of Chobham Common, close to the Chobham test track where the Twin-Cam variant was launched in 1958. It’s a beautiful area that’s still a draw for drivers – nowadays, you’ll even see a McLaren supercar or two being given a pre-delivery shakedown.
Back in the late ‘50s, there were no motorways of course. The M3 that runs close to Chobham wasn’t built until the early ‘70s, and the nearby M25 didn’t arrive until 1975. I’d have to use both on my drive, so I make no apologies for seeking out an MGA better equipped to deal with the rigours of modern traffic. Fortunately, I knew just the car.
A 1959 roadster would be a very special car regardless, but 642 UYN is even more remarkable. Not only has it been beautifully restored and upgraded, it also boasts a celebrity owner – the name on the logbook is none other than Wheeler Dealers star Mike Brewer, who discovered it by chance when seeking out a new Californian workshop for the show back in 2015.
The USA proved to be the biggest market for the MGA by far, with around 80 per cent exported across the pond. But while the local climate had kept the car solid, it was a little rough around the edges, leaving Mike with a dilemma as to whether to leave it as it was, or fully restore it. The quandary was put to a vote at the NEC Classic Motor Show in 2016, with the restoration route subsequently chosen by show-goers. The car wasn’t particularly original anyway, so it was the perfect candidate for a few individual touches.
The pressures of filming saw Mike turn to Rally Preparation Services in Witney to manage the rebuild, with parts support from Moss Europe, paint by Cotswold Accident Repair and support from the MG Car Club. During the process the existing 1588cc B-Series motor was upgraded to a rebuilt MGB-spec 1798cc unit. It also got an alternator conversion, and electric fan and, most notably, a Moss Vitesse five-speed gearbox conversion, using the transmission from a Mazda MX-5. The sandblasted body was repainted in a beautiful Pewter Metallic (a limited edition MGB colour), while the interior was retrimmed in complementary biscuit leather. It’s a perfect mix of modern and classic.
I was in the fortunate position of being able to see the car evolve during a spell working for the MGCC, and was positively desperate to get behind the wheel of the finished item. The car was recently put on display at Moss Europe’s London branch in Feltham, and with Mike’s blessing, Moss’ Matt Kavanagh kindly handed me the keys for the day.
Looming grey skies mean the day begins with the MGA’s hood up, and after familiarising myself with its controls, I head through Feltham bound for the M3. Sitting on the left is a little unfamiliar, but as the owner of an LHD Innocenti Mini, it doesn’t take long to get used to it. Quickly apparent is just how many people stop to admire the car, especially when I roll up at the nearest petrol station. I’m not sure how thirsty those twin HS6 carbs will be, and I certainly don’t want to be caught short.
On a deserted stretch of motorway, the A is not found wanting. The larger MGB engine provides ample performance, while the Mazda gearbox allows for relaxed cruising at the legal limit. The car has a lot more to give, but I’m mindful that it’s not mine, and trashing Mike Brewer’s beloved roadster is not something I want against my name – especially as I know how much work has gone into it.
As we join the M25, it’s a familiar sight – bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s a very humid day, and already I’m worried the A might get hot and bothered. But there’s no such fuss – the Revotec electric fan quickly redresses the balance. Over-zealous tuning of the B-Series can affect tractability for normal road use, but the 1800 motor is as good as gold, with no untoward tomfoolery as I inch along in a queue of identikit modern SUVs.
In any case, we’re only on here for a mile or so. Within a couple of minutes I’m heading along the B386 towards Longcross, where the contrast with the motorway couldn’t be more stark. Best of all, those grey skies have made way from bright sunshine. It’s all coming together, and I’m in the ideal car to enjoy it.
Heading into Chobham Cobham via Staple Hill, I pull over to lower the roof and remove the side screens for that proper open-top experience. With its short ratios and slick change, the MX-5 gearbox proves perfect for these roads, getting the best out of the B-Series, while the raspy exhaust note provides the perfect soundtrack. Even the driver of a McLaren P1 gives me an approving nod as he passes in the other direction. I don’t dare throw the car around with the same gusto as the McLaren pilot, but the A feels great. It’s effectively a new car, and as such can be driven briskly with confidence. The steering is precise, and the disc brakes effective.
Our route takes us around the perimeter of the common, heading into Burrowhill and into Cobham, passing Fair Oaks Airport and running close to the McLaren Technology Centre. Snapper Matt and I then head back towards Longcross, stopping for coffee and a spot of lunch at the appropriately named Old School Café. The car proves to be a real conversation starter, though I’m slightly disappointed to confess that I’ve only borrowed it, rather than being its full-time keeper.
Time passes quickly, and soon after lunch, it’s time to head back to Feltham. The traffic isn’t any kinder on the M25, but by now I’ve really bonded with the MGA and take it all in my stride. Within 20 minutes I’m back at Moss to hand the keys back, relieved that Mike’s car is still as immaculate as it was when I picked it up, but also immensely grateful for the experience. Any chance of borrowing if for a long weekend please Mike?
Check out our MGA buyer’s guide.
Photography by Matt Woods.