Please note that Catherine is one of my cars. More precisely she is a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100 – a small British four-door sedan that I cherish immensely. I am writing a series of posts to document how I came by her, why she is important to me, and why I am crazy enough to anthropomorphize her and call her by name.
My history with Catherine actually goes back further than when I got her in 2010, further back than when I met her in about 2002, further back than when I became friends with her previous owner back in 1990, all the way back to the job I had during college back in 1984.
Back then I was attending the College of Charleston as an English major. I was young, idealistic, and I wanted a car. Unlike most of my friends who either got hold of the cheapest thing the could afford or saved up for American muscle cars, I was determined that my first car was going to be an MG. Yup, I wanted a small British sports car that was no longer imported into the US. The first time I got to drive an MG was between high school and college, and the car belonged to actress Stockard Channing. She was living in Charleston at the time, and I was working for her then husband, a local marketing personality. She was nice, friendly, and had an MGB that I got to drive occasionally. It was great.
I left that job, but didn’t forget about the MG. That is what I really wanted. About a year later I found and bought my dream car. I fell in love with an orange 1971 MGB GT. The GT is a hardtop coupe vs the more common convertible. I was quite happy – and promptly learned that although I might have been able to afford the car, I couldn’t afford the maintenance or repair bills. Seeing as I wasn’t going to give up my prize, the only alternative I could see was to learn to do my own work. Slowly I learned to change the oil, rebuild clutch hydraulics, tune carburetors, and eventually about every other automotive task. Through that process I became good friends with the owner of the foreign car parts store at the front of my neighborhood, and eventually an employee.
The store, creatively named “Foreign Car Parts”, was a wonderland for a new-found British car fanatic. The owner, Don Brown, used to be a car dealer as well so he had a treasure trove of parts, brochures, pictures, books, stories, and knowledge. And cars. He had lots of cars. A good number of the old cars he had parked around the place were in less that desirable condition, but too me they were amazing. Most people I knew had never heard of a DKW, much less touched one. And a Borgward Isabella. And a NSU Sports Prinz. And so many more. But there was one little sedan there that fascinated me beyond all others – a 1964 MG 1100. How was it possible that MG, the sports car company, had produced a sedan. The one on his lot was a 2 door, but I was soon to find out that they made a 4 door version as well. Not only that, but MG had made other bigger and even more luxurious sedans.
The MG 1100 Don had there, also known in the US by the name “MG Sports Sedan”, was in bad shape with rusted out floorboards, missing engine, and partially disassembled suspension. It enthralled me. It was so fascinating to me that Don generous gave it to me for my birthday one year. In reality I suspect that Don had a secondary goal with this gesture of getting the decaying carcass off of his property, but I was thrilled.
I dragged the 1100 home, put floor boards in it, and never got much further. Life, college, and eventually marriage and a move to Savannah and Atlanta moved the little 1100 far down in my priorities. I sold it off when I moved out of my parent’s house, much to their appreciation, but I never forgot about the 1100s. I knew one day I would have a drivable one.