Catherine – Part 1

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.

MGBGT with MG1100I 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.

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Early Cars

My first car was a 1971 MGBGT. While friends and classmates were getting Honda Civics, Chevy Chevettes, VW Beetles and various other mundane things, I held out. There was the exception of my friend Eddie Matthews who had a nice Mustang Mach 1, but that was primarily because his father had the good foresight to keep the car from earlier days, not because he chose to buy it.

But I waited. Waited until my sophomore year in college because I was determined that I was not going to have just any old hunk of metal. I was determined that I was going to have an MG. Now I will admit this was a bit unusual for me. First of all I was not really a car MGBGTperson. My parents weren’t car folk, I hadn’t been raised really appreciating different types of cars, and what cars were in my families blood were of the muscle and NASCAR variety. Second, I am a fairly impulsive person. I tend to get an idea and then act on it within say, the next ten minutes or so. For me to wait any length of time had as much to do with my financial situation as my single mindedness.

All of that as it may be, I had fallen in love with MGs. From the TCs and TDs that I had built models of, to the MGB of Stockard Channing that I got to drive on occasion as an errand boy, to the GT that I would see around town and was fascinated by, I had somehow gotten that British car disease that is both inexplicable and undeniable. And I still have it to this day. I have branched out beyond MGs to Austins, Triumphs, Land Rovers, Jensen Healeys, Vanden Plas, Jaguar and tons of others, but my first love will always be MG.

That first MG was a burnt orange 1971 BGT. While most other people would have gone for a convertible, there was something about the hard-topped coupe that always struck my fancy. I could kind of had a back seat, though that was not so important to me, and the hatchback made for lots of cargo space. But it was really something about the lines that caught me. The BGT just has a sleekness that the roadster does not have. When I saw that car on a local used car lot I knew I had to have it. And much to the chagrin of my father, have it I did.

My mother was a bit more light-hearted and saw the car as fun and interesting. I think my father just saw it as impractical, small, and problem prone. All of those things may actually have been true, but I loved the car anyway. If love is blind, then British car love is dumb, deaf, rose-colored and oil-stained. And head-over-heals, bat-crap crazy.

Man, I miss that car. (Not the one in the picture, which is not mine. Mine looked almost exactly like that though, right down to the wire wheels.)

I Like To Get Things Started

When I was a sophomore in college I bought my first car, a 1971 MGBGT. I loved that car. When I was younger I swore that my first car wasn’t going to be some big ugly clunker, but something that I really wanted. And I really wanted that MG. The picture here isn’t of my car, but it is exactly what mine looked like, color and all.

MGB GT 1971Much to everyone’s amazement, I got the MG. And I was devoted to it. And like most old cars do, it broke down. Now I had enough money at that time to make my car payment and buy gas, but I really didn’t have enough money for repair bill. So after getting it repaired, thanks dad, and it breaking down again I figured out that I was going to have to learn to fix it myself. There was only one problem though; I had no idea how to work on cars. Even then I was a budding computer geek – without much mechanical ability at all.
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