I

New Zealand Classic Car - - FEATURE CAR - Pho­tos:

Words: David Burke-kennedy

Adam Croy

n the mid 1930s, soon af­ter the hip-sway­ing rumba be­came the lat­est dance craze, MG launched a sporty lit­tle 939cc two-seater num­ber called the ‘PB’ — an im­proved ver­sion of the sim­i­lar-look­ing but lower-pow­ered PA. Three body styles were of­fered: a two-seat roadster (still highly soughtafter to­day), a four-seater, and a some­what aero­dy­namic Air­line fast­back coupé.

All fea­tured MG’S tra­di­tional wood-framed body con­struc­tion, fold-down wind­shields on open mod­els, cen­tre-lock wire wheels, and leather up­hol­stery. For those who could af­ford the £225 price tag — al­most dou­ble that of a small fam­ily sa­loon — own­er­ship was like hav­ing a babe mag­net. For a start, it im­plied you were a per­son of means in an era of high un­em­ploy­ment — at­trac­tive in it­self in the post-de­pres­sion era. Or, to put it an­other way, the price was equal to 20 per cent of a lawyer’s av­er­age an­nual salary at the time. The ‘MG’ name had gar­nered an en­vi­able track record since its launch in 1924 as a re­bod­ied Mor­ris. Var­i­ous mod­els were in­volved in com­pe­ti­tion and took land-speed records. So, apart from be­ing viewed as suc­cess­ful and af­flu­ent, own­ers may also have been re­garded as per­form­ers as they im­pressed their dates with a then­breath­tak­ing 0–96.5kph (60mph) in 27 sec­onds.

Be­sides, ac­com­mo­da­tion was en­cour­ag­ingly ‘ in­ti­mate’ (OK, cramped and some­times bone-jar­ring) when you were bump­ing along on the roads of the day at around 112kph.

The PB’S re­place­ment was the sim­i­lar-look­ing TA Midget — the first in the T-se­ries con­clud­ing with the MG TF. They were a world­wide ex­port suc­cess post-war be­fore be­ing su­per­seded by the leg­endary MGA in 1955.

and the 2½ mil­lion mo­tor ve­hi­cles that had rapidly re­placed pre­dom­i­nantly horse-drawn traf­fic in Bri­tain of the decade be­fore. It was prob­a­bly the MX-5 of its age.

The PB was the last of the early Wolse­ley-de­rived over­head-camshaft mod­els pro­duced in the era of MG founder Ce­cil Kim­ber, who worked with Mor­ris Garages — from where the ini­tials re­port­edly orig­i­nate. It had the dis­tinc­tive de­sign hall­marks as­so­ci­ated with the mar­que; no­tably, the con­fi­dent ver­ti­cal ra­di­a­tor in­tro­duced in 1928 and the free­stand­ing head­lamps, clam-shell fend­ers, and slab­shaped fuel tank.

Five hun­dred and twenty-six PBS were pro­duced from July 22, 1935 to Fe­bru­ary 13, 1936. Pro­duc­tion ceased barely a month af­ter Bri­tain’s Au­to­car mag­a­zine gave it a favourable — al­beit then-typ­i­cally re­served — Bri­tish road-test re­view. Whether that had any in­flu­ence, or sim­ply be­cause it was a car favoured by those dash­ing armed ser­vices of­fi­cers, is un­known.

Ocean voy­age

How­ever, coin­ci­den­tally, on March 21, 1936, it was a Bri­tish naval of­fi­cer who snapped up one of the last MG PBS still in cap­tiv­ity at the main Lon­don dealer, Univer­sity Mo­tors.

Lieu­tenant JWH Ben­nett, Royal Navy (whose ad­dress was given as the De­stroyer HMS Viceroy) sailed out of the show­room at the helm of black PB0759. Some­how, it turned up in New Zealand — pos­si­bly on a naval train­ing ves­sel; most likely left be­hind when Lt Ben­nett re­turned to Eng­land on HMS Dunedin, which was sta­tioned here to as­sist re­lief ef­forts af­ter the 1931 Napier earth­quake.

De­spite its pre­vi­ous own­er­ship, the car was reg­is­tered as ‘new’ to Colin Ge­orge Hamil­ton, 124 Sal­is­bury Street, Christchurch on Septem­ber 13, 1938. A ra­dio ser­vice­man, he had an in­ter­est in mo­tor sport and fly­ing, and died in ser­vice fly­ing a Kit­ty­hawk in 1943.

Gift

Fast for­ward to 1974, when 14-year-old Don­ald Mcleod of Hamil­ton and his brother An­gus were each gifted a pre-war MG P-se­ries by their father, Derrick, who, un­til then, had been an avid car col­lec­tor. “Some­thing must have hap­pened when my late father was ap­proach­ing 50 years of age,” Don­ald spec­u­lated. “He was no longer so keen to drive or main­tain old cars.”

And he’d cer­tainly had a few af­ter de­vel­op­ing an en­thu­si­as­tic in­ter­est in clas­sics, and MGS in par­tic­u­lar, at the end of World War II. They in­cluded a 3½-litre short­chas­sis Bent­ley, 1925 Tick­ford Daim­ler, ‘spin­ner nose’ Stude­baker, Cord 810, Bris­tol 401, Singer Le Mans, and the first of the MGS (his PB), which he bought in 1964.

But then Derrick had been an­other one of those dash­ing air force of­fi­cers — serv­ing as a Fleet Air Arm pi­lot in Eng­land dur­ing 1945. He was im­pressed by the sports cars flaunted by other young of­fi­cers, who turned up at air­fields geared up and be­hind the wheel.

First sight­ing

Don­ald was aged four when he first saw PB0759 and says he was cap­ti­vated — ev­i­denced in pho­to­graphs taken of him be­hind the wheel. By age six, he was sit­ting on Derrick’s work­bench in the garage, pre­tend­ing to help his father work on the real thing.

Along the way, it had changed colour and was now red, but it was still in orig­i­nal con­di­tion, al­beit need­ing TLC and parts — par­tic­u­larly af­ter an ear­lier elec­tri­cal fire. Most of the orig­i­nal elec­tri­cal parts were miss­ing or needed to be re­placed.

The car fea­tured MG crested knock-ons, the ‘ deluxe’ dash­board that in­cluded two ex­tra in­stru­ments, and a light that flashed on at 48kph/30mph — a speed limit in­tro­duced in Bri­tain back in the ’30s. Ex­cept on this ex­am­ple, the light never seemed to work.

PB0759 was now 28 years old, and Derrick Mcleod be­gan hunt­ing for parts. He dis­cov­ered a fairly com­plete PA owned by a young Auck­land stu­dent, Ren­ton Mur­ray. The con­di­tion of sale was that the spare car was to be sold with an­other com­plete PB. Sud­denly, there were three MGS in the Mcleod home col­lec­tion.

The other us­able MG — PB 0259 — which was one of the first from 1935 and coloured green, would be given to Don­ald’s brother.

“Cars were bought and sold from the col­lec­tion; and rais­ing a young fam­ily of two boys did not slow progress,” Don­ald re­called. “My mother made a call when she re­al­ized there was more garag­ing space than house space. A car­port was con­verted into a games room, and the Daim­ler and Bris­tol had to go.”

Chal­lenges

By their teens, the Mcleod brothers were work­ing with their father on the cars. When they be­came old enough to drive legally, they also be­came aware of the costs as­so­ci­ated with own­ing a ma­chine built in an era that had dif­fer­ent stan­dards of ‘pre­ci­sion’ en­gi­neer­ing. An­gus sold his PB in 1977 af­ter an en­gine wa­ter leak seized one of the pis­tons.

Don­ald’s PB also posed chal­lenges — more so dur­ing his years as a stu­dent, with its as­so­ci­ated bud­get lim­i­ta­tions. MG Car Club mem­ber­ship helped — there were in­vari­ably knowl­edge, as­sis­tance, and ac­cess to parts when ma­jor work was needed.

Un­known to him, PB0759 also had a his­tory — much of it recorded and pho­tographed by oth­ers and news­pa­pers over the 28 years prior to his father’s own­er­ship.

Un­til 1962, the car had resided in the South Is­land. When Don­ald took it back years later, the MG com­mu­nity wel­comed it like a long-lost fam­ily mem­ber — and he learned more about the life and times of his car.

It was owned for a year by Ernest Arthur Ken­nard in the late 1940s and for just a few months in 1949 by Des Wild, a colour­ful Christchurch mo­tor sport en­thu­si­ast and lo­cal car dealer.

Wild com­peted in New Zealand’s first or­ga­nized track race, known as the in­au­gu­ral ‘New Zealand Cham­pi­onship Road Race’, com­plet­ing 41 laps and fin­ish­ing ninth, then the South Brighton Beach Race. Both events were cap­tured on film by aerial pho­tog­ra­pher VC Browne, and a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle fea­tured the car in a bar­rel roll on the beach. Wild com­pleted the race with a bro­ken rib and frac­tured wrist yet still fin­ished a cred­itable sixth.

The next four years saw the MG re­sid­ing at 11 Liv­ingston Street, Ti­maru, un­der new owner Leonard Col­lett. Once again, it made news — shown ford­ing a stream in a South Can­ter­bury Car Club re­li­a­bil­ity trial.

Well trav­elled

So, what’s it like to drive?

“Com­fort­able but ‘ di­rect’,” Don­ald said, laugh­ing. “The ped­als are very close to­gether — I have to wear spe­cial small shoes to en­sure my feet don’t sit on the brake and ac­cel­er­a­tor at once. It’s a lot of fun, and ac­tu­ally feels faster than it is,” he said. “But it has very light steer­ing, so you have to re­ally con­cen­trate, or you end up run­ning off the road.”

It’s cer­tainly seen its share of roads around the coun­try. Since 1981, it’s com­pleted six pre-’56 MG Ral­lies in New Zealand and fea­tured in a Napier Art Deco Fes­ti­val pa­rade and a Hast­ings Christ­mas pa­rade.

And there have been club out­ings and ap­pear­ances at the Eller­slie In­ter­mar­que Concours & Clas­sic Car Show, at which, this year, it took the Ra­dio Live Sur­vivors Class Award.

Like his late father, Don­ald also caught the car bug — and has owned dis­tinc­tive mod­els from Ford, Peu­geot, BMW, Re­nault, and MG.

Un­usu­ally, PB0759 has re­mained a run­ner and in use through­out all its life, and re­tains its old black-is­sue reg­is­tra­tion plates. Over the 51 years the car has been in

his fam­ily, Don­ald says it has been steadily im­proved and main­tained to keep it me­chan­i­cally ex­cel­lent, run­ning, and as au­then­tic as pos­si­ble. It has been mod­i­fied for safety or main­te­nance rea­sons, though — ex­tra tail-lights were fit­ted circa 1960, for ex­am­ple. Pan­els sur­round­ing bro­ken traf­fi­ca­tors were re­placed, the orig­i­nal petrol tank was re­stored, and a new front apron was made by spe­cial­ist crafts­man Rod Brayshaw in 2008.

Fol­low­ing a bro­ken crank­shaft and the dis­cov­ery of cracks and wear in the block, the bot­tom end of the en­gine was re­placed with a new blueprinted unit in 2009. All orig­i­nal parts that were re­placed, in­clud­ing the block, have been re­tained. Suc­cess­fully up­grad­ing the ve­hi­cle’s con­di­tion, keep­ing it run­ning, and shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence are among the high­lights of own­ing PB0759 — and Don­ald en­joys see­ing how peo­ple re­act to the lit­tle car.

Can you put a price on that? Don­ald says com­pa­ra­ble re­stored ex­am­ples are of­fered for up to £40K over­seas. The re­la­tion­ships he’s forged through the club and with main­te­nance spe­cial­ists over the years are, how­ever, price­less. He still re­ceives pho­to­graphs of the car taken back in the day — the last ap­pear­ing just a few weeks ago (in Fe­bru­ary).

And he has a pre­ci­sion work­shop that makes vin­tage parts that are hard to ob­tain, and which he hopes to of­fer for sale.

Eighty years on, PB0759 is still a lit­tle babe mag­net. But the babes are now some­what older and of­ten prompted by their kids or grand kids, cu­ri­ous about the small car that won hearts gen­er­a­tions be­fore and is still do­ing so to­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.