‘I bought and re­stored 16 MGS, and I don’t even like driv­ing’

Peter Welch has made it his life’s work to as­sem­ble a mu­seum-grade col­lec­tion of MGS... in south-west Canada

Classic Cars (UK) - - The Collector - Words IAIN AYRE Pho­tog­ra­phy MONIQUE SACHE

For Peter Welch, the hunt for rare MGS is the thing. He’s not par­tial to weld­ing, car­pen­try or even driv­ing, but he does like pa­tient dis­as­sem­bly and re­build­ing. It’s the chas­ing down of ru­mours to dusty base­ments, gain­ing the con­fi­dence of re­luc­tant own­ers with hon­est prom­ises of a fu­ture of gleam­ing glory for the sad ob­ject be­ing dis­cussed, then fi­nally the dis­in­ter­ment from the pile of card­board boxes and the dusty emer­gence into the sun­light.

The challenge then is sourc­ing a pair of cor­rect Mar­chal side­lights for an Arnolt MG when you don’t even know ex­actly what they’re sup­posed to look like. Peter has of­ten used RX Au­toworks in Van­cou­ver, re­stor­ers of David Cohen’s unique Alfa 6C 1750 by Figoni that we fea­tured in our March 2013 is­sue. RX is syn­chro­nous with Peter in re­tain­ing as much as pos­si­ble of the orig­i­nal car – ev­ery­thing that’s re­paired rather than re­placed pre­serves the max­i­mum amount of his­tory. The stor­age build­ing in which his col­lec­tion is kept is a mu­seum rather than an ac­tive col­lec­tion. He rarely drives the cars when he’s fin­ished them – like jig­saws, once they’re fin­ished he wants to start the next one.

Jewel in the crown – The ex-ed­die Hall K3 Mag­nette

Peter’s K3 Mag­nette is at the top of the MG tree. It’s num­ber 006, the ex-ed­die Hall car. Rac­ing cars are not usu­ally beau­ti­fully made, but this is full of jewel-like chromed brass MG lo­gos, a sculp­ture as much as a rac­ing car. Of the 33 K3s made, 25 live on

– even at the most worth­less stage of an old rac­ing car’s ca­reer, th­ese would still have been very de­sir­able. The num­bers all match, but the body is a recre­ation. ‘When I bought the car it was fit­ted with the blue 1936 sin­gle-seat body you can see mounted up on the wall. I was about to throw it away un­til some­body pointed out it has its own his­tory and that I should hang on to it.’

In 1933 this car won the BRDC 500-mile race at Brook­lands at an av­er­age speed of 106.53mph – not by re­ly­ing on the grunt and strength of an 8.0-litre en­gine, ei­ther. The mo­tor is a su­per­charged 1087cc straight-six with a long stroke and an 8000rpm red­line. It’s pres­surised to a re­mark­able 12psi.

‘It’s quite hard work to drive,’ di­vulges Peter, ‘which is only to be ex­pected for a piece of en­gi­neer­ing this ex­treme. First, there’s a Ki-gas start­ing sys­tem that re­quires you to open the bonnet and keep clear of the two-foot flames that shoot out of the pres­sure re­lief valve on the in­let man­i­fold. Then you have to adapt to the Wil­son pre-se­lect gear­box, the eas­i­est part of the process. You must also check be­hind for the right amount of blue smoke, as the su­per­charger is lu­bri­cated by an ad­justable feed from the cylin­der head oil sup­ply that goes back into the com­bus­tion cham­bers. Too much smoke means the blower is get­ting too much oil and the front plugs are about to foul; too lit­tle means the blower may be oil-starved, with con­se­quences that don’t bear think­ing about.’

In 1991 the car was fea­tured in Road & Track, with Phil Hill driv­ing Peter around twisty West Van­cou­ver streets at rac­ing speeds. ‘He scared the hell out of me,’ rem­i­nisces Peter.

Peter’s blind-bought Arnolt TD

Peter suf­fered an un­for­tu­nate at­tack of op­ti­mism while buy­ing this Arnolt TD over the phone. It was an Ari­zona car, usu­ally a phrase in­ter­change­able with ‘no rust’. Not this time, though. Its sav­ing grace was that only the bot­tom half of the car was rot­ten.

‘It was a piece of scrap metal,’ says Peter. ‘I could ei­ther for­get it and throw it in the bin – which I prob­a­bly should have done – or I could at­tack it. So I at­tacked it.’ The fi­nal re­sult is a mag­nif­i­cent 100-point con­cours win­ner.

Re­search took months, and the de­tails are as cor­rect as he could get them. ‘The dash is an up­side-down TD in­stru­ment clus­ter, the bulk­head is light grey, and the ir­re­place­able Ital­ian front in­di­ca­tor lights had to be re-cre­ated. The bumpers were not only miss­ing, but I had no idea what they were sup­posed to look like. Even­tu­ally I man­aged to bor­row a rough pair from an­other Arnolt owner in Ta­coma, Wash­ing­ton, and had them copied.’

The rear lamps were easy – glass, Lu­cas, sorted with a phone call. The front lights are all Mar­chal, and were rather more tricky. The front in­di­ca­tors were made by some ob­scure, long-gone Ital­ian com­pany pre­sum­ably round the cor­ner from Ber­tone, and fi­nally Peter tracked down a very sec­ond­hand ex­am­ple and had some new ones cast from it. The plas­tic lenses had to be fab­ri­cated as well. The fin­ished car re­pays the ef­fort, though – it’s ex­quis­ite.

A Tick­ford TA tick­led back to life

Peter’s TA is one of his favourites, and is pos­si­bly the best one still in ex­is­tence. ‘It ar­rived in poor con­di­tion with the rear half badly re­stored,’ says Peter. ‘That can be worse than rust and ac­ci­dent dam­age.’ Af­ter scrap­ping the re­paired pan­els, he started afresh with the driv­ing chas­sis as sent to Tick­ford 70 years pre­vi­ously.

His re­search was ex­haus­tive, and he’s con­fi­dent that ev­ery de­tail is cor­rect. All the num­bers match, and even the com­plete set of orig­i­nal-spec­i­fi­ca­tion tools has now been as­sem­bled. A del­i­cate, in­ter­nally nailed-on, ex­truded brass trim across the rear was nerve-test­ingly mal­leted into place mil­lime­tre by mil­lime­tre with­out crack­ing the chrome plat­ing. The fin­ish is flaw­less, the down­side be­ing that the car is now too good to drive.

A 1936 SA that wears orig­i­nal metal­lic paint

The open tourer is un­re­stored and still in its orig­i­nal metal­lic blue. Metal­lic paint on a Thir­ties car – was it mod­ernised in the taste-com­pro­mised Seven­ties? ‘No, alu­minium dust and semi-trans­par­ent lac­quers were avail­able in 1936, just not used very of­ten on cars.’

The SA was a Dum­fries car for 40 years un­til Peter bought it, and it’s us­able – worn-in rather than worn-out. The seats were hand-painted blue, pre­sum­ably when the car was at the bot­tom of its value curve, and their Dun­lop­illo rub­ber air blad­ders are long dead. But it’s oth­er­wise un­mo­lested and will re­main so.

Some­where be­tween 70 and 95 of th­ese MG SAS were made be­fore the larger WA ap­peared in 1938. It’s a Nuffield Group car, with only the chas­sis and grille ac­tu­ally made by MG. The en­gine is a 2322cc Wolse­ley straight-six, mak­ing the per­for­mance of this two-ton car some­what leisurely. The body­work was coach­built by Charlesworth, and recog­nis­ing its de­sign cues in the sweep­ing mud­guards is weirdly pleas­ing – my own 1950 Sil­ver Wraith rolling chas­sis is cur­rently be­ing fit­ted with a 1937 Charlesworth sports sa­loon body.

Cabin fever in a 1936 Air­line coupé

‘This ex­am­ple is one of pos­si­bly four sur­vivors re­main­ing of the orig­i­nal 20 Pb-based Air­lines, with the PB’S big­ger en­gine and dif­fer­ent grille slats, driv­ing lights and dash.’ Although gor­geous, with the front wings topped by ex­quis­ite art-deco Lu­cas side­lights, its cabin is claus­tro­pho­bic – more so be­cause the seats were re-trimmed with fat cush­ions. Peter made a big ef­fort with this car and re­stored it to 100-point stan­dards. Sadly, the only peo­ple who could phys­i­cally get into this Air­line are too young to af­ford one.

‘I prob­a­bly should have thrown it in the bin and for­got­ten it, but now it’s a 100-point con­cours win­ner’

Early adoptees – 1931 M-type and 1932 J2

A red al­loy-bod­ied M-type and a white J2 live side-by-side. The for­mer has no power to speak of, no fuel pump, no wind­screen wiper and lit­tle in the way of sus­pen­sion or brakes, although there is a prim­i­tive soft-top. But it’s his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant for MG, which is why Peter bought and is restor­ing it. ‘It’s very crude. I bought it be­cause I felt the col­lec­tion ought to have an ex­am­ple of the first Midget, not be­cause it’s a good car to drive. It isn’t.’

The J2 was a big im­prove­ment over the M, not least be­cause its ca­ble brakes were slightly more con­vinc­ing. ‘It’s us­able and en­joys the oc­ca­sional road trip,’ says Peter, ‘as long as it’s in day­light. Like my TA, the J2 only has one small tail-light. It comes from a simpler and less crowded time.’ Its dash­board is en­gine-turned, which would have been the pre-war equiv­a­lent of car­bon­fi­bre trim.

F1 Salonette rises from the saw­dust – with a Stiles body

The paint on the F1’s wood­work was still in­tact, but dig­ging re­vealed blitzkrieg in­sect at­tack, dry rot and wet rot. All that re­mained was some rusty ex­ter­nal body­work. ‘I could poke my fin­ger right thought the ash body fram­ing al­most ev­ery­where. My dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to scrap the orig­i­nal Salonette coach­work and start again with a Stiles body kept the restora­tion sim­ple if not cheap.’

TB, TC, TD and TF – an an­tique T-set

Some of Peter’s cars were col­lected to com­plete the T-set, as it were, not be­cause he par­tic­u­larly wanted them. The pale-blue 1939 TB, one of 379 TBS made be­fore WWII erupted, is such an ex­am­ple. ‘It was a tatty Lon­don car, fit­ted with a Nay­lor re­place­ment tub 35 years ago,’ he re­veals.

The 1949 TC is an­other of Peter’s older restora­tions. ‘I spent hun­dreds of hours root­ing out bits at au­to­jum­bles for that one.’

The red 1952 TD is a very early mem­ber of his col­lec­tion, and is skipped over when he shows you around. Most would be de­lighted with it. ‘It’s poor com­pared to the 100-point con­cours stan­dards I achieved later, and that in­cor­rect aerial deeply an­noys me,’ he ad­mits.

Next door, the green TF 1500 is a high-points car. ‘I’m much hap­pier with this one. By then, I’d learned a great deal more about restora­tion.’

1949 YT – A plucky post-war ex­port

The dumpy, cream-coloured ex­port-model YT was dis­cov­ered in Cal­i­for­nia but had spent most of its life in Texas. It was com­pletely rust-free and had no vis­i­ble dents, but it was in a col­lec­tion of boxes with no guar­an­tee it was all still there. ‘I crossed my fin­gers and bought it – and found ev­ery­thing but the hub­caps.’

A pair of MGBS, both with a zesty con­ti­nen­tal twist

The MGB GT is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing in Canada be­cause it’s in Swiss spec­i­fi­ca­tion, com­plete with lime green paint. Euro­pean rules (and tastes) were quite dif­fer­ent from North Amer­i­can.

The 1980 MGB Lim­ited Edi­tion road­ster is prob­a­bly the least in­ter­est­ing car in this 18-strong col­lec­tion, but is one that would nonethe­less blow up the frocks of most MG en­thu­si­asts – it has only 252 miles on the clock. It’s been shipped across the At­lantic three times, so it’s sailed about 50 times fur­ther than it’s been driven. Ini­tially ex­ported to the US, it was then repa­tri­ated to the UK as a present for the then-owner’s wife, but she didn’t like the

left-hand drive so it was re-ex­ported to Canada.

Room for im­prove­ment – MGA twin-cam

The MGA Twin-cam is an­other of Peter’s few more mod­ern MGS. ‘It was in poor con­di­tion and needed new front wings, which had to be bought sec­ond­hand in Ari­zona and re­paired be­cause new re­place­ments were un­ob­tain­able.’ Again, Peter is not happy with the gleam­ing paint, but that’s be­cause he knows what an­gle to look at it from to re­veal the im­per­fec­tions.

Isetta and Messer­schmitt

The Isetta was bought as the fi­nal piece of the col­lec­tion. ‘There was a small tri­an­gu­lar space just the right size,’ he says. ‘When I dis­cov­ered it lo­cally in Wash­ing­ton, it was in rea­son­able shape but had been painted red, white and blue for pa­rades and was miss­ing a lot of parts.

‘The Messer­schmitt is def­i­nitely the fi­nal, fi­nal item in my col­lec­tion.’ With orig­i­nal or ac­cu­rate replica ma­te­rial for the vinyl in­te­rior trim un­avail­able, Peter had it re­made from Tai­wanese python snake­skin.

‘My wife is ophid­io­pho­bic, so she said she’s never go­ing into my “shed” again.’

Bot­tom half of the Arnolt TD’S Ber­tone body had rusted away

As soon as Peter Welch has tracked down and re­stored one MG, he’s look­ing for the next project

By the time he came to re­store this TF, Peter had amassed a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence and con­tacts

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