‘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
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